40: The Three Witnesses
Jesus has just made some incredible claims about Himself and He knows what would normally come next. The religious leaders would be asking by what authority he is saying these things. So, without waiting for the question, He points his listeners to three witnesses who verify the truth of what Jesus is saying and Who He is. Jesus knows, however, who He is talking to.
“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So Jesus said to them” (John 5:18-19)
He is speaking to those who have already set their hearts on killing Him. So He speaks to them, not so much to try and convince them of who He is, but to make it clear to them who they are resisting when they resist Jesus. They are not going to listen and Jesus knows that, He says as much in this passage, in fact this is simply going to increase their murderous anger. But there are others listening on the sidelines, there will be many many more who will be “listening” by reading this gospel and Jesus is speaking to them and us too. The claims He makes are astounding. No person, in their right mind would believe Him. Unless they listen to the witnesses. Then maybe they will begin to open their hearts to receive and believe Jesus for who He really is.
This is an interesting approach to reaching people. Full disclosure. Jesus doesn’t try and gently lead people step by step into a gradual revelation of who He is, starting with the easier more palatable truths and then slowly moving onto truths that are more difficult to understand. Maybe He should leave some of the most difficult truths until after people have already made a commitment to love and serve Him?
Jesus, however, is not working off some pre-decided script. He is just saying what His Father tells Him to say and His Father is telling Him to tell the people the way it is, even though they are already dead set against Him and this will only make them more angry.
His disciples are some of the listeners. They will have to stand before King’s and judges and murderous mobs one day. They could be tempted to water down the message to make it more palatable to their listeners. Jesus, though, is showing them how it is done. Simply say what the Father says to say. It doesn’t need to be said angrily or with religious force, but when the Father says “full disclosure” then that is what you do, regardless of the outcome.
Let’s see what the Father tells Jesus to say by working through the passage step by step.
“I can do nothing on my own.” (John 5:30a)
There it is again, Jesus clarifying that the amazing claims He is making about Himself are not for the benefit of His own ego, He knows that even He is powerless by Himself. That is actually an astonishing thing for the “Logos”, by whom all things were created, to say. If Jesus can do “nothing” on His own, why do I think I can? I am plainly the one with the ego problem, not Jesus.
“As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30b)
If Jesus is just speaking what He is being told and judging on the basis of what He is hearing from His Father in heaven, then again there is no personal ambition or agenda that clouds His judgments, they are pure and altogether truthful. He has nothing personal to gain or lose in the judgments that He is making or the words that He is saying.
There is a very helpful key to sound judgment here for all of us who want to grow in wisdom and the capacity to bring life giving words to people. Jesus didn’t judge by what He saw, or what he thought through in His own mind. He judged by what He heard. What senses do we use in judgment? Sight, sometimes smell? Jesus only used His ears. “Father, what do you think about this?” That was His ongoing method of forming judgments about people or situations.
Then Jesus introduces His listeners to the three witnesses, who these people already profess to know and esteem. He starts by referring to the latest witness, whose words will still be freshly resonating in the hearts and minds of the crowd around Him.
“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” (John 5:31-35)
Jesus doesn’t have a problem being His own witness, it’s the truth after all and He is only saying what His Father is telling Him to say, but He recognizes that His listeners are going to need some objective evidence if they are to truly receive and believe Him. So He points them to John the Baptist. This is interesting because Matthew and Luke in their gospel accounts both mention other supernatural phenomena as “witnesses” to who Jesus is; Angels, a star, the virgin birth. The Apostle John doesn’t mention any of those. Neither does Jesus, in any of the gospels. When it comes to proving His identity, Jesus sticks to things that His listeners had personal experience of, the miracles, the scriptures and John the Baptist.
The Baptist had clearly told the crowds who Jesus was: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” These people had gone to John to ask him who he was and what he was doing, but he wasn’t interested in talking about himself, he wanted to point them to Jesus and he “bore witness to the truth.” Those that listened to John gradually left him to focus their attention on Jesus.
In a world of oil lamps and torches, without electricity, Jesus says that John was a flaming fire, the brightest sort of illumination, lighting up the darkness and the shadows with the truth and pointing people to Jesus. “You liked his light,” Jesus says, although He knew that many of them did not receive or believe what John was saying.
John the Baptist was an incredible witness, but Jesus says He has better:
“But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 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. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:36-44)
Jesus’ greatest witness is the Father Himself. He testifies about Jesus in two ways, through works and through the Word, the scriptures.
The Father has given Jesus works that need to be accomplished, a divine “to do” list. Jesus speaks as if He already knows what they are. Those works “bear witness” about Jesus, they show people that Jesus has been sent by His Father. The disciples will also have a divine “to do “ list. Jesus sends them out with clear instructions both before and after His death and resurrection. The book, The Acts of the Apostles is the Holy Spirit showing us how these ordinary men and women went about accomplishing the list that God had given them. The works that they did “bore witness” that they came from the Father and what they were saying about Jesus was true.
God is happy to provide proof of the truth. One way He does that is to give His children works to do that can only be done supernaturally, they can’t be accomplished by any natural human strength, skill or understanding. As His children, when was the last time we asked Him what He has on His “to do” list for us? We might discover that He has set up some amazing opportunities for us that will result in people’s eyes being opened to the truth. If we are just trying to help people into the truth by the use of words, maybe we need to revisit the truth that God empowers His people to do supernatural works to back up our words.
Words, however, as we have already discovered are eternally important. We need to know the truth before it can set us free. So Jesus goes to the second way that the Father bears witness about Him and that is through words, particularly the scriptures. In this context, Jesus is obviously referring to the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus makes the astonishing claim that those scriptures are written to “bear witness” about Him.
He takes it further to claim that they can search the scriptures all they like, but they won’t find life in them unless those words lead the people to Jesus Himself. Therefore, if they refuse to come to Jesus, they will never find the life that they have been searching in the scriptures for.
Some of these listeners will have been “searching the scriptures” since they could first read. They would have read them with hope and longing, expecting the fulness of what those scriptures promise for God’s children, a special relationship with their Father in heaven, a special place, a promised land where all His promises to them are fulfilled, the peace, shalom, wellbeing that comes from the rule of the coming King. The fulfillment of all of those promises stands right in front of them, in the form of this man who, in their eyes, has just undermined those same scriptures by desecrating the Sabbath. They are going to reject Him and, in so doing, will prevent themselves from finding the very things they have given their lives to religiously pursue.
Jesus again drives the point home. He clearly states that the reason they can’t see the fulfillment of the scriptures standing in front of them is because “you do not have the love of God in you.” A reading of the scriptures that has no love of God in it will always tend towards religious judgment. That sort of rigid, ungracious even unkind and harsh understanding of the Word of God not only stops us from seeing Jesus for who He is, it also hinders others from receiving and believing in Jesus too. Their reading of the scriptures did not allow for the healing of a crippled man on the Sabbath, even if he had been suffering for 38 years. There was no love in that scriptural interpretation and so they couldn’t see the King of love when He was working miracles of undeserved kindness right in front of their eyes.
The warning is clear: Beware lovelessness, it is deadly, not just for you but also for those you influence. To be more clear, it is not necessarily lovelessness that is the problem here, these people love some things; themselves, the way they look, the rules and regulations, what they didn’t have was “the love of God within you.”
The Word of God has to be read with the love of God if it is to release the life of God.
Jesus has called on the testimony of the greatest living witness, John the Baptist, then the greatest of all witnesses, His Father and now, to complete His case, He is going to call on the one man who his listeners’ esteem more than any other. Not only does this man testify for Jesus, he also testifies against the very listeners that so admire him.
“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:30-47)
The religious leaders believed that Moses wrote the first five books of our Old Testament, the Torah. Jesus clearly believed that too and here he is saying that right from the beginning those scriptures point to Him. The Apostle John has already helped us to see where Jesus, the Logos, appears in the creation account of Genesis 1, in the first few verses of this gospel. To continue that theme: In Genesis 3:15 Jesus is the one who will bruise the head of the serpent. In Genesis 4 we are introduced to the concept of a sacrifice that is acceptable to God, “the firstborn of the flock” (Genesis 4:4), pointing to the “Lamb of God” that John the Baptist identified as Jesus. In Genesis 5-9, the ark that saves those who trust and obey God is another pointer to Jesus. So it continues through Moses’ writings: Jesus is the seed of Abraham through Whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, the substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac, the Gateway of heaven on the earth (Genesis 28:17) that John has already referenced for us when Jesus met Nathaniel in John 1:51.
When you begin to read Moses writings, as with all the Old Testament scriptures, in the light of Jesus, there are references to Him all the way through. Jesus is right, He is the One who makes those scriptures come to life, because ultimately they all point to Him. When the people come before the Lord at Mount Horeb, they ask that the Lord would not speak to them directly because the sound of His voice was so overwhelming to them. So God spoke to them through Moses, but then he prophesied that another would come after him who would be the one who will speak the words of God to them and they needed to make sure that they listened to Him.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen — just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
They would have known this scripture and now Jesus is clearly telling them: “I am the One that Moses spoke about. If you don’t listen to and believe Me then you are not listening to and believing Moses. The very words that Moses said, that you say you esteem and believe, accuse you, because you have rejected the One who Moses is talking about.”
Their rejection of Jesus was also their rejection of the entire basis of their Jewish faith and culture. In rejecting Christ, they were also rejecting the culmination and pinnacle of the great line of prophets (John the Baptist), the first great prophet and leader of Israel (Moses) and therefore all the prophets and leaders that existed in between. Even more importantly they were rejecting the scriptures, which they professed to love and adhere to and the Father who authored them all, Who chose them as a people from all the nations of the earth.
Jesus wants them to know that when they reject Him, they are rejecting everything that they themselves profess to hold dear. In rejecting the Messiah, they are turning their back on all that makes them special as the people of God. When they eventually hang Jesus on the cross, they will be crucifying their own inheritance and turning their anger and wrath towards the prophets, Moses, the scriptures and the Father Himself.
Of course, such claims are going to stir up the anger of the religious leaders still further. That is not why Jesus is saying them. Jesus speaks like this because His Father tells Him to. It is His Father that is aggravating the religious leaders, through Jesus and against Jesus. The Father knows where all this is going to lead. It is His Son that is going to have the biggest price to pay as a result of His words. But His Father tells Jesus to speak them anyway, because He is not just revealing the glory and wonder of His great love to the world, He is also revealing the bitterness and rebellion in the hearts of the people towards the God that created them, even the most religious and zealous among us.
It initially appears that Jesus is calling witnesses on His own behalf to testify about Him. Jesus is clear that the witnesses testify about who He really is. But, just as importantly these witnesses are testifying to who the people really are. Those that receive the testimony about themselves, that they are not who they thought they were in that they are actually opposing and rebelling against the very God they think they have a special relationship with, are going to be more likely to receive the Savior that they so desperately need. Those that will not receive the testimony about themselves, will certainly not receive the testimony about Jesus. They are blind to their own state before God and blind to the Son of God who is standing right in front of them.
What Jesus says here is seriously offensive. It appears that the aim of the Father who gave Him the words is just to stir up the murderous anger against Jesus that will eventually take Him to the cross. But Jesus says something else in the middle of the discourse, which points us to a very different motivation: “I say these things so that you may be saved.” (John 5:34)
They are not going to listen and this anger in their hearts will eventually turn into murderous hate and they will shout for His crucifixion. However, after that has passed, they will be faced with more witnesses, simple, honest men and women who will speak of a resurrection of this same Jesus. There will be acts of great power that will point people towards the Father who is enabling them. Maybe then, some of these religious leaders will sit down and quietly think through what has happened. Maybe then the Holy Spirit will take them back to these words. Maybe then, by the grace of God they will begin to piece it all together, from Moses and Genesis 1 all they way to John the Baptist, and the works that witness to the words. Maybe then their hearts will be open to the truth and they will receive and believe the good news of Jesus. Maybe then they will be saved.
It certainly happened for some of them for Luke tells us:
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
That happened after they had to sit and listen to the testimonies of Peter and John after the miraculous healing of the crippled man at the gate of the temple and stories of people being healed by the apostle’s shadows (Acts 5:15). The witnesses are never going to stop coming forward and maybe, for some of us, the journey takes a lot longer than others to get us to the place where we are finally able to receive and believe the truth.
Jesus’ words aren’t always given to us now to convince us now. Possibly, when we first hear them, they make us very angry. Maybe they sit in the recesses of our minds till some event, or circumstance or person awakens them and we remember. Maybe for some of us it will be on our death beds. In that case, the words that were spoken to us years ago, that we rejected for so long, may yet bring us to salvation. That is Jesus’ hope for all of us. He is saying these things that we might be saved, even if we don’t understand or are even seriously offended with them now.
We already know the Father has not sent Jesus into the world to condemn the world. The aim is to help people see what is in their hearts so that they will be open to receiving and believing the Savior of the World. “I say these things that you might be saved” says Jesus (John 5:34).
It is true that God offends our minds to reveal our hearts, but not so that we should be condemned, His heart is for us to repent and find life.
Maybe some of us find what Jesus or the Bible has to say offensive. We may find some of it very difficult to understand and even more difficult to justify with our human understanding. Could it be that our worldly grasp of what is just and right is blinding our eyes to the truth about the God who wrote it? Are we reading the scriptures in the light of the love of God? Can we see that the scriptures all point us to Jesus and their purpose is so that we might be saved? Are we going to listen to the witnesses who testify against us in order to receive the One who gave Himself for us?
Maybe we have to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about our ourselves before we can fully receive and believe in this Jesus.
Jesus has not come to condemn us. He has come to give us life. A life really worth living.
39: The Family on Mission
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19)
Jesus continues to explain why He healed the man on the Sabbath. His Father was working and so He must work as well. This is the God family on mission. When is the Family on Mission? Whenever the Father is working. Where is the Family on Mission? Wherever the Father is working. It all flows from the heart of the Father.
That’s why Jesus didn’t try to heal everyone at the pool. The Father only wanted one healed, and the one he chose to be healed may well have been one of the least worthy to be healed, judging by how quick he was to throw his healer into the lion’s den of the religious leaders.
What the Father does doesn’t always make sense to us. He’s always thinking about the longer plan, years and years ahead. What He does now will make sense one day. In this case what started as an anonymous healing becomes a public prosecution. We all know where this is going to lead. A cross. Pain, suffering, betrayal for Jesus. The release of the waters of healing and salvation for the rest of us. One man healed here is part of the journey towards all of us having that same opportunity, at better waters.
“For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” (John 5:20)
Jesus lived in the rock solid certainty of His Father’s love for Him. That’s what gave Him the confidence to live the way He did. Out of that love, the Father shows Jesus everything that He is doing. He opens His heart to Jesus, all of it. That’s the rock solid certainty of the Father’s trust in His Son. That’s what gives the Father the confidence to share all of His heart with Jesus. The Father knows that Jesus is going to carry out His desires, His pleasure, to the letter.
Their love for each other is more than a feeling or emotion, it is built on an incredibly deep level of trust and unshakable confidence in each other. Their love for each other is then expressed in love for others. That love operates in such way that everyone who sees marvels and is in awe and wonder at what the Lord is doing and who He is.
Why is the Family on mission? Because they love. They have the most wonderful relationship. It is totally fulfilling in itself. However, because true love will always look to include more in the circle of their affections, they have chosen to create a world full of people that can be encapsulated in that love. They love each and are looking for opportunities to reveal that love to others, people who will be amazed (and ultimately drawn to) the love that they see (“so that you may marvel”).
The Father loves the Son and so He shows Him everything that He is doing. Can we draw confidence from that? Does the Father love us? He loves us even when we are far from Him, as we discovered in John 3:16. How much more the Father loves us when we receive and believe in His Son and He grants us the right to truly be His children. Can we now have an assurance that the Father will share what He is doing with us, because He loves us too?
John, the gospel writer is going to unpack the answer to that question more as he takes us on the journey through his book. For now, we can say with confidence that the Father shares His heart with the Son of His heart. Therefore it is safe to assume that the Father will share His heart with the children of His heart.
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:21)
The works that will make us marvel are going to be pretty spectacular, the greatest of which will be the raising of the dead. Jesus is saying that such resurrections are going to define the Family Mission. He is going to unpack what He means by that in the next few verses.
If you were to define the God Family Mission Statement out of this passage you would simply start it with: “The Raising of the Dead.”
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.” (John 5:22-23)
Why are they on mission together? Honour. As an expression of their love for each other they are looking to honour each other. Specifically, the Father is looking that all may honour the Son, as they honour Him.
The Father wants to raise up Jesus so that all may honour, respect, worship Jesus as they do (or should do) the Father. The Father’s heart is to make His Son known.
Let’s not miss a key piece of information here: The Father wants everyone, “all”, to honour the Son as much as they honour Him. Both Jew and Gentile, regardless of background, culture or creed. Those that willingly acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord and those that won’t. The end of our historical lives in this age will be the same.
Paul tells us in Philippians: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
What happens after that moment, when we enter the new age of eternity will be different for different people, depending on whether they have received and believed in Jesus. But at the defining moment of this present age, everyone will be doing the same thing, for the one and only time since the fall in the garden. We will all honour the Son.
Jesus speaks on His own behalf. If it was anyone else you would have rightly thought that he was very self obsessed and totally delusional, because he talked about Himself so much and in such incredible terms. But when you know that you are the Logos, the One and Only of the Father, on whose shoulders rests the fate of us all and when you know there’s no pride in it because you are only doing what your Father tells you and saying what your Father tells you to say, then it is simply being honest and transparent.
Also, let’s always keep in mind the incredible humility that Jesus displays at the beginning of this discourse:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” (John 4:19)
Because the Son is seeking nothing for Himself, the Father is going to give Him everything. There is a lesson for us in the journey towards real greatness in God. Again, John is going to continue to unpack this truth to us through the gospel.
Humility comes before honour. Humility leads inevitably to honour, certainly with God if not in this world.
The route to Philippians 2:9-11 (quote above), is Philippians 2:5-8:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Incredible humility leads to incredible honour.
So if Jesus’ claims sound like the delusional muttering of the ultimate ego-maniac, He clearly demonstrates by His life and His works that His motives are entirely self-less. That is why the crowds listened to Him. That is why people still do. And listening to Jesus is a life or death issue.
“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.” (John 5:24)
Back to the family mission.
What is the Family mission (part 1a)?
The raising of the dead that is spiritual: Salvation. God’s heart, as we have discovered back in John 3:16 is that “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Father didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn us all to judgement and hell, He sent Him that we might have life not death: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
We are all facing the judgement, whether we like it or not, whether we even believe in the existence of God or not. None of us, outside of Jesus, will come out of that with a “not guilty” verdict. The punishment has already been set. We are “dead men walking” and “dead women walking”. We are already dead spiritually, having separated ourselves from the only One in whom is life. We are already condemned to further death.
But the Family mission, is raising the dead. And it begins with the spiritual, We needs God’s eternal DNA alive in us again. We need to born again of the Holy Spirit. Once that happens, then we are assured of another resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)
What is the Family mission (part 1b)? The raising of the dead that could be spiritual or physical. Jesus was going to demonstrate this resurrection power a number of times and John, in his gospel, is going to focus on that power before Jesus Himself is put to death. This statement of Jesus has a future hope (“an hour is coming”), but also a present reality (“and is now here”). Resurrection power is here on the earth now, because the Logos is here and “in Him is life” (John 1:4). For those of us who receive and believe Him, there is the future hope of resurrection into eternal life with Him but also the present reality of the resurrection power at work in our daily lives both spiritually and physically. The resurrection power of Jesus touches every part of our lives now and for ever. Jesus Himself now restates that fact:
“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” (John 5:26)
How is the Family mission accomplished (part 2a)? In Him is life. The Family mission is accomplished in Christ.
This life is found no one else. This is crucial to John’s argument. Right from the beginning of his gospel he is offering a life that is way beyond what we live, a life really worth living. The message that he wants us to get is this, this life is in the Son, the Logos, the One and Only of the Father, the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus. And it is only found in Him.
“And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:27)
How is the Family mission accomplished (part 2b)? On Him is authority. The Family mission is accomplished by Christ.
The Father has given His Son authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. Something happened in that journey from Son of God to now both Son of God and Son of Man for Jesus. It raised the bar in terms of the authority that the Father gives the Son. Jesus came down and the Father raised Him up, as we have already seen from Philippians 2. He didn’t raise Him up as the Son of God only. But as the Son of Man. This elevates mankind too – particularly those that are in Christ.
The government is upon His shoulders.
The Father’s initial stated intent was to give a measure of authority to Adam and Eve:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
As Jesus will explain to us in a few chapters, we abdicated that authority and gave it over to the devil. But that is a piece of authority that was given to mankind, a very significant piece of authority and it needs to be recovered by a descendant of the human race. But that person needs to be profoundly different from Adam and Eve. They must listen to and perfectly obey every word that the Father gives them. In thousands of years of history, no one has yet come anywhere close.
But now there is a Son of Man, who only ever does what He Father tells Him to do and so He is able to reclaim the authority that was given to mankind from the usurper satan and return it to His Father, who will in turn return it to Jesus who as both Son of God and Son of Man now carries “all authority in heaven and on earth” as Jesus Himself states in Matthew 28:18:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
And that authority extends to the living and the dead.
“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)
What is the Family mission (part 1c)? The raising of the dead that is the soul. The very essence of our being will be resurrected. It doesn’t matter whether we were buried in the ground, died at sea or incinerated in a fire. It doesn’t matter how many millions of pieces our dead bodies may have disintegrated into. One day our souls, the essence of who we are, will hear the voice of Jesus calling us out and everyone of us, even those who would wish to stay dead where they are, will have to respond. Then there will be two clear destinations. The resurrection to eternal life and the resurrection to judgement. God has already made it perfectly clear that He wants “all” to end up at the first and avoid the second. The only way to secure a ticket to the right destination is to get it from the only One who has the authority to give it. Jesus is the only One who has that authority, it is eternally vital that we receive and believe in Him.
Just in case we have forgotten where Jesus started in all of this, He now reminds us. He is not doing this by Himself and for His own ends, He is simply serving the will and good pleasure of His Father:
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30)
There it is again, “by myself I can do nothing”. These verses that, taken alone in today’s world, would consign Jesus to a secure Psychiatric Ward or worse as a seriously deranged and dangerous delusional egotistical meglomaniac. They are dynamite. But they are framed by this simple truth: Jesus is just the servant, doing what His Master the Father is telling Him to do. If He is delusional, it is not because He wants Himself at the centre of the universe, He plainly sees His Father as having that position. The way He serves and gives Himself so selflessly to others would also point towards someone who is more driven by humility than selfish ambition.
His motives would appear to be of the purest kind. So could He then be speaking the truth? Well, we are finding out as we read through the gospel. Does He back up His words with truth? Is He really about His Family business? Can He really raise the dead?
This whole discourse started with Him raising a man who had been crippled for 38 years. That is some serious evidence, particularly for those like John himself who witnessed it.
The Family mission of raising the dead is accomplished in Christ and by Christ, who cannot and does not do anything by Himself or for Himself. He has total authority because He has total humility. He is not looking for His own will, just the will of His Father. Wow.
That is how God’s Family does mission together.
How are we doing as part of God’s Family on mission?
How is our church doing as part of God’s Family on mission?
Do we have the heart of the mission, raising the dead and giving them life, to serve the Father and exalt Jesus?
Do we have the heart for the mission, humility and obedience?
Do we have the heart in the mission, love for God and each other, honour for God and for each other?
If we have these qualities in increasing measure then we can expect to be churches and individuals that are growing in the revelation and reality of the resurrection power that is the hallmark of all that the Father is doing in and through His One and Only Son, Jesus.
38: The Rhythm of Life
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 5:1)
Back to Jerusalem. Again Jesus comes from a miracle that happens in Cana, via a stay in Capernaum, up to Jerusalem. Just like John 2:11-13.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
Jesus again went up to take part in a feast. He was participating in and maybe even enjoying the rhythm of Jewish life. By the time this story is over though, He has upset the Jewish leaders for breaking the rhythm of Jewish life. Jesus upsets them so much that they begin to persecute Him. That could have been easily avoided, if He had just stuck with the rhythm. In the end, a small adjustment to Jesus’ actions would have left all the people happy. But Jesus isn’t primarily interested with leaving all the people happy, in fact He leaves some of them, the powerful ones, very angry. Why would He do that? We’ll discover why as we unpack what happened.
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” (John 5:2-5)
Water again. So far we have had Jesus coming up out of the waters of baptism like the new land of God’s creation rising out of the waters that covered the earth. We have had washing water but Jesus makes it better and it becomes wine. We have had well water, but Jesus Himself is better and offers the water of life. Now we have healing water, miracle water but again Jesus is going to prove Himself better. Because the water can only heal one a day, only when the water is stirred. Jesus can heal many times a day, whenever the heart of His Father is stirred to do it. You have to get down into the water yourself or with a friend to be healed. Jesus, the healing waters of heaven, comes to us.
“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’” (John 5:6)
What a strange question to ask. The man has been an invalid for 38 years, he has come every day to try and get into the waters first. He’s here even on the Sabbath. 38 years of trying to get healed and Jesus asks him if he wants to get well. Why would Jesus ask such a seemingly insensitive, almost accusing, question? Maybe the answer is in the man’s reply.
“ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’” (John 5:7)
Jesus is drawing out the truth of the situation so that His disciples and therefore the rest of us, will know. This man is an invalid. The Greek word speaks of feebleness and a want of strength. He can’t get to the water in time because he needs someone else to help him. He is at the mercy of someone’s patience and kindness. Patience, because he needs someone to sit with him and wait till the water is stirred and then do it again the next day if he doesn’t make the previous day and then the next day and the next day until they get there first. Kindness, because only an incredibly unselfish, thoughtful and merciful person would do that. The man does not have such a person.
He wants to be healed, but he can’t get there. After 38 years he hasn’t been able to get there. That is a long time. More than half a lifetime in those days. I wonder what he has missed out on in life because he has been here so often? Marriage? Children? Work and financial blessing? If he has not been able to pursue any of these earthly joys it is because they are waiting behind the door of his healing. That door has been firmly slammed shut in his face, not once but every day for 38 years. That is a huge amount of unfulfilled expectation and crushed hope.
He is an invalid. He can’t get there himself. If His life is going to turn around He needs someone with incredible patience and kindness to help him. Jesus wants us to know that.
“Jesus said to him,’Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” (John 5:8-9)
And just like that 38 years of the daily ritual of vain expectation and crushed hope is gone. All he needed was someone with incredible patience and kindness. Someone to help him into the only waters that are better than the miracle waters of the Pool of Bethesda. The only person in the world he needed was Jesus. And Jesus was right there to help him.
We have been talking a lot at church over this last year about the “suddenlys” of God. If you have been struggling for a long time with something, do a Bible search on the word suddenly, it will be an encouragement to you. God can turn 38 years of hurt into incredible joy in an instant. He has the patience and the kindness to do it.
“Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’” (John 5:9-10)
Incredible! A man is healed after 38 years of being sick. Only God could have done that. A great miracle has taken place. God has visited his people. It’s a time for joy and celebration. But the Jewish leaders miss all that. All they can see is a man carrying his bed on the Sabbath. They have utterly missed their day of visitation. Not only have they missed it, their attitude is going to try and destroy it. Incredible!
It is easy for us to get upset with the Jewish leaders, but we need to remember that they thought they were doing the will of the Father too. They were told in the 10 Commandments to do no work on the Sabbath and they were observing the law with diligence. Too much diligence as it turns out. A diligence that lacked the patience and kindness that Jesus had. A diligence that lacked mercy and compassion.
We like to think that we are not even close to having their attitude, but is it possible that sometimes our diligence to preserve truth lacks patience, kindness, mercy and compassion? If it does, what does that say about our diligence? Are we really doing the works of the Father when we act like that?
I have discovered after many years in ministry and watching God at work and seeing people’s reactions (including my own), that a religious spirit will always try to take the joy out of the works of God.
The Jewish leaders are accusing the man of breaking the law and the consequences will be severe. He quickly passes the blame to Jesus. You can’t blame him, he’s only just got his strength back and has hope of a new life, only to have it threatened before he’s had a chance to enjoy it.
“But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” (John 5:11)
In common language he threw Jesus under the bus. He probably didn’t mean to, it was probably an instant reaction. He was instinctively looking to save the life he had just so recently found. If he did it unconsciously, he is quickly awakened to the ramifications of what he has done. These religious leaders aren’t going to stop until they have prosecuted and exacted judgment on whoever it was that healed him.
“They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” (John 5:13-14)
Yes, they are going to prosecute a man for doing a work of God. Why? Because He apparently didn’t do it right. The fact that He couldn’t have done a work of God unless God was with Him is lost on them.
I wonder how many times the church has “prosecuted” others in our own courtrooms of opinion who have done works of God, but didn’t do it “right”. Has it occurred to us that it’s impossible to do a work of God without God?
The man probably feels their venom and is now grateful that Jesus left without introducing Himself. But the story is not done yet.
“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’” (John 5:14)
This seems like a small addition to the narrative, but think about the implications. Does Jesus know that by revealing Himself to this man He is walking into a bear trap? Why did Jesus do this anyway? The man was already healed. Was He so concerned that the man would get back into sin and lose his healing? Apparently so, because the cost was pretty big. Jesus knew that He was revealing Himself to the authorities, he said this in the temple after all. Now He was a marked man.
Jesus literally put His life in the hands of the man whose life He has just transformed. He most likely knew what He was doing and He encourages the man not to sin because something worse will happen to him if he does. Unfortunately the man doesn’t take the advice.
“The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” (John 5:15)
Ouch. Now that’s really throwing Jesus under the bus this time. The Jewish leaders didn’t find him and ask him again, he went to look for them. He chose self preservation over gratitude. He wanted the approval of the Jewish leaders rather than the relationship with his healer. He had addressed Jesus as “Sir,” (Kyrios) when he had wanted something off him in verse 7, now he doesn’t think he needs Jesus any more and so he appears more than happy to throw Jesus to the wolves.
It’s an easy mistake to make. The Jewish leaders appear mercilessly angry. Jesus appears full of mercy. Who would I want to be on the wrong side of? Surely Jesus would understand?
But Jesus told him not to sin again and he did. He willingly chose preserving himself and his reputation with the authorities over covering the man who had healed him. He had knowingly kept himself on the path of life by throwing Jesus into the path of death. His actions are a stark contrast to those of someone else who was healed a few chapters later who was faced with the same choice but made a very different decision.
He had sinned again and as he walked (or probably ran) out of the temple that day, he probably thought he had got away with it. I hope he dealt with it before he died, by repenting and asking forgiveness of the One he had sinned against, because he wasn’t going to get away with it otherwise. One day he would face Jesus again in the courtroom of heaven and have to give an account to Jesus Himself of what he did. That is the something “worse” that could happen to him if he sinned again.
Back to Jesus in the courts of earth, the temple to be precise.
“And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:16-17)
This is why Jesus got the Jewish leaders upset, because He insisted on healing people on the Sabbath. Jesus went further to insist that the only reason He healed on the Sabbath was because His Father wanted to heal people on the Sabbath. This was a day set aside to rest by God and it was clearly stated in the Torah, but Jesus (and by implication the Father) are now both working on that day.
The fourth commandment states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
It is the most clearly stated and explained commandment of them all. Keep the Sabbath Holy, in other words, keep it set apart for God. Holy means not doing your own work, but it obviously does not include doing God’s work.
Healing people is obviously Holy to Jesus, because it is restoring someone to what God intended them to be. Healing is very appropriate on the Sabbath because it is adjusting the brokenness of a sinful world and restoring it back to God’s original plan. It is turning back to God.
The original Sabbath (the seventh day of creation) was a day of rest because everything that God had created was good and it was all finished. Since sin, everything is no longer good and so God is at work restoring His creation to a place of rest (where He can say again “it is good”). Healing is appropriate on the Sabbath because it is restoring a body to rest and because it is restoring a body to God’s original plan and design. That is why then Jesus tells the man to go and sin no more, because sin is what breaks the Sabbath rest. Sin is what destroyed the work of God from which He rested on the first Sabbath. Sin is what desecrates the Sabbath and to turn back and reverse the affects of sin is to restore the Sabbath. It makes things Holy again, set apart to God.
And the measure and results of healing are important. It wasn’t strictly that Jesus healed the man that got the leaders upset. It was the fact that he told the man to pick up his bed and carry it home. But what alternative did Jesus have? He could have told him to go home and leave his bed, in which case he would have got home healed but without one of his most important possessions. Or Jesus could have told him to stay where he was until the Sabbath was over. The Jews would have been happy. The man might have put up with it happily enough because he was healed. Everyone would have been happy, except the Father.
Jesus said in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of My Father and to accomplish (which means to finish) His work”. The work wasn’t finished until the man was out of the place of his sickness, with his bed. Anything less would have been an incomplete work. The Jews may have been happy if he had stayed at the pool for a few more hours, or simply walked away and left his bed behind. The man would probably have been ok with it, but God wasn’t ok with it because it is His glory not only to do a work, but to finish it.
That is, after all, why the Sabbath existed in the first place, because God actually finished His work. Our sin undid that completeness and left a huge amount of unfinished work. Now God has sent Jesus to undo the curse of sin and to finish works so that God’s rest is secured for whoever He heals. Jesus is restoring the real Sabbath not desecrating it.
The Father wanted the man to have a life worth living. Being set free, only to remain partially bound by the fear and threat of religious observance, is not the fulness of life that He wants to give us.
Jesus claims to be on the same page as the Father. In their minds that would have made Him equal with the Father. That upset them even more.
It turns out that even though Jesus may have enjoyed some of the rhythm of Jewish life, He wasn’t interested in being bound by it. He was only interested in the rhythm of His Father’s will and sticking to that.
God’s rhythm is the only true rhythm of life.
Oh, and by the way, as a humorous aside, if the man is truly going to enter into God’s rest, he’s going to need his bed!!
37: It’s Official
“After the two days he departed for Galilee. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.” (John 4:43–45)
After Jesus’ journey He did not return home. The Samaritans welcome Him, the Galileans welcomed him, but He was not honoured in His own home town.
The truth of what John says in verse 11 of the first chapter is becoming reality.
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
But the more powerful truth is that the next two verses of that same chapter are also becoming reality. Many Jews would be offended by this truth.
“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 1:12-13)
They may not have been so offended by the fact that the Samaritans received Jesus, but a strict Jew would probably have been severely provoked by the thought that a Samaritan could become one of God’s children. An uncircumcised heathen could become a child of God and not by going through the regular rituals but simply by believing and receiving Jesus. They had their position as God’s children confirmed over countless generations. Now in one simple act a whole town of Samaritan’s have become God’s children too.
It is a sad fact that the people who “know” Jesus most are often the least ready to receive what He is doing. It is a sobering fact that Jesus is prepared to pass His own by to minister to those who really want Him. Such a man came to Jesus in Cana.
“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” (John 4:46-47)
The news is out. It’s official. Jesus is a miracle worker. When he gets back to the site of His first miracle in Cana of Galilee there is already expectation and people waiting to be touched by His power.
One such man is an “official” (ESV). If that sounds like a government employee, then his title implies something a little more. The Greek word implies royalty or in the service of royalty. It is only used in two other places in the New Testament, once in Acts 12:21 describing Herod’s royal robes and the other in James 2:8 where James is talking about the “royal law”.
At the very least, this man had connections, probably very powerful ones. Maybe he had gone to them first for help when his son got sick, we don’t know. Either way he was desperate enough to leave them behind to go and find Jesus. We don’t know how long his son was ill for, but now he is “at the point of death.” We don’t know what he was ill from, but his body was spiralling out of control and driving him towards an inevitable conclusion.
Except that Jesus had turned water in wine. After which he had gone down with his friends and family to stay in Capernaum for a few days. That’s where this official came from. Maybe they had even met then. We don’t know. But what we do know is that this man had heard of Jesus and what He was capable of doing. And at his most desperate point, he wasn’t going to go to all his other high connections, he knew they could do nothing to help him despite any wealth or power that they may have had. There was only one man who could help now. Thankfully He was in the neighbourhood. He always is. That’s what “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” means.
There’s always little nuggets of gold in these gospel stories, if we look for them. This official had a choice to make. His son was “on the point of death”. Jesus was in another town. It was at least a days journey away because when he met his servants on the way back home they had been travelling with news from the day before.
The servants. That’s where one of the nuggets of this story is. He had servants. He was an official, he probably had some connection to royalty. He was not poor. He had servants. What of it?
Only this. I said he had a choice to make. Here was his choice, to leave his son who was on the point of death to find Jesus. Someone probably told him that his son would not live to see his return. He might never see his son alive again. Well that is a difficult choice to be sure, but Jesus was known as a miracle worker and any parent would do all they could to save their child.
But that wasn’t the choice. The choice was this, he could have sent his servants. He obviously had them. He could have stayed at the side of his son and sent his servants. But he didn’t. Why not?
Well at this point it is conjecture, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that he was an official. He was used to dealing with people in power. He knew how to get answers when he needed them. He knew the approach that would have the best chance of success. If you want something from the market, or from the doctor, you send your servants. He probably could have sent a command to many people to appear before him and they would have dropped everything to attend to his needs.
