Posts Tagged ‘Peterson’
Preaching is defined not by those who listen, but by the One who calls us to preach. Eugene Peterson said in an interview the following:
You have to go back a step and ask, “Why am I a pastor? What is my primary responsibility to this congregation?”The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity. I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God. Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us. If we’re no longer operating out of that redefinition, the pastoral job is hopeless. Or if not hopeless, it becomes a defection. We join the enemy. We’ve quit our basic work.
Peterson goes on to say: (The questions in boldface are asked by the interviewer. Part 2.)
Most pastors I know would say that worship is critical and Sunday is very important to them. How could they begin to move away from that?
The defection starts subtly in what you do when people are not asking you to do anything. After three or four years in ministry, you realize that nobody is asking you to pray, and they are asking you to do a lot of other things, so prayer starts to erode.
Then study starts to erode. You cannot go to a pulpit week after week and preach truth accurately without constant study. Our minds blur on us, and we need that constant sharpening of our minds. And without study, without the use of our mind in a disciplined way, we are sitting ducks for the culture. This culture is an evil culture. This culture is the enemy. Through the media, through friends, through conversations we’re constantly fed lies, and like most lies, they’re 90 percent the truth. So you swallow the lie, and subtly, the edge of the gospel is blunted; you think you’re preaching the gospel, and you’re not. You don’t even know it.
So the first task in providing pastoral care is to pray and to study the Word
Who’s going to do that except the pastor? People in the congregation are busy in their jobs, reading their periodicals and attending their conferences. It’s my job to be suspicious of the culture. I’m not a culture critic, but to be a pastor, I cannot be seduced by the world. This becomes increasingly difficult in this so-called postmodern time. If you’re not sharp, you’re on the Devil’s side without knowing it.
A student was telling me he saw a video on Michael Jordan. He said, “Michael Jordan looks so lazy. He looks like he’s not doing anything. Then suddenly, he’s through three people, and he’s slam-dunking the ball.” As a pastor, how do you slip through the opposition and make your point? You do it by being lazy—or what looks like being lazy—sitting in your study for half a day reading a book that doesn’t have anything to do with your sermon. As a pastor I’ve got a responsibility to be alert to my culture so that my congregation is not seduced. If I don’t do it, nobody will.
Most congregations don’t think they’re paying pastors to do that.
That’s true. But they’re not the ones who give me my job description. I get my job description from the Scriptures, from my ordination vows. If I let the congregation decide what I’m going to do, I’m as bad as a doctor who prescribes drugs on request. Medical societies throw out doctors for doing that kind of thing; we need theological societies to throw out pastors for doing the same thing. And if you give up prayer and study, you will soon give up the third area: people.
Now here is Piper on that subject of preaching and the church.
Here’s the written version of Piper’s words in part:
Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other.
One of the purposes of preaching is to equip us for that and inspire us to love each other better.
But God has created the church so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.
That’s the call. That is preaching.
John 14:22-31 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 68)
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 25″All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28″You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
Judas (not Iscariot) asks Jesus a question that Jesus evidently didn’t think was meaningful. Judas asks, Jesus ignores his question altogether and goes back to the subject he’s been hammering home since the 13th chapter: Love. I sense Jesus saying to all of us, “There are some things that, while important, are not nearly as critical as others.” Primarily here he is telling us that the love we have for him takes second seat to no one, no thing, no topic. He began this section of Scripture by showing us the ‘full extent of his love’ by washing the feet of the disciples. He told us to imitate him, to love one another, to love one another, and to love one another. He’ll say other things about this love later too.
Eugene Peterson has an interesting thought about this love. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places he writes,
As we develop genetically, things come into play that do require teaching and training: reading and writing, social skills, artistic and athletic competence, emotional and relational understandings, how to repair a transmission, how to program a computer, how to get to the moon. At the top of these learned behaviors, these achieved identities, is love” (327-328).
What? We have to learn how to love?
“Everyone more or less knows this, but after we’ve reached the age of thirty or so, having failed at it so many times, it seems so out of reach that many of us settle for a human identity that is more accessible—like the one associated with playing the violin, or playing a ten-handicap gold game, or repairing a transmission, or getting to the moon. When we run into John’s barrage of sentences on love, it just doesn’t seem very practical. We shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, I’ve tried it, tried it a lot. I don’t seem to be very good at it, and the friends I’ve tried it on don’t seem to be very good at it either. How about something a little more down to earth?” (328)
True, we are quick to quit. We easily give up when we fail at love—or, when others fail at love to us. If loving our friends and enemies whom we can see is difficult, imagine how much more difficult it will be to love Jesus whom we cannot see. But here’s where Peterson cinches it:
“This is who you are, your identity, loved by God. But being loved is not all there is to it. Being loved creates a person who can love, who must love. Getting love is a launch into giving love….Every sentence [of John] comes out more or less the same: God loves you; Christ shows you how love works; now you love. Love, love, love, love. Just do it.” (328-329; Peterson is talking about our love for one another and his context is 1 John. Nevertheless, the point is the same.)
If Jesus washed our feet (or if he died on the cross ‘for God so loved the world’ or demonstrated his love while we were yet sinners by dying on the cross) he has not merely created people who are grateful; he has created people who can and will love. This love transcends all the prejudice and hatred and anger and arrogance of others and of ourselves. Furthermore, I believe this love starts with Jesus. If the words Jesus spoke are the Words of the Father, then God is telling us the necessary requirements of his affection: If we are loved, we must love. If we truly love, we will be loved. I don’t think it is possible to say, “I Love Jesus” and not submit to his authority and to his Lordship. If we say we love Jesus then we will have no problems joyfully responding to his call with obedience and submission. But those who refuse to submit to Him in joy and obedience really call their own love into question for the very reason that they are challenging Jesus’ authority to set the standards of reciprocal love.
I don’t think Jesus is talking here about saving grace. I think Jesus is talking about the love that someone professing to be saved, someone professing to be a disciple, will demonstrate. By our obedience to Him, by our submission to him, we demonstrate our love and affection. Is it too much for Jesus to ask that we demonstrate our love for him? Does he even ask us to do so of our own strength? Or does ‘the Counselor’ sent in Jesus’ Name by the Father, guide and direct into the path of obedient love? Furthermore, doesn’t Jesus set the example: “…the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Is this not the example we are to follow?
We are loved, then, in order that we might love in return. We follow the example of Jesus. There is nothing but obedience for those who claim to love Jesus. If we love him, we will obey him and demonstrate that we truly belong to Him.
