Showing posts with label salvation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label salvation. Show all posts

07 June 2012

Sheep, goats and judgement

What does it mean to be chosen? How will we be judged? What must I do to be saved? These questions and others like them are often answered with the advice, 'Believe in Jesus Christ, confess him as Lord and Saviour.' But is that the full answer?

A way up, and a way downThis article is based on a response I made on the Koinonia Life Discussion Forum.

There had been some discussion on the topic of  'unforgiveness' and this had brought us onto the related matter of judgement.

Here's what I contributed to the discussion, follwed by some further thoughts and Bible references.

What are your views on the topic? Perhaps things are not as clear cut as we sometimes think.

Leave a comment at the end of the article.

There's one place in particular where Jesus describes the judgement process - and it's not quite how most people imagine it.

Read Matthew 25:31-46, this is clearly about judgement.

Sheep and goats in Jesus' time looked pretty much alike. People who are 'in' and those who are 'out' look pretty much alike too. But, Good Shepherd that he is, Jesus separates and divides.

The interesting thing is that it has more to do with people's care for others than anything else. Had they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, invited in strangers? Of course, it's also about obedience - these are the very things we are commanded to do.

Verse 46 is pretty clear, our eternal destination depends on how much we cared for others.

Paul puts the emphasis on faith (eg Romans 3:22), and James on actions (James 2:14); though both agree that faith without actions is dead. Paul and Peter also agree that love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8). John (1 John 4:8) tells us that the Almighty is love, and of course it's love that causes us to care for others.

Note that we can follow Jesus even if we don't know him. How can that be? Well, I think many who would not call themselves 'Christian' follow him by feeding the hungry, or inviting in strangers, for example. And we can fail to follow him even if we know him quite well. Are these the people who say 'Lord, Lord...' yet he says he doesn't know them?

And also note that it's what we did or did not do for the very least of these that is important here. We are called to have loving pity in our hearts for all who need, but especially for the weak, the helpless and the insignificant. We are called to be merciful. Read Matthew 5:3-12 because this passage is so closely related to the separation of the sheep and goats. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.'

As I was writing I saw an opening like a trapdoor. And I realised that there's only one door through which we may go up or down. But there is no place 'in between'. If we are not in the Kingdom of Heaven we are in the place of punishment and vice versa. Heaven and hell are not places we go to from here. They are surely places we are already in right now. The prodigal son's older brother is a good example, all his life he had done everything a good son should do, yet his heart was full of jealous bitterness rather than welcoming love. And he refused to go in (Luke 15:28).

Jesus always knew what was in a person's heart (Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22). And that is why he was able to say, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven', or, 'Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise'.

Finally, remember the wealthy man who asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus told him, 'Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me'.

You might also like to read an earlier article on sheep and goats.

31 January 2010

John's Gospel - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

This page is an index to brief studies in the chapters of John, all made during January 2010. Click a link below to jump to a particular chapter. The titles are the titles of the blog posts. The idea had its inspiration in a similar series posted on the same days by Rob McFarlane; the (Rob) links are no longer available, they used take you to his posts which were shorter, shared things that Rob saw as he read, and concluded with a prayer.

John's gospel is different in nature from the other three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). It is less focused on history, and more focused on spiritual significance. I hope this is reflected in the individual posts.

30 January 2010

John 21 - Gone fishing

< John 20 | Index | No more chapters >

Chapter 21 of John takes us right back to the beginning of Yahshua's ministry and also looks forward to the future of the church after he returns to the Father.

At the beginning of the chapter Yahshua appears to seven of the disciples, the third time that he has been with them since the resurrection. Traditional net fishingAnd does he find them busy with the work he left them to do? No! Instead of fishing for men, they have returned to fishing for fish (compare Luke 5:1-11). The problem is that they don't know what to do or how to do it. And the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor that was promised, is not yet with them to guide them and encourage them.

At first they don't even recognise him, he's just a man on the beach. But then he does something that reminds them of an earlier occasion when he first called some of them to follow him, he repeats much the same process that's recorded in Luke. There are minor differences, this time he is not in the boat with them, and the net doesn't break. Do you notice how they're still not quite sure who he is? They want to ask him but don't dare. They know in their hearts but it just doesn't add up. They saw Lazarus come out of the grave but this is different, Yahshua rose without anyone to command him to come out. To perform a miracle is one thing, to be a miracle with nobody to command it was weird. They are still troubled and confused, emotions that are mixed with their earlier delight and rejoicing.

After sharing a meal with them Yahshua has a very interesting conversation with Peter. I can imagine him pointing to the pile of fish and saying, 'Do you love me more than these?'. And what does Peter say? 'Yes Lord, I like you - you know that.'

In English translations it looks as if Yahshua and Peter both use the same word - 'love'. But that's misleading. English doesn't have the same richness as the Koine Greek used here. Yahshua uses 'agape' which has shades of meaning around brotherly love, affection, good will, and benevolence. Peter uses 'phileo' which is less intense and means like, approve, welcome, or befriend. Agape is a deep love from the heart, phileo is lighter, more liking than loving.

To this response Yahshua says, 'Feed my little lambs'.

Then he asks Peter the same question, 'Do you love me?', Peter answers, 'You know I like you', and Yahshua says, 'Feed my sheep'.

But the third time Yahshua asks, 'Do you like me?' Peter is hurt because now he realises how half-hearted he has been. Ouch! Peter, headstrong Peter, needs to face reality. Perhaps he was ashamed to say a real, strong agape 'I love you' because denying the Lord is still so fresh in his mind. But the Messiah doesn't call us to be strong for him, he calls us to come to him in weakness so that he can be our strength.

And this is the part of the chapter that looks forward. Yahshua is looking forward to the long years, decades, and eventually centuries and millenia that lie ahead. Times when he will not be here walking and talking and cooking fish on the beach. Times when the church aided by the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit will need to learn and grow and thrive. He was looking forward even to today, and all through those centuries we have had the task of shepherding one another. When I am lost and struggling I may depend on you to lead me to good pasture. When you are lost and struggling I must do the same for you. This is the church, the living bride of the Lamb. How many times had he told them, 'Love one another as I have loved you'?