However, if you want something from royalty, you don’t send your servants. That would not bring success, in fact in most cases it would be an affront to the one you were approaching. No, if you want the best chance of success with royalty and those in power, you needed to go yourself.
So, somewhere in the back of this man’s mind he had to make a choice. He knew he needed to send for Jesus. But was Jesus a doctor or a merchant or something more? He made his choice. He was going to leave the side of his dying son and risk everything on getting to Jesus and somehow bringing him back before his son finally passes away. Two days travel at least. But he would need to go himself. Anything less could compromise the mission. Jesus might not respond to a servant. Jesus might not have been official royalty but this official already knew that Jesus operated outside of the usual political processes. You can’t pull rank on Jesus. No, he knew he needed to go himself.
Again conjecture, but let’s take in a possible little scene in the room where his son lay.
Father: Son, I’ve heard Jesus is nearby
Son: (speaking feebly out of his sickness) The One who turned water into wine?
Father: Yes, that’s the One. I’m going to ask Him to come and heal you
Son: Ok, don’t be long (the son notices the strained looked on his Father’s face). How long will you be gone?
Father: Jesus is in Cana
Mother: That’s at least two days there and back and what if he doesn’t come?
Father: (putting his fingers to his lips and speaking a whisper) Shhh dear. Don’t upset him.
Son: I can hear you, both of you. Am I going to see you again?
Father: (holding back tears) I don’t know son, I hope so. But I think Jesus is our only hope.
Mother: Why don’t you just send one of the servants? Stay with your son.
Father: Jesus has to come here, it is our only hope. I cannot risk just sending a servant. I need to go myself, maybe He will listen to me.
Son: Then go Dad, you need to go.
Mother: But hurry dear.
Father: I love you Son, really love you. I will bring help.
Son: Love you too Dad. And if you don’t make it back in time….
Mother: Don’t Son, please, it’s breaking my heart.
The man would have hurried on his preparations and left, probably with a servant or two, but not so many that would have compromised the safety and comfort of his family at home. He was in a hurry. He wanted to move fast. Every step of his journey his thoughts would probably move between hope and fear, the Son of Man who was ahead of him and his own son who lay desperately sick behind.
The mother and son have their own wait. Time is running out and whatever care he is receiving is probably just to bring him some level of comfort. The Doctors are way past any hope of a cure.
They think about their husband and father rushing along the road. They hope that he can make it to Jesus in time. But will Jesus listen to his request? And what are the chances of Jesus leaving all the other people in Cana to come and see this one boy? And even if Jesus did come, would He make it in time? This must have seemed like a real long shot.
When the official arrives he tells Jesus his request. Jesus’ response is not what he would have expected. It’s not what we would expect either.
“So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’” (John 4:48)
That almost sounds like a dismissive rebuke. There are a number of ways you could interpret what Jesus was saying, but the Father wasn’t interested in them. He only had one thing on his mind.
The official wasn’t looking for signs and wonders, he was just desperate.
“The official said to him, ‘Sir, comes down before my child dies.’” (John 4:48-49)
How does he address Jesus? Remember he is an official, used to walking in high places of power and authority. But he hasn’t sent his servants. He knows Jesus has power that no one else has. He has come himself.
“Sir,” he says. “Kyrios”. Just like the woman at the well. The same honouring respect. The same “you are higher than I am” deference. This is not fawning flattery to get what he wants. This is just the way it is. The official may have stood in the courts of the highest civil and religious authorities in the land, but he has never stood before a man with this much power before. And he knows it. And he is desperate.
“Sir, come down before my son dies.”
Jesus’ response is not what the man wanted to hear either. He wanted Jesus to come back with him. Jesus declines the invitation, but answers the prayer of a desperate man.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’” (John 4:50)
A life worth living? This wasn’t just about the son’s life. The Father himself would have struggled to see his own life as one that was really worth living if he had lost his son, never mind the mother. Now Jesus, the Logos, the Word of life, promises Him real life, for all of them.
How would I respond? I think I would be disappointed. I think I would still want Jesus to come. But this man had stood before the highest of authorities. He walked and worked in those places of power and influence. If someone else, another man, came to him with a request and he chose to grant it, that man would have to leave the official’s presence on his own. The official wasn’t going to go with him. How would that man know that the official would follow through and answer his request? Only because the official told him so. The man would have to trust the official’s words.
This official knew how these things worked. He had asked Jesus and Jesus had responded. Jesus wasn’t going to come. But he had Jesus’ word. That was good enough for him.
“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” (John 4:50)
To go back to the imaginary picture of another man coming to this official’s office with a request, let’s imagine the official has said “yes” and dismissed the man from his office. What then? Well the man leaves, hoping that the official will be as good as his word. Hoping that once he leaves, the official will summon his servants or employees and give orders and instructions to deal with the issue that the man had raised. Those servants or employees would then get to work to carry out the official’s orders. That’s how government works. A public request becomes a private process that takes place behind the scenes, but things get taken care of. That is why the official is fine about leaving without Jesus. He has made a request to the highest power he can find in the land. That power has said “yes” to his request and now he can leave, trusting that the Man in power will be true to His Word and give orders to His servants to carry out His will and there will be now a private unseen process that will bring his son the life he needs.
What was the result?
“As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.” (John 4:51-53)
Let’s look at this from two perspectives. Firstly the official. He immediately turns around and sets off for home. Maybe, like most people who put in a request to some level of government, he has moments of doubt that Jesus will follow through on His words. It was a long trip back. There was plenty of time to think. All he had to go on were Jesus’ words. The only thing standing between him and the death of his son. Thankfully, that was all he needed. Just the words. Just the words of the Word of life.
His servants meet him with the good news. They tell him when the boy was healed. He works it out in his mind. Right when Jesus spoke. Jesus didn’t need to send a bunch of human servants on a trip to ensure something would happen. He just released his words into the atmosphere, as He did at creation and, as at creation, darkness fled before them.
Something would have entered the official’s heart that day that probably never left him. He had been in the courts of the highest rulers and governors of the land, but they were nothing to what he had experienced here. Nothing to Who he had experienced here. He lived a simple life, in simple clothes with nowhere that was His own to lay His head, yet He is the King of all Kings, the Supreme Ruler above all the rulers of the world and His Word is truth. What He says, He does. Always His Words become the laws that govern the universe and all that happens in it. Everything else needs to bow down before Him.
The second perspective is that of the official’s home. The mother probably never left her son’s side. Servants quietly shuffling to and fro bringing whatever they required. She is watching the sun in the sky. What time of day is it? Where will her husband be? The son is getting worse by the hour, her anxiety is growing all the time.
She knows how long it will take to get to Cana. She knows at what hour her husband will be in the same town as Jesus. She is imagining him approaching Jesus. She knows her husband’s ways. She knows how he will approach this. She can imagine him asking Jesus to come with him. She wonders what the response will be.
Suddenly there is a gasp from beside her. A sudden intake of breath. She looks down at the failing body that lies on the bed beneath her. Eyes flicker open in surprise. Colour rushes to the white cheeks. Suddenly the burning heat is gone from the skin. It is like a wind has gone through the room. A wind of change. In a moment. In a breath. The Breath of Life, at the command of the Word of Life has just washed over her son. He is sitting up. He is smiling. He is utterly well. He has been given a life worth living. They have all been given a life worth living.
She hugs her son with incredible relief and she can only say one thing, over and over through her tears of joy.
“Jesus, Jesus, he must have met Jesus.”
It only becomes clear to her once her husband returns and they have shared their stories, which were probably repeated many times over the years to whoever would listen. Jesus didn’t have to come in person. He just had to come in Word. She didn’t need His body in the room, she just needed His Word to be released.
That is primarily why Jesus didn’t go with the man. It seemed like almost a cruelty at the time. But Jesus is never cruel. He was being kind to this man and his family and especially kind to all of us who have called on His name since. We could have been left believing that, without Jesus’ physical presence in the room, the son would not have been healed. That would have been a heartwarming story, but do little to encourage us 2000 years later. But we know Who we are dealing with now. We can come before His courts in heaven in prayer. We can make requests of Him. If He releases His Word, the moment He speaks, it is as good as done. Every time.
As he went his Son was healed, even though he did not know it. Is that familiar? A miracle at Cana. As the servants took the water to the master of the feast it changed into the most wonderful of wines and they did not know it. As they went the miracle happened. As the official went, the miracle happened. Well it wasn’t just that they “went”, they went with the Word of God. Sons were healed and water was changed into wine not by the touch of God, though that would happen many times, nor even by the presence of God, but by the Word of God. Jesus spoke it and so it happened as they went in obedience to His word.
The son and the wedding guests ended up with a life worth living or a wedding certainly worth attending. That’s what happens when you walk in obedience to the Word of life.
“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.” (John 1:1-5)
The Word of life is in the house.
36: The Savior of the World
“They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:42)
“Savior of the world.”
This is the only time that John uses this phrase in his gospel. He only uses it once more in all his writings and that is in his first letter chapter 4 and verse 14.
“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (John 1:14)
The Angels proclaimed the coming of a Savior to the shepherds.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save people: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 21)
The very name Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation”.
Jesus Himself said that He had come to save. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
After He ascended into heaven, the apostles preached Jesus as the Savior.
Acts 5:31 “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Paul once gets close to the same phrase that John uses when he proclaims in 1Timothy 4:10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
“Soter pas anthropos” in the Greek, Savior of all people. It is close, but no one else uses the phrase that John uses.
So John’s phrase is unique to him. A title only he gives Jesus to add to the many titles he has given to Him in the first 4 chapters of his gospel.
The Savior of the World. “Soter kosmos”.
The title Savior was given by those in the ancient world to deities, princes, kings, and in general to men who had really helped their countries in significant ways.
In the Book of Judges, God raised up men and women to “save” Israel from their troubles.
This is God speaking to Gideon: “And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’” (Judges 6:14)
The people kept falling back into sin, which brought them judgment from God and trouble from other nations. But then they would turn to the Lord and cry out to Him and He would raise up another savior for them.
“ After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim.” (Judges 10:1)
In the days of the Kings, when they cried out to God to deliver them from trouble, even those who weren’t walking in the ways of God, He sent them a deliverer or a savior. “Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly.” (2Kings 13:5)
This is what the Samaritans called Jesus. A savior. Someone who had come to set them free from the things that bound and oppressed them. And with what joy they must have called Him that. This makes Jesus their Savior. But, unlike their Jewish neighbours, who seemed bent on keeping Jesus for themselves (if they wanted Him at all), these Samaritans wanted to share Him with everyone. They celebrated Him as the world’s Savior.
They came to this conclusion after spending two days with Him. “Many” of them believed as soon as they first heard the woman’s testimony. But after two days of having Jesus live among them, “many more” believed.
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” (John 4:39-41)
John tells us that “many more believed because of His word”. In the Greek it is “because of His Logos”. He is the Logos, the Word and His words are life and light. They bring hope and truth and pierce people’s hearts in a way that opens them up to receive Him. When they receive Him, they do not just receive a good man with good teachings, or even a healer and miracle worker, someone who can sort out the bad things in their lives. No, these people listened to the words of Jesus and received Him for who He really is, which is what they (and all of us really need), a Savior.
Jesus’ words are the life changers. The Logos is the Word of God and the words of God are like a sharp two edged sword.
John records a vision he had of Jesus years after He had ascended to heaven in Revelation 1:16: “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
The sword of God comes from the mouth of the Word of God to cut down the lies of the enemy and deliver us from the bondage to our own sinful thoughts and actions. That is how these Samaritans were saved. This is how Jesus became their Savior. His words cut through the lies and deceits of their lives and culture and brought them out into truth and life. This is how Jesus fights for our freedom. His words set us free.
In Ephesians 6:17 & 18, Paul encourages us that we can wield the same sword with our own mouths to defeat the lies of the enemy:
“and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
That verse implies that, to some degree, we are responsible for our ongoing freedom. We need to wield the sword of the Word of God ourselves and, in prayer, cut down those lies and strongholds of thinking that will continue to try and hold us in bondage. However, even if we are responsible to some degree for our own ongoing freedom, we certainly cannot save ourselves at any time. The reason we can grow in fighting for our own freedom is only because we have received the Savior of the World into our lives in the first place and then have not only listened to His Word but have embraced it, memorized it, meditated on it, so that the sword of the Lord does not just cut into us, but it begins to come out of us.
Salvation begins with hearing and receiving the Word of God.
When the Samaritans heard His words, they knew that they were not just listening to their Savior, or even the Savior of their region, but they were listening to the Savior of the world. The Savior of the “kosmos”.
But what did they need saving from? A threatening army? Destructive weather patterns? The oppression of their enemies?
The woman at the well knew she needed a savior from herself and the destructive patterns of her life. She knew she needed someone to help her put things right with God so that she could connect with Him and become a true worshiper. She needed a savior from her sin and the destructive consequences of that sin in her life. That’s the sort of savior she and her townspeople needed. A personal Savior for their own sins.
I don’t know what the culture is like where you live, but here in Winnipeg, Canada, it can sometimes seem that people feel no need of a Savior. Healer? Yes, sometimes. Friend? Yes, sometimes that too. Counsellor and helper? Yes, that as well. Someone to meet their physical needs? Yes, that is often the reason people coming looking for Jesus. But a Savior? Not so much. There seems to be little deep conviction of sin, or fear of judgment, which is what we need if we are to know our need of a Savior.
As we have talked about this, we have recognised our need to pray for that conviction of sin on our culture. But these Samaritans recognized their need of a Savior by listening to Jesus’ words. Maybe we need to be looking at what we are preaching as well as what we are praying. Maybe we need to look at how we share the gospel with others. If there is no deep conviction of sin, then people may come to Jesus for all sorts of reasons, but they will not come to truly love and appreciate and serve Him. A number of the pastoral issues I deal with, would be less of an issue if they had come to a real deep conviction of sin when they were saved.
It must be noted that Jesus brought this woman to a recognition of her need of a savior not by brow beating her with the truth, or preaching a “hellfire” sermon at her. It wasn’t that Jesus was necessarily against that as a strategy. John the Baptist had clearly warned people to get themselves right with God before it was too late. But Jesus led this woman to repentance in the most gentle and yet direct way.
The woman at the well was gently and kindly exposed as a lost sinner who needed saving. Whatever Jesus said to her Samaritan neighbours had the same effect. Not only did they recognize that they needed saving but that Jesus was the Savior, for everybody.
And, again, let’s not miss the flow of where the Holy Spirit through John is taking us here. The chapter before Jesus has had to explain this concept of the world needing saving, and Him being the saviour that the world needs, to Nicodemus.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus is having to take this leader of Israel, this Pharisee learned and devoted to the Old Testament scriptures, this “teacher of Israel”, back to the beginning, to the womb of God’s heart and purposes for this world. He has to show Him that the world needs a savior and that God so loved us that He send His One and Only Son to be that savior, because God wants the world not to be condemned but to be saved. By the time He has finished explaining this to Nicodemus, we are not clear that he understands what Jesus is saying to him.
But here, one chapter later, we have the outworking of what Jesus was saying. A sinner in need of a savior, who brings the news of that saviour to a town of sinners who needed a savior. After two days the town knows what Nicodemus struggled to see despite all his learning, that Jesus really is the Savior. And they are Samaritans from the town nicknamed “drunken”. They knew they were sinners that needed saving from their sin and all its consequences.
These Samaritans had been given the message over generations that they were outside of the reach of God’s love and purposes, becasue they were outside of the covenants God made with His people Israel. Jesus Himself had told the Samaritan woman “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Yes, salvation is from the Jews. The Savior was a Jew Himself. But salvation was never just meant just for the Jews, even though they would hear about it first. Salvation was never meant just for one exclusive group, of any sort. Jesus did not just come for “His own” (John 1:11), He came for all. He came for the world. And anyone can be saved through 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 1:12-13).
The Holy Spirit really wants us to get this message through John’s gospel: Jesus is the Savior, the Savior of the world.
35. Forever Food: Provision in Purpose
“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’” (John 4:31-32)
The disciples had gone into the town looking for food for Jesus. They had left Him by the well because He was tired. Maybe they had a discussion about what food to buy Him. Whether they had or not, they certainly returned with food to eat. However, Jesus is no longer sitting tired and hungry at the side of the well. He is fully engaged in another round of ministry.
The disciples are concerned about Him. They “urge” Him to eat. But Jesus is not living under the demands of His flesh and blood needs, He is being refreshed by something much more lasting than mere food. He is doing His Father’s will.
“ So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:33)
Jesus is not saying that as long as you are doing the Father’s will and finishing it, you do not need to eat. But He is trying to teach His disciples a vital lesson. It was the lesson that the people of Israel failed to learn and wandered in the desert for 40 years as a result. God graciously provided for their physical needs, food and water, but they continued to be bound by the concerns and demands of their physical needs.
The lesson they were supposed to learn was that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This does not merely mean that we all need to listen and obey the words of God if we are going to have the right direction in life. This means what it literally says. Man was never supposed to just live on physical food because we are not primarily physical beings. We are spiritual beings, made in the image of God and with the breath of God in us.
If we believe and receive Jesus, we are made spiritually alive again and we need now to learn to live like spiritual beings, like the children of God. Our spirit needs refreshment every bit as much as our physical body and it is much more important. We need to feed our spirits. And the spirit is fed by doing and finishing the will of God. In other words, by hearing and fully obeying the Word of God.
The life of God does not just flow aimlessly in many different directions. The life of God flows through the will of God. The river of God flows in the direction of His purposes. If we are out of His purposes for our lives we are out of the river of His spiritual provision for us (and maybe the physical provision too).
Jesus told us, during the sermon on the mount, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness “all these things” necessary for our physical wellbeing get added to us (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus is always in the river of God’s purposes and provision and He is trying to train the disciples to live there too.
Jesus could have been resting at the well, He was physically tired and hungry. But His Father wasn’t finished and so, tired as He was, Jesus didn’t stop either, trusting that the Lord would replenish and refresh Him. He understood what He wanted His disciples to understand, so that their lives and ministry wouldn’t be bound and restricted by their physical limitations.
IF GOD IS STILL WORKING THEN THE RIVER IS STILL FLOWING.
Jesus goes on to explain what He saw His Father doing, which kept Him going too. He saw His Father in the harvest field. With the physical eye, all you could see was a woman at the well. But Jesus saw His Father in the harvest field and so He went to work with Him.
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35)
Jesus knew that not only was there purpose for the worker in the harvest field, there was also provision. There was fruit to be had from the work, but also wages to be received.
“Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together” (John 4:36).
When the harvest is reaped, the harvester receives both a “wage” and the “fruit” of their labour. This is where Jesus is going to get His spiritual food and refreshment from, from the proceeds of reaping. The Life of God is in the will of God, the provision is in the purpose.
Jesus finishes His lesson to the disciples by explaining to them that the work of God is a team effort.
“For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4: 37-38)
Is He saying that He was reaping what His Father had sown? Maybe. It certainly means that the work of God is a team effort and we were never meant to do it all ourselves. We don’t get refreshed in our spirits by going beyond the boundaries of His call on our lives. That can wear us out as much as not doing the will of God. We just have to do our part.
It seems the disciples got this lesson. They demonstrated that on one of their subsequent visits to the region. In Acts 8, Philip the evangelist goes preaching and demonstrating the gospel in Samaria. Many Samaritans believe and so the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John down to help solidify the work.
One sows, the other reaps. But both reap the rewards. Fruit and wages. Food that godless men “know not of.”
Are we in the river of God’s life giving purposes? Are we living by every word that proceeds from His mouth? Are we looking for what the Father is doing, to get involved with Him?
Even as Christians, our spiritual lives will begin to look seriously malnourished if we don’t.
34. Seeing Beyond
“Just then his disciples came back. They marvelled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.” (John 4:27-30)
The disciples return from the City with the food that they had gone to buy. When they get back to the well they are shocked to find Jesus talking to a woman. They don’t seem so shocked that he is conversing with a Samaritan. They obviously hadn’t witnessed him spending time alone with an unknown woman before.
Of course, Jesus hadn’t gone looking for her. The Holy Spirit had obviously brought her to Him. And this wasn’t some private hidden conversation. They were in a very public, high traffic, area. There is no indication that Jesus hesitated to talk to her when she came. On the contrary He had initiated the discussion.
When the disciples returned they saw Jesus talking to a woman and they marvelled. Jesus didn’t see it that way. He saw Himself as talking to a person, someone created in the image of God. He gave her the respect and the dignity that deserved, regardless of her gender or race. She almost immediately seemed drawn in by the manner with which He spoke to her. She was disarmed by it.
And yet Jesus knew her. If He hadn’t known the minute He saw her, it didn’t take Him long to get to the real issues of her life. But even that didn’t stop Him from addressing her with kindness and dignity. At best she was a broken, wounded, woman, desperately in need of a man. At worst she was a serial seductress and adulteress. Either way, many of us would have shied away from talking with her. The disciples certainly would have. But Jesus didn’t.
Moreover He addressed her as the daughter of Eve that she was. And she quickly responded to Him with even greater dignity and respect than He had afforded to her.
The returning disciples broke up the discussion. Maybe she could feel their reaction. More than likely, she did not notice. She was too enthralled with what she had just experienced and she wanted everyone to know.
She came to the well for water, but by the time the disciples returned, she didn’t need it anymore. She left her empty bucket behind and hurried into her town to tell everyone about Jesus.
“So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” (John 4:28-29)
The people in the City probably knew her well. Many of them must have attended at least one of her weddings and if not they should have at least heard about her. Whatever they thought about her, the testimony that she brought to them was enough to bring them out to meet the man who had told her everything about herself.
Can this be the Christ? She asked them. They wanted to find out. And so they too came to the well of life, to see if there really was living water there.
It didn’t take long before they believed. They had heard her report, so they came to Jesus. But when they heard Him for themselves, that sealed the deal.
“ They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:42)
Isn’t that the way. We can talk to people about Jesus, but it is when they hear Him speak to them, whether through the scriptures, or a song, a thought in their minds or a word from a preacher or friend, that’s what seals the deal for them to give their lives to Him.
And so a whole town in Samaria is touched by the good news of Jesus. He had a special heart for these people. When He gave the disciples the strategic plan for reaching the world the Samaritans were second on the list after the Jews. They were actually the only other nation named.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
And that’s what they did. The first place mentioned in the Book of Acts for receiving the gospel after Jerusalem and Judea is Samaria. And it was Philip who took the good news to them.
“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:5-8)
Why did Philip go there? Well, Jesus had told them to go there. But more than that, Philip had watched Jesus with this woman at the well, he had seen the response of the town to her testimony. He had witnessed first hand how much Jesus loved these people and how thirsty they were for Him. He caught Jesus’ heart.
And we cannot miss or underemphasise the fact that the first person Jesus used to bring a community to Him was a woman, who didn’t even really understand what it meant to be saved never mind have any training or experience. She had just met Jesus and He had spoken with her like no other man, or woman had ever done. Her heart had been touched and her life changed.
This was breaking the rules. She shouldn’t have been speaking for God or leading people to God. From a Jewish perspective she was the wrong person for the job on at least three counts: She was a gentile. She was living promiscuously (the man she was currently with wasn’t her husband) and she was a woman.
We need to track with the Holy Spirit as He moves John to write this gospel. Jesus has just met with a “ruler of Israel” (John 3:1), Nicodemus. He ticks all the boxes for someone God should use to speak for Him and lead to Him, at least to a Jewish perspective. He was a Jew and a man, a Pharisee learned and steeped in the scriptures, he probably had a faultless outward moral life. Jesus called him “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10), there’s a title you can work with. But Jesus isn’t working with him, despite ticking all the boxes from a Jewish perspective. Nicodemus doesn’t get it, at all. Jesus tells him he needs to go back to the beginning and start over. Then the Holy Spirit, through John, shows us the exact opposite, a gentile, a woman, confused in her understanding of God and how and where to worship Him with a far from faultless moral life. But the Father, through Jesus, uses her to reach her entire town. Do we get what the Holy Spirit is saying?
If the church ever needs a reminder that Jesus doesn’t play by our rule book when it comes to who He chooses to work through, then this is it. The 21st Century church needs to take serious note, because this generation of young people, both Christian and Non-Christian have little tolerance for what they see as a strict adherence to an interpretation of the rule book which limits people being able to flourish in who God has made them to be, because they come from the wrong background, are not educated or experienced enough, or are women.
I believe God has been knocking at the door of the church on this issue for more than a generation. If churches don’t open the door to what He is saying and doing, then I think there is a possibility that Jesus will just move on and work with those who will work with Him, with His heart.
The Jews called the town “drunken”, that’s what they thought of the people who lived there. Maybe the disciples had the same view. Jesus saw a thirst in them for God that no one else saw. Underneath whatever exterior lifestyle they led, they were worshipers, they just didn’t know Who to worship or how to worship Him. Jesus called the worship out of them, not initially through the trained and tested Philip who would witness the resurrection, but through a woman who, in spiritual terms, was probably amongst the most thirsty and lost in the entire area.
The disciples saw a woman and a Samaritan. Jesus saw something else. He saw a lost soul. But He saw something beyond that. He saw a lost soul who could bring a City to Him. He saw in her capacity to seduce men a twisted gift. She could draw people, but she had used it to draw people to herself, for her own selfish ends. But if she met Jesus, drank of the living water and no longer had to satisfy those sinful cravings that had led her into the lifestyle she was addicted to, then that gift could be used in a different way. Not now seductively and sensuously but from a pure heart and pure motives. The adulteress became the evangelist, in just one visit to the well of life. And the whole town was reached.
What was Jesus doing at the well? Just passing through? Initially it seemed that way. But what was His Father doing? He was looking for worshipers. And He saw in this place exactly what He was looking for.
“Lord give me such eyes. To see beyond and to see through to what someone can really become in You, once they have been transformed by Your love and kindness. Deliver me from being bound by prejudices and judgements that may restrict me from seeing the true potential in people. If I am restricted from seeing, then maybe You are restricted from moving through me in the way that You want to and I want to repent of that.
Give me Your eyes to see, not just the sin and brokeness, but beyond to the wonderfully redemptive gift that anyone can be in You. Give me eyes to see the worshippers, even though they look the exact opposite when I first meet them.”
33. True Wellbeing
“Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (John 4:16)
Jesus is going to answer her request and teach her how to draw water from the well of life.
“First of all,” Jesus says, “go back to your old water source.”
“Go call your husband.”
Jesus is going to gently, but clearly, lead her to see the wrong well she has been drinking from. Her well was the wrong well morally and it was the wrong well emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. That is the way it is. If we drink from an immoral well, we will never be truly satisfied, at peace or healthy. We will never have a true sense of wellbeing.
Pure water is the only water that satisfies. That only comes from heaven. Morality is important. Jesus is gently leading her there. This not just about relationship with Jesus, but about sorting out the relationships that are impure. You cannot drink from both wells if you want the full benefits of the water of life.
“The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’” (John 4:16-18)
A Nathanael moment. Just like when He met that “true Israelite”, Jesus knew her and she knew it. This is now the key moment in the process of finding living water. She is known. She knows that she is known. Like Isaiah before the throne of God: “I am a man of unclean lips”. She has a choice. Will she run from the knowing?
Interestingly she doesn’t. She tries to divert His piercing all-seeing eyes away from her, yes, but she does not run. And that was her salvation.
Once Nathanael knew He was known, He immediately acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. This lady is not there yet. She will be, in less than a minute. But right now she can “see that you are a prophet”.
In other words, Jesus can see all things about us. We do not see who He is. Until His eyes start to pierce us, and when we are revealed in His eyes, suddenly the scales begin to fall off our own and we begin to see Him for who He really is. If we will not run away when we discover that we are fully known.
We start seeing when we don’t run from His knowing. We start truly knowing when we don’t run from his seeing.
In her case, she didn’t get it right at first. She was close to the truth. She calls Jesus a prophet. But He gently leads her the rest of the way.
What has Jesus seen in her? He has seen her well. This has been where she has gone to look for life and satisfaction. Maybe she was addicted to those feelings of first love. Maybe she had a sexual addiction. Whatever it was, she had been back to the well of new relationships with men a number of times. And she was at it again.
She goes for physical fulfillment before lasting commitment. She is “with” her present man before she is married to him.
Seemingly the woman is uncomfortable in the knowing because she throws out a political hot topic.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’” (John 4:19-20)
Presumably she’s trying to divert his focus away from her by stirring up some of the interracial tensions between Jews and Samaritans. This was an intense and deep seated dispute. It would normally be more than enough to put distance between them again. And, in her uncomfortableness, maybe a bit of distance would feel good right now.
She obviously doesn’t want to talk about the topic that Jesus has introduced. She isn’t between relationships, she already has been able to attract the attention of another man. She doesn’t want to open up about her life and her pain, although Jesus has already prized her open by getting to the roots of her longing. If we were in Jesus’ position, you and I might have tried to get her back on track with talking about her real needs. But Jesus doesn’t seems to want to expose her further. Kindness. He goes with the distraction, which turns out in the end to lead to the very root of her problem and certainly the only solution.
Jesus is brilliant, again. He doesn’t ignore her question this time, unlike the previous one about Him being greater than Jacob. She won’t feel that He is pushing past her defenses. But He answers the question in such a way that it utterly disarms the threat of the interracial dispute.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’” (John 4:21)
He doesn’t take the traditional sides at all. He says that neither side is right. He gently turns her. She has asked a general question about where people worship. Jesus makes it personal. He speaks prophetically into her, calling out the worshiper that she really is. He is helping her tap into the real well. Let me reshape the sentence.
“An hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, believe Me.”
“You are going to worship” Jesus tells her, “but not where you think.”
Despite not taking the traditional Jewish side in the question she raises, He doesn’t back down from the special place that His people, the Jews, have in the heart and plan of God.
“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)
If this Samaritan is going to be saved, she is going to have to humble herself to accept that it comes through the Jewish line. All saved Gentiles should have the same revelation. It is both humbling and releasing.
However, there is something else in this statement. “You worship what you do not know”.
Have she and her people been trying to worship God? Apparently. Jesus has told her “you worship.”
Have she and her people been trying to find the right place to worship God? Apparently true as well. However, she has been asking the wrong question. Her main problem is not that she does not know where to worship, her problem has been that she has not known who to worship. She has been trying to worship what she does not know. Such attempts at worship will always leave people thirsty. It is never satisfying, because worship only quenches our deepest thirst when we are worshipping the right “Who”, that we know.
Jesus is turning her “red herring” question towards the answer that she is really seeking. She has been trying to drink from Jacob’s well physically and spiritually. Worshipping where she thought Jacob worshipped as well as physically drinking from where he drank. But it has left her dry and looking for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places.
Jesus is bringing her to the waters of life. He moves the potential argument away from Jew and Samaritan, from Jerusalem and “this mountain”, towards the answer to every question and every dispute. It is the only true answer to every question and every dispute.
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23)
Jesus sat down at the well to get rest and refreshment. But now He understands why He is really here. His Father is looking for worshipers. And He has found one right here at this well. She doesn’t look anything like a true worshiper right now, the exact opposite in many ways. But that’s how we all are found by God. Worshipping in all the wrong places, with the wrong motivations and attitudes. He can make a true worshiper out of anyone.
However, the Father is not out to force people to worship, He is simply looking for them. He is seeking them out. He is not looking for the finished article though. He’s just looking for a longing heart that He can turn towards Himself.
Jesus tells her that worship will no longer happen at a place. We no longer need to go to Jerusalem or to the Samaritan’s mountain, or any other physical place to worship. We can worship anywhere because God is spirit (not physical) and therefore not bound to one physical place.
He is no longer coming to our designated places of worship. If we want to worship Him, we need to go to where He is. And He is in spirit and in truth. That is where He lives.
God is “in spirit”. The previous story John told us was about Jesus speaking to a devout God fearing Jewish ruler, almost the polar opposite of this woman in terms of race, gender, morality and status in the community (probably deliberately so on the author’s part). He told Nicodemus that he could not see or enter the kingdom of heaven unless he was born again. He told Him that rebirth was only possible through the Spirit.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
The kingdom of heaven is seen and entered by those who are in spirit, those who are born again and alive spiritually. The kingdom of heaven cannot be seen nor entered in our flesh. We need to be spirit and we can only become spirit if we are born again of the Spirit of God (“ex pneuma” in the Greek).
Now He tells this woman, who, unlike Nicodemus, is not given a name, that she can only worship “in spirit”.
It doesn’t matter where we come from in race, gender, status in our community or even morally. If we want to see and enter and worship in the kingdom of heaven, we all come the same way. We all need a transformation. We all need to be born again, because we are flesh and God is spirit and if we want to see, meet with and worship Him we need to become like He is. We need to be of the Spirit and we need to be in spirit (“en pneuma”).
God is “in truth”. God is not a liar, or one who covers over and hides who He really is. God doesn’t have a closet full of secrets that He is withholding from anyone. He has no need to be ashamed, embarrassed or in any way self protecting of who He is. He is “in truth”. He is who He is. That is how he revealed Himself to Moses and His people. “I am who I am.”
If this Samaritan woman is to become a true worshiper then she must move into truth. She must leave her place of self preservation and pretence. She must move into the light of being absolutely known and not run away from such knowing.
Now we understand why Jesus has gone with her distracting question. She meant it to deflect away from herself. Jesus gently turned it back on to her. In other words He told her: “You do not feel comfortable here in the light of My knowing. You are now here in the truth. You want to know where to worship? Well this is it. This is where you worship, right here where you are standing. Right here in the place of being fully known. Right here in the truth.”
God is Spirit and so we must be in spirit to worship Him. If our flesh begins to rise and we let it, we will find it harder and harder to truly worship. If we live to please the physical desires of that flesh, worship will become more foreign for us, because we are living in a land that is foreign to the Spirit of God. We might go through the forms of worship, and even look good to the world around us in that process, but it will not be pleasing to God. It will not be truthful worship.
God is in truth and so we must be in truth to worship Him. It is no good putting on a pretence, pretending to be holy when we are not, pretending to be happy when we are not, pretending to be intimate with God when we are not. We can enjoy the music and even feel something moving in our soul, but it will not be pleasing to God if it is not in truth. No, if we want to be one of the worshipers that the Father is looking for, then we need to be in truth, allowing ourselves to be fully seen and known, however difficult that is for us.
This means that the place of worship is not Jerusalem, or “this mountain” or some other physical location. The place of our worship is vulnerability, honesty, openness and transparency in the Holy Spirit, because that’s where the Father is.
“If we walk in the light as He is in the light” John tells us later in his first letter, chapter one and verse seven. That is where we need to be if we want to worship Him.
And He wants us to worship Him. He is looking for worshipers. Not just for His own pleasure, but because He knows that this is what will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. If we learn to love like He loves. If we learn to give ourselves away, sacrificially if need be, to another that we love more than we love ourselves. For that is what it means to truly worship.
The Father knows that if we can worship in this way, we will be ultimately and eternally satisfied. His pleasure and our pleasure absolutely satisfied in mutual love. The water that will always quench every thirst that we have.
We discover the life worth living when we discover the God worth worshiping.
Jesus has brought her back to the true well.
“The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’” (John 4:25)
Ah, so this is where Jesus has been leading her. He has been leading her back to Himself. He isn’t going to leave her looking into the gaping hole of her own need and sinfulness. He is going to leave her looking into the everlasting source of all true life and joy. The real living well of real living water.
She walks right into it. “We will only know the truth when Messiah comes”, she says. “We will trust what He says.”
Jesus replies, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:19-26)
True wellbeing only comes from the one true well.
“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.” (John 4:1-3)
It’s not clear why Jesus moved. It won’t have been because He was worried about what the Pharisees would do to Him. More likely it was simply a timing issue. He knew that He would end up in their hands at some point, but the time wasn’t right for that yet and so he walked up through Samaria towards the region of Galilee.
“And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” (John 4:4-6)
Sychar could have been a prejudicial put down of a nickname, possibly for the town of Shechem. It means “drunken” and may even have been a direct reference to how the Jews felt about the inhabitants of the town. Jesus came to the “drunken” town to teach them how to drink.
However, Jesus initially was not there because He felt the draw of the Holy Spirit towards a ministry opportunity to a needy town. He was simply tired out from the long walk and needed to sit down. The wonder is not that He was tired, He was flesh of our flesh, but that He quickly engaged in an opportunity to share the good news with a stranger when He was so tired.
“A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:7-9)
The stranger who Jesus talked to already had two strikes against her from a Jews perspective being a Samaritan and a women. Jesus ignores both social faux pas without a thought and asks her for a drink. He doesn’t have prejudice or any hint of chauvinism. He sees everyone as equally in need and He engages with them as equals regardless of who they are and where they come from.
The chances are that this woman was pretty attractive. Five husbands already and living with another man. She had been wooed and brought to marriage by men who obviously wanted her. Jesus is not distracted by any outward beauty or attraction she may have had. That too won’t change the way He talks with her.
Five engagements and weddings, though, led to five divorces and rejections. Unless she was able to break the social norms, those rejections normally came from the men rather than her divorcing them. Also unfaithfulness was almost certainly part of her experience, hers or her husbands, along with the betrayal, guilt and pain that produces.
