Showing posts with label sign. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sign. Show all posts

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 >

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 >

17 July 2012

An invalid is healed

Part 3 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

Jesus heals a lame man and tells him to pick up his mat and walk. As it's the Sabbath, this leads to trouble with the Jewish leaders. Once again we will ask four questions after reading the passage.

Remains in the vicinity of the Pool of Bethesda
Here is the third sign in John, for the background please read the index page.

Parts of the Pool of Bethesda are still visible in Jerusalem. The archaeology is not straightforward to understand because of the presence of later structures. But remains of the pool are definitely present.

The covered colonnades have long since gone, but they would have provided cool shade where the sick would have waited, hoping that the water would be stirred so that one person might be healed each day.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’

But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’

So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’

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? - Let's work through them systematically.


There was a crowd at the Pool of Bethesda - a 'great number' of disabled people lying there. Why were they there? And why so many of them? What were their expectations of success?


Among them is this one particular man. We don't know his name, but Jesus spoke to him. How did he respond to Jesus' question? Why didn't he simply answer 'Yes'? Was he healed as Jesus spoke or as he obeyed? How does he reply to the Jewish leaders who quiz him after he is healed? And later, after he meets Jesus again in the Temple, why might he have gone back to the Jewish leaders?


Next we must consider the Jewish leaders themselves. Are they glad to hear about the healing? Whose interests do they have at heart? What motives underlie their question to the healed man? What was their attitude to Jesus?


What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why was Jesus in Jerusalem, what does this tell us about his attitude to Jewish traditions?


He also went to a place where there were many sick people. Is he willing or unwilling to deal with the pain and misery that people sometimes face? Did he heal everyone, if not how many?


What is his view on rules like working on the Sabbath? Are there things that he sees as more important? If so, what? How did he explain his attitude to the Sabbath regulations?


What does it tell me about myself? - Are there any ways in which you are a bit like the characters portrayed here?


Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know anyone who might be encouraged by this story? Do you know anyone who needs healing? Do you know anyone with strong religious attitudes about following rules and regulations? If you know people who need to hear this story, who will tell them? Might you need to tell them?


Additional points - Jewish law was quite strict. Picking something up and carrying it counted as work and was not allowed on the Sabbath.

< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

11 July 2012

Healing at a distance

Part 2 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< Water becomes wine | Index | An invalid is healed >

In the second of John's signs, Jesus speaks with a royal official in Cana and heals his son. The interaction between Jesus and the official is illuminating. It reveals much about them both.

The royal official pleading for his son
Here is the second sign in John's book about Jesus.

John explained the reason for including this sign as well as six others.

He wrote, 'Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.'

'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

Here, then, is his account of the second sign in which Jesus heals a boy without even having him physically present.

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay ill at Capernaum. When 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.

‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’

The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’

‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’

Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and his whole household believed.

This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

Here are the four questions once more, again I'm not going to provide answers but will try to point you to where those answers might be found.

What does this story tell us about people? - Consider each of them in turn.

The journey from Capernaum to Cana was 27 km (17 miles) and it was uphill most of the way, a tough and exhausting journey. The royal official may have been Jewish or he may have been Greek or Roman. He would have commanded some status, but Jesus also had a certain status as a Jewish Rabbi. Did the royal official treat Jesus as an equal? If not, did he treat Jesus as high or low status? The passage tells us several more things about the official and his actions. Consider everything he did and said.

The next person mentioned is the child who was ill. John doesn't tell us how old he was, but we know he was back home in Capernaum.

Next, Jesus mentions the unspecified 'you people'. Is he talking about important officials, the listening crowd, the population of Cana or Capernaum, or people in general?

Then we read about the official's servants. They know that he will want to hear the good news about his son. The servants may have left Capernaum about the same time the official left Cana. They would have met about halfway between the two places.

And finally, John mentions the official's 'whole household'. This would typically have included his family (young and old alike) as well as his servants.

What does it tell us about Jesus? - There is information here about his mobility in Judea and Galilee, his attitude to requests for help, his knowledge about people's motives, his authority in speaking to people, his authority over the natural world, and his effect on the people who met him.

The Greek word 'zao' (your son will live) refers to eternal life when it's used elsewhere in John. It therefore implies more than just surviving in a worldly sense. When the 'whole household believed', that would have included the boy who had been ill.

What else can we learn about Jesus from these verses? Did you notice that in doing the one thing he was asked to do there was a greater fruit that came from the answered prayer?