You and I were born for a time such as this. We're here to support and encourage one another, and we're to reflect Yahshua's love, treating the world the way he treated it. Reaching the poor and the hungry and the lost by showing them his living love working in us. Let's get to it!

< John 20 | Index | No more chapters >

29 January 2010

John 20 - Seeing is believing

< John 19 | Index | John 21 >

Now we come to the greatest event of all time. John 20 records the resurrection of Yahshua the Messiah, the one who gave his life for us and could not be defeated by death. A rock-cut tomb just outside JerusalemThis is so unexpected and astonishing that the people who first saw him struggled with the idea. Let's look at their reactions.

Mary Magdalene - Mary was the first on the scene very early, it was still dark. She knew something had happened for she could see that the stone had been moved. She didn't go in but ran to Peter and John. Mary assumed that someone had taken the body.

By the time Peter and John left, Mary was in tears. She looked inside and saw two angels who asked her why she was crying. Her concern was for the body. Then she turned around, looked away from the tomb, and saw Yahshua who asked her the same question. She didn't recognise him until he spoke her name. He sent her to tell the disciples.

John - He was the first to look inside. He saw the linen strips. He didn't go in at first, but after Peter had done so he followed. John saw and believed.

Peter - Peter acted in character, he dashed right inside. He saw the linen and the head cloth.

The disciples - In the evening Yahshua appeared in the locked room where they were meeting. They rejoiced! They later told Thomas (who wasn't there when Yahshua was in the room).

Thomas - Seeing is believing! Thomas was unable to accept the news until he could see Yahshua with his own eyes. He had to wait a week. When he saw, he believed.

What about us? What about you? Are you like any of the people mentioned here?

It's easy to jump to conclusions like Mary. Once we've entertained an idea it can be hard to get beyond it. Mary had no reason to think the body had been taken, nor that she was talking to the gardener. It was an assumption. Even while she was standing with the risen Lord her mind was working on ways of finding his body! What assumptions do we make about him?

John saw that the tomb was empty and believed. This is not like Thomas who saw Yahshua and believed. John believed because of what he did not see. This is faith! Do we believe what we have not seen?

Peter didn't hesitate, but he did investigate by looking thoroughly. We need to look thoroughly at the things we read and have been told about the Lord. We need to investigate them for ourselves. Do they hold up to examination? John doesn't tell us what Peter concluded, just that he was thorough in looking.

The disciples in the locked room rejoiced when they saw him! We can't help but rejoice when we realise that the One who died for us is alive. Our lives as believers are now in him! If he is alive so are we, for ever. Now that is good news!

Thomas - When he saw the Lord he believed. 'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.' So, if you have believed, Yahshua himself says you are blessed. it doesn't come much clearer than that!

< John 19 | Index | John 21 >

28 January 2010

John 19 - See! Here's the man

< John 18 | Index | John 20 >

In John 19, Pilate's attempts to release Yahshua come to nothing. This chapter covers Pilate's final attempts to save his life, his eventual crucifixion, Yahshua with Pilatehis death, and his burial in the rock-hewn tomb.

Pilate has Yahshua flogged and ridiculed, then shows him to the crowd again to demonstrate that he can find absolutely no reason to charge him with any offence requiring death. Perhaps he thought that this lesser punishment would satisfy them. But they shout and yell for crucifixion. Pilate retorts, 'Crucify him yourselves, I can't find any reason to do so.' But when they tell him that Yahsua had claimed to be the Son of the Almighty, Pilate is very afraid. The Lord actually helps him out at this point, he explains that Pilate's guilt is less than that of the Jewish leaders. And after that Pilate kept trying to release him but in the end was given little choice and handed him over to the execution squad.

It seems that Pilate continued to have some sympathy towards this extraordinary man who did not deserve to die. He wrote 'King of the Jews' on the sign over the cross and refused to change it. He gave permission for the body to be taken down and buried in a rich man's tomb.

There is very little I need write about this chapter, I suggest reading it again because it speaks for itself. In fact, I'd encourage everyone to read chapters 18 and 19 again right through as they really do belong together.

I hope that by focussing on Pilate's part in the events I will have helped you see afresh how very determined the Jewish leaders were to do away with Yahshua. They were extraordinarily angry with him, they were in such a frothing rage that that were competely unable to see the truth. And it was staring them in the face! They crucified the only man who had ever performed the three Messianic Miracles - curing a Jewish leper, casting out a demon from a dumb man, and healing a man blind from birth. By their own requirements he had to be the Messiah!

The question remains, what are we going to do with this man, Yahshua (Jesus)? We can reject him like the Jewish leaders. We can love him like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We can follow him like John, Peter, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea. We can think that perhaps he is right, certainly that he is innocent, yet like Pilate find it far too costly to abandon our responsibilities in order to follow him.

We must all make a choice. The one thing we cannot do with Yahshua of Nazareth, the King of Israel, is ignore him. Everything he claimed about himself is true! He demonstrated it beyond any doubt for those with open eyes, ears, and minds - then, and today.

And in the next chapter of John we read how he demonstrated it one more time, by rising from the grave and proving that even death could not hold him.

< John 18 | Index | John 20 >

27 January 2010

John 18 - Interrogation at night

< John 17 | Index | John 19 >

In John 18 we read of Yahshua's arrest in the olive grove, how he is taken first to Annas, then to Caiaphas, and finally to Pilate. Yahshua with CaiaphasDuring the night, waiting to find out what will happen to him, Peter denies three times that he knows him or was with him. Another follower is braver (verses 15-16), was this Nicodemus? We don't know but it seems quite likely. Pilate interviews the prisoner, quickly finds him innocent, and tries to get him released.

Pilate treats his unwanted prisoner much better than the Jewish authorities do. They don't seem to care whether he is innocent or guilty, they have already decided he must die because he claimed to be the Son of the Most High and also because he uttered the Holy Name, Yahweh, I AM. They are offended because they do not believe him. According to Jewish law, the High Priest would speak the Name once a year inside the Holy of Holies. If they had understood that Yahshua was indeed the Highest of High Priests, and the Son, and the Messiah, and the sacrificial Lamb, they would not have sentenced him to death. But as the Lamb, it was necessary that he die for the sins of the world.