If she had been cast aside by her husbands, then five different men had wanted her only to find out that she was not what they really wanted after all. That’s a boatload of hurt. Five highs of acceptance and apparent love, followed up by five painful divorces. That’s what Jesus saw, the emptiness inside, not any outward trait of looks, or colour, or gender, or race. He saw the pain and the deep desire for something more than life had given her so far. And she certainly had her fill of living life.
She is hurting and empty, Jesus sees that, but He still asks her for a drink. She has a bucket, He doesn’t. He is thirsty, she has no idea how thirsty she really is. So Jesus is going to help her see that, but gently, so He begins the conversation with His own need. She is caught off guard by the fact a Jewish man talks to her and even more so that He would ask her for help. With her guard down, Jesus moves quickly from His thirst to hers, from His need to hers.
“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” (John 4:10)
He had just told Nicodemus that God so loved the world that He gave. Now He identifies Himself as that gift. This gift is able to draw from the well of living water, “zao” (living) water. Remember from John 1 that in Him was life (“Zoe”). He has that well of living water in Himself.
He addresses her deepest needs, her thirst. On the cross He will fully experience the thirst that the dry dust of sin produces in our lives. It never satisfies and leaves us increasingly hungry and empty. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us on the cross and it is the only time when He expresses a need for food or drink, except here when He asks for water from a desperately thirsty woman.
Here He is thirsty for physical water, probably genuinely so rather than He is just trying to start a conversation. On the cross He will cry out: “I thirst!” Yes, so does every sinner, deeply. He will experience first hand the deep soul destroying emptiness of life outside of relationship with our Father in heaven. He will personally experience our pain and the shocking depth of our loneliness and dissatisfaction. Not because of His sin, because He “knew no sin” but because on the cross He carried our sin for us.
For now, He knows of it (rather than has personally experienced it) and has compassion for her in it. That knowing and compassion is still more than enough to move Him in love towards this woman who needs more than she knows. And the love is pure and holy love, something that this woman has never experienced from a man before.
He gets her thinking about her own thirst and need for life giving water and at the same time He tells her how she can access it. She needs a bucket and some physical strength to draw water from Jacob’s well. But all she needs to do to access the living water that Jesus is offering is to simply ask Him for it.
The power of prayer. “You have not because you ask not” Jesus says elsewhere. “If you are thirsty for living water, ask Me.”
She didn’t get where Jesus was going. She is still thinking about literal water coming out of a literal well. But now her guard is down even more. Not only is this Jewish man talking to her respectfully and kindly, He is offering to serve her rather than her having to serve Him.
We know that her guard is coming down because of the way she now addresses Him. She calls Him “Sir”, “kyrios” in the Greek. It is more than a term of honour and respect. It implies a supremacy of authority, a supreme ruler and can be translated as God, Master and Lord.
In two short sentences, Jesus not only has this woman’s attention, He has her utmost respect, and she is a Samaritan. In her eyes, Jesus has gone from stranger to “Sir” almost instantly. He has done no signs and miracles, or done anything powerful to warrant such a response. He has simply been kind and respectful to her, asking her for a drink and then offering to give her one instead. She is already disarmed and ready to continue the conversation.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” (John 4:11-15)
Jesus could have gone with the question about whether He was greater than Jacob, it was a perfect set up. He wasn’t shy to tell people He was greater than Abraham and she obviously thought that He might be. But on this occasion He didn’t go there. She throws out comments that would lead Him in another direction, but He knows where the Holy Spirit wants to go and He sticks to it. He wants to stay with the water theme. He wants to stay with her thirst and his capacity to fully satisfy.
Physical water only quenches thirst for a while. At noon, in a hot country, it will not satisfy for long. You will soon feel your throat dry again and the desire for another drink will return. Jesus offers her a very different type of water. This water is supernatural, not physical and when you drink it, it will satisfy eternally.
Does that mean that one drink and you’ll never be thirsty again? No, that is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus says that the need to drink will return, but that first long drink of the water of life becomes it’s own well. It will continue to spring up throughout the rest of our life here on earth and beyond. We will feel the need to drink again, but the water supply to go on satisfying that need will always be instantly available within us.
How is this possible? It is because when we drink the water that Jesus offers us, it connects us to the river of living water that flows from the throne in heaven.
As I write this, we, as a church, have received our first quote of what it will cost to bring water to the land that we are looking to purchase for the expansion of the church and our christian school. We could bring water in ourselves, by the truckload. But we will always be needing another truck and I’m sure the need will outgrow the supply. We can dig our own well. We would then have an ongoing supply for as long as the well continues to flow but we would have to ensure it was clean and drinkable. Or we can connect to the water supply brought in by the local municipality. It will connect us to a constant supply of clean, healthy water that will fully satisfy not only our current needs but whatever our future needs might be as well.
That is the choice Jesus offers the woman.
When it comes to our church and school, the option of connecting to the main water supply is clearly the best one. But it comes at an up front cost which is not small.
The woman doesn’t know it, but the best option that Jesus is offering her also comes with a cost. A tremendous cost. But He will pay it Himself. She won’t even know.
So He offers her a connection to the mains. The main supply of life, flowing like a river from the throne of heaven through Jesus to whoever would connect to it. Once connected, she no longer has to bring in the water truck with whatever sort of pleasure or desire would satisfy her thirst. That is very temporary and has an ongoing cost that is unsustainable to her emotionally and spiritually (and probably physically as well). She could try and drink from the water that Jesus is offering and dig her own well with it, so that she tries to draw inspiration and life and hope from within herself.
But that is not what Jesus means when He tells her that the water will become in her like a wellspring. He is offering her a connection to the water main of heaven. It has huge up front costs, that she doesn’t know about, because He is offering it to her for free. But that is only because He is going to pay the up front cost for her and for all of us, Himself.
If she connects to the water main of heaven, she would be eternally connected to the source of eternal life. She would be connected to the life of God Himself. She would become ex theos, “of God”. Jesus has life in Himself and if she receives from Jesus then she also will have life in herself, welling up in her too. She would be able to move from having to come to the well of Jacob to draw up water to live, to having the water of life available 24/7 inside of her and moving through her.
Jesus is showing her how to have the miraculous life of God that this gospel promises to all those who receive and believe Him. It can become an inner well connected to the deep and everlasting reservoirs of God. Water that is always available and always clean and pure and healthy.
The water that Jesus gives creates it’s own private water connection within every believer. Jesus remains the continuos supplier of that water but the believer can draw however much they want whenever they want it.
She has been deeply impacted by what Jesus has said to her and by the way in which He has addressed her. He has touched her heart. He has humbled her, but not in a harsh way. He has humbled her with His kindness. She calls Him “Sir” again.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’”
In the end she left the well and her jar behind. She had found the water she was looking for. The life she was living before was not a life at all. In one short conversation with Jesus, she finally believes that she has found the source of a life worth living. She left not just her jar, but her former life behind because she knew she’d found something better.
“So the woman left her water jar and went away into town” (John 4:28)
“Yes Lord, give me to drink of this living water too. And teach me how to daily draw of the heavenly water main that is available inside of me, through You.”
31. Decrease for Glory
This chapter is for all of us who might struggle with having to give up what we feel God has given us. Particularly if God then gives that gift to someone else who exercises the gift with more power, grace and success than we did. We have already discovered that John the Baptist had a pretty incredible heart. These verses just increase our respect for him. But it all begins, as with many growth periods in our spiritual walk, with a decrease.
“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:22-26)
Now we have two major prophetic and evangelistic movements happening. John and Jesus. They both have teams helping them to reach out to people. They are both gathering crowds and people are responding and being baptized. This is surely a great strategy for reaching the lost sheep of Israel.
Jesus is operating in Judea, which had been the southern kingdom and John is operating further up the Jordan in what had been the Northern Kingdom. Together they could reach the whole of Israel. Surely that’s how the Holy Spirit will lead them. It seems the best way of growing the kingdom of God.
In theory it may appear the best and most productive way. But His ways are higher than our ways and the Holy Spirit had another plan.
So a Jew approached John the Baptist’s disciples to talk about purification. It appears that whatever the Jew had said to John’s disciples had drawn attention to the fact that Jesus was gathering larger crowds than John and in fact some of John’s crowd were going to be with Jesus. “All are going to Him.”
It is becoming clear that God’s plan is not to run two very successful ministries alongside each other. That is for the future. Jesus is in town and everything is going to end up focussed on Him. And so John and his disciples watch as gradually his crowds begin to get thinner as more and more people hear what is going on in Judea and drift off to see Jesus.
Of course, John’s disciples are a little put out. I would be too. What is going on? Why can’t we keep going as a complimentary ministry? Why can’t Jesus encourage “our people” to come back to us? Why does He have to take them all for Himself? Surely there’s room enough for us both?
Of course, some of this would happen naturally anyway. John was a unique character, who was a phenomena to watch and listen to. Jesus, by comparison, looked “normal” and ate a normal diet. But He was working miracles. This was not just the promise of lives being changed in the future, this was the reality of lives being changed now. This was not about the kingdom that is going to come, this is about the kingdom of heaven having arrived. No wonder people left John for Jesus.
As we have already noted when this first began happening in John 1:40, John the baptist’s response is remarkable.
He begins his response to his own loyal disciples by explaining the boundary lines for all ministries.
“John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.’” (John 3:27).
Whatever we have that has life in it for other people comes down from heaven. If it doesn’t come to us from heaven, we have nothing of eternal value to give. Therefore our ministries are bound by what God gives us from heaven. We cannot truly be what we have not received, although many of us try.
John here is preaching the same gospel as Jesus. We cannot receive “even one thing” of lasting eternal value, unless it comes down to us from heaven. We don’t need earthly, man made solutions. We need heavenly God-birthed, God-breathed ones.
John had been operating within the bounds of the revelation he had been given from heaven. Jesus seems to be operating without bounds. It would appear that heaven is open to Him in a way that it wasn’t open to John. Jesus has already told Nathanael that he would see heaven open and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, Jesus Himself (John 1:51).
Then John takes a few verses to explain to his disciples and the listening Jews, why Jesus is operating in a much greater grace and anointing to him. He gives them seven reasons:
1. Jesus is the Christ and John is not
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” (verse 28).
John the Baptist has an anointing, there is no question about that.
When we talked about the use of the title “Messiah” in John 1:41, we understood that the term means “anointed One”. We referenced how the term was used in the Old Testament of people and objects that were set apart for service to the Lord. Once anointed, the objects, like the tables and lamps in the tabernacle, took on a whole new status. They were just tables and lamps, albeit very ornate and expensive ones, but it was the anointing that made them “sacred” furnishings. They were then handled differently from any other furniture, not because they were worth so much money, but because they had been set apart for the Lord. They were Holy to Him.
The anointing also set apart people for the Lord, whether Kings or prophets or priests. But with that anointing with oil came an anointing in the Holy Spirit. A grace and power from the throne of God to enable these people to carry out the purpose to which they had been called.
It is never recorded that John the Baptist was anointed with oil. But he was certainly anointed in the Holy Spirit. The effect of his ministry was much more than he could have done in his own physical strength and resources.
But we also discovered in the previous chapter on the subject, that all the anointed people and objects had another purpose beyond being objects in a temple or Kings on a throne. They were all pointing towards an Anointed One who was yet to come. Someone who would bring to fulfillment all of their ministries and purposes. The Messiah in Hebrew. The Christ in Greek. The Anointed One.
John the Baptist was anointed, of that there is no doubt. But he had already made it quite clear to anyone who was listening that he was not the Anointed One. John had been sent before Him to prepare the way for His coming. The last great anointed prophet before the coming of the Anointed One.
What a privilege. And that is how John saw it. A tremendous privilege. A life call that would eventually cost him his life. Worth it all. And now that the Anointed One has come, it is not only okay for everyone to go to Him, it is right. Because every true anointed one, who is faithful to their call, wants people to go past them to find The Anointed One.
2. Jesus is the bridegroom and John is just the friend (verse 29).
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29)
Wow, what a heart. “The one who has the bride”. John talks as if there are two friends but one beautiful bride. She chooses Jesus. But that is fine by John, for two reasons: Firstly because even though he has served her and prepared her, she does not belong to Him “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom”. And secondly because he loves his friend whom the woman loves and has great joy in seeing them united.
He (John) was the one sent to collect the bride. He goes to her and calls her. He sees that she is not prepared and so he speaks to her and calls her to repentance and readiness. He baptises her, ceremonially washing her in preparation. He wants to make sure that she is properly prepared and attired for when the bridegroom arrives.
He (John) has stayed with her to get her ready in excited anticipation of when He (the bridegroom) will come. He tells her that her love will come. Then they hear His voice in the distance, coming towards them. The heart of the bride races, she looks up. John, the best man of the groom, watches her excitement and is delighted for them both. He is filled with joy because he is seeing the culmination of what he has worked and prayed for.
Now he knows it is time to release whatever role he has played in her life to get her to this place. She learnt to trust and obey him (John) but it was only so that she would learn to love and trust and obey the groom (Jesus). So John is content to begin to fade into the background of her affections because he has achieved his goal. She has found Jesus, it is time to let go.
This moment happens for all true disciplers and disciples. They meet and begin to talk. They build a relationship of trust and friendship. The discipler speaks truth and grace into the heart of the disciple, but it all has a singular purpose (if it is done properly) which is to lead the disciple to Jesus. Once they have met, the discipler’s role changes. They might not disappear completely from the relationship and in most cases they should not as they continue to walk together now as fellow disciples of the same Master. But the roles should definitely change. Now when the disciple asks the discipler “what should I do?” the answer is “what does Jesus want you to do?” Always pushing people into relationship with Jesus, that is our role as Pastors and disciplers. Resisting every temptation to become the answer or the final destination for people’s love and trust.
Lord, please give us John’s clarity and singleness of heart. Let us love the bride, but let us love You more and always be looking to connect the two of you together.
3. Jesus is of heaven and therefore is “above all”, John is of the earth he is “adam” (verse 31)
“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31)
The Greek word for “above all” is “epano” which literally means to be higher in rank. For those who struggle with the concept of spiritual authority, John the Baptist clearly didn’t. Jesus was “before” him. Jesus was “above” and in fact “above all”. That means Jesus has a higher rank than anyone else in God’s universe. So, of course Jesus is operating in a greater anointing and authority. In fact His anointing and authority is no competition to John but it over-rides what John is doing.
Jesus’ authority over-rides whatever any of us are doing, whether we are regular citizens or heads of state, whether we are shop floor workers or multi-billionaire owners. Jesus is not the competition. Jesus is the boss.
As we saw at the beginning of the first chapter of John’s gospel, He was in the beginning with God, as God. He created, enlightens and sustains all things. “He came to His own” because we are all His own. He “owns” us all. But His own did not receive Him.
But John did. Even though Jesus was drawing all of John’s crowds away to Himself, including some of his disciples. And Jesus wasn’t sending them back. Because John knew who Jesus was and, therefore, who John was by comparison.
Jesus is the highest ranking person in the universe by the express design and will of His Father. John is just a “voice” not even worthy to be the lowest form of Jesus’ servants (unworthy to untie his shoe laces). It is right that everyone goes to Jesus and submits to Him. He is above all.
4. Therefore Jesus is speaking about what He has seen with His own eyes, whereas John is just speaking about what he has heard from heaven (verses 32-33).
“He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” (John 3:32-33)
Jesus is from above and is speaking as One who has come from the throne room of God in heaven. John is of the earth (“Adam” in the Hebrew) and therefore speaks like someone from the earth, even though he has been given his message from heaven.
It is the difference between listening to a local man who has had a brief phone call with one of the officials of a King or Emperor who rules the land but lives far away, versus listening to the Son of the King or Emperor who has spent all his life in the presence of his father and has both the knowledge and the power of his father invested in him. Of course, when the King’s Son comes, the wise will stop listening to the local man and go to hear what the Son has to say.
Jesus has seen, experienced and lived what He is speaking about. John has grown up with what is “of earth”. He sees, experiences and lives “of earth” but has received something from heaven which he is passing on. But when the Son comes, it is right that everyone goes and listens to Him. He has lived in His Father’s house, from eternity, and understands everything of His Father’s plans and purposes. He has His Father’s heart and motivations and will only do and speak what He has first heard from heaven.
In some ways it is “job done” for John. He held the fort till Jesus came. He has helped people with the limited knowledge and understanding that he had but now the One and Only has come and people can now listen to Him. If and when they do truly listen to Him, then they will be truly hearing the Words of the One true God.
5. John speaks by the anointing of the Holy Spirit but Jesus has the Spirit without measure (verse 34).
“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34)
John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb. He came into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit. He has been speaking in the anointing of the Holy Spirit to an entire nation and that entire nation has been shaken and many awakened, by his words. But again, Jesus has more.
Whatever John’s capacity was for the Holy Spirit, which was great compared to most of the rest of us, it was still limited. Limited by his earthiness. Although he was as separated from the world, as other-worldly, as a man could be.
Jesus has no such limitations. He is “of heaven”. He is “of God”. He is sent by God. He is God. He has the Spirit without measure. He gives the Spirit without measure.
He gives the Spirit without measure to those who will utter the words of God. What an invitation that is for those of us who would be a “voice” for Him.
6. Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, fully God even though fully man and as such God has given “all things” into Jesus’ hands. John is just fully man (verse 35).
John the Baptist had a remarkably mature theology for the age in which he lived and ministered. Firstly he had a very clear understanding of the Trinity. He saw the role of the Father, the Son and the Spirit all working together. He also clearly saw what most of his compatriot’s couldn’t see, that the Father’s plan was to place everything into the hands of his Son.
The Jews were waiting for the Messiah. They had great expectations of Him. Their expectations were too small. They were looking for someone to ascend the throne of Israel and throw off the Roman yoke. John the Baptist understood that the Son would ascend the throne of everything and throw off every evil yoke. He understood that this wasn’t a future occurrence but was already happening.
“The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:35)
John the Baptist’s theology was Paul’s theology. The Father wants everything, both in heaven and earth, under the feet of Jesus. Consider these verses from Paul’s first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians church.
“he made known to us the mystery of his will” (the Father’s will) “according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
“That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:19-23)
Not only was John’s theology remarkably mature, but so was his spiritual sight. He could see that Jesus, this man who walked the same earth as him, was that Son. Despite the fact he looked totally normal, like any other man, he was the heir to the throne of all things. As such, it made perfect sense for “all” to go to Him, even if it mean them leaving John. All are going to go to a Him at some point anyway. All are going to bow before Him. It is right and proper because the Father is putting all things in Jesus’ hands
7. Jesus is the Lord of life, the only One who can turn aside the righteous, deadly, wrath of God against us, John can only point us towards Him (verse 36).
Again God the Father has made it all about Jesus. He has given Jesus to be a shield for us against His own wrath towards us.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:35)
The word for “wrath” here is “orge” in the Greek. It is the only time it is used in John’s gospel. It is used elsewhere in the New Testament, particularly by Paul when he refers to the righteous anger of God. He makes reference to the wrath of God 11 times in Romans alone.
Matthew quotes John the Baptist talking about the wrath of a God when he addresses the Pharisees in Matthew 3:7.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Jesus, as God, feels that passion of anger Himself. Like the Baptist, he experiences the same emotion (it is the same word “orge” in the Greek) when faced with the callous hearts of the Pharisees, who would deny someone healing just because it was the Sabbath.
“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5)
Just in case we think that is a one off and Jesus doesn’t really feel the same anger as His Father, the Holy Spirit clearly shows John the apostle that it is both the wrath of the Father and the wrath of the Lamb that we need to fear.
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelations 6:15-17)
The kings and the great ones, the generals and the rich and the powerful and everyone, slave and free, will cry out “hide us” from the wrath of God. They will be shouting to mountains and rocks.
But God has already prepared a hiding place for everyone from His deadly anger (and it is deadly). We can all find a hiding place in the Son, in Jesus, if we choose to receive and believe in Him. We need to, before it is too late.
It will be too late for those who do not “obey” the Son. That word is translated as “not believe” in some translations. It does mean “not believe”, but it is a stronger word than just that. We can take it to refer to someone who is just casually indifferent to Jesus. But the Holy Spirit is not talking about casual indifference or innocent ignorance here. The Greek word implies a perverse, wilful rejection of and opposition to, Jesus. Someone who is stubbornly unpersuadable to the truth about Jesus. The wrath of God remains on such a person.
Holding on to unbelief might appear to be the better short term option. It leaves us in control of our own lives (or that is the lie we choose to believe). In one sense, it does leave us in control of our lives and our destiny. We will live a less than fulfilled life and are destined for the wrath of God when we die.
Submitting ourselves to the truth of who Jesus is and His claims on our lives (because it is an act of submission) appears to be a loss of control. But in fact it is a release of control into the most loving and kind of hands and a breaking free from the control of a darkness that is ultimately deadly.
That is the seventh reason John the Baptist gives his followers to explain why it is good for all people to go to Jesus. John was just the voice to warn people of the wrath that was to come. Jesus is the only place that people can go to hide from it. Such people find eternal life instead of facing the deadly consequences of their sin.
As a result of those seven reasons, John already knows what must happen:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).
There can be no complimentary gift or ministry to Jesus. He sees and knows all things. All things have been given into His hand. He is the only shelter from the wrath of God and the only entrance into the life of God. The Father is making it all about His Son.
There is only one way for John to go and that is to diminish. He doesn’t just diminish into some pleasant retirement by the sea. Surely that would have been the kind thing for God to do, seeing that John had given up his life to serve Him, only to be put to one side once a “greater than he” had arrived. John gets the opposite to a quiet retirement. God has something greater for him.
In the end it takes him to a prison cell with only a couple of loyal disciples left. In the clutches of an enraged despot and, more dangerously, a seriously offended despot’s mistress. It leads to an inevitable conclusion. His head on a platter as the highlight of a drunken orgy.
Better than a quiet retirement? Is that the way God rewards His faithful servants?
I don’t want to diminish the pain, loneliness, fear and doubt that John and many others like him have suffered. But yes, it is better.
He died as the last of the great prophets. The pinnacle of a long line of bold, history making men and women who had given their lives to be a voice.
He died as the first of the great martyrs. Stephen is rightly proclaimed as the first church martyr. But John the Baptist was the first true martyr in the days of the Christ. He was the first who got to lay his life down for Jesus.
Before the throne, there is none of earth like John the Baptist. The best of the old, the herald of the new. He did not die some quiet death in some comfortable bed (which I wouldn’t begrudge anyone and I would quite fancy myself). God chose something better for him.
His courage brought his head on a platter before a despot King, to the sound of singing and dancing in a drunken orgy.
His faithfulness, despite his doubts, brought his soul in great triumph before the throne of heaven, to the sound of angelic thunder in great glory.
“I must decrease” he had said. But kingdom decrease is never a step down or backwards into the shadows. It is one giant step closer to glory.
Those who put their hope in Him are never put to shame.
30. A Hammer For Our Chains
Jesus uses strong language in this passage. Judgement and condemnation, evil, love and hate.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18)
Bringing together the names given to Him in John chapter 1, Jesus now calls Himself “Monogenes Huios Theos” the One and Only Son of God. Whoever does not believe in that name is condemned. He has no hope. There is no way of escape. He is permanently and eternally trapped by a judgement that, outside of God, can never be revoked. It is not a life sentence. It is a death sentence. It is an eternal death sentence.
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Again John had opened a treasure chest for us in the first chapter and now he is unpacking it. He introduced us, like Genesis, to the concept of light and darkness. And now, also like Genesis, he goes on to explain what defines the darkness and why people want to stay in it.
Jesus hasn’t come to condemn the world, but the judgement against the world is clear. People love darkness. This is not some people. It is all people. This is a cosmic problem. And all people love darkness.
This is not that people quite like the grey areas, they like hanging around in the twilight shadows. No, people love darkness. Thick, black, you can’t-see-past-the-end-of-your-nose darkness.
Nor does it mean that people quite enjoy and get the occasional thrill out of a bit of darkness. It means that they love it. The word here is “agapeo”, that self sacrificing, powerful love that defines who God is.
“For God so loved (“agapeo”) the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16).
God loves the world with such a powerful, self sacrificing, your-good-at-my-expense love, that He gave us His most precious possession, His One and Only Son. No, not His most precious “possession”, which implies something God pulls out of a cupboard or off a shelf to give us. He gave us of Himself.
The world, however, outside of the grace of God, loves something else. We love darkness. And we love it with that same self sacrificing, “agapeo”, giving love and passion with which God loves us. We don’t just pay lip service to the darkness. We give ourselves away to it. We serve it with all that is precious to us.
And why do we love darkness that much?
According to Jesus, it is because we want to do evil, and we need darkness to do it in. The darkness covers what we are doing. Darkness to hide in. If we come to the light, the evil will be exposed. So we would rather stay in darkness. We not only choose to stay in darkness, we want to do evil and so we love darkness and give ourselves over to it.
When we look at some of the most horrific evils of our era, gunning down young children in school for instance, we understand that the perpetrator needs to feel justified in what they are doing. Most of these acts are not totally random and without some level of severely warped logic. When I was a school Principal I was given training in how to prepare for and deal with such an event. One of the tips was to learn techniques that take away the sense of justification from the perpetrator. If they are so violently offended with the staff and pupils that they believe they are justified in murder, sometimes a “nice to see you again” can be all it takes for the rage to be diffused and the guns to stay hidden and unused on their person. They have chosen to live in the darkness of their judgements in order to rationalize their proposed actions. If someone graciously acts in such a way that it diffuses the strength of their belief in the judgements they have formed (“Maybe these people aren’t so bad after all, maybe they really do care about me”) then it can begin to shed a little light into that darkness and may even break the power of it.
Most of us are not that extreme. But all of us justify our sin, one way or another. That is what it means to live in darkness and it is why, outside of the grace of God, we want to stay there.
Paul Simon begins his song, The Sound of Silence”, with the memorable line: “Hello darkness my old friend.”
Outside of the grace of God, the world believes that darkness is our friend and to live there is to enjoy the best life that we can have.
The Holy Spirit, through John, looks to challenge that belief. He wants us to know that the greatest life we can have is not by living in the darkness but by living in the light. And this light is only found in Jesus, the Logos, the life and the light.
Once we have believed and received The Light of the world, we get switched on. Our lives begin to shine in the darkness with His light. As a result we not only live in the light but can begin, by our new nature, to do the works of light (rather than the works of darkness that we used to delight in). We can do them because we are now “in the light”. We are now positioned
“en Theos”, in God.
We have had to face some strong realities to get there. It is not easy to hear that we have been giving ourselves away to darkness and that nothing we have previously learnt or done has earned us any way out of that life that is not real living. We have had to realise that we need to start again. We have to go back to being a baby with God. Submit ourselves to becoming a child, one of His children. To be born again.
But those choices of God-given humility (because we can surely never get there ourselves) have brought us out of darkness and into His wonderful life.
We are so bound by darkness outside of Christ, that we often need to hear and embrace uncomfortable words to get free.
It takes a strong hammer to break chains.
29. John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus said this. It is the wonderful testimony about God’s own love.
“We together, Father, Son and Holy Spirit so loved the world”, He could have just said “Father” as often He did in John’s gospel but He wanted us to know this was a collective passion and a collective decision.
“so loved the world”. God in three persons, loved the world (Greek “kosmos”). Everyone.
Despite the flagrant sin of both Jew and Gentile, both chosen and rejected, of those who didn’t know God’s ways and those who supposedly did. In the end all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), those who were helped and those who weren’t. Those who were taught the truth and those who weren’t. Those who saw miracles and had miraculous journeys and history with God and those who hadn’t. Those who were sent messengers and those who weren’t. Those who experienced the manifest presence of God and those who didn’t.
All have sinned. Everyone. All have rebelled against God. All have rejected His wonderful invitation for eternal relationship with Him. All have turned away from His love. Again and again and again.
But “God so loved the world”. He can’t stop loving because that would be to deny everything about who He is. And He loves everyone. The same “everyone” that has so proudly and arrogantly rejected Him. We’re all included in that love. Equally included.
And He doesn’t just love us. He “so” loves us. He loves us so much. So much that He cannot keep from sending us overtures of His love. He must express His love to us. Even though, ultimately, most of us are going to carry on arrogantly rejecting Him. Because it is that wonderful, God-only type of pure, selfless, agape love that goes on sacrificially giving regardless of whether it is received or not.
God’s love cannot be stopped, or quenched.
“that He gave His only Son”. A free will offering. A love gift. From the heart of God together comes the Son. One of Their own. The most precious and delightful gift they could give. The second Person of the Trinity. Because only perfection will do.
The gift needs to be perfect if it is to perfectly express God’s love. The gift needs to be perfect if it is to become the perfect sacrifice. The Lamb of God that John the Baptist pointed to.
The gift needs to be uniquely perfect, because there is only one way to save the world from the righteous wrath of the God Who sent this gift. There is only One who can turn aside the eternal judgement of Almighty God, a God of flaming righteousness and that is God Himself. “God will provide Himself an offering” said Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 22:8) and He was right.
“That whoever”. There are no boundaries to this love nor to those who are offered this gift.
“believes”. The same word as in John 1:12. It means to put all our trust in, or to hang all our hopes on. It means actively living every day, trusting in this one solution alone for life and salvation. It means we turn aside from every other possible answer and chose to exclusively trust in this one answer to all our questions. And that answer is Jesus.
“in Him”. Or “in Me”, because Jesus is speaking of Himself. This is not Jesus plus someone or something else. This is not living our life for ourselves but having Jesus as an insurance policy in our back pockets. This is trusting in Jesus alone. “If you want what We are offering” says Jesus, “you need to put all your trust in Me.” And what will happen to those who do? They:
“shall not perish”. “Perish”, the destiny of all who will not actively believe and trust in Jesus. The Greek word “apollymi” means to utterly destroy. But those who put all their trust in Jesus alone shall not be utterly destroyed.
“but have eternal life.” Those who put their hope and faith in Jesus get the polar opposite of perish. They are not utterly destroyed. They fully live.
Our sin caused us to be sent out of the Garden of Eden, away from the tree of life. If we had access to that tree of life we would have lived for ever and sin would have been perpetuated not just through all our generations but throughout all eternity. That is why God removed us far away from it and set Angels to guard over it to make sure we don’t find our way back.
But if we believe in Jesus, the tree of life is restored to us. We are back in the garden of God’s love and acceptance. We have had the first wave, the results of sin, for thousands of years. Now comes the second wave, the descendant of Adam and Eve who treads on the serpent and satisfies the “unquenchable” thirst of the fires of hell, the storm of God’s anger.
God’s appetite for righteous and terrible wrath is not unquenchable. It can be eternally satisfied.
But only by Him who satisfies everything.
Jesus satisfies the appetites of God even before He satisfies ours. God was in Christ, reconciling all things to Himself (2Corinthians 5:19). In Christ, God was satisfying His appetite to bring everything together that had been scattered apart, but doing so without compromising one iota of His appetite for righteousness. Jesus satisfies both. Because Jesus satisfies the appetites of all who look to Him, including His Father’s.
The greatest most forceful of all God’s appetites that must be satisfied is love. That can only be satisfied through Christ. For God so loved the world.
Jesus continues His mission statement with a profound, unshakeable fact that should not be missed by Christians and a Church that seeks to emulate Him. Those of us who are prone to believe that our primary role is to tell the world what it is doing wrong should take particular note.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world”. The world already stands condemned. Jesus could have made it the primary focus of His preaching and ministry. But He didn’t, even though the world stood and still stands, condemned. He would have been preaching the truth.
But here is truth and grace at work. God, in Christ, wraps up the bundle of His gift to us in His grace. He does this so that we do not get primarily impacted by the condemnation that we truthfully deserve, but by the love, the self sacrificing agape love, that is going to destroy our condemnation before we even properly recognize or understand it.
“but in order that the world might be saved through him” (or, again, Me because he is speaking of Himself).
God’s plan is for the salvation of the world, the cosmos, the created order of things. That word “kosmos” is the word used for decoration. Articles and pretty things things that are set in place in a house to enliven and enhance the atmosphere and experience of those who live in it. This cosmos, like a beautifully decorated Christmas room, has been subject to decay and curse because of the Fall, like the dusty and spider webbed room in Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. But his cosmos will be saved, reawakened and enlivened. This cosmos and all those who receive and believe in the Son will experience resurrection life.
Resurrection life begins with death. It starts with a dead body. There is no resurrection without death.
This resurrection life that is promised begins with death. It started with a dead body that couldn’t decay. Because in the death of this very body, the curse of death itself was broken. Jesus broke the curse in His death. It no longer had any hold on Him, even though His body had no physical life left in it.
God promised through the psalmist that He would not let His holy One see decay.
“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” (Psalm 16:9-10)
But now God has sent His Son, the Light of the World into the dark, dank, decaying world that He created and we spoilt. He comes empowered by the Wind of Heaven, blowing away dust, dirt, grime and cobwebs, and switching on the beautiful and twinkling lights which are supposed to fill the room with joy and hope.
Those newly lit lights are those that are made in the image of The Light. These children of The Light are the children of God, that, like their source, shine in darkness, are not understood, are resisted, but can never be extinguished.
God has come to save His world by saving His lights, His children, who are filled with resurrection life so that, even though outwardly they are wasting away, yet inwardly they are being daily renewed by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit so that they shine as lights, together a city set on a hill and individually as stars in the universe in which they will shine forever.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
God loved the world so much that He came to switch the lights on.
28. Ascending and Descending (John 3:9-15)
Nicodemus wants to know more. He is struggling to understand what Jesus is telling him.
“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’”
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the reason he can’t understand is because he is trying to understand heavenly truth with earthly reasoning. Earthly logic has got him to Jesus. That is a good start. But he needs to go beyond earthly logic to enter the life that God has for him.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’” (John 3:10-11)
How can we grasp heavenly truths? Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to receive from the One who has come from heaven, Jesus Himself.
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16)
It has already been implied in John’s gospel, that Jesus has come down from heaven to earth.
John’s first verse tells us that in the beginning He (the Logos referring to Jesus) was with God but now a few verses later he tells us that the Logos has become flesh and has come to live among us (John 1:14).
Again in chapter one, John has referred to Jesus as the light. That light was with God but has now come into our world (John 1:9).
However it is not until now, three chapters into the gospel, that the fact is clearly stated. And it is made clear by Jesus Himself. The Son of man (referring to Himself) has come down from heaven. That is why He knows heavenly truth. That is why He knows the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, because He came down from heaven.
We have no conscious remembrance of any life before this one that we are living now. But Jesus was unique. Even as a child, He had some understanding that he had come from somewhere else. He told His anxious mother that He had been in His Father’s house and He was clearly not referring to Jesse’s carpentry shop.
” And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 1:49)
Jesus plainly had some understanding of life beyond earth. He had told Nathanael that “you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Again He was referring to Himself.
John the Baptist had some understanding of movement between heaven and earth too. He said that He had seen the Spirit descend from heaven upon Jesus.
“ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” (John 1:32).
The word for heaven that John the Baptist uses here is “auranos” which can be translated “sky”. However Jesus uses the same word both when He is talking to Nathanael about heaven being open and again here when talking to Nicodemus. In these instances He is plainly talking about heaven, the dwelling place of God and the Angels, rather than just “sky”.
John the Baptist has told us that the Spirit has descended from heaven. Jesus has told Nathanael that Angels are ascending and descending from heaven. In both cases such heavenly activity happens “on” Jesus.
Now Jesus tells us, clearly for the first time, that He has come down from heaven. He seems to remember where He has come from. He seems to have a consciousness of life before His conception in Mary’s womb. Maybe He received this as revelation about Himself by reading the scriptures. In other words, maybe He had no personal, conscious, remembrance of His previous life in heaven and He had just received that knowledge by revelation from the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.
However, He speaks as if He remembers. He speaks with absolute certainty about something He knows and has experienced.
There is no indication from scripture that there was a time when He didn’t know. He may not have been born, like the rest of us, having to discover the truth about God. Maybe He was born knowing. Maybe right from the beginning of His conscious thought He knew who He was and where He had come from. He certainly knew by the time He was 12. And in His adulthood He says things that only someone who had been in heaven could have known.
He had known heavenly truths because He had come from heaven. But He still expected that someone who knew, studied and taught the scriptures should know heavenly truths as well. Those truths could be seen by those who had eyes to see them.
“Nicodemus said to him, ‘’How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’” (John 3:9-10)
But even the Old Testament scriptures, as wonderful as they are, only make sense through Jesus. Because Jesus is God and He speaks not just what He has learnt and studied but what He knows from experience. When He speaks again to Nicodemus, He speaks as God. He speaks with the “royal we”. The plurality of Almighty God. He speaks on behalf of the Father and the Spirit as One.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen” (John 3:11)
But Nicodemus is not receiving what God is saying to Him:
“but you do not receive our testimony.” (John 3:11b)
Nicodemus is not receiving it because he is still earth bound in his understanding. More than that, Jesus is actually using earthly pictures to explain heavenly truth (like being born and the blowing of the wind) but Nicodemus is still not really getting it.
“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)
But God, in Jesus, is going to persist in telling Nicodemus heavenly truth anyway. In fact it is to Nicodemus, the man who should have known the most but seems to understand the least, that He will most clearly reveal the most wonderful truth of them all.
