25/05/2013 - John 14:15-31 – Not abandoned children
There are times when we can feel very alone, like an abandoned child. The disciples must have feared such a future as Jesus told them that he was about to leave them. They had been with him practically continually for three years. More than that, he had been with them. He was their Master and Lord and all their hopes were vested in him. As Jesus will soon remind them, without him they can do nothing. And now Jesus tells them that he is going away – he is going to leave them. But, he adds, he is going to send them another counsellor or comforter, one who will be with them to lead and direct them, reminding them of the things that Jesus himself had taught them and encouraging them to go on following him.
This new leader and counsellor, Jesus tells them, will be very familiar to them, “He is currently among you and will be in you” (John 14:17). They know him now in Jesus. The very Spirit who animated Jesus will come to inhabit them, and when he does so, they will know that they are not abandoned, but that Jesus himself, and the Father, are with them. That, I believe, is implied in Jesus’ words we read yesterday, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (14:3). The promise of his return to lead his disciples in the path that he has prepared for them does not have to await the second coming; Jesus himself comes to be with his disciples in the person of the Spirit and in the power of his resurrection.
Jesus then says something quite extraordinary – it must have seemed most strange to the disciples. He says, “If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (14:28). Why should the disciples be glad that Jesus is leaving them? They cannot understand it now, but Jesus will soon return to the Father because he has completed all that the Father has sent him to do. His return will mark the beginning of a new age, the age in which the Spirit will be at work in the world convicting people that Jesus the crucified Nazarene is Christ the Lord. The disciples should be glad because this will be an age when the promise to Abraham will at last be fulfilled that through him all nations will be blessed.
It is easy sometimes to lose perspective as disciples of the Lord Jesus. We may sometimes feel that the call to follow Jesus and live for him is more than we can manage. Indeed, it is; until, that is, we remember that he has not left us as orphans – we are not abandoned children. Jesus himself is with us to lead us, teach us and lead us in the way he would have us go. As we walk that way, we see and know the reality of his presence. We live because he lives in us (14:19). He comes to us to take away our fears and to give us his peace (14:27). And he comes to empower us for mission – to continue his work in the world.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that though you have returned to the Father, you are not far off. You are with us in the presence and power of your Spirit. Teach us more of you and encourage us in the life of discipleship. Open our eyes to understand the immensity of your saving purposes, not for us alone but for the whole world. Holy Spirit, empower us for mission, that all the world may come to own that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
24/05/2013 - John 13:31-14:14 – Do not let your hearts be troubled
Jesus has been telling the disciples of his imminent betrayal and death. As if this were not enough to trouble them, he has also told Peter that before the night is out he will deny all knowledge of Jesus – three times! How could they be anything but troubled as they heard these things?
Jesus says that they need not fear. They can trust him, even in the face of such horrors. He assures them that all will be well. He is returning to the Father and will prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. He will ensure that they are brought safely home so that where he is, they may be also.
As so often, the disciples are puzzled at Jesus’ words. They don’t understand where Jesus is going and so don’t understand how they can follow him there. Jesus responds by saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the way to the Father’s house; he will not only prepare a place for his disciples, he will also lead them safely home. Those who trust in him are safe in his keeping now and for eternity. They can rest secure in his promises for he is the truth; he is the real thing. Trusting in him they will have life – life that will last.
The disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ can face life without fear – their hearts need not be troubled. The apostle Paul learnt this lesson in the face of hard experience. He writes, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
But the Christian life is not a passive waiting for glory. Jesus has also entrusted us with the task of making him known. Jesus had come from the Father and everything he did was through the Father’s presence and power at work in him (14:10). In the same way, Jesus is now sending out his disciples to witness in his name. And he sends them out with the remarkable promise, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (14:12). This becomes a reality as Jesus lives in them and continues his work through them – and us!
Jesus calls us not simply to believe in him, or to be known by his name, but to learn from him as disciples from a master. The master artists of the past would often have their pupils work with them on their paintings. It is not always easy to tell where the work of the master ends and that of the pupil begins – so well might the pupil have gained the skills and learnt the style of their teacher. The disciple is to reflect the character of the master. The signature of the Christian is the character of Jesus stamped upon them.
One of the most powerful ways in which we bear witness to Christ and make him known is through our love for one another; “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (14:35). How well are we learning Christ?
Lord Jesus, still my fears and fill me with the assurance that you are able to bring me safely to the Father’s house. May this confidence fill me with joy and peace in believing and empower me to live and work as your disciple. Help me to learn of you; may your character be more fully formed in me. And may your love, made visible in me, draw others to come to you and learn of you.
