Posts Tagged ‘John’s Gospel’
About the time I finished reading Lazarus Awakening, I also finished The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scott McKnight. In his book, McKnight argues that part of the problem with the Gospel today is that we, Christians, do not really know what to do with the story because we do not really understand what the story is about in the first place. He argues that the Gospel is "all about the Story of Israel coming to its resolution in the Story of Jesus and our letting that story become our story" (Kindle, 153). He goes on to write: "There is one and only one way to become People of the Story of Jesus: we need to soak ourselves in the Story of Jesus by reading, pondering, digesting, and mulling over in our heads and hearts the Four Gospels. Genuine soaking in this story always leads to the Story of Israel because it is only in that story that the Story of Jesus makes sense" (Kindle, 153, his emphasis).
He is, of course, correct. We become who we are meant to become when we know Jesus–not when we fluff our way towards warm, fuzzy feelings.
When I was a mere twenty-two years of age, I was ordained into Christian ministry. I accepted the charge given me by the elders of my home church preach the Gospel wherever I went and to be welcomed by the church. I chose for my preaching text that evening the passage from John 11 upon which this book is constructed. I recall that sermon very well because I chose John 11 as an allegory for my own personal resurrection from several teenage defeats and struggles and conflicts. I preached it nearly exactly the way Joanna Weaver has constructed her book from being in a stuck place to coming out of the tomb to leaving our graveclothes behind. It was a tightly constructed sermon worthy of my twenty-two years of age. And it very well may be the worst sermon I ever preached precisely because I'm not sure I really understood preaching at that time let alone Jesus.
To this day, I am embarrassed by that sermon.
I think every person is going to have to decide for themselves if they think Weaver handled the text of John's Gospel in an appropriate manner. I have not read the main text, only the study guide, but if the study guide mirrors the main text, then there are likely serious exegetical and theological issues in the book. Here's how the Study Guide begins: "The story of Lazarus shouts hope to our anxious hearts: 'You are loved. You are accepted.'….So are you ready, my friend? It's time to learn what it means to truly live" (1, her emphasis). But you see all the emphasis in this opening salvo is focused on 'me.' (I was also left mouth agape after reading pages 20-21 where every passage of Scripture is redirected to talk about 'I'.
- Do you ever feel stuck…
- As though you have one foot in a new life…..
- Do you struggle to believe that God could love you….
- I know I have…
- You are loved…
- You are accepted…
- We can cry out to our Savior…
And there is so much more…so many more first person personal pronouns…it's so overwhelming. I'm not denying that any of these things are true. They are. Yes, we are loved. Yes, we are accepted. Yes, we can cry out to God. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But John 11 is not the place to make those points. John 11 doesn't make those points. John 11 may as well be a fairy tale if these are the points we can gather or make after reading the story of Jesus' actions in that chapter–the chapter where his emotional roller coaster is painful to watch (he loves, he gets angry, he weeps, he resolves, he is troubled–all of this because someone died), the chapter where he gives an advance sign of Who he is and What he is about and Why he was there in the first place. The story of John 11 really isn't about us or, for that matter, Lazarus. It's about Jesus the one who came to complete Israel's story, the one who came not just to put a stopper in death, but to completely unravel and demolish it–as previewed by his demonstration at Lazarus' tomb.
From my perspective, Weaver did not handle the text appropriately; furthermore, I think it matters if authors do or do not. I have grown weary in my middle years on earth of what passes for Bible Study materials in our churches. I have grown weary of what is passed off by publishing houses as worthy of our money and time. I have grown weary of authors who take the Scripture and make it little more that a christianized version of Stephen Covey or Tony Robins. Seriously.
That's my take on the substance of the book: It's deplorable. If you need to feel good about yourself, fine, do so. But please read Scripture carefully, in context, and try hard not to make outrageous points about it from your specious exegetical methods.
As far as it goes, however, I'm sure there's nothing about the book that will cause anyone harm. It's a fairly fluffy study guide book featuring eight weeks' worth of study. There are places for prayer requests, homework, memory verses, 'Israel Moments' (coordinated with the DVD), and so much more. I'm sure it will all be helpful to someone. It just wasn't for me. I simply cannot envision a scenario where I would use this material to teach a small group or my Bible school class on Sundays.
The DVD packaging is nice. One box contains three DVDs. Each disc contains 2-3 lessons and 2-3 'Israel Moments.' I didn't care for the DVDs any more than I cared for the Study Guide. I had a lot of trouble making a connection with the host for some reason. This is simply a package that didn't work for me at any level–mostly for the reasons I stated above concerning Scripture.
I'll give this program 2 stars and I'm probably stretching to get there. I think we are right to study the Bible. I think there might be a place for such esteem building programs. I'm not sold entirely and as I get older and more widely read I find myself bored with all the feel good finding yourself in God's heart kind of teaching. I want Jesus. I want to hear his story. I want to hear what he did and how The story finds completion in Jesus. I want to know how the story of Lazarus advances God's promises to Israel and, by extension, to us. I want to know more about Jesus. I know enough about myself. What I really want to know is Jesus because I think if I know Him and know Him deeper, well, then I will, like John, decrease and Messiah will increase.
Seems to me that should be a lofty goal considering Jesus, who being God in very nature, didn't consider it but humbled himself, taking on flesh. I want to know Him. I don't need esteem. I need Jesus.
Important Book & Author Things
- Where to purchase Lazarus Awakening Study Guide and DVD Combo Amazon ($27.96); Waterbrook Multnomah ($39.99)
- Author: Joanna Weaver
- On the Web: Lazarus Awakening
- On Twitter:
- Academic Webpage:
- Publisher: Waterbrook
- Pages: 142
- Year: 2015
- Audience: small groups, women
- Reading Level: High School
- Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of Waterbrook's Blogging for Books blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.
I came across a startling idea when reading John's Gospel and it has to do with greatness or greater. Great. Greater. Greatest. We have fun ways of delineating hierarchy in the English language. I always enjoy seeing words like 'greater' in a text because it makes me wonder what's just 'great.'
It happens in John's Gospel on more than one occasion. I first saw it in chapter 1:51 when Jesus said that Nathanael would 'see greater things' than Jesus merely seeing him sitting under a fig tree. I saw it again in chapter 4 when Jesus was talking with a woman in Samaria (4:12) and in a discourse by Jesus in chapter 5 (20, 36), the latter of which Jesus says, "I have testimony greater than that of John." In chapter 8 someone asked Jesus if he is 'greater than Abraham' (8:53).
Jesus changes the perspective in chapter 10 when he notes for us that the Father..'is greater than all.' He tells his disciples in chapter 15:13 that there is no 'greater love' than to lay down your life for a friend and that 'servants are not greater than their masters' (15:20). Just before all this in chapter 14 Jesus said something interesting about those who follow him: "I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12).
It's all very exciting. I should note that in each of those verses I cited Jesus used the same word for 'greater.' I don't know if that means anything in particular or not, but I note it simply to point out that Jesus was concerned about a hierarchy of people in the God-scheme of things: we rank somewhere far below Abraham, Jacob, John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the Father. Yet Jesus also says that because he is going to the Father we will do greater things than these. I'm not sure what the referent is for 'these', but it's at least interesting to know that Jesus is thinking about us: "All who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…" (14:12).
Well, that's exciting isn't it? We will do greater things. Greater things. Well, there's at least one other reference to 'greater' in John's Gospel that startles us back to reality–and we probably need that startling because it's very easy to start thinking like gods when we read that we will do greater things than these. It comes from, interestingly enough, from the mouth of John the Baptizer: "He must become greater; I must become less" (3:30).
I don't think we ought to pursue greatness. Maybe our greatness comes when we recognize that we ought to be lesser. Maybe we get too concerned about greatness. Maybe we need to focus on shrinking and when we do the greatness of the things we do will become more evident to the world around us. Until then, it's all so much selfish ambition.