He begins to move towards that primary truth in the next few verses. From gentle rebuke to wonderful revelation in two sentences. How like Jesus. How like God.
He begins where we began this chapter. Jesus has come down from heaven.
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:12).
And He has come down from heaven with a mission and a message.
The mission is ultimately the cross.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).
Numbers 21:4-9 tells the story of how the Israelites grumbled against God (again) including calling their miraculous provision from heaven “worthless food” (Numbers 21:5). So the Lord released poisonous snakes among them to teach them a lesson. It took a while for the people to repent, long enough for “many” of them to die (Numbers 21:6).
The people came to Moses and were clear in their repentance “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” (Numbers 21:7).
Moses talked to the Lord who gave him an unusual response.
“And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:8).
Moses did as he was told, and, after that, if anyone was bitten by a snake they could look up to the image on the pole and they would be healed.
God didn’t remove the snakes right away. They were there because of the sin of the people. But He did provide a way for them to be healed. Something for them to look to. And when they looked to it, their lives were spared.
That is the story Jesus is referring to when He says:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)
We are in a worse predicament than the people of Israel. We have all sinned. We have let in the snake among us (satan the deceiver and destroyer). We have all been bitten. The curse of death is upon us all and the poison is slowly working it’s way through our system.
But we have an even better remedy than a snake on a pole. As in Jesus’ postscript to the clearing of the temple, where He speaks about His death and resurrection, He is again here pointing forwards towards those cosmic events. His whole life’s purpose pointed towards Calvary and the tomb, the hill and the garden and He dropped hints about it right from the beginning of His ministry.
When Jesus died on the cross He took all of our sin upon His shoulders. He provided for all our poison. And all who fully put their trust in Him will not only be healed spiritually in this life but will never spiritually die. They will be set free from the power of the snake.
Right from the start of His ministry Jesus knew where it was all leading. He had come down in order to be raised up. Jesus descended in order to ascend, so that He might descend in order to ascend.
Jesus descended from heaven in order to ascend the cross. So that He might descend into the grave and beyond, so that He might ascend into the Highest place in heaven and earth.
That was the mission.
The message? The most wonderful of them all:
“that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus talks about the prize, the life that is available in Him. He introduces us here for the first time in John’s gospel to the concept of eternal, perpetual, everlasting life (“aionios zoe” in the Greek).
This is more than being adopted into God’s family, as we understand the term. This is not just being family in name, it is the sharing of eternal genes. It is the entry into the eternal life of God Himself.
As John has told us in verse 12 and 13 of his first chapter: “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.”
Born of God. “Gennao ex Theos”.
Jesus wasn’t using a figure of speech to Nicodemus when he said “you must be born again”. If we want the wonderful life that comes from being part of God’s family, we don’t sign adoption papers, we need to become His children. We need to be gennao ex Theos. We need to be born of God. That happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it happens, Jesus says to “whoever believes in Him”.
This life is found by believing and receivingsssss, by wholly trusting, by putting your life into the hands of Jesus.
There’s that all inclusive word “whoever” again. “Pas” in the Greek. It means “all, any, every, as many as”. It is all embracing and without prejudice. Jesus underlines what John has already told us in John 1:12, that this gift of life is available to everyone and it is found only in Jesus.
An all inclusive gift in a totally exclusive package.
It is available to everyone but accessible through only One. Everyone can have it. Only One can give it. All can have eternal life, but they can only receive it through Jesus.
Jesus immediately underlines those themes in the next verse. Perhaps the best known and most loved of all the verses in the Bible.
If Genesis 2 outlines the process of man’s creation, John 3 outlines the process of our recreation (or new creation). It is laid out for us by Jesus Himself, the Logos that spoke it all into being on the first place.
“Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”” (John 3:4-5).
Notice that unless you are born again you can’t see the kingdom of God. If you aren’t born of water and the Spirit you can’t enter it.
Why water and Spirit? When Man (“adam” is the Hebrew word for man) was created he was formed out of the ground (“adama” is the Hebrew word for ground). Adam was formed out of “adama”. This ground was watered by a mist that came from it.
“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground — then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:5-7)
Adam received life by God breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (“nesama hay”). He was “formed”, meaning that he was fashioned, hand made by God. He was formed not born (meaning one who comes from the body of another). And He was formed (not born) of earth and breath.
Now, if we want to see and enter the kingdom of heaven, we need to be born, not formed. We need to come from the “body” of another. And we need to born (not formed) of water and The Breath. What does that mean?
“Of water”. There were many instances of new life and new beginnings coming out of or through the water in the Old Testament.
• The ground on which new life appears in creation in Genesis 1:9-13 comes up out of the waters.
• Noah and his family miraculously came up through a flood of water into a new life in a new world (Genesis 8:13-19). The water had cleansed the old and made a way for a fresh start.
• Moses and the Israelites found their new identity as a nation under God as they miraculously went between the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground in Exodus 14.
• Joshua and a new generation of God’s children miraculously entered into their new lives and inheritance as God’s people by passing through the Jordan River on dry ground (Joshua 3).
• Elisha passed into his new life as a prophet by miraculously crossing that same Jordan River on dry ground (2Kings 2:14)
• The New Testament era for the people of God begins with John the Baptist calling them to pass through the waters of baptism as a cleansing of the old and a moving into a new life. Even Jesus went through those waters “to fulfill all righteousness”.
Throughout the Bible, God brings people up into new life through water. A new start, a new identity, a new purpose, emerging out of the water. Cleansing and cutting off the old way of life, the old reality, the old identity. Birthing something new.
“And The Spirit”. The word here is “pneuma” and it means breath. But this is not just any breath, this is referring to the third person of the Trinity. The Breath of God, the Holy Spirit. This means we need to receive the very breath of God if we are to be born again. This is the person of the Holy Spirit, from the very essence of who God is, breathed into our very souls, awakening and resurrecting our core being into a new life, identity and purpose. Or rather, the same purpose that God had always destined us for, but now equipped and empowered to carry that purpose out.
We are born again “of water and the Spirit”.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
What we are, outside of Christ, is flesh born of flesh. The spiritual life that was given to us when God first breathed into Adam and Eve at creation is no longer available to us because our sin cut us off from the source of that life. As a result, that spiritual life no longer exists. Outside of Christ we are spiritually dead. That’s the deadness that Paul was referring to when he reminds the church in Ephesus of what they were before they met Jesus.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1).
So, outside of a life transforming meeting with Jesus, it is no wonder that we live the way we do. We are flesh, with all the weakness, frailty and vulnerability that entails. There is no other force and motivation at work within us, except for that niggling remnant of our life with God, our conscience, that keeps reminding us of what is right and wrong. We may however be influenced from outside by good or evil and those influences may take up residence in us as resident forces and influences. The difference is that the evil ones do no ask for permission, they simply look for a legal loophole for gaining access and take it. The Breath blows where He wills and we may feel His influence, but He is looking for permission from us before taking up permanent residence.
If that is what it means for us to be flesh born of flesh then what does it mean for us to be spirit born of The Spirit? Flesh born of flesh means weakness, frailty, vulnerability. Innately (that is, at the very core of our being) sinful. Spiritually dead. Awaiting physical death and eternal destruction.
Spirit born of The Spirit means the life of God alive in us. Strength, grace, passion for truth and justice, unfailing love. Innately sinless. Spiritually alive. Awaiting physical death but eternally indestructible. That’s quite the change. That’s quite the contrast.
That’s quite the tension to be living inside the mortal body of a Christian. A flesh born of flesh life that has been crucified with Christ and yet with an incredible capacity for resurrection. It keeps rising up and needs daily putting down. And then spirit born of The Spirit that lives forever. However, we need to refuel every day if the power of our dead and dying flesh is to be resisted and overthrown. We need to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit and we need to go on putting to death the flesh.
That is the age old war of good and evil, light and darkness, life and death, warring in our minds, bodies and souls every day. It stands to reason then, that the more deep and complete the destruction of our flesh, the old sinful nature, at the point of our new birth, the better. The more we can understand our need of true repentance, the less we have to wrestle with on an ongoing basis.
We will always have our wars with spiritual forces outside of ourselves. But they too are won and lost on the basis of which nature wins the battle inside our own lives. If The Spirit wins our internal battles, then there is no where for the enemy to put his feet and he has no power over us. If the flesh wins, then that lessens the power that we have within us to resist the devil to make him flee from us.
This is why we must be born of water and The Spirit. If the water represents the death of our old nature, the flesh, then we must die well if we are going to live our new lives well. The greater the depth of repentance the more we can flourish in our new lives in The Spirit. Ongoing confession and repentance will keep the flesh down and allow our spiritual lives to grow and strengthen.
This is a good thing to remember when we first are born again. Are we really convicted of our sin? Are we really ready to deeply repent?
This is a good thing to remember when we lead people into the life of the Holy Spirit.
We are born flesh of flesh. If we want to be free of the life of that flesh, it’s demands and results, then we need another life at work within us. A stronger, purer, freer life. That new life doesn’t exist in us before we come to Jesus, so it needs to be “born” in us. If we want new life we must be born again. As Jesus said:
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7).
If we are to be born again we must be born of water and The Spirit. The Spirit is like a powerful wind that blows where He wants to. He blows into people’s lives, even though they have no idea who He is and what He is doing. He had blown into Nicodemus’ life. Everyone who wants to be free of the flesh life, who wants the wonderful life that Jesus offers, needs to open their hearts and allow the wind to blow right into them. That same Holy Spirit that came on the Virgin Mary and brought Jesus to conception in her womb wants to blow into our lives and bring the life of Christ to birth in us too.
We might initially come to Jesus by logic and reason, or by emotion and feeling. It really doesn’t matter how we come. But if we want to be born again, we have to repent and be baptised as a sign of that repentance, dying to our old life to be washed clean and raised into new life with God. If we want to be born again, we need to invite The Breath, the wind, the Holy Spirit to bring His life to birth within us. There is no other way of seeing or entering the Kingdom of God.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
So this is what regenesis requires. This is what it means to be born again. It is available to us as a free gift. A gift that comes to us as a result of the overwhelming motivation that is at the heart of everything that God is and does. And that is love.
26. A Triumph of Reason and Logic
We have just been told that Jesus “knew all” (John 2:24). He has already seen right through Nathanael, a “true Israelite” and now He sees through another. The pattern is going to continue through the rest of the Gospel. Jesus seeing right into the depths of people’s hearts. Next up is one of the Jewish leaders.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” (John 3:1)
Interesting! Jesus has just cleared the temple (in John’s gospel order – not the true chronology of how Jesus’ ministry unfolded). The religious leaders were obviously offended by it. But not all of them. In every group of angry people who seem absolutely set against Jesus, there are always those who don’t go along with the crowd. They may keep to the shadows, but the presence of Jesus draws them out. The kindness of Jesus calls them to Himself.
Nicodemus wasn’t the only one of the Jewish rulers who knew Jesus was from God. When He addresses Jesus he clearly says “we” know.
“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2)
Amongst the clammer of the angry disapproval that came from the courts of the temple, there was a whisper. It was probably kept hidden. But some of the “wise men” of the day, the rulers and leaders, looked at Jesus and knew that He could not be dismissed as the latest religious quack. There was something about Him that was different and had to be taken notice of. They knew, underneath, that He had come from God.
Even in the growing fervour of anti-Jesus sentiment, some were quietly beginning to believe. By Acts 6 a number of them had come all the way through into a living faith in Jesus.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Once those priests became Christ followers, it may have altered the atmosphere that existed amongst the religious power brokers of the day. Those that were open to believing that Jesus had really come from God would have tempered the rest whose hearts were already hardened in jealous anger against Him. It is no surprise then, that once those soft to Jesus have gone, the Jewish religious rulers were more free to express that unrighteousness rage.
A “great many of the priests” become obedient to the faith, and the next act of the religious leaders left behind, in Acts 7, is to arrest and execute Stephen and step up their terror campaign against the burgeoning church. That is the level of emotion that was swirling through the hallways of the temple.
Nicodemus, and others, could not join in with the growing anti-Jesus conspiracy. He was one of the more wise and thoughtful leaders. He could lay aside his natural emotions and fears and look at the cold facts. Jesus was a teacher who spoke like no other. He was a miracle worker who could do signs and wonders which would only be possible if God was with Him. This wasn’t a judgement based on “feelings”. It was just straight logic and good reason.
God wants us to love Him and to love our neighbours. Love isn’t all about feelings and it isn’t based on feelings. But feeling and emotion is important. No one wants cold logical “love”, not even God.
However, for many people, they will not find God by following their feelings. It often takes looking at Jesus with stone cold logic. Sometimes cold logic trumps prophetic inspiration. It certainly trumps emotional reaction (which is what He got from most of the religious leaders). Jesus got a more positive emotional reaction from the crowds, but when the wind turned, so did their emotions. Many ended up as strongly opposed to Him as they were in favour of Him. Emotions and feelings can change.
United States President John Adams said “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Nicodemus didn’t come to Jesus on the basis of his emotions, wishes, inclinations or passions. If he was living by those, he would have stayed at home where it was safe. He came to Jesus because of reason. He reasoned that no one could do what Jesus was doing unless God was with Him. And Nicodemus didn’t want to be opposing God.
But Nicodemus didn’t simply come because of a logical deduction. He was hungry for something. He was hungry for something more than all his many years of training and experience could give him. He may have been shocked by the temple clearing too, but he pushed past the self righteous indignation that engulfed many of his fellow religious leaders. He went looking for the answer to all of the longings of his heart, for he must have had them.
He went to the temple-clearer to help him clear out the religious clutter of his own heart and mind and see the truth.
He was looking for the light, so Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Whatever his question was going to be, Jesus didn’t let him get past the introduction.
“‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:2-3)
Nicodemus is acknowledging that he and those like him, could see that Jesus was different. They could see, from what He was saying and doing, that he had come from God.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can’t see at all. Not unless he is “born again.”
If you were Nicodemus what would you think? You have kept the law diligently since being a child. You have done everything asked of you and more. You have listened to your teachers and obeyed their teachings. You kept it straight, you weren’t partying and drinking when others were. You’re on the right track, surely, after all that you have done.
Now you are recognised by your peers as a godly and righteous man not only as a devout Pharisee but as a ruler among your people. But you are still not satisfied, there is a thirst that has not been quenched yet. You hear about Jesus and, unlike most of your peers, you are astonished by what you have heard. Reason and logic tell you that He must have come from God and you begin to believe that He might be able to help you. And so, unlike those who have dismissed Him, you go to visit Him to see if he can help you find what you are missing. You go at night in the hope that you will not be seen. What can He add to everything you have already known and done with religious zeal since your childhood that can bring it all to completion and peace?
You call Him “Rabbi’ because you know He has something you want and need and you want to ask Him the deepest question of your heart. But before you can even get to your question, Jesus, who already knows your deepest need anyway, pretty much blows you out of the water.
“You must start again.”
No, really? Go back to my mother’s womb and start again? Nothing that I have learnt and done counts? Are you saying I have studied every day for as long as I can remember but I still haven’t even seen the kingdom of God never mind entered it?
Yes, that seems to be what Jesus is saying.
You have to love Nicodemus, like all the characters John highlights. He puts them in such a light that causes you to love them, quirks and all. What I have described above is where I would have gone: A self righteous pity party. I have to start again? It all counts for nothing?
Nicodemus doesn’t go there. He is not going to be side tracked by any desire to defend himself. He must have been hungry for the truth, very hungry. He hasn’t come to challenge or find fault. Neither has he come to listen as the educated leader that he was. He has come as a learner. He wants to know the truth and he believes Jesus has come from God and can help him.
Nicodemus doesn’t go into the self righteous pity party because his heart has already been touched. He has to be born again to see the Kingdom of God, but he is already beginning to see it otherwise he wouldn’t be there with the attitude that he has. He knew the signs and wonders meant that Jesus had come from God. Something wonderful is happening in his heart. All the religious clutter is passing away and something new is beginning to rise through the shadows. The signs of new birth.
I have always understood Jesus’ response to mean: “You don’t see the kingdom of God because you are not born again. Therefore you must be born again to even see it.”
However, Nicodemus is already “seeing” Jesus in a different way to most, if not all, of his peers. Something is already stirring in his heart.
You could interpret Jesus’ response to be an encouragement.
“Nicodemus, you are already beginning to see something otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Something wonderful is coming to birth within you. You cannot even see the kingdom of God without being born again (because it is only the children and childlike that see it). But you are beginning to see it. Therefore you are already showing signs of new birth.”
He has met Jesus in the flesh and his heart has become like an eagerly inquisitive child.
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
The same thing, to a much greater degree, happened to another fervent Pharisee. When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus, His heart was instantly changed from hardness towards Christ to humility before Him, from murder to submission. All of his great learning suddenly became as “loss” in his eyes for the surpassing greatness of encountering and knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:7-8). He went from being proud of his own learning and religious accomplishments to being like a child in one moment, one meeting. It was as if he had gone back into his mother’s womb and come out again a totally new person. He had been born again.
Nicodemus has met Jesus. We are not sure that he understood the answer that Jesus gave him to his questions. All we know is that later on, when his peers were accusing Jesus, Nicodemus stood in the face of their rising hatred to appeal for a fair trial for Him.
“Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,’Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’” (John 7:50-51)
More logic and reason in the midst of a storm of emotion. Not “cold” logic though, it came from a heart that had been warmed by the blowing wind of the Holy Spirit. He blows where He wills. He had even been blowing through the hardened rock walls of the temple courts.
It cost him. He was treated with the same mocking disdain they gave to Jesus.
“They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’”
They dismissed him as someone of little consequence, low breeding and even less learning. If he had desired respect and position in Israel previously, he had just lost them both to stand up for Jesus.
There is no record that he stood again to defend Jesus, even when death was the outcome. Maybe he had backed off?
Not so. Whatever had happened to Nicodemus here on this night encounter with Jesus had seemingly changed irreversibly the course of his life.
He went to Jesus at night again. This time not to where Jesus was living but to where He had just died. Ignoring all the religious rituals of purity he had been brought up to so strictly observe, he helped Joseph of Arimethea take the body of Jesus down towards a tomb. He made himself ceremonially unclean. He wouldn’t be able to participate in the rest of the Passover celebrations. I don’t think he even thought about it.
All that learning, deeply ingrained in him from his childhood and suddenly he wasn’t thinking about it any more? Yes, that’s right.
Why? Because it is as if he had gone back into his mother’s womb and been born again a new person.
Instead of looking after his religious purity he brought 75 pounds of Myrrh and Aloes to embalm the body of Jesus. 75 pounds!
Mary had been praised by Jesus for the extravagant outpouring of her expensive nard perfume upon Him in preparation for His burial. It was worth 300 denarii (John 12:1-8). Nard was maybe a more expensive fragrance than Myrrh and Aloes but she had only used one pound of it on her Lord.
When Nicodemus came to Calvary, he brought 75 pounds of fragrances with him. This is all the more astonishing because Jesus was dead. Most of the rest of the disciples had scattered. All hope seemed to have gone. If Nicodemus had still been looking to Jesus to bring him the peace and life he was looking for, there was no point in coming now.
But Nicodemus didn’t need Jesus to be alive to find the life that he was looking for. He had already found it. Now He just wanted to honour the One who had given him.
It had started with reason. He came to Jesus because of logic. No one could say and do what Jesus was saying and doing unless God was with with Him. But the Spirit had already been at work in his life. That is why he was beginning to see what others, blinded by jealousy and selfish ambition, couldn’t see.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
The wind had been blowing in his direction.The Spirit had begun to bring something new to birth in Nicodemus and it had blossomed well beyond his logic and reason into agape love. He loved Jesus, more than he loved his life and reputation. That is why he came to Jesus a second time at night.
And so, lovingly and gently and without any thought for his own reputation, religious status or safety, he takes the body of Jesus, with Joseph of Arimithea and they carry it to the tomb. They probably wash the blood away, every spot and stain. Then they begin to bind the body in linen cloths pouring out ointment onto those cloths as they went.
When He was born, Jesus was wrapped in cloth and now He is wrapped again. As they gently wind the linen round the body, they close and cover the deep wounds that lacerate the Savior of the world. They bind the body from the top of the neck to the bottom of the feet and lay it out on the rock. Then they look at the face one more time in the flickering lamplight. That beaten, swollen, bruised face. They cover it with a face cloth before leaving into the dark night, ensuring that the stone is rolled over the entrance before they go.
It would appear that whatever had happened in his first encounter with Jesus, had changed Nicodemus for ever. Meeting Jesus will do that to a person, if their heart is childlike enough to lay down all previous knowledge and experience and go back to the beginning and start again. Such people don’t just see the kingdom of heaven, they enter it.
25: Total Assurance
Around the time that I wrote the first draft of this chapter, a relative of mine went to be with Jesus. Neville Nicholson (Uncle Neville to me) lived all of his life in Alston, the highest market town in England. Like many of his fellow northerners, Neville was a hardy man who didn’t like to call the Doctor or get others to do what he could do himself. He loved to help others and he was appreciated by many. The Town Hall was full for his funeral.
One of his favourite hymns was written by another stoic survivor, Fanny Crosby, the little woman, blind from birth, who influenced Presidents and touched the hearts of millions with her songs and ministry to the poor.
She wrote: “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine”.
Uncle Neville so loved the hymn that when, in chapel, they got to the last verse and chorus, he would carry on singing the chorus one more time even though the organist had stopped playing and everyone else had stopped singing. Invariably everyone joined in.
Assurance is a wonderful thing. And we can have it in Jesus.
One of the reasons that we can have assurance in Jesus is because He has it in Himself.
This is not the arrogant swagger of human self confidence but just the quiet inner confidence in who He is and what He is doing.
Neither is it an unjustifiably high opinion of Himself that distances Him from those around Him. No, He is perfectly at home among people and for the most part they don’t feel judged by Him even though He knows everyone inside and out and His judgements about them are absolutely true.
He is already attracting attention. He had been giving them signs, so that even the religious leaders could see if they wanted to. The signs that He was doing were not just gathering an audience but adoration. Many of the people were so impacted by Jesus that they started to believe in Him.
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” (John 2:23).
They were half way there. John has already told us that the requirements of being given the right to become a child of God are that we receive Him and believe in His name.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12).
They were half way there. They saw the signs, including the clearing of the temple and they believed in His name. This probably means that they believed He was the promised Messiah. However, they had not yet fully received Him.
Jesus was gathering a crowd of believers. But he wasn’t excited about that. He didn’t get carried away.
They might believe (“pisteuo” in Greek) in Him. Meaning that they wanted to put their trust in Him and follow Him as the new Messiah and leader of Israel.
But He wasn’t going to “pisteuo” them. It is the same word in the Greek. He wasn’t going to put His trust in them. He wasn’t going to put any weight on their new found enthusiasm for Him.
“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself (“pisteuo”) to them,” (John 2:24)
He couldn’t, because He knew all of them, inside out. Everyone heard what was coming out of their lips.
“The Messiah has come.”
“Did you see what He did in the temple?”
“Did you hear that He turned water into wine?”
“God has visited His people!”
But Jesus knew what was in their hearts. They wanted to believe. They wanted to follow. But Jesus knew that they wouldn’t and that they couldn’t, not in their own strength anyway.
“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all (people – word added, not in the original Greek) and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)
Jesus knew “all”. Not just all people. He knew everything that He needed to know. Even in human flesh, with a human brain. At the age of twelve he was already confounding the wise and learned religious teachers and leaders with His knowledge.
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47)
The human brain has huge capacity, largely untapped. It is largely untapped because it has huge cracks in it’s very foundations. It is meant to function from a place of perfect peace and assurance that can come only from a relationship of total trust in God.
“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
When we don’t have that (as is the case with all of us) a considerable amount of brain energy is spent just trying to hold our thoughts and lives together. When we are so distracted by survival, it is impossible to thrive intellectually. The fact that the human mind has achieved great things does not take away from this argument. It merely proves that there is so much more that we could accomplish if our minds were at peace in their created order.
Adam and Eve were vulnerable in this area. Satan tempted them in the area of their trust in God and His words. They began to “double think” God. The result of that was the fall. The result of the fall was fear. They hid from God. Ever since, we have all struggled with our “mental health”. We all find it difficult to come to that place of “perfect peace” in our minds, because we struggle to totally trust God.
As a result, our brains are so preoccupied with survival (rather than trusting God) that our brains don’t have the energy to operate at the level for which they were created. Add to that a pre-disposition towards sinful thoughts (all of which find their roots in a lack of trust in the goodness of God – or more clearly the God Who is good), and you have a brain that is not functioning anywhere near it’s potential.
But then there is Jesus. A mind perfectly at peace because it totally trusts (and therefore obeys) His Father. The capacity of such a brain is beyond our understanding. It is huge because a mind that is trusting God, hears and receives the words of God.
The human brain was never meant to be an end in itself, the ultimate computer on which is stored all the necessary information for life. It is meant to be a conduit of the greatest mind that there is. It is meant to be a conduit of the mind of God. We were not created to just think our own thoughts, we were also created to think the thoughts of God and our brain is set up to do that.
Jesus’ mind is the only human mind that has perfectly operated like that. Jesus’ mind was completely clear of the confusing clutter that comes from having to try and figure things out. He thought absolutely clearly about everything. As a result His mind was not only capable of storing beautifully organized information, but also receive, without prejudice, the thoughts of God. Therefore He did not have the brain capacity of a man, He had the brain capacity of God. He knew all.
He knew all and needed no one to bear witness (Greek “martyreo”) about man (Greek “anthropos”) for He knew what was in man. Mankind needed someone to witness about Jesus because they didn’t know Him. So God sent John the Baptist as a witness. He was called a “martyreo” three times in John 1:7 & 8 and then calls himself by the same title in verse 34.
Even though the word isn’t used, Andrew certainly bore witness about Jesus to Simon Peter and Philip did the same to Nathanael.
Jesus needed (and still needs) people to bear witness about Him because the world does not know Him. But He doesn’t need anyone to bear witness to Him about mankind, because He knows us inside out. He knows all.
Jesus didn’t need the accolades of men. He still doesn’t. He knows who He is. And He knew that the excitement of the crowds would soon vanish when the season changed and many of them would be shouting abuse at Him where they had been showering Him with praise.
Jesus knew that He couldn’t trust the human heart. Too fickle. Too changeable. Too impressionable. Too easily deceived and led astray. Right from the beginning.
He wouldn’t let anyone put a crown on His head, either figuratively or in reality. Unless it was a crown of thorns. Because that was at least an honest representation of what was in the human heart towards Him.
Yes the crowds wanted to crown Him. But all their crowns, like all of ours, are ultimately made of thorns and briars, not gold and precious stones. Outside of the grace of God, we are destined to wound and hurt, to despise and reject, to pierce and mock. With very few exceptions, those we raise up, we will find a way to tear back down.
This is nowhere more true than with Jesus.
So he will not entrust Himself to them. He will put no weight on their fleeting adoration. Because they have human hearts and they cannot be trusted or relied upon.
There is no assurance for the independent human mind and human heart. But Jesus had total assurance, such that He didn’t need to get it from anyone else. He had it because His mind was fully trusting in His Father and His heart was fully obedient to His Father.
The lovely thing, is that being born again includes a heart transplant and a mind transformation. Jesus’ mind and Jesus’ heart. We can have assurance. An assurance that grows as the new heart takes over our wills and the renewed mind reforms our thinking.
Uncle Neville was not the most demonstrative Christian in the world. But he had a quiet assurance of faith. When he got to the last chorus of Fanny Crosby’s hymn he would start up the chorus again:
“This is my story”
Because it was. It was his story.
They sang the hymn at his funeral. At the end of the last chorus the music and singing stopped. Without saying anything to anyone else, Doris his wife, his three daughters Carol, Judith and Ann and their families had devised a plan. They all started to sing the last verse again a Capella, just like Neville did.
“This is my story.”
Of course, the whole hall joined in.
It was Neville’s story. It could be yours too. If you have Jesus, you have assurance. Blessed assurance. It is a foretaste here on earth of what we are going to have in heaven.
As Fanny Crosby so eloquently put it:
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”
24. The Greatest Sign Of All
John has another reason for putting this story of the clearing of the temple right at the beginning of his account of Jesus’ ministry. He is making a point within a point. Yes, the driving out of the tradesmen is important but the discourse that happens afterwards is even more important.
Jesus does this more than once. He deliberately acts in such a way to get a big reaction from the religious leaders, which then opens the door for deeper truth to come out. The healing of the blind man in chapter 8 is a great example of this. He knows that if these people are to really get to know His Father then He is going to have to cut through the religious nonsense that has blinded them for centuries.
I get the feeling, looking at church history, that occasionally He still has to do the same thing. He has to act provocatively in such a way that gets a reaction from church leaders. Maybe, when that happens, it is sometimes a sign that our rules and traditions are getting in the way of us helping others to see His Father for who He really is. Maybe when we react to something that God may be doing, our first question should be: “Why did I react to that as I did?”
Maybe we will discover that we are doing something that is blinding the eyes of people to who the Father really is.
Jesus used this method for the first time here. Yes, he wants us to know that the temple is His Father’s house and He is passionate that any activity occurring in it should be a true reflection of who His Father really is. But then he takes us to a deeper truth and the door to seeing that truth is opened by the indignant response of the religious leaders.
Again the disciples only get the revelation later on, finally after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the Holy Spirit helps them to see the connection between their experience of the resurrection, Jesus’ words here and the Scriptures.
“When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22)
That is how revelation works. We see it from experience, we hear it from the words of Jesus and we “remember” it from the Scriptures (not necessarily in that order), all through the Holy Spirit.
As a side note, this is why the reading, memorization and meditation on the Bible is so important. We often don’t understand it straight away. But just because we don’t understand it the first time doesn’t mean we should give up. The disciples rarely understood the first time they heard or were taught something and they went on to be great church leaders. It may be years later that we experience something and the Holy Spirit brings back to our mind the Scriptures and we suddenly understand it, we “get it”.
Of course, we won’t be able to “get it” at all if we didn’t read and digest it in the first place.
What is the deeper point that Jesus is wanting to make out of the clearing of the temple? Well lets’ listen in on. The conversation that happened as a result of Jesus clearing the temple:
“So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)
Signs were obviously important to the religious leaders. Anyone could get up and pretend they were from God and quote a few of the prophets, but how could they tell if they were really sent from God or not? Their answer was: Supernatural signs.
You could argue that the Jewish faith was based on such signs. We have looked in some of the signs from God that formed the foundation of their understanding of God in Chapter 20. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses and the people of Israel, Hezekiah and Esther all experiences supernatural signs from heaven that were designed to help them to trust in God in a whole new way. There are many many more such signs that point the way to God in the Old Testament. In fact, up till 400 years before the appearance of Jesus, you could argue that there had been signs in every generation and pretty powerful ones at that.
Maybe that was the problem for these Jewish leaders. It had been so long since the last sign. Then they had to deal with crowds going to John the Baptist, a man of such small self-interest that they couldn’t get him to talk himself and his ministry at all. He insisted that if they wanted to get right with God then they had to repent and line up for baptism behind all the tax collectors, crooked soldiers and prostitutes who got there before them. John the Baptist wasn’t telling people to go to the priests with a sacrifice for the temple. He was telling the priests that they had to come to him.
Now Jesus comes, who seems to have even less respect for them and their temple than John the Baptist. The fact was that Jesus was showing more respect for the temple (His Father’s house) than they were, but they couldn’t see that. They want to be careful about how they respond because the crowds seem to enjoy being round this Jesus more than even they wanted to be around John. Later we discover that most of the people were scared of these religious leaders. Here we find out that the leaders are anxious about what the crowds will do too. That is the way with ungodly leadership, it is built on fear, both ways.
So, the safe way to confront Jesus and not anger the crowds is to demand a sign. If, after 400 years of apparent silence, God has visited His people, then surely He will give this generation a sign as He did to the other generations He spoke to. That seems reasonable.
Jesus doesn’t dispute their logic. In fact He goes along with it. He doesn’t say, as many of us probably would in the circumstances: “You lot are so twisted in your understanding of God and prejudiced in your attitude towards me and John who came before me that no sign I give you is going to open your heart to the truth, so you’re not going to get one!”
Thankfully God is not like us. He is much more gracious and patient and kind than we are. He gives signs all the time, whether we see them or not. John’s gospel tracks many of the signs that Jesus did, in the hope that we would see and believe. But Jesus did many more signs that we no longer know about, because they were not recorded. There were too many of them.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
God doesn’t have a problem with giving us signs.
And so Jesus gives the leaders a sign, in a riddle. I like a riddles. A problem you have to wrestle with that doesn’t make total sense, until it all comes together in your mind and you finally get it. That moment of revelation is worth the effort of the enquiry. Most of the religious leaders didn’t get the riddle, although we are soon going to meet one who certainly wanted to wrestle further with what Jesus is saying. But Jesus wasn’t saying the riddle in this public context mainly for them. He was speaking to another audience and, eventually they got it and became world changers as a result. Revelation is a powerful thing.
So what was the riddle? “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
He is standing in the temple in Jerusalem. He has just driven out all the traders and money changers. The religious leaders assume that Jesus is talking about that temple. Jesus’ riddle sounds like a personal challenge to them first: “If you destroy this temple, then I will raise it up again in three days.”
If they wanted a sign from Jesus, then they were going to have to participate in it in a way that would have been unthinkable to them. There is no way they were going to destroy the temple. As we do when we are cornered, these leaders wanted to keep the spotlight on what Jesus would do: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
But the point has been made. Jesus is going to give them a sign. But it will not begin with Him, it will begin with them. Jesus has just cleaned out their temple, but if they want to see a sign, they are going to have destroy God’s temple first.
Both for these leaders and, more importantly for the disciples of Jesus who are listening, Jesus’s riddle is impossible in two ways. Firstly, there was no way that these religious leaders were going to destroy the temple in Jerusalem (which is what they all think Jesus is referring to, at this point at least). Secondly there was no way, physically, that Jesus could then rebuild it in just three days.
If Jesus could pull this off by persuading the leaders to rip the temple down stone by stone and then by putting it all back together again Himself in three days, then surely that would be two signs to rival anything the Jews had seen before. That would surely prove that the God of Abraham and Moses and Samuel and Elijah and Elisha and Esther and all the other great leaders and prophets of the Old Testament was with this Jesus of Nazareth.
But Jesus did pull this off. And He did it in a way that made it an even greater sign than what these leaders and disciples thought it to be. For those who got it, this became the greatest of all signs. It was so much beyond anything the Jewish people had seen before, that they realised that Jesus was in a totally different league to anyone who God had sent to them before. He was God.
These religious leaders did destroy “this temple”. They did so by stirring up the crowd against Him with false accusations. Faced with an angry mob, the Roman ruler and his cohorts carried out the cruelest form of punishment and death against. In the end, His physical body was taken down from the cross, bruised, battered, beaten, scourged and pierced through. Yes, they were going to destroy “this temple”.
In three days, the temple rose again, more glorious than it had ever been and outshining for all times the greatest temples of earth, even Solomon’s wonder. And when it happened, the disciples got it.
“When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22)
They had heard Jesus’ riddle, but didn’t get it then. They had known the scriptures, but didn’t get it then. But then God gives them the greatest of all signs and suddenly their eyes are opened. They get what Jesus was saying. They get what the scriptures were saying and it completely transforms them into world changing leaders. That’s the power of revelation.
What can we get from this? Here’s some thoughts:
1. God gives signs to help us believe. We can pray for them and encourage others to pray for them, particularly unbelievers. The early church did. Listen in on one of their prayer meetings: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)
2. Some of the signs come in the form of “riddles”, maybe dreams, or prophetic words or scriptures that resonate with us in a deep way. We may think that we know what they mean, but maybe God has hidden the meaning from us for a while, waiting for the right time.
3. The scriptures are full of such signs, and they alone are enough to help us believe. The greatest of these is the death and resurrection of Jesus. As one of this generations’ most well known atheists has said: “If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.”
Jesus did rise from the dead. It did change everything. And it will change everything for you too today if you will choose to believe and receive Jesus as your personal saviour and Lord.
Even if you have already done that, a fresh revelation of the greatest sign of them all may transform your life and ministry to a new level of power and effectiveness.
This is why the Holy Spirit through John gives us these stories at the beginning. It begins with water into wine on the third day. Going beyond creation into a whole new level of recreation as the Creator moves down into our sinful chaotic darkness and begins to speak words of life. It ends with the breakthrough moment for recreation, resurrection life out of every attempt of man to destroy God, on the third day. At the end of water into wine, the disciples are believers, at least to some extent. At the end of the resurrection those same disciples are bold world changers. They have found life in all it’s fulness, recreated, resurrection life and they want the world to have it too.
23. His Father’s House
Jesus had to be about His Father’s business. John has Him starting in His Father’s house.
This was obviously not the first thing that Jesus did in His ministry, according to the other gospel writers. But John takes us here first. His Father’s house. Approaching the Passover week.
He will be here again in the not-too-distant future. At the Passover, as the Passover Lamb. He will submit Himself to the religious rulers and their political schemes and personal agendas. They will do to Him as they please, not knowing that they are actually working out the Father’s plan. They will desecrate the Father’s house with the murder of the Father’s Son. That will be a far greater sin than making profits out of sacrificial animals. If Jesus wanted to really clean up His Father’s house He would have had to do a much deeper work.