23/05/2013 - John 13:1-30 – The servant is not greater than his master
John alone among the Evangelists tells of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. It was an act of love (see 13:1), foreshadowing that ultimate act of love that was now just a few hours away.
But John introduces this extraordinary incident in an equally extraordinary manner. He tells us that Jesus knew that the Father had placed everything in his hands and that he had come from the Father and was about to return to the Father. It was this knowledge that prompted Jesus to rise from the table and set about the task of the most menial of servants. Knowledge that he is Lord of all enables Jesus to act as servant of all.
In this act Jesus shows what he has come into the world to do. He came not to be served but to serve and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. His entire ministry was one of service. He ministered to the crowds in all their need, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching them about the kingdom, not only through parables but also by the character of his life. He had time also for individuals in all their varied needs: the woman at the well in Samaria; Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector; Lazarus his beloved friend whom he raised from the dead. His life was lived entirely for the blessing and benefit of others.
And Jesus taught his disciples that he and the Father are one. He does only what the Father has given him to do and says only what the Father has first spoken to him. He is the one who reveals the Father heart of God.
Those who do not believe in God accuse us of creating a projection of our own need for an authority figure. Sadly, that is sometimes what we do. We are used to human models of authority. Those with positions of great authority and power in this world are often domineering and demanding. All too often we project this image upon God and imagine that he is there to whip us into shape and to bark out the orders.
Jesus shows us what God is really like. He declares, “I and the Father are one.” Make no mistake, God is God; he is the sovereign ruler of the universe. But he is also the God who stoops and serves. He is filled with love and compassion towards the world he has made, determined to give himself to its mending and flourishing. Jesus shows us what God is like and forces us to throw away all those distorted images based on twisted human models of power.
It’s not always easy to live with such a Lord – see Peter’s response in 13:8. We seem to be more comfortable with law than grace.
Having washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus then says that he has left them an example that they should do as he has done. Confidence in who we are and where we are going should drive us also to joyful acts of selfless service. “If you know such things you will be blessed if you do them.” We were created that we might image God. We need to learn afresh what this means. We need to stop being precious about our own dignity and jockeying for position in the kingdom. We need to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way we will show the world what God is really like.
Father God, thank you that you do not treat us as our sins deserve but are full of compassion and intent to bless. You did not spare your own Son but gave him for our redemption. Thank you that he is the image of the invisible God, the one who has revealed your character. Help me by your Spirit to be conformed to the image of your Son; make me like Jesus. As his character is formed in me, help me to serve others and so to make you known.
22/05/2013 - John 12:20-50 – We would see Jesus
In John 12 we read that some Greeks, that is, some Greek speaking Gentiles (non Jews), came to Philip asking to see Jesus. Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip then together went to tell Jesus. But Jesus’ response seems rather odd – indeed, we never do learn whether the Greeks managed to see Jesus. Instead, Jesus begins to speak about his approaching death.
Jesus declares that the time has now come for him to lay down his life. His death will be like a seed being planted in the soil. The seed must die, but in doing so it will bear fruit.
On the face of it, Jesus’ words seem to be a very strange response to the request of Greeks to meet with him. But not so strange perhaps when Jesus goes on to describe his death in these terms, “When I am lifted up I will draw all manner of people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus’ death and resurrection will be the means by which God’s promise to Abraham will at last find its fulfilment, “Through you, all peoples on earth will be blessed.”
A few Greeks were asking to see Jesus. Jesus says that a time of crisis has now arrived through which their desire will be answered in a way beyond their imagination. Jesus has come as the light of the world and many are being drawn into the light – even some from among the Gentiles. But the powers of darkness are gathering as the Jewish authorities put together their plans to destroy Jesus. How will it all end? Jesus came into the world for this very crisis – he came for “this hour”. Nor is there any doubt about how it will end, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (12:31).
Jesus faces the cross with horror (see v 27) yet also with anticipation of victory. The cross may seem to be the place where Jesus is judged and executed, but in reality it is the place where the price of this world is judged; the darkness that gathers and threatens to put out the light will be utterly defeated. The cross which was designed to humiliate Christ and expose the emptiness of his claims becomes the place of Christ’s enthronement and vindication; this is where the Son of Man will be glorified. And as a result of his victory he will draw all peoples to himself. The arms that were stretched out on the cross “would all mankind embrace.”
Already we see the seed beginning to bear fruit – a few Greeks are seeking Jesus and even a few of the Jewish leaders have come to believe in him. Beyond the cross and resurrection, thousands upon thousands will believe in him, both Jews and Gentiles. He will save for himself a people from every nation, language and ethnic group until there stands before him in glory a great crowd beyond all numbering.