What does it mean to obey him? How do we demonstrate our love for him? How can we follow his example and be obedient to his will as he was obedient to the Father’s will? That’s the trick, isn’t it? But then again, is it hard? I think not because it all starts back in chapter 13 and the demonstration of the full extent of our love for one another. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that our demonstration of love, through obedience, for Jesus starts with our obedience to his ‘new’ command that we love one another. Think about it: If we cannot obey this one simply command, to love one another, do you think it possible we can obey anything else that Jesus commanded us to do? Or, take it from this way, if we have never known or even experienced the Love of Jesus do you think for a minute we will be compelled to love Him or love one another?
In many ways, I think it is time for the world to see that Christians, those who follow Jesus, always do what Jesus commanded us. It is time for the world to understand that we follow no one but Jesus, that we serve no one but Jesus, that we love no god but Jesus. It is time for the world to see that Christians always do exactly what Jesus commanded us, and I think this starts with love. The first step to learning how to love is by being loved. Jesus loves us, and demonstrates that love, so that we can love, and will.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27″Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 34The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” 35Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
Some Greeks were among those who went up to worship, but there is something not entirely about worship on their minds. They wanted to see. Not only were they in town to worship, they were also in town to see. That’s normally why we travel and go other places: to see. We want to see the sites, take in the scenary, behold things we have never before beheld. We take in all the important things: Famous buildings, a nice park, an historical landmark or two, perhaps a famous person or a show. We go to see. These Greeks were no different even 2,000 years ago. They wanted to see.
The problem is that, as Eugene Peterson has so aptly pointed out, Jesus is no mere tourist attraction. Jesus is not someone you go to see; someone you go to hear; someone you go to meet. And He is about to make that more than clear to those who were within the sound of His voice. It is at this moment that Jesus announces that the time has come for the Son’s glorification. He ignores the request of the Greeks who had come to see Jesus as if he were a carnival show or significant celebrity. He ignores their request, flat out denies them. They never saw Jesus. Then it happens is living color: Jesus tells people the goal he has been working towards his entire life. He tells them what they cannot fail to understand about the Messiah if they expect to truly see the Messiah: You cannot miss His death. If you miss his death, his suffering, his passion, you have missed the entire point of Jesus.
Jesus is not something or someone we go to see as if he were a tourist attraction, a sideshow. You cannot go and look at Jesus and expect, for one minute, to understand Him. Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” That’s it. If you want to understand Jesus you have to participate with Jesus. You have to die with Him.
So what shall we say? Shall we say that the church is OK on this count? I think not—and I speak as one who is in the church, one who is charged with the responsibility to instruct the church in these things (in other words, I have a duty to point this out): Too many in the church think Jesus is a mere tourist attraction. They are content to go up to worship and take in a show on the way or even after they get there. There is an entire segment of the church, right now, who is (I know that grammar is rough) convinced that Christianity is a mere spectator sport like a baseball game, or a football game, or an opera. Christianity is OK as long as all I have to do is sit back and watch everyone else do it. Christianity is OK as long as all I have to do is show up and ask for an audience with Jesus so I can see him.
“But don’t you dare ask me to be involved in that sort of Christianity that makes absolute demands on my life! Don’t you dare ask me to make a commitment that involves more than seeing! Don’t you dare ask me to surrender my control of my life. My life belongs to me!” seems to be the calling card of many. We see this becoming more and more the norm in churches all across the Country. Increasingly, this is becoming the character that defines Christians. There is little self-denial, little real sacrifice, little real, absolute surrender to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. More and more it is, and has become, a church full of self-centered, brats who want all the latest gadgets and gizmos and self-help sermons that focus very much on what I want and what I can get out of it. We hear people throwing around terms like ‘relevant’ and ‘practical’ as if somehow the preacher’s job is to improve on what God has delivered to his people once and for all in these last days (see Hebrews 1:1-4). I have been reading Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. Hybels is surely correct that we need to pray more. But as I read this book I am struck at how often the prayers are merely prayers for the helping of the self. You know, help me through this, help me move this mountain, help me get through this crisis. This is not sacrificial prayer.
This is why, when the Greeks come to see Him, Jesus points to the cross. In other words, “If they want to see me, they will have to look to the cross.” The only place to truly see the Jesus of Scripture is to see Jesus Christ crucified. That is where Jesus points. This is where the Church too must point. This is where Mary pointed when she anointed Him with perfume. This is where the triumphal entry into Jerusalem pointed. This is where the Scripture pointed (16). This is where we must point.
I have been reading another book. It’s a fun book called Perspectives on Election: 5 Views. Each chapter is written by an ‘expert’ of a particular version of election. Then each of the other four authors gives a critique and response to the view. There are two versions of Calvinism, one of Arminianism, one Universalism, and one Open Theism. I just finished reading a chapter on a doctrine called ‘universalism’ which basically believes that in the end everyone, literally, will be saved. Near the end of the chapter, on page 258, I scribbled in the margin, “There’s no cross in this chapter.” Then I read the responses.
The second response was written by a Calvinist named Robert L. Reymond. Reymond wrote this in response to Thomas Talbott’s universalism:
I would insist that Talbott’s index for the measurement of the essense of God’s love, namely, a universal expansiveness that must encompass every single human being, is unscriptural, ineffectual, and inappropriate. Rather, the indices by which we should attempt to measure adequately God’s love (and we are bound to fail) are the extraordinary object of its affection—this sinful world—and the indescribably expensive costliness of God’s bounteous gift to us—the sacrifice of his Son in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Talbott has missed both of these measuring indices in his effort to universalize reconciliation to God” (266, emphasis his).
In short, there is no cross in Talbott’s universalism.
Jesus didn’t ask for a way out. Instead He embraced his calling: For this very reason I came. So notice what he says: ” ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” It is in the cross that all people are drawn to Jesus. So the Pharisees were quite mistaken when they said, “Look, the whole world is going after him.” Jesus says that all people will be drawn to Him at the cross, not on the road up to Jerusalem amidst shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ It is the cross where we find hope and salvation. It is in the death of Jesus that many find life. It is in His crucifixion, his substitionary death, that we are saved from empty, meaningless, death saturated existence.
There must not fail to be a cross in the Church. I don’t care how well the speaker speaks, how friendly the friendlies are, how exceptional the nursery is if there is no cross. If there is no cross, there are simply no Christians.
Soli Deo Gloria!
37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 40On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
The debate raged on for yet another day of the Feast. On the last day Jesus made matters worse for those attending the feast by standing up and shouting: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He has said that those who would follow him must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6). He has told a Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4). He has told that crowd of bread-eaters, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 5). Now he says it again in John 7: I am the thirst quencher. If you want a truly satisfying drink, come to Jesus. If you truly desire your parched throat to be slaked, come to Jesus. When nothing satisfies, come to Jesus. Or, don’t wait until you are thirsty: Come to Jesus and never experience thirst.
