30 July 2012

Walking on water

Part 5 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

Strange events take place at night on a dark and stormy Sea of Galilee. The disciples and the crowd lose track of Jesus but he later reappears on the lake. We can learn more about him and about ourselves by reading John's account of these events.

2000-year-old Galilean fishing boat
For the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

Jesus and his close followers were very familiar with the Sea of Galilee. It was on the shores of this large lake that he called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As fishermen's kids they had known boats and fishing and the conditions of the lake since they were children.

Travelling by boat would have provided a good short-cut to walking around the circumference of this nearly circular expanse of water. This is something they must have done many times before. And it would have been a good way of escaping from the crowds.

Here's the passage from John, then we'll ask ourselves the usual four questions.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake where 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. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It's me - don’t be afraid!’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (John 6:16-25)

Here are the four questions suggested by Neil Cole with some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there are the disciples. Why did they leave without Jesus? (Hint: check back in verses 14 and 15.) There was a strong wind, so why were they rowing? How do you think they felt, in the dark, with a storm brewing and the waves getting bigger?

Next is the crowd. What do they do when they realise Jesus and the disciples are missing? Why?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why do you think Jesus had stayed away until late evening? (Check verse 15.) What was he doing? He was walking on the water, that's a little - unusual! What does it tell us about him. Was he trying to impress or was he just being practical? What was the result of him speaking to the scared disciples? What was the result of having him in the boat?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like the disciples or are you like the crowd? Maybe, in some ways, you are like both. Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently? How do you explain what Jesus did?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - Galilean fishing boats were quite small and storms on the lake can be sudden and fierce. A boat could easily be swamped and it might have been safer to row than to sail. If the wind was in the wrong direction rowing would have been the only solution.

Wikipedia has further images of the 2000-year-old boat and information about its discovery and preservation.

< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

28 July 2012

Jesus in Zechariah

We look at chapter six of Zechariah, investigate the meanings of some names, discover Jesus hidden in this Old Testament passage, and see that following in his footsteps we are truly a royal priesthood.

A crown for the KingSean and I have been working our way through Zechariah for a few weeks, and we've been finding a whole lot to ponder on.

Last time we read chapter six, and the section from verse nine to the end seemed rich with meaning (Zechariah 6:9-15). It's all about Jesus!

Zechariah is called to accept gold and silver from three returning exiles. Their name are Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah. These names are not accidental.

The meanings of the names - Curiously, Heldai can be translated 'mole' or 'worldly' or 'rustiness'. Moles dig underground, and rust reverses the hard work of smelting iron, converting it back to dust. So the name seems to suggest the world and its influence.

Tobijah on the other hand means 'Yahweh is good', and Jedaiah means 'Yahweh's friend'.

The silver and gold is to be made into a crown and set on the head of the high priest whose name is Joshua (ie Jeshua or Yahshua or 'Yahweh saves'). New Testament English translations render this name 'Jesus'. And Jesus of course is, indeed, our Great High Priest.

Let's ponder this a little before we move on. The corruptible world, the goodness of the Most High, and his friend bring silver and gold. And they bring it from the place of captivity, the place of exile.

Heldai represents you and me. We are worldliness. Every believer in Jesus, every one of us, has been rescued from a place of exile. But now we have come out from captivity and from death. We have come to the throne of glory, we are covered by grace, we have come to new life in Christ.

Tobijah represents the Almighty who is pure and good in every way. He is Emmanuel, the Most High with us, he came (as Jesus) into the place of captivity to find us and he travels out from exile with us.

Jedaiah represents the friendship between Heldai and Tobijah. Through Christ we have now become Yahweh's friends, not by our own merit but solely through his. Yahshua said, 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.' (John 15;15)

The crown - The gifts of silver and gold are things that will last, things that are worthy of being forged into a crown fit for the King. They're the gold and silver and costly stones that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, things that will remain after the fire. The crown is the church, the bride, the thing that complements and completes the King upon his throne. We, his people, are the lasting gifts brought out from captivity and exile and wrought into a holy crown. To us he gave his glory, the glory that the Father has given him. We are his crowning glory, the work of his own hands (I will build my church). This is a mystery revealed to those who have eyes to see. It is an eternal work. It will never fade or fail.