They didn't understand who he was although they had all the evidence they needed, so according to them he was guilty of blasphemy and should be stoned to death. However the Roman authorities had banned the death penalty under Jewish Law, so only the Romans were permitted to kill a prisoner. That's why the Jews involved Pontius Pilate.

But Pilate proved to be a fair man. He told the Jews to try him under their own law which would have carried a lesser penalty than death because of the Roman prohibition. But they'd have none of it. So Pilate interrogated Yahshua. Pilate asks, 'What is truth?' As a Roman provincial governor, 'truth' was whatever he chose to make it. If Pilate said so, it was so! So he went back to the Jewish crowd, pronounced Yahshua not guilty, and offered to release him according to the Jewish Passover custom. But they preferred the rebel, Bar Abbas, and called for his release!

Let's look at the conversations with Pilate in more detail. First, he asks the Jews what charges they are bringing. Instead of giving a straight answer they say that if he was innocent they wouldn't have handed him over. That was no more than an evasive non-answer.

Next Pilate tells them to apply Jewish law but they complain they can't apply the death penalty.

Pilate then decided to have a conversation with the prisoner himself, 'Are you the King of the Jews?'

Yahshua asks him if this is his own idea or whether the Jews have suggested it. And Pilate replies, 'Am I a Jew?' which effectively means, 'Of course they told me. How would I know?' He wants to find out what this man has done to so upset his own people. Yahshua replies that his Kingdom is not of this world but from another place. To a Roman, 'this world' would mean the Graeco-Roman world. Was the man saying he was from India, or Parthia, or somewhere else outside the Empire?

So far, Pilate might have been anxious only about the political issues and the danger of crowd trouble. But as we'll see in chapter 19, this is about to change.

His attitude up to this point seems entirely reasonable. The man is not guilty and should be released, so Pilate does his level best to do just that. However, the Jewish leadership and the crowds are combining to make this difficult to accomplish, and in the end the death of one man must have seemed less important to Pilate than the many deaths that would result from a riot in Jerusalem. Furthermore, King Herod and Caesar himself would regard civil unrest at a major religious festival as failure and he would not be prepared to push things so far as to provoke that. From Pilate's perspective preventing unrest was essential, saving this man's life was not.

But Pilate was not the only man in Jerusalem wanting to avoid trouble. By the time Yahshua and Pilate were in conversation Peter was feeling a very wretched failure. He had denied even knowing the Master. Peter was afraid of losing his own life and spoke out of that fear. Sometimes we speak out of fear too, it can freeze us into inaction or denial on the one hand, or send us into full-blown and headlong flight on the other.

What is the antidote to fear? Love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Later, the risen Lord would ask Peter, 'Do you love me?', as we shall see in chapter 21.

< John 17 | Index | John 19 >

26 January 2010

John 17 - Glory given and received

< John 16 | Index | John 18 >

In John 17 the time for teaching has finished, it is time for prayer. We have all been in situations where this is true. The glory of an evening rainbowWe can talk and talk but in the end if we want things to move forward we need to pray - for ourselves and for others. And this is precisely what Yahshua does; first for himself, then for others.

More particularly we need to pray when the situation is tough or desperate. Communication with others has to give way to communication with the Father who guides our paths and intervenes on our behalf. He is the One who hears and gives us what we ask (if we ask in Yahshua's name and in accordance with his will).

Notice that the Lord prays far less for himself than he does for his followers. Is there a lesson there for us too? We are likely to face tough times, but rarely as tough as those our Teacher and Master faced. Yet still his focus is on others. Even in praying for himself his focus is on the Father, the glory is for the Father. The Son asks for glory so that he can glorify the Father.

And there's a little reference to authority in verse 2, did you notice? The Son has been given authority over all people - all people. That includes Judas Iscariot, Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate. Yahshua is the King of Kings, he has kingly authority even over Caesar. With a single word he could have escaped death! But true authority doesn't merely command men and women. Instead it commands respect in those who recognise it. What sort of authority do you and I have? Do we issue orders or do we earn respect? What a difference!

Next he prays for his followers, his apprentices. Some of them heard these words or they could not have been recorded. What did they make of them at the time? He confidently speaks of their faith and understanding even though just a short time before they were demonstrating considerable doubt and confusion. That is real trust! The Father told him it was so, it appeared as if it might not be so, and he prays with confidence knowing that the prayer has been answered. He asks for their protection and for their sanctification.

And then he tells us, a hundred generations later and every generation in between, that his prayer is also for us! Yahshua's prayer is that we would be one, and not just with one another but also with him and with the Father. Now surely this is utterly awesome! And not only that. The Father gave glory to the Son and now the Son has given that same glory to us! (verse 22). If that doesn't take your breath away, nothing will. We are to contain both the love that the Father has for the Son and we are to contain the Son himself.

Christ in us, the hope of glory!

< John 16 | Index | John 18 >

25 January 2010

John 16 - I have overcome the world

< John 15 | Index | John 17 >

In John 16 Yahshua explains further to his puzzled and anxious disciples, and he does so very plainly so that by the end of the chapter they are beginning to understand something of what he is saying. Trouble in this worldIt must have been hard for him and for them.

Hard for him because he was living in a human body with a human mind, and just as he longed to avoid the death that lay ahead of him (much as you or I would have done) perhaps he also had some lingering anxiety that even at this late stage the disciples just weren't getting their heads around what was happening and might not be able to continue after he was gone.

In the first case he prayed that, if possible, the cup might be taken away, that another way than a cruel death might be found. 'Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done, Father.' (Luke 22:42) In the second case he would have been in the same place we are sometimes - knowing what Father has told us will happen but not seeing it beginning yet and knowing that time is running out. Have you ever felt like that? I know I have. We need faith in those situations and so, I imagine, did the earthbound Son of the Most High.

Hard for them because he was telling them what logically could not be. Surely he doesn't mean... death? That's obviously wrong, what would we do if he was no longer here with us? Of course, they couldn't imagine having the Cousellor Spirit within them, they had no real idea what that meant. They didn't know whether to prevent him doing what he plannned, or whether to just give up and go home (It's all finished guys, the dream's over. For a while it seemed that he really was the Messiah but it was just wishful thinking on our part.) Later they tried both courses of action as we shall see in chapters 18 and 21.