This is nothing new. It has been said in Scripture before and it will be said again. Thirst is a basic need for humans and who can satisfy it here on earth? I drink 4 to 5 bottles of water a day and drink tea, and other beverages on top of that. I am always thirsty. My thirst is never satiated, never quenched, never alleviated, assuaged, appeased. It’s a constant gnawing in my throat, a constant rumbling in my stomach. Who can save us from this wretched life of never satisfied cravings, desires, and drives? Is there no escape? But it is not really about actually satisfying the thirst, hunger, or appetite, or sex drive. No. Jesus didn’t say that, did he?
Jesus did not say, ‘Come to me and I’ll give you a drink of water you will not soon forget. Come to me and I’ll hook you up with a Long Island Iced Tea you won’t forget!’ No. Jesus said nothing of the sort because he knows too well that we will never be satisfied. It’s the old adage for the alcoholic: 1 beer is too many, 100’s not enough. Jesus did not say, ‘Come to me and I’ll give you a buffet that never ends!’ Jesus said, ‘If you are thirsty, come to me and drink.’ We don’t go at him for a cup of Oolong or Earl Grey or Columbia’s best. He said, and it is most important that all readers take careful note of this, he said: ‘If you are thirsty, come to me and drink.’ (I take it there are some folks who are, in fact, not thirsty.)
You see, what he is saying rather explicitly is that our desire should be for Him. We fix our eyes on what is unseen, not what is seen. We fix our eyes and hearts on Jesus. He is our goal. He is our delight. He is our satisfaction. This is what Paul meant in Philippians:
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
He is saying that our circumstances do not matter, at least they are inconsequential, compared with our position in Christ. In Christ we are always satisfied. In Christ we are never thirsty even though we are dehydrated. In Christ we are ever living even though every day we are dying a thousand deaths. Our hope is not found in the amount of anything we have or our lack of anything we don’t have. Our hope is first and always found in Christ. He is our goal and He is our crown. Jesus did not say, ‘Come to me and we’ll go to Outback together every day.’ He said, and it is most important for everyone who reads John’s Gospel to note this, he said, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’
‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:13-14).
‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ Eugene Peterson wrote, ‘Resurrection is the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus, raising him from the dead and presenting him before the disciples; resurrection is also the work of the Holy Spirit in those of us who believe in and follow Jesus’ (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 232). Live the Resurrection now. Whoever goes on believing in Jesus has streams of living water flowing through him now. The Spirit has been sent (see John 13-17; Acts 2; etc.). We live even while dying and death has no grip on those who have been declared alive by the One who destroyed death. What can death say or do to those in Christ? Death will never molest the Resurrected!
But again there are objections to Jesus, complaints against his words, agitation that he dare proclaim himself to be something, division over whether he is telling the truth or not. Some want to seize him; others do not. No one does anything.
We do understand though, don’t we? The claims are rather outlandish, peculiar, preposterous, fantastic, and extravagant. “All this from a man whose home-town we are well acquainted with, whose siblings we know, whose chairs we sit upon when we eat dinner? No. The Messiah has to be some other larger-than-life character whose origins are unknown, or at least Olympus like. How can Messiah come from a backwater country like Galilee? But what about Bethlehem? At least he would come from Jerusalem.” And people were divided because of these things. They were divided on that day when he shouted the words; they are today when the words are repeated. Many simply cannot find life so valuable, so wonderful, that they will even take the chance that Jesus may have been telling the truth. They are not that thirsty. Aquafina suits them fine.
Still his words stand for us. We will judge them to be rather outlandish and preposterous or we will judge them to be the very words of God. We are not afforded the luxury of not making a decision though. Thus we are left with the question: Can the Christ be as normal as a Galilean? Or must the Christ be some other-wordly, supernatural, miracle working, freak side-show Bob? Is he about meeting our expectations or being exactly who He is? We are left with a choice between these two positions. Jesus either is or he is not. We are either thirsty and go to Jesus for quenching or we aren’t and don’t. There’s life nowhere else but Jesus. I’ll end today with John’s words in the Revelation 21:
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Take Good Care of One Another!
Soli Deo Gloria!
[PS—also see, Revelation 22:17, Isaiah 12, 44:1-5, 58:11; Psalm 1.]
52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
I have spent a considerable amount of Internet space writing these meditations on John’s Gospel. I have spent a considerably amount of time reading John’s Gospel and trying to make sense of it for myself so that I would be able to converse intelligently with you. What I continue to find in John’s Gospel, however, is a return to the same themes over and over again. Well, mostly I keep coming back to the same theme in my writing because John keeps coming back to the same theme in his Gospel: Jesus is the only Way to salvation, to the Father, to eternal life and that apart from Jesus there is simply no hope. If we trust the Bible to be God’s Word once delivered to the Saints, then we must believe what it says about these matters. The Bible affords us no other options but Jesus. We are given licence to preach in no other Name; we are given no other Name under heaven by which we might be saved. The message we preach is valid only when it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many in this culture we live in, however, have managed to convince great numbers of people (Christians included and especially!) that there are other ways. Eugene Peterson calls this ‘Christian idolatry.’ In his small book Living the Resurrection he comments on this phenomenon:
“But what we also do is look around for ways to affirm and cultivate our new life in Christ outside our workplace. And we soon find, quite to our delight, that there is a lot to choose from. A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs and fantasies of people just like us.There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us the lift we need. There are books, videos, and seminars that promise to let us in on the Christian ‘secret’ of whatever it is we feel is lacking in our life—financial security, well-behaved children, weight loss, sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services smile a lot and are good-looking. They are obviously not bored.
“It isn’t long before we’re standing in line to buy whatever is being offered. And because none of the purchases does what we hoped for, or at least not for long, we’re soon back to buy another, and then another. The process is addicting. We become consumers of packaged spiritualities.
“This is also idolatry. We never think of using this term because everything we’re buying or paying for is defined by the adjective Christian. But idolatry it is, nevertheless. It’s God packaged as a product—God depersonalized and made available as a technique or a program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative. The late medieval indulgences that provoked Luther’s righteous wrath are small potatoes compared to what’s going on in our evangelical backyard” (Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, (NavPress: Colorado Springs, Co. 2006), 35-36. Emphasis his.).
It is unbelievable that this is the situation, but I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who sees things this way. His is a warning to those of us who not only treat Christianity as if it were a cash-cow or who think that the Gospel can be promulgated through clever marketing campaigns or slick programming. Peterson is warning us that we are in danger of displacing God and replacing Jesus Christ with something less that is guaranteed not to create in us the sort of Resurrection Life that Christ has called us to live. Jesus said as much himself. “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” You can run from place to place, read book after book, follow all the rules of the super-teachers, adhere to all the principles of the preaching prognosticators and prophets, and yet still miss out on life because Jesus was not a part of your running around and consumption of goods. Most of this stuff is fast food. Only Jesus is a life giving, sustaining meal.