I have been noticing for a while that a series of sermons I posted here, The Church in Exile: The Book of Daniel, has been getting a lot of hits and downloads at my box.net account. This inspired me to share with you a lengthy series of sermons I did (18 in total, but I’m missing one) that coincided with a series of devotionals I posted here (90 Days with Jesus: John). I have also posted the Bible school lessons that went with this series as well. Here, then, are the sermons linked to my box.net account and free for download. Thanks for stopping by. jerry
The Sermon Schedule: John’s Gospel
1. The Word Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among us, John 1:1-18
2. Behold Jesus, John 1:19-51
3. The One From Above, John 3:22-36
4. Difficulty of Believing in Jesus, John 6:1-71
5. From Whence Comes a Prophet?, John 7:1-52
6. The Children of Abraham, John 8:31-59
7. On Restoring and Taking Sight, John 9:1-41
8. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, John 10:1-42
9. The Death of Jesus in His Own Words, John 12:20-36
10. A New Command He Gave Us, John 13:1-38
11. While We Anticipate His Return, John 14:1-31
12. Very Simply Put: Stay There, John 15:1-16:4
13. Resting in His Victory, John 16:5-33
14. The Priorities of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer, John 17:1-26
15. Not Him! Give us Barabbas! John 18:1-40
16. Jesus is Crucified, John 19:1-42
17. Jesus is Resurrected, John 20:1-31
18. Jesus’ Mission Clarified, John 21:1-25
(I am currently missing the sermon on John 20. Once it has been retyped and saved, I will add it.)
If the links stop working or are wrong, please tell me via email or as a comment in the comment thread. These are here to help with illustrative material, exegetical points, and homiletical ideas. I don’t care how you use them, short of publishing them as your own, and you should do your own exegetical work. I wrote these three years ago so some illustrations might be dated and some of the exegesis I might disown now–I have learned quite a lot since I originally preached these. 🙂 Nevertheless, I think they might help you and if they do, I praise God alone. Please, however, these are not meant to replace your own diligence in the study.
I started this blog for the primary purpose of writing 90 days worth of meditations from John’s Gospel. Those meditations coincided with a 4 1/2 month sermon series from the same and were posted here under the heading “90 Days with Jesus”.
We also coordinated our Bible School classes and all ages were taught from the same lessons (adapted of course to each age group). I am currently uploading those files to my box.net account and there they will be freely available to any who so choose top download them.
In this post, I am providing links to the Bible School material. The exegetical notes file consists of 114 pages of variously written notes (many quotes, outlines, etc.) and the lesson pages themselves are provided under separate links. The notes are according to my style and may be unedited or otherwise unfinished. There are 18 total lessons. The chapters I didn’t write a lesson for are covered in the sermon aspect of the series. I will post the sermons in a separate post later. Thanks for stopping by. jerry PS–Let me know if any of the links fail.
The sermons to go along with these Bible School lessons are now available. Click the link: 90 Days with Jesus, John’s Gospel and you will have access to 17 of 18 of the sermons (I have to retype one) and the box.net links. Thanks, jerry
Lesson 1 John 2:1-11
Lesson 2 John 2:12-25
Lesson 3 John 3 :1-21
Lesson 4 John 4:1-54
Lesson 5 John 5:1-47
Lesson 6 John 8:1-30
Lesson 7 John 11:1-57
Lesson 8 John 12:1-19, 37-50
Lesson 9 John 13:1-38
Lesson 10 John 14:1-31
Lesson 11 John 15:1-16:4
Lesson 12 John 16:5-33
Lesson 13 John 17:1-26
Lesson 14 John 18:1-40
Lesson 15 John 19:1-42
Lesson 16 John 20:1-31
Lesson 17 John 21:1-25
Lesson 18 Overview/Review
John 21:1-14 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 89
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
“John’s Gospel does not end with the resurrection of Jesus, but with a challenge to His disciples. It is not simply a challenge for belief, but a call for commitment. Paul’s epistles give doctrinal teaching, but each leads to a ‘therefore’ section with practical application of the truths presented. Lives are changed because of acceptance of Jesus and His teaching. Following Jesus demands action, a life that obeys Him. So John’s Gospel not only presents the facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but ends with the challenge to Peter and to us to follow Him and feed His sheep.”—Lewis Foster, John, 224
All along this entire series of meditations on John’s Gospel, I have tried to maintain the focus that John did, that in writing the Gospel he, the author, was concerned to present his readers with Jesus. So, when, for example Gary M Burge writes: “Chapter 21 is about discipleship and leadership.”—(NIV Application Commentary, 593), he is wrong. From first to last, the Gospel is about Jesus. These are the historical events that took place in the life of an historical person in an historical place. In other words, the events are measurable. These are not ‘cleverly invented stories,’ but the eyewitness accounts of real people about a real person (2 Peter 1:16). So when we read them, we are only learning about ourselves (or leadership or discipleship or hairdressing) as a second, third, fourth, or fifth lesson. I submit to you that if we open our Bibles and Study Jesus, The Word of God, the Gospel, everything else will sort of fall into place. But that’s just me; well, and a bunch of others too.
So then, what would or does a common reader of this Gospel learn about Jesus after reading this last chapter? Well, frankly, it is difficult to wield an exegetical knife and cleave this chapter down the middle, but to an extent we are looking at two distinct historical events that took place ‘the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples.’ What then do we learn about Jesus since all these things ‘were written that [we] might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.’ In this first section, something happened with fish. In the second section (which we will look at on Day 90) something happened with barnyard animals. This is a very zoological chapter. No, really. We learn here about Jesus a few more lessons.
Before asking this question (‘What do these verses teach us about Jesus?’), there are a few other preliminary questions that must be asked about what is going on in this particular pericope (short historical, biographical paragraph or episode in the life of Jesus). I’ll ask them, but only briefly comment because the lesson we learn about Jesus is intricately tied to the answer to these questions. What the reader must not do with these verses is get caught up in the minutia. I think one can spend so much time calculating the ‘meaning’ of 153 fish, for example, that they miss why they caught anyfish at all. In other words, I don’t think these verses have to be allegorized in order to have meaning. Perhaps it is enough for us to simply read the verses and take them at face value and learn about Jesus.
I think the story centers around four questions. 1) Why does Jesus ask if they caught any fish? 2) Why does Jesus catch so many fish for them? 3) Why does Jesus cook a fish breakfast for the disciples? And 4) Why does Jesus hand them some fish? To be sure, I don’t think this story is necessarily about fish. I do, however, think that these questions give us insight into what we are to learn about Jesus
First, why did Jesus ask them ‘haven’t you any fish’? I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus knew they hadn’t any fish so why did He ask them? Was he making polite conversation? What he chiding them a bit because their skills at fishing hadn’t improved one bit over the course of the three years he had spent with them? Remember Luke 5?
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the Word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”
So why did Jesus ask them if they had caught anything? It could very well be that he intended to humiliate them just a wee bit, to make them look on this expedition as yet another failure they had to endure. Perhaps he was intending to make them look at the life of fishing they were leading, and the one they had led, and to compare the two and see: It was getting them nowhere. Perhaps, and here’s the point, Jesus is not all that willing to let those he calls simply go back to their old way of life so easily. Some disagree, but I think that is exactly what they were doing: Going back to their old life. But didn’t the Resurrection of Jesus mean something more than their old way of life? Is that what His resurrection meant to them? Surely it meant more to them, and means more to us! Perhaps he wanted to remind them that they should not have been so willing to so quickly go back to that life. Fishing here represents the life that Jesus called Peter from not the life he called him to. Now that He is alive, there was more to do and it would not be done by people who were so consumed with their past failure (and reliving that failure all over again!) that they were not looking forward, moving forward, in the power of Resurrection. Jesus brings them out of that old life; again.
The second question is this: Why did Jesus catch so many fish for them? John seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the number of fish they actually caught. Notice he makes reference to the haul in verses 6, 8, 11. This load of fish really made an impression on John—so much so that he counted the fish! Well, these disciples always seemed to have their nets on the wrong side of the boat. They would fish on one side, catch nothing, and Jesus would have them throw it over again and they would catch something. What are we to learn about Jesus from this part of the story? Clearly something was meant to be learned or John wouldn’t have felt the need to record, in Holy Scripture, the measure of the catch. But contrary to some opinion, I don’t think that the meaning is found in interpreting the number of fish. Whatever else 153 might mean (and I think it simply means that Jesus filled their nets with 153 fish), clearly the point is that the catch was large.
What shall we learn? Do you think it could be something as simple as the fact that it is Jesus who provides for us often in spite of our best efforts? So, contra Burge again, Jesus was not merely their ‘coworker.’ He did all the work! Perhaps it is that Jesus is giving; giving more than we expect. It certain did catch them by surprise. Or perhaps it was not so material after all. Perhaps Jesus was testing Peter and John and Thomas and Nathaniel and James and the other two. Perhaps he wanted to know: What do these men love more: Me or fish? Me or material gain? Now that they have been successful, will they stay in the boat, on the water, fishing? By the time they are all on the beach, ‘No one dared ask him ‘are you the Lord’; they knew.” (I’ll come back to this later.) John saw: “It is the Lord!” I think Peter makes his point too: he jumps in the water and doesn’t even wait for the fish or his friends. For him, Jesus is all he sees. (And we will see this up close and personal in the conversation between Peter and Jesus in the last several verses.)