Finally, what does this sign convey about the healing process? Does Jesus need to be physically present? What does the answer imply for us when we pray?

What does it tell me about myself? - Is there anyone in this passage that reminds you of yourself? Have you ever had sickness in the family?

Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know anyone who would benefit from hearing the story of this healing? Will you help them? If not, why not?

Additional points - This sign takes things well beyond the first one. Physical things (bread and wine) have been replaced by a dying child. The stakes are higher this time!

As before you might consider using this blog post as a discussion outline or Bible study. There are many possibilities. One to one with a friend would be good too.

There is much more about the royal official in Cornelis Bennema's book 'Encountering Jesus'. You can read a relevant extract on line.

< Water becomes wine | Index | An invalid is healed >

10 July 2012

Water becomes wine

Part 1 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

Jesus was invited to a wedding in the village of Cana. While the wedding reception was still under way the wine ran out. How embarrassing for the bridegroom! There is so much to learn from the people and events in Cana that day.

A modern British wedding reception
This is the first sign in John's gospel. Just to recap, here is John's explanation about the inclusion of this sign in his book about Jesus.

'Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.'

'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

Now read John's account of this first sign.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and 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.’

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

We'll go through the four questions in turn, and although I'm not going to provide answers I will try to point you to where those answers might be found.

What does this story tell us about people? - There are several people in this short passage, consider them carefully one by one. Bear in mind that the people in the story are just like us; although they lived two thousand years ago they have the same characteristics and motivations and do the same sorts of things.

The disciples are mentioned twice, near the beginning and again at the end.

Jesus' mother knew her son just as any mother would. What does she do and how does she respond to what he tells her?

Don't forget the servants, they are easily overlooked. Remember that servants would not be expected to chat with the guests, but they would be expected to be attentive and do whatever they were told. What do you think they might have been thinking as they took the water to the MC?

Then there's the Master of Ceremonies, he's supposed to be in charge but he doesn't seem to have noticed where the new supply of wine came from. In what ways are we like him? He was familiar with the little tricks people often use, do you sense his surprise? What does this tell you about people?

And how do you suppose the bridegroom felt when the wine ran out? Why might this have happened? (I can think of several plausible reasons.) Have you ever been in a situation where you were responsible for something important and didn't get it quite right?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Was Jesus stuffy and religious? Notice that he was invited to a party and was happy to be there. Is he aloof or approachable?

Why do you think he says one thing to his mother and then seems to do the opposite? Who told him it wasn't time yet, and who told him, 'Now is the time'? Remember that he said, 'I only do what I see the Father doing'. Is he being difficult, or just being obedient? Compare this with John 7:8-10.

What do we learn about his power and authority in the world?

Does he do everything himself or does he send others?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in this story? In what ways?

Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know people who need to hear this story, this 'sign'? If so, who is going to tell them? Could you share this with others individually? Could you share it with a group of friends?

Additional points - The wine had run out so there must have been plenty of empty wine jars and/or wineskins around. So why did Jesus used the hand-washing water jars? Would you want to drink washing water?

Consider using this blog post as a discussion outline for a CU meeting or for a home group or cell group. Use it as part of a Bible study or for informal sharing. There are all sorts of possibilities.

< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

09 July 2012

Seven signs in John - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

The seven signs in John are a useful way of engaging people's attention on who Jesus is. He is more than an historical figure, more than a wise teacher, more than many people realise. These particular seven events were written down to help us see his true nature and significance.

Seven signs in John
Near the end of John's spiritual biography of Jesus, he writes these words.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

What 'signs' is John referring to here? - There are seven of them, and over the next week or two I plan to write short notes on each one. John wrote about these particular signs '[so] that you might believe'. He regarded them as especially useful in drawing people to believe that Jesus was the Son of the Most High. We should surely take note of them and use them in reaching others.

Click the links in the list to read the articles.
  1. Water becomes wine (John 2:1-11)
  2. Healing at a distance (John 4:46-54)
  3. An invalid is healed (John 5:1-17)
  4. The crowds are fed (John 6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (John 6:16-24)
  6. The blind man sees (John 9:1-41)
  7. Raising the dead (John 11:1-54)

Neil Cole - Neil has written about the seven signs and suggests a useful way of approaching them in simple conversations. I'll examine them in a little more detail here, though still aim to leave readers to reach their own conclusions. Being told something is not as powerful as drawing meaning out for yourself. Sometimes an open question is more valuable than a closed answer.