In other words, all this other stuff can either lead you to a deeper relationship with Christ or it can lead you to a deeper relationship with itself. It is easy to get caught up in all the goods and services and miss out on Jesus. Jesus says, from his own mouth—what he heard in the Father’s presence—that unless we find in him our complete nourishment then we are lifeless; that is, we are dead. Those who have no life in them are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Conversely, those who do find their nourishment in Christ’s flesh and blood are full of life; life now. It’s not even a life we have to wait for. It’s ours now! I believe His clear point is that those who are abiding in Christ are already living the Resurrected Life.
Look what he says. Six times he makes reference to those who eat his flesh and drink his blood. Note them well in verses 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, & 58. Such a repetition can only mean that he really wants us to get it into our head. He really wants to consider deeply how imperative it is for those who would follow after him to be in such close communion with him that his life, his flesh, his blood is ours. It is impossible to live without food forever. Eat his flesh, have life in you. Eat his flesh, drink his blood, have eternal life and be raised up at the last day. Eat his flesh, drink his blood, and you will remain in Christ and He in you. The one who feeds on Jesus will live because of Jesus. The one who feeds on this bread will live forever. We will have life, he says, because of Him. Life is His work in us. It is not from ourselves or from anyone or any place else. We have life, if we have it, because of Jesus.
He said: Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. Manna is fine as far as it goes, but it is incapable of providing sustained, eternal nourishment that will guarantee a life beyond this life. The same is true today. There is nothing wrong with books, seminars, and all that stuff. I love books as much as the next person, but I am not naïve enough to think that it will be my vast (that’s hyperbole) knowledge of and wisdom from books that will secure me the sort life Christ has promised. Those things are fine as far as they go, but they are temporary things that will eventually wear out and need replacing. They will be chewed on, consumed, digested, eventually pass out of the body. But Jesus? No. Once you feed on Jesus He stays with you. And the longer you stay with Him, the Longer he stays with you. Jesus provides the life that the idols of this earth cannot, will not promise or provide. So why do so many preach these idols? Why do so many feed on them instead of Jesus?
Jesus is saying that if you want Life, true Life, Eternal Life, Living Life, Abiding Life, Forever Life then you must, and he does not equivocate, eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. There is simply no getting around this at all.
I Hope you find that after 27 Days with Jesus your life is becoming more and more His.
Soli Deo Gloria!
22The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Later some folks from Greece will come to Philip and say, “We want to see Jesus.” And Jesus, rather than rush right over to them, launches into a short sermon about his impending crucifixion. Eugene Peterson wryly notes that Jesus is not a tourist attraction.
Well here in these verses some other folks are looking for Jesus. John recounts for us the great hysterics that arose the next morning when all those well-fed folks woke up and couldn’t find Jesus. They go on a great search for him, but do not find him. They look at the docks. They look on the beach. These people keep coming to realizations that Jesus has fled the scene. I suspect they still have designs on making him a king too, but he is not there. When they realize Jesus is not on land they get into boats and head out to find him—maybe on the water, maybe in Capernaum. They go looking.
I think at this point we can say that there should be a certain amount of admiration for these folks. They are really looking hard for Jesus. They really want to find him and Jesus is playing a game of hide and seek with them. Rich Mullins sang a wonderful song about this very thing, this God who ‘plays hard to get.’ I read the other day that people in this world are very spiritual and are on a great spiritual search. In fact, let me quote a little of what I read from a radio broadcast transcript of Luis Palau:
Hello, this is Luis Palau. Americans today are more interested in matters of faith than at any other time in the past four decades. While interest in spirituality is rising, however, it’s often experimental. Americans are dabbling in all things religious, often more concerned about how they feel than what is true an attitude …
What about you? If you knew you had only one week to live, what would be your claim to faith? The bottom line is you can be any religion you want to be, as long as what you believe about God corresponds to reality. After all, God isn’t Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, or Methodist. The question ultimately isn’t who owns God, but who God is. This is Luis Palau. (Source, http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/09-11-97.html, September 11, 1997 original broadcast date; italics added.)
Many people are, in fact, searching nowadays. We see it too in churches around the country as people flock to them in droves each week. No doubt people are searching. I don’t happen to think, however, that they are searching for anything that is remotely close to the Biblically revealed Jesus. This is essentially what Palau is saying when he says, ‘you can be any religion you want to be.’ Uh, sure. A spiritual experience they may be seeking; Jesus they are not. This is the same problem we see in the verses we are looking at today.
Eventually these people who are looking for Jesus find him. And, they go to him and sheepishly rebuke him with a question, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Or, maybe they are feigning surprise like: “Wow! Imagine you being here too!” sort of thing. Perhaps they thought Jesus didn’t really know what their motives were. But the first words out of Jesus are not ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re here!’ or “Hey, good to see you!’ or ‘Hey, where you been?’ but instead, he cuts them deep by identifying their motives, “I tell you the truth you are not looking for me because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” In other words: You’d be better off not to even be here because your motives are impure.
In other words, if Jesus is not a tourist attraction then neither is He a vending machine! Too many folks just don’t get that at all.
Jesus essentially told these people what they wouldn’t tell themselves: They were not interested in the one who made the bread, just the bread. Jesus tells them flat out: “You people who come here looking for bread are wasting your time because you are looking for the wrong thing, the wrong stuff, the wrong bread. You’ve got it all backward.” I don’t believe that Jesus can be much clearer in his line of reasoning. The people were coming to him not because of who he was, but because of what they thought he would do for them: Give them bread.
To many people today Jesus is a Vending Machine Messiah and ATM Messiah or National Health Care Messiah. To many people life with Jesus is all about what He can give them. To many people on a great spiritual search Jesus is merely the answer to all their problems. As such, there is very little stability in disciples any more. If they don’t like the Jesus they encounter at one church then they up and go to another church. Eventually they will find a Jesus that suits them: I just wasn’t getting thing out of my last church. (Sometimes I want to respond with something smart like: Well, why don’t you go back and put something into that church. It seriously grieves me to here people say that as if Jesus is merely a social security net or something along those lines. I wonder how many preachers have the nerve to stand up on Sunday’s and say, “Many of you have come here today looking for Jesus not because he died for your sins but because you want your bellies filled.” How many preachers have the nerve to preach what is true, in other words, about human nature?
Someone has to have the nerve or else people will continue to go around searching for a Jesus who is not their eternal Savior but merely someone who gives us this day our daily bread. Now this is not to say we shouldn’t recognize where our bread comes from, but Jesus says our lives have to be about more. Man, he said elsewhere, does not live on bread alone; therefore, it is pointless to go around from day to day only looking for that scrap that will keep us going from day to day. We need something more Jesus said and our lives ought to have a little more ambition that mere bread. So, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words: Set your sights a lot higher.
