Friday, November 30, 2012
At this point, those with diseases sought out Christ, and He healed all those He encountered. A great crowd met Him in Galilee and desired to be near Him, listen, and see what might happen next. Jesus finds Himself on a mountain, with a great multitude, near the time of the Passover feast. Time to eat. But the logistics of pulling off an unplanned picnic were still to be figured out. In an effort to build the faith of His follow, Jesus (in verse 5) asks Phillip the obvious question … “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Verse 6 reveals Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but He was about to make a point about how each of us, and all of us, are taken care of by God. Now, remember for a moment the time in which Jesus lived. There was no Safeway, or Publix, or Walmart, you could conceivably run down to and pick up enough bread to feed what would soon be numbered as 5,000 men. And this was not an event where only men attended. Rest assured they were accompanied by their wives, sisters, children, and old folks. This was a gathering of epic proportions. It was spontaneous and unplanned. It was nearly the size of a small army.
No bakery of the day would have been prepared to sell enough food to feed this many people. If the families did not bring their own food with them, they would likely not be eating that day. Even if you went to every baker in the region (which may well be time prohibitive), you would still come up well short of having enough stock on hand to handle this many people in this small an area. Next, would be the problem of funding. Christ owned nothing. His disciples did not have revenue generating occupations. They followed Jesus around from place to place, relying on the charity of others anywhere they ventured. The money they collected in donations Judas held … “for the poor”. So even if Walmart had been open to them with enough bread on hand, they would not have had the funds to make the purchase. Phillip realizes these truths, but decides to take inventory of what they have on hand, and “explain” the situation to Christ.
How often do we answer the questions of Christ, that were meant to grow our faith, based on the “facts” we know to be true? There is no store. There is no money. There is only little bread. What are you talking about Lord? Or in our day … we have no funds for this mission in our community, we have no space zoned properly to open it, we have no staff to man it with volunteer labor … what are you talking about Lord? The facts do not suit your question. The budget does not allow for your crazy ideas about spending. We simply “cannot” accommodate your request Lord, as the “facts” on the ground make it “impossible”. This was Phillip’s assessment as in verse 7 he offers … “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” This is all we have Lord, and it is obviously not enough. We simply cannot accommodate your request. How many church board meetings have resulted in the same conclusion? How many times have Christians looked at what is “possible” and made their decisions based on the facts, rather than on the faith that lies behind the question?
Andrew, Peter’s brother, gets the spark of an idea. One of Christ’s disciples is a child, apparently a smart child, as he came prepared to this unplanned picnic with a lunch his mom had made him for the event. Here is a mother’s love reflected in the life of her child. It was no gourmet feast, it was a humble meal, made in love for a small child. But the child, in the true Spirit of love, is more than willing to offer up his entire meal to Jesus to use as He sees fit. Leave it to a child, to set the example of what we ALL should be willing to give to Christ, literally everything. The child does not first remove what he needs for himself, and then offer what is left to Jesus. He does not eat first, and offer the scraps to God. He decides he is simply not hungry, if Jesus has need of his food. So he tells Andrew, he wants to offer up his lunch to Jesus. After all mom will gladly make him another one tomorrow, worst case. So Andrew takes it to Christ … but then almost immediately realizes that while this child is giving everything he owns up to Jesus, it is still a small thing against so much need. In verse 9 he explains … “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?”
What Phillip did not consider, was that the person asking the question ALREADY knew the answer. What Andrew did not consider, was that even though this offering of a child was small against so great a need, all Christ ever asks of us is what we are WILLING to offer Him, and when we do offer Him something, He takes it and uses it completely. The blessing the child understood that day, was that when you hold nothing back from Christ, it is YOU who is blessed beyond on all measure. While we do not know that child’s name today, we all know his offering. For it is based on his gift, that the ensuing miracle would occur. At this point Jesus asks the disciples to have all the men sit down (with their families), the men numbering about 5000. It happened there was a lot of grass in that place, so everyone complied. I wonder had it been barren if they would have still agreed? But in any case, they did.
And then Jesus offers us yet another example, of the point of this story. It is God who provides for our needs. Even when we have yet to realize our needs have been met. Before He distributes the food to His disciples in verse 10 … “And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks …” He gives thanks. Thanks to who? Thanks to the little child who “owned” the bread and fishes? Thanks to the loving mother who had prepared that lunch for her child that day? Thanks for the boy’s father for “earning” the money that would pay for the food, that mom would pack for her generous child? No. Though all those acts of love culminated in an offering to God, Jesus pauses to give thanks to the real source of ALL our food, and the one who meets ALL our needs, His Father God. It is not merely for the food that will be consumed, but for the miracle that will mark this day in His ministry for a great many to remember. Long after He is crucified and rejected by those who today will join Him in feasting, His miracle will be a seed that will result in a harvest of souls. When His true mission is finally understood and accepted, those who eat this day, will remember this act. It is for this miracle that results in a harvest of souls that Jesus is most thankful for. For His primary happiness is found in the redemption of those who are lost. This is a joy He shares with His Father.
And so, He begins to give out food to His disciples to serve to the crowd. Here too, is another example of the priority of the ministry of Christ. To serve others. Notice that he does not begin by eating Himself, but by serving to others. His servants, or disciples in this case, are given food to serve first to others, not to themselves. I am certain Jesus in His humanity was hungry. So were His disciples. But when serving others, following the will of God, hunger was not something of primary concern. The act of serving in concert with the miracle of the seemingly endless supply of food had made those serving it completely forget their own needs. The entire multitude was fed. Notice again, not one soul went hungry. Nor was this gift rationed in any way. He did not restrict any who wanted food from eating it. If they wanted seconds or thirds, or more, have at it. Those who were poor, were fed. Here in an impossible situation, in impossible circumstances, God finds a way.
