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

20 June 2012

Belonging or activity?

Belonging and activity are both essential for healthy church life. As individuals we need to be widely connected and part of close family with Jesus. Belonging and activity are at the heart of all we are and do.

Belonging and activity
In the world of on line collaboration we can think in terms of social networks, like Facebook, and platforms for activity, like Wikipedia. Facebook connects people who know one another - family, work colleagues, neighbours. Wikipedia is a place where strangers collaborate on building an encyclopaedia.

Of course belonging and activity overlap to some extent, and relationships change. It's possible to make friends with others editing the same article on Wikipedia, and Facebook includes pages for people who share common interests.

But even if the distinction grows a little fuzzy in the middle, it's still a valid (and useful) distinction.

In terms of church life we see the same thing. Sometimes we have a sense of belonging, we see other believers as our church friends and family. Jesus tells us to love one another, we are called to care deeply. But we think in terms of activity when we work on projects of various kinds. We may do this alone or with others. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, take in the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

If belonging becomes dominant in our thinking. If we think the purpose of the church family is solely to be together often for close community, for encouragement, and for worship we may miss opportunities for wider connection. One of the failures of church in our day is the silo mentality that fails to communicate across the divide - even in the same town. It's like family life becoming so important that we never speak to our neighbours! And we may also miss opportunities for practical action in our own district or worldwide.

But when activity looms too large we may focus so much on mission or helping the poor or praying for our nation that we have no time left for meaningful, local belonging. Either we feel we have no brothers and sisters or we abandon them through busyness.

We need both... belonging and activity... family and projects. One of the joys of a life following Jesus is that the two can (and should) be combined. But they are distinct.

Belonging and activity
The diagram (repeated here for convenience) shows the four possible combinations. At upper left are those who are well connected but don't do very much. Those of us in the lower right are actively and abundantly engaged in activity but have no roots in the church family. At greatest danger are those in the red area, loners who do little or nothing. And the best place to be is in the green zone, supporting and supported by close local church family and connected widely, but also busy with whatever tasks Papa has provided.

Pray for the right balance in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Encourage one another to move to or remain in the green zone, the place of healthy belonging and activity. Also pray that the places of belonging and the activities will be those chosen by the Father and revealed by the Spirit. Only by remaining in Papa's love and doing the things he shows us can we live in true peace and joy.

Note: I have made some changes in the light of Ashley's helpful comments (see below). The diagram shows that some people might be disconnected (ie alone, not in community) even though they may be active in prayer or other ways. Parts of the the text suggested otherwise.

15 June 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen - understood these principles. The quote below is today's meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

A challenge - Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

13 June 2012

A letter from the heart

What follows is in the form of a letter - a letter from my heart to yours. It's a letter I imagine writing to people who will understand it and be excited by it. It's an invitation to experience Jesus more powerfully and to do so together, in community.

A letter to friends
Here's the letter. And yes, I have particular people in mind as I write.

In fact, I have in mind friends right here in and around St Neots. Are you one of them?

But wherever you live in the world, this letter is for you. This experience of Christ is your inheritance. It is your birthright. Don't let the world snatch it from you.


Dear brother/sister,

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone loses themselves in Jesus and his Spirit soars and flows amongst us and around us? I love it when he has the opportunity to be really free amongst his people. It's what I have always wanted, but I've experienced it all too rarely over the years since I first tasted his overwhelming presence like this in the mid to late 1970s. Sometimes parts of meetings carry hints of that familiar aroma.

Why does this happen so rarely? I think that unless we can allow him the freedom to have his way we will miss the best he has for us. Nothing we can devise or arrange or intend can come close!

I'd love you to read this guest post by Steph. She captures the essence of life with the Spirit of Jesus far better than I can hope to do. See what you think.

I suppose I'm looking for people who might join me in the adventure of recapturing this life of community around the King. And as I grow older I'm looking for those to whom the torch can be passed. The church seems so needy and there is such treasure stored up ready for her - a mighty inheritance of everything that is Christ's - his intimate presence, his power, even his glory (John 17:20-22). He wants to restore things to be the way they began and should have remained. But to receive this we must let go of everything we have thought of as necessary. Structure, planning, goals, vision statements, all that hurly-burly of humanness has to be stripped away. It must be Christ and his bride without any interfering clutter. And that has been so hard to find all these years.

I am getting desperate! His call is so strong. Who will come with me? Or must I go alone? OK, not alone, Steph certainly understands. She is on the same journey but in a different continent :-) There are others here in the UK, too, who understand well. Father knows no boundaries.

But for those of you who live in or near St Neots, would you consider exploring these things with me? Maybe we can meet to talk about this and test it - what say you? I'm not suggesting leaving what you are already part of. I'm talking about exploring an extra dimension.

Grace, peace, blessings and abundant love in Christ,

Chris

PS - If this excites you please leave a comment below. This is a letter you can add to. Tell me about your own experiences of Jesus amongst his people. Or if something seems unclear, ask a question.

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