Jesus knows this is not a permanent solution. The traders might be kicked out today but they’ll be moved back in and wheeling and dealing again tomorrow.
No, this is not about sorting out all the problems of the temple. It doesn’t even address the root issues.
Jesus is making a point. But what is the point He is making?
In Matthew and Luke’s account of the incident, the issue seems to be that His Father’s house should be a place of prayer, not for bartering and making a profit out of people.
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
Through Mark, the Holy Spirit adds an important component. Not only should the temple be a house of prayer but it should be a house of prayer for all nations.
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”’ (Mark 11:15-17)
It seems that these dealers had set up shop in the part of the temple that was set aside for the nations to pray. The Jewish rulers were plainly not bothered about that. Jesus obviously was. Very bothered! God’s heart has always been that He would choose one nation from earth in which to dwell and display His glory so that all the nations would be drawn to Him. And so He clears out these squatters to make room for the true guests, people from all the nations on earth.
Here in John’s account, prayer is not mentioned at all.
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (John 2:13-16)
John has a different emphasis. First of all look at how Jesus talks about the temple. He calls it “My Father’s house.”
In the other three gospels Jesus doesn’t use that phrase. He simply quotes the scriptures: “Is it not written?”
The passage He quotes is Isaiah 56:7, which is plainly referring, in context, to God’s desire and purpose to gather the nations to Himself.
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
John was here when this happened and he will have heard Jesus quote that scripture. So the fact that he left it out of his account is important. He left it out because he wanted to emphasize something different to the other gospels.
John has Jesus calling the temple “My Father’s house”. He wants us to know that this is personal to Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that this was personal to Jesus. This wasn’t just an exercise in restoring some sort of sort of shalom, peace and reverence to the house of God. This wasn’t even just making sure that the Jewish leaders made room in the temple for the nations to come and pray. This was personal. This was His Father’s house.
The fact that this was personal comes out in the details John highlights and the language he uses. The other gospel writers have Jesus driving people out and overturning their tables and chairs. John adds more.
John saw it happen. He would have walked into the temple with Him and probably, because John was so close to Jesus, would have noticed the change in His countenance.
He probably had a vivid recollection of Jesus finding some reeds and rushes (that’s what the Greek word means) and binding them together into a whip. Other gospel writers don’t mention the whip.
Maybe some of the disciples asked Him “Rabbi what are you doing?”
Maybe they were sensitive enough to feel the storm blowing in and they kept their peace and their distance.
All around, the usual babble continued. The sellers had no idea that the One and Only of the Father was in the house. They continued to buy and sell. Making a profit out of animals that would be brought to the sacrifice. They’d found a way to earn money out of devout sinners by making them pay handsomely for the privilege of putting things right with God. The religious leaders watched with warm satisfaction as the tax from the profits rolled into their own coffers.
“Come pay inflated prices for an animal so that you can offer it to the Lord for your sin and ceremonial cleanness and to ensure that you have kept the letter of the law!”
That is what they had done to His Father’s house. His Father who had graciously given His people a means to stay in relationship with Him. The power to forgive or cleanse wasn’t in the sacrifice of the animals themselves. They were just a shadow. They were pointing towards the pure and perfect once-for-all sacrifice that was yet to come. The Lamb of God. God’s own sacrifice. And that sacrifice can not be bought for money and should never be sold for profit.
His Father had made a way for this people, but they had turned it into a profit making marketplace. Can you imagine the bartering.
“How much for the lamb?”
“What, I can go and get one in the market for half that price!”
“We’ll go and get it then, but you’d better make sure it is a perfect one, otherwise you know what might happen to you. Ours are specially chosen and blessed by the priests.”
“I can’t afford that.”
“Then walk away in your sins but you’d better be careful that you don’t fall under the wheels of a Roman Chariot on the way home. But look, I’ll help you out. If you can’t offer a sheep, here is a pigeon. It is not so good, but the good Lord might look kindly on your sacrifice.”
“Only _____ and cheap at the price.”
“That’s scandalous. Daylight robbery. I can get it cheaper…”
“Ah but will it be perfect? Will it be blessed? It’s either this or you could die in your sins and what good will your money be to you then eh?”
Unfortunately this sort of dealing was probably going on all the time.
Jesus listens to all of this as He binds the reeds together until finally they are strong enough for purpose. John can probably feel the temperature rising, but nothing He has seen before of Jesus will have prepared him for what was going to happen next.
Suddenly Jesus turns on the nearest dealer. He throws his table over, scattering pigeons and cages everywhere. The money falls to the floor. The dealer, shocked, reaches to pick it up but a whip suddenly cracks on the upturned table by his head. He looks up to see the form of a man with fire in His eyes about to bring the whip down again. He forgets the money and backs off into the next table. That too goes flying over and now there are two dealers with their backs to the wall. Then three, then four.
You would think that at least two or three of those men would realise what was going on and put up some sort of resistance, but they had found themselves on the wrong side of the wrath of God, even though they did not recognise it for what it was. They were in no mood to fight. They scattered towards the exit, running alongside sheep and goats and calves.
He came to the tables of the money changers. The bankers who kept the commerce flowing. They probably tried to protect their money boxes. Too late. He grabbed them and poured out their contents all over the floor. Again the other gospel writers don’t mention this detail. John wants us to know the passion that Jesus is expressing here. He wants us to know how personal this is.
Ordinarily, with money falling all over the floor, people would be running in to try and grab some, but not on this occasion. No one wanted to get in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, The King of Israel, The Light of life, The One and Only. These people had taken the goodness and grace of His Father, the glorious kindness that this temple represented and made it into a marketplace for their own greedy gain and selfish ambitions. They were doing it at the expense of the very people that His Father wanted to draw near to Himself. They were representing God as some miserly dictator who could only be appeased by the overbearing taxing of poor sinners.
Yes Jesus was angry, righteously so. This was personal for Him.
“do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
The Father’s grace and forgiveness can not be bartered for, at any price. His mercy is priceless.
As they watch Jesus cleansing the temple, the disciples remember a scripture:
“His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:17).
It must have been the Holy Spirit that brought the particular scripture to their minds. He is always bringing the scriptures to our minds. Gradually, piece by piece, they grow in their revelation of who Jesus is. The process for them was that they saw and experienced Jesus at work and then the Holy Spirit would take them to the scriptures to reveal to them what was really going on. That’s a great model for discipleship.
Now, by experience and the scriptures, they know something about Jesus that they will never forget. They will invariably tell future generations of church builders and urge them not to forget.
“Jesus is loving and kind, gentle and humble, but don’t mess around in the Father’s house because He has a consuming fire in Him for His Father’s glory and reputation. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of His consuming zeal. Take a look at what you are doing and ask the Holy Spirit to help you: Are you doing anything which misrepresents who the Father really is? Deal with it before Jesus, who baptises with the Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor, deals with you.”
This account is a sobering reminder of how Jesus feels about people who turn His Father’s house into a place for personal gain at the expense of His people. It is a sobering reminder to all who minister in His Father’s house that whatever we do should be a true reflection of who the Father really is.
If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then zeal for His Father’s house still consumes Him. He still is in the business of fashioning whips (which could come to us in different guises from financial pressure to people that feel like a thorn in our sides). He is still in the business of driving out anything that reflects badly on His Father. Both the Bible and Church history clearly indicate that if there is no repentance when Jesus knocks at the door of the church, eventually He will simply remove the light of His presence and anointing from that church altogether. That church will no longer be a voice for Him to the nations because He will spit them out of His mouth.
As Jesus said to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16.
It seems that He has not lost any of His consuming zeal for his Father’s house.
Ask the Holy Spirit: “Lord, is there something I am doing that is making Your house into something that isn’t a true reflection of who you really are?”
And then: “Lord, what do you want me to do about it?”
22. The Mother of the Groom
John has been introducing us to those people that are going to be important in his narrative, Jesus, of course, being the primary focus. We have also met John the Baptist, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. They are all going to reappear later in the gospel.
Now we meet the first woman. Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
John could have started his gospel with the birth of Jesus and how wonderful Mary’s heart and response was to the call of God on her life. He didn’t. This is perhaps all the more unusual because Mary had probably lived in John’s house and under his care since Jesus had died on the cross. John was her replacement son.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)
John was the best placed gospel writer to tell Mary’s story to the world. But he didn’t. I’m sure it wasn’t because he didn’t love, appreciate and deeply respect her. Her story was worth telling. But John left that up to others, not so intimately acquainted with her as he was.
Again, John is making sure that Jesus is our only focus. Everyone else points to Him. Even His own mother. That is why John starts the life of Jesus with the wedding at Cana. It is the Mother of Jesus pointing the way to Jesus.
Mary knew Jesus better than anyone. She had watched him from baby to boy, from teen to man. As she watched, she treasured what she knew of Him in her heart. But she knew there would be a day when the truth would get out. And when it did, it would change her relationship with Him forever. It would cost her, dearly. A glory moment that would come at a price. A son that would never truly just be her boy again and a sword of grief that would pierce her own heart through as she watched Him suffer and die.
The day that Jesus revealed who He really was, was going to be the day she would have to let go of Him as a Mother. At that moment she would be giving Him away to another. Actually a world full of others, many of whom were not going to treat Him so well. She was going to give Him away to people He would woo with His love only to have most of them reject Him and turn their backs on Him. That moment, when He let Himself be truly known, would cost her dearly, but being a mother she probably wasn’t thinking about that. She was more likely to be thinking about what it would cost Him.
So, in the end, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Rather than wait and wonder when Jesus is going to reveal Himself for who He really was, she decided to do it for Him.
Fittingly, she chose to do it at a wedding. The wedding at Cana of Galilee.
He was thirty years old and she must have had the questions:
“So when is Jesus going to get married? Have any of the girls caught his eye yet? He is a good boy and will make someone a fine husband. Why is he so kind to all the girls and yet he is not interested in marrying any one of them?”
It would probably not have been wise to say what she was thinking. “Oh, He’s God and He won’t be getting married.”
No, she was never going to see her Son married, not as we understand marriage. She was never going to be able to give Him away to someone who loved Him as much as He loved them. She gave Him away instead to a world that would mock, beat, kill and destroy Him.
She knew what she was doing here. She knew where it would lead. She had been told by the righteous, devout Simeon that day she brought Jesus to present Him to the Lord at the temple.
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
But she did it anyway. Typical mother. No thought for her own needs or desires. Her Son had a call on His life. It would cost Him everything. It would cost her her son. But she did it anyway.
She thought she had lost Him once before as a twelve year old boy becoming a man. They had travelled a full day back from Jerusalem before they discovered that He was gone. It took them another three days in the hubbub of a busy capital before they found Him. He was in His Father’s house, the temple, reasoning with the religious teachers and leaders, who were amazed at His understanding. He had been there four days, apparently so caught up in what He was doing that He had lost track of time. The time creator, losing track of it.
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47)
But on that occasion Mary got Him back. For another eighteen year Jesus lived and served at home.
“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (Luke 2:52)
But, through that experience, His Mother had learnt a painful but valuable lesson. He was her son, yes, but He belonged to another. He was also the One and Only, the Only Begotten of the Father in heaven and there would come a time when He would leave her to be about His Father’s business and never really come home to Nazareth again. She was a thoughtful woman and she took the lesson to heart.
“And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:52)
She knew she would have to let Him go completely one day. It seems that Jesus was set to choose when that day would happen. In the end Mary chose the day for Him.
She gave her Son away at a wedding after all.
It all started with a lack of wine.
These people seemed to have been friends of Mary’s, to such an extent that Jesus and all His disciples were invited.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” (John 2:1)
There was a lot of people there. Too many people. So many, in fact, that the wine ran out. That was a big social faux pas on behalf of the bridal couple and it threatened not just to spoil their special day, but forever tarnish their reputation in the community. People had come from as far away as Nazareth (a day’s journey). The gossip would be all over the region of Galilee.
We don’t know how long into the wedding the wine ran out, but obviously Mary was close enough to the action to know that it had happened. If she knew, probably many others did too. She probably could feel the pain and panic of the families concerned. They would never live this down.
She knew that Jesus was going to be revealed for who He really was at some point. He was already a travelling preacher with some disciples. But no miracles yet. Nothing that really showed people His true. Even His disciples didn’t really know. She decided that now was the time. Her friends needed Him. So without thought for herself, the cost she was personally going to pay, she called on the name of the Lord.
“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”” (John 1:3)
It was clear to Jesus that she was asking for His help. It was clear that Mary knew He could do something about this, she had no doubt about it. Jesus’ response is equally clear.
“And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” (John 1:4)
There it was. The distance that she had feared would come. “Woman” not “Mother” or “Mum”.
She would go to Him later with the rest of His siblings, to a house that was bulging with eager Jesus watchers. She wouldn’t be able to get near Him so she would send Him a message to tell Him that she was there. His response would be equally clear.
“Who is my Mother?” (Matthew 12:48)
But she had carried Him in her womb. He had already cost her a lot in gossip. Her reputation had already been tarnished because of Him. She would have counted that as nothing for the joy of knowing Him. She had fed, washed and cared for Him. He had eaten at her table for thirty years.
Now she needed Him, her friends needed Him and she was not going to be denied. She ignored His instructions and issued some of her own. Yes, she ignored God. She pressed on past His apparent reluctance to act. She interrupted His seemingly preferred time frame. A great picture of prayer.
“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” (John 1:5)
There it is. The key to life. Right from the mouth of His own Mother.
Do whatever Jesus tells you.
Do you want the ordinary water of your life turned into the finest of wines? Then do whatever He tells you.
Jesus was waiting for the right time. His Father’s time. But ended up doing it on His Mother’s time anyway. A final act of public submission to a Mother He loved. It turned out to be what the Father wanted too.
The Logos spoke. Creation happened. A miracle occurred and a Mother’s heart was warmed by the kindest of Sons. All on the third day.
And so His glory was revealed and the faith of His disciples went deeper as a result.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
And it all happened on the third day.
As we saw in the last chapter, another third day is coming. Right after the fulfillment of all the pain that Mary has been told to expect. There, in the worst grief and pain of her life she will discover that water into wine was just the beginning. This was the first of His miracles. There were many more to come. The greatest of which will happen when the Son that she loved and had to release would rise again from the dead for her. And not just for her but for the whole world.
This first third day, Mary releases Jesus to the world. After the next third day, she gets Him back after what she thought was her final goodbye and she gets Him back forever. Water into wine. And the best wine is kept for last.
How did Jesus respond to being revealed to the world by His mother? Would He straight away move into the ministry phase of His life and leave behind forever the home life He had enjoyed for thirty years? No. The opposite in fact. He left the wedding with his Mother and brothers for a little family retreat in Capernaum.
“After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.” (John 2:12)
It is true that when you let go of something for God, you never really lose out.
From now on He was going to concentrate on serving His Father, but He would never forgot the Mother who had loved Him enough to give Him away.
21. The Timing of God
“And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’” (John 2:4)
There has recently been another royal wedding. On a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place, barring a great catastrophe, this event was ordained to take place. It was in the calendar of the families and friends involved. It was in the calendar of the nation. It was in the calendar of the networks and the media outlets who would be covering it. The time was set.
Jesus talks as if He is on a timetable, that there is a set calendar and everything is going to come to pass at the right time as it has been decided beforehand. This in itself is an incredible way for Him to live, given that there are innumerable people and circumstances that can seem to change our calendars, or indeed the course of our lives, at any moment in time. Who can possibly live knowing with certainty what the future will hold, as if you have already been there? Jesus lived that way.
When asked by His mother to change water into wine, He responds with two remarkable comments. The first one is: “what does this have to do with me?” From a human point of view that is a perfectly reasonable response, even though it seems a bit blunt. Mary was at a wedding and it turned out that Jesus and His friends had been invited too. They were not the guests of honour, they may not have even known the bride and groom personally. The wine runs out and now He is asked to do something about it.
If we were a peripheral guest at a wedding and they suddenly discovered they hadn’t ordered enough food and someone asked us to do something about it, what would our response be? “I’d like to help, but why is this my problem? Why are you expecting me to fix this?” We’d probably want to know what had gone wrong and what those responsible were doing about it before offering to get involved.
Jesus’ response was perfectly reasonable, so why is it remarkable? Well it is remarkable in the circumstances and certainly in the narrative of John’s gospel, because the writer has already made it clear that everything does have to do with Jesus.
“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.” (John 1:1-4)
“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 1:12-13)
If Jesus is the person through whom God created the universe, the life giver and the light bringer, if Jesus is the only person through whom God is going to recreate this universe starting with the return and revealing of lost sons and daughters, then everything has to do with Jesus, at some level. Everything is Jesus’ business, even this wedding. He is the reason all these guests exist in the first place, including the bridge and groom. He is the reason there is a place for the ceremony and He is the reason why there is food and drink on the table at all.
Jesus is the “Logos”. He is the reason. For everything.
So why does He say, “what does this have to do with Me?”
Probably because of His next statement, the second remarkable comment: “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4b)
In other words, He is not saying “This is absolutely nothing to do with Me. This is not My problem, it never was and it never will be.” We know from what happens next that He is really saying: “This does have something to do with Me, but not yet. My time has not yet come.”
Do we sometimes feel that when we pray for God to do something, He is not really listening? The sense we can sometimes get is that God is not really bothered about our “small” problems. They are big to us, but they are not big enough to get God’s attention. He is too busy elsewhere. We might even feel that God is saying: “What has this got to do with Me?”
From this scripture in John we understand that though everything is God’s business and He has an interest in every aspect of our lives, it is not always the right moment in the calendar for Him to act.
Jesus refers to this issue of timing throughout John’s gospel. He keeps referring to what appears to be a heavenly calendar that is set in place and cannot and will not be changed by people or circumstances.
To a gentile (non-Jewish) woman who had questioned Him about worship: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:21-23)
Jesus to the Jews who were questioning Him about His authority: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25-29)
He had obviously taught His disciples that He was on God’s timetable:
“So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.” (John 7:30)
“These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” (John 8:20)
And what was this particular moment, this “hour”, that John was referring to in these last two verses? It was the moment when Jesus would be glorified.
“And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)
We understand, from what happens next that Jesus was referring to the time of His death and resurrection. At the same moment as Jesus was glorified, then glory would be given back to the Father who had overseen it all.
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1)
We know from the end of the story of turning water into wine, that this also turned into a moment for Jesus’ glory to be revealed.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
So then those dates, those special events that are registered on God’s calendar that Jesus lived His life by, were moments when Jesus Himself was going to be glorified through His miraculous life (John 2:11), death and resurrection (John 12:23) and triumphant return (John 5:25-29) and ultimately His Father would be worshiped as a result (John 4:21-23). These pre-ordained dates were certain and sure and Jesus planned the course of His life around them.
However, before the glory, we also know from John’s narrative that these hours, these moments, are not without their cost. As glory is written into the calendar, so is suffering, pain and even death. It is all part of the process of glorification.
And it is also clear, that there are events, moments, written in the calendar for Jesus’ own disciples that have a similar process and outcome to them.
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 16:1-4)
These dates in God’s pre-ordained calendar are also designed to bring Him glory (at the same time moving us towards our ultimate glorification in Him) but they are not without sorrow.
Jesus likened the process to that of giving birth:
“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21)
Of course, when we are going through tough stuff many of us naturally want to change the schedule and erase some items from God’s calendar. Because Jesus was tempted in every way like we are, He had the same thought when facing the cross:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’” (John 12:27)
But He resisted the temptation to resist the calendar of God, because He could see beyond the suffering to a greater purpose:
“But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John12:27b-28)
Every hour we go through has purpose, even the hardest ones. The ultimate purpose is to bring glory to our Father in heaven and his glorious Son, but, in so doing, we will also find our greatest and most lasting joy and satisfaction.
So what can we learn from Jesus’ response to His Mother in John 2:4?
1. This world is on a pre-ordained schedule, moving to the rhythm of the calendar of heaven. Therefore we need not be alarmed as we believe, with Jesus, that there is Godly control and order that is overriding and overseeing world events and the events of our individual lives.
2. God has fixed on that calendar moments and events when He will especially glorify Himself through His Son and also through us. He has pre-ordained glory for Himself in our own lives and lifetimes, they are certain and sure.
3. The process of glorification comes with a cost. It is a momentary cost, in the view of eternity, but it is a cost none-the-less. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
4. We need to see the purpose in the pain and resist the temptation to try and change, or get offended with what God has written in His book for us.
5. We must always remember, especially in the midst of the moments of trial, that just as it is appointed for us to suffer and go through hardships, so the days when the glory of God will be revealed in and through us are also ordained for us in His diary. The coming glory is as sure as the current troubles.
God the Father set Himself to glorify Jesus and glorify Himself in and through Jesus. He knew when He would be glorified through Him, the exact dates, times and places. He had them written in His book. Jesus lived His life expecting them.
God will be glorified in us and through us. He knows when He will be glorified in and through us. He knows the exact dates and times and places. He has written them in His book and they will come to pass. Are we living our lives with that expectation?
For us, these hours may not have yet come. But, as with Jesus, they surely will, if we continue to receive Him and believe in His name.
So, if there is a heavenly calendar and Jesus is living true to its’ timetable, what made Jesus appear to change the schedule on this occasion to turn water into wine? We find out in the next chapter.
20. On the Third Day
And so we come to the first of Jesus’ signs. It happens at a wedding at a place called Cana and we can read about it in John chapter 2 and we are told it happens “on the third day”.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” (John 2:1-2)
What does that mean and why does John frame the story that way?
It seems plainly obvious that John wants us to experience the wedding at Cana narrative as part of his opening message, his introduction to the gospel. We noticed that right from the beginning there is a similarity between John 1 and the opening account of Genesis. Not only does he begin with an expanded version of the Bible’s opening statement (“In the beginning God” becomes “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God”) but references to Genesis 1 continue throughout John 1.
Here are some examples:
• After being introduced to God we are then introduced to the concept of light and darkness. In Genesis 1 there is a separation between the light and darkness. In John 1 the light is introduced not as a supernatural phenomena but as a Person and His light comes into the middle of the darkness, which tries to overcome it, but can’t.
• In Genesis 1:2 we are introduced to the Spirit who “hovers over the waters” waiting for the Word of God to come which releases Him to bring creation to birth. In John 1:32-33 we meet the Holy Spirit again coming down upon the waters, this time of baptism. This time He is not waiting for the Word of God from heaven but He is waiting for the Word of God to come up out of the waters of this present creation, releasing Him to herald the arrival of a new creation.
• Throughout Genesis 1 we are carefully told what happens on each day and each day introduces us to fresh revelation and insight into the new creation that is coming to birth. The same thing happens in John 1:
o Before the first day we discover that Jesus is:
The Word (Logos)
The One and Only of the Father
Jesus Christ (Jesus the Anointed One, Messiah)
The One and Only of God
o “The next day” (John 1:29) we are introduced to Jesus by name but then also as:
The Lamb of God
The Son of God
o “The next day” (John 1:35) Jesus is revealed to us as
o “The next day” (John 1:43) John introduces us to Jesus as:
Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph
The King of Israel
The Son of Man
Now in John 2:1 we get to “the third day”. Taken purely on face value, this would put the wedding at Cana on the same day as Jesus meeting Nathanael.
What happens on the third day in the creation account of Genesis 1? The emergence of land from the water and plants and fruit appear on the earth.
“And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:9-13)
The water is gathered together and dry land appears. Out of that dry ground, the earth, comes a multitude of shrubs, flowers, trees, vegetables and fruits, including grapevines. By the command of the Word of the Lord. From nothing. Water to juicy grapes in a day.
This is what happens on the third day of creation. Here in John 2 we have Jesus turning water to wine, on the third day. Coincidence? Maybe. But there is good reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is reminding us that the Word of God that brought vines from dry ground is still very much alive and at work. He is still in the creation business, it did not stop at the end of Genesis 1. But He is now taking things to a new level, this is recreation.
At Jesus’ baptism, we can see that the Holy Spirit is still brooding with pregnant purpose over the earth, as He did in Genesis 1, but this time it is over the new promised land that emerges from the waters of baptism. In fact, more than hovering over it, He comes to rest upon it in the form of a dove. That land is not an “it”, like the earth that appears in Genesis 1, but a person as the One and Only of the Father, the Lamb of God, the Gateway of Heaven on earth, the Logos rises out of the water of this sin created chaos.
Out of the first earth God forms humankind, breathing life into them. Out of this new emerging “earth” God is going to bring to birth Sons and Daughters, not just made in the image of the God of the creation and placed in creation but recreated in God Himself, out of this very “earth” that we have come to know as Jesus, the Messiah.
God is moving everything forwards and to another level. This is why, in Christ, we are not simply going back to the garden of Eden. This is the next stage of God’s plan to reveal His glory, it is not merely trying to mop up the mess we all made of His first attempt.
And so we come to Cana, in Galilee. Jesus, the Word of God, the Logos, gives His first command, not to the chaotic chaos but to sinful broken mankind. He speaks specifically to servants, those that will obey Him.
“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.” (John 2:7)
Speaking to those human servants, He orders that water is gathered together into six stone jars till they are filled to the brim. Is there an echo here of “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place” (Genesis 1:9)? It is happening on the third day.
Then He gives His second command, to the same servants, which is to take some of that water to the master of the feast.
“And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.” (John 2:8)
And what happens?
“the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)” (John 2:9)
The water instantly turns into wine. On the third day of creation, God calls firstly dry ground to rise out of the waters and then vegetation, resulting in mature grapevines amongst all the other trees and bushes. If there is going to be wine, then Adam and Eve are going to have to figure out that it is possible to make a drink from this fruit and then work out how to make it. That will take a while. Then they actually have to go through the process of making it, which will take even longer. We don’t hear of grapes being made into wine in the Bible until Noah after the flood in Genesis 9:20-21, although he may well have learnt the craft from others before him.
The point is that on the third day of creation, the cosmos obeys the command of the Logos and we have grapes from water. Now, on the “third day”, sinful mankind finally obeys the commands of the Logos and we don’t just have grapes from water, we have wine. And not just any wine:
“the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” (John 2:10)
Do we get the point? Jesus, the Logos, has moved beyond being the Word of God speaking over the darkness, but has become the Word of God come down right into the middle of an even greater darkness than pre-creation. And He has come to lift us out of the darkness and chaos of our own making, into a whole new era in world history, the appearing of the true children of God. Jesus is going higher and further than He did in creation. This is beyond water to grapes. We can go instantly from water all the way through to wine, the finished product. And it is not just any wine, this wine is the best wine of them all.
All this happens “on the third day”.
If you think I may be stretching the meaning here beyond what the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired John to write these words, let me remind you of other stories that happened in the Old Testament on the third day. The common theme is that on the third day day there was a sign of a wonderful life changing salvation and deliverance that was coming for those to whom it was given. The sign would result in a fresh revelation of the glory and grace of God and enable those people to believe and put their trust in Him. Let’s begin with the second mention of the term “on the third day” in the Bible and a narrative that I referenced in a previous chapter.
Genesis 22:4 “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.”
What did Abraham see from afar on the third day? The mountain where God was going to supernaturally provide for him in the hour of his greatest need.
“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ (Genesis 22:14)
And what was the great provision that Abraham “lifted us his eyes” to see, on the third day? It was a lamb, that God would provide, who would be sacrificed to preserve the life of his only son Isaac and, with him, all the lives of the children of promise that were yet to come after him. As Abraham said to Isaac:
“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” (Genesis 22:8)
Abraham had lifted up his eyes to see a physical place, where God would supernaturally provide. But Abraham’s eyes have also been lifted up in the Spirit and He is seeing beyond, to a promised provision that has a significance that he could not even imagine, God’s lamb. When Abraham saw the fulfillment of that promise on the mountain, he will have remembered the words that came to him on the third day and been encouraged in his faith and trust in God’s ability to lead and take care of him.
Later in Genesis we read the story of one of those descendants of Isaac, his Grandson Joseph who, having been rejected and betrayed by his own brothers, was in prison after being falsely accused. Two former servants of Pharoah were in the prison with him, the lead baker and the lead cupbearer to the King. They were both in prison because they had committed an “offense”, seemingly together, against the King (Genesis 40:1).
Whilst in prison, they both had dreams and Joseph gave them interpretations. Both interpretations would come to pass “in three days” (Genesis 40:13 & 18). For the baker it didn’t end well. But for the cupbearer, he was restored to his previous position.
Genesis 40: 20-21 “On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
And what was his previous position? It was bringing the drinks to the King. This included tasting them beforehand and ensuring they were of the very best quality. Does that sound familiar?
God had promised, through Joseph that something would happen “on the third day” that would see this servant, who had sinned against his master, restored back to his previous position. It was a sign to the servant. Beyond that, though, it was given as a sign to Joseph that he too would be released from prison. And he saw the sign fulfilled “on the third day”. When he saw it, it would have given him faith to hold on for the fulfillment of the greater promise, his eventual freedom, even though he had to wait a lot longer for it to happen. The glory of God was revealed that enabled His servant, Joseph, to put his trust in Him in a whole new way.
Another “on the third day”. God told Moses to instruct the people to get themselves ready because “On the third day” He was going to reveal Himself to them.
“the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.’” (Exodus 19:10-11)
On the third day God powerfully revealed His glory to them by coming down onto the mountain. Although it was only Moses who was allowed up the mountain to meet with Him, it was a sign to all of God’s people, then and now, that His desire was to have a relationship and live with them. The glory of God to enable them to believe in Him.
Later on in the Old Testament Bible narrative, God told King Hezekiah that He would give Him a sign that the King would be healed of his terminal illness and go on to live another fifteen years. The sign would happen on the third day.
“Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life.” (2Kings 20:6-7)
When he walked up the steps to the temple on the third day, Hezekiah would have no doubt in his heart that it was the Lord who had healed him and deliverered him from certain death. It was again a sign of the glory of God and it enabled Hezekiah to trust God at a deeper level.
Finally Queen Esther asked her people, the Jews, to fast for three days and pray that the King’s edict to destroy them all would be overturned (Esther 4:16-17). “On the third day” she stood before the King and he extended his sceptre to her as a sign that she would be received in favour.
“On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.” (Esther 5:1-2)
“On the third day”, Esther and with her all the people of Israel, received a sign that indeed God was going to rescue and deliver them. The glory of God was revealed to them and it awoke a greater level of trust and hope in His people.
Five times in the Old Testament, God used the third day as a moment to release a sign, a promise of deliverance and salvation from death and destruction, an opportunity for the glory of God to be revealed and an enabling for God’s people to put their trust in Him.
Interestingly John ends his narrative of the wedding in Cana saying just that:
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
We cannot miss the point. John goes straight to the wedding at Cana from his introduction for a reason. It all happens on the third day for a reason. It is water into the very best wine for a reason. It comes from broken, sinful humanity obeying (instead of disobeying) the commands of the Logos for a reason. This is Jesus taking things to a whole new level. This is recreation and it will be even better than what came before. This is a sign to all of us that things are about to radically change. It is an invitation into a new life, a new way of living, a life really worth living.
God wants us to walk into this new life. He knows that it is our natural resistance to receiving and believing in Jesus that will hinder us from finding this life. So He sends us supernatural signs to enable us to receive and believe. This is key. He not only wants us to have life with Him in Jesus Christ, which is itself an incredible act of grace and kindness, but He is going to enable us to believe and receive. He knows we will never make it on our own. If Adam and Eve couldn’t, and they started off pure and holy and without sin, then we have no chance by ourselves. If we are going to come into the fulness of life that He is offering us in Jesus, then it is going to have to be from Him (“in the beginning was the Logos”) and through Him (“in Him was life and the life was the light of men”). There is no other way. There is no other hope.
But God gives us hope. On the third day.
Of course there is a third day yet to come. It will be the day when all these signs will be gathered together into one glorious reality. Jesus will rise from the dead and, in Him, the whole of creation will be given the opportunity to experience resurrection life. Old creation recreated into something totally new. And we will discover that He kept the best wine till last.
19. Join all the glorious names
By now we have been introduced to all the main disciples that appear in John’s narrative, except for Thomas who appears later. John never gives us a comprehensive list of who they all were, like the other gospel writers. He is not interested in expanding the story line to be inclusive, even for himself. He is only interested in highlighting those people who are an integral part of the message he is looking to get across. If someone is mentioned by name it is important, there is a reason for it. That is because there is only one Person that is really important and by the end of this first chapter John has given Him many names to prove that point.
John gives Him many names and titles so that his readers would have an idea of the scope of Who they were dealing with, regardless of their backgrounds. Some of the names and titles would be understood by Greeks, others by Hebrews, but by any means and in a variety of ways he wants us to get the truth of who this really is.
In his first chapter, John uses at least fourteen names to describe Jesus.
• The Word (Logos): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1)
• God: “and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
• The Light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
• The One and Only of the Father: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14)
• Jesus Christ (Jesus the Anointed One, Messiah): “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
• The One and Only of God: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
• Jesus: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him” (John 1:29)
• The Lamb of God: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 & John 1:36)
• Son of God: “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
• Rabbi: “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” (John 1:38)
• The Messiah: “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” (John 1:41)
• Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”’ (John 1:45)
• The King of Israel: “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1: 49)
• The Son of man: “And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (John 1:51) This is the title Jesus seems to have most commonly used of Himself.
That’s fourteen different names and titles given to Jesus in the space of 51 verses. No other passage in the Bible is so rich when it comes to unpacking who Jesus really is.
As has been well documented by many commentators, John’s gospel includes the seven “I am” statements of Jesus about Himself. But here John sets up the whole story by giving us a clear understanding of who He is right from the start, with twice as many names and titles. Whether you grew up and were educated in a first century Hebrew, Greek or Roman culture, by the end of this passage you would have no doubt as to who John believed Jesus to be.
It might help us to remember that this is a fisherman writing. John wasn’t a casual fisherman who fishes for a hobby that has a formal education and well paying day job. He is a fisherman by trade, a small businessman in partnership with his brother, who works long days and nights with his hands and against the elements to put food on his family’s table. Yet he is a wonderfully skilled writer.
He is obviously one of the “anointed ones” who must have had some dormant gift for writing (although most likely unused and untrained before he met Jesus). But when the Holy Spirit comes upon him, whatever writing gift he has suddenly awakens and moves to a whole new level of skill and excellence that can only be supernatural. Suddenly he is writing the words of God.
For those of us who enjoy language, let’s take another look at these names in the original Greek and Hebrew.
• The Word: Logos
• God: Theos
• The Light: Phos
• The One and Only of the Father: Monogenes para Pater
• Jesus Christ: Lesous Christos
• The One and Only of God: Monogenes Theos
• Jesus: Lesous (Hebrew origin)
• The Lamb of God: Amnos Theos
• The Son of a God: Huios Theos
• Rabbi: Rhabbi (Hebrew origin)
• The Messiah: Messias (Hebrew origin)
• Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph: Lesous Nazareth, Huios Iospeh
• The King of Israel: Basileus Israel
• The Son of Man: Huios Anthropo
Each of these names and title is used later in John’s gospel, except one. This is the only passage where the title “Lamb of God” is used (as we have already seen this is the only place in all of the gospels where the title is used and only John of all the New Testament writers uses it). However the meaning of the title undergirds and is unpacked throughout the rest of John’s narrative.
These first 51 verses are the Apostle John’s introduction to the God man he walked with for three years and watched through cross, resurrection and Ascension. He, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seeks to awaken us and awe us with all that Jesus really is. It is a wonderful introduction, the most comprehensive display of the glory of Jesus Christ of any single chapter in the Bible.
Yet, John would say he was only scratching the surface of all that Jesus really is.
Isaac Watts, the great cleric and hymn writer from the turn of the 18th century, set out to do the same thing in the wonderful hymn referred to in the title to this chapter. He wrote 12 verses, but still felt that he came up short.
We will finish these chapters on John 1 with Watts’ first verse, which aptly sums up John’s message.
“Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and pow’r,
That mortals ever knew,
That angels ever bore;
All are too mean to speak His worth,
Too mean to set my Savior forth.”
18: A true Israelite acknowledges a greater than Moses
Beyond Jesus, who is your hero? They don’t have to be alive now. What would you do if that hero spoke to you and said “You need to meet Jesus, He is the Messiah of the Jews and the Logos of the Greeks. He is the One and Only of the Father, the ruler of the Kings of the earth and He would love to meet you.”
Most of us would want to meet Him wouldn’t we? Our hero is telling us to.
Moses was the great Jewish hero. The deliverer from the hand of slavery who led the people to God. The great predecessor of the Messiah who was to come. He pointed people towards Jesus. But many of the people to whom he was a hero, wouldn’t listen. Many of them still don’t, even though He came to them and lived with them.
Many of them couldn’t see what was right in front of their eyes.
“He came to His own, but His own knew Him not.” (John 1:11)
Not all of them though. John the Baptist, Andrew, Simon, they all got it.
Jesus went down to Galilee, to a City called Bethsaida. The name means “house of fish” or “fishing house”, as it was on the shores of Lake Genessaret and home to Andrew, Simon, John the gospel writer and probably his brother James. It was also home to another man called Philip, who was to appear a number of times in John’s gospel.