What man cannot do for himself, only God can do. When man realizes his own inability, he is finally free to allow God to do, what God already knows He is going to do. When our budget does not allow for us to accommodate the request of God, but we move forward anyway, we find the impossible becomes possible. For it was never our money being adequate that our God was looking for, it was our willingness to follow in spite of our lack of funds and negative “facts”. It is our faith that frees God to work His miracles in our lives, and allow us to serve others as our first priority. This story is a living example of this truth from end to end. The miracle was as much for the disciples of Christ to understand service as it was for the hungry who sat on that grassy mountainside. And they ALL ate, and were filled. The gift of God is not casual, partial, or insufficient. It is overflowing.
Now to punctuate just how large a miracle this really was … in verse 12 and 13 it continues “When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. [verse 13] Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.” Imagine this. More left-overs after all had eaten than any store would have had in inventory to start with. These left-overs could be distributed to the poor who were not there that day, nothing would be wasted or lost, when God gives a gift to mankind. The child who offered up his lunch, still had a lunch, even greater than the one he offered to God. You CANNOT out-give God. You simply cannot out-love the source of all love. The child, thought it not too great a sacrifice to give Jesus everything he had. And this simple loving gift was returned to him in fuller measure than what he had offered. He lost nothing in the giving. This was no investment scheme designed for the child to profit from. He had no expectations his offering would be returned to him. But God knows our needs, and loves us far more than we could ever love Him in return. And mom’s lunch was blessed, multiplied, and returned to her son completely. So it is, when we offer God our all, no matter how small our all is, against so great a need.
It would be nice to end this recollection at this point, at the pinnacle of a tremendous event. But when our own ideas about truth are too stubborn to be taught, the ending cannot always be the blessing it was intended to be. The people you see, were not looking for the lamb of God, to be slain for their sins. They were looking for a king and conqueror to drive out the Roman oppressor and lead Israel back to its former glory. Had Jesus accepted this role, He would have been loved by priest, leader, and commoner alike. Had Jesus accepted this role, His divine power could have quickly made an end to Roman occupation, and restored Israel to be the greatest kingdom the world had ever known. He had the power to control everything to insure this happened. But His mission was not one of power, of control, or of earthly glory. God does not measure glory in power or control, He measures it in love, forgiveness, and restoration of that which was lost. What men wanted, was not what God wanted.
The reaction of the crowd (in verse 14) was certainty … “Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” The healings, and now the ability to feed an army out of nothing, was exactly the right combination to drive out the Romans. You could eat every day, and be healed if you were wounded in battle. They did not even need Christ to fight, He could just sit in the back of the army and do the healing and feeding duties. These men would gladly have done the fighting for Him. Here was Satan yet again trying to offer Christ a way to gain the love of His people without having to die for them. Here was Satan again trying to setup an “alternative” to the ways of God. No need to die to redeem Israel, no need to die to obtain their love, a simple gesture of liberation, and the whole of the country would worship You. If you want the people to believe in you, here is a sure fire way to make that happen. But God does not attempt to control, or manipulate, instead He only offers love, and asks for us to accept it. So the crowd was to be disappointed.
In verse 15 … “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” Teleportation anyone? Invisibility perhaps? I find this text interesting as the will of those men was bent on making Christ a king, whether He wanted it or not. How does one “depart” from a mountain where 5000 men know who you are, and are united in their goal of making you king, whether you want it or not? How do you just “walk away” from 5000 people without attracting the unwanted attention of this crowd? I can only believe on occasion to avoid the snares of Satan, Jesus simply had to move through space in a way we may never fully understand. In this instance, He would reject the alternative Satan offered, and escape Satan’s plans to force Him into compliance.
Here again was another object lesson for us. These people believed they knew the “truth” about the mission of the Messiah. They had read the works of the prophets that foretold of Him, and had confused some of the writings about heaven, as being in the time of His first appearing. Their misinterpretation had become defacto truth, and they were unwilling to alter their hopes around what the Messiah was truly here to do. Using their religious ideas, and fervor for achieving personal goals, under the guise of divine approval, they sought to force God to do as they wished. How often do we allow our own ideas and desires about how we live, to offer God an “alternative” to His ideas that is “equally” acceptable? We decide one day in seven is enough to worship God, it should not matter which day we choose to do it on. We decide our tithes and our offerings are discretionary and should only be spent the way we see fit. We decide “who” we love is our business, and if we change our minds, we should be free to do so, no matter how many times we change it, and who we hurt in the process. Our time, our money, our relationships, should after all be up to us. So we attempt to define for God, why our alternatives should be just as good as anything He outlined. We attempt to control Him, by what we do, instead of surrendering everything to Him, and experiencing the freedom of not being bound to control at all.
It was not to be through a miraculous meal that the hearts of this crowd would be reached. The miracle mattered, the meal was incidental. But the lesson would last, it is God who provides for our needs even when we cannot see this plain and simple truth. Even before the disciples had seen the food that would be distributed, Jesus was thanking the Father for it. No miracle had yet been performed, but the gratitude was already there from Christ. Why? Because Jesus knew what His followers did not. That God Himself provides for our every need, and sees to our existence, no matter what came out of that lunch basket. When man faces the impossible, he can finally see it was God there all the while meeting the need.