The third question also has to do with fish: Why does Jesus cook the disciples fish for breakfast? I might ask it another way: Why does the Resurrected Lord Jesus Messiah build a fire, bake some bread, fillet some fish, and prepare anything for the disciples? “Come and have breakfast.” What a strange thing this is! The Lord of the Universe, the First fruits of the Resurrection, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, the Alpha, the Omega, the Bread of Life, Living Water, the King of Israel—we have come so far in John’s Gospel!—making breakfast on the beach for these ordinary fishermen. It is indeed a strange world Christians inhabit. We have strange ideas about God at times, but this one is the strangest of them all: God making breakfast! And what’s even more is this. If John and Peter knew it was the Lord because a) John saw the fish and b) Peter believed John’s testimony (“‘It is the Lord’…as soon as Peter heard him say…”) then it seems the rest of them figured it out only after Jesus offered them breakfast: “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Why? Because He made them breakfast?!
So what do we learn about Jesus? I think it is rather simple and it goes back to the upper room. One of the last things the disciples experienced with Jesus was in the upper room when he washed their feet before his crucifixion. Now here is Jesus after his crucifixion, after his resurrection, still doing the same thing; i.e. serving. So Jesus is still modeling for his disciples the sort of life attitude that should characterize us as well. Why does Jesus remain one who serves?
So far, I think we have learned three things about Jesus in this context. First, we learned that he is not content to let us just wander back to our old life—the life that he called us from. Second, we learned that he provides for us even in spite of our best efforts to succeed on our own. Third, we learned that he was among them as a servant and counts it no shame at all to do even menial things like cooking breakfast for friends.
So finally, our fourth question: Why does Jesus hand them some fish? “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” I recall a time when Jesus multiplied bread and fish and fed a multitude of people. The story is told in Mark’s Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel, and John’s Gospel. But wherever the story is told, and whatever the focus, Jesus is always the Host. Jesus invites people to sit down in groups. Jesus takes bread and passes it out to others. He provides the fish. He takes the fish. He blesses the fish. Then he gives the fish back to us. He does the same with the bread. But it doesn’t matter if it is an unruly mob that wants to make him king by force, or if it is a group of hungry people who had been with him all day and hadn’t prepared themselves by bringing lunch, or if it was a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus, 5,000 Jews, or 4,000 Gentiles, or a few disciples who had gone back to a failed fishing career. Jesus is the Host. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 fish and 5 loaves or 153 fish and ‘some bread.’ Jesus is the Host
We are invited to a meal that is Hosted and blessed by Jesus. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that it is Jesus who does all the work in this Resurrection story? Jesus catches the fish. Jesus bakes the fish and bread—and builds the fire. Jesus asks all the questions. Jesus invites them to breakfast. Jesus takes the bread and fish and gives it to the hungry disciples who, after a failed night of fishing, were bound to be quite hungry. Do you think this Resurrection story is telling us there is nothing we can do in this life apart from Jesus? Do you think it teaches us about the nature and character of Jesus and that if he is willing to be so perhaps we should too? Why does Jesus remain the host after his resurrection?
Fish! Going fishing. Failing at fishing. Catching Fish. Cooking Fish. Blessing and serving fish with his own hands. Jesus did a lot of things that morning that he had done all his life with the disciples. He caught their fish. He served them. He hosted them at the table. This same Jesus who was on the beach with them that morning was the same Jesus who had been crucified a week or so earlier. It’s not so much that Jesus wanted them to forget things as much as it was that he wanted them to remember things. He wanted them to remember Himself. He reinforced their memories by Being Himself.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 20:24-31 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 88)
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
“The permanent meaning of this last narrative is unfolded not only in the upper room discourse and high-priestly prayer, but in occasional episodes which disclose its inwardness. Readers might think that Jesus’ conviction as ‘the king of the Jews’—the words inscribed on the cross—concerned a local and temporary question of political allegiance. But John shows Jesus pointing out to Pilate the true nature of the kingship which he claimed—not a worldly kingship of which Roman law might take cognizance, but the kingship of truth: Jesus’ willing subjects are those who are on the side of truth (John 18:33-38). Pilate might dismiss the subject with his ‘What is truth?’—but more thoughtful people would realize that the answer to his question was never so close to him as it was then. If eternal truth was embodied in Jesus, could anything be more permanently and urgently important than to be enrolled among his subjects? For the eternal truth of which he speaks is not abstract but living; he who is himself the truth says to his followers, ‘Because I live, you will live also’ (John 14:19).” (FF Bruce, The Message of the New Testament, 110)
Thomas is often called ‘the doubter,’ but I don’t think ‘doutbing’ is the best way to describe him—as if he had an inkling that it might be true but he was unsure. No, he states quite frankly, “Unless I see…unless I put…unless I place…I will not believe.” There was no doubt in Thomas; only wholly unbelief. It’s only after Jesus appeared to Thomas and bade him to ‘see…put…reach out…’ that Thomas doubted and Jesus told him, “Stop doubting and believe.” Even on the mountain of Ascension Matthew tells us, “Some of them doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Doubt is not the end of the world, nor the end of belief. Doubt is mixed in with belief. What is more impressive is what happens when doubt is overcome, when doubt is conquered: “My Lord and My God!”
Well I suspect that doubt is a troubling aspect of our faith. I confess that the internet is not helpful. There are so many haters and unbelievers that doubts easily creep in to the heart and mind and stir up all sorts of angst and doubt. How are doubts conquered? What brings us back to truth? Do we simply ignore doubts? Do we push them under a rug until the next time? One thing is for certain, Jesus seems to make clear that we (that’s you and me) are not anytime soon going to have the sort of epiphany that Thomas had: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Our doubts and our belief come from some place different than that of Thomas and the other 10. That is, we are not going to visibly witness the resurrected Jesus as they did. Yet we are still called to belief?
In the midst of doubt, what is our defense? What bolsters our confidence? What strengthens our conviction? What gives our faith a sort of ‘we don’t need to see to believe’ character? Here’s what John wrote: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In other words, it’s not the multiplicity of miracles (or simply ‘signs’ in Gk) that are the mainstay of our belief in Jesus. John says, essentially, ‘these few I’ve recorded are enough for sufficient faith and belief.’ There is something unique about the words that are recorded and the reason why they were written.
There are so many people with so many different ideas about why the Word of God was written. Particularly disgusting are those who think the Word of God was written simply so that we might improve our social skills or in order that we might discover some particular purpose in life. I have very little use for those teachings that essentially reduce the significance, importance and purpose of the Word of God to suit their own ideas. John tells us why the book was written: That we might believe.
Thus the book has a purpose and do you think that we are better off when we distort that meaning or disrupt that function with our own ideas? Do you think that somehow humanity is in a better position when Christians, certain with good intentions, wrangle the Word of God away from God and shape it, form it, and co-opt it to serve the ‘itching ears’ of this present darkness? Do we help humanity when we do so or do we damn humanity to hell?
What about those doubts? Return to the Word! What about unbelief? Return to the Word! What about not seeing? Return to the Word! What about faith? Return to the Word! Bruce reminds us that often times we think those who saw the resurrected Christ had some advantage over those of us who have not. But notice Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” Bruce reminds us, “…the Risen Christ himself gives the assurance that the advantage, if any, lies with those of later days….” (110).
I don’t happen to think that we ‘use’ the Word properly. Jesus said the same thing at the end of Luke: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) And again, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44). I think if the there is going to be the sort of belief that is necessary for the sort of Life that Jesus means to give us, then we are going to have to call the church back to the Scriptures that reveal Jesus. There is too much belief nowadays in the Dr Phil version of Scripture. You know which one I mean: It might help cure the symptoms we are experiencing, but it does absolutely nothing to do with the root cause.
Too much use of Scripture, in the church and by preachers, is interested in the ‘now’ part of the Kingdom and wants nothing to do with the ‘not yet’ part of the Kingdom. We Christians have the same problem that some Jews had in Jesus’ day: We want a kingdom now and we are convinced that the Scripture is the blueprint for its construction; by God we are going to make that happen regardless of what it costs. It matters little what sort of kingdom it is so long as weare in charge and exalted in it. Often that is all we want to see. Scripture is thrown around in justification of such misguided efforts. Scripture is quoted and tossed around in board meetings. It is loaded into our blogs and our books and our sermons and hurled at those who disagree. Scripture is useful…and that’s as far as it gets for most. Scripture justifies ME!; we think. But what does Scripture say? Scripture is about revealing Jesus Christ so that we might have life in Him. This means that the life in Him is defined by Him.