Jesus went to Bethsaida “the fishing house” on a fishing trip. He wasn’t fishing for fish, but for men. He wasn’t fishing for any sort of man, he was fishing for fishermen. Some of them were fishermen by trade and but He would turn all of them into fishermen. Fishers of men.
Jesus “found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 1:43)
Philip got it, seemingly straight away. Not only did he get who Jesus was, but he also “got” becoming a fisher of men. No one taught him how to “fish” for people, he just did it naturally. He had good news to share and he wanted to share it. It was nothing forced. No personal evangelism training (though I would encourage every Christian to take some). Just someone who had met Jesus and got who He was and was so excited he couldn’t keep the news to himself.
Lord, restore that excitement in me I pray.
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” (John 1:45)
In other words, “we have found the One that our hero told us about and pointed us to.”
It is worth noting that, just because these disciples “got” who Jesus was at this point, it does not mean that they permanently “got it”. John the Baptist, Simon Peter and Philip himself would all have their moments of doubt. Just because we can articulate a belief very clearly and personalize it very passionately, it doesn’t mean that we have an unshakable grasp of it. When the waters rise around us and threaten to sink us (Peter), or when in a dark place in prison (John), or when facing challenges that seem insurmountable (Philip), even the strongest disciple can waver in their faith. Such “wavering”, of course, can make us stronger if we handle it right.
But now we are introduced to the next Jew whose eyes, mind and heart were opened to see Jesus for who He really is. We meet Nathanael.
Nathanael’s first response is not very encouraging. This is of course true of most of us when we hear the good news for the first time. We need to remember that, especially when we reach out to someone for the first time and they not only reject what we are saying but do so in a way that makes it seems as if they will never come to Christ.
Nathanael seems to have missed the point completely and not for a good reason either. Philip tells him that they have found the Messiah (which is clearly implied even though it is not clearly stated) and he is called Jesus and He comes from Nazareth. Nathanael though didn’t hear the Messiah piece, who the whole of Israel was waiting for, nor the name of Jesus which was to become the highest name in heaven and earth, no he missed them both. Because he was prejudiced.
Nathanael’s ears heard all of the above, but what came out of his heart was cynical judgment of another town in Israel and its people.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'” (John 1:46)
Many of us would give up at this point. It’s not that Nathanael is so indifferent to Jesus, it’s just that his heart is obviously hardened towards others, even though they are brothers in Israel. He might have been interested in the Messiah but he seems more interested in putting down the neighbours that he doesn’t much care for. If he is so deeply prejudicial to people from Nazareth, so that it is the first thing out of his mouth, how is he ever going to bow down to one of them?
Philip, however, will not be put off. The issue of Nazareth was a red herring. The first thing out of people’s hearts when confronted with the good news about Jesus is often a red herring. A deflection away from what is really going on underneath. It is often a contentious statement that can take the conversation down a whole different path away from the central issue of “who is Jesus and what does that mean for me?”
As we discover, Nathanael really was hungry for the Messiah, he just had some messed up heart issues that he needed to get over in order to embrace Him. So Philip, wisely, did not react to the red herring. He kept the main issue the main issue.
“Philip said to him, “Come and see.”” (John 1:46)
That’s always the best answer. “Come and see”. Meet Him for yourself.
Some young men in a previous church had a friend. He was a confirmed atheist and a devout cynic. He would turn up at the end of the meetings and delight in engaging people in controversial discussions and arguments, which he would often win because of his intellectual prowess.
We couldn’t persuade him intellectually and so just encouraged him to pray and ask Jesus to reveal Himself. He didn’t pray the prayer. He didn’t believe in God never mind Jesus.
But one day, at home, he was desperate. Underneath the hard exterior was a great deal of pain. He was hungry for the Messiah but had never been able to admit it. Now he had no where else to turn.
He prayed a prayer, probably for the first time. Something like this:
“Jesus, if you are real, make yourself known to me.”
Suddenly he was overwhelmed in his lonely apartment by a love that he couldn’t resist. The presence of Jesus filled his room. He immediately got saved and his life was never the same again.
“Come and see” is often not just the best way, but the only way.
So Nathanael came to see, because the cynicism was just a cover for the hunger he had underneath. Jesus saw him coming. He sees us all coming.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” (John 1:47)
This is meant to be a meeting where Nathanael gets to know Jesus, but it starts with a conversation about how Jesus already knows Nathanael.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’” (John 1:48)
Jesus only said one sentence but Nathanael felt “known”. It was obviously a sentence that summed up who he really was: a true Israelite in whom there was no deceit. That’s what his friends would have said about him.
This is the power of the prophetic gift in reaching people for Jesus. When hearers, however hardened in their hearts, feel that someone knows them, really gets them, even though they haven’t met before, it is very impacting.
For someone like Nathanael, who cannot seem to cover or hide what is going on inside, it opens them up to receive what Jesus wants to say. For someone else who knows how to use deceit, it could appear to do the opposite. The fact that they have been known will feel more like they have been exposed and they will close the door to their hearts. Nathanael couldn’t do that though, because he was a man without deceit. He couldn’t lie about it. So he asked the obvious question:
“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’” (John 1:48)
Nathanael is already opened up, but what Jesus says next completely removes any resistance and prejudice he may have had.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'” (John 1:48)
Wow! Jesus didn’t just know who Nathanael was but He knew where he had been. Philip is amazed. Maybe something good can come out of Nazareth after all. Not just something good but something wonderful. And Nathanael, who never could hide what he really felt, pours out his new found belief in who Jesus is:
“Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1:49)
Nathanael gives Jesus three titles. He calls Him:
• “Rabbi” – “You are a great and wise teacher and I want to be your disciple”
• “The Son of God” – “You have come from God, You are not of this earth. You are not of the same lineage as anyone else, You are a different sort of being. You are not of this creation. You are of the Creator. You are the Son of God prophesied in Psalm 2. Therefore You are the Messiah.”
• “Because You are the Messiah, the anointed One prophesied in Psalm 2, You are the anointed King of Israel who has come not only to rule our people but to rule all the nations of the earth”
Because Jesus knew Nathanael, it opened up Nathanael to know Jesus. And how he knew Him! That’s a lot of revelation to get in one go. Philip had told him that they had “found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45) clearly implying that they had found the Messiah but Nathanael takes that revelation to a whole new level.
He really got it.
How is it that Nathanael got it where many others more learned and trained in the scriptures didn’t? Those, like the Pharisees, Sadducees and Teachers of the Law had all studied the scriptures diligently and were waiting for the Messiah to come. You would have thought they were closest to getting it right. Most of the people in Israel would have thought they were the closest to getting it right. In the end, it turns out that they were the furthest away.
So how is it that Nathanael gets it where they don’t? Jesus gives us a clue in the text. He sees a trait in Nathanael which was probably a pain to those around him, but in the end it seems to save him. The first time we see this trait, we see it’s dark side. However many of our “dark sides” are God given gifts that have been twisted by our sinfulness and the evil one that fuels our twistedness. Jesus sees beyond the dark side to the good that was underneath, that He Himself had created and He uses that to open Nathanael’s eyes to the truth.
What was that trait? Let’s look at the text.
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”” (John 1:47)
He was a man without deceit. That sounds good, but in it’s twisted state it clearly wasn’t. He called things how he saw them. He thought it in his brain and it came out of his mouth. He didn’t seem to think about how it would impact those around him. He didn’t have time for external religious show. In modern language, he wasn’t politically correct, not at all!
What probably came over as gruff and a lack of grace and respect, actually was the saving of him. Another translation of the words “without deceit” would be “without guile”. His inability (or unwillingness) to hide his feelings and just talk straight the way he saw it, would have probably made him awkward socially, but at least you always knew where you stood with him. He wasn’t trying to fool anyone, or be someone he wasn’t. What you saw (and heard) was what you got.
In that way he was the exact opposite of many, if not most of the religious leaders and teachers of the law. They loved the outward appearance and show but it was all a cover for a cold, calculating and, in many cases, mean heart. They didn’t just practice deceit they lived it. Their lives were full of guile, politically manipulating for control and power and the reverence of the people.
Jesus put it this way:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
That’s Jesus. A true Israelite in whom there was no deceit.
That’s why He loved Nathanael, as gruff and graceless as he appeared. At least he was straight. At least he was honest. At least he was open. Jesus could work with that. Jesus could reveal Himself to such a person, because he was willing to walk in the light.
Those religious leaders who couldn’t show you what was really going on, who meticulously maintained a front and spoke endless, meaningless words (however intellectually stimulating they may have been) that could never give people life, those people Jesus couldn’t work with because they refused to walk in the light.
They didn’t want to be known and so they never knew the Messiah, even though He was standing in front of them.
Nathanael’s lack of deceit may have been a social accident waiting to happen, but it saved him in the end. Nathanael knew that Jesus knew. Nathanael knew that Jesus knew not only where he had been but what he had said there. Nathanael had spoken disrespectfully about Jesus’ own home town and the people that came from there. Nathanael knew that he had been seen and heard and known and uncovered.
But he wasn’t so bothered about trying to look good. He just wanted to find something real and true and genuine. And he found Him this day. He found the Messiah. It so turned out that He came from Nazareth, whose people Nathanael seemed to despise. Now he not only respects one, he bows before Him as His Lord and King.
How open are we? Or are we more of a closed book, keeping our cards close to our chest, not letting people see what’s really going on underneath?
If we are not careful we end up living by “guile”, which very quickly morphs into deceit. It is a form of lying to put on a front to cover up what you really feel inside. Such deceit can be deadly, because it can prevent us from really being open and honest with Jesus. If we can’t be open and honest with Jesus, if we are more interested in preserving ourselves and keeping up appearances, we will never see Him for who He really is.
If we won’t allow ourselves to be known, we will find it very difficult to really know Him.
Knowing Jesus is the only way to truly preserve our lives.
Not knowing Jesus is deadly.
As Jesus said: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33)
The truth is that Jesus knows us all anyway, intimately, inside and out. He knows everything about us and He knew us before we ever met Him.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'” (John 1:48)
So trying to preserve ourselves is doubly futile because Jesus knows us anyway and because, if we persist in trying to preserve our lives, we will end up losing them.
Nathanael was not politically correct or socially appropriate. He was probably a pain to be around, even as a friend. He could probably embarrass you, wreck a party and cause arguments. Jesus saw beyond the blunt exterior into the man that just wanted to see something real and true. He found it when he found Jesus.
He found Jesus, but really Jesus found him.
Philip tells Nathanael to “come and see”. It would seem that the initiator in this relationship with Jesus is Nathanael, at Philip’s encouragement. But then we discover that before ever Nathanael had even wanted to see Jesus (or knew of Him) Jesus had seen and known him. The Messiah was looking for His people long before His people knew a Messiah was coming.
If you are coming close to knowing Jesus for the first time, then know this. He is already seeing and knowing you.
Because his eyes have been opened to see Jesus for who he is, Nathanael’s perspective has been opened to a whole new world. That happens once we really get it. Seeing Jesus is just the start, the Gateway into the “so much more” of God. The key to unlocking the windows of heaven, the treasure chest in Whom is found everything we ever need and joys to last us an eternity.
Jesus says to Nathanael:
“Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1: 50).
What does that mean? It is probably a reference to the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, since the language used is so similar. It is important to read the account in full in Genesis 28.
“Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.” (Genesis 28:10-19)
Jacob is on his way out of the land that God promised Abraham to find a wife from his extended family. This dream strengthens Jacob’s belief that God has given them the land he is leaving by showing him that God’s presence is particularly in that place. He renamed it “Bethel” meaning the house of God and said it was the very Gateway of Heaven. This is the place where the Angels come up and down to earth.
Jesus references the account of Jacob with Nathanael and all those who are listening (he uses the plural “you”). What is He saying?
He is making the startling claim that there is a new gate of Heaven on earth. There is a new promised land which is blessed with the riches of God’s resources. He is saying that there is a new “Bethel”, a new house of God, a new place where His manifest presence dwells. It is not a piece of land, but a person. It is Jesus Himself, the Gateway of Heaven to earth, The true land of all God’s promises and the dwelling place of God amongst His people.
In the days of super hero movies, the younger generation are familiar with the concept of a portal, a gate or hole that opens up allowing beings from other galaxies into our world.
There is a real portal. A doorway that allows the Angels of heaven to come up and down to earth. It is not a place it is a Person.
When we see Jesus for who He really is, we see the Gateway into a wonderful world beyond. He really has come to bring Heaven to earth and Nathanael will get to witness it first hand. We get to see it second hand as we read through John’s account starting with a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
Does your life need to be touched by heaven today? Could you do with a bit of heaven in your world? Jesus is the only way to see that happen. When you approach him with openness and honesty like Nathanael, you will discover that He has already been moving towards you and sees you and knows you. If you receive Him and believe in Him, putting all your trust in Him, you will discover that He is the doorway to a life that is more than you could ever have imagined.
17: Who am I?
Once we find out who Jesus really is, then He begins to reveal who we really are. In a world that is increasingly pushing our right to “self identify”, we would all do well to remember that we are created by God not ourselves. He is the One who frames who we are. We can only know our true identity when we find Jesus. Our identity truly begins and ends in Him.
Simon discovered that from the moment he first met Him.
“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” John 1:40-42
I like this verse, because my parents called me Peter when I was born. Peter Murray (after the Scottish Pastor Murray McCheyne) Todd.
Peter in the Bible was not called Peter by His parents. He was called Peter by God.
He had started out life as Simon. Simon son of John. And he had a brother Andrew. Andrew was one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who went to follow Jesus. He must have been an earnest, devout, faithful man. His name means “manly”.
Jesus calls Simon “Cephas” which is the Aramaic word for rock. Because it is the meaning of the name that is important, not the name itself, John translates it into Greek for his readers.
“(Which means Peter)”
Peter is rock in Greek and thereafter John calls him that in his gospel. However Jesus named him in Aramaic Simon Cephas. Simon “the Rock”. That is what he would have been called by Jesus and the other disciples, not Simon “Peter”.
So a truer translation into English from the Greek, which is John’s translation from the Aramaic, would be Simon the Rock, because it is the meaning that is important not the sound of the name. Thereafter, in John’s gospel, this is the name that the Holy Spirit through John gives him, except for one conversation around a fire in the last chapter. But we will come to that at the end of this book.
John, the apostle of love, never stops calling him that name. Simon the Rock.
In the other three gospels he is introduced as “Simon (who is called Peter)” in Matthew 4:18, “Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter)” in Mark 3:16 and “Simon Peter” in Luke 5:8. Thereafter all three gospel writers refer to him as Peter. That is except one place in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 16:15-19, Jesus asks the disciples who do they think Jesus is. Peter replies with the clarity of heaven, that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of the living God”. Then Jesus affirms his name as Peter, the Rock. It is clear from this narrative that Jesus is not just giving him a nickname that is a bit of fun between friends. Jesus might have called him “Simon the Rock” because he was stubborn or thick headed, both of which would have applied. But Jesus explains why He is calling him “The Rock” and it was because there was something in Simon that He believed He could build on.
“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-19)
What had Jesus seen in Simon that He felt He could build His church on? It wasn’t some rock like commitment or loyalty. All of the gospel writers detail his betrayal after Jesus is arrested. Jesus wasn’t naming Simon something that he wasn’t.
I have watched friends be called “evangelists” (meaning the Ephesians 4 gift rather than the general call to all Christians to reach out to people who need Jesus) prophetically as people have prayed for them. Sometimes that was accurate, but on one occasion, so far, it seems that is wasn’t. You can’t make someone into an evangelist simply by calling them by that name in faith. If God has not given them that grace gift then they simply should be given another name that matches the calling God has for them.
Simon Peter became the rock for the early church, the strong, committed, loyal servant that would lead things forward from the beginning. So, in one sense, Jesus is naming him in faith for something that was to come, even though he wasn’t displaying those qualities at the time. But in the context of Matthew 16, that is not the primary reason he is called “the Rock”.
Jesus calls him “The “Rock” primarily not because of who he would become, but because of who he understood Jesus to be.
Jesus gave Peter his true identity when Peter saw Jesus’ true identity.
His new identity was totally wrapped up in his understanding of Jesus’ identity.
The Rock that Jesus was going to build on was the rock of the revelation that Simon had of who Jesus was.
In essence, Jesus was saying: “You are a blessed man Simon son of Jonah, because you get it. God has revealed to you who I really am. You now know me and because you know me, I know I can build on you. Because My Father has clearly chosen you in showing you this foundational truth about Me, then I can clearly choose you to be the foundational member of My church.”
“The Rock” was not simply a nickname reflecting Simon’s personality, it was referring to the revelation that Peter had been given.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Someone who has that revelation is someone who Jesus can build with. Simon was the first and so he is named “The Rock” on whom everyone else is going to be built.
When it comes to leadership in the church, we cannot just look for natural talent. We must be careful not to prophetically name people something, when God has not given them that gift (although we do need to prophetically and prayerfully call out of people that which is from God in them which is lying dormant or needs developing in some way). There were probably plenty of steadfast, faithful, loyal, gifted, trained, servant hearted people in Israel that Jesus could have made into foundational building blocks for His kingdom. Jesus wasn’t primarily looking for any of those qualities. He was looking for the ones whom His Father was choosing and in particular those to whom the Father sent the Holy Spirit of revelation. If people don’t really have a deep, foundational revelation of who Jesus is, then they cannot become building blocks in the church.
In the Kingdom of God it isn’t mainly what you know, by experience or learning, it isn’t long service or even gifting and talent. It is always Who you know.
Apart from that one chapter in Matthew 16, Matthew, Mark and Luke always refer to Simon as Peter, “The Rock”.
In contrast, John always introduces him into a story as “Simon the Rock”. He thereafter often calls him just “the Rock”, but he always introduces him by his full God given title. “Simon the Rock”. He is a central figure in John’s narrative. Other than Jesus, he is the most consistently mentioned by name throughout the gospel.
It is clear John wants us to know his fellow disciple, even before getting to know John the Apostle himself, whom we only get to meet by inference: “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. It is clear John had the same heart as his namesake John the Baptist who made a ministry out of preferring Someone else. This trait, as we have said before, is right at the heart of the this fulness of life that is in Christ. It is not only “I must decrease that Christ may increase” but sometimes “I must decrease that my brother or sister in Christ may increase”.
John must have seen Simon’s failings more clearly than anyone, but of all the gospel writers, he covers them with such grace and kindness. All of the gospel writers expose Simon’s betrayal. Only John explains his restoration.
John hadn’t always been so generous hearted. It was, after all, him and his brother who wanted to be the greatest. But now, as he is looking back and writing, he is living in the fulness of life that he has found in the risen, ascended Jesus Christ and he is more than happy to sit in the background of his narrative and push Simon into the foreground. He warmly and respectfully consistently names him Simon the Rock. Because he was. A rock not built out of personality and talent but out of an unshakeable, God given revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Who was Simon? He was, in reality, whoever Jesus said He was. Jesus had brought him into being in his flesh and now He was bringing, Simon Peter, the new creation, the rock of the church into being in the Holy Spirit. Jesus was fathering into existence the fulness of who Simon was created to be.
Who am I? If am still living life my way, then I am who I am. But I will never come close to tapping the true potential of who God intended me to be.
If, however, I have surrendered my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then I am whoever Jesus says I am.
16: Who is Jesus?
After meeting Jesus for the first time, one of them, Andrew, goes to find his brother Simon. When he finds Simon he has some great news for him. This is not once-in-a-lifetime news. It is way bigger than that. This is once-for-all-time news and it is all bound up in the name that he calls Jesus. He calls Him a name that no one else in the Bible directly calls Him. He calls Him Messiah.
“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).” (John 1:41-42)
Messiah. This is the only time in the Bible that Jesus is directly called by that name.
John is the only writer in the New Testament that uses the name and he only does it twice. On the second occasion, it is not a devout disciple who uses the name but a shamed Samaritan woman. She is talking to Jesus but when she uses the word Messiah she is not thinking that Jesus is the Messiah she is talking about.
“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25)
I said that no one else other than Andrew directly called Jesus “Messiah” in the Bible. That is true, but Jesus did call Himself by that name.
“Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”” (John 4:26)
It seems that John’s readers may not have been familiar with the term because, when he uses it, he has to explain what it means.
“We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).” (John 1:42)
When the women at the well uses the term she adds the same interpretation as if she doesn’t expect even Jesus to know what it means.
“I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).” (John 4:25)
Christ (Greek “Christos”) was the much more commonly used title for Jesus. It had the same meaning as Messiah for the Jews and anyone else who understood their history. Whilst Messiah (Greek “Messias”) only appears these two times in the entire New Testament, Christ is used well over 500 times.
John himself mostly uses the term Christ, 38 times in fact in his gospel, letters and Revelation. He only uses Messiah twice. Firstly Andrew calls him that term here when he goes to Simon and then Jesus affirms that the name belongs to Him alone when talking to the woman at the well.
The two titles have the same meaning.
Christ comes from the Greek word “Christos” which is based on the Greek word “chrio” which means to smear or rub with oil. To anoint.
Messiah comes from the Hebrew “mesiyah” which is based on the Hebrew word “masah” which also means to rub with oil. To anoint.
Christ and Messiah both mean “Someone who is anointed with oil”.
There are other Biblical words that are also translated “anointed” that have to do with rubbing with oil.
In the Old Testament, when it refers to people rubbing on oil as a perfume or fragrance it uses the Hebrew word “suk” which is often translated “anoint” (Ruth 3:3, Song of Songs 1:3, Daniel 10:3, Ezekial 16:9).
When David refers to the practice of a shepherd rubbing oil onto the head of a sheep in Psalm 23:5 he uses the Hebrew word “dasen” which is also often translated as anoint.
This is also true in the New Testament where Greek alternate words are used to describe someone rubbing on oil as a perfume or fragrance. “Myrizo” is used in Mark 14:8 to describe the woman anointing Jesus with oil and “aleipho” is used of the same incident in Luke 7:46 and when Mary does the same to Jesus in John 11:2 and John 12:3.
That same Greek word “aleipho” is also used to describe the disciples anointing the sick in Mark 6:13 and again in the context of the elders of the church in James 5:14.
The Hebrew word “masah” and the Greek word “chrio” are used for more specific reasons and purposes. In the Old Testament the root word “masah” (to anoint, rub with oil) refers to:
1) Articles of worship: The first mention of this word in the Bible refers to the anointing of a particular article to set it apart and dedicate it for worship and service.
Jacob was a worshiper and he is the first person in the Bible to anoint something, which was a pillar when he was dedicating himself to God: “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.” (Genesis 31:13)
Thereafter the various articles of Moses’ tabernacle were dedicated to the Lord by anointing them. “With it (anointing oil) you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy.” (Exodus 30:26-29).
These were ordinary articles, tents, tables, pillars etc. But when they were anointed they were, from that moment on, chosen, set apart and dedicated to God. Holy for the Lord.
2) Weapons for battle: as David laments the death of Saul he notes that the king’s shield was not rubbed with oil that day, which was unusual: “For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” (2 Samuel 1:21)
3) People for service:
a. Priests: Those people who were set apart and dedicated to the Lord for service and worship. “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 30:30).
As with the articles of worship, the anointing oil here signifies that God is setting these people apart, they are chosen, for a special office to serve Him in praying for and ministering to His people. Equally it was an anointing for these men to minister to the Lord and to stand in the gap between Him and His people.
Again, like the articles, there was nothing special about these men, they were just ordinary members of Israel with exactly the same weaknesses, temptations and sins as everyone else. But when they were anointed with oil, they were set apart and dedicated as “holy” to the Lord.
Not only are they set apart, but the oil signifies that they now have a special grace, authority and power from God to do something that they could not do before by their own strength, skill or talent.
b. Prophets: Elijah was ordered to anoint Elisha as a prophet to take his place. “and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” (1Kings 19:16).
Anointing Elisha with oil signified that he was being set apart, chosen and dedicated to the Lord’s service. Even though he was an ordinary man like everyone else, the oil signified that he was going to be given special grace, power and authority from God to bring the word of God to Israel. That power and authority extended, like Samuel before him, to the raising up and pulling down of kings and kingdoms.
c. Kings: Right from the beginning of the Kingly line in Israel, Kings were anointed with oil. “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.'” (1Samuel 10:1)
This often happened prophetically before they were made King, sometimes, like David, many years before, and was then repeated when they were crowned. It was a sign that they were set apart, chosen by God to be dedicated to Him for His service, not now as a minister before Him but as a ruler for Him.
Again they were ordinary people, some of them had some pretty spectacular weaknesses! But the anointing with oil was a sign of God’s blessing and grace on their reign and implied that they would have God given power and authority to rule over his people and carry out His plans among them.
In these verses Samuel prophesies as he anoints Saul that he will rule over his people and deliver them from their enemies. The implication is that Saul could not do this in his own strength but now has a special grace from God to carry out the role that God is calling him to fulfill. The anointing oil is the outward sign that God is pouring out His grace on Saul for the specific task of ruling His people and subduing His enemies.
In summary then, being an “anointed one” meant being chosen, set apart from among the people and dedicated to God for a particular role and purpose. The anointing oil was a sign that God was going to give ordinary people an extraordinary grace, authority and power to fulfill that role. It was an anointing that signified a greater heavenly anointing from God that gave them ability above and beyond their natural ability. It was an anointing that lifted them from earthly to spiritual, from people who lived on the earth to those that now stood in between heaven and earth with authority to minister, pray for, speak to and rule over not just God’s people but also the nations beyond them.
Anointed ones had power and authority to do what no one else could do, because they were called and chosen and empowered by God to do so.
But right from the beginning of the Psalms, we are introduced to Someone who is not just anointed by men for a particular task, but is the anointed of God, Masiyah.
Instead of referring to certain people of earth who are chosen and given special power and authority to stand between God and mankind, it seems to be referring to Someone who is coming from heaven. That One is coming to do the same things as the anointed ones of earth. He will stand between man and God as our great High Priest. He will speak to the earth as Prophet. He will rule over all the nations of the earth as King.
This isn’t the anointing of an ordinary person for an extraordinary task. This isn’t lifting someone beyond their natural abilities to do something that they couldn’t do in their own strength. This is Someone who comes from heaven and He can do everything He is tasked by God because he is not, by nature, ordinary, He is naturally supernatural. He is perfectly capable of fulfilling God’s purposes because He is perfect. He is immediately introduced to us, as we shall see, as the Son of God and His anointing does not signify who He is to become, but who He already is.
We begin to realise that all of the previous anointed ones were not just ends in themselves, people specifically chosen and graced to do a particular job at a particular time. No, they have a much bigger purpose than the one God gave them in their generation. They have been chosen as anointed ones primarily to be a forerunner, a veiled reflection, a shadow of One who is yet to come, though He already exists. The main purpose of their lives has not been to fulfill their own ministry but to prepare a way for the truly Anointed One who is to follow. Their highest call has not been to fulfill their duties on earth but to point people towards the Prince of Heaven who is to become King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
John the Baptist was the last in line of these pre-Messiah anointed ones and he fulfilled the role better than any before him. He knew that his ministry was simply to make way for Someone greater, Whose sandals he was not fit to untie.
And so we come to the Psalms and the term Masiyah, “Anointed of God”, changes from simply describing something that happened to someone at some time in their lives to set them apart and empower them for a particular God given purpose in their generation. Now it becomes a name, a title, that is used to describe just One particular person who has always been set apart and has all the power and is being given all the authority necessary to fulfill all of God’s purposes for all nations for all time. The Anointed One. Messiah.
This, then is the fourth use of the word for anointed one in the Old Testament, the person who is called that name, the Messiah.
4) The Messiah (a prophet, priest and King)
The process of anointing becomes a Person, “The Anointed of God” in Psalm 2. In Hebrew it is “Masiyah”.
“The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed (Hebrew Masiyah)” (Psalm 2:2)
Messiah is partially hidden from our view because these verses can seem to refer to David’s own anointed kingship. But, in the context, they are obviously speaking of One who is even beyond Israel’s greatest King, David, in every way.
This Messiah is described as the “begotten” Son of God.
“The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Psalm 2:7
This, of course, is the same language as John uses to describe the Logos in John 1:14.
“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.”
This King is more than the King of Israel, He will rule the nations of the world.
“ Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:8)
And all the Kings of the earth will either bow down to Him or be destroyed by Him.
” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)
This Messiah is anointed with all power and authority to rule everyone, everywhere for all time.
That is a very basic and shortened background to what Andrew meant when he said to his brother Simon: “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
He could say that with such conviction because John the Baptist had testified about Him that He was the Son of God.
“ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
When John the Baptist said this with such confidence, he was affirming that this man whom he had just baptised was the King prophesied in Psalm 2. He was that Son of God, begotten of the Father.
He was the “Anointed of God” not because someone had poured oil on Him. No man ever did, that we know of. Jesus didn’t need the acknowledgement or anointing of men. He had been anointed directly by His Father when the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. In so doing, His Father affirmed Him as the great King who would rule all other Kings and bring every other Kingdom in submission to His own. He was the real “Anointed One”, the Messiah.
The pre-Messiah anointed ones had a greater purpose than ever they knew. They were pointing the way to the great Anointed One, the Messiah. As we have said, John the Baptist was the last and greatest of that line and he did his job wonderfully well not just by pointing Him out, but by preparing people to receive Him and then stepping out of the way to let the real Anointing through.
Now he sends his disciples to follow that Messiah. It was a once-for-all-time opportunity to follow a King who was greater than David and Solomon and all the Kings of the earth combined. They were a mere shadow of who this Messiah was and what He would become. A Prophet greater than Moses and Samuel and Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the other prophets right up to John the Baptist combined. They were merely dim reflections of who this Messiah is because they spoke the words of God but He is the Word of God. A priest greater than Aaron and Levi and all their descendants combined because they were merely a forerunner of all that this Messiah will be and do as our Great High Priest.
This wasn’t a man of earth, anointed and lifted to stand between heaven and earth. This was the Son of God from heaven, anointed to come to earth and become a man and walk among us and live and serve and die and rise again and ascend to the great throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for all mankind, for all time.
When Andrew gets it, the first thing he does is go to find Jesus. The next thing he does is go to find his brother Simon and when he finds him, he has the most wonderful news to share with him. Amazing life changing, all-lives-changing news.
“We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
His excitement must have been incredible.
John the Baptist was not the last of the anointed ones. Now, in Christ, in Messiah, in The Anointed One, there is a whole new community of anointed ones. Not specially chosen ones from among God’s family but everyone in God’s family. We are all anointed ones. Anointed of God. Ordinary people given extraordinary grace, power and authority to stand between heaven and earth and fulfill God’s purposes in our generation. We still have particular anointings for particular roles, we do not all have the same function or need the same anointing, but we are all anointed none the less.
And the primary reason for the anointing remains the same as our Old Testament predecessors. Our anointing, first and foremost and above all else, is not for our ministry and call in our generation but it is still to point people towards the Anointed One of heaven who is yet to return a second time to fulfill His call as the Messiah. He will come to bring to completion all the purposes of God for every generation and for every nation.
Pointing people towards Him and calling people to meet Him is still our primary purpose.
“We have found the Messiah”.
The two disciples of John call Jesus “Rabbi.”
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:35-39)
A number of people in John’s gospel do the same thing:
• Nathanael: “Nathanael answered him,’Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1:49)
• Nicodemus: “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:1-2)
• Jesus’ disciples: “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’” (John 4:31) and again in John 6:25, John 9:2 and John 11:8
• Mary Magdalene on seeing the resurrected Jesus in the garden for the first time, uses a version of the title: “Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).” (John 20:16)
For John it was the right title.
In Matthew, Jesus uses “Rabbi” when He makes a point about the teachers of the law wanting everyone to look up to them. The only disciple that calls Jesus “Rabbi” in Matthew’s gospel is Judas when he was betraying him.
Mark, in his gospel, uses the term like John does, as the title that his disciples used of Jesus. Peter calls Jesus “Rabbi” twice, as does Bartimeus and, again, Judas when betraying Him.
Luke does not use the term at all.
The term in itself is no more than a title, a way of addressing someone, like calling a teacher “sir” in school. It means nothing unless the one who speaks it has the right heart. Judas called Jesus “Rabbi” as he kissed him in a terrible act of betrayal. The Jewish teachers wanted to be called Rabbi, but only because of the status it gave them. They used the term, but not with the right heart.
But in John’s gospel, the term is only used by people who really understand it’s true meaning. For The Apostle John it appears to be a term of endearment, something that signifies respect but also warmth.
These two disciples left their mentor, John to follow Jesus. When Jesus saw them, He asked: “what are you seeking?”
That doesn’t at first seem like the right question. Surely it should have been “who are you seeking?” They were after all looking for Jesus Himself, a “who” not a “what”.
But Jesus had this right (as always). They had found the “who” and now they were looking for a “what”.
What is it that they were looking for?
The answer is found in the way they address Him.
Jesus, almost certainly, was not the first person they had called Rabbi. They had been followers of John the Baptist and his disciples called him “Rabbi”.
“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)
They are now, instantly, calling Jesus by the same title. Whatever they had with John they now want to transfer to Jesus.
Being a disciple with John the Baptist had some good parts and some tough parts. Standing and helping him minister to big crowds who were being touched by the Holy Spirit would have been very exciting. Hearing him preach and having him personally teach them would have been challenging and thrilling at the same time. But they also had to stand with him when he was saying controversial things and risking the wrath of those in authority. Being a disciple of John had it’s risks. They might not have had to eat John’s diet, but they often went without food altogether and obviously lived quite ascetic lifestyles because the Jews noticed the difference with Jesus’s disciples.
“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14)
Luke makes the distinction even greater:
“And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.’” (Luke 5:33)
Being a disciple of John the Baptist was not an easy ride. They would have had to count the cost and be willing to pay it to have this man as a teacher, leader and mentor. It meant leaving their past behind and giving themselves to following, serving and learning from him. It meant changing their lives for ever.
But they were willing to pay the price of calling John the Baptist “Rabbi” and now a greater than John is here. So, just as they had left their pasts behind to follow John, now they left John behind to follow Jesus.
When Jesus asked them “what are you seeking?” They respond with “where are You staying?”
Just as Jesus got right to the heart of what they were looking for with his response to their question, they got right to the heart of what Jesus was looking for in them, right to the heart of discipleship.
From Genesis 1 God has looked for people who firstly and primarily would be with Him. There was no “ministry” in the garden other than looking after the plants and animals and multiplying to fill the earth. God was perfectly happy with that. Just Him and Adam and Eve together walking in the cool of the evening.
Even after sin, the Holy Spirit identifies the people that had the right heart towards God as those that “walked with God.” When God calls Abraham and the other Patriarchs of Genesis, He calls them to walk with Him. That is the heart of discipleship, a walking with God through each day and sometimes through the watches of the night. Every waking moment an opportunity to fellowship with Him through His Holy Spirit.
The heart of discipleship was most clearly and beautifully expressed in the scriptures by a woman, a Gentile woman who was talking to her Mother in Law.
“But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
That is the heart of a disciple. She has found something endearingly attractive about Naomi. She wants to go with her, stay with her, be around her. She wants to be friends with her friends and family with her family. But she sees beyond the caring Mother in Law who she has become so closely attached. She knows there is something that makes Naomi special, different from all the others she has grown up with.
She knows it isn’t Naomi’s personality or positive outlook on life (in fact at this point she is quite depressed and despairing). She is not looking to get a part of Naomi’s wealth, she has lost it all. There is something deep in Naomi that, despite all the hardships of life, she has not lost. A light that cannot be put out. That is what Ruth wants and she knows where it comes from.
None of the gods of her own people could ever give her this sort of light in the middle of such pain and hardship. She wanted to be with Naomi, but she really wanted to be with Naomi’s God. So much so that she would die beside her, as long as she died knowing the God that Naomi knew and served.
That is the heart of a disciple. That is why, when Jesus asked these two disciples “what are You seeking?” He knew they weren’t just looking for a one off meeting with Him, they were looking for a life, a journey, with Him. They wanted to “stay” with Him.
We have seen that Greek word for stay “meno” twice in the previous verses.
“And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)
Can you see the two times the same word is used? In this version the word in these verses is not translated as “stay” but as “remained” and “remain”. It is the Greek word “meno” both times.
The connection wouldn’t have been lost on the early Greek speakers who were reading John’s text.
The Holy Spirit came to Jesus and stayed, remained, with Him. If the Holy Spirit came and stayed on Jesus, then these two disciples wanted to find out where Jesus was staying, because they wanted to stay and remain with Him.
The Holy Spirit found a resting place on Jesus and these disciples wanted to find a resting place with Jesus. We, as followers of Christ find a resting place in Him.
In the next verse, the Greek word “meno” appears twice more.
“He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:39)
Jesus’ answer is wonderful, because He repeats it to all of us who truly want to find out where He is going so that they can be with Him: “Come and you will see.”
“So they went to where He was staying (“meno”) and they stayed (“meno” again) with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
Jesus never turns anyone away. He calls us all into this level of intimacy with Him. He call us to make Him our journey’s end.
Jesus wants to be our divine destination.
Jesus wants to be our eternal resting place.
At the heart of every true disciple is a desire to be where their Master is.