When man finally surrenders his own will to God, it is then that God can remake us into the creations He intended us to be, freed from the bondage to self, free to serve others, free to love others as God loves. When the miraculous food started to flow, it was first served to others. Christ, who by all rights should have been the first to eat, was the last to do so. God put Himself last, by His own choice. Only after everyone else had eaten would He have the chance to eat Himself. Those who followed Christ, were also FIRST to serve others, and last to eat themselves. Then they went the further step of doing the clean-up of the left-overs. Service to others is the hallmark of love, the witness that the work comes from God. It was natural for Jesus to serve first and eat last. This is foreign to us, and can only come naturally when we allow God to remake “who” we are. Instead of trying to control God with our alternatives to His ideas, perhaps we can finally be ready to forsake our own wisdom, and begin learning from Him who so longs to free us from ourselves. It is in this way, that the hearts of men can finally be reached.
Friday, November 9, 2012
A verbal debate on the law, the Jewish leadership felt confident they would win. They had won for many years, and this is why their collective opinions had never been overturned. If anything they had simply gotten more and more conservative in their interpretation of laws as the years progressed. This is the natural course of events when the study of law is absent from the love that inspires it. When one focuses only on actions and not on motives, an interesting cadre of possibilities is presented. Loopholes emerge. Fine print becomes important. A question of law must be thoroughly vetted and a detailed interpretation agreed upon, much like a contract. However, love is not something so easily and fully defined. Love is hard to pen on paper, and make a contract out of. Love seems to always exceed our understanding, and employ concepts that are counter intuitive to our best interests, such as forgiveness, and patience in the face of hate. How does one interpret motive, and define it, if it is truly based in love? Laws about actions are easier to proscribe, than a recipe for how to love another. And so the law had been separated from the love behind it, and actions were all that mattered now.
A miracle in the face of our “facts” was an event that could not be ignored. A verbal debate might be won as it was historically. But a defiance of all the known laws of physics and science is not something easily dismissed. It undoes perceptions. It redefines realities. It causes atheists to scramble, and mistaken religious zealots to either pause and re-evaluate, or as in this case, to harden their positions and seek to kill the opposition. Truly these were a stiff necked people. And truly so are we. We harden our resolve never to re-evaluate our core doctrines, no matter what circumstances we encounter. As such we block out the Holy Spirit from teaching us, as we focus all our energies on “teaching” others in His name. Not even miracles, give us pause. We simply find a way to explain the miraculous as either affirming our positions, or being merely coincidence if it disagrees. Seems as though nothing has changed in the approach of religious leaders from ancient times to now. But the conflict was to get worse.
Christ answers them in verse 17 and says … “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Ouch. Jesus had said a mouthful. First, and this point was completely lost on them, this act of love was not the independent will of Jesus in sympathy for the man, it was an act of love done by the will of the Father. Second, this “work” was not truly work, it was “love” in action. When God rested on the seventh-day at creation, the animals he had made did not immediately expire from lack of breath. The plants did not stop growing. Gravity was not suspended. Food did not disappear. The universe kept spinning as it always had. Love was not the thing God rested from. And in making the Sabbath holy He was blessing us, by setting aside His time to spend it with us for one day every week in a special way, a way He outlined. The intent was to free us from our normal distractions and give us time to spend with Him, the source of all love. Jesus reaching out to this man on Sabbath begins with addressing his most pressing need, a physical restoration. Love does not consider a healing from pain the “work” that must be delayed on Sabbath. The salvation of man does not take a day off. The restorative work of God on the human heart needs no time out on Sabbath, if anything it needs an acceleration on that day. We appreciate God all the more, when He frees us from the slavery of self, and offers us some dedicated special time with Him.
In effect, Jesus was saying that the Father Himself, was redefining their interpretation of what “work” was, and what He did in heaven and on earth. Love was not something God needed rest from, it was something He was and is and would always be. Love incarnate. In this instance, Jesus was telling these men, they were wrong, and they were not only arguing with Him, they were literally going to argue with God the Father on this one. Those words should have been the end of the debate. And they should have caused those who claimed to worship the Father, to take a step back, apologize, and rejoice in the love the Father wished only to show them. But it did not.
Verse 18 chronicles their very human, and very stubborn response … “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” Their thinking and their perspective point about their interpretation of the law did not so much as flinch. They were still certain Jesus had broken the Sabbath, despite only performing an act of love. Now they saw His reference of the Father as a further crime of Blasphemy, and it only enraged them further. This is the hallmark of the thinking of Satan. Reason is abandoned for passion, and steeped in the pride of arrogance. The Jews were wrong, and they would gladly kill Christ for pointing that out. The miracle still stood as something beyond their version of “truth”. Had this been only words, they might have been able to ignore His truth, but when it was bundled with something else they could not explain, they reduced this debate to one of ego, and they were not willing to sacrifice their pride in the study of the law, to the soft-spoken truth of love in action.
Jesus however, does not attempt to dispute this further accusation of blasphemy, he continues his focus on redefining what “work” actually means. In verse 19 he responds … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” It was common in the culture of the day, that whatever skills and trades the father did in a family, the sons would learn and inherit. All throughout nature, parent animals teach their young how to find food, build shelter, and care for their young. A Jewish son would in all likelihood continue the occupation of his father as there was little opportunity to find something else. At a minimum he would have been educated in his youth of the trades of his father. This is the truism Jesus references. In this He further states, this is what I have been taught by my Father. My Father’s occupation is acts of love, it is what He has taught me. Acts of love in the mind of God, is not considered work that transgresses the law. In this Jesus is again stating their argument over their position on the law is in direct conflict with God the Father. Love is not work, it is a state of being.