What are we hoping for? Peace defined by Jesus? Resurrection defined by Jesus? Belief defined by Jesus? Blessedness defined by Jesus? Doubt that is overcome by Jesus? If any of this is true then we need to seriously re-think the way we approach Holy Scripture. Scripture is about Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 20:11-23 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 87)
But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“Paul’s insistence that we participate in the same resurrection as Jesus is congruent with Jesus’ actions and words to his assembled disciples on the evening of his resurrection when he ‘breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22).’ ‘The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead’—that’s Paul’s phrase in Romans 8:11—is the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them. Jesus’ followers live resurrection-formed lives, not by watching him or imitating him or being influenced by him, but by being raised with him. It’s formation-by-resurrection. There’s an interesting echo of the Creation story in this. The word John uses for Jesus’ action in breathing the Holy Spirit on them—emphusao—is the same verb used in Genesis 2 for God’s breathing the ‘breath of life’ into the human form he had just made, resulting in a ‘living being’ (verse 7). What God did in Genesis, Jesus did with the disciples—breathing the Spirit, bringing life, bringing resurrection life. The parallelism of the two texts—Creation and Resurrection—suggests that they are similarly basic. Resurrection is no more an add-on to human life than Creation is an add-on to that Adamic lump of clay. It’s life itself—the God-breathed, Jesus-breathed beginning of who we are and who we become by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breathing.”—(Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, 108-109)
It was evidently not a time to be crying. Twice Mary was asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” ‘They’ asked her and so did Jesus who was standing there, even though she did not recognize him at first. She thought he was a gardener and that if he had taken Jesus away she would go, get him, and carry him back to the tomb. She must have been a strong woman. (*Smile*)
Jesus didn’t do any tricks to awaken her senses to who he was. He simply spoke: “Mary.” I recall this: “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-6) Seems to me that this is a perfect illustration of those words: “Mary.” All she heard was his voice saying her name and she knew exactly who she was speaking to.
I do not believe we will mistake his voice for another’s. But I also do not think that his appearance to her was simply to satisfy her longing or to assuage her fear or sorrow. He had work for her to do, and in order for her to do that work, she had to stop clinging. I like how Don Carson paraphrases verse 17 so that we might understand why Jesus told Mary to stop clinging: “Stop touching me for I have not yet ascended to my Father—i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hang on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my disciples that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father.” (The Gospel According to John, 644)
And she obeyed: “I have seen the Lord!” No more tears for Mary. There was work to be done and she did not wait to do it later.
Then Jesus appeared to his disciples who were hunkered down behind closed and locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” They too were full of joy. Jesus shows them his wounds—his hands and side—indicating that this One standing in their midst was the Lord who had been crucified. The wounds are the unmistakable evidence that He was the One who had been crucified. And he was not just another Joe who had been hung on a tree: The wound in his side distinguished him from all others.
He repeats his blessing of peace. “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” “Our belief in God, historic as it is, is a belief in spite of history. Those who draw their belief from God’s treatment of them or their time must collapse in the black hour…What we must know is, which is destined to conquer, which is on its way to conquer, however unmarked, which has the reversion of the world, and has it on the guarantee of the Ruler of a world overcome already.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 192-193) Jesus stood among them as the One who conquered and He pronounced upon them the blessing of peace. If we have peace through the Resurrected Lord, then have we not peace indeed? This world was conquered before Christ ever set foot on it, before he ever felt the cold steel in his wrists, before the tomb was destroyed. History is against the Christian, but Christ pronounces peace in their midst, and in spite of history.
Jesus sent Mary to the disciples and now he tells his disciples that they too are being sent. And his commission here is this: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not for them, they are not forgiven.” That is a lot of power, a lot of authority, and a terrible burden. But he gave it to them and they obeyed.
I have not unpacked a lot of the minutia concerning these verses. I’ll leave that to others. Allow me to consume a few more lines of space here to summarize and crystallize these thoughts:
First, he told Mary to go the disciples and tell them some things. Now whatever else we might say about all the minutia of these verses, this one thing is without question: Jesus Himself determined the content of Mary’s message (and, for that matter, the disciples’ message). Sadly, I think we miss this in the church today. I think we are far too content to think that we know perfectly well what we ought to preach or say or teach (probably because we think we know what others want to hear, or we haven’t listened to Jesus, or because we think his message weak and untrustworthy, etc.) when all along the content of our message is given us by Christ Himself. When Mary went to them, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” and she told them what Jesus had told her to say.
Jesus had a lot of confidence that Mary would do exactly what he told her to do, and it is a testimony to her that she was faithful in doing so. In the church today, we need to be obedient too. We need to make certain that the message we deliver is the message that Jesus told us to deliver. That message comes from His Word.
Second, John says that “Jesus stood among them” and declared to them “peace.” Well this sort of cinches it doesn’t it? There are many folks who are claiming a message of peace, but it seems to me that the only message of peace there will be is the one declared by Christ himself as He Himself is among us. We can simply dispense with the notion that there will be any sort of peace in this world apart from Jesus. It is Jesus who declares peace: The ultimate Shalom!
Third, Jesus gave the disciples an incredible amount of authority. Forgiveness of sins is no small thing and not something that we should mock. This responsibility, given to the disciples, is of immense importance to us. These disciples went out, armed in the authority of Christ to preach His message of forgiveness. That is, he told them the content of their message: Forgiveness.
They went out armed with a message that says this: There is forgiveness in no other place, from no other person, but Jesus. They had the message of forgiveness and if they didn’t forgive people then who could? Is Jesus then limiting where forgiveness can be had? I think He is. I think at this point he is laying a direct assault on all other forms of religious expression. Here Jesus is nullifying the message of any other ‘prophet’. Here Jesus is saying: Forgiveness can be had only through this message you will proclaim in my Name. (See Hebrews 1:1-4.)
But there is one final thing. This message of Resurrection, peace, and forgiveness begins with a simple premise and that is this: We are dead, we are at war, we are sinners. There is no need to proclaim “He is alive” if we are not dead. There is no need for “Peace” among us if we are not at war. There is no need for “Forgiveness” if we are not sinners. In this message, is a proclamation about humanity; a message we need to heed. There is no need for Jesus to send his disciples as the Father sent him if, in fact, all already belong to him or if, in fact, he doesn’t care about them. But they do not, and he does. So he sends his disciples out among the dead, out among the warring, out among the unforgiven. And we declare his message, only.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 20:1-10 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 86)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes.
Perhaps the story was thought to have ended. They placed his body in the tomb in the garden that was nearby the place where they crucified him. I have always wondered why it is that it was important for the author of this Gospel to inform us that he outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first and then didn’t actually go into the tomb but bent over it and looked in. After Peter catches up to him, I pictured him slightly winded, he brushes by and goes straight inside the tomb.
Only after Peter’s display of courage did the other disciple ‘go inside.’ The Scripture says, “He saw and believed.” He saw what? An empty tomb or the same thing Peter saw: Strips of linen, the burial cloth folded and separated off by itself?
Then they went back home—in their belief of something, and in their lack of understanding of Scripture. Clearly they believed something. Clearly they misunderstood something. What was going on, they must have wondered.
I don’t want to speculate about this text. I suppose it would be entirely too easy to allegorize this text and come up with all sorts of fanciful meanings and applications. I don’t want to do that nor do I think anyone needs to. So I choose to notice only what is readily available at first sight.
Mary went to the tomb early in the morning. She found the tomb and saw the stone removed from the entrance. She made the, false, assumption that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. In other words, she didn’t see the body of Jesus. I don’t know who the ‘they’ are in her winded speech to the Peter and the disciple Jesus loved. But I sense in her statement, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him” that she (and those with her; note the ‘we’) did some searching before they left the tomb. They didn’t find Jesus.
The fact remains, however, that Mary and those unnamed ones with her went to the tomb not expecting to find what they found. It was a surprise to find the stone rolled away from the tomb. She went to find a body not an empty tomb and made an incorrect assessment of what she found.
So Peter and John (‘the disciple Jesus loved’) rush to the tomb also. After some catching up, Peter rushes into the tomb and finds the tomb exactly how he was supposed to find it: Empty. All that is left are the cloths that had been used to wrap the body of Jesus and these were left behind 1) because they weren’t needed, and 2) to show that there had been someone inside the tomb. I doubt seriously that someone coming to steal the body would have left the cloths behind and taken time to fold the cloth that had been around his head.