And all of this is laid out by Zechariah, hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth called the fishermen from Galilee and brought the vision to ultimate fulfilment in his own life and death and resurrection.

The Father speaks to the Son - In verses 12-15 we read a message from Yahweh Elohim to Joshua the High Priest - or if you like, a message from the Father to the Son. We read about the man whose name is 'The Branch', he is also mentioned in Isaiah and Jeremiah, he is clearly Jesus. He is the one who builds the Temple, he is the one who is clothed in majesty and rules on his throne. He will be a priest on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two. In other words there will be harmony between kingship and priesthood.

This was unheard of in Israel, but in Christ kingship and priesthood are combined. We inherit this harmony through him, hence we are a 'royal priesthood'. (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - 1 Peter 2:9)

I'd like to leave you with a question. If Jesus is the High Priest and we are priests, what does Jesus being the King make us? Does this affect the way we see ourselves and live our lives?

27 July 2012

Not rules, but relationship

How we need to get the basis of our faith right. But so often we have it utterly wrong! It's not about rules, it's about relationship. Jesus was quite clear about this - 'I and the Father are one', 'Love one another as I have loved you'.

Interview with William P Young
I've been listening to a two-year-old recording of an interview with the author of 'The Shack', William P Young. Kathleen Slattery Moschkau questions him and he explains the background to the book as well as some of his own, personal history.

The entire interview is moving, informative and gripping, but it also gives us glimpses of the real Paul Young as well as glimpses of the love of the One who just is. The One who was and is and will always be. The One who longs to find me in my lostness.

There are two snippets from the interview that I need to share with you here. Not because they are better than any other part but simply because I won't be able to rest until I have shared them. I have stopped working on another post so I can get this one out there first.

First, here's the link to the interview so that you can hear it for yourself.

The two segments I feel compelled to share are around 10:43 and 19:30 minutes into the interview.

Rejection - At 10:43 Paul mentions that churches sometimes reject people who are beginning to be open.  He explains that he was once involved in a fellowship where this happened. The way he puts it is 'when their cracks showed up we just kicked them out'. If that sounds harsh it's because it is! But it happens because we are lost. Instead of loving the person we are afraid of the cracks we see. We can't handle it. We preserve our rules and structures by rejecting the 'misfits' who would cause the entire facade to collapse.

Acceptance - And at 19:30 Paul explains that 'Jesus came to destroy religion by introducing a relationship'. It's not about rules. It's about love. It's about relationship.

Those two segments are saying exactly the same thing in two different ways. We often handle those around us by rejecting whatever threatens the things that seem important. We don't want our world to crumble.

But Father (Daddy, Papa, Abba) simply pours out his love over us (and his grace, and his peace, and the fragrance of his presence, and even his glory - John 17:20-22).

He wants me to do the same. He wants me to love and pour out grace, peace, and the fragrance of his Spirit and glory. He wants me to do it freely and abundantly and with gay abandon. It's never too late to start.

Do you have stories of  times when rules took precedence over love? Can you identify good and less good experiences in you own life? How would you describe Papa's yearning for relationship with us as his children? How can we learn to better accept one another in life-giving relationship?

21 July 2012

Security in a button?

I received a message about a button from my friend Ash. The Spirit gave him a picture of the button and then showed him how it represents security. I like what he shared and I think it deserves to be more widely circulated.

A button on denim jeans
Ashley sent me a message about a button and wondered if I might use it on the blog.

The answer was 'Yes, definitely!' So here it is.

Read it first, then I'll comment on it, and finally you can comment too if you wish.

I hope we do have a conversation in the comments. It could be rather useful.

Put on your thinking-cap and start stroking that keyboard or tablet.

Secure in Jesus...

I belong to a small home group which meets on a weekly basis. This week we met as usual and we were encouraged to discuss, and then try sitting quietly and listening to God. As the group compromises of Christians young and mature, we shared how to go about getting to listening and hearing.

It is something I have learnt to do and had some good experiences from over the years. God talks to me via pictures a lot and also through other people. Today when I was preparing my spirit for my quiet time God quickly gave me a picture of a button. I sat in his presence for not very long when I had back that the significance of this picture was about being secure.

