Showing posts with label John. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Pattern of All Creation

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word, the Logos of God. Which is to say, Christ is the Logic, the Reason, the Purpose, the Plan of God. He is the Will and the Way of God, the meaning and pattern of all that is. All things are made through him, by him, for him and in him, and in him all things consist, cohere and hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). Everything that exists receives its being from him and in him.

The good news of the gospel is that he who is the Logos of God became human being (John 1:14), in whom all humankind participates. Jesus Christ defines human being, what it is to be human. He is at once the full revelation of humanity and the full revelation and glory of divinity.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth ... No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14,18)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The Cross and Resurrection is the full revelation of God and the divine glory. There we see not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be God. We understand what it means that God is love (1 John 4:8), that love is self-giving, other-centered and cross-shaped.

Christ Crucified and Risen is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Indeed, through the Cross and Resurrection, he is the foundation of the world. For he who is the firstborn from the dead is the firstborn of creation (Colossians 1). In this way, he is the paradigm of the whole universe; in his self-giving, other-centered, cross-shaped love, all things find their reason and meaning. And so he is the fractal reality of all Creation, the recurring pattern, at every layer and level of everything that is.

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Cast Net

The gospel is not a transaction, or an offer. It is an announcement, and it is unconditional. It is not about what we must do but about what Christ has done, and is doing through the Holy Spirit.

Looking to the Cross, Lord Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (John 12:31-32).

The Greek word for “draw” literally means to drag, like a cast net. Christ has been lifted up from the earth and has cast his net, drawing all, gathering all, dragging all, to himself.

St. Paul said that it is the goodness of God the leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). And the grace of God has appeared, giving salvation to all and teaching us to live righteously and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). And so Christ crucified, risen and ascended gathers all to himself.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Draw us all into the Eternal Bliss
Of Your Divine Fellowship.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Breathing the Spirit

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)
As we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is much we can learn about the Spirit in the Gospel According to John:

  • The Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove from heaven and remained on him (John 1:32).
  • Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:33).
  • What is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6).
  • Everyone born of the Spirit is like the Spirit (John 3:8).
  • The Spirit is of infinite measure in Christ (John 3:34).
  • The giving of the Spirit is related to the glorification of Jesus Christ (John 7:37-39).
In John 14-16, Jesus speaks much of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot understand because it does not know him (John 14:17).
  • The Spirit is the Advocate the Father sends in Jesus’ name, who teaches us everything and causes us to remember everything Jesus taught (John 14:26).
  • The Spirit testifies to us about Lord Jesus, who is the Truth (John 15:26).
  • The Spirit guides us into all truth, because he does not speak on his own authority but whatever he hears from the Father; he tells us of what is to come (John 16:13).
  • All that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and reveals it to us (John 16:14-15).
There is much more in these chapters concerning the Holy Spirit, but let us now turn to John 20:19-22. It is the evening of the Resurrection, and the crucified and risen Christ comes and stands among the disciples. “Peace be with you,” he says, and then he shows them his hands and his side. The disciples are overjoyed to see him. Jesus again says, “Peace be with you,” and adds, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
It is a scene that recalls a moment in Genesis, in the beginning, when God created Man. God formed humanity in the image of God and according to the likeness of God (that is, to be like God). “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
The Scriptures are about the crucified and risen Christ (see Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures), so Genesis is about the crucified and risen Christ, by whom, through whom, for whom, and in whom all things are created (Colossians 1:16-17). It is Christ who made the Man in the image of God, and it is Christ who breathed the breath of life into the Man. In the Septuagint (aka, LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text), the word for “breathed” is emphysao, to puff. Christ puffed into humankind the puff of life, and it was only then that what he had formed from the earth became a “living being.”

In John 20, the crucified and risen Christ “breathed” on the disciples. The word used here is the same as in the LXX of Genesis 2, the word emphysao. Just as Christ puffed the breath of life into humankind in the Garden, so here he puffed his breath on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Greek word for “Spirit” is pneuma, which is also translated as “breath.”

The Lord Jesus breathed on the disciples, and the Holy Spirit is that breath — the holy, life-giving breath of God. As the psalm writer says, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:30). The NET Bible has it as, “When you send your life-giving breath ....” Christ gives the life-giving breath of his Spirit to his disciples, and so to the Church, which is the body of Christ, alive with his Spirit. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life.”

The crucified and risen Christ is the “firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:18). As he imparts his life-giving breath in Genesis 2, so he does in John 20, and the body he formed from the earth becomes a living being.

At Pentecost, Christ gave his Spirit, his life-giving breath, pouring it out not just on the disciples but on all people (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16-17), to renew the face of the earth. For he says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Cross As Glorification

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39)
It was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. For the first seven days, the priest processioned from the Pool of Siloam to the temple and poured out water at the base of the altar. As they went, they sang words from the prophet Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). The Hebrew word for “salvation” is Yeshua, which is the name Jesus.