So what happened is that these two men found no one which is exactly what they were meant to find. This is the face of this story: An empty tomb. This is the fact of history: An empty tomb.
The part I find most endearing is that they ran to the tomb. It’s kind of funny that in this story John outruns Peter, but at the end of the Gospel it is Peter who jumps in the water and swims to shore before John—or any of the others.
It’s hard to tell exactly what John ‘saw and believed.’ But I take this, if they didn’t understand from Scripture that moment what was going on, the implication is that later they did. And if Scripture had declared that Jesus would triumph over the grave, then we can take comfort from the fact that nothing has been left to chance. In other words, and I say this humbly and not in accusatory tone, they should have expected this. I don’t want to go too far with this ‘should have’ nonsense (even though Jesus had told them himself that was going to Resurrect). There’s a lot of things that we too ‘should have’ and don’t because neither do we ‘understand from the Scripture.’
This leads me to the point of the matter. There are many who claim to have an inside track on the way things are, where they are going, and how it’s all going to pan out soon. But do they understand from Scripture? I saw some folks just last night on the idiot box, full of enthusiasm and excitement, and one said confidently, with absolutely no Scriptural justification, “I believe the Rapture will take place this year.” They are convinced that the signs are all around us. That it is clear the conditions now are better than they have ever been for the ‘rapture’ to take place. I suspect that sometimes certain folks are more interested in rapture than they are in Jesus Christ who will be returning. They don’t understand from Scripture that Christ is our reward, not rapture.
But does this make sense? What I’m concerned about here is this: What we understand about the things God means to do must come from what is in Scripture not from the signs of the times. Imminent, I’m sure. The people in the Scripture, in the first century of Christ’s death, also believe the times were ripe for the ‘rapture.’ Imminent, to be sure! I’m not saying it won’t, but what I am saying is this: Why are we not a people of the Book?
Why are we hesitant (John waited for Peter to go in)? Why do we draw false conclusions about the things we see (Mary thought someone had taken the body)? Why are we left speechless (Peter said nothing one way or another)? Why do we dismiss ‘it’ and go back to our homes (that’s what they did), because we don’t understand from Scripture. (And I suspect that we have less of an excuse than they did!)
I’m not blaming those disciples at all because I know myself and I know that I would have faired no better. I would probably have been scared to death, hiding in a room, fearful, afraid, terrified. But what about Scripture? What about its message for us?
I assume that if they ‘didn’t understand at the time that Jesus had to be raised from the dead’ that later they did in fact understand that Jesus had to be raised from the dead. Peter confirms this in his first sermon in Acts: “Seeing what was ahead, [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grace, nor did his body see decay. God raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:31-32) Peter did understand from Scripture!
J.I. Packer wrote a short book that I just happened to find on the shelf in the library at the seminary I attend. It was on the sale shelf. The book The Battle for the Bible is one of the best books I have ever read. I’ll end this meditation with a thought from the book that sums up this silly, rather naïve, idea that Christian people really, desperately need to return to the Word of God from which they have so dangerously departed:
The New Testament church commenced without prestige, or patronage, or learning of the schools; all that the first Christians had was the word of God and the Holy Spirit; and they turned the world upside down. What do we lack that they had? Let our self-assessment continue.” (89)
I think what we lack is rather obvious: We do not yet understand from the Scripture. Or, I might say, we are a people who have no confidence in the Word of God. And until we do, we will continue to make wrong assumptions (Mary), we will continue to be timid (John), we will continue to be silent (Peter), and we will continue to just come to the empty tomb look around and go back to our homes (all). Isn’t that what we do every single Sunday?
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–David Wells wrote in Above All Earthly Pow’rs: “It is the fact of the resurrection, therefore, that connects us to a moral and spiritual order that lies beyond the grave. And it is this order that sends its clarifying light back into this life today. Its intrusion into life is what, in fact, gives to life its meaning because, in the end, nothing is insignificant” (198). Chapter 5, ‘Christ in a Meaningless World’ is worth the price of the book. I have not read many chapters in books that stand out as powerfully in my mind as this one does. “Images we may want, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the Church’s truth to tell” (232). Amen. And when the Church returns to understanding from the Scriptures, we will understand what Dr Wells is saying.
John 19:28-42 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 85)
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
What are we to make of all this? Jesus is thirsty. Jesus declares ‘it’ is finished. Legs being broken. Spears being brandished. Water and blood flowing. Garden tombs. It is quite a detailed explanation of someone’s death. Obviously, or perhaps not to some, the person who wrote these words was there and witnessed it. He is not inventing a story to gore us or bore us. He is giving us his testimony of what happened that day to the man Named Jesus.
There are some significant features to this story. I’d like to focus on one in particular. Jesus said, “It is finished.” Then he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” To make this short: No one took the life of Jesus. One cannot steal what is given. Jesus gave His life; he determined when ‘it’ was finished. What we see here is the picture of Jesus who was in control even when He was dying; even when the moment of his death arrived it was so by his own determination.
To whom was Jesus talking, or shouting, when he, with wet tongue and throat, shouted, “It is finished!” Was he praying to God? Was he telling those who were witnessing the crucifixion? Was it just the work of justification, or was it all of Scripture that was finished? Whatever it was, and to whomever he said it, isn’t it satisfying to know that it is finished? Isn’t it satisfying, relieving, to know that there is nothing more that we need to do or that we can do? Isn’t it satisfying to hear those words, to read those words, to meditate on those words of Jesus and know that He has done the Work from start to finish? Isn’t it humbling to know that there is nothing we can add to this work? Isn’t it amazing to know that from generation to generation people will read these words, “it is finished,” and know that for all time the work is done?
Another important aspect of these verses is the importance their author gives to the Scripture. I sometimes think that in the Church we don’t consider the Scripture well enough. We like to pay it lip-service and maybe quote it here and there. Maybe we even believe that it has something to say to us about some aspect of our lives. But here we see Jesus controlling himself in such a way, controlling the events in such a way, that what was fulfilled in his life was Scripture and not his own desires or ambitions.
The Scripture said that Jesus would be thirsty, not have any broken bones, and would be pierced. Jesus knew these things and made a conscience decision to proceed. His ambition was to fulfill Scripture which means, in short, that Jesus lived and died his life with a complete sense of doing the will of God. Scripture means the ‘Old Testament,’ spoken by God through the Prophets. It means that Jesus lived his life and died his life with the sole ambition of Proving God’s Word to be true. He deliberately did things ‘so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’ He left nothing out of the equation.
Doesn’t it make you wonder about our own lives? Don’t you wonder sometimes if we are living our lives in accordance with the Scripture? Don’t you wonder if we are conducting ourselves in such a way that God is justified even if we are not? Jesus’ death accomplished our salvation, but Jesus’ death also justified God. The cross means that no one can accuse God of being unfair, unjust, or uninvolved. “So the justification of God is not given us by Christ; it isChrist; who under the judgment from man took His native place as the judge of all the earth, justifying the God of holy love in His justification of all the world.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 187)
I want to live with that sort of ambition. I can’t justify the world, and I cannot justify God. But what I can do is live my life in such a way that God is, in a sense, justified. In other words, I can live in such a way that doesn’t contradict what God has said: I can live His truth. I want to live my life out of the ambition that the only thing that matters is demonstrating by my words, my conduct, my deeds that God is Right and Just.
Finally, let there be no mistaking this point: Jesus died. He gave up his Spirit. The Blood and Water flowed. The Spear was driven into His side. They took his body down. They wrapped his body. They put His body in a nearby tomb. The people who participated in these activities knew that Jesus was dead. Pilate knew. The soldiers knew. Joseph knew. Nicodemus knew. The disciple testifying knew. No one was in any doubt that Jesus was dead. They wrapped him in cloths, placed him in a tomb with about 75 lbs of spices, and left. There is simply nothing else to say about this scene: Jesus was clearly, without a shadow of doubt, dead.
What Christians believe is there is some connection between ‘It is Finished’ and ‘They placed him in a tomb.’ There is some connection between the work being done and Jesus having died. But what I suspect happened that day is that people saw Jesus placed in a tomb and thought: We are done with that! And so went on the Day of Preparation—preparing for something. But did they know what?
It’s easy to put Jesus in the tomb and forget about Him. It’s easy to seal the tomb with a large rock and think that just another man has been crucified and buried. Even all the cloths and the 75 lbs of spices speak to this thought: They expected a body to rot. They were not expecting Sunday. They had life to get on with: “Break the legs, get them dead, put him in a tomb so we can get on with Preparation Day.” Little did they know that they were totally unprepared for what God had planned. Sometimes I think Christians are the same way. Jesus died and ‘it is finished.’ Then he is prepared for burial, placed in a nearby tomb, and forgotten. Sometimes I think that we are content with the work of Christ being finished in the sense that we get lazy about what he has begun.