In verse 20, Jesus raises the stakes … “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.” Now to address the reason for their extreme emotional response, the thing they could not ignore; the miracle. Guess what, there are greater things than this that you will witness and marvel at. Here was Jesus saying, this was not a single act of love for you to soon forget, and write off as some sort of weird anomaly or coincidence. There is going to be even greater miracles, that will be even harder to dispute, and you are going to marvel at them more than you marvel at this. In effect, your inability to explain away the miracle associated with this act of love is about to get compounded in scope and frequency. This was unwelcome news, as it implies a supernatural power is behind the acts of Christ, and they may be arguing against something larger than humanity on this one. This is not going to be just another typical verbal debate; this one comes with proof of the divine position on the question of law.
Now recognizing that they are debating something greater than humanity, if one is determined to hold to ones position on the law, then the natural conclusion is that Jesus must be acting on behalf of some evil power, not from God. But before they can hold on to this conclusion (in spite of all the facts to the contrary), Jesus trumps this idea by offering them a power the devil does not have, in verse 20 He continues … “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” Lest you think Satan is behind the miracles I do, the ability to raise the dead is something only God could do, and so only the Son can do it as well. Again following the understanding of Jewish culture of the day, Jesus is saying I have learned what my Father taught me. And this time He is clearly articulating that only God could do the act of bringing back the dead.
How poignant a lesson for us; here is Jesus saying to us … only God can bring back the dead. Do you realize that in embracing the pain of sin, you have embraced the death that sin brings? Only God can bring back the dead, only God can restore the life He intended for you, from the death you have embraced. And what is more, only Jesus can save you from this death you have chosen. Without the redemptive, restorative, creative power of God, you would be doomed to your slavery to self, to pain, and to the death you would one day crave as the only escape from such a tortured existence. God alone can bring you back from this death. God alone can, not only restore your body, but He can restore your life to one of freedom to love others, not bound to only think of self. This truth has never been more relevant, and more needed than in our hearts and lives and motives.
In verse 22 and 23 Jesus now outlines the true mission of the Messiah … “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: [verse 23] That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” The work of judgment has been reserved to Christ. Christ had been sent into the world by His Father to redeem, to restore, to bring life. Jesus is saying in verse 20, God alone can bring back the dead, and in these verses, I am here to do just that from a spiritual perspective. The work of the Messiah is not the work of a man. It is the work of God the Father, in sending His only Son to this world. Honoring the Father CANNOT happen if honor is not also given to the Son He sent. There is no bypassing Jesus or the Messiah in the act of judgment. The judge interprets the law. The judge has the final say. The judge overrules the opinions of the lawyers, and makes the final determination. If this is a question of law, then you are talking to the lawgiver, and the judge. Judgment on whether acts of love are work on the Sabbath is something Jesus will decide, as God has given Him this role. The Messiah is more than man, He is God, the Son of God.
What is more, salvation CANNOT occur bypassing Jesus and attempting to appeal directly to the Father. This is a team effort. And if we refuse to acknowledge the way of our salvation, we are refusing the gift of the Father as well as the gift of His Son. God is saying to the world, this is “how” you will be saved, through my Son. Through the ultimate definition of the law in action, look at the life of Christ, look at how far love will go to save and redeem, this is my method for your redemption. Jesus is the living embodiment of the law, and when questions of interpretation arise, look to Christ. Christ is the judge of what the law means, and how it is to be interpreted. His life is that definition. The words God gave on the top of Mount Sinai, now have a living example to model after. The meaning of the law now has a living witness, and a living judge. Whatever you thought you knew about the law, measure those interpretations against the life of Christ; for Christ is the standard by which we can measure the love that inspires the law.
Verse 24 summarizes the entirety of the gospel … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Jesus plainly states this is how you avoid condemnation and pass from death unto life, is belief that God sent Christ to save you. Notice, Jesus does not say you are saved by your strict adherence to the law. He does not say you are saved by the doctrines you believe and by your interpretations of scripture, and understanding of prophecy, and the time you spend in reading and prayer. You are saved not by the accumulation of your spiritual efforts, but by your belief in something outside of yourself. You are saved by your belief that Christ can and will save you from yourself. Christ is not throwing away the Sabbath, or the law, He is instead offering you a way to see clearly what it means, and how to truly “keep” it. Christ is not throwing away His book, or His word, He is instead telling you that your wisdom in these matters requires further instruction. You are to be the student, not the teacher. You are to learn from Christ, not teach Him what your truth is. Your salvation comes to you as a gift of God, something outside of yourself. All of your accumulated truth is meaningless outside of submission to Jesus Christ. All of your attempts to obey are fruitless outside of Jesus Christ. You are saved first, then you can finally begin to learn what obedience means, and why motives matter.
In verse 25 Jesus continues … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” In this Jesus is speaking both literally and spiritually. Those who accept Jesus are transformed from death unto life. And Jesus has the power to reach into the grave and cause the dead to hear Him and respond. Lazarus would soon be a literal example of power of restorative creative love. But thousands more who heard the sermons of Christ would become living examples of this transformation. The 12 who were with Him now, would become men to reap the harvest and help change the world. Millions would pass from death unto life by hearing and believing the words of Christ, if only through the written account of John in his gospel.