And the heart of every true discipler is to nurture that heart in their disciple. Like John the Baptist we look to disciple people out of the world and their sin and self absorption and into Jesus. Our job is never to disciple people into ourselves (although like Paul we for sure should be setting them an example that they can look up to and aspire to) but our goal is to disciple people into Jesus so that they will love Him above all others, walk with Him moment by moment and serve Him all the days of their lives. So that they will “stay” and “remain” with Him where He is, rather than living out their own lives and hoping that Jesus tags along.
All of that is what the disciples meant went they called Jesus “Rabbi”. They meant that they were prepared to give up everything they had, including a close walk with the powerful ministry of John the Baptist, to put themselves under the tutelage of Him who could baptise them not just in water but in the Holy Spirit and fire. It ended up costing them everything, but then and now they would say it was worth every penny.
Note what they say in verse 41 “we have found the Messiah”. Not “John the Baptist showed us the Messiah”, or “The Holy Spirit came on Him when He was baptised and showed us the Messiah”. No it is “we have found”. It’s personal. Everything that they had ever been looking for, all that their hearts desired when they left their ordinary lives to become John’s disciples, they feel that they have now found.
Isn’t that great, when as a leader, or a parent, you pour your life into people, pray, counsel, encourage, rebuke and one day it all comes together. “I have found the Messiah”. That moment when all the knowledge and teaching becomes absolutely personal. The message of this book is that life is found in the Son and that the fulness of life He offers has to do with living in His community, with others. But there has to be that moment of personal revelation, where it all becomes clear for us individually. The blinders come off and our eyes are opened.
Others may have pointed the way and for the moment we are not going to try and help people understand the truth that, in fact, God found us. The important thing is that we get it and it’s deeply personal and we own it for ourselves. “I have found the Messiah!” The best moment of anyone’s life.
When we truly “find” Him, as these disciples did, we are ready to give up everything to be with Him, just like they did. It is a price that doesn’t seem like a cost at the time for the worth of the pearl of great price we have just found.
When Peter said to Jesus “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Matthew 19:27) he was speaking for all of them. That was what it meant to be a true disciple in those days. It still does.
We never find the disciples ever calling Jesus by His first name in the gospels. Maybe they did in their everyday interactions, but in all the recorded dialogue we have between the disciples and Jesus they only call Him by titles: ‘Master”, “Lord” and, in John’s gospel “Rabbi”.
These were not formal names for a formal education from a highly qualified instructor.
These were simple realities for a group of men and women who had found in Jesus all that they had ever looked for and they were prepared to lay everything else aside to lay hold of that treasure.
When they called Him “Rabbi” it meant something that maybe some of us, in our generation of Christians, would do well to recapture.
14: Follow the Son to find life
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” John 1:35-37
It was so simple for John. He points people to Jesus. Then they leave John’s burgeoning open air revival meetings to be with The Lamb of God. Today it is two of his disciples. In the end it’s the crowds.
John has got to the point where he can probably draw thousands, certainly hundreds to hear him at any one time. From this point onwards those crowds probably dwindled away to a very few close disciples, as they rushed over to the latest ministry in town, which was at a level significantly above John’s.
John doesn’t seem at all bothered. This is what he came to do. When people have connected to Jesus, his job is done. That is quite remarkable.
There were many learned Bible scholars, teachers and preachers in the days of Jesus who were waiting for the Messiah. Most of them were absolutely, personally threatened by the popularity and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. That led to them adopting a cynical, proud, judgmental approach to Him. We all know where that ended up. They killed Him to maintain their own privileged position.
John the Baptist was the only one that encouraged his disciples to go and follow the One and Only. In the end, he was the only one who could submit his ministry and all those associated with it, to Jesus Christ.
This is sobering for us in ministry. We all want to believe that we would be like John the Baptist. That if Jesus personally came to town we wouldn’t just welcome Him but we would encourage our folk to go and join Him and not give way to jealousy or feeling threatened. We would be happy to end up with very few people, as long as those who left us were now with Jesus.
When Jesus comes to town in new ministries, what is our attitude to them? Are we suspicious, distanced, threatened? Do we like to hear reasons why there is something not quite right with them? Do we inside feel a bit of a glow of warmth when things don’t go so well for them?
God will test the heart of every minister, at some point and probably In many ways, to see if we are still stewards of His people and purpose, or if we have become owners of them.
When my wife Julia and I planted the South congregation of Gateway Church it was at the same time as a number of new ministries were beginning in the same City. The leaders concerned were around my age. One church grew quickly to over four hundred members, the other blossomed to a few thousand. The manifest presence of God was rich in both places. They weren’t just growing by transfer growth from other churches (although that happened in a big way) but they were also seeing people being miraculously saved and added to the churches.
We started with around sixty (a big number for a church plant) but many soon left as they realised it wasn’t going in the direction they wanted to go in. We had good folks and decent times of worship in the presence of the Lord, but it was a struggle. In ten years we had grown to over a hundred and fifty on Sunday morning, mostly through young Christian families that had moved into the City or area where we were. When eventually someone (a Chinese man) put up his hand during the gospel appeal, it turned out that far from being our first salvation, he thought he was indicating that he wanted a coffee. He did later give his life to Jesus, but it was a humorous indication of our struggles.
Week by week I would watch the other churches as they grew and seemingly prospered and struggled with all of the feelings of jealousy and being threatened that I outlined above. Thankfully I have a Pastor who has a uniquely strong, and humble, love for the Body of Christ and an equally unique gift and capacity to serve the purposes of God in the City beyond our own church. He, like all of us, has his own struggles in this, but has consistently demonstrated a willingness to battle through his own discouragements and temptations to bless, support and encourage other ministries in the City, even when they were attracting people from our own church.
He has taught me the value of having a heart like John the Baptist.
We all have our parts to play. We are all equally loved and equally necessary in the Body of Christ. But we always need to be ready to submit to what Jesus is doing and receive the gifts He sends into our neighborhoods, humbling ourselves to love and even serve them.
The Holy Spirit, through the apostle John is going to make sure we clearly understand this message by the time we have read this gospel. This is an essential part of the life that is in Christ for us. It is an absolute necessity if we are going to be the light to this world that Jesus wants us to be. The gospel writer makes sure that we see these principles in action right from the first ministry he highlights.
John the Baptist loved Jesus more than he loved his ministry and the honor and respect he received from the crowds. If it came to the crunch, he would lose it all, if it meant that people were really connecting with Jesus.
“Behold” he says again. This time it is not just for the sinners to hear. This is not just to draw people to the waters of baptism. This was also for his disciples to hear. To encourage them beyond the waters of baptism into a life of following Jesus above all others.
“ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:37)
This attitude cost John his place as the top dog ministry in his area. It cost him his primary place of respect and honor amongst the regular people. It cost him almost all of the people that were following him and from this moment on his ministry (to our eyes) would take a downward spiral that would end in prison and doubt. No more influence and even struggling in his faith. He died there.
But he died a hero of the faith. He had done his job. He had stayed true to his call and when Jesus came into town, he was prepared to get out of the way and serve Him and encourage people to leave his own ministry to follow Him.
It was not that John did not have a hugely important ministry and didn’t have much to give. He had plenty to give his followers and disciples. He could preach, teach, exhort, encourage, rebuke, discipline and love people. It was that he couldn’t give them life. He could only prepare people and point them to the life. He knew the scope of his ministry, where it started and where it ended and he didn’t push beyond those God given boundaries to try and be something that he wasn’t.
The Holy Spirit through John the Apostle wants us to get this message. He will return to it later in this gospel.
This life is found in Jesus. In Jesus alone. But it is a life together in Him that submits to and serves Him and His purposes by submitting to and serving each other. When we are prepared to diminish, so that Jesus’ purpose in and through others may flourish, when we are able to do that with freedom and joy, then we are able to experience more of the fulness of life that is in the Son. If we are not able to do that, then we are denying ourselves and those we serve, something of the fulness of that life that is available for all of us in Christ.
As Christians we all have the option to respond well, like John the Baptist. In reality we have more capacity to do so than John, because as children of God we have the DNA of the Father given to us through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in our new nature to respond this way. We just have to choose it over our old nature, the Adam in us, that still wants to rise up and serve our own selfish ambition rather than the will of God.
Even after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the apostles would still find people who had been touched by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through John the Baptist. They had put their lives right but had never met Jesus nor known that there was a Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, even during and after wonderful moves of God, the most important thing is that people “behold”, see, gaze upon, run after and connect with Jesus in a meaningful and life changing way.
“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” (John 1:40)
It’s probably a small thing, but John only names one of the two disciples who left the Baptist to follow Jesus. Consistent with his whole gospel, he is only going to concentrate on specific individuals, this is not mean to be a comprehensive account of what happened.
At the end of the gospel he says that there were lots of other events that he could have written about.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30).
However, he chose these particular ones as a summary “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
He wanted us to have enough evidence to believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, so that through believing we might have true, real, fulness of life in His name.
He is not interested in adding other people to the story just because they were there, he doesn’t want to distract the gaze away from Jesus. He’s not interested in adding other events just because they happened, he wants to focus on those that explain and reveal the life that is offered to us in Jesus.
This life is most found when we are prepared to diminish so that He may increase, however, wherever, whenever and through whomever He wants to do that.
Lord give us all the heart of John the Baptist!
13: What did I do wrong? (John 1:29 & 36)
We heard in the last chapter that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But why do we need a sacrificial lamb at all?
Police officers must hear it all the time: “What did I do wrong officer?”
“Well sir you were doing 80km/hr in a 50km/hr limit.”
“Really – I didn’t notice…”
Every parent and every teacher has heard it, numerous times. Most of us have probably said it and surely everyone has thought it. Normally we are reacting to an accusation, even though sometimes we are not being accused at all.
John records his namesakes’ initial description of Jesus in John 1:29. Up to that point, the Baptist has referred to Jesus as “someone”. Now, before any of the other titles that John could have given Him, he sees Jesus coming and says “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is perhaps Jesus’ most glorious title, certainly for the world He came to save, but in order to understand something more of the wonder of that Name we have to first have a good grasp of what the Lamb does: He takes away the sin of the world.
This, then, is not one man’s sin; some great murderer or tyrant whose life has been marked by terrible deeds of injustice. Neither is it the sin of a certain sphere of humanity; those who might not have the destructive capacity of the first group but still live lives that hurt and damage the poor and the vulnerable. No, this is the collective sin of the world. We are all included and we might well ask: “What did I do wrong?”
Another translation of the word for “sin” would be “offense”. Jesus, the Lamb of God has come to take away the offense of the world. But what is that offense and who have we offended?
It is clear that the offense is against God. What is the nature of that offense? It cannot be in the sense that we often understand the term. We often get offended when we are hurt by others or we see injustices being done and we forget that we too have probably offended and hurt many people in our own lives. As my Pastor Ron MacLean often says, “offense hangs on the hook of pride”. He means by that, most human offense. God’s offense is righteous partly because it is not fuelled by some hurt and wounded pride, despite the fact that He alone in the universe would have grounds for such pride as He has never sinned against anyone.
So if we have not offended God’s pride, what part of Him have we offended? Surely He can know that we are sinners and dislike the sin and even judge the sin without getting offended by it. Offense means that He feels it personally. Wouldn’t it be cleaner to have a God who could rule as a righteous judge of the universe and not take the misdemeanors personally? Surely most people who “sin” aren’t doing it against God, they aren’t even thinking about Him when they are doing it?
Many of them don’t even believe that He exists so how can they be meaning to sin against God? What have we done wrong and why does God take it as a personal offense? Thankfully, the apostle John has framed his text so that by the time we are introduced to the Lamb in verse 29, he has already explained the nature of the offense that caused Him to have to come.
It is interesting to note how John begins the gospel. He gives us only the most important pieces of information. He could have gone back to the Garden of Eden and the taking of the forbidden fruit. That act had obviously been offensive to God and has caused a cosmic rift in the relationship between God and the people He created. John could have gone on to talk about Cain, and then the days of Noah, the arrogance of the Tower of Babel, the stubbornness of the Egyptians which was only to be followed by the equal stubbornness of the very people who God had rescued from the Egyptians’ hands. In short, John could have started at the beginning and put together a comprehensive list of the multiple thoughts and actions of mankind that have offended God since creation. John does not do so, quite deliberately and strategically. He wants to make the real issue, the real issue.
John only gives us two reasons for God’s offense with His world and they are found in verses 10 and 11 of the first chapter.
“He was in the world, and though the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11)
The world did not know Him nor receive Him. These are the only reasons John gives to explain the offense of the world. It is not that there are not other reasons. We have offended God in so many ways that the universe could be filled with a list of such reasons. But there are two primary reasons for God’s offense and on them hinge the future of the world and each one of us in it.
Ultimately, if we are to face hell and judgement it will not be because Adam and Eve took a forbidden fruit, although that is where it all began. Neither will it be because we have lied or thought bad thoughts or done bad deeds. It will now solely be because we did not know Him and we did not receive Him. This is the primary grounds for God’s offense with mankind. So, if this truth is so important, what does it mean? Who is the One that we need to know and receive and why is it so important?
It is always helpful to know the context in which the books of the Bible were written. As we noted in the first chapter of this book, it is clear right from the first sentence that John was writing primarily to those who were either educated in the Greek culture or very familiar with Greek philosophy. This was true of many people in the Roman Empire, particularly in the Eastern part. Despite the fact that Rome had conquered much of the known world, Greek philosophy had a huge influence on the Empire’s thinking and many spoke Greek as either their first or second language. There were a large number of those with a history of Greek culture and philosophy (also called “Hellenists” both in the Bible and elsewhere) who also had varying degrees of connection to the Jewish religion. It is likely that this group were John’s target audience although his gospel would also speak to Greek thinkers who had no connection to the Jewish faith. What gives this intent away in the first sentence is the use of the word “Logos” as a person who existed “from the beginning”.
The philosopher Plato had believed that there was a person who acted as an intermediary between a distant but all powerful God and His creation. Plato believed that this intermediary was the agent by which God created the universe. This arrangement allowed God to remain untouched and untouchable by His creation and yet still involve Himself in the life of that creation. Plato called the intermediary “Logos” which in Greek can be equally translated and understood as “the word” or “reason”. Many none Hellenist Jews would have been confused and probably offended by John’s opening sentence, but it would have made perfect sense to anyone with an appreciation for Plato: “In the beginning was the Logos”.
Any Hellenist would have been instantly interested in what John had to say. However, whilst the use of the term “Logos” would have pleased any Platonists who wished to understand and embrace this new Christian faith in the context of their Greek philosophy, the rest of the sentence would have provided them with much to think about. The Logos was “in the beginning”. In other words the intermediary was not created by God as the pre-cursor to the creation of the universe; this Logos was there in the beginning.
John goes on: “and the Word (Logos) was with God (Theos)”. The Platonists would agree with that.
“…and the Word (Logos) was God (Theos)”. That would have provoked a serious reaction.
John has, in effect, made an instant connection with their way of thinking by confirming the truth that there was a Logos and then (as Jesus often did) suddenly takes that truth to a whole new level. The Logos did exist. He was with God. But He was with God “in the beginning” because He was God! Just so the point is not lost, John immediately re-emphasizes it: “He (Logos) was with God in the beginning.”
Before they have time to come to terms with the new information John is so clearly and definitely confronting them with, he takes them back around to a truth they already believed: “All things came into being through him (Logos), and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.”
John is saying to the Platonists: “You are right about the existence of the Logos and also you were right about the Logos’ involvement with creation, you were just wrong in who the Logos was.” The last point is the crucial one. They may have believed that there was a Logos. They may even have believed that He was the agent that God used to create the universe. But they needed to believe that He was God.
John tells the reader more about Him.
“In Him was life”. So again, He, the Logos, is not just transferring life from God to His creation like some large conduit. As God, He has life in Himself. “…and the life was the light of men”.
We are created like an ancient lamp with a wick inside. It might look ok on the outside as a piece of incidental furniture, but unless someone lights the lamp it has no life. Logos takes of the life that He participates in as God and uses it to light the lamp inside each one of us, giving us life. When that light is extinguished we die. This is true of our physical lives; everyone lives because Jesus has given them life.
However Jesus didn’t just come to bring us life but light as well. It is possible to have our physical “lamp” burning, so that we are alive, at the same time as our spiritual “lamp” is not burning. In other words we are alive physically but not spiritually. This is how we all come into the world, physically alive but “dead in our trespasses and sins” as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1.
In that sense we have the “life” that Jesus gave us (the physical life) but not the “light” that is supposed to come with it. Jesus wants to light our spiritual as well as physical lamp, so that we have light and life.
John underlines that thought in verse 9: “He was the true light; He enlightens every man that comes into the world.” Many are in awe at the progress made by scientists to apparently “create” by cloning etc. However, no scientist will ever be able to create life. Life is only found in the Logos. God has made it that way.
So who is this Logos? John moves from cosmic history to recent events and introduces us to John the Baptist, who many revered long after his death. But he wasn’t the Logos, he just came to bear witness to the Logos and introduce us to Him. However we are getting closer to the truth.
“He (Logos) was in the world”. So He has not just created us but He has come to us. So surely now John will tell us who He is? He must have been on earth close to the time of the writing of the gospel, because He obviously came after John the Baptist.
But before he introduces his readers to Him, John the gospel writer confronts us with the reality of how we have responded to Him. Here he outlines our primary offense against God.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)
The first part of man’s primary offense against God is that we do not know the Logos.
He existed from the beginning, He was with God, He was God, He was with God from the beginning, through Him all things were created and the reason any of us has life and light is because He personally lit the lamp of life in each one of us. He has been made the central being of all creation and has all the rights and privileges that go with that position. Everything good we have came from Him; but we do not know Him.
The fact of the matter is that none of us know Him by ourselves. Even John the Baptist, who Jesus described as the greatest among men, candidly admitted: “I did not know Him” (v 31). If anyone should have known Him it should have been John the Baptist, he was His relative after all and had “known” Him even before He was born, while He was still in his mother’s womb. His mother would have surely told him about the prophecies given to her relative, Mary and what had happened in Bethlehem. To that extent John has known something about Him but he still didn’t fully get it until he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at His baptism (v 33-34). It would seem that the eyes of humanity remain veiled to the truth even when it is right in front of us. However, the offense against God is not taken away just by “knowing” who the Logos is. Here we come to the second reason we have offended God.
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11)
The second part of the world’s primary offense against God is that we did not receive Him. He cannot be received if He is not known. Even if He is known, it is still possible to reject Him. The rejection is compounded by the fact that He “came unto His own and His own did not receive Him”. He was not rejected by people who had no connection to Him. This probably particularly refers to the Jewish nation, but we are all His. The Psalmist says that “we are His, the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 94:7 and Psalm 100:3).
We are His children, born of His own love, but when He came to see us, we closed the door in His face.
It is not difficult to understand how God the Father would be deeply offended by such a response. This is a much deeper and more personal offense than the taking of forbidden fruit (although that was offensive enough to invoke the gravest of consequences). The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son for our good. The Son has faithfully administered God’s goodness to us in creating and sustaining us. The Father’s heart is that we should know and love His Son, the Logos; that we should appreciate Him and enjoy a relationship with the Father through Him. All of the Father’s heart and will in creation has been invested into and through His Son and it is all for our good as well as His glory.
But we don’t want His Son. We don’t want to know Him. We don’t want to receive Him for who He is in our lives. We don’t want to acknowledge Him or give Him even the smallest vote of thanks. He was despised and rejected long before He came to the cross. That is what is deeply offensive to God. It is in essence a despising and rejecting of His Son. Sin is very personal to the Father.
Other religions simply compound the problem. People want to get to God but they don’t want to deal with Jesus. In a very small way that is like telling a husband that he is a great guy but you can’t stand the wife that he loves.
But God’s response is not second hand offense on his Son’s behalf. That is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Trinity. Their hearts and wills are so much One that any offense against any one of them is an offense against all three. Jesus was very clear on this over the issue of the Holy Spirit. He made the grieving of the Holy Spirit the “unforgivable sin”. In other words He was saying “you grieve the Holy Spirit, you grieve all of us”.
“ And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)
What was the “sin” that was being committed by the people Jesus was talking to at the time? They were saying that Jesus was doing His miracles by demonic powers. They were saying grievous things about Jesus; they didn’t mention the Holy Spirit, so how could they be grieving Him? But Jesus knew that it was the Holy Spirit at work in Him that was helping Him to do the miracles. They weren’t just accusing Jesus of witchcraft; they were slandering the Holy Spirit by calling Him a demon. Jesus didn’t speak out in His own defense, but He spoke out in defense of the Holy Spirit.
If we offend one member of the Trinity, we offend all of them.
It is a fact of life that no one can remove the thorn of an offense from us, we have to let it go ourself. The one who has wronged us can say sorry, make retribution, give us gifts and plead for forgiveness, but the offense will only go away when we release it. It is much more difficult to release an offense if we believe that the injustice will not and cannot be undone.
It is no different with God. Nothing we can do can remove the offense from Him. No amount of saying sorry, making retribution, giving of our lives or pleading for forgiveness can remove the offense from Him, He must find a way of justly and righteously letting it go Himself. He doesn’t have to remove His offense for the same reason as us. There is no sin in His offense, He is perfectly justified in it and He would be equally justified to retain it for eternity. However, “for God so loved the world”, He has set His heart on removing the offense, for our joy and His glory.
There is no way, outside of Himself that the injustices committed can be put right. So He must look inside of Himself to find a way to release us from the righteous anger and punishment of His offense against us. He found that way by sending the Lamb of God to take away the offense by the means of the cross. When Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”, He was firstly referring to those around the cross who crucified Him. However, His was the voice of God, to God; God speaking to Himself and (in a sense) pleading with Himself on behalf of the world he loved to release us from the offense He so righteously holds against all of us.
The words, of course were not for His benefit, He did not need to hear His own intercessions. The words were for us to hear so that we could understand the transaction that was taking part in the heart of God for us.
Jesus alone could do it, because it is primarily Him that we have sinned against. We neither knew Him nor loved Him, despite all He was and is and is to be for us. His wonderful response is to absorb our worst hatred of Him in the cruelest of punishments and deaths. Not only that, He identifies with what we have done by taking our sin and punishment upon Himself (even though our sin is primarily against Him). Then, as fully man and fully God, He cries aloud “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” and pleads with His words, His blood and His love for God to release the world of His offense against all of us that had so horribly wronged Him.
With a crash of thunder and terrible darkness, God releases all His offense that He righteously holds against us on account of our treatment of His Son unbelievably on to that very same Son.
The Son receives it, the “victim” of the crime willingly takes the punishment and, when it is done He declares those most wonderful of words at the point of His greatest weakness, pain and vulnerability: “It is finished”. And in that same moment all the offense of heaven against earth is gone. No more offense in the heart of God towards the world He had created.
Yes judgement will come and punishment too, but only for those who will not hide themselves in the Son whom we have all sinned so grievously against: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the offense of the world.”
God the Father made it all about Jesus, His glorious Son – and so should we!
12: The Lamb of God
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’” (John 1:29)
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’” (John 1:35).
The Lamb of God. This is the only time in the gospels when Jesus is called this title. In fact John is the only New Testament writer who uses the name (here and in Revelation).
What does it mean? There are different types of lamb mentioned in the Old Testament that can all be referred to as “God’s lamb”. They all have to do with God bringing a lamb to a sacrifice. We are going to look at three of them here. Firstly the lamb of worship, then the lamb of deliverance and finally the lamb of forgiveness.
The lamb of worship.
The idea of God having a lamb to bring to a sacrifice first appears in Genesis 22. It appears during the narrative about God’s testing of Abraham, the Father of faith.
Abraham and Sarah have finally received the child promised to them by God, Isaac, their only son, miraculously conceived in the twilight of their years. Then comes the test. After a few years God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him in “the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
Early the next morning and apparently without telling his wife what he was doing (probably a wise decision!!) nor anyone else, Abraham saddles his donkey, cuts some wood, gathers his son and two young servants and heads out. They will be gone a few days and when they return Isaac may not be with them, although Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed God would raise him back to life after the sacrifice, because there was a whole nation to come from him yet.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
On the third day, he saw the place of sacrifice from afar and told his two servants to wait for them there with these awe inspiring words:
“Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’” (Genesis 22: 5)
They are awe inspiring words because they reveal Abraham’s heart. This is the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible and Abraham was plainly a fully devoted worshiper of God. He would give anything and everything to worship Him.
They are awe inspiring because of the faith that is in them. He believed that he and the boy would go up the mountain and then that he and the boy would come back down the mountain and return to them. What faith! What trust!
Abraham puts the wood, in a prophetic picture, on the back of his son and, with knife and flaming torch in hand, leads him up the mountain.
Isaac is curious, but not suspicious. He seems to trust his Dad as much as Abraham trusts his Father in heaven. His question is just the obvious one in the situation.
“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” (Genesis 22:7)
What must Abraham have been feeling? That innocent question must have pierced to the bottom of his heart. But, amazingly, he is resolute in his faith. God promised that all the nations of earth would be blessed through Isaac and so Isaac was going to live. He was going to have to lay his son out on the wood, plunge the knife into his chest and then set him ablaze. Somehow God was going to then raise him back to life. It was a crazy process but somehow it would turn out ok in the end.
But in that moment he gave a reply that didn’t make sense.
Hebrews tells us that he was expecting to receive his son back from the dead. He was fully expecting to kill him as the sacrifice. So why didn’t he say something like “we’ll sort that out nearer the time” or even “the Lord knows”. Instead he comes up with this incredibly profound statement that must have come directly from the throne of God by the Holy Spirit:
“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:8)
Maybe he was thinking that Isaac was going to be the lamb that God provided, or maybe he was just caught up in a prophetic utterance. Either way his words echo down through the ages with deep significance and meaning.
The first mention of the word worship in the Bible. A man going to sacrifice his only son. A son walking up the mountain of sacrifice with the wood on his back.
“God will provide for Himself the lamb”
This worship is perfect because it is offered in absolute faith and trust. It is not the act of bringing his son to the altar that makes the worship perfect, otherwise people would have been unwittingly doing it with their firstborn sons ever since. It is the total trusting obedience to the word of God that makes this worship so perfect.
They get to the top of the hill. Abraham builds an altar. Then he ties up his one and only son. Then he puts him on the altar and raises his knife to kill him.
He must have felt so alone. But then he realizes he isn’t. He realizes that the whole of heaven is watching him, for that is where the voice comes from that stops him.
“And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’
‘Yes,’ Abraham replied. ‘Here I am!’
‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy!’ the angel said. ‘Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.’” (Genesis 22: 10-12)
The relief for Dad. The relief for the son. Abraham looks up and sees the most welcome sight in all the world to him. It must have been the most welcome sight he ever saw in all his life.
“Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.” (Genesis 22:13)
If he had said something to Isaac at that point what would he have said? Maybe he would have said:
“Behold, the lamb of God!”
Abraham did what all true worshipers need to do. He took God’s lamb as his own sacrifice.
“Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.” (Genesis 22:13)
Our sacrifices of worship will never be good enough of themselves. They will always be tainted to some extent by our own pride and self absorption, no matter how small it is. No, if we want to offer something eternally pleasing to God, it needs to be perfect. We don’t have such an offering. So God provides One Himself for us. He provided for us on the mount where He brought His lamb to the sacrifice. We killed Him on the Cross at Calvary, but God brought Him to the sacrifice.
“Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:14)
When John the Baptist said “behold the Lamb of God” he was pointing us to God’s perfect sacrifice. The only way we can offer worship to God is by taking this lamb as our own sacrifice.
The second lamb of God that is mentioned in the Old Testament is the lamb of deliverance. This is the Passover lamb of Exodus 12.
These are God’s instructions to Moses.
“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbour shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:3-13)
Abraham’s first born son, Isaac’s life was threatened by the will of God. Israel is the nation that came from Isaac’s line. Now all Israel’s firstborn sons are in danger and again the threat comes from God Himself.
The first time the firstborn is threatened, with Abraham and Isaac, it is just a test. God is not angry with Abraham and He has no intention of killing Isaac.
This time though the threat is very real. God really is going to kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt, just as Egypt, a generation before, killed the sons of Israel. He is going to bring down the final “god” of Egypt, the firstborn son of Pharaoh and his peers with him. He is going to execute righteous judgment against a proud and arrogant people who have dealt treacherously and murderously with His people and resisted every opportunity to repent. And there were many opportunities to repent.
A “plague” is going to come, an Angel of death, that will sweep over the land and in one night all the firstborn in Egypt will die.
However, God made a promise to Abraham.
It would appear that Abraham’s descendants had not really remembered The God of their forefathers, but He had not forgotten them. He had made a promise and because of His promise and His purpose (certainly not because of their righteousness and faith in Him) He was going to save them from the plague that was coming.
And so He instructs Moses to take a lamb (either a sheep or a goat) that is without blemish. They shall keep that lamb for four days until the fourteenth day of the month and then kill it at twilight on the fourteenth day. Then they shall take the blood, mix it with hyssop (Exodus 12:22) and daub it on the lintel and doorpost of the house in which they are staying. Then they should stay inside all night.
If they do not hide themselves behind the blood of the lamb, they will die.
And where does the threat come from? Who is the destroyer from whom they must hide?
It is the Lord Himself.
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)
“For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:23)
The Lord, in righteous judgment is going to pass through the the land and kill all the firstborn sons. But as He goes He will be looking for the markings of blood on the lintels and doorposts. When He sees those markings He will “pass over” that house. This is not the out of control rage of a bad tempered person or the murderous spite of someone looking to get even. This has nothing to do with the sort of anger that caused Cain to kill Abel.
When God is angry, He is still completely in control. There is no “collateral damage” where much more gets destroyed than the intended target. God’s judgments are sure and true and only touch those that God intends them to.
There is only one hiding place in all of Egypt. One place of refuge from the righteous judgment of Almighty God. It is behind the blood of the passover lamb.
The firstborn son of the promise, Isaac, was saved by a lamb. The firstborn of Israel are now saved in exactly the same way.
The passover lamb, however is not a lamb of worship, as Isaac’s “lamb” was. It is a lamb of deliverance.
Deliverance from what?
Deliverance from the wrath of God and His righteous anger.
John the Baptist had been clear to his hearers that the wrath of God was heading in their direction too.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Matthew 3:7)
His advice to them was to “flee”. But where can you flee to get away from God? There is only one hiding place from His righteous anger and judgement and that is behind the blood of God’s lamb.
Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover for a reason.
John the Baptist calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”. That title brings to mind both of these Old Testament stories which were so ingrained in the minds of the Jewish nation. John is clearly saying that Jesus is both our sacrifice of perfect worship and our sacrifice for deliverance.
Through Him and Him alone, we can worship God acceptably.
“Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrew 13:15)
By Him and by Him alone can we be delivered from the righteous judgment of death that we all face for our rebellion against God.
But John goes beyond the issue of worship and deliverance, He says:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
This brings us to the third lamb of God we are going to look at in the Old Testament.
We could look at the lamb of redemption, that buys back our freedom as children of God (Exodus 13 and 34:20), or the lamb of peace (Levicticus 3:7) bringing us back to peace with God. We could also look at the lamb of healing and purity, that returns us to health and wholeness after sickness or childbirth (Levicticus 12:6 and 14:10), or the lamb that is the firstfruits of the harvest that is to come after Him (Levicticus 23:12) or the lamb that consecrates all our moments and makes them holy, each morning and night (Numbers 28:4), our sabbaths (Numbers 28:9) and our months (Numbers 28:11-15).
Jesus, as the Lamb of God is all of these and more, but for the sake of time we are going to look lastly at the lamb of forgiveness.
If a lamb was brought to be sacrificed for sin (which means anything that we do and are that is offensive to God), then the High Priest would take that lamb, lay his hands on it and speak those sins onto it. In this way, symbolically, the lamb takes the sin from the person and then pays the penalty for the sin, which is death. The “sinner” walks away feeling that their sins have been taken away and paid for. The sacrifice was available to cover all the sins of all God’s people including unintentional sins (Leviticus 4:32), careless sins (Leviticus 5) and anything that someone may feel guilty about (Leviticus 10:21).
On the day of atonement, that we read about in Leviticus 16, goats were sacrificed for all the sins committed in that year by all of God’s people. Two goats would be taken and one was sacrificed on the altar as a sin offering. The other had the sins of the whole congregation for the year spoken over it as The High Priest laid his hands on its head (Leviticus 16:21) and it was then sent into the wilderness. It was called the scape goat and as it was removed far away from the people it was a picture of God taking their sins far away from them.
The Holy Spirit refers to these sacrifices in Isaiah 53:6, when talking about the saviour that is to come.
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Note Who is laying hands on this particularly sheep, speaking all the sins of us all, the world, onto it. It is not an earthly High Priest. It is God Himself. On the cross God laid all my sins on His Lamb, every wrong action and thought and motivation of my heart that has ever offended the heart of a Holy God. He didn’t just do it for me, He did it for everyone. That is astonishing and totally beyond our understanding to grasp. How could such a hugely overwhelming amount of ugly, ungrateful, utterly selfish pride and sin be taken away by one person? Only because He is so utterly and overwhelmingly pure, selfless and obedient to every word and will of His Father.
The most amazing fact is not that there is so much sin in this world. The most amazing fact is that the pure righteousness of Jesus is so incredible vast that it can swallow a whole universe of darkness so that it is never seen again.
This again is God’s lamb that He brings to the sacrifice for us. This lamb takes away the sin of the world and therefore brings absolute and total forgiveness to all of us who receive Him and believe in His name. Forgiveness from Whom? From the God that we have sinned against.
This is the lamb that John the Baptist wants us to see. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We have to understand that this lamb is primarily God’s lamb. He is doing something absolutely incredible for us, delivering us from sin and judgement and death and enabling us to offer perfect worship to Him who has loved us and saved us. But first and foremost He is doing something wonderful for God. After all He is His lamb. The Lamb of God. First and foremost He purchases for God the very desires and pleasures that our sinfulness would deny Him.
And what are the desires and pleasure that our sinfulness would deny the God that created us? We are. We are what God wants, relationship with us. And that is what the Lamb brings Him. Yes, the Lamb of God purchases for us all the amazing benefits of being forgiven and made right with God. But primarily the Lamb of God purchases something uniquely precious for God. Us! We are what the lamb purchases for God.
“ And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (purchased, bought back) people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:8-10)
We may be tempted, in our usual sinful self-absorption, to think that the Lamb dies for us. But firstly and most importantly, He dies for God.
So John the Baptist uses that name when he sees Jesus in the new light of the revealing of the Holy Spirit, when He came to rest on Jesus after His baptism.
It is such a powerful name, pregnant with incredible meaning and yet Jesus is only called that name by one New Testament writer.
It wasn’t that the early church didn’t understand its meaning and importance.
Philip, the early church evangelist, clearly understood that Jesus was God’s lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world as he explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch.
“ Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35)
Paul understood that Jesus was our Passover lamb.
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1Corinthians 5:7)
Peter had a clear revelation of Jesus as the lamb that was sacrificed for our sins.
“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1Peter 1:18-19)
However John the Baptist was the only person who was quoted as calling Jesus “The Lamb of God” and John the Apostle is the only New Testament writer to use that title.
Maybe it was because the Apostle John was the only one there.
The only New Testament writer who actually witnessed the sacrifice of God’s Lamb on the cross of Calvary.
He saw it with his own eyes.
He saw what John the Baptist was seeing here in the Spirit. He witnessed “The Lamb of God” taking away the sins of the world.
John the Baptist’s focus was to prepare the way for people to meet Jesus. That meant confronting them with their sin and urging them to repent. He baptised them in water to signify the washing away of their sins. But he knew that the murky waters of the Jordan River weren’t really going to cleanse anyone. It was going to take something much more precious and powerful than that.
But then he saw Jesus walk by and he knew, in that moment by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is all that any of us would ever need.
He knew that all the sacrifices on all the altars made by all the priests throughout all generations couldn’t, of themselves, wash any one of us clean of our sin and guilt and shame. He knew it would take a sacrifice much more holy and pure and effective than that. He knew they could never, of themselves, deliver us from the righteous judgment of death that stands against. He knew that none of them, of themselves, made for perfect worship.
Then he saw Jesus walk by and he knew that such a sacrifice was at hand. The Lamb is already walking the earth and will shortly make His was up to the altar of sacrifice. He will lay Himself upon it and, as He does so, the Father will lay upon Him all the sin and guilt and shame of an entire world for all time. He who knew no sin will become sin.
Then death will come and His Father will allow it. His Father wills it.
Yes, it will not be the jealous spite of the religious leaders, or the cruel “justice” of the Romans, or even the murderous rage of the hoards of hell that seal the sacrifice. It will be God. He could intervene, as He did with Abraham and stop it at any time, but He will not.The perfect Father overseeing the sacrifice of His perfect Son. His One and Only. His Beloved.
For this is primarily God’s Lamb.
This is His sacrifice.
Because He loves the men and women of this sinful, rebellious, murderous world so much.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist saw it in the Spirit.
John the Apostle saw it in reality.
But then he also saw Him rise again from the dead. More than that, his eyes were opened in the Spirit and he saw the new reality of the Lamb of God in the centre of the throne of God executing the will of God and all heaven and earth worshiping Him.