Jesus finished something that day when He bowed his head and gave up his spirit, of this there is no doubt in my mind. But Jesus also began something that Day. It is this beginning that we too often fail to bear in mind.
Soli Deo Gloria!
This story was reported on January 5, 2008 by the Christian Post: Vatican Announces ‘Historic’ Catholic-Muslim Meeting for Spring. I will quote the relevant part of the article:
In the Muslim letter, the 138 scholars focused on the commonality between Islam and Christianity – love for God and love for one’s neighbor. They also highlighted that Christians and Muslims make up about 55 percent of the world population and therefore reconciliation between the two faiths is a must in order to maintain world peace.
Much has been made of this letter. I read the letter that was sent from Christians to Muslims. It was a deplorable letter and beyond reproach. Recently, the signers of this letter were rebuked–and I think rightfully so.
The paragraph above highlights what I believe to be the main problem with this entire situation. Christians are somehow being deluded into thinking that there can be peace with Islam. Islam is not even at peace within itself so how can anyone possibly think there can be some sort of ‘reconciliation’ between it and other faiths?
First of all, I want to say this: There is nothing in common between Islam and Christianity. Nothing. The ‘love for God’ for starters is not a common thread because Islam rejects the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and Jesus made it quite abundantly clear that NO ONE comes to the Father except through Him (see John 6:44, 65; John 8:20; John 14:6). Muslims and Christians do not ‘share’ a ‘love for God’ because Muslims, for all the esteem they heap upon Jesus, reject his efficacious sacrifice for sin. (I have elsewhere rejected the teaching that Christians and Muslim worship the same God for the same reason.)
Second, what does ‘love for neighbors’ have to do with anything? I know atheists who love their neighbors so does this mean that somehow, now, by some strange magic, I have something religiously in common with the atheist? Does this mean now there should be a reconciliation between the two of us, that we are both on equal tracks to godliness? No. It does not. It means that we have a shred of common sense, but it does not mean that we are religiously equal at any level. The church, while inhabiting the world, is also ‘called out’ of the world. That is, we are somehow ontologically separated from the world even while living in it. We are not ‘better’ than the world, but somehow we are strangers, aliens, sojourners (1 Peter 1) who do not quite fit into this place.
Third, note what it says the Muslim letter said, I’ll repeat it for emphasis:
They also highlighted that Christians and Muslims make up about 55 percent of the world population and therefore reconciliation between the two faiths is a must in order to maintain world peace.
I am the only one who sees in this ‘hightlight’ a threat? There must be ‘reconciliation…in order to maintain world peace’?? Really? We can have world peace if Muslims will stop blowing themselves up in crowded malls and stop flying airplanes into buildings and stop sponsoring terrorism around the globe, stop killing Jews, Christians, one another, and anyone else they don’t care for. And peace will also be maintained when Christians stop compromising Faith in Jesus Christ by trying to reconcile with Atheists and Muslims and the American Culture as the last two posts have shown. This is a test for Christians and so far, Christians are failing miserably.
Besides, what reconciliation can take place between Faith in Jesus Christ and a religion–however ‘moderate’ some may be–that advocates conversion by the sword in their book and death to all infidels (i.e., Christians and Jews)? That Christians and Muslims make up 55% of the world’s population is a meaningless statistic, because while anyone can be Muslim anywhere they want, people cannot be Christians anywhere they want. I defy this notion that Muslims want peace with anyone, let alone with Christians. They want control over every nation on the planet. And I defy this idea that we can sit down at a table and talk about ‘what we have in common’ because we have nothing in common and that mere table talks will achieve anything. Table talks are a way of trying a new tactic to achieve the same goal: Death to all infidels.
This is another attempt by the Muslim community to wrangle more control. It is another attempt by the Muslim community–however ‘moderate’ some may be (I defy the notion that a Muslim, who follows the Qu’ran faithfully can be anything remotely close to moderate)–to get another foothold. Christians are being duped. And Benedict is an idiot for even supposing this is a good idea just as those ‘evangelicals’ who signed a letter to Muslims are idiots for supposing it was a good idea. (I’m sorry. Use of the word ‘idiot’ is strong and unbecoming. Perhaps I should follow my own advice and be more gracious and use a word like ‘dense’.) Does anyone see the devil at work here besides me?
Are the 138 Muslim scholars who signed the letter suggesting that if Islam and Christianity do not reconcile that there will be no peace in the World? (Who holds that power in their hands: Christians? Muslims? Are Christians blowing themselves up in pizza parlors and road-side cafes? Are Christians sending bomb laden children onto busses at midday after prayer? Who holds the power for such peace?) That’s what I hear. And if that is what they are saying, it’s quite a hefty statement. I suppose it is too much for them to simply go on with their lives, work hard at converting people through preaching, say their prayers, and get up each day and go to legitimate jobs where they work hard at providing for their families and allowing Christians to do the same. That would bring some peace to the world. If more Mulsims would stand up and denounce and condemn those radicals of their faith that would be a place to start. Physician, heal thyself!
My criticism, however, is not really of the Muslim community. They are smart. They know what they are doing. Rather it is the Christian community that concerns me. Christians must divest themselves of this silly notion that there is going to be anything remotely close to peace in this world simply because we have ‘reconciled’ with others–what reconciliation can there be? There is only One legitimate way for there to be peace and that is through Jesus Christ and His Cross Work. Apart from the Cross, there will be no peace in this world. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
I know, we are told to–if possible, and as far as it depends upon us–live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). I don’t see how compromise is going to solve anything: And it will not be the Muslims who compromise to make this world peaceful.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 19:17-27 (90 Days with Jesus Day 84)
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
“If man’s main problem is ignorance, then we would expect Christ’s main work to be the revelation of saving knowledge. If our problem is some form of spiritual weakness, then Christ’s main work must be to provide us with corresponding spiritual power. Almost all of the world’s religions and philosophies do indeed interpret man’s predicament in one of these two ways…Jesus came to resolve our problems of guilt and depravity through his death and resurrection” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, 259)
The cross is the one aspect of the Christian faith that no one can just dismiss. The cross is real; it happened. No one can explain it away. No one can write it off as an insignificant ‘just another day’ event. No one can trivialize its historicity. No one can easily laugh at its history changing nature. The cross changed everything and continues to change history each day it is lived and proclaimed by His people. The cross is what defines the people of God as the people of God. It is the content of our preaching, it is hope we cling to, and under its shadow do we conduct every aspect of our lives in Christ. Without the cross, there is no Christianity. Without the cross, there is no resurrection. Without the cross, we are still quite deluged by our guilt, drowning in our depravity.
I’d like to make three rather obvious observations concerning this chunk of text I have chosen for today and, to be sure, I am necessarily not commenting on every aspect of the text. This is Day 84 in the 90 Days with Jesus series of posts I have been making.
The first observation is this: There were some that day who did not want to live under the banner of a king who was crucified. They said, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” But notice that Pilate was firm in his conviction: “What I have written, I have written.” I sense that what Pilate is saying here is this: “This is the only kind of King you can expect to have.” I know that the traditional understanding of his statement is that he was mocking the Jews and Jesus. I grant that. But I also see in this the more concrete: “This is the only king you will have.” Perhaps he might also be saying something like, “What else do you expect me to say about this man?” Perhaps Pilate had listened to what Jesus said. Remember this exchange:
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. They said ‘we have no king but Caesar.’
Pilate reminded them, however back-handedly, ‘the only king you have is this man.’ Can any of us have any other king besides Jesus Christ crucified? Isn’t that the whole point? Of course Pilate was mocking them, and Jesus, but in his mocking we cannot fail to hear the ironic element of truth that we do indeed have none other than a crucified King. It cannot be any other way.
The second observation I’d like to make is this: Notice that soldiers gambled for the clothing of Jesus, below the foot of the cross, while he suffered. Isn’t that ironic also? You know what I mean, right? There is a simple fact that while there are a lot of people who do not want a crucified King, there are many others who really don’t care one way or another. These men, hardened as they were by the sight of crucifixion, ignored Jesus altogether except for one thing: How can they profit from it! They gambled for his clothing right at the foot of the cross where he suffered.