Jesus continues in verse 26 and 27 … “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; [verse 27] And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” Here is Jesus plainly stating God is author of all life. Life is within God. Life is also within Christ. Not life that was placed there, but life that was authored there. God is the source of life. Christ is the source of life. Our restoration is possible because Christ restores life to us. And the life Christ brings to us is everlasting as He is everlasting. We will be made to live forever because Christ lives forever. We are not immortal now. There is no inherent immortality in us. Life was placed into us, it did not originate in us. It originates in God, and as such only God can give it as a gift. Here is Jesus saying judgment is reserved to Him because He is both God, and by choice, man. God has become man in order to save that which was lost.
The act of redemption requires no rest on the Sabbath. This is the living example of the life of Christ, who is the judge on this matter. The Sabbath has not been broken, it has been affirmed. This is the ruling of the Judge, both in heaven and in earth. The Sabbath is all about companionship with God, time with God, time reserved that is special for man and God. Nothing Christ has done in his act of love to the man who was diseased for 38 years, was considered “work”, it was considered restoration based in love. Despite the man’s response which was known before it was committed, despite the act of betrayal of Christ to those bent on killing Him, it did not deter the love of the Father or the Son for this sick man. No matter how we respond to the love of God, it does not deter God from loving us. Though we hate Him, He still loves us. Though we betray Him unto death, He still loves us, and seeks our redemption. This is the power of love.
Now Jesus looks forward to the end of the work of the Messiah, in verses 28 and 29 He continues … “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, [verse 29] And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Even at the end of the earth, even at the end of all things, it is still the voice of Christ who ALL the dead can hear. It is still the voice of Christ that can call that which is dead and lost back from the graves they have ALL gone down into. Notice this does not imply that disembodied souls are floating around somewhere, powered by themselves, that are now compelled to return to their reanimated bodies. This states the dead who were ALL resting in their graves are restored by the power of Christ at the end of all things, whether righteous, or wicked, dead is dead. And only Christ can restore what is dead.
The condition and eternal destiny of the dead is not determined by their actions, but it is revealed by them. Motives inspire action. Those who have done good, are those who through submission have been freed of themselves, and have learned to love as God loves. God within them, inspires them to do good. God in control of their will, their desires, and their actions leads them to do good, from a desire to do good. Those who refused the gift of God, who instead trusted to their own ideas, their own will power, their own actions, do what is predictable, that which is in their own best interests. Inevitably this leads to doing evil. The reasons behind the actions matter. Doing what is perceived as a “good” action, for a selfish reason, can hardly be classified as truly “good”. The recipient of this action may benefit, but the one who does it, does not benefit. Good must come from a restoration within us. This is not natural to us, and can only happen when it is God who restores us from death unto life, as we submit our entire lives into His control. This is what determines our destiny, and is revealed by the transformation that takes place within us while we yet live. What we do, is then a result of our salvation from ourselves, or a revelation that we have refused to let this occur.
In verse 30, Jesus tries again to illustrate that the will of God to save us, is not something just He does, but something His Father is also keenly interested in … “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” Father and Son equally engaged in the effort to redeem mankind. Nothing Jesus is to do in this world is a one-sided affair; it is the will of His Father. The miracles that Jesus is to perform are not from the power of His humanity, but from the will of His Father. Though divine, Christ submits His own life to the will of His Father, as we must also do, if we are to be saved. Even though He was perfect Christ still submitted His own will to God the Father. He did not trust to Himself, but to His Father. Even in this Christ shows us the example of how to live and find salvation from ourselves.
In verses 31 through 38 Christ then moves the conversation to the witnesses that He is speaking the truth. He first says that it is John the Baptist who for a while they were happy to believe that testified of Christ. It was only then, that this group of religious leaders lost interest in the message of John. Interestingly enough while John’s message was to repent, a rather fundamentalist concept, the religious leaders were OK with him. When he then testified of Jesus, they lost interest. How reminiscent of modern Christianity, very interested in discussing sin and publicly condemning behavior with which we do not agree. But when it comes to surrendering to Christ, the message goes eerily quiet. Christ continues then, His argument that it is the Father in heaven that testifies to the truth of His words, through the divine miracles He performs. This is the truth they did not want to hear, and the one for which there was no other answer, than that they were wrong. And so they chose to disregard it anyway.
In verse 38 Jesus offers a stinging criticism. The study of the law is not the same as the embracing of the law. The study of scripture is not the same as the embracing of scripture. Had the leadership embraced the law they would have by extent embraced the love that stood behind the law. Had they placed their focus on motive over actions, they would have recognized the healing of the man to be an occasion of great joy, great love, and great rejoicing. Love had renewed a life. Those who had the word of God within them, would know this. But as Jesus said to them … “ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.” In the rejection of Christ, was bound the rejection of the testimonies that pointed to Christ, and the Father who sent Him. You cannot have the word of God abiding within you, and then reject the words and message and life that is represented in Christ. It is not the law that saves; it is the love behind the law. It is only the Lawgiver who saves.
In verses 39 and 40 Christ undoes the foundation of their religious thinking. He likewise undoes the basis for every Christian denomination on planet earth. Jesus says … “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. [verse 40] And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” The Jews had gotten so hung up on studying the scripture that they thought that act alone would offer them eternal life. Christianity likewise today, gets so hung up on the differences in doctrine from the examination of scripture we hold to, that we believe these distinctions alone are what save us, or doom us for eternity. We are both wrong. We are all wrong. The scriptures testify of Jesus Christ as our one salvation. We ALL need to surrender to the one Lord alone. Jew, Christian alike, are wrong that it is the study of scripture that saves. It is only in coming to Christ that we are saved. We may have memorized the entire Bible word for word, but if we have not embraced the point of the testimony, if we have yet to come to Christ, we are as lost as we ever were before we opened the book. Salvation comes from Christ, not from study, not from the perceived distinctions that separate modern Christians. Salvation comes from Christ. Only in Christ can truth or unity ever be discovered. Only will love ever heal the pain and differences we have allowed to take precedence over the love that emanates from the heart of God.