The real difference between Yahshua and the disciples (or between Yahshua and us) is that his trust in his Father doesn't reach breaking point, whereas ours does. He knew the heart of the Father, he knew it was impossible that mere circumstances would get in the way of ultimate victory. And that, perhaps, is why his feeling of abandonment on the cross was so deep, so severe, 'Eloi, Eloi, why have you forsaken me?'. At that point he really was defeated, alone, lost, without hope. But his Father was not defeated and we all know what happened three days later!

Here in John 16 it's clear that Yahshua understood very clearly that he was going to die but that he would be returning for a little while (verse 16) before finally leaving again to be with the Father. And events proved him right. So it's hard for us to understand the abandonment, the forsakeness. Perhaps he was expecting even this but once the link with the Father was severed it was more than he could bear. Perhaps this loss of oneness with the Father was the true price of sin, paid in full on our behalf.

Did you notice the shallow basis for the disciples' faith in verse 30? They believed that he came from the Almighty because they wanted to ask a question and he knew what it was before it was asked! Like them, our faith wavers and is unsure, but then rises high again because of some minor circumstance. Our faith sometimes depends on 'evidence'. What we (and they) forget is that true faith is the evidence of things unseen. The true basis for faith is trust, not evidence!

In this chapter Yahshua shares the events of the coming weeks so that when these things happen, the disciples will remember that he told them. What they don't understand now, they will understand soon. '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.' (verse 33)

< John 15 | Index | John 17 >

24 January 2010

John 15 - The true Vine

< John 14 | Index | John 16 >

The first words in John 15 are these - 'I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Gardener'. Who is the true Vine? Yahshua (Jesus). A grapvineJesus is the Life, Father is the one who tends and trains and nurtures that Life.

This chapter is just part of a long discourse that begins in John 13 while he washed their feet and carries on until the end of John 17. It begins as conversation, becomes a time of teaching, and ends in prayer. Yahshua said these things to the disciples but they also apply to us (see John 17:20).

Let's look at chapter 15 in more detail. There are statements here about the Son, the Father, the Spirit, the disciples, and the world. I have extracted them and rearranged them so you can read them as groups. If you follow Yahshua you are a disciple, this should make you very glad!

The Son - He learns from the Father - He did miracles - He will send the Counsellor - He is the true vine (so anything else that looks like a vine is false) - He is the cause of our fruitfulness - He chose and appointed us to bear lasting fruit - The branches must remain in him - He remains in us - He is essential - He speaks to us - He commands us - He will give us what we ask - He loves us - He calls us friends, not servants - He lays down his life for his friends - He came and spoke to the world - The world hated him - He was persecuted and disobeyed

The Father - He loves the Son - He is the source of the Spirit - He will give us whatever we ask in Yahshua's name - He is the gardener - He cuts unfruitful branches - He prunes fruitful branches to make them even more fruitful - His glory is that we bear much fruit

The Holy Spirit - He goes out from the Father - He is the Counsellor - He is the Spirit of Truth - He testifies about the Son

The disciples (including us) - We are the branches - We must remain in Christ - We cannot be fruitful by ourselves - We will bear much fruit if we remain in him - We can do nothing without him - If we are separated from him we will wither away and be worthless - We are clean because of the word he has spoken to us - We can ask whatever we wish - His joy is in us - We are to remain in his love - We must love one another as Christ has loved us - We are his friends (if we obey) - We are no longer servants - We know his business - We were chosen and appointed - We must testify about him - We glorify the Father by producing fruit

The world - It loves those who belong to it - They don't know the Father - They hate the Father and the Son - They hate us but hated the Lord first - They will not obey our teaching - They will persecute us - They have seen the miracles - Because of Christ's teaching, they have no excuse for their sin

The take home message is that we are here to glorify the Father and we can only do that by bearing much fruit. What is the fruit? Yahshua said that we will know a person by the fruit they produce (Matthew 7:16). The fruit of the Spirit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Have you ever thought that when you are patient you are glorifying the Father? Or when you are gentle? Or kind?

We don't need to do mighty works to glorify the Father. He is well able to do those himself! Instead, he is glorified when we grow to be more like his Son and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in abundance.

< John 14 | Index | John 16 >

23 January 2010

John 14 - The Holy Spirit

< John 13 | Index | John 15 >

It seems that the events of John 14, like those of John 13, tool place in the upper room. Yahshua is speaking spiritual truth, but the disciples are still hearing with earthly ears. Rays of illuminationAs far as they are concerned he is talking in riddles.

He assures them that he, himself, is the way to the Father's house. And he reiterates that if they really knew him, they would know the Father too. He tells them that the Father is living in him. (verse 10) And he says that they can ask anything in his name and he will do it.

They have seen his love for them and for the crowds, they have seen the miracles (including the Messianic miracles) so they should already understand and know what he is telling them - but they lack something. He knows what they lack - or rather who they lack. It's the Holy Spirit.

So in verses 15-21 Yahshua explains this to them. It is one of the most important bits of information they will need after he has gone back to the Father. He has been with them for a few years, but this 'other counsellor' who will be given will be with them for all generations to come. Notice that the world can't accept this counsellor because it doesn't see him and it doesn't know him. Isn't this true in your own experience? Those you know who are not believers don't accept that there is a person called the Holy Spirit. But, says the Lord, 'You know him for he lives with you and will be in you'. How awesome is that!

This is not just a matter of a sort of influencing force as some suggest (the Jehovah's Witnesses, for example). This is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, actually making his home within his people. He is not a spirit of fear but the Spirit of a sound mind. 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' is this same Holy Spirit! He is in you.

Think about this a little, let it sink in deeply. Yahshua is in the Father and the Father is in him. He is also in you and you are in him. The Spirit of Christ, sent by the Father is in you and has, in fact, made his home in you. Yahshua has gone to the Father to prepare a place for you in his Father's house of many rooms. The Father and the Son and the Spirit and the believers are all one! All living in one house, in other words all one family. No wonder the disciples found it hard to understand what Yahshua was saying to them, it is such an astonishing truth that it sounds as if it must be false! At this time he was still with them and therefore the Spirit had not yet been sent. But nevertheless it's true - read verse 23 if you have any doubts.