Now it was the eighth day, the greatest day of the feast. Jesus stood up among the crowd and in a loud voice announced that whoever believes in him, rivers of living water would flow from within them. The significance of these words on this occasion would not be lost on them. The rivers of living water would be water from the “wells of salvation” — water from the wells of Jesus.

John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. But those who believed in Jesus had not yet received the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet been given, and the reason for that is that Jesus had not yet been glorified. The giving of the Holy Spirit happened at the Feast of Pentecost, and is vitally connected with the glorification of Jesus. But what is the glorification to which John referred, and when would it occur?

We see something of it in the next chapter, when Jesus addresses a group of Pharisees who were challenging him. He said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).

The Greek word for “lifted up” is hypsoo, which means to elevate, or even to exalt. The “lifting up” to which Jesus referred is the cross, the crucifixion the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who would soon insist Jesus be put to. They wanted to elevate Jesus on that wooden instrument of death, but it would be an elevation they had not expected — if would be an exaltation. For in that lifting up of Jesus, they would know that Jesus is the Son of Man, and that he does not do anything on his own but does and says whatever the Father has taught him. It would be the exaltation of Jesus and the revelation of the Father.

In John 17, on the night before his crucifixion, after speaking to his disciples about the Holy Spirit and of what would come, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5 NKJV).

The hour had now come for the Father to glorify the Son and the Son to glorify the Father. It was the hour when the Son would be lifted up and the Father revealed. It was the hour of the cross. The Resurrection and the Ascension are part of that same movement, but they each in their way show reveal the glory of the cross. It is not merely because of the cross but in the cross that Jesus is “highly exalted” (hyperypsoo a compound of hyper and hypsoo) and given “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Paradox of Descending and Ascending

In my last post, we looked at the Cross as Ascension, particularly in the Gospel of John. There we saw Jesus speaking of his death on the cross as being “lifted up.” The Greek word is hypsoo, which means to be elevated, and can even mean exalted. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” Jesus said (John 3:14). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

It is at the cross that Christ, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, is“lifted up” from the earth; it is there also that he “draws” all to himself — surely this describes his exaltation. Is this not what the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians 2:5-11, the paradox of descending and ascending?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here we see the descent: Christ, thoroughly divine, “made himself nothing” or “emptied himself” (NET) — the Greek word is kenoo, to make empty — taking the very nature of a servant, participating fully in human nature. As humankind was created in the image and likeness of God, now God in Christ took on human likeness, to become what God intended for humankind to be. This is the Incarnation.

Thus joining himself with humankind, subject to mortality, it was necessary that he should “humble himself” (make himself low) and become obedient to death, so to deliver humankind from death. And it was necessary that he be put to death by the hands of wicked men, so to deliver humankind from wickedness and sin. Christ became obedient even to death on the cross, and by that was “lifted up.”

Here we see also the ascent of Christ: God “exalted him to the highest place.” The Greek word is hyperypsoo, a compound of hyper and hypsoo, the latter being the word Christ used of his crucifixion — this is Christ highly exalted. Further, God gave Christ the “name that is above every name.” As Theodoret of Cyrus observed, Christ “did not receive what he did not have before but received as a man what he possessed as God.”

Jesus was given the highest name so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Is this not what Jesus said would happen? “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We tend to think of the descent and ascent of Christ as two different things. First, he goes down, down, down, then subsequent to that is raised up, up, up — two movements with a u-turn in between. But I don’t think that is necessarily what Paul is describing here, because he is exhorting us to have the same mind toward each other as Christ has toward us. Is that so we may one day be glorified, with servant humility as but a means to that glory? Surely not.

Christ’s humility was not a means to glory but the very expression of divine glory. For God is love, and it is the nature of love to give and serve. God loved the world by giving us the Son; the Son did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for us. When we see the humility of Christ in his deep descent, we are not seeing the divine glory in recess but, rather, most fully revealed. The lower Christ descended into the depths of the world, to redeem it, the more his glory was made manifest, and in that way, Christ was seen to be highly exalted.

The paradox of the descent and ascent of Christ, then, is this: It is not two different things but the same thing. His descent into the earth is simultaneously his ascent into heaven — and us with him.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Cross As Ascension

We often think of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension as three events instead of  one. They seem to be separate in time; each is given its own day within the space of forty-something days. But Christ is eternal, and in the Incarnation, not only is humanity joined with divinity but time is joined with eternity, and what appears separately in time is one in eternity. In the Gospel of John, Cross, Resurrection and Ascension are one continuous movement. (See also, Cross and Resurrection As Singular Event.)
In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth. (NET Bible, study note at John 4:13)
We can find several references to ascension in John’s Gospel, but they cast it as crucifixion. We see this early, in John 3:
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NET)
Jesus speaks of descension from heaven and ascension into heaven — a downward movement (katabaino) followed by upward movement (anabaino). We may think of the descension as the Incarnation, the Logos of John 1 becoming flesh and dwelling among us — God condescending to join in union with humankind — and the humiliating death of the cross, with the descent from the cross into the grave.