The truth is, there are many who do the same thing today: Jesus’ death is nothing more than a mere money making adventure for them. They are oblivious to his suffering for them. They are oblivious to the pain and humiliation that their sin caused him. I suppose that people who read this in the Scripture overlooked it too: They were clueless that people could be so oblivious to what was going on in the world literally right above their heads. Too many people even today are clueless to the work of Christ. They go on living each day as if there is nothing wrong at all in the world. They go on not paying a minute’s worth of attention to the fact that their sin was paid for, that Christ suffered for them. These words by the band Casting Crowns sums up this point perfectly:
Oh, Bethlehem, what have you missed while you were sleeping/For God became a man/And stepped into your world today/Oh Bethlehem will you go down in history/As a city with no room for its King/While you were sleeping/While you were sleeping
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping/Will Jesus come again/And leave us slumbering where we lay/America will we go down in history/As a nation with no room for its King/ Will we be sleeping/Will we be sleeping? (From the Lifesong CD, words and music by Mark Hall)
Finally, the last observation I would like to make is this: The typical view of the story of Jesus’ mother and the disciple who took her into his home is that Jesus was such a wonderful person that he even thought to take care of his mother while he died. I’m not doubting there is something to be said about this, but I think there is a better view also. Not only did Jesus say to the woman, “Here is your son,” but he also said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” I have a different take on this: In His Cross work, Jesus tore apart one family and created a new one.
Perhaps it sounds like a stretch, a mere allegorizing of the text, but I don’t think so. The cross has done a lot of things in this world and, ironically, tearing apart families is one of the things it has done. But positively, it has also forged new families. The cross is not only a revelation but a revolution: Who would think that God would redeem us from an empty way of life in such an ironic fashion? Who thinks of defeat as the way to victory? Who thinks of dying as the way of defeating death? And if those things are true, then why is it impossible to think that the cross also tore apart one family and created a new one? Why is it impossible to think that in the cross a new family dynamic was forged, and strengthened with bonds that could not be torn apart by anything ever again?
Doesn’t this scene demonstrate that even in the life of the Son of Man life is not going to be simple after the fact of the cross? And if the Son of God had his family torn apart by the cross, will it be any different for those who follow hard after Him? On the other hand, doesn’t this scene demonstrate that in the lives of those whose lives are turned upside down the bond of family love will be rebuilt in the same cross? In this sense, it was Jesus who put this family back together.
So, there are many who don’t want a bloody, crucified King. There are others who are indifferent to God’s visit to the earth and couldn’t care less if he did or did not die so long as their lives go on now without interruption. And there are others whose lives will be turned inside out because of the cross. Jesus looks down on one group and laughs (Psalm 2:6), weeps over another group (Luke 13:34), and puts back together the third group (Psalm 147:3).
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 19:1-16 (90 Days with Jesus Day 83)
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Again, I acknowledge that I have far too much text for one small mediation. In order to finish these meditations in the allotted 90 days, however, I had to scale back a little. I only have eight more to go and I miscalculated somewhere along the line and I have three chapters (I think I wrote a couple of extras along the way.) So I will use more text and try to narrow my focus in each more. For this meditation, I will focus Jesus’ words, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” These words, frankly, frighten me and should frighten anyone who presumes to ascend the ranks of governmental leadership.
Can you imagine being the person charged with responsibility for the entire turn of events that John records for us? But before that, can you imagine being a governmental official and have no sense of humility before the Sovereign God? Pilate’s sin, it appears, is that he simply did nothing. If he tried to set him free ‘from that time on’ he certainly didn’t spend too much time trying to set Jesus free. And then the people got him.
But what of government leaders who scuttle away their responsibility before God? What about those leaders who will simply ignore righteousness in favor of political expediency? What about those who claim to lead us and yet have no cognizance of the God who placed them in that position in the first place? What about those who passively agree with the larger population in order to secure their own place and power? Worse, what about the population who stirs up opposition and agitates the devils of this world because they don’t acknowledge the God who puts people in positions of power? I sometimes wonder if the leaders of governments are put in impossible positions; we should be somewhat sympathetic.
Still, this does not absolve them of responsibility. Pilate’s guilt hinges on his acceptance of this charge, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” This was the key to the success of the crowd, and Pilate is as guilty as he can be for thinking that this charge will carry any weight before a Holy God. None of will escape our guilt for befriending the world’s powers and darkness in strict, undeniable opposition to God. James said well, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity with God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes and enemy of God” (James 4:4, TNIV).
Pilate chose. I think all of us choose. We choose either friendship with God or we choose friendship with Caesar. We choose either to surrender our own existence and let Jesus live or we choose friendship with the world and allow Jesus to be condemned. So we can see that it was Pilate who was on trial that day. He listened to the shouts of the crowd and ignored the silence of Jesus. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to set you free or to crucify you?” Pilate asked. I think Jesus’ response was His way of saying, “Don’t you realize that you are lost either way? Don’t you realize that what matters here is the truth? Don’t you realize that only those who align themselves with me will survive? Don’t you realize that your friendship with Caesar and with this crowd is meaningless when it comes to the Holy God who place you in power and gave you authority over these proceedings?”
Pilate is only one small example. Those people in the crowd that day shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” This is reminiscent of the Old Testament days when Israel rejected God in favor of Saul. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” (1 Samuel 8:7-9, TNIV). The people of the world don’t understand this very fact and continue, to this day, to shout in unison: “We have no king but Caesar! We have no king but Caesar!”
And the world will continue to do so. There will always be a Caesar, a Saddam, a Stalin or a Chavez. And why? Because there will always be people who utterly reject the rule of God in favor of the rule of men. And why? Because for most people all that matters is how much and how soon. Most people are willing to give up some freedom (which turns out in the end to be all freedom) in order to have their bellies filled and their houses warm. Freedom doesn’t matter to the people who shout, “We have no king but Caesar!” Freedom is inconsequential to the people who say, “Give us a king!” Freedom is meaningless to the people who would rather be friends with the world than with God. Freedom is empty for those who reject Jesus Christ, the Truth, that they may live apart from his rule and his reign. But a time is coming when the Kingdom of God will break out and Christ will reign eternally.
But notice the King we live under. He is the crucified King. He is the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World. He is the one crushed and bruised by our iniquities. Here is our king: Jesus Christ the Crucified: Christians must not forget that our king wears a crown of thorns.
The usurpers of power on this world will not reign forever and their sovereignty will not remain in tact forever. Christ is already at the right hand of God and the only enemy left to finally defeat is death. A time is coming when we will be set free. A time is coming when we will no longer shout out to be ruled by the rich, the handsome, the cunning, and the worldly. There is coming a time when we will be ruled by Righteousness. There is coming a time when the only shouts that will echo in the palaces of this world are those that shout, “Jesus Christ is King! Jesus Reigns! To Him alone be honor, power, majesty, glory, strength, and praise to the Lamb, forever and ever.”
For more on these thoughts I would highly recommend you read Philippians 2, Revelation (especially 4-5), and the book of Daniel. Also, the book by David F Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, is a masterful treatment of the subject of Christ’s dominion and reign.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 18:28-37 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 82
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30″If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. 33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34″Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35″Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37″You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38″What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” 40They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment. Had Jesus remained under the auspices of the Jewish delegation he would likely have been stoned to death. Under Rome Jesus would be crucified. “This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.” He had indicated that he would be ‘lifted up’ (John 3, 12). The type of death had been indicated as far back as Genesis 3, Genesis 22, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and others. It would be a bloody affair. It would be unpleasant to say the least. Nothing was going to prevent that from happening.
Obviously, there is a lot going on in this rather lengthy passage I have chosen for this meditation. I’m not going to comment on the entire passage except for a couple of very short notes. First, there is something to be said about Jesus’ conversation with Pilate and his point about truth. Truth is a hot commodity in today’s world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, claims to have or be on the side of truth. But this is necessarily impossible; not everything can be the truth. This is especially so when it comes to religion. It is not even close to the truth to say: Christianity is right for those who believe it and atheism is right for those who ‘believe’ it. We can also say something like, Christianity and Islam cannot both be true. There may be elements of truth in Islam, but in had fact, the claims of Jesus must be dealt with. It seems difficult to think in such black and white terms, but Jesus was either telling the truth or he wasn’t. Ajith Fernando wrote:
We have seen how the pluralistic mood makes people today skeptical about the idea of knowing absolute truth. Into this environment of uncertainty about truth, the biblical Christian comes with the claim that we can know Absolute Truth. We say that we have found it in Jesus; that Jesus is the truth as He Himself claimed in John 14:6. This means that He is the personification, the embodiment of truth. Jesus did not only say, “What I say is true;” which means, “I am True.” He said, “I am the truth,” the ultimate reality. (The Supremacy of Christ, 27)
So Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” This means that we are on His side. It doesn’t mean that he defends us or that we can suppose that we are right. It means that Jesus is right. It means that to the best of our understanding we align ourselves with Jesus: Not religion, not a denomination, not a teacher. Only Jesus. I suppose this is more difficult than assumed, but ultimately, Jesus Christ will judge our hearts and our intentions. And only our faith in Him by the grace of God will we be saved. DA Carson notes, “Similarly, only those who are rightly related to God, to the truth itself, can grasp Jesus’ witness to the truth” (The Gospel According to John, 595).