What a truth! What a Lord! What a great salvation!

< John 13 | Index | John 15 >

22 January 2010

John 13 - Washing their feet

< John 12 | Index | John 14 >

There is so much in John 13. Again it's a significant chapter because Yahshua knows he is about to suffer a dreadful death and will now be with the disciples for only a very short time. A man's right footSo everything he says and does is focused on reiterating the most important things so they'll be fresh in their minds after he has gone.

And although there's much here about his betrayal and death, there is also a great deal about loving one another. It's a bit like a mother or father leaving home for a risky hospital procedure and knowing they may never see the children again. What is the last thing you would say in that position? Very likely it would be along the lines of, 'Be good children, always do what Dad (or Mum) tells you and look after one another. I want you all to take special care of your brothers and sisters.'

This is one of the things he has always taught his followers. 'Care for others more than you care for yourself, and especially - love one another'. Knowing they still barely get it, he demonstrates it for them, acting like a household servant and washing their feet.

Verse 1 tells us that 'having loved them, he now showed them the full extent of his love'. What does this mean? It refers to what he is about to do, making himself their servant, the King of the universe making himself nothing so that they could experience his love. And of course, in cleaning their feet so they were ritually pure for the Passover meal he was also showing how he would very soon cleanse them of sin so they would be pure for life in heaven. The foot washing was Love at work, cleaning the loved. The Messiah's death would be the same Love at work, cleaning the loved. And who is Love? Why, the Mighty One himself! If you have seen the Son you have seen the Father - and you have seen Love himself.

But the take home message is 'What I have done for you, you must do for one another'. (verses 12-17)

Will we be like Yahshua, pouring ourselves out for the sake of our friends and family? Will we love one another? There are some groups of believers who hold a foot washing ritual. But it's not about the act of washing feet! It's about a heart that will want to wash feet literally or metaphorically whenever there's a need. It's about becoming a bit lower in order to raise up a brother or sister.

< John 12 | Index | John 14 >

21 January 2010

John 12 - Responding to Yahshua

< John 11 | Index | John 13 >

People have always responded to the presence and activity of Yahshua in a variety of ways John 12 has examples of several of these.
  • Martha served him as a member of the family.
  • Lazarus relaxed in his presence.
  • Mary spared no expense to honour him.
  • Judas objected to his acceptance of honour.
  • The crowd came to see what he had done.
  • The chief priests wanted to get rid of him.
  • Those celebrating the Passover greeted him as their King.
  • His disciples were puzzled at what was happening to him.
  • Those who had witnessed the miracle told everyone what he'd done.
  • Many who heard went out to meet him.
  • The Pharisees were exasperated by the effect he had on the crowds.
  • The Greek Jews asked to see him.
  • The Father spoke to him.
  • Those who followed the Law questioned him.
Whether they realised it or not, all of them were responding also to the presence and activity of the Father (verses 44-50).

Are you like any of the people in that list? How are you responding to Yahshua, the Son of the Most High?

I suggest going through the list a second time and thinking prayerfully about each one. Let's take the first and the last as examples.

Martha served him as a member of the family - Do you treat him as he wants to be treated, a precious member of your family? Is he invited to every family event, every occasion? Is he welcome, not only for the happy times, but also in the times of weeping? Every family has such times. Is he like the best of brothers, always there to help you, encourage you, comfort you, suggest better ways to do the things you did badly, commend you on the things you do well?

Those who followed the Law questioned him - there's no harm in questions as long as we're looking for information. Are your questions for information? Or are they sometimes a subtle form of criticism. 'Why did you do this, Lord?' 'Why did you allow that?' Although those questions can be straightforward, they may also be asked in an accusing way.

Like all the people in John 12 we respond to the presence and activity of the Lord in our lives. Let's make sure that our responses raise him up and glorify him amongst our circle of friends and family.

< John 11 | Index | John 13 >

20 January 2010

John 11 - Fully on earth, fully in heaven

< John 10 | Index | John 12 >

In John 11 we see both aspects of Yahshua's life coming together. this is not surprising as events are coming to a focal point, Rembrandt's depiction of the raising of Lazarushis death on the cross and resurrection three days later.

First there is the deep love he had for his close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (verse 5) - so much so that he wept with the tenderness he felt for them in their grief. They lived in Bethany just outside Jerusalem and he often stayed with them when he was in the city. Here we see the human aspect of the Lord, his fondness for these friends and his concern for them in their trouble. The disciples must have been surprised when he received the news of Lazarus' illness but didn't go right away to help him. Perhaps they thought it was because Jerusalem was unsafe for him.

So they are surprised again when, two days later, he does decide to head for Judaea. (verse 7)

Then we see his powerful heavenly aspect as he calls Lazarus out from the tomb. (verse 43) Is there any significance in the fact that this miracle came just before his own death? It would have been fresh in his mind as he was hanging between the two thieves. Those who witnessed his tears were agreed that he loved Lazarus deeply. Some of them referred to the Messianic miracle of healing the blind man and expressed surprise that he hadn't prevented the death of such a deeply loved friend. But later, divided as ever, many of them believed because of the raising of Lazarus. (verse 45) Those that did not believe went to tell the Sanhedrin.

Yahshua is totally focused on obedience to the Father in fulfilling all he had been sent to do, and care for the people amongst whom he lived. These two aspects of his nature, love for the Father and love for his friends are an outworking of the new commandment, the one that fulfils the Law in every respect - love the Almighty with all that is in you, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.

The Lord taught this throughout his ministry, demonstrated it throughout his life, and now demonstrates it finally again as his earthly life approaches an end that will be as extraordinary and unexpected as its beginning had been thirty years earlier.

Truly he is fully here on earth yet fully there in heaven, he is human yet also the great I AM. HalleluYah!

< John 10 | Index | John 12 >

19 January 2010

John 10 - Shepherds and sheep

< John 9 | Index | John 11 >

In John 10 Yahshua uses shepherds and their flocks as an illustration. He gives an agricultural parable in the first five verses, but his hearers don't understand. A modern flock of sheepHe's not speaking to the disciples and crowds only here, but also to the scribes and Pharisees who were assessing his Messianic claim. (See verses 19-21)

It will help our understanding if we consider the role of a shepherd in 1st century Judaea, sheep didn't live in fields or grassy hill farms as they do in the British Isles. Sheep in fields are securely fenced and can't wander, hill farm sheep wander freely all year and have to be caught and penned for dipping and shearing. Judaean sheep were (and still are) quite different.