Neil suggests asking four questions about each sign.

  1. What does it tell us about people?
  2. What does it tell us about Jesus?
  3. What does it tell me about myself?
  4. Who else needs to hear this?
You might enjoy listening to Neil Cole speaking about the usefulness of these signs.

See also: RESPONSE - Seven signs in John

12 April 2012

Small group, seven signs

The Seven Signs in John are a perfect basis for drawing people into relationship with Jesus. But they are also well worth the attention of those who already know him and walk with him every day. They are eye opening and mind expanding.

The purpose of JohnThe Seven Signs in John are a great way to investigate Jesus with people who don't yet follow him. When someone is interested enough to want to know more, rather than 'teach' them about Jesus it may be better to help them discover Jesus for themselves by reading and unwrapping the seven signs.

Briefly, in John 20:30-31, John explains that of the many signs Jesus performed, he has chosen to write down just seven 'so that you may believe'. The first two signs take place in the village of Cana in Galilee where Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12), and later heals the son of a royal official (John 4:46-54). The other signs are listed by Neil Cole on the CMA Resources website. I encourage everyone to read that article and also listen to Neil speaking about the seven signs.

Clearly, these signs are written for unbelievers so that they can come to faith in Jesus and receive new life. But can these passages from the book of John be of value to those who already believe? Yes, they can. Discussing the first two signs with a group of friends who are already fully involved in church life has been an interesting experience for me.

As we discussed the passages I noticed a growing awareness of the power and depth of John's words. The four questions suggested by Neil brought this out very clearly for my friends. They quickly understood the value of using the passages to see that people are just the same today as they were 2000 years ago and that Jesus is approachable and able to help ordinary men and women. They could also see how the passages demand a response and recognized that others need to hear these accounts of the signs for themselves.

Based on this experience I would say that believers benefit from the seven signs in a variety of ways.

  • Recognising that the people in the Bible are 'just like us'. The Bible thus becomes more immediately relevant; it's no longer a book of merely historical and spiritual significance, but a book in which  the Father and the Son deal with ordinary people in very practical ways.
  • Seeing Christ himself in the pages of the Bible. Jesus, as described by John, is deeply relevant to us and to the people around us.
  • Understanding the need to get people thinking for themselves. The best approach involves reading the verses together and asking questions.
  • Viewing outreach as something we can all do. The seven signs are a very easy way to get started, either one to one or with a small group of interested people.

There is one caveat, however. There is a real danger that people who already follow Jesus may see the signs as a handy teaching technique. This misses the point. The whole idea is to encourage everyone to think for themselves. We don't need to teach people about Jesus, they will draw their own conclusions if we encourage them to read the passages and ask the right questions.

This fundamental shift in approach is something that may not come easily. But one way is to look at the way Jesus interacted with the people he met. And one way to do that is to try the seven signs for yourself, preferably as a group but if necessary on your own.

10 March 2011

RESPONSE - Seven signs in John

In his gospel, John records seven signs that Jesus gave. They were miraculous acts that made people stop, take notice, and respond. One of them (healing a person born blind) was regarded by the rabbis as a messianic miracle, something that only the Messiah would be able to do. Something they could not ignore.

Ben and CathBen Taylor visited me for an afternoon recently, he was in the area to visit and work with Chris Duffett and I was delighted that he could find time to drop in on his way back to Somerset.

Several times he mentioned the seven signs in John, the link leads to articles on Ben and Cath's blog where you'll find additional references to the seven signs and some examples of how they can be used to help people understand who Jesus is. I believe this is important and I encourage everyone to dig deeper for themselves.

Last year I also wrote about healing the man born blind. As a result of this (and other messianic miracles) the religious authorities were faced with a stark choice - accept Jesus as the Messiah, or reject the plain facts.

I'd like to go through the seven signs in John with others as and when there are opportunities. We're planning to do some Bible study in a local coffee shop and maybe this will provide some possibilities. We'll see.

Meanwhile, a very good place to begin would be to read the CMA Resources page on the seven signs. It explains everything clearly and concisely. Also, check back on Ben and Cath's site from time to time for more examples of how they are using these signs to spark meaningful conversations and simple Bible studies with people.

The Great Commission is to go out into the world and make disciples - and this is a great way to do just that. It's not the only way, of course, but if you're thinking, 'How do I begin?' this is a good idea to consider. Read about it, pray about it, and if the Spirit leads you to do it - go for it!

See also: Seven signs in John - a series

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