Second, Jesus speaks of a Kingdom. Originally it was brought up by Pilate. He ‘accused’ Jesus of being a king and Jesus agrees: “For this reason I was born.” Then he ties his Kingship to the Truth. He thus ties his Kingdom to the truth and, consequently, all of his subjects are bound to the truth. But this is not merely a matter of cosmic avoidance of ‘little white lies.’ This is a matter of “nothing less than the self-disclosure of God in his Son, who is the truth” Carson, 595).
In Christ are all the mysteries of the universe explained and understood. His Kingdom is based on this fact of history. This is a Kingdom that is incompatible with lies. This is a Kingdom that cannot be severed from the truth. And this means that any other kingdom set up is necessarily set up in opposition to Christ’s. It also means that all other kingdoms, even if containing an element of truth, are built substantially on lies. There is not room in the universe for more than one kingdom.
Andreas Kostenberger notes, “Even so, the only thing Jesus says about his Kingdom is what it is not: it is not of this world” (JETS, 48/1, March 2005). Carson notes, however, that this “should not be misconstrued as meaning that his kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world” (Carson, quoting Beasley-Murray, 594). It means that Jesus’ Kingdom does not have its origins in this world. So Carson brilliantly writes that this world is
“…locked in persistent rebellion against its creator (1:10, 11). It is the sphere of darkness, of rebellion, of blindness, of sin. The kingships of this world preserve themselves by force and violence; if Jesus’ kingship finds its origin elsewhere, it will not be defended by this world’s means. And if it resorts to no force and no fighting, it is hard to see how Rome’s interests are in jeopardy.” (The Gospel According to John, 594).
But this doesn’t stop the world. We are talking about two kingdoms that are diametrically opposed to one another. And the world knows it. Pilate mutters, “What is truth?” and walks away. Why? Because he doesn’t care. His concern is not for truth any more than the people of this world are concerned about truth. This is why I constantly point out here at this blog that Christianity and Darwinism cannot both be true. They are opposites because one is the Kingdom of God and the other is the Kingdom of man. One Kingdom grows red in tooth and claw. The other grows in secret like seeds spread in a field. One grows according to the ideas of men. The other grows according to the will of God. One grows for the sake of man. The other for the sake of God. They both grow, simultaneously, often times in the same field; however, one is doomed to utter failure, the other is bound to eternity.
Pilate walks away and all we are left with at the end of chapter 18 are the screams and cries of people shouting, ‘Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!’ This is the world’s way of saying, ‘We want the lie! Don’t give us the truth! Don’t give us Jesus! Give us the lie! Give us the devil!’ The world is content in its bliss. The world is satisfied to live in the emptiness of ambition, pride, and self-absorption. The world is satisfied to live in the depths of the ‘get all you can in this world’ lifestyle. The world desires to live in the unhappiness of self-direction. The world is at peace to live in the warzone of the flesh. And the world will persist in this way until the Day comes when people will no longer shout to Barabbas and the Devil but will bow before the Exalted Christ Jesus and Worship Him and Him alone.
What I see happening around the world is that many churches are buying into the lie. Too many churches nowadays are shouting out with a chorus of ‘Give us Barabbas!’ Too many churches are content to live on the plane of this world’s ambitious pride and melancholy. Too many churches are not on the side of truth, are not listening to Jesus, are not part of His Kingdom. “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then the next thing Pilate heard was this: “Give us Barabbas!” This is the truth of the world we live in: People would rather choose recklessness, unrighteousness, and sin over Jesus. And Pilate never spoke to Jesus again. Pilate never again heard the truth. Let me ask: What are the last words you will hear from Jesus?
Truth has a power of its own, a power that in the long run proves stronger than the usurped authority of the institutional power. Jesus embodies this hope, the hope of the ultimate triumph of truth in the reign of his Kingdom. (Andreas Kostenberger, What is Truth? JETS 48/1, March 2005)
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 18:12-27 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 81)
Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people. 15Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17″You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” 18It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. 19Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20″I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23″If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. 25As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
Following Jesus was a risky thing to do that night. Peter was willing to follow Jesus that night; followed him straight into the high priests house and observed the trial. It was a risky thing to do. The scene centers on Jesus before the high priest, but woven into this story is what happened to Peter after he followed Jesus. The strange irony is that people asked Peter if he knew Jesus. And why shouldn’t they? I can’t imagine for a moment that Peter happened to look like he fit in among those people. He was probably very much out of place—haggard and tired looking. What was Peter doing that night as he followed Jesus into the house of the high priest? I think this scene is about Peter: What happens to Peter when he follows Jesus?
Well, the simple fact is, people are going to ask if we know him; Jesus, that is. What other reason would we have for following Jesus but to know him? They ask him three times: Are you one of his disciples? No. Are you one of his disciples? No. Weren’t you with him in the garden? No. Cock-a-doodle-do! Rebuked by a barn yard animal.
I think it is fair to ask: Why was Peter following Jesus that night if he was not prepared to announce his allegiance to Jesus? Was Peter merely wanting to watch the trial? Did he have some sick fascination with court room dramas? Was he hoping perhaps to break out his sword again and riot off a few more ears? Was he merely tagging along with the other disciple who was known to the high priest? I don’t really have an answer to that question to be honest with you. I don’t know why Peter was going along with him that night. I do admire his courage; I cringe at his failure. But I only cringe because I see too often my own failures at following Jesus.
Following Jesus is not cake and roses. We may as well be honest about it. Following Jesus is hard because there are a lot of people who are keen to cast aspersion and doubt on the followers and on the One we follow. Jesus is followed by a lot of people, but is it fair to ask why we follow? I think it is fair to ask why we follow and, in fact, I think that if we don’t ask why we follow we are likely to fail just as Peter did. That being said, perhaps even Peter was uncertain that night why he was following. Perhaps that is why he failed. It is supreme irony to me that Peter’s failure that night was that he didn’t know Jesus and Judas’ failure was that he did know Jesus. Strange, isn’t it?
Maybe Peter was thinking along these lines, “The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King” (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, 9). Maybe Peter was hoping that maybe it was all a joke and that after a little questioning Jesus would be let go and they could all get together again in the Garden for some sleep and prayer. Who knows? Maybe Peter hoped it would all go away and life could get back to normal: Teaching, rebuking, kingdoms. Maybe Peter had hoped that Jesus would light them up right then and there, call in the angels, set up the kingdom and Peter would be there ready at arms. It’s all speculation on my part.
I admire that Peter followed Jesus right into the courtroom. He was courageous. I like to think that I would have followed, but I probably wouldn’t have. Would any of us? Do any of us? Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” And right there was Peter. They could have asked Peter or the other unnamed disciple what Jesus said. Peter could have testified at the trial of Jesus, but he took the Fifth: “I do not know him, damn-it! Now leave me alone.” Can you imagine: The great defender of the faith, the great apostle, the one who promised to go to the death with Jesus refused to speak up at the trial of Jesus.
Along the way we are going to have that same problem. We are going to be asked: Do you know Jesus? Have you spent time with him? Didn’t I see you at that rally, that function, going into that church building on Sunday morning? You know Jesus don’t you? How will we answer? You see I think that knowing Jesus, following Jesus, entails a lot more than being a mere spectator at his trials, or a mere participant in His adulation, or a mere silent follower along the way. I think it means that when we are asked we should be ready with an answer. I think it means that we must be ready testify in His defense.
I’m not blaming Peter. Lord knows there have been plenty of times when I have failed in one way or another to acknowledge that I too belong to Jesus; that I too am not a mere voyeur in the courtroom; that I too am not just am not just a ‘hanger-onner’ or big-talker when in the company of friends. We will all fail. So why are we following Jesus? And along the way, when we are questioned, how will we answer? How will we respond to those who ask the reason for the hope we have? Following is not just walking behind. Following is knowing. If you are going to follow Jesus, you are going to have to know Jesus. And you are going to have to decide ahead of time how you are going to respond when people ask you if you know Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!