This seems rather plain to me and the comparisons between Jesus’ day and ours are unmistakable. Given a choice in the matter, I sadly think most people would take bread for today and miss eternity than to miss bread for today and gain eternity. And I hate to keep putting the blame on pulpit ministers (i.e., preachers) but I think in their haste to acquire a flock they (we) have largely compromised this message of the Gospel. We have substituted a Vending Machine Jesus for The Bread of Life; junk food for The Bread of Life; artificial flavors for the Real Deal. Oh, and one more thing: Jesus said, ‘On Him (i.e., himself) God has placed his seal of approval.’ You know what this means right? It means that God has approved only Jesus to speak thus, and that only Jesus can give this eternal life. It comes from no other source: Not Nickels, not Schwebels, not Wonder. None. Only Jesus.
And the great work we are to do? Believe in the One God sent. It could well be that there is someone reading this right now who has never given it a thought. Perhaps you are running from place to place trying desperately to find a Jesus who will do what you want him to do and fix all your problems. I think what Jesus is telling you is that you are missing the bigger picture. It is not that you come to Jesus to get your problems fixed as much as it is that you come to Jesus regardless of the status of your problems. Jesus says there is a greater search in this life than just the daily grind or hunt for food for the belly. There is a greater search for Jesus himself who is, as we will see, the Very Bread of Life. We are, or should be, searching for Jesus. That is the Work God has called us to: Search for Jesus.
Michael Horton wrote:
“To preach the Bible as ‘the handbook for life,’ or as the answer to every question, rather than as the revelation of Christ, is to turn the Bible into an entirely different book. This is how the Pharisees approached Scripture, however, as we can see clearly from the questions they asked Jesus, all of them amounting to something akin to Trivial Pursuits: ‘What happens if a person divorces and remarries?’ ‘Why do your disciples pick grain on the Sabbath?’ ‘Who sinned–this man or his parents–that he was born blind?’ For the Pharisees, the Scriptures were a source of trivia for life’s dilemmas. To be sure, Scripture provides God-centered and divinely-revealed wisdom for life, but if this were its primary objective, Christianity would be a religion of self-improvement by following examples and exhortations, not a religion of the Cross. This is Paul’s point with the Corinthians, whose obsession with wisdom and miracles had obscured the true wisdom and the greatest miracle of all. And what is that? Paul replies, ‘He has been made for us our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor 1:28-31).” (Source: http://www.modernreformation.org/ “What Are We Looking For in the Bible”, Modern Reformation Online, italics mine.)
I hope this 24th Day of 90 is truly blessed for you and yours.
Soli Deo Gloria!
[I have a lot more to say about this subject of the content of our preaching, but I’ll not tarry on it here. Suffice it to say that Christ must be the focus of our preaching, which is the point of the above quotation. I’m not suggesting that I am perfect, but I do have to wonder what would happen to the church in America if Christ were truly proclaimed in His glory, His Cross? What would happen if the Biblical Jesus were actually proclaimed from America’s pulpits? More preachers ought to try. The one’s I’m referring to know who they are. For now, the role of the preacher is to point to people the real reason they ought to be seeking Jesus and disabuse them of the idea that their motives are entirely pure. They need to be told that He is no Vending Machine or Tourist Attraction, but the Savior, the King, The Bread of Life. He’s not just or merely a provider of bread, He is the Bread we should be searching for. That’s what we ought to be proclaiming.]
16When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
I will welcome again into our pages of meditation on John’s Gospel, the comments and insight of Eugene Peterson:
“This sign is unique among the seven, the only sign, as it turns out to be free of ambiguity. The sign reveals Jesus as sovereign in creation, gladly received and welcomed as such by the disciples. And, most significantly, there is this: the narration of the sign is centered in the ego eimi expression in verse 20: ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ As we have observed, this is the form of the divine name with which Jesus identifies himself and that John skilfully and continuously weaves in and out of the fabric of his Gospel storying. This sign, set in the context of the sign that was beset by inadequate responses, counters the wrongheaded ‘make him a king (of Galilee)!’ with the assertion of uncluttered sovereignty over all creation, doing for his disciples what they, for all their strenuous rowing, could not do for themselves, and taking them where they were unable to get by themselves.” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 96)
Jesus is not merely the king of Galilee and he cannot be made king by our hard work or our force. Jesus is King of all. He is Sovereign over the entire created order. His path is through the mighty waters. Nothing will stand in his way of accomplishing His objective. Raging seas: He walks on them as walking on solid rock. Raging storms: He walks through them as walking through a calm, summer day. Distance: He covers it in mere moments. What can get in the way of Jesus’ goal? Nothing.
But who wouldn’t be afraid to take him into the boat? Who wouldn’t be somewhat fearful of someone who is powerful enough to walk on water, in the dark, for two or three miles? I suspect I would be rather frightened too. I know I would be frightened. But something about Jesus’ response to them reassured the disciples. Why do you suppose that all Jesus had to say to the frightened disciples was: It is I. Is the identity of Jesus enough to quell even the greatest of fears? Then he said: Don’t be afraid. Is the command of Jesus enough to put down our greatest anxiety?
What I want to know is this: Why is the identity and command of Jesus enough to cause the disciples to go from fearful cowards to relieved welcomers? And just how did they plan to keep Jesus out of the boat? Don’t you find it strange that it was only after Jesus identified himself and gave the command that the disciples ‘were willing to take him into the boat’? Seriously: How were they going to keep a man who was walking on the water (in a storm that prevented twelve men from rowing more than 3 or 3 ½ miles) out of the boat? Can you picture this scene? Twelve men straining at the oars while Jesus stands in the middle of a storm. And they were threatened enough to not invite him into the boat straightaway. Isn’t that ironic?
I’m not sure we have that same sense of fear of God. Or, if you prefer, that same sense of fear of Jesus. Popular conceptions are that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our forgiver, our counselor, our partner along the path. Rarely are the conceptions of Jesus that He is the Awesome and Mighty God who treads across the water. Rarely is Jesus the One who commands the whirlwinds and thunderheads and lightning. Rarely is He conceived of as the One who causes the earth to tremble and quake. When this story of Jesus walking on the water is told and retold and taught in churches it is a story about how we need to have faith to get out of the boat (as in John Ortberg’s popular book If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat). Where are those who will look at this story and see a picture of the Great and Mighty Conqueror? Where are those who will read this story, preach this story, and tell of the Awesome Greatness of our King Jesus?