The words of verse 40 still haunt my ears … “But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.” He was speaking to the those who thought they had the truth. He was speaking to a nation who had dedicated itself to the keeping of the law, to the preservation of the prophets, to a worship system that Christ had setup all those years ago in the desert. And despite all this blessing, and all this truth, and all this scripture, they STILL did not have the love of God within them. Could it be those same haunting words are equally applied to me in the church pew in which I find myself? Could it be that modern Christianity despite having yet another Testament of Christ, the gospels of John and His contemporaries, that we would STILL not have the love of God within us? This prospect is terrifying and predictable. If we have refused to surrender, even with all the accumulated knowledge of our age; if we still prefer to trust our own wisdom instead of surrendering it to Christ, we stand with the mob that day bent on taking the life of God. There is no difference between us.
In verse 43 and 44 Jesus goes on to point out the absurdity of ignoring the divine stamp of approval on the life of Christ and miracles He performs, with a preference to have one man testify of another. Christ tells this group that they argue against the Ruler of the Universe, instead preferring human wisdom, human honor, human approval. This is not a question of law that has been raised. This has become a question of ego. These folks do not want to submit to the idea that they could be wrong about what they believe. It is not the law that is wrong, it is the interpretation they have devised that is in error. It is not the words Moses penned on paper that were in error. It is the focus on humanity and human judgment and the refusal to submit to God, that has resulted in the errors associated with the keeping of the law. It has resulted in blinding them to the joy of a healing, and instead a focus on the fact that it was done on the Sabbath. This is the crazy, that develops when human wisdom is preferred to the divine.
Christ concludes His dissertation by referring them back to the author they most revere. In verse 45 He says … “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. [verse 46] For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. [verse 47] But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” Here Jesus plainly says, all of scripture, including the writings of Moses testify of Christ. If they have missed this, they have missed the point entirely. If Moses testifies of Jesus, and though they say the follow Moses, they still deny Jesus, they are not likely to accept the words of Christ as proof. But in this their problem is compounded. If Moses truly condemns them for their lack of belief, is there any hope left to them? They have made a career, and a life, out of the study of the law. Now Jesus tells them, they have missed the point entirely, and the patriarch they so revere is condemning them for their choice to trust in their own wisdom.
Many years ago when Moses died before entering the Promised Land he was buried in secret by God. But apparently the devil found his body, and contended for it. So God called Moses out of the grave and had taken him into heaven. Perhaps the devil was looking for his body, to attempt to use it to cause the people to believe a lie. Who knows? But the Jews did believe that Moses had been taken to heaven. So the idea that Moses might be in heaven actually accusing them to God the Father, was literally un-nerving. At this idea, their animosity and intent to kill Christ was quelled for the moment. This idea took them back, caused them to pause and re-group. At this point, Jesus had told them He was the Messiah, the Son of God, the judge and final arbiter of what it means to obey the law, and now that Moses testified of His divinity. A question of law had evolved into the larger question of salvation in general. For now, whether the man carried his bed or not did not matter. For now, whether Jesus had blasphemed did not matter. For now what mattered was to consider the words of Christ and just make sure Moses was not on His team.
And so Christ was able to withdraw from this confrontation, and travel away from Jerusalem once again. This had been the first time in His ministry, when Jesus so clearly had told the people and leaders who He was, and what the mission of the Messiah was. Though judge, He was not here to judge, but to redeem. Though God, He would daily submit His own will to the will of the Father. His teachings focused on motives, and demonstrated love in action, not just in theory, or in words. He was there to restore life. He was here to bring the dead back to life, those who had died spiritually were to be awakened through the power of His words. Nothing, not even death, could separate us from the love of God, both Father and Son.
I do not know if the man who had been healed heard this discourse. I do not know if he ever later read the encounter John would record. I can only imagine that if he did, he would have been covered in the shame of his betrayal of God to a mob bent on killing Him. I can only imagine he would have been SO sorry that he clung to his traditional ideas about the law, instead of embracing the love Christ was offering to him. But in the same way, as I examine my own life, I see all the times I clung to my own ideas about scripture and the law, trusting to my own wisdom instead of submitting it to the only God who would save me. I see all the times when I thought to conquer sin on my own, instead of abandoning this work to Christ who alone is capable of doing it for me. And I too share the shame of the healed man. I hope we both learned from our mistakes, and going forward, were neither of us ashamed to surrender fully to Jesus Christ each day forever more. For in this is salvation, even for one who betrayed Him, like the healed man, and like me.
Friday, November 2, 2012
The story begins with hope. A pool, near the sheep market, whose name was Bethsaida, having five porches; this was no ordinary pool. Occasionally, an angel descended from heaven, entering the waters and “troubled” them, whoever was first to enter the pool after this event, was cured of “ANY” disease they had. John’s exact words in verse 4 referring to this healing … “whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” Let’s say that again … “was made whole”. So for example, a paralytic would no longer be paralyzed. A person missing an eye, would by miracle have the eye restored. With this level of miracle, those beyond the realm of medical science were sure to surround this pool at all times waiting for their chance at a healing. This was a place of hope, when there was normally no hope left.