As we follow the news there is much that causes pain and discouragement. It may seem that the darkness has not diminished as we read of violence, hatred, injustice and plain evil and as many lives are enslaved to damaging addictions. Where will it all end? Yet we also see that there are many who are still seeking Jesus. The powers of darkness will not have the last word.
Father God, as Jesus your Son taught us, so we pray that your kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as in heaven. This is our longing and our prayer. Help us by your Spirit to work for the coming of your kingdom and to lead many to the Lord Jesus.
21/05/2013 - John 11:45-12:19 – The whole world has gone after him
John loves to record occasions when Jesus’ enemies spoke more profoundly than they realised. In these verses we read of a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders. The leaders of the nation are deeply troubled at the growing influence of Jesus, particularly after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. His popularity may lead to such excitement at the coming feast in Jerusalem that the Romans might intervene by force, maybe even destroying the Temple. Caiaphas, the high priest, tells the rest of the Sanhedrin not to get so agitated. It is better for one man to die on behalf of the people than that the whole nation be destroyed.
Caiaphas meant that when the moment came, they would hand Jesus over to the Romans and so save their own skins; the one who could give life to the dead cannot be allowed to live. But John adds that Caiaphas spoke better than he knew, he spoke prophetically. Jesus’ death would be a sacrifice through which the people will be saved: “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (John 11:51-52).
From this moment, John tells us, the Jewish leaders plotted Jesus death.
Two great dramas are being played out here. On the one hand there are the plans of human beings driven by selfish ambition and a determination to preserve their own power, position and control. On the other hand there are the eternal purposes of God – God's great plan to reconcile the world to himself through the sacrifice of his own beloved Son. And these two are not separate dramas; the purposes of God are being worked out through the evil plans and devices of human beings. As Peter was later to declare on the day of Pentecost, "This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him... God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:23-24, 36).
Those who hold positions of power in this world still believe that they can shape history to their own ends. But God has not given up his dominion to them. He is still working out his own purposes.
In 12:19, John records a similar remark, though this time without adding his own comment. As the feast arrives and Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey he is surrounded by crowds proclaiming him their coming king. The Pharisees, we read, are deeply troubled and, in their frustration declare, “The whole world (the cosmos) has gone after him.” John surely intends us to read this also as an unintended word of prophecy. Jesus is the King of Israel, the promised Messiah to whom the nations must offer obedience. He is the Lord of the whole cosmos to whom every knee shall bow.
Sovereign God, I praise you that your kingdom purposes cannot fail. Lord Jesus, I gladly bow the knee to you and acknowledge that you are Christ the Lord. Thank you that you are able to work through the confused actions of my own life to bring glory to your name. Help me always to be a willing and active agent in the work of your kingdom, so that many more may come to own you as Lord and serve your purpose to bring life and healing to the world. May the whole world go after you.
20/05/2013 - John 11:1-44 – The resurrection and the life
Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus, live in Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem. Jesus was across the other side of the Jordan when word was sent to him that Lazarus had fallen ill. Jesus loved this family greatly, yet he waited two days before setting off for Bethany. Why?
This story is full of perplexities, yet one thing is clear right from the beginning, Jesus is in full control of the situation. The minute he hears of Lazarus' sickness he declares, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it" (John 11:4). Jesus seems to have deliberately delayed so that Lazarus' condition would get worse and so that he would die. Jesus wants to bring glory to his Father and to display his own glory by demonstrating that he has power even over death.
When Jesus arrives at Bethany, Martha is troubled. She knows that if Jesus had been there when Lazarus had fallen sick he would never have died. Nevertheless, she knows that death is not the end; he will be raised to life again in the last day when death at last gives up all its captives. But Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever believes in me will never die”, and he challenges her, “Do you believe this?” Martha responds, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” She believes that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He has come into the world to bring in that day of resurrection, the day when death shall be swallowed up in life.
Jesus is deeply moved and troubled by the death of Lazarus. He does not treat death as simply another fact of life. He views death as an enemy that has invaded God’s world, robbed Lazarus of life and brought grief to those who loved him. It is an evil that moved Jesus to angry tears.
But Jesus is not helpless in the face of death. He has only to call Lazarus from his tomb and the dead hear his voice and live. Lazarus, bound in his grave clothes, totters out to hear the further welcome words of command, “Set him free and let him go.”