But when we come to ascension, we find something unexpected. It does not begin with the resurrection but with the cross. In John 3, Jesus, understanding the Scriptures as speaking of himself, refers to the story of Moses “lifting up” the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) and makes a comparison (indicated by “just as”). The point of comparison is lifting up: Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; Christ must be lifted up. The Greek word is hypsoo and means to elevate or exalt.

In the Numbers 21 account, when the people turned away from the LORD, venomous snakes passed through the people, killing many. When the people turned back to the LORD, Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten would look upon that serpent, they would be healed and saved from death.

Just as Moses elevated the bronze serpent on the pole, Jesus says, so the Son of Man must be elevated, and the instrument of that elevation would be the cross. Jesus had just been talking about descension and ascension? Which one was he now speaking of by this comparison of himself with the lifting up of the serpent? Well, we can say it is descension; is it not the cross to which he is referring? Indeed it is. Yet Jesus speaks of it as ascension, being lifted up, elevated, exalted. In John 12, Jesus again speaks of it as exaltation:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
Is this descension, or ascension? By his words, Jesus showed the kind of death he was going to die, death by crucifixion. And yet those very words speak of him as being “lifted up,” elevated, exalted. For the world was about to be judged, which is to say, there was about to be a world-changing crisis (the Greek word for “judge” here is krisis) that would set things right. The old death-dealing way of the world was about to be condemned, and the living, life-giving Christ would prevail. The “prince of this world” was about to be driven out, exorcised.

The cross is the exaltation of Christ because it is his judgment on the world, casting out darkness and death and the devil. It is his rule and reign that is exercised, and in a singular way, dramatically changing the world forever. It is ascension, and humankind, joined with Christ through the Incarnation, is ascended with him — to the Cross, to the Resurrection and to the right hand of the Father.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How God Chose Us in Christ
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
God chose us in Christ, Paul says. He chose us in him from before the world began. He chose us so that we could be his holy people, his special treasure, and blameless in his sight. He decided in advance (at least from our perspective) that in Christ he would adopt us as his very own children. This has always been his pleasure and purpose, his gracious and glory-revealing gift to us in Jesus Christ, so that, as the NKJV puts it, we are “accepted in the Beloved.” And in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. This is the exceedingly great reality God has given to us in Christ. (See, Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things.)

But how did it happen? How has God chosen us in Christ? By what means? It has nothing to do with what we have done. There is nothing we could ever have possibly done to make it so. It is purely something God has done for us, a gift of God’s grace, and it is this that we particularly celebrate at Christmastime. I am speaking of the Incarnation, which the gospel according to John puts this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus Christ is the Word — God himself — who became flesh. He did not just come and reveal himself to humanity, he became a human being. In becoming a human being, Christ did not become just one of us, he became one with us, for we are all connected in our humanity. In becoming a human being, then, God joined himself to all of humanity.

It is precisely because of this connection we share with each other that Paul could say, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And, “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18).

This is the good news of the gospel. In the Incarnation, Christ has joined himself to us, and this changes everything. It means that when Christ died on the cross, we died there, too. Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The cross was the inevitable consequence of the Incarnation. When he who is infinite life joined himself to a humanity bent toward death, it could only ever result in resurrection. Christ’s connection to humanity also means that when he was raised from the dead, we were born again through his resurrection. The apostle Peter said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

In Jesus Christ, God has become human. How can this not but transform all of humanity, like leaven in bread? That is how the kingdom of God works, and the leaven of God’s love.

Christ has irrevocably, inextricably entangled himself with all humanity — the Incarnation cannot be undone. O Glorious Entanglement that saves the whole world!

This is the joyful anticipation of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Atonement and the Lamb of God
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There are several significant things to notice about this. First, John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” By this, he was recognizing the nature of what Jesus came to do. In the Old Testament, sacrificial lambs played a very important part in Israel’s devotion to God. The sacrifice of a lamb without blemish was an important part of the Passover, not only the original meal when God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt, but also in the yearly remembrance of that event. It was also part of the daily ritual in Israel’s worship.

Second, notice that John did not identify Jesus as the one who takes away the wrath of God, but rather, who takes away the sin of the world. By his death on the cross, Christ was not placating an angry God, as if God were going to rain down his wrath and punishment upon us but then Jesus stepped up and said, “Father, punish me instead.” No, he was delivering us from death, and from the sin that naturally and inevitably results from it. In theological terms, this was expiation, not propitiation. Expiation is the removal of sin; propitiation is the appeasement of anger. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were about cleansing the people from sin, not about assuaging an angry deity. Appeasement was not necessary, for God was already graciously disposed toward his people in providing them with a way of cleansing.

