Friday, February 22, 2013

Interpreted to Death (witness number twenty) ...

Time passes, but people are not changed in a positive way by the passage of time, without a reliance on Christ.  It was winter, during a feast of dedication, and Jesus was in Jerusalem again walking and teaching in the porch of Solomon’s temple.  John’s gospel account continues in chapter 10 and verse 24 when Christ is confronted by the Jewish religious leadership who again ask Him to state plainly whether He was the long awaited Messiah or not.  This question however, was not designed to illicit a spiritual response, it was designed to illicit a political one.  The popular conception about the primary job of the coming Messiah was that He would liberate the people from Roman oppression.  The Pharisees and religious leaders had applied the texts in their scriptures regarding the final kingship of Christ and the overthrow of all evil in the universe to His first appearance by mistake.  They ignored all the references to the sacrifice the Messiah must make of His own life for our redemption, and applied only those that referenced worldwide dominion of His kingdom.  This was a popular view because it offered the people hope to live outside of oppression, with the possibility of power that would never reach an end.  The Pharisees, being the leaders of the people at the time, considered themselves to be the “first” to enjoy the privileges of world-wide dominion.  This was the idea of the Messiah they were invested in.  That the true Messiah might be the sacrificial Lamb of God, and never declare His own power, was inconceivable in their minds.
The Pharisees hoped that if Christ would simply declare Himself openly as the Messiah, the pressure of the people to liberate themselves from Rome would be so great, that He would either have to capitulate to their demands, or to lose them as followers.  In either case the Pharisees stood to gain the advantage.  Most of the traps the Pharisees laid for Christ were designed to be no-win situations, where either answer could be exploited for their purposes.  The fundamental they were relying on is the choice between two evils.  The truth they missed was that with God, we are never forced to make a choice where both outcomes are evil; there is always another choice through the power of God that can confound evil entirely.
So in verse 25 Jesus begins His response saying … “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: …”  This question had been asked and answered, just not in the way the Pharisees had desired.  The work of the Messiah was NOT to be what they were looking for.  Jesus continues … “the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.”  The mission of the Messiah was to LOVE.  His sacrifice for our redemption was the epitome of Love.  Every encounter of Christ with our brokenness was to heal and restore us.  Every encounter of Christ with us sinful men, was not to condemn us, but to love us to redemption, restore us to His intentions, and focus us on what is truly important.  Christ freed no slaves from their owners.  But he offered each of us freedom from slavery to self, that whether bound or free, we are all subject to without His gift.  Christ did not nothing to overturn the power of Rome by force or by conflict.  But by meeting evil with love he started a movement that would turn the largest heathen power in the world into a different creature who would attempt to carry His name.  Christ knew that only Love can defeat evil.  Matching force with superior force does nothing to eliminate evil.  But matching evil with superior love, destroys and eliminates evil once and for all.  The deeds of Christ attest to the response of our God to us.  The deeds of Christ show the heart and motive of God.  Jesus did nothing for Himself, but everything for us.  Our God literally served us first.
But the idea that the most powerful being in the universe would stoop to serve others with no thought to Himself, was more than the Priests could take in.  It was baffling that one with so much potential power would use none of it to exalt Himself, and all of it in simple service of love to others, particularly to those who did not “deserve” these displays of love.  The priests, like Satan, reasoned that if “they” had that kind of power, “they” would rule the world (you know, in a good way).  But this is the contrast between God and Satan – God uses His power to show love to all.  Satan would use his power only on himself at the expense of others.  So the Pharisees did not believe in Christ, because Christ did not follow their logic or wisdom, or make sense to them.  All of their study of scripture had done nothing to melt their hearts from thinking first of serving only self.  Scriptural leadership had offered them power, and superiority over other people.  The concepts of service were replaced with self-aggrandizement.  And now this humble teacher showed a stark contrast between where they were, and where they should have been.