John makes no dispersions regarding this pool, the angel who stirred the waters, or the people who hoped to be healed. This was not considered by John, to be mere superstition, it was considered to be real. Makes one wonder, if it still holds true? Of course, in order for those who were lame to enter this pool, they would require assistance. Interesting that those who provided assistance on the Sabbath day do not appear to be condemned for it by the leaders who would soon be criticizing Christ, but that is jumping ahead a bit. John instead introduces us to a particular man beside this pool who had been there for 38 years. We do not know if this is how old the man was, or just how long he had been afflicted with his disease. Perhaps his parents brought him there as a child. Perhaps when he first arrived there, he had someone to help him get in. But whether he and his helpers were just not fast enough or not, over the years, those who thought to help him out had left. At this point, he was alone. He was within sight of healing of his condition, but fully unable to take advantage of the healing offered. Close, but without hope. I believe it was for this reason; Jesus singles out this particular man.
In verse 6 Jesus asks … “Wilt thou be made whole?” As usual, the words of Christ carry so much more meaning than we first ascribe. The question of Jesus was beyond the physical infirmity this man had carried the majority of his life. This question was for more than just the man there at the pool who had lost all hope. This question was for you. This question was for me. Are you tired of the condition you find yourself in? Tired of the pain you embrace with the choices you make, and the desires within you, you are unable to control? Are you ready for relief yet? Are you ready to be made whole? This is something you cannot do for yourself, and something only Jesus can do for you, within you, and perhaps in spite of you. For those without hope, for those who realize the futility of trying to make themselves whole, here is Jesus plainly asking the obvious truth – Are you finally ready to be made whole?
But being human, and thinking only in the terms of humanity, this man would not answer this question from a spiritual perspective but from a practical human one. Like the woman at the well, he had not comprehended yet the full meaning of the question posed to him, and did not yet know it was more than a man that asked it. So the man in verse 7 explains his predicament … “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Perhaps Jesus is offering to help the man into the pool. Perhaps Jesus just needs to understand that while he wants to be healed, he is unable to heal himself, and no one is willing to help him. Perhaps if Jesus does not want to take the time to help him into the pool, He might at least have pity on him and offer him some spare change before He goes on His way. The man stated his case, and in it, reveals his lack of hope.
But Christ did not enter this world, to part with spare change, or leave those without hope in the condition He encounters them in. No, far from it. The Father who watches every bird in every tree, and knows every cow on a thousand hills, had not forgotten this poor suffering man by the pool. The Father who sits on His throne in heaven, felt deeply for this man. The Father directed His Son, to this pool, and on this day, for a reason. Re-creation is the only way we will ever be made whole. Re-creation is the only method by which that we who are broken can be restored to what He intended. This man had suffered long enough. When all hope was gone, enter Christ to restore it once again. No-one should think of themselves beyond the restorative power of Christ, or beyond the love of His Father. Jesus wastes no time in verse 8 responding … “Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”
The gift had been bestowed. And the results of it happened in an instant, as it did in the original creation of our world. Verse 9 says … “And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: …“ There was no delay. There was no “half measure” of this gift. The man did not arise BEFORE he was made whole, he was made whole first. The paralysis was gone. The deformity was gone. He looked and felt as good as new. Health entered his body in such a full measure, he had no basis for comparison. When the creator God is allowed to re-create what we have broken, it is fully restored. When we finally humble ourselves and accept the healing within us that He so longs to give us, it is healing complete. It is our stubborn refusal to accept our helplessness that keeps the restoration of God at bay. In trusting our own ability to just say no to sin, our failures are destined to repeat. But when we let go of our own disease, and look to healing from Jesus, He never fails to deliver. His restoration is full and complete, and the only thing that will ever enable us to rise. It was not the power of the man that enabled him to rise, it was the power of Christ. So it will always be.
This should have been an occasion of great rejoicing in Jerusalem. It was in heaven. The Father who so longed to see the misery of this poor man brought to an end, had finally been able to witness it. Angels would sing. The Father would be filled with joy. The man was getting a new life, one he could scarcely remember or understand. Everything he had known, had been swept away in an instant. This should have been a celebration of renewal and recreation. But from the perspective of those who spent their lives studying the law of Moses, ironically from the religious leadership of the day, the MORE pressing concern was not this man’s healing, it was the timing of when it occurred. Verse 9 continues “ … and on the same day was the sabbath.” While this was no inhibitor to joy in heaven, it would prove to be a source of major contention in the religious capital of the world.
And enter the negative-Ned’s. These were people who in all probability knew this man by the pool without hope. They knew his former condition. They may have even offered him spare change while walking by on occasion. But now, faced with his obvious physical restoration, they completely ignore his restoration and focus only on the fact that he is carrying his bed on Sabbath. Talk about poor and blind and naked; talk about a complete lack of perspective; talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water; but this is what happens when the focus of your life is based on law, and not on the love that was behind it. So they say … “The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.” The accusation has been made.