The shepherd lives with the sheep and does not use a dog, by day he walks ahead to a place where he knows there will be some greenery and the sheep follow. Much of the landscape is stony and barren. After the rains the countryside turns briefly green and flowers blossom and set seed, at other times the only green things are the leaves of deeply rooted trees and limited amounts of grass and weeds in creek bottoms, along riverbanks, or on dried out riverbeds. The sheep depend for food and water on the knowledge of the shepherd.

At night shepherds lead their sheep to sheepfolds, roughly built out of stones with a single entrance. A number of different flocks spend the night at each sheepfold, the shepherds take turns at keeping watch while the others sleep. The sheep form one, large, mixed flock - there's no attempt to keep them separate.

In the morning, the shepherds head off in different directions, calling their sheep. The sheep recognise the voices and follow their own shepherd. These sheep are not penned in fields, but nor do they wander wherever they like, they follow the shepherd.

Yahshua makes the following five points.
  • Anyone who climbs over the wall is up to no good.
  • Genuine shepherds go through the opening knowing that the one who's on watch will recognise him and let him through.
  • The shepherd calls his sheep and they follow him.
  • They recognise his voice.
  • They run away from people whose voice they don't recognise.
They didn't understand so he explained it for them. He told them that he is the gate, but all others who came were thieves. Everyone who goes in through the gate will be safe and come and go and be fed. Thieves come to destroy, Yahshua comes to give life in full.

He demonstrates that as his people (his sheep) we know him and follow him and he gives his life for us. Furthermore he has other sheep that are not from this fold, but in the future there will be one flock and one shepherd.

As before, some of them thought he was crazy while others were convinced. People today are no different, some think this is madness, delusion. Others are convinced.

How many flocks are there? Are there house church sheep, Anglican sheep, Pentecostal sheep, and evangelical sheep? No, we are all part of one flock.  That is what the Lord said, he made it plain. There is much broken in our thinking that remains to be mended. Our thoughts are not his thoughts. Whoever you are, however you meet, consider yourself to be part of Yahshua's one flock.

< John 9 | Index | John 11 >

18 January 2010

John 9 - A man born blind

< John 8 | Index | John 10 >

Ah, John 9, one of my favourite chapters! First I'm going to explain about the so-called Messianic Miracles, then you'll see why I like the chapter.

The rabbis in Yahshua's day had constructed a lot of rules which were designed to ring-fence the Law. A guide dog for the blindAlthough miracles were not unknown in Israel, the Pharisees had specified three Messianic Miracles that nobody but the Messiah would be able to perform. These were healing a Jewish leper, casting out a dumb demon, and healing someone blind from birth. If someone performed these miracles there was a specified procedure for checking if he was the Messiah. First he must be observed at work, then he must be interrogated. Remember, none of this is in the Law given by Moses, it's just rabbinic teaching accumulated over the centuries.

Notice in verse 1 how Yahshua and the disciples see this man, blind from birth. Perhaps they had a conversation with him or with people who knew him. They had a discussion about the case after the disciples asked why the man was blind. And then the Lord made mud and put it on the blind man's eyes (which would have counted as working on Shabbat according to rabbinic tradition) and told him to go and wash.

Do you see how, in verses 8 to 12, the people who knew the man and his history want to know how he could now see? This was a Messianic Miracle and they knew it! And in verse 13 they take the man to the Pharisees who can't agree amongst themselves over this extraordinary event. They quizzed the man, they quizzed his parents, then they quizzed the man again and got more than they bargained for! (verses 30-33)

What they would have done next would be to observe Yahshua very carefully for a while, and then interrogate him. This is not the only Messianic Miracle he performed, he did all three. Notice that later, Yahshua himself pointed to the miracles when he says, 'The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me.' (John 10:25) And he mentions the miracles again in John 10:32 and 38.

Now can you see why I love this passage? It has hidden within it things that would have been obvious to Greek or Aramaic speaking Jews in Jesus day. These are some of the things Saul would have taught before he became Paul on the Damascus Road and they are details that speak loudly to modern Jews about the veracity of the gospel accounts as historical documents.

< John 8 | Index | John 10 >

17 January 2010

John 8 - Things the Father does for the Son

< John 7 | Index | John 9 >

John 8 is mostly a record of a conversation between Yahshua and groups of scribes and Pharisees. A father carrying his sonIt's a rather lopsided exchange with lengthy explanations from him, in response to short questions and statements from them.

There is a great deal here for us to investigate and digest. So let's look at just one small aspect, the remarks Yahshua makes that highlight what the Father does for him. There are nine of these, we'll deal with them in three logical groups (not in the order they are given in the chapter).

As we look at these remarks, notice how they are true of all healthy parent/offspring relationships. In other words they are true for fathers towards their sons and daughters, and for mothers towards their sons and daughters. Since everyone reading this must be a father, mother, son, or daughter (and in many cases two of those things) everything Yahshua says about his Father can be applied to our own lives too. Think about that as you read.