A pair of trousers, like life is no good unless they are secure. Trousers with no button could have you holding them up manually, maybe with one hand so you are not as effective as you could be in what you do on a daily basis with two hands. If you stopped trying to hold them up, they would fall down around your ankles and could cause you to fall over them. Life holds no security for us as anything is temporary. We are all at anytime able to lose a job or a loved one for example. Total security is only available in a relationship with Jesus.

Everybody at some stage in life will wear trousers and want them to be secure, just like at some stage in life we will want Jesus to help us to be secure. Jesus does not want this at some stage approach. He wants us to be in a lifelong relationship with him, trusting in him and getting to know him.

Thanks for sharing, Ash.

I love the idea of a button providing security. A button is a small thing, almost an insignificant thing, yet for lack of one we might be seriously embarrassed and inconvenienced.

In what ways might we be embarrassed and inconvenienced without a relationship with Jesus? How might our security be affected?

There is the obvious answer of eternal life, but there are also several less obvious ways in which he gives us security. Anyone care to comment?

Does the Holy Spirit speak to you? If so, how? Do you have any particular advice to help others learn to listen or listen more attentively?

20 July 2012

So - who is my neighbour?

Henri Nouwen looks at the parable of the good Samaritan in a slightly different way. So who is my neighbour? Have I always misunderstood the main thrust of this story, or does Nouwen have it wrong. Or am I missing the point?

Henri Nouwen and the good SamaritanHenri Nouwen wrote some great books, full of depth and character resulting from a lifetime of learning and growing in Christ. He was a gentle, careful, caring person. He was an encourager and a calming influence. He had substance - not in himself but in Christ.

I've been reading the daily meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society (highly recommended, by the way). This is today's extract.
'Love your neighbour as yourself' the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38). But who is my neighbour?

We often respond to that question by saying: 'My neighbours are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.' But this is not what Jesus says.

When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question 'Who is my neighbour?' he ends the by asking: 'Which, ... do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?'

The neighbour, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man laying on the side of the street, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, 'bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, ... lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.' My neighbour is the one who crosses the road for me!

What do you think of this idea? Is Nouwen right? Has he seen 'beneath the surface' as it were, and recognised a deeper spiritual truth?

To me it seems more fitting that we should love those that need our love rather than those that help us. So is this one of those rare occasions when Nouwen got it wrong? Although the text supports his conclusion if we take it literally, is this what it really means? Is this what Yahshua intended as he spoke to the lawyer? (See the entire passage - Luke 10:25-37)

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

18 July 2012

The crowds are fed

Part 4 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

People are hungry - and there are a lot of people. Jesus asks the disciples about feeding them and then shows that neither money nor large supplies of food are necessary. We finish with the usual four questions.

Traditional Jordanian breadFor the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

At Tabgha on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee is a church at the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand.

About 300 years after the crowd ate the bread and fish, a woman called Egeria visited and wrote of this site.

'In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.'

So let's read the passage from John and then ask the usual four questions.


Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’ (John 6:1-15)

As for the earlier signs in John, I'll now ask the four questions suggested by Neil Cole and provide some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there is the crowd. Why were they following Jesus? Travelling around on foot would have been quite an effort, they would have been both tired and hungry. Any who were not young, fit and well might have been really struggling. Right at the end the people are mentioned again. How did they respond to what had happened?

Next is Philip. His solution to feeding the people is to buy food, but he knew this was unaffordable for so many.

Andrew knew they had some food, but only a token amount among so many.

The disciples (including Philip and Andrew) are mentioned later. Jesus tells them to pick up the pieces. This might have seemed an unnecessary chore (the were no littering laws in those days). How did they respond? What were they thinking as the baskets filled up?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Jesus crossed to the far shore. He was always travelling about the land. Why?

His initial response to the crowd was to go up into the hills. But they followed him. What is his attitude to this crowd?

Notice how he uses questions to teach the disciples, getting people to think and verbalise is more effective than just giving the answer.

Jesus tells the disciples what to do - make them sit down - gather up the pieces. Who is in control here?

Right at the end, is he taken by surprise by the intentions of the crowd? Does he approve of their desire to make him a king? What is going on here?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in the story? Are you like all of them in some way? Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - John mentions 5000 men in this crowd. The total size of the crowd would have been more, perhaps substantially more if they had counted women and children too.

< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

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