Perhaps it would do the church, and Christianity in general, if we got out of the mode of telling people that Jesus will make all our boo-boos feel better and start telling them that He is the Great King, The Mighty God, The Great and Terrible God of the Storm? Which Jesus do you think will evoke a proper attitude of worship: A Jesus who is our buddy? Or a Jesus who walks on Water? It’s a matter of perception, but truth be told, perception must be based on the Scriptural Revelation. In my estimation, a Sovereign Jesus commands our attention whereas a buddy Jesus commands our contempt and disdain. One exacts a certain level of discipleship the other not so. One commands our attention; the other our applause. Which Jesus are you associated with each day?
“The waters saw you,
O God, the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.”
I pray that your 23rd Day of This 90 with Jesus is a Blessed Day in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria!
43After the two days he left for Galilee. 44(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there. 46Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48″Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” 53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
Let’s begin today with a quotation from the venerable Eugene Peterson who begins by noting that this short section contains the second sign that Jesus performed and that in this section there is both an affirmation and a criticism of signs. After the man comes and requests Jesus to heal his son Jesus says, negatively, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ Now Peterson writes, “But the father, undeterred, persists, as if to say, ‘I don’t care about signs, I want you to heal my son!’ And then comes the interesting part: Jesus tells him, ‘Go; your son will live’; and ‘the man believed’ and left without any evidence of the healing, which is to say, quite apart from sign or wonder. The father responded believingly to Jesus without benefit of a sign, we might almost say without the distraction of a sign. Jesus’ word, not the sign, formed the man’s belief. It was not until the next day as he neared home—it was a twenty-mile hike between Capernaum and Cana—that he learned that his son got well at the very time of the day before that Jesus, in Cana, had said that he would.” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 95)
So, even before the sign was complete, the man believed. This is amazing! And it is contradictory. It is contradictory because, nowadays especially, people tell us and, have others convinced, that what is necessary for forming faith is not the preached word but the recounting of someone’s ‘story’ or the recounting of how ‘Jesus has touched me’ and made my life meaningful, or satisfying, or the recounting of some experience based this or that of how Jesus loved me so much that I got over everything I ever feared or some such jabberwocky. It’s not that those things are wrong. Oh, don’t misunderstand me; what they are is rather insufficient. What they are is incapable of being a platform upon which to build a life of faith in Christ. They will not stand the fires of the furnace of trial and temptation. They are simple insufficient for building a life as a disciple. Yet there are plenty who want to insist upon relegating the difficult, doctrinal, and biblical preaching of theology in favor of these rather faddish techniques. If we can, some think, just tug at the heartstrings enough then we should find a crowd out there ready for Jesus.
In my estimation, this simply will not do. This will not produced disciples with the courage and conviction to stand in the face of persecution and defend Christ. But the kind of faith displayed by this man says this: ‘The Word of Christ is sufficient; so I go and expect to find my son well.’ This man knew Jesus in what way? Reputation? Rumor? Had he met him before? Either way, all we can say about this is thus: He trusted the Word of Jesus implicitly. He needed no other confirmation from anyone except the Word of Jesus. Will this sort of faith be found on the earth now? Will this sort of faith do in the church today? Is it enough for those who call on the Name of Christ to be their Savior for His word to be sufficient? Bruce Milne is surely correct, “Faith based on signs and miracles must not be mistaken for true faith, however, which is why Jesus does not encourage it. It fails to honour God, since by it he serves us rather than the other way round” (John, BSP, 92).
Let’s insist then that this is true for today as well. Let’s insist then that our faith be built upon that which cannot be trumped, overturned, corrupted or defeated. Let’s insist that while miracles and signs may carry some weight that they do not, in fact, form a proper substitute for true Biblically defined faith; faith of substance. Let’s insist that in the church the word of God be properly proclaimed—all of it, too! Verse 50 says this: “The man believed in the Word Jesus spoke to him, so he left.” Let’s insist that preachers preach the Word of Christ to us that instills such courage and faith that we, too, can and will believe the Word of Jesus the way this man did.
The irony here is that this man believed apart from seeing any sign from Jesus even after Jesus insisted that people would not believe unless they saw signs. I think Jesus said this to the man almost rhetorically. That is, Are you like everyone else who will not believe unless they see things like signs and wonders? And the man, judging by his response, insists that he believes regardless; he wants his son well again.
Some time ago I marked a note in the margin of my Bible in response to Jesus’ words, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ I wrote: As if this is all the man needs: Your son will live. As if that’s all the man needs. As if that’s all the man needs. Do you get it?
I hope this 17th of 90 Days is Blessed for you in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria
Earlier this year Eugene Peterson published his third in a series of books on spiritual theology. The book, The Jesus Way, is a remarkable portrait of the nature of a true disciple of Jesus. It is a way characterized by sacrifice, failure, the margins, and holiness. He wrote, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus” (The Jesus Way, 8).
And he’s right. This is the model people follow today because they are convinced that the only way to win the culture is to become the culture, or the only way to win the people of the culture is to reflect the culture so they will be interested in us–as if we will be thoroughly, completely lost without them. There is something to be said, however, for being willing to simply preach the Whole, Entire, Massive Word of God. There’s something to be said for preaching the hard truths that most people don’t care about or care to listen to.
PT Forsyth wrote, in the early 1900’s, “What is our task today? It is to take the mass of men (and not only the masses)–inert and hopeless some, others indifferent, others hostile to God–and to reconcile them with God’s holy will and righteous kingdom; but to reconcile them less with the ideal of a kingdom of God than with His way of it. They are keen enough about a kingdom which glorifies human ideals, but the trouble is about God’s ideal and God’s way, about Christ and His cross as the way as well as the goal” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 41-42).
The church must recover this cross centered preaching and those disciples of Jesus who claim to be saved must recover this cross-centered, sacrificial way of Jesus. The cross must be returned to the pulpit. The Jesus way, not the man way, must be followed and preached. Imagine these men, writing nearly 100 years apart, saying exactly the same thing to two entirely different generations of Christians. When do you suppose it will change? Will it start with you?
1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4″Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
When I was in college, I took a semester long class on the book of Acts. As part of the semester’s requirements, I had to produce 10 sermon outlines from the book of Acts. Recently, the church secretary was sorting through some of my files and one day, when she wasn’t looking, I snuck a couple of them out of the pile. One of the files I took out contained some old term papers I had written, all 4.0’s I might add, and also those old outlines that I produced for Acts class. My outlines were really bad and I think my professor was being generous when he marked a couple of them with 4’s. One of the 4’s that I received was on Acts 3:1-10. I wrote a pretty good outline, I thought at the time. The points were well made. I followed the flow of the text in the chapter. I thought I had done well until I saw, to the left of the 4.0, my professor’s rather lengthy paragraph written in stunning, glaring, red ink. He wrote:
I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better, but you have done a good job of expanding on a slightly shaky foundation.