The first group is about the Father's position in relation to the Son
  • The Father sent him (verse 16) - Our children grow up and we send them out into the world to live their own lives. And although the Word was with the Almighty even before creation, he was sent into the world. And once here in bodily form he had to be born, feed on milk, wean, grow, learn to speak and walk, learn a trade, and prepare for his adult life. He was sent into the world to live as Elohim with us (Emmanu-El).
  • The Father stands with him (verse 16) - How could he not stand with his Son? Everywhere the Son goes, the Father is too, they are inseparable (except for that awful time at the Place of the Skull). That is why Yahshua could say to the disciples, 'If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.'
  • The Father is with him, he doesn't leave him alone (verse 29) - This is similar to the last point, yet subtly different. Standing is a passive thing, but when we are with someone we are not necessarily passive. I am certain that the Father and the Son are in constant conversation. And I know the conversation didn't stop while the Son was here on the earth. (See the next group of remarks.) Also, the Father's heart is for the Son.
The second group of remarks describes the Father's communication with the Son in more detail
  • The Father speaks to him (verse 26) - This is the conversation mentioned above. A constant flow of sharing.
  • The Father teaches him (verse 28) - Not only is there a conversation going on, but part of it is in some sense instructional. Yahshua often said that he only did what he saw the Father do.
  • The Father shows him things (verse 38) - There's great joy in a parent showing things to a child. This is a pleasure all parents should experience, and something all children should enjoy. It remains true even when the child is an adult. The same pleasure and enjoyment are shared between the Father and the Son.
The third group is about the Father's approval of the Son
  • The Father is pleased by the things his Son does (verse 29) - We all know the joy of being pleased with a child's achievements or knowing that a parent is pleased with us.
  • The Father is his witness and testifies for him (verse 18) - What better or more reliable witness can a person have than their own parent? What a tragedy it is when a parent will not testify on behalf of their own child!
  • The Father glorifies him (verse 54) - And in the end, the Father's purpose is to glorify the Son. This is one of those facts the Bible shares with us that shows the Father and the Son are co-equal. If the Father had precedence over all he would surely not glorify another, not even the Son. The Father crowns his Son with glory after glory.

< John 7 | Index | John 9 >

16 January 2010

John 7 - Organism or organisation?

< John 6 | Index | John 8 >

Now we get to the root of things. John 7 describes how Yahshua goes up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (an autumnal feast). It seems he remains there right through to the winter. Real and artificial rosesAt the Passover he will die and three days later he will rise again. Even in the autumn he is clearly aware the authorities are planning to kill him. He travels and arrives incognito (verse 10).

Halfway through the feast he went to the Temple and started teaching, amazing the scribes and Pharisees by his knowledge (verses 14-15). Slowly it dawned on people that this really was the man the authorities had wanted to kill. But because he was teaching openly and they'd done nothing to him, the crowd began to wonder if the authorities were now convinced he was the Messiah. (verses 25-26).

They believed that when the Messiah came, nobody would know where he came from. Yahshua was known to come from Nazareth in Galilee, so this ruled him out. Knowing what they were thinking he said, 'Yes, you know where I'm from. But the One who sent me is true. You don't know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.' (verses 27-29) They knew where he was from (Nazareth) yet they didn't know where he was from (heaven). We are all too capable of making similar mistakes. In very many cases, church is run as a earthly organisation, not a heavenly organism. Our rules tend to be about structures, Father's rules are always about life. What a contrast!

Chapter 7 of John reveals the Son living according to everything the Father shows him in the moment. And it also shows religious authority trying to impose 'correct' structure and behaviour. As Yahshua told them clearly, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.' (verse 16)

And they tried to arrest him but no-one took hold of him. Four times in the space of a few seconds he has used the phrase 'I am'. That is almost certainly what enraged them. They tried to take him, but the crowd was dense, many had put their faith in him and nobody in the crowd would take hold of him and hand him over. How infuriating!

'I am' might sound like an inoffensive phrase, but it sounds very similar to the name of the Most High, Yahweh or Jehovah. It was probably pronounced something like 'Yah-Veh'. To the Jewish authorities it was an affront of the worst kind, he had uttered the name of the Most High, the name that must not be spoken except once a year by the High Priest inside the Holy of Holies. This was an outrage. To this day devout Jews say 'Ha-Shem' instead of 'Yah-Veh'. Ha-Shem simply means 'the Name'. To see this outrage in action again later, read John 8:58-59, John 18:4-6 and Mark 14:61-64 (if the name was uttered in his presence, the High Priest was required to tear his robes).

The important thing for us to understand is that earthly rules don't apply to Yahshua because he comes from the Father. He does not live according to the world but according to heaven. He was not playing by the rules laid down by the Jewish authorities, he was playing by the rules laid down by his Father. Suppose that a rugby team and a cricket team decided to play a match. Would it work? No! It would be chaos, everyone would be confused. Even the referee and the umpire would be at a total loss.

We, as Yahshua's followers, have to play by his rules, not by the world's rules. This has a massive impact on our daily lives (or at least, it should). Church is a living organism (the body, the Bride) not an organisation. Christ died so that we might have life - not structure! He gave us one way, love, not law. He came to make us free, not so that we could tie one another down with dos and don'ts. A living rose can grow and reproduce with no effort on our part, a paper rose cannot. Praise him!

< John 6 | Index | John 8 >

15 January 2010

John 6 - With him or without him?

< John 5 | Index | John 7 >

John 6 is another very rich chapter. Which part should I choose? To tackle the entire chapter would need a lot more space than a blog post! There's the feeding of the five thousand (verses 1-15), A Galilean boat from New Testament timesthe events on the lake (verses 16-24), Yahshua's discussion about eating the living bread from heaven (verses 25-59), and the loss of many followers as a result (verses 60-71). These events are connected and most of them involve eating.

I'm going to focus on the section about the lake (the Sea of Galilee). The disciples acted much the way we do ourselves, there's a valuable lesson for us here in Kingdom living. The twelve disciples had seen the five loaves and the twelve baskets of pieces that were left, but what happens next?

Yahshua heads off alone into the mountains, the disciples get into a boat and set out to cross the lake without him. (Matthew and Mark describe events slightly differently, Yahshua tells them to go ahead on their own. But this doesn't alter the principle that when we do it alone we are likely to find it hard going.)

A strong wind blows up and the waves rise higher, not only that, the wind must be in the wrong direction because they row for three miles or more. To add to their troubles it's now dark. Have you ever felt like that? Life seems such hard work, progress is a struggle, you can't see where you're going, and the Lord is not with you. Do you know that feeling? Are you going through a patch like that right now? We've all been there!

At last they see Yahshua coming towards them. This would normally be great, but he's walking on the water and they are just petrified! How would you cope with this? How would I? On the beach we'd probably have a screaming fit and run away inland, but the twelve are in a small boat bobbing on a heavy sea with a strong wind blowing in the wrong direction. There's nowhere to go, except over the side of the boat!