We, of course, would like to think we would have told those priests and leaders where they could go if put in a similar condition. We would like to think we would have the strength to defend ourselves, and particularly the gracious Lord who had just intervened on our behalf. But this was no small accusation. It was not beyond the realm to know that this group of accusers might quickly degenerate into an irate mob bent on stoning this obvious law breaker, for not adhering to their understanding of the law. Religious zealotry often gives way to violence for those who refuse to comply. And in this, is the doctrine of Satan defined. Satan is not about freedom, he about control. Satan does not offer you a choice, he enslaves your very will. Satan has no problem using the sacred word to be the instrument of your hate, your intolerance, and ultimately your demise. Any way that Satan can get you to forget about love, and embrace hate (even if “righteous” hate) is a win for Satan, and a loss for you and for God. It was entirely probable the answer this man gave might determine if he would actually get to live that life that Christ had just restored to him. And so like Adam before him, the man passes the blame. His body had been restored, but the job was not yet finished. He responds in verse 11 … “He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.” When under the pressure of life and death, move the attention away to someone else. In this case, blame the God who just healed you, for what you are doing.
This new fact of course, was more disconcerting to the religious leadership than just the guy “breaking” the law. A person who ordered folks to break the law was a bigger threat to their authority than the law breaker himself. So they respond in verse 12 … “Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?” They needed to find this person and correct them, or punish them if they refused to accept “their” truth. Keep in mind the understanding of the Jews on this point was universal. From their point of view the “truth” about how to keep the law was plain, accepted by them, the man, and everyone around. There was no debating the “truth” of their wisdom and understanding, there was only the need to see it enforced, even on pain of death. And religious persecution is born in the world: then, as it is now.
How many modern Christians embrace feelings of disdain, anger, and perhaps even hatred for those who refuse to comply with “our” truth? There is no debating “our” truth. After all, we have studied the scriptures and developed our doctrines over time, we know we are correct. Those who refuse to see “our” light, must somehow be lesser than ourselves, doomed to eternal loss, and beyond the love of God. Those who refuse to accept “our” truth may even need to forfeit their lives, so that none of our number ever become corrupted by their teaching of different values and morals. And this thinking leads to centuries of persecution by Catholic Christians against those who would not submit. It leads to Protestant Christians persecuting smaller religions, and minorities for years, and gays in our age. It leads to 9/11 as devout misguided Islamists decide the “great Satan” must be punished. Anytime religions embrace violence for those who refuse “their light”, they become religions of Satan, and abandon the God of love in so doing. This was the hard lesson of the Jewish faith in the time of Christ, and remains the hard lesson for Christianity in our day.
In verse 13 we find … “And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.” I love the use of John’s words “conveyed himself away”. I can almost envision a teleportation away from the pool. In any case, knowing what was about to happen, I imagine Christ was looking to avoid an all-out riot. In any case, the man was so consumed with his physical restoration, that he had not bothered to find out “who” it was that healed him. And in the near term, he had lost that opportunity as now Christ was gone. But like He longs to do with us, Jesus is not satisfied to leave the restoration unfinished. Jesus instead seeks out this man, in order to offer him counsel.
In verse 14 it reads … “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” Jesus wanted to share with this man, that his physical restoration alone was not the only goal of Christ. He wanted Him to be made whole spiritually. A healthy body is no protection against the destructive nature of sin, in some ways our health can be made to serve sin. The mind and heart was the true target of this restoration. Christ longed to restore those, to offer him the blessing of freedom from sin. As always, it was Christ who sought this man out again. Like with us, it is God who comes looking for us. It is God reaching out to us, longing to finish the job he begins with us, longing to get us to see there is something more important than even our health.
But like many of us who sometimes refuse to see, we take the gifts of God, and what we do with them is to our shame. Verse 15 is perhaps the saddest words encountered in the writings of John to date, a prequel for Judas, a postscript for us that an offer of salvation is not always accepted. This is particularly true if we side with our traditions and understanding of “the law” more than with the Lawgiver. I can only believe that the healed man was a resident of Jerusalem, and so no wanting the continued wrath of the Jewish leadership focused on him. He went the extra mile and returned to his accusers to give them the name of the person who ordered him to take up his bed and walk. You will note, this was the actions of this man on his own, no one ordered him to do this. Some amount of time had already passed between his original confrontation with his accusers and Christ seeking him out once again. But verse 15 reads … “The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.”
Like Adam before him, this man now blames the gifts of God for his own behavior. He takes no personal accountability for his own actions, passing responsibility to the Man who told him to take up his bed and walk. He ignores his own healing, and decides to report the name of this Man, back to the accusatory mob, in effect betraying Christ to what is sure to be certain death, without any pressing need to do so. This is the result of an understanding of “truth” in the absence of the love behind the truth. Here for Judas to see, is what it looks like to betray the Son of God, to the religious leadership bent on His destruction. Here is what it looks like, to be restored, and to throw away that restoration and embrace tradition over truth. Here is what it looks like to be offered a new life, and then spend that new life by betraying it. This lesson was for more than the 12, it was for us. A restoration discarded, leads to a betrayal of God, and of ourselves. To choose to ignore what God has just done for us, miraculous as it may have been, and return to our version of “truth” instead of embracing Christ, leads to the betrayal of God and of ourselves. A restored body, and a corrupted spirit, is of no value.
And the results of this man’ decisions were also immediate. Verse 16 reads … “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.” Betrayal complete. The man appears to have ignored the counsel of Christ, and the results of his identification of Christ to the angry leadership has the predictable response. And perhaps even more sad, the love of God the Father in seeing to the healing of this man is ignored, by the religious leaders of the day. An event of joy is turned into an event of hate. An event of celebration turned into a cause of persecution, and conspiracy to commit murder. How sad that those who had the “truth” would believe the “truth” required defending to the point of committing murder to protect it. Real “truth” needs no such defense. But it would get worse …