Third, John identified Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world — not sins (plural) but sin (singular). Individual sins could simply be forgiven, but at the cross, Jesus destroyed the very power of sin itself. Sin (singular) is the brokenness of our relationship with God, with each other, with the rest of creation and even within our own selves. Sins (plural) are the countless ways this brokenness reveals itself in the world. The individual acts are merely the symptom of the underlying sickness, and it is the underlying sickness that Jesus came to deal with.

Finally, by his death on the cross, Jesus did not take away the sin of only certain individuals or groups — he took away the sin of the whole world. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “The death [Christ] died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10). For “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God does not hold any of our sins against any of us — and never has. It was never God who needed to be reconciled to us but we who needed to be reconciled to God, for God never turned away from us but we turned away from God. In Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross, the power of sin has been broken and the healing has come for us all. Therefore, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, allowed sin and death to do their worst to him. He broke their power, shattered the system of accusation and scapegoating and shame, and destroyed the works of the devil. This is the atonement, how the death of Christ saves the world. Behold, the Lamb of God.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Wrath That Remains?
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
A common view among evangelicals is that we are saved not only by God (through Christ) but also from God. One verse used to support that is John 3:36, in which the wrath of God is said to remain on those who reject Christ. It is assumed that if one needs to be saved from the wrath of God, one therefore needs to be saved from God himself. I have addressed the wrath of God in other posts, particularly about how Paul understood God’s wrath. Simply put, it is not God’s retaliation against the wicked but God giving the wicked over to their own devices, not for the purpose of retribution but that they might repent and be restored.

We may understand the wrath of God in John 3:36 in the same way. If we follow this chapter from the beginning, we can see that the wrath of God is not for the purpose of condemnation. We find this particularly in the middle section:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)
God did not send Christ to condemn us. He sent Christ to rescue the world from condemnation. Those who reject Christ were already condemned before Christ came. But what was the nature of that condemnation? It was not a matter of some eternal decree or because God damned them or was unforgiving toward them. It was because they loved darkness rather than Light, so they turned away from the light. God did not withhold the Light from them; they simply did not want it. That was the state of condemnation they were in: they preferred darkness rather than the Light. God’s verdict did not decree that they should therefore be condemned. It simply pointed out what was true of them: they did not want the Light.

The “wrath” of God in verse 36, then, is that verdict concerning those who reject the Light of Christ. They love the darkness, so God leaves them to it. They will continue in darkness until they turn to the Light. And until they do, the Light will be a torment to them, for it exposes the evilness of their deeds. We can just as well say that the wrath of God is the Light of Christ shining in the darkness — not as a decree, or as a retaliation, but as a grace. For the Light of Christ is a manifestation of God in his love. We are saved by God, not from God.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Wedding Glory at Cana

In the season of Epiphany, we remember how the glory of Christ was first revealed to the world. We think of the Star and of the pagan wise men who followed it to honor the new-born King of Israel. We celebrate the baptism of the Lord Jesus, not only for how he identified with us in our need for repentance but also for how the Trinity was revealed — the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father commending his Beloved Son. Now let’s consider a third important moment, which took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at a wedding at Cana.
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 twenty to thirty gallons. 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 realize 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)
It is significant that the first miracle Jesus worked was at a wedding, not only because he was affirming the goodness of man and woman coming together in marriage but, more than that, because marriage reveals the intimate relationship between God and his people. We see this in the prophet Isaiah, where the Lord says to Israel:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Though Israel was deep in difficulty at the time because of her unfaithfulness, God promised he would not be silent but would rescue and restore her before the eyes of all the nations, and would give her a new name. No longer would she be called Deserted and Desolate but My Delight (Hephzibah) and Married (Beulah). In short, God would marry his people and rejoice over them just as a bridegroom delights in his bride. It is a profound relationship, that the Creator of all would claim a people for his own, to marry them and build a household and a heritage with them. Because God presents this relationship as marriage, every marriage then represents (re-presents) that divine relationship before our eyes.

Jesus attended the wedding at Cana with his mother, and a problem arose: the wine ran out. Wine was important to any feast, a symbol of great rejoicing. A wedding feast could last up to seven days — that’s a lot of wine! — and to run out midway would be a social disaster. Jesus’ mother brought the matter before him, but he answered, “Why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”

To which hour was he referring — the hour for his glory to be revealed? Perhaps. And yet, his glory truly was revealed before the day was over, and it caused his disciples to have faith in him. But perhaps what he had in mind was the deeper truth to which the wedding pointed, the marriage of God and his people, and he was thinking of a wedding yet to come, in which he and his bride would be the central figures. This is the wedding John the Revelator described in a divine vision:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready ... I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 19:7, 21:2)
This bride is the Church, for whom Christ has given himself and whom he is preparing for himself. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Jesus followers at Ephesus, where he teaches husbands how to be toward their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
This profound mystery can be experienced, in significant measure, in the loving, self-giving, intertwining nature of marriage and it is cause for great rejoicing and exuberant celebration. For in Christ, God takes us as his bride and receives us into his house where we may feast on the abundance of his glory and drink deeply from the wine of his love.
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you,
    your righteousness to the upright in heart.
(Psalm 36:5-10)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Prevailing Unity of the Trinity

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though they are three in number, yet they are one in nature, one in substance. They dwell in each other, participate in each other, have intimate fellowship with each other. The early Church Fathers thought deeply about these things and theologians have referred to the mutual fellowship and participation of the Three as perichoresis, the interweaving of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a sort of divine choreography.