In Matthew's account this is exactly what Peter does. Yahshua called to them, 'Courage! It's me, don't be afraid.' And Peter, do-it-first-and-think-later Peter replied, 'If it's you, Lord, tell me to walk out to meet you'.

And notice what happens next. He gets into the boat with them and immediately they arrive at their destination.

What a contrast! Without him, instead of sailing they had to row against the wind. But with him, they arrived immediately.

I don't think I need to spell the lesson out, it's obvious to all of us. So when you embark on any course of action do you think you'll be better off with Yahshua on board, or would you prefer to do it all yourself leaving him behind?

< John 5 | Index | John 7 >

14 January 2010

John 5 - Learning from Dad

< John 4 | Index | John 6 >

In John 5 we have an amazing catalogue of right and wrong ways to see things. Carpenter's toolsThis is important because seeing things the right way provides an opportunity for life while seeing the same things in the wrong way leads to death.

The chapter begins with the healing of an invalid. Two factors are significant. First, the invalid had been regularly and patiently trying to follow an accepted approach to healing, but Yahshua chose a much simpler way. And secondly, the healing was performed illegally because it took place on Shabbat, the day of rest. It seems that the traditional and legal ways were completely ineffective. But Yahshua's novel and illegal way was entirely and immediately effective!

Yahshua had a conversation with 'the Jews' about this. The term 'the Jews' normally means the scribes, Temple priests, Pharisees, Saducees, and probably other groups like the Essenes. These groups didn't agree on everything, but they certainly agreed that true authority was to be found somewhere in their teachings about the Law and in all the traditions and regulations they had built around the Law.

With that in mind, lets look at some of things he said to them.

John 5:17 - We are disciples, or perhaps the word apprentices describes it better in modern English. And in a sense, Yahshua himself was the first apprentice. He learned the skills of working in wood from Joseph just as any boy in Galilee would have learned the family trade at that time. And being an apprentice meant living and working with the master craftsman in the family home. Usually, the master craftsman would also have been the apprentice's father. So it was natural for Yahshua to have the same relationship with his heavenly Father, doing what an apprentice does, watching Dad at work and learning by copying. So Yahshua told them, 'My Father's always doing his work even today, and I'm working too.' And what was today? It was Shabbat, the Holy Sabbath day of rest. No wonder they're angry! Not only is he saying he's the Son of the Most High (they already know that's what he's alluding to), he's also saying, 'The Almighty works on Shabbat so I do too.'

John 5:19 - Here's a perfect description of family at work, apprenticeship at its best, the Father and the Son in unison, the Son following the Father's lead.

John 5:20-23 - It doesn't get much clearer than this! The Father loves the Son (as indeed any good father does). And he shows him what? Just the beginner's tasks? Everything but the really important stuff? No! He shows him everything! He even gives the Son the choice of who shall live, and he gives him responsibility for judging people. Why? So that the Son will get the same honour as the Father. And now he tells them to their face, 'If you don't honour me, you don't honour the Father either.' Ouch!

John 5:24-27 - But it gets worse for these Jewish authorities. Now Yahshua tells them that anyone who listens to him and believes his Father, already has eternal life, won't be condemned, and has crossed over from death to life. He tells them that even the dead will hear, that the Son is judge. They began by judging him for working on Shabbat - now he says he is going judge them!

So you see, this really is a matter of life and death whether those Jewish leaders thought so or not. We need to understand that Yahshua (Jesus) is who he claimed to be - the Son of the Most High. We need to understand that he has the power and authority to judge us, and that we have already crossed over from death to life if we hear him and believe. It makes a difference!

< John 4 | Index | John 6 >

13 January 2010

John 4 - Jacob's Well

< John 3 | Index | John 5 >

John 4 contains some extraordinary details!

From time to time people realised who Yahshua truly is. He's not just a wise teacher, a generous judge, or a great prophet (though he is all of those things). Well in an arid landscapeBut he is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, the Promised One sent from Heaven by the Almighty himself! He is an awesome person, the One the ages have been waiting for, the very turning point of history.

But in Galilee or Judaea, almost every time someone realised the truth Yahshua told them to keep quiet about it, to tell no-one. And rarely, if ever, did he volunteer the information. But here, in Samaria of all places, to a woman, without the presence of the twelve, to a person living a sinful life - he actually spells it out. Doesn't that seem a little strange?

He spills his great and most precious secret to the lowest kind of person (in legalistic Jewish eyes). Even the disciples are puzzled, just think what the Scribes and Pharisees would have made of this!

Why did he do it?

Perhaps the simple truth is that Yahshua is not looking for holy people. He is not looking for achievement, but for obedience. And he knows what is in a person's heart.

Picture the scene. It was the sixth hour, in other words midday. The sun was at its highest and hottest, shade was hard to find, the road was dusty, they've been travelling since dawn and are tired, thirsty, and hungry. The twelve have gone to find something to eat and drink. Yahshua sits here in the dusty heat alone beside the well, Jacob's Well. Perhaps he's thinking about the passage in Genesis where his ancestor Jacob is at a similar well in another foreign land at around midday. The sheep couldn't be watered until they were all gathered and the heavy covering stone was rolled away from the mouth of the well.

That he thought about this is speculation of course, but it's possible. Perhaps it's even quite likely.

Here he is in a foreign (and despised) land. The people who live here are also distant relatives sharing the same ancestors. Yahshua has come for the gathering of his own flocks, and like Jacob he has come to roll away the stone that blocks the mouth of the well so that the sheep can be watered. And here comes a woman to draw water much as Rachel must have done all those centuries before.

So he asks her for a drink, knowing already that this is a conversation the Father wants him to have. And in the conversation about living and eternal water, a heavy metaphorical stone is partly rolled away in the Samaritan woman's heart. He finally tells her who he is, the stone falls aside, her understanding becomes clear, and she leaves her jar to run back to town to tell everyone. She tells them all, they spend some time with the Master, and many of them believe.

Nothing in the Bible is there by mistake. This despised, foreign, sinful woman has a place in John's Gospel for a reason. She is there to inspire us and encourage us. Yahshua's gift of life and his promise of an endless supply of living water is for all people of any status in any land. It's for those leading sinful lives. It's for those who are despised. It is for you and for me - HalleluYah!

< John 3 | Index | John 5 >

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