Again, a generous 4.0 was given. I didn’t deserve the 4.0. I don’t suppose there are too many college sophomores who ever deserve 4.0’s—especially those sophomores who are learning how to ‘rightly divide the word of God.’ Strange though how after all these years it is the first part of his paragraph that stands out most in my mind. Even without the paper I remembered what he wrote: “I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better…” It’s that ‘something better’ that the author of the book of Hebrews argues, over and over again, that we find in Jesus Christ. It is this ‘something better’ that John illustrates by telling us the story of Jesus turning water into the best wine. It is no accident that Jesus chose six stone water jars that the Jews used for ‘ceremonial washing’ to complete his work. It is no accident that the wine was ‘the best wine’. It was no accident that this wine was ‘saved until after the guests had had too much to drink.’ It was no coincidence that after this sign Jesus errected that pointed to his glory that his disciples ‘put their faith in him.’ “The servants, Jesus’ mother, and his disciples knew, but the text mentions only the disciples as those in whom the sign accomplished its purpose: they ‘believed in him.’”—Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 94
I’d like to take time to say about a million things about this particular episode from the life of Jesus, but I stop short because that ‘something better’ keeps sticking in my head. I cannot get it out of my head, my heart, my eyes, my ears. It’s ringing around in my ears, bouncing on the walls of my skull. Jesus is the ‘something better.’ When that lame man was healed by Peter the ‘something better’ he received was Jesus. That wine that the steward took to the master of the banquet served as a metaphor that something better was at hand, something better than the rules & ceremonial washings of the Jews. It was something generous—filled to the brim! It was something abundant—six jars holding 20 to 30 gallons each! The most prophetic line in the text: “You have saved the best till now,” uttered by some wine steward at a wedding banquet. Ironic. It was something better, not the cold, hard, letter of law; but the warm, human, compassionate Jesus.
The book of Hebrews fills out the picture for us. All you have to do is read through the short letter to see how the author continually points out to the reader that Jesus is the something better that the Scripture hints at over and over again. Here’s the list (complete, I believe) of the something better in Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9); “The former regulation is set side because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:19); “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) (See also 8:6, 9:23, 10:34, 11:16, 35, 40, 12:24). The author of Hebrews is convinced that in Jesus everything else takes a distant second seat.
However, I must complain. I think the Christians have, by and large, settled for something far less than the something better. I think Christians have been sold down the river by preachers offering health and riches and cars and televisions and satisfaction with so much of life here on earth instead of preaching, simply, that in Jesus there is something better. Where is the holy dissatisfaction with this earth? Where is the longing and groaning for a better resurrection in Christ? Where is the despising of flesh and the longing for Christ? Where are the fervent prayers for Christ to hasten his return? Where is the conviction that Christ is Better and the living out of such a conviction? And those who have rejected Christ out of hand are missing out too, but I don’t have time to document their misery. It’s bad enough documenting the misery of the church.
Jesus is not just something better. He is Someone Better. I can’t get that out of my head. Of all that there is, Jesus is Better. Why isn’t the church convinced of this?
I hope your 7th Day of 90 with Jesus is blessed by your reading of His Word.
43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46″Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48″How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We are again confronted with this man, this Jesus, who simply says, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say where he is going, or what he will be doing, or why he is going there (yet), or how he will get there. In fact, most of it he keeps a mystery. He said later, “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come” (7:34). Yet Philip not only follows Jesus, but he goes and grabs up one of his buddies who happens to be enjoying an afternoon siesta under a fig tree saying, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah, the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the Prophets spoke of. Andrew had said to Simon, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah!” I sometimes wish evangelism were so easy! Then again, perhaps we try to make it far more difficult than it has to be. Perhaps it is as simple as saying, “Guess who I have discovered?”
Whatever else may be learned here, one thing I do know is this: Philip does not go to Nathanael unarmed. He went steeped in Scripture: Law and Prophets were on his mind and he knew who he was looking for because he knew who was written of (Philip recognized Jesus because he recognized Scripture). When he met the one who conformed to Scripture he knew he was on to Someone. Here’s another key point. People often say things like, “I can’t witness because I don’t know enough.” I say that is, well, junk. The only way, theologically speaking, to get to know Jesus is by spending considerable time in His Word. Philip made these deductions based on his reading of the Old Testament. How much more then should we be able to make the same deductions after reading the New Testament? Our problem is that too much fluff is spewed out of pulpits in the Church today. There is simply not enough (any?) thorough, biblical, theological exposition of Scripture taking place in American church pulpits. Is it because preachers cannot do so or will not do so? I suspect it is probably both. After all, we’d rather have a crowd listen to fluff than no one listen to Scripture. Right? Our problem is that we figure we can avoid testimony for Christ by avoiding the Scripture; so it collects dust on a shelf. But in truth, Scripture will not be avoided and if the church, the people who are the Body of Christ, does not return to Scripture I fear the church will be lost or destroyed. I hope it is not too late.
Nathanael is no dummy though: “I’ve heard about those ruffians from Nazareth. Brutes they are. Can anything good come out of there I wonder?” And all Philip says is the same thing John the baptizer said, “Come and behold!” So Nathanael goes and a dialogue takes place between Jesus and Nathanael after which Nathanael proclaims, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” All of this because Jesus knew where Nathanael took a nap each day! But then, who’s to say that Philip, steeped in Scripture as he was, did not take time to open Scripture to Nathanael on their way to follow Jesus? Nathanael makes a profound confession of Jesus to go along with John’s “Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew’s, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip’s, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law…” Now we also have, “You are the Son of God; the King of Israel!” These four appellations paint for us a comprehensive picture of this person who keeps on saying, “Follow Me.” When Jesus finally speaks he refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Yet another dimension of Jesus’ person; and all terms that are rich with Biblical imagery and meaning. I dare say that if one is not sufficiently immersed and submerged in the Scripture of the Old Testament these titles, names, and identifying markers might lose a bit of their meaning; most of it.
Again I think you have to know your Old Testament to make sense of Jesus’ words about angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In short, they will not ascend and descend on a ladder or stairway as they did in Genesis 28, where we read of Jacob’s dream, but on Jesus. In other words, Jesus would be the bridge, or stairway, or ladder that bridges the gap between here and there. Or, better, Jesus himself is the Way between here and there. Jesus has replaced the ladder; Jesus is the ladder. There is no other way for angels, or men. Jesus has replaced the ladder. Jesus describes this, seeing angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, as one of the ‘greater things’ that Nathanael will see. This is a bold statement; a radical pronouncement. This is simply off the hook. All of this, keep in mind, after Jesus said, “Follow me.” Who could resist? Who would be foolish enough?
Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Wayspeaks near the end about ‘other ways’ of following in this world or ‘other ways’ of achieving something in this world; other ways of achieving the goal or prize–ways out of sync with the Jesus Way. He speaks of the way of Herod, and Josephus and Caiaphas, men who embodied ways that would not cause a person or an angel to ascend to heaven. They were, by the world’s standards, massive success stories. By Jesus’ standards they were complete failures who led people exactly nowhere and Peterson assures us that we are fools if we do not dismiss these ways, these alternatives, as paths to hell. Peterson writes, “What stands out as we consider all these dismissed options is that following Jesus is a unique way of life. It is like nothing else. There is nothing and no one comparable. Follow Jesus gets us little or nothing of what we commonly think we need or want or hope for. Following Jesus accomplishes nothing on the world’s agenda. Following Jesus takes us right out of this world’s assumptions and goals to a place where a lever can be inserted that turns the world upside down and inside out. Following Jesus has everything to do with this world, but almost nothing in common with this world” (E Peterson, The Jesus Way, 270). This is what we are getting into when we follow Jesus. We will see great things, no doubt. But we must also be quite prepared to leave this world behind. No wonder one of the first teachings of Jesus in this book is a story about leaving this place and going to that place—and, better, the Only Way to do it: Through Himself.
So, who can resist? Who would be foolish enough?
“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39″Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).”
I picture John shouting these words: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” I sort of imagine that he was on the lookout, waiting, watching, keeping one eye on the crowd and one eye searching the crowd—and then it happened; He appeared. John ‘saw Jesus passing by.’ “Behold! I’m trying to get your attention! There is someone you just have to see! You cannot not take a look, a long gaze, a mesmerizing stare! Behold! Examine! Contemplate!” John’s disciples would later repeat these words. Philip went to Nathanael and said, “Come and See.” He uses the same Greek that John did: “Behold!” “Come and behold!” The author to the Hebrews would say something very similar: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The message is always the same: Stay fixed on Jesus.
John has twice pointed out Jesus to the gathered crowd. Both times he has said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” I did a quick Internet search for the moniker ‘Lamb of God.’ I did not turn up one hit for the One named Jesus. I did, however, turn up an entire page of links to a group of musicians known by the same. They, unfortunately, have nothing to do with Jesus except to mock him. They are nothing worth paying any attention to. They are not worth beholding. They are not worth spending the day with. They are not worth concerning yourself where they are staying. Jesus was and that is what I noticed about these verses here.
John pointed to Jesus and said, “Look!” Then some of John’s disciples followed Jesus. Then they wanted to know where he was staying and when they found out they stayed with him an entire day. Next one of these men, Andrew, went and found his brother and bade him to come and meet Jesus also. Andrew makes what is one of the first open confessions, aside from the baptizer, about the identity of Jesus. “We have found!” “We have discovered!” Notice also that this newly discovered information was information that had to be shared with someone else. This was not something to keep to oneself.
There is another thought concerning this dawning, this awakening, this eye-opening revelation that overwhelmed Andrew. I notice that he came to this conclusion quite apart from any sort of displays of power, or miracles, or even teaching. Maybe I’m being too simplistic about this, but what actually caused Andrew to come to such a conclusion and make such a pronouncement? What took place during that day he spent with Jesus that caused him to conclude that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the Christ? Was it something John said? But all John said was, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (The only other things John had said were, “I am not the Messiah.”) Or was it something in Jesus’ words, “What do you want? Come, and you will see.” It would be fun to know what Jesus and these two disciples did that day. I’d like to know what compelled Andrew to conclude that this Jesus, with whom he had spent one day or so, about whom he had heard a couple really short sermons, was in fact the hoped for Messiah. It would not always be like that in John’s Gospel. Sadly, it is not nearly at all like that in our day.
Maybe it’s not tough at all. Maybe it was just a matter of spending a day with Jesus. And this is to say nothing of Peter who, evidently, had never even heard John say “Behold the Lamb of God!” Peter, evidently, took Andrew at his word and went to Jesus where from that day forward his life was altered. (Was he so persuaded because of Andrew’s conviction?) What shall we say then? That when we spend time with Jesus we will undoubtedly come to such a conclusion? That when we ourselves are convinced of who Jesus is we will make a beeline to someone we know and love and tell them the news? That we, having more information should be as convinced and convincing as Andrew was to Peter? Or, maybe we should ask, how Andrew could be so confident with so little information and we so unconvinced with so much information?
There is one last thing: It was Jesus who, from the get go, was the leader. “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. And, they spent the day with him. And, ‘Andrew…was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.’ And Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And they wanted to know where Jesus was staying. In other words, from the start, these men followed Jesus, spent the day with him, went to him, share him with others, told others about him. From the start, it was about where Jesus was. Eugene Peterson writes, “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential—whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers—hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anybody notice?” (The Jesus Way, 8 ) From that day forward they followed Jesus. Would that this were true of all of us: Stay fixed on Jesus.
I’m only 41 pages into the book. I’m reading it slowly so that it will last. What I have found, whether it is eating or having sex, is that no sooner has the pleasure started than it’s finished. So I’m working on eating slower, loving slower, and reading slower. Three great pleasures in life that life would be un-life without are far to valuable to simply rush through to get finished. I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way slower than I read his Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book. I have to read it slower because I’m not looking forward to another book release until July–four months from now–when The Deathly Hallows will be released. Discipleship, like reading, eating and sex, are better slower. And, honestly, discipleship cannot begin to be rushed, hurried, or one-clicked. There is no such thing as speed-dial discipleship and I think those preachers who sell it that way are losers who have not read the Bible or who have at least abused the Bible to their own ends, or who, really do not understand what Jesus said about discipleship being a slow, agonizing, cross-carrying walk.
This is probably why I am a fan of baseball. It takes a long time for the baseball season to start and an even longer time for it to end. 162 games is nothing to scoff at. That doesn’t include pre-season and some post-season. Baseball is the sport of the long-haul, the long-obedience, the long journey. Sometimes individual games take a long time. Sometimes one inning will take a long time. It’s not the face-paced back and forthness of tennis or basketball. It’s the slow season. It’s deliberate.
Peterson writes, “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential–whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers–hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anybody notice?” (Eugene Peterson, p 8, The Jesus Way) And he has much more to say on this subject on pages 30-35. (I think you should read this book and the two that preceded it.)
The way of Jesus is totally at odds with the way things are done in a lot of churches across America. My contention is that God has not yet considered us worthy to suffer disgrace for His Name. The church in America is languishing under the mis-guided leadership of leaders who do not know how to follow.
I hope to explore these thoughts some more as time goes on and as I read slowly through Peterson’s book.