The Three are glorified with the same glory, which is the greatness of their goodness revealed. In his divinity, the eternal Son of God always possessed this glory, but in his humanity, which happened in time, this glory was given to him.

The Three also love with the same love. There is only one love, for God is love and God is one. And it is out of the abundance of their love for each other that the world and humanity came into being.

In the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed for the same unity for his disciples, and all who believe through them, that we may all be one. This is not only unity with each other but also with God — for there is no unity apart from God, who alone is one.

Just as the Father is in Jesus the Son, and Jesus is in the Father, so Jesus prayed that we may be in the Father and the Son. Jesus is in us just as the Father is in him. We are in the Father, Son and Spirit, and they are in us. So we are taken up into the divine interweaving of their fellowship.

The glory Jesus received from the Father is the same glory he shared with the Father before the world began (John 17:5). This is the glory he gives to us, so that we may be one, just as the Father and Son are one. It is a complete unity that Jesus prays for us, for the love the Father has for us is the same love he has for Jesus — love itself is one and cannot be divided.

The Church always confesses the mystery of the Trinity: One God, three Persons. And though Jesus has two natures, fully human and fully divine, we confess that these natures are perfectly united in one person. The unity Jesus prays for his disciples is the unity — the wholeness — of the Three and of Jesus in his divine and human natures.

The truth about all who are in Christ is that, though we be many in number, yet we are one. We are one body, and though the body has many members, yet it is still one body — the body of Christ. This unity is not something we must somehow accomplish for ourselves — it has already been done by Christ himself — but we must learn to live out this oneness by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
The unity we have with each other is the same unity we have with the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Thus we partake of and participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). What God is in his own being, he shares with us in grace. It is given to us so that we may enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit, the same fellowship they have always enjoyed together with each other from before the world began. This unity is all-encompassing and is why Jesus came.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
In the end, heaven and earth, though they be two, shall be fully and completely one. And God shall be all in all. The eternal unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit shall prevail in everything.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Glory of the Three Revealed in Us

He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you. (John 16:14-15)
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in us and through us is all about King Jesus the Messiah. He speaks to the world through us about Jesus in regard to sin, righteous and judgment. He guides us into all Jesus wants to teach us. Everything he does is to glorify Jesus, showing the greatness of his goodness.

Whatever belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to the Son (and the Father) and reveals it to us. The Spirit “takes” it because it belongs to him just as much as it does to the Father and the Son.

So the Three — Father, Son and Spirit — share all things in common and are made known to us by the Holy Spirit. This is by no means a lesser intimacy than the disciples enjoyed before, when Jesus walked with them. He could only be with them then. But the coming of the Spirit would bring a greater intimacy because Jesus would now be in them — and in us.

The Spirit does not just reveal Jesus to us but also in us. And Jesus does not just reveal the Father to us but also in us, through the Spirit. In this way, then, the glory of God is revealed to us, in us and through us. The Father reveals it by sending us the Spirit, who glorifies the Son, who glorifies the Father.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Spirit to Guide Us

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-13)
Jesus had been with the disciples for three years, teaching and training them, yet there was still much more they needed to learn. But now there seemed to be two problems. First, they were not yet ready to learn what else Jesus wanted them to understand. Second, Jesus would soon be going away, ascending to his throne at the right hand of the Father.

This would indeed have been a problem, except that Jesus promised that the Spirit of God would now come to be in the disciples as well as with them. And now Jesus himself would likewise be in them as well as with them — through the Spirit (see Ascension and Pentecost). The Spirit would be a paraclete. Paraclete is a Greek word that is variously translated as Advocate, Helper and Comforter. And now Jesus calls him the “Spirit of Truth.” The Spirit of God who would soon come upon them would guide them the rest of the way, leading them into all they would need to know. He would show them the truth.

Today, we almost always think of truth in propositional terms, and there is certainly a propositional aspect to the truth about Jesus the Messiah. However, the New Testament understands truth to be a person — Jesus himself. Earlier, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He does not simply show us the way — he is the way. He does not merely bring us life — he is life. He does not just teach us the truth — he is the truth.

When the Holy Spirit guides us into “all the truth,” then, it is all about Jesus. Indeed, he reveals to us Jesus himself. That is why the Holy Spirit does not speak on his own, independently of the Lord Jesus. He speaks only what he hears and tells us the things Jesus wants to say to us. That is the same way Jesus himself operated. Jesus did only what he saw the Father doing (John 5:18), exercised no judgment independently of what the Father judged (John 5:30), spoke only what the Father told him to say (John 12:49-50). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always in agreement.