Lazarus would die again. The final day of resurrection had not yet arrived, yet his resurrection from the grave, leaving behind an empty tomb, foreshadows a greater resurrection not many days hence. That resurrection would be accomplished by the same power, for as Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again.” (10:18). With his death and resurrection the power of death will be broken once and for all – unlike Lazarus, he will not die again. He is the firstborn from the dead, the one who gives eternal life – resurrection life – to all who come to him.
Lararus' resurrection also foreshadows that last great day when Jesus shall call to all who are in their graves, "Come out", and we shall rise. All who fall asleep in Jesus, await the day of general resurrection when at last death shall be swallowed up in victory.
Father God, thank you that the words of Jesus are not empty words, they have power to give life to the dead. Thank you that you have given us a living hope through Jesus' resurrection from the dead and the promise that we will enter into an inheritance that can never perish or fade. May your word fill me with joy and peace even in the face of death.
19/05/2013 - John 10:22-42 – I and the Father are one
Jesus often spoke of his unity with the Father – a unity of mind, purpose and action. But none of these sayings is more precious than this: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand" (John 10:27-29). The Father and the Son (and, we might add, the Spirit), are united in saving purpose. The Father so loved the world that he sent his Son to save us. The Son so loved us that he came and gave himself for us. Both Father and Son are intent upon seeking and saving that which was lost, and upon ensuring that those sought and saved are never lost again. No wonder Paul can say:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
There are many uncertainties in life, but here is a certainty in life and in death; it is sealed by the promise of the Father, the blood of the Son and the power of the Spirit. This truth was wonderfully expressed in an old hymn by Augustus Toplady:
The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen, and never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above,
Can make him His purpose forgo, or sever my soul from his love.
My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains, in marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heav’n.
Those who have come to trust in Christ and follow him are safe in his keeping. They are held fast in the mighty hands of the Father and of the Son and kept safe by the power of the Spirit.
Father God, I praise you for the assurance given by your Spirit that I am your child and will never be disowned. Help me by that same Spirit to live as your child, reflecting the character and purpose made visible in Christ, my elder brother. Let me never make confidence the grounds for carelessness or security an excuse for sin.
18/05/2013 - John 10:1-21 – The Good Shepherd
The depiction of the leaders of God’s people as unfaithful shepherds is not uncommon in the Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah accuses them of destroying and scattering God’s flock (Jeremiah 23:1-2). They are shepherds who have led the flock astray so that they have wandered off into desert places and become prey to attackers (Jeremiah 50:6). Ezekiel goes further in accusing the shepherds of Israel of slaughtering and feeding themselves on the flock (Ezekiel 34:1-10). In both of these prophetic pictures, the Lord declares that he will come to rescue and shepherd his own flock (Jeremiah 23:3; 50:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16).
No doubt Jesus had such passages in mind when, by way of contrast, he spoke of himself as the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. He is the one who leads the sheep into abundant pastures so that they enjoy life to the full (John 10:10). He is the Lord, come to rescue and shepherd his own flock.
Ironically, their life comes at the cost of his death. Jesus does not simply say that he is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, but that he will lay down his life for them. He has the power to lay it down – no one takes his life from him – and he has the power to take it up again. He is the good shepherd in his death – laying down his life for the sheep. He is the great shepherd by his resurrection life (Hebrews 13:20-21) – still leading, protecting and providing for the sheep (Psalm 23, cf. Isaiah 40:11), so that they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
As the good shepherd, Jesus "calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (10:3). He calls them by name; he knows each one, values each one, cares for each one. And they in turn know him; "he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (10:4). These words are more than incidentals of the illustration that Jesus is using, for he then goes on to speak plainly, saying, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (10:14).
To be a Christian is not merely to assent to a set of doctrines; it is to know and follow Christ. Even more precious, it is to know that we are known by him, owned by him and loved by him. It is to be drawn into the inner circle – the embrace – of the life of God.
What are the implications of Jesus' words for daily discipleship? First and foremost, we have the assurance that he does not call us to go anywhere where he does not go first; we are called always to follow, always to be with him. But secondly, it reminds us of our need to listen and to follow. We live in a world of a thousand clamouring voices; we need spiritual discernment to hear and discern the voice of Christ and to follow him (see the contrast in 10:4-5). It is in following his call that we find life in all its fullness (10:10).
Above the voices of the world around me,
my hopes and dreams, my cares and loves and fears,
the long-awaited call of Christ has found me,
the voice of Jesus echoes in my ears:
`I gave my life to break the cords that bind you,
I rose from death to set your spirit free;
turn from your sins and put the past behind you,
take up your cross and come and follow me.'
Lord Jesus, help me to hear your voice today and follow you closely. Restore my soul and lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.