One day we will all see Him and those that hide themselves behind His sacrifice will be eternally forgiven, delivered and set free and they will never need to fear the righteous anger and judgement of God again.
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
“Behold” says the Baptiser. “Hey, look at this” would be an apt modern translation. It is an exclamation of enthusiastic excitement.
“Look what I’ve found”.
It is a moment of joyful revelation. Someone had switched the light on for him.
This must have occurred after Jesus’ baptism. Before that, John had known something of who Jesus was, but not as much as he knows now. He had known something about Jesus even when John was in the womb. He had jumped for joy as a pre-born baby when Mary came in pregnant to visit her “kinswoman” Elizabeth (John’s mother) with the baby Messiah.
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’” (Luke 1:41-44)
He had probably been told stories of all the miracles that surrounded both his and Jesus’ birth.
His own mother, Elizabeth, thought of Jesus as “my Lord” (Luke 1:43).
Despite all of that, John’s own testimony was that he did not really know who Jesus was before he baptized Him.
“I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water, that One said to me ‘On whomever you see the Spirit coming down and abiding on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1: 33)
Then one normal ministry day as John preaches repentance and baptizes those who want to respond, he sees Jesus approaching. He knows that Jesus is special. John has almost certainly been told that Jesus really is the One by his own mother, but he is not yet certain. It wouldn’t have been his first, or his last bout of doubt. Either way, he was obviously not sure and is honest enough to publicly admit it: “I did not know Him”. This from the man who Jesus acknowledged as “the greatest” born of women (Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28).
Whoever he thought Jesus was, he knew enough to acknowledge that he really shouldn’t be the one to baptize Him, if anything it should be the other way around. Matthew records that John tried to stop Him from being baptized.
“John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3:14).
Literally John tried to “utterly prohibit” or “forbid” Jesus from being baptized (literal translations). So John knew how out of order it was for him to be baptizing Jesus. He knew even then that Jesus was greater than him.
Jesus encourages John to “allow it for now, for it is becoming to us this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
Notice that Jesus uses “us”. Jesus sees His baptism as something the Father and Spirit were equally in agreement with and a part of, as witnessed by the Father’s audible blessing and the Spirit’s visible presence.
But here He is. Jesus the perfect, spotless one who “knew no sin” (2Corinthians 5:21). Lined up with all the rest of us, alongside the bullying soldiers, thieving tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. No special treatment. He is “fulfilling all righteousness”. He is identifying with our humanity. Majestic in humility.
Jesus puts Himself into the hands of a man, not for the first time, or the last and is baptized in the Jordan River. As He immediately rises from the water the heavens are torn open (Mark 1: 10), in the same way and by the same Hands that open the curtain of the temple three years later (Mark 15: 38) and a dove descends.
“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (Mark 1:10).
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38)
Not only does the dove come down to Jesus, but He “rests” on Him. He stays, He remains.
“And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” (John 1:32)
With the dove comes a voice addressed to John and the crowd in Matthew: “This is My Son, the beloved, in whom I have found delight” (Matthew 3:17).
In Mark and Luke, the voice of the Father addresses Jesus personally: “You are My Son, the beloved; in You I am delighted” (Luke 3: 22).
As the heavens are opened, so are John’s eyes and ears and now he knows for sure. Jesus is the Son. The One. The Beloved of the Father. He has got it and now he wants the world to see.
As a side note, John the Baptist was a clear Trinitarian. He believed that God was One God but in three persons. Here He clearly talks about the Holy Spirit and the Son of God, which implies that there is also a Father who he calls “He who sent me to baptise in water”. The Holy Spirit wants us to understand this right from the beginning of the gospel. Once we have understood it here in John 1, the rest of the book makes sense.
“Behold!” the Baptist cries out.
He has been crying out about the darkness.
“Repent! You soldiers be content with your pay. You tax collectors give back what you stole. You Pharisees, you vipers, who told you to flee from the coming wrath!”
He has been doing a lot of shouting. Shouting to wake people up. Wake them up to see their own darkness before it is too late. All he has seen before him is a long stream of people walking in darkness, their judgements clouded by their own. sinfulness and the god of this world. One after another. But now he sees Someone totally different. Wonderfully different. I would imagine the tone of his shouting changed and the volume was even louder.
“Hey everyone, stop what you’re doing and come and look at this!”
“All of you come and see this – it’s amazing!”
Whatever phrase he would have used in today’s world, his excitement was palpable and contagious. After his second declaration in John 1:36, two of his disciples were so enthused by his zeal that they left his amazing ministry to be with Jesus. John wouldn’t have minded, that is why he came. The friend of the bridegroom. Happy to see the bride with the groom and to know that he had helped it happen.
“He must increase and I must decrease.” (John3:30)
What was John so excited about? He already knew enough about Jesus to get excited. However, now He understands that he has just held The Beloved in his hands. He had just plunged Him into the Jordan River. That is a life transforming revelation.
John the apostle understood. He had touched Jesus too.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1John 1:1)
And once you have truly touched Him, you can’t be quiet about Him.
“the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you,” (1John 1:2-3a)
“Behold” says John the Baptist. “I did not know Him, I had heard of Him, I was told of Him. I sort of knew Him growing up. But now my eyes have been open. I had my hands on Him. I put Him into the water, just like everyone else. But when I brought Him back up from the water, even as I was bringing Him to his feet again, the heavens were torn open above me and I saw a dove, the promised Holy Spirit, coming down from heaven. It flew from beyond the skies down until it came to rest upon Him. I knew in that instant in my heart what I had heard with my ears and sort of understood with my mind, that the One who is standing so close to me now is the Anointed One from heaven, the promised Messiah. The Great King. The Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the whole world. He will take away my sin, yes even I John the Baptist am a sinner who needs a savior. And here He is, the Light of the World, standing with me, standing by me, so close that I can reach out and touch Him even now. I will never be the same.”
John’s cry echoes into our world still, from every saint and church filled with the same Spirit.
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Maybe, you are not quite so bold as John (few of us are). Maybe it’s a long time since you pointed someone to Jesus.
Can I ask, when was the last time that you were so close to Him that it felt like you touched Him and He touched you? It is a life changing experience, even for a seasoned Christian.
Ask the Holy Spirit, “Lord, how can I become excited again about Jesus?”
Then do what He tells you.
10: The Testimony of John: A Portrait of Christian Service
Whilst this chapter is written particularly to leaders and aspiring leaders in churches and ministries, it is also applicable to all Christians. As God’s children, we are all called of God to leadership, to rule and reign in and through Christ in our own spheres of influence. Whatever our functions and roles, however “high” or “low” in the eyes of the world, our heart should be the same.
The leaders in Israel are perplexed. They need to know who this John the Baptist is and what authority he has to do what he is doing. They are under pressure to get this figured out because it seems that the people love him and are drawn towards him and his preaching. But this is not happening within their sphere of influence. In fact they have no control over him, what he will say or do, at all. But he is preaching to their flock and their flock are responding to him in droves.
No wonder they feel threatened. In their righteous indignation they could argue that it is their responsibility to look after the teaching of the scriptures and all things God for this people. If someone comes who preaches and teaches apart from them, then they need to make a judgement about him so that the people are not led astray.
The people have already been led astray from their teachings, they have been led astray back to God.
Of course, beyond the “righteous” indignation, is control. The arm of the flesh. These are the religious rulers and for many of them (though not all) they have knowingly or unknowingly fallen into the trap (as many of us still do) of those who feel charged with the responsibility of looking after God’s people.
We forget that they are God’s people not ours and that our responsibility as church leaders is to point people towards obedience to Christ, not ourselves. If we get that wrong, as many of these religious leaders did, we are equally in danger of not only stopping God’s people from fully meeting and flourishing in Him, we also unwittingly resist Him in the process.
That is where many of these religious leaders ended up. Resisting God.
John the Baptist, of course, was exactly the opposite. His ministry was to point people to Jesus and when they began to connect to Jesus then John would happily withdraw from the process. A true “friend of the bridegroom”. Jesus is the bridegroom, His people are the bride. John, as a friend of the bridegroom, makes sure that the bride is ready to meet the groom. Once they have met, John is happy to withdraw and allow the bride and groom to grow in love for each other.
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30)
By contrast, many of these religious leaders would have said that they were true friends of the bride and groom (if the Christ is the bridegroom and His people are the bride). But in truth they would gather the bride to bring her to the groom but when the groom wanted to take her away, they would want to keep the bride for themselves.
So they want to know who John is. They want to know who they are dealing with so that they can put him into their convenient, conventional boxes that they understood and could control. God never works to such man made demands. He will always move beyond our boxes. He rarely does “convenient and conventional”.
“Who are you?” They ask.
But John doesn’t want to answer that question, because it is irrelevant to his purpose. The purpose is not for people to figure out who he is, but to be prepared for He who is coming next. However it does suit his purpose to tell them who he isn’t, just in case they start putting a label on him that could elevate him in their minds and thus diminish their interest in the One to follow.
The contrast between his ministry and theirs couldn’t be more clear.
• Many of them were strongly interested in the world knowing who they are, which suited their purpose. John was more interested in the world knowing who he wasn’t, which suited his purpose.
• They wanted to control the people under their authority, John wanted to release them into the arms and authority of Jesus.
• They wanted to look good. John couldn’t care less about how he looked, or about what people thought of him, other than how it reflected on the One he was serving.
• They thought that it in order to reflect God properly, everything had to be in order, which required them to rule and control, John understood that God reflected Himself primarily in His One and Only, which requires us to serve Him and His people in humility and the fear of the Lord.
So he tells them plainly: “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:20).
But they are not satisfied.
“Are you Elijah?”
“Are you the prophet?”
They had probably never met someone with so little self interest before.
Someone was coming after John who had even less.
Such is the way of the greatest ministries of God in this world. Little need for self grandisement. That only diminishes their ability to exalt Christ.
They are getting frustrated not only because John is not giving them a straight answer but because they will not look good in the eyes of those who sent them if they don’t get it.
“So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”” (John 1:22)
Their muddled thinking, hypocrisy and self-deception is highlighted throughout John’s gospel. They later tell Jesus that his testimony is not valid because He speaks on His own behalf (John 8:13), but here they want John to speak on his own behalf and testify about himself and they are frustrated that he doesn’t.
John doesn’t try to ease their frustrations. He finally identifies himself not by who he is, but by what he has been sent to do.
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23)
He is “the voice”.
Jesus is the Word, John is just the voice. The “phone” in Greek. Simply the technology through which God has chosen to speak at this particular time and place.
The Word (Jesus) comes before the voice. And the Word speaks on His own behalf when He comes in the flesh. But when He is not in the flesh the Word requires a voice so that He may be clearly heard. Before the Word came in the flesh He had a voice as a herald to speak His words and prepare the way.
The Word still requires a voice, many voices, in order to be heard by the nations that need to hear. As Christians we share John’s call. We are a voice. Giving voice to the Word of God, not just by speaking about Him but by declaring what He wants to say to the world around us.
John the Baptist self identified as a voice.
And what is the voice crying out? He says that he is the one spoken of in Isaiah who shouts out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
It is worth reading this again in the full context of the quote from Isaiah 40 in order to understand the heart of what he is declaring.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:1-5)
He has not merely come to be a hellfire preacher, as some have made him out to be. Certainly John exposed people’s sins and exhorted them to get right with God before the coming judgement.
But the voice, as spoken of by Isaiah, is a preacher of good news. Yes repentance from sins is an absolute requirement for receiving this good news. But the reason for repenting is that, when our valleys have been lifted up and our mountains been made low, when our uneven ground has been leveled and our rough places have been smoothed out, then our warfare has ended, our iniquity is pardoned and the glory of the Lord will be revealed to us and through us and all flesh around us will see it.
This will surely happen because “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” and He has spoken using the voice of John the Baptist.
But here is the real issue:
“(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?””” (John 1:24-25)
They have not been sent to find out who John is. They have been sent to figure out a way of controlling and reining him in.
“If you aren’t one of the big guys, then what authority do you have for baptizing people? Who do you think you are?”
John doesn’t bother to answer their question. He is not really interested in them knowing who he is. He is just a voice telling people to sort themselves out before the real deal comes into town. He doesn’t even bother to answer the authority question. He doesn’t have to justify to them what he is doing. He doesn’t need the permission of the religious leaders who think they have the spiritual power and authority in the land. He answers to a much higher authority and that authority is on their doorstep and if they don’t repent along with all the other sinners, then they are going to have to deal with Him themselves. Which is, of course, what they eventually try (unsuccessfully) to do.
“You’re trying to figure out who I am and what right I have to be baptizing in water, but I’m just the warm up act and a very, very minor one compared to Who is coming and is already here. If you don’t think I have the right to be baptizing in water you wait till you meet the One coming after me who is so much more powerful, forceful and mighty than I, that I am not worthy to be the lowest form of His slave.”
“John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27)
In other words: “if you’re worried that I am working outside of your authority and desire for control, just wait till Jesus gets here.”
Notice the smallness of expectation and vision in the religious rulers and the people. They have an Old Testament full of amazing miracles and works of God, just take the lives of Elijah and Elisha for example. Then there is a long lean, dry spell and in that dry spell their expectation of who God is and what He is capable of seems to have dwindled away to very little.
John the Baptist comes, no words or miracles or wonders. He does look a little “prophetic” and he certainly speaks powerfully and prophetically in the Holy Spirit but he doesn’t heal the sick or raise the dead. He just speaks and baptises in water and suddenly people want to know if He is the Messiah.
The natural human condition tends towards the diminishing of God.
We want to reduce God to someone we can understand, manipulate and if necessary control. We certainly want to reduce Him to someone we can ignore if we want to with minimal, if any, consequences.
John the Baptist sets about trying to undo that spiritual blindness, “the One who is coming after me is in a completely different league to you or me or anything we can even imagine. He has more power and authority than anything the world can grasp.”
I wonder if, in the Church today, we still can tend towards a significantly reduced view of who God is.
Might that smallness of thinking affect the way we serve Him and shepherd His people?
John called Jesus “the greatest born of women.”
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)
If the greatest born of women is not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal, to do the most menial task of service for Jesus, then who are we, of ourselves, to think we can?
No, it is the greatest privilege of life to serve Him and by His grace we can. But let us not get caught up in questions of our personal identity, or believe that we have to strengthen our personal authority as we serve His people.
If someone asked us today: “Who are you?” what would we say?
If someone asked us: “What authority to you have to do what you are doing and say what you are saying?” what would our response be?
John the Baptist was clear.
So was every identifiable New Testament Apostolic writer:
• Paul: “Paul and Timothy, servants (Greek “doulos”, the lowest form of slaves) of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1)
• James: “James, a servant (Greek “doulos”, the lowest form of slave) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” (James 1:1)
• Peter: “Simeon Peter, a servant (Greek “doulos”, the lowest form of slave) and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2Peter 1:1)
• Jude: “Jude, a servant (Greek “doulos”, the lowest form of slave) of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1)
• John: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants (Greek “doulos” the lowest form of slaves) the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant (Greek “doulos” the lowest form of slave) John” (Revelation 1:1)
You get the picture?
Some of those church leaders also identified themselves elsewhere as “apostles” or “sent ones”. That is not them elevating themselves to a higher place among the people, that is still the position of a servant and they carried out those apostolic duties with a servant’s heart. Any authority they carried as apostles they carried as a direct result of their posture as the lowest form of a slave of Christ.
That was how John the Baptist saw himself. The doulos in the household could well be the one to tie the Master’s sandals. John didn’t see himself as worthy to even do that.
Of course, the lowest of Jesus’ slaves is still way higher in position and authority than the highest ranking person in the kingdoms of this world, or the devil himself. But let us not, as leaders in God’s house, seek to elevate ourselves as the devil did. The consequences will be the same. A fall from grace.
In modern language, Jesus is the big deal, the main man, the big noise in town. As part of His family, we are heirs with Him as children of God. As His church and ministry leaders, we are just the lowest form of His servants. There is no greater privilege or joy.
9: Greater than Adam
This is an “overflow” chapter. A chapter that is meant to further unpack the last one, rather than returning to our walk through John’s gospel. The question I want to linger on is “Do we want to return to the garden?” Or, “Is there something for us beyond being an image bearer?” Or, “Why Jesus is better than Adam?”
If I nearly lost you with the first two questions, please stick with the last one until you have heard where I am going with this. Let’s make this primarily about Jesus’ total and absolute pre-eminence in the heart of God and His plans for us and His creation.
Here are ten reasons why Jesus is better than Adam, the first of which is simply a restating of what was covered in the last chapter.
1. Adam was flesh created in the image of God. Jesus is God became flesh.
2. Adam had to be breathed into before He became a living being. In Jesus there was always life and through Him everything lives.
3. Adam could enjoy fellowship with God in His creation. Jesus was the Logos through whom it was created who has never ending, eternal, enjoyment of fellowship with God, as God.
4. Adam could enjoy the fruits of God’s creation (Eve for instance) and worship Him for it. Jesus is the second person of the Godhead who agreed to “let us make man in our image” and therefore, as God, receives Adam’s worship.
5. Adam received God’s mandate to fill the earth with the glory of God by multiplying after his own kind, but only succeeded in filling the earth with his own image. (As we later find out in John’s gospel, Adam actually filled the earth with the image of the one whose spiritual DNA he had chosen to embrace; he adopted the devil as his father and the rest of us naturally grow up as his children with his spiritual DNA). Jesus has received the same mandate but will fulfill His Father’s desire, because He is filling the earth not only with His image (people who look like Him) but with His children (those who actually have the same spiritual genetic code).
6. Adam was able to appreciate, thank, worship, fellowship with and receive from God. But, when it came to the crunch, he couldn’t bend his will to submit to God’s will. Jesus (as we discover later in John) only ever did and does what His Father tells Him to do. It turned out to be too difficult for Adam to submit to God’s will (though he had a choice). Jesus totally submitted to His Father’s will (though He also had the same choice).
7. It was too difficult for Adam to submit to God’s will because, even though he was an image bearer, his fleshly desires were too strong for him to obey the Word of God. It was and is entirely possible for Jesus to submit to God’s will because He is the Word made flesh. The Word of God ruled over His fleshly desires. He is beyond the image of God, He is God. He is God’s One and Only, in whom exist all the attributes of the Father.
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19)”
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9)
8. So in Adam we were created image bearers of God, but were marred and broken beyond recognition by our sin and rebellion against Him. In Christ we become children of God, not just bearing his image but having His spiritual DNA, the power to live like His children. The One and Only of the Father now lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We are, therefore, a new creation. A new race of beings.
9. Adam is the firstborn of a creation that is subject to rot and decay and inevitable death and judgement because of his, and our, sin. Jesus, as God become man, is the firstborn of a new creation that grows from glory to glory and will live forever, even though our physical bodies may one day die, because of His eternal perfection.
10. Therefore we don’t want to be restored back to what we were in the garden. We don’t want to go back to Adam as the pinnacle of what we were created to be. A greater than Adam is here. He not only looks like God but He is God. He not only acts like God, He thinks like God, He feels like God. All His motivations are like God. All His words and His ways are exactly like God’s. Because He is God. He is “monogenes” of the Father who is pleased to have all His fulness dwell in His One and Only Son. And in Christ we are partakers of that Divine Nature, rather than just image bearers of it and it is better than anything we would have had in Adam.
If we understand this, then we understand that God is not “restoring” us to His original purpose, His great divine plan that Adam and Eve messed up in the garden and He has been trying to get back on track ever since, first with the patriarchs, then the judges and prophets and kings all of whom couldn’t get it back on track in a sustainable way and so as a last card He finally throws His Son into the mix to sort it all out. No!
We are not participants in a Divine Experiment.
We are partakers of His Divine Nature.
This was always God’s purpose. Not just to fill the earth with His image, but to fill it with the full reality of who He is, His glory. Millions of those who, in the One and Only of the Father, have not only His likeness but, as His eternally adopted children, His DNA.
God’s adoption is not a worldly adoption, where we are brought into a family but we can never have that family’s physical DNA. In a worldly adoption, we will have the same name and maybe even the same love and acceptance, but we cannot look the same or have the same genetically given personality traits etc.
God’s adoption is different. He doesn’t just give us the right to be His child so that we are legally His and bear His name. He gives us the power to be His child by eternally transforming our spiritual genetic code in Christ.
God, in Christ has become man, so that God, in Christ might be fully formed in us.
That is the power of 2Corinthians 5:21:
“For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The word “become” that the Holy Spirit uses through Paul is “ginomai”, the exact same word John uses in our text in John 1:14.
Just as God, in Christ, became flesh, so we, in Christ, become His righteousness.
This is better than Eden.
We are not going backwards to Adam we are going further in Christ than we have ever been before.
As part of His family we cannot claim that we are now God. But the Holy Spirit, through John’s writings in this gospel, is going to offer us a Oneness with God, in Christ through the Holy Spirit that is absolutely incredible.
Neither does this mean that we have achieved God’s perfection, although we have been justified, brought up to the mark, and declared positionally perfect in Christ before the throne of grace. No our old sinful flesh is still very much alive and while we live in it we will war with it’s imperfections. But we have been born again, we are a new creation. There is a seed of righteousness, God’s DNA, that has been planted in us by the Holy Spirit and if we continue to do what that same Holy Spirit tells us, that seed will grow and (like all the seeds of the kingdom) overpower our old sinful nature until we are transformed beyond recognition. Children of God.
Romans 8:13-17 “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
8: Grace upon Grace
“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. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14-16)
Another “all” but this is not a universal one. In this context it speaks of John and the other followers of Jesus. This “we” had seen the glory of the Logos in the flesh (John 1:14). This Logos in the flesh is full (pleres) of grace and truth. This “we” (those who have seen His glory in the flesh) have all received grace upon grace.
For the sake of this chapter, I am going to distinguish truth from grace as if they were two sides of a spectrum. However, the reality is that God’s truth is always liberally sprinkled with grace and His grace is always founded on truth. They are not polar opposites. However, I think it is helpful for us to draw the distinction between them to grasp what The Holy Spirit, through John, is wanting to tell us in this passage.
Taken literally in context, it seems that when Jesus came, He brought us grace and truth. If we had received from Him truth upon truth we would have been weighed down and condemned by the righteous and just judgements of God against us. We would have had nowhere to hide and nowhere to run.
We could have received truth and grace, surely the right mixture of right judgements against us and yet also undeserved kindness that shields and saves us from the just consequences of our sin.
But John says, because he knows, he is speaking personally here, that they received from Jesus grace upon grace.
Was it that they did not hear the truth? No, they absolutely heard the truth. But what they got, what they received beyond the truth was grace. Waves of it. Coming in one after another and crashing against the shore of their blindness, hardness of heart, cynicism and unbelief. Grace for their personal ambition and petty jealousies. Grace for their lack of love. In the end, grace even for their betrayal.
The Logos had come to them full of grace and truth. What they received from Him was grace upon grace.
One such grace is this: They saw the glory of God in the flesh and they did not die. They were almost blinded by the light on the mountain when they saw Jesus transfigured beyond His flesh. The real glory breaking through. But He clothed His glory in flesh and dwelt among us, so that we can see his glory and yet not die from the brightness of it.
“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2)
And they received this grace upon grace “from His fulness”.
John goes on to unpack “grace upon grace” for us and he does it by contrasting two ministries and fully identifying for us, for the first time, the superstar of his gospel.
Now we know His name. No longer just the Logos, the Life and Light, the One and Only of the Father. Now we know His name and it is given to us in contrast to the other name that was held in such high regard by the Jewish people.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
We had Moses – now we have Jesus. This is not just a contrast in names but in ministries and anointing and power.
Through Jesus comes grace and truth. Through Moses comes the law. The law was never just truth. It had truth in it and it had some grace in it because it gave people the understanding of how to know and serve and please God. But it was still the law, the written code that stands against us not for us. It rightly condemns us, it doesn’t graciously justify us. It reveals our sin, it doesn’t fill us with righteousness and even the righteousness that we think we can achieve through it can turn into pride and the sort of self righteousness that was so common in the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
No, through Moses, however great he was, came the law. But through Jesus comes grace and truth. His truth awakens us to the spiritual realities of who He is and our position before Him as sinners worthy of judgement. But there is also the truth of His unfailing love and willingness to take our punishment and die in our place and exchange His righteousness for our sinfulness. And then we have grace, His unmerited kindness and love towards us and the undeserved gift of His forgiveness and power that frees us.
It is not that truth and grace are separate. It is that every truth in Him is laced with grace and all the grace in Him is full of truth. Through Moses we got the law, which gave us truth and some grace (meaning unmerited kindness) but not the power to embrace either (which is what true grace is – the power to change). Now we have grace and truth but it comes through Jesus. Now we have the power to embrace both.
We had Moses, but now we have Jesus. We had the law but now we have life and Light. Now we know His name and it is greater than any other name because the Logos, the Life, the Light, the One and Only of the Father can do for us what no one else can. He can save us and set us free to life and light and full adoption into the Family of God.
Jesus means: “Jehovah is salvation.”
Salvation is not just what Jehovah does, it is who He is. Jesus embodied that on the earth. Through Him comes grace and truth. Not just grace to cover us when we break the law and despise the truth but grace to enable us to live the truth.
“No one has ever seen God (Theos). The One and Only of God (Monogenes Theos) now between the arms of His Father, He has made Him known” (to us and to the world). (John 1:18)
This is what that verse literally means. This does not put Jesus at the Father’s side but in front of Him, between His arms. This is again a clear indication of Jesus’ divinity but also the depth of love and relationship that exists between them.
Jesus doesn’t come to us from a place of sitting next to His Father but from between His arms. From the centre of all that He is. From His heart.
In verse 14, Jesus was described as the “One and Only” from the Father (monogenes para Pater). Now He is the One and Only of God (Monogenes Theos). He has all the genes of the Father, He has all the genes of God. He is the perfect imprint, the exact representation of His Father, the perfect imprint of, the exact representation of God. Because He is God.
This is beyond Adam. Adam was man. Man made in the image of God. Jesus is God. God become man.
God has revealed to us what He always knew to be true, that you cannot trust a man, even one made in His own image, to love Him fully and completely carry out the purpose and destiny set for him. It takes God to do that. It takes God to live up to God’s standards of love and purity and truth and grace and all His glories. It takes God to live out the purpose that God has designed. No other earthly created being, of themselves, is capable of doing it.
So rather than introducing Jesus as a man made in the image of God, as Adam was, He is introduced into the world as God become man.
Paul in Colossians 1:15 tells us that “He (Jesus) is the image (Greek “eikon”) of the invisible God” and He is. He is the perfect image. But not like Adam. Adam was man made in the image of God. Jesus is God become a man who now not only bears the image of God, but has all the attributes of God (His “monogenes”) necessary to be able to live out the full call of all that He intended for us.
This is moving from truth, to truth and grace, to grace upon grace.
Truth 1: We are made in God’s image
Truth 2: We were not capable, despite being made in God’s image of living out our call and destiny as true sons and daughters of God.
Truth 3: We are rightly condemned for our sin, severely distorted view of God and pitifully low vision of ourselves and sent out of the garden of His presence with no human way of getting back in. But God still covered our nakedness, kept us alive and blessed some of our offspring
Truth 4: Whilst those of us who were living by our own will, outside of His grace, were designing our own rebellious plans to rise up and become as gods, He was working out His own plans for restoring us to true Sonship. However, even those plans seem destined to always be overtaken by our stronger commitment to willful rejection of His plan in favour of our own self love.
There is a measure of grace and kindness that goes along with each of these truths but not the power to sustain a lasting change in the human condition (true grace).
Truth and Grace: So God sends His One and Only, the fulness of all that He is as God and Father who fully becomes a man. This is not God in the image of a man. This is God fully become man. The fulness of God fully become a man. He now fully demonstrates for us the life that God wants us to have not just as an image bearer but as a genetically changed being. The Logos become flesh.
Grace upon Grace: As we receive Christ, as we fully believe in His name a wonderful, incredible miracle happens. Now, through Him we may move beyond Adam, the man made in God’s image, to become the true Sons and Daughters that God desires. This life (of a true Son and Daughter) is literally in Christ, God become man. When that life is in us, as it was in the man Jesus, we can not only look like God but we receive the “exousia” (Greek), the right, to become children of God. This is not just the right and the privilege of becoming like the children of God, but the “force, capacity, competency, freedom, mastery, delegated influence, authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right and strength” (Strong’s definition) to become (Greek “ginomae”) children of God.
This is grace upon grace.
It is grace that God has been kind enough to send us Jesus as a Saviour and perfect sacrifice into the world, so that we may be saved from our sinfulness, brought near to God and restored to eternal life.
It is grace upon grace that God should become flesh so that we should become His children. Born not of blood (because there is nothing in our genetic code that can restore us to Godliness), nor of the will of the flesh (because the will of man’s flesh was never strong enough to withstand the multiple demands of our own selfish desires and fully desire God instead) but born of God. Not just attempting to look like Him, but born of God in our flesh. Given the power within us not just to become like His children but to become His children. His genes in us. The genetic code of God taking us beyond being made in His image into actually becoming His children. We are indeed new creations.
In Christ, we are not participants in a Divine Experiment but partakers of the Divine Nature.
Now we can truly have a life worth living, because not only do we have the desire to live for God, but we have the power to live as God’s children.
That is the power of the truth that the Holy Spirit through John is wanting to communicate to us here in this first chapter. That is the message that is repeatedly unpacked in different ways throughout this gospel. It is truth and grace for everyone. But to those who receive Him, who believe in His name, it is grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.
7: Word Alive
“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.” (John 1:14)
We have just learned that we can become the very children of God. Not just adopted as we understand the term, but children “ex theos”, of God. How does that wonderful miracle happen? The Holy Spirit through John tells us in the very next verse. Us becoming children of God is an incredible wonder, but not as wonderful as what makes that transformation possible. We can become children of God, because God became one of us.
John returns to the Logos, the Word and stretches the Greek thinking minds even further. We have already discovered that the Logos has always been God. He is not some being in between God and His creation. He is God and always has been with God and has always been God. Now we discover that He has also become man.
“And the Word (logos) became flesh (sarx)”
The Word didn’t “inhabit” flesh. He didn’t just come into a physical body. He became flesh. Through the wonderful mystery of the incarnation, God the Son became man.
He had formed man out of the dust. Muscle and sinew, veins and arteries, organs and bones, skin and hair. Immune system, blood system, nerve system, digestive system, breathing system, communications system all run by a brain processor more naturally complex and powerful than any man made equivalent. Brilliant and beautiful.
Unfortunately a brilliance and beauty that quickly falls into mismanagement, misuse, decay and ultimately death as a result of sin. All who come after are trapped to the same fate. All born with the same potential but heading for the same end. And after death, the judgement.
But God has a plan. He always does. And He sends His Word, His Logos, His One and Only who enters into the womb of a virgin and becomes what He has made.
He became what He has made firstly so that He might live with us, “dwell among us”.
The mystery of God’s desire, complete in Himself and yet motivated by a passion to include others in His community. Right from the beginning, He has shown a remarkable will to make relationship happen by coming to where we are. Whether it is coming to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening, coming to personally talk to Abraham and Sarah or setting up camp in the middle of His people who are newly free from oppression in Egypt, He has demonstrated His heart to take initiative in relationship again and again. This despite the fact that His overtures of love are rejected almost as often. Even though there are individual examples of people who welcome and walk in this miraculous and incredible opportunity, inevitably even then future generations walk away. Not just walk away, but from the beginning people not only have been rejecting the love of God but rebelling against it any way they can, throwing it back in the face of their creator who loves them more than they will ever imagine. They don’t just refuse to respond to Him but they go away in the opposite direction and build up fortress walls of rebellion and self centered pride to keep God out.
Again He is complete in Himself. He does not need these people’s love and affection. But He does desire relationship with them and He has a plan to fully reveal who He really is through them. He can’t reveal who He really is unless there are ungrateful, selfish, arrogant persons who can become objects of His unfailing love and tender mercy.
Mercy has no meaning if there are not sinners to be merciful to. And unfailing love can only be truly revealed if the objects of that love are utterly unfaithful in their response to it.
And so we begin to see the magnificent glory of God’s unfailing love and mercy. The people whom He has created have built their strongholds against Him, even though He has never given them any reason to reject Him. All God has done is create us and set His love upon us. Apparently that’s not good enough for us. So now we reject Him and build our walls tall and strong to keep Him out.
So what does He do? How would you as God respond?
God is going to reveal to us the full glory of who He is. So He disguises Himself. He becomes one of those He has created. John uses the same word in the Greek that he has used in the previous phrase. Those who receive and believe in the Logos are given the right to become (“ginomai”) the children of God. They don’t just look like children of God they really become the children of God. And how? That is possible because God made the journey first, in the opposite direction. The Logos became (“ginomai”) human, flesh and blood. And He comes to live with us, eat with us, laugh and cry with us, serve and die for us. On our side of the wall. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
He lives with us so that we might see His glory.
The word dwell (Greek “skenoo”) literally means to set up tent with, to tabernacle with. As many commentators have pointed out, the Hebrew reader would think back to the wilderness journey of the Israelites and how God had given Moses a design for a tent, a tabernacle. God came to live in that tabernacle, right in the middle of all the people who were tabernacled around it, so that they could see the glory of God in their midst. David put up a tent for the Ark of the presence of God in Jerusalem so that not just the Israelites but all nations should see His glory.
Now He comes again to be among people. But instead of pitching up as fire in a tent, he becomes a man and moves right into their living rooms. Now the glory is not in flames and smoke and cloud but in flesh and blood. The eternal glory of God become man.
And they saw His glory. That word is “theaomai” which means to look closely at, to examine.
The Old Testament saints could not look into His glory. They could not even look at Moses who was only reflecting that glory, he had to put a veil over his face so that the people were’t blinded. But now we have the glory of God become a man and we can look deeply into that glory for the first time. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” as Charles Wesley wrote.
John unveils for us the glory of God that he saw in Jesus throughout the rest of this gospel. For instance, he wraps up his account of the first miracle, turning water into wine this way: “so He revealed His glory”. As a result “his disciples believed in him.” (John 2: 11)
“Believed in” who? John has introduced Him as the Logos who is life and light in the first few verses. The One who was one with God from the beginning. Now He is revealed by John as the “only Begotten of the Father”.
So God is a Father then, that makes sense given that He has brought us to birth and we can become His children. God is a Father and He has a Son (by implication though, the word is not in the Greek) who is equally God. This One and Only has a particularly unique glory. “The glory as of the One and Only of the Father”. It is the glory of an only Son and heir of the Father God of all creation.
If a father has many children then you can see different traits of who he is as a father in the different children. One might have his eyes, another his personality, another some of his gifts. Who he is as a person is distributed between all his children.
God the Father only has One, says John.
He is not meaning that no one else can be His child. We have already discovered that we can become part of His family as His children. But his One and Only is totally unique as a Son, not just because He has been with the Father from the beginning but because He bears all of the same traits of His Father.
The Father’s traits, His glories, are not evenly distributed between many children. They are all absolutely and uniquely present in His One and Only, who is of the exact same essence of Godhead as His Father. That is clear in the Greek word John uses: “monogenes”. All of the genes of the Father in One person.
The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
We have seen the glory of the One and Only, says John. And when we saw the glory of the One and Only, we saw the glory of the Father.
What did that glory look like? What was the glory of the One and Only? What then is the glory of the Father?
John puts it beautifully simply. It is “full of grace and truth”.
John’s previous paragraph (verse 9-13) was about Jesus coming as light to “everyone” (all of us) and then to “His own” (meaning the Jews, the chosen people). He is telling us the big picture story of Jesus’ entrance into the world.
Now, for the first time, it gets personal to John. The Word (Logos) became flesh (sarx) and lived with “us”. This is not a universal “us”. It is the Greek word “ego”, the word used for I and me. This is the “us” that have “seen His glory”.
It is personal and yet it is written beautifully so that it is not exclusive. John and the other disciples and close followers of Jesus certainly experienced Him in a unique way. The One and Only of the Father literally came and lived among them and they saw His glory like no one else. However, the reader is not left feeling that this is some club that they can never be members of. No, He also came to live among all of us. We can all see His glory and we can all receive from Him grace upon grace.
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1: 16)
Yet this passage is a deeply personal reflection. Because of the use of the word “ego” you could almost read it as “the Logos became flesh and came and lived with me and I have seen His glory.” Yet the context is plainly more than just John. Verse 16 could read that “from His fulness every “ego” (I, me) has received grace upon grace.”
What is my point? My point is this. Jesus came for everyone. But He came for everyone personally. He came for every “ego”, for every I and for every me. He came for John, for Simon Peter, for Nathanael for Nicodemus, the women at the well, the blind beggar etc. John’s gospel is full of personal encounters with Jesus. It is not primarily a gospel of teaching and ministering to large crowds. It is Jesus, the Logos, in the flesh, coming to live with every “me” and showing every “me” His glory. As a result every “me” can receive grace upon grace.
The Word became flesh and came to live with you, on your side of the wall, so that you personally may see His glory, you personally may know who He is (the One and Only exact imprint of the Father full of grace and truth) and you personally may receive from Him grace upon grace. That is simply amazing and totally life changing if we get it.