Jesus also said that the Spirit would tell of what is to come. It is unclear exactly what this refers to. Perhaps prophetic understanding in general. Perhaps revelatory understanding about the things the disciples themselves were about to see and experience. Perhaps the many things Jesus still had left to teach them, unfolding for them in the days ahead, revealed to them, and through them to us in the Scriptures. The overall point is that the Church will never be at a loss, for the Spirit is always here to help us understand.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Spirit and Sin, Righteousness and Judgment

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is all about King Jesus the Messiah. In the Upper Room on the night before he was crucified, Jesus described three things that the Spirit would do in and through the disciples when he came upon them. We will look at these over the next few days. First, there is this:
When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)
When the Spirit came on them, he would show that the world had been wrong about Jesus of Nazareth. One of the points of the Gospel According to John was to draw the distinction between those who received the Lord Jesus and those who rejected him, but especially that John’s readers might be among those who received.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18)

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)
Bringing out the truth of these things would not simply be the work of the disciples but that of the Holy Spirit working through the disciples. In one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, he said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). Imparting the Holy Spirit to them was very much part of sending them out to testify about King Jesus.

When the Holy Spirit came, Jesus said, he would prove the world to be in the wrong about three things: sin and righteousness and judgment.
  • About sin, because they did not believe on Jesus the Messiah. Yet he is the one who came to deal with the problem of sin and destroy its power. The unbelieving world crucified him, yet it was at the cross that Jesus broke the power of sin — for the sake of the world.
  • About righteousness, because Jesus has ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father. His kingdom establishes the righteousness and justice of God in the world, and will continue to do so until it is complete. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” so that in the end, God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:25, 28).
  • About judgment, because the “prince of this world” has now been condemned. This was a reference to satan. The cross was not God’s judgment upon Christ but Christ’s judgment upon satan and all his works. Earlier that week, when Jesus came into Jerusalem for the final time, he said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:30-31). The power of the devil was broken at the cross, and the principalities and powers of this world were disarmed.
The Holy Spirit has come to reveal the truth about these things through us as well as to us.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ascension and Pentecost

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
It is more than appropriate that Ascension and Pentecost occurred just ten days apart. It was necessary in order to bring heaven and earth together. Jesus, the God-Man, fully human as well as fully divine, ascended to the throne as King of Heaven and Earth. In him, humanity is eternally and irrevocably a part of heaven. But that is only half of the story. The other half is Pentecost. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus spoke to the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15-18)
Jesus would be going away. Yet, paradoxically, he would also come to them. He would not leave them on their own, as orphans. The Father would be sending the Holy Spirit — the Advocate, the Helper, the Comforter — not only to be with them, as he already had been, but to be in them. And so Jesus himself would be not just with them but in them, because the Spirit of God, who is the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of Christ.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)
Because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, Paul can speak of Christ himself dwelling in us, for it is the life of Christ that the Spirit ministers to us: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Elsewhere Paul speaks to us of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Lord Jesus dwells in us by the Holy Spirit.

This could not have happened if King Jesus had not first ascended to his throne. For both the Ascension and Pentecost are part of the victory of God and the reconciliation of heaven and earth. Jesus the God-Man ascended to heaven and the Spirit of God descended to earth. As the Holy Spirit does his work and all the enemies of God are put under the feet of King Jesus, the connection between heaven and earth will be made complete and, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:28, God will be “all in all.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thunder from Heaven

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:28-32)
The time of Jesus’ crucifixion was near, but he did not ask the Father to save him from it. Rather, he prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” That is what mattered to him more than anything else. (See Following Jesus Into Holy Week.)

Now came the answer, a voice from heaven: “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Some heard it as thunder. Others thought maybe an angel. But it was the voice of the Father, and it came not for Jesus’ sake but for all those who were gathered around him. So Jesus explained the significance of it. It concerned what was about to happen and was very powerful in its scope.

Now is the time for judgment on this world. At the crucifixion, the world system of political and religious leaders thought it was judging Christ, but in reality Christ was judging the world. The Light of the World was judging the darkness of the world. The righteousness of Christ was judging the injustice of the world. The faithfulness of Christ was judging the faithlessness of the world. The self-giving love of Christ was judging the self-seeking of the world. And the life of Christ, through death on the cross, was judging the death that plagued the world. The judgment of God through Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the world but to save the world and set things right.

Now the prince of this world will be driven out. The “prince of this world” is the devil. Christ came to break the power of the devil (Hebrews 2:14) and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). This happened at the cross. Through the cross, the apostle Paul tells us, Jesus has disarmed and defeated the principalities and powers, the demonic spiritual forces behind kings and cultures, and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15). The devil thought to drive Christ out of the world by putting him on the cross, but it is the devil himself who is being driven out, for Christ not only won the victory over the cross but also triumphs over death and the devil through the cross.

When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. Here, we come around to what was the occasion for Jesus’ declarations in this passage. In John 12:20-23, there were some Greeks who had come into Jerusalem to worship God during the festival of the Passover. Though they might possibly have been Hellenized Jews, it is more likely that they were ethnic Greeks who were “God-fearers.” That is, they honored and worshiped the God of the Jews even though they were not converts to Judaism. These Greeks had heard about Jesus and desired to meet him. Philip and Andrew, two of Jesus’ disciples, came and told him. It was in reply to this request that Jesus spoke of all these things, concluding with the statement that when Jesus was lifted up (a reference to the crucifixion), he would draw all people to himself. It was not just for the sake of Israel and the Jews but for all people everywhere, including the Greeks who desired to meet Jesus.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Following Jesus Into Holy Week

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! (John 12:23-28)
The time was now at hand for Jesus to be glorified. And he offered a parable concerning it, about a kernel of wheat. As long as the kernel is clinging to the stalk, holding on to its life as a seed, that is all it will ever be. But when the seed dies and lets go of itself it will, paradoxically, multiply. The life of the seed is transformed, becoming a plant that is the life of many other seeds.

If anyone loves his own life and his own glory at all costs, he is like a kernel of wheat that refuses to fall to the ground. He will end up losing his life anyway, and it will be for nothing. But anyone who “hates” the life of this present world and is willing to let it go will find that his life becomes something greater than he could have ever imagined — the life of the age to come.

The time was now at hand, and Jesus was willing to be like that kernel of wheat, to fall and die and bring forth new life for many. But now he turns the parable around to his disciples, to all who have been following him, all who would come to him: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” The life of the seed that falls is multiplied and produces many seeds. Shall these seeds not fall also, for the sake of multiplying the life of the master even more? If we would be Jesus’ disciples, we must follow him even in this. We must let go of our own little idea of life and our own little glory so that his life in us may produce even more life. Then we will be like Jesus — where he is, we will be. To the extent we are willing to let go the life of this present age, we begin to experience the life of the age to come.

And yet letting go of this present life is a troubling thing. There is something in us that wants to hold on to what we already think we know or see. To let go would seem to be to fall into a great abyss of the unknown. That is always the test for us. It was the test for Jesus, too. As he thought of what was about to happen, he was troubled by it. Though something in his soul may have wanted to say, “Father, save me from this hour,” yet more than that, there was in him the profound realization that it was precisely for this hour that he came.

His prayer, then was “Father, glorify your name.” That is where Jesus’ own glory would be found, and ours, too. The hour for Jesus to be glorified had come, and it was just as much to be seen in the falling of the seed as in the multiplication of its life — in the cross as in the resurrection. And so it is for all who would follow him.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bread in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)
Mark’s account of the Temptation is brief and rapid fire but very powerful. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, give us more detail, each describing three specific temptations and Jesus’ response to them. Let’s look at the first one, as presented in Matthew.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights but only at the end did he begin to feel the depth of his hunger. That was when the devil came with the first temptation: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Diabolos, the Greek word for “devil” means accuser, and that is what he did here. Shortly before, when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the voice of the Father declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). But now here was the accuser, questioning that: “If you are the Son of God …”

Jesus was physically very hungry, and the devil’s challenge was to command the stones around him to become bread, and so prove that he is the Son of God. But this was not just about Jesus’ own hunger. The Son of God was supposed to be the Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver his people from bondage and exile, just as Moses delivered the children of Israel from the Egypt. Under Moses, they ate manna in the wilderness, a bread-like substance that probably resembled the stones that now surrounded Jesus. So Jesus answered Satan with a quote from Moses, taken from Deuteronomy 8:2-3.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
God’s provision of manna in the wilderness was never just about feeding physical hunger. It was always about learning to depend upon God, to hear his voice and walk in his ways. In Jesus the Messiah, God has spoken the ultimate word. This was the import of the author of Hebrews, the point he makes from the beginning of his letter:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Gospel of John also begins by revealing Jesus as the ultimate and living Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This is the same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

In John 6, Jesus fed the five thousand with two small fish and five barley loaves. After his ministry that day, he crossed over to the other side of the Galilee. The crowds came looking for him again the next day. Jesus said,
Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:26-27)
They were after physical bread … and a parlor show — reminiscent of the devil’s temptation: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31). Jesus answered,
Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:32-33)
He spoke of a very different kind of bread, one that comes down into the world and for the world, not merely from the world. And a different appetite now began to awaken in them, even if only a little. “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread” (John 6:34). Then Jesus identified what that bread is:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:35-38)
The bread that endlessly nourishes and refreshes and sustains us is not that which is magically turned from stones. It is the Lord Jesus himself, the Word become flesh, the Son of God who came down from heaven not to do his own will — much less the challenge of Satan — but the will of the Father who sent him. He is the bread by which we live the life of the age to come, even now in this present age.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Jesus, Learning Stability

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:40-42 NIV)

Prophecies of a coming Messiah who would rule over Israel and the nations and set things right in the world. Rumors of unusual encounters with wise men and shepherds. A wild man of the desert preaching and baptizing at the Jordan. A fresh breath of anticipation was beginning to blow — at least, for those who were ready to breathe.

Andrew was learning to inhale. He had been one of the disciples of John the Baptist and heard him speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the “Lamb of God” and “God’s Chosen One.” He and another, who also heard John, followed Jesus. Literally. By the end of the day they had become his disciples. They began to understand what — and who — it was they were seeking, and discovered in Jesus an abiding place for their lives.

The first thing Andrew did after entering this new life with Rabbi Jesus was to go find his brother Simon. He was a man on a mission — he must tell him the good news: “We have found the Messiah.” 

Messiah is a Hebrew term, so John the Evangelist interprets it into Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to John was originally written. The Greek term for Messiah is Christ (actually, both “Messiah” and “Christ” are anglicized versions of the original Hebrew and Greek forms). More important, though, is what Messiah and Christ mean, and what they refer to. Both words mean “Anointed,” and refer to the one God promised to anoint as King over all (see Psalm 2).

Simon was, no doubt, familiar with the promises of a coming Messiah, as every good Jew was in those days, although there were differing ideas about what the fulfillment of those promises would look like. However, he does not appear to have been a follower of John the Baptist, as Andrew had been. Perhaps he was wearied by the various speculations about Messiah. Perhaps he was jaded by the religious/political factions and intrigues of his day. Maybe he was even losing faith that Messiah would ever appear at all. After all, it had been a long time coming.

And now here was Andrew bursting in upon him to announce, “We have found him. We have found Messiah!” Then in a “come and see” moment, Andrew brought him to meet Jesus. Simon would not return home the same.

Jesus “looked at” Simon. More than a glance, it was penetrating. Jesus was studying him, discerning him, perceiving him. The Greek word is the same one used about what had happened the day before when John the Baptist was with Andrew and another disciple. John, “looking at” Jesus, announced to them, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).

Seeing Simon, Jesus understood something about him that Simon did not understand about himself, something that had not up to this point been revealed in his life. Then Jesus spoke it out: “You are Simon son of John.” Simon knew that well enough, of course. He had lived with it all his life. But then Jesus added, “You will be called Cephas.”

It was a life-changing moment for Simon. Jesus identified who he was, but then he announced not just what he would be called but who he would be. Indeed, in that moment, Jesus was calling forth that new identity in him, prophesying it over him, speaking a powerful word of destiny to him.

The name Cephas comes from an Aramaic word, kepha. The Gospel of John translates it into Greek for us: Peter (again, “Cephas” and “Peter” are anglicized forms for the original Aramaic and Greek words). Both words mean the same thing: Simon would be called Rock!

Peter was a passionate but impulsive man, and probably not the sort we would consider as possessing the strength of stability. He had a rocky personality and it was a bit humorous to call him Rock. Like calling a fat man Slim. Or a tall man Shorty. Or a bald man Curly. Yet, Rock is what Simon would be called — Jesus was calling it to be. All that was needed was for Simon to follow Jesus into that new reality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Epiphany: Following Jesus

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)
The “next day” is the day after John the Baptist gave his testimony concerning Jesus: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He told how he saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Jesus. He had received a revelation from God that “the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). John saw and testified that Jesus is God’s Chosen One, which is to say, the Messiah, anointed by God to be king over Israel and the nations.

The following day, John was with two of his disciples. One of them, as we learn in verse 40, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other was unnamed but has traditionally been identified as John (not the Baptist but the disciple of Jesus). John saw Jesus coming and drew their attention to him: “Behold the Lamb of God!” They embraced that revelation of Jesus and realized that this was the one for whom they had been waiting, the one whose way John had been preparing all along.

So they began following Jesus. Literally. One moment they were John’s disciples, then suddenly they were following after Jesus. Yet it all seemed quite natural. Their feet simply followed their hearts. They walked behind Jesus, as disciples did in those days, until he turned around and saw them.

Jesus stopped and asked them a question: “What do you seek?” (v. 38). It was a probing question. Did they understand what it was they were looking for? Were they ready for what it would mean in their lives? Many people do not know what it is they really want but often confuse means for ends. But it is an important question for all who would follow Jesus.

They answered Jesus’ question with a question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (v. 38). Rabbi was a title of great respect and was used to mean “Teacher.” The two disciples were looking for a dwelling place. Not a physical abode — they were not homeless — but a place for their souls to be at home. They wanted to learn from Jesus, to be his disciples.

Jesus’ answer was a simple invitation: “Come and see.” So they came and saw. They remained with Jesus for the rest of the day and, as it turns out, for the rest of their lives. On the night of the Last Supper, at the end of his ministry, Jesus would teach them something quite unexpected about his dwelling place: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). And, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). Though they did not know it on that first day, they would be Jesus’ dwelling place and he would be theirs forever.

What do you seek? Where do you dwell? Come and see.