Jesus continues in verse 26 … “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. [verse 27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:”  A sheep is a humble creature because they recognize their own need.  A sheep looks to his shepherd to meet his needs.  Therefore a sheep is happy to follow and trust instead of attempt to lead and teach.  Christ would gladly have accepted these very men as His followers, but they would refuse to follow.  They did not look to Christ as their shepherd, or leader.  Instead they expected Christ to submit to their own leadership and ideas about scripture and what it meant.  This conflict was not one brought on by Christ, it was one brought on by their own pride.  Are we any different?  Do we presume to teach others to listen to our own ideas about what scripture means and ignore the influence of anyone else?  Do we do this instead of teaching all believers to seek Christ first, even if that journey travels along a different road we do not understand?  Do we trust Christ to save the lost, or believe the lost can only be saved if they listen strictly to ourselves … like our Pharisee forefathers perhaps.
Jesus continues in verse 28 … “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”  Life is a gift of Christ.  Eternal life is a GIFT of Christ.  It is not inherent within us, nor something we achieve of our own.  We are saved by Christ.  We are not just saved for a moment, and then subject to the power of Satan once again.  Instead we are saved by Christ, and taken beyond the reach of Satan.  Our lives are transformed by the power of Christ so that temptation is no longer the temptation it once was.  When we look to Christ to be remade, we are remade.  Our problems come, because we look away from Christ.  We begin to think our transformation was something attributable to ourselves.  And as we focus on the mirror again, we find ourselves failing again.  Victories are given away to relapse because we let go of our cure, and look again to self for healing.  But when we focus on Christ, when we humble ourselves as sheep who long for a restorative shepherd, we FIND one in Christ.  And the wolves of this world, are powerless against the Shepherd we have put our faith in.  Once in the hand of Christ, we are beyond the power of those who would destroy us.  For our temporal life means nothing, our eternal one begins immediately.  While we may experience the sleep of death before His return, our sleep will be unperceivably brief, and carry no lasting sting.  Our lives, both now as He removes our pain, and then as His work is finally completed, will be lives of service to others for all eternity that are truly worth living.  This is His gift to us.
Jesus continues in verse 29 … “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.”  Lest you think Christ is alone in His mission to redeem and protect us from evil, think again.  His Father gives us to Him.  And even if you must choose to doubt the strength of the Son, no one can deny the strength of the Father.  The Father is greater than ALL.  No man can remove us from the hand of His Father.  We are not just in the hands of Christ, though that is plenty for me, we are also in the hands of His Father.  They are completely in sync in this effort.  They are completely of one mind on the topic of our redemption and restoration.  We are loved every bit as much by the Father as by His Son.  Every action of service Christ takes is the will of His Father on our behalf.  Every act of mercy and restoration, and healing, comes from the source of all Love who exists in heaven.  Christ was the physical revelation of the mind and heart of God, both Father and Son.  This level of unity cannot be ignored or undone.  And He states it plainly as He declares in verse 30 … “I and my Father are one.”  Not only do Christ and His Father share divinity, but they share Love for us, and the mission to redeem and restore us.  This is the true nature of God which Christ revealed in His visit to our world.  The life of Christ stands in rebuke to the imagery the devil would like to associate with the motives and desires of the Father.  The words of the devil are undone by the actions of Christ.  For love is fully defined in the life of Christ, and He states all throughout His ministry, that these actions are the specific will of His Father.
Predictably the Jewish leadership had only one response to the idea that Jesus was divine, they must stone Him.  Here again, were the learned men of the law, ready to kill someone who did not conform to their own ideas or leadership.  Here were men who believed themselves to be the leaders of the religion established by the most high God, ready to kill the most high God, because He would not agree with them.  What is more, they intended to kill Christ, in order to protect the honor of their God.  But in reality their “god” had become themselves.  Their religions had devolved into their debates about what they thought scripture meant.  Their interpretation of scripture allowed for the idea that they should kill others who did not accept their leadership.  In effect, Christ was about to be “interpreted” to death.
So Jesus asks a simple question of them in verse 32 … “Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?”  This question contains more than what might first meet the eye.  First; Jesus is not asking them if He is being stoned for what He says, but for what He does.  This is not just an ideological debate about the mind and heart of God.  Christ puts His argument in what He has done to make His case.  Second; Christ links the actions He has performed to the power and will of His Father.  He makes no personal claim for these great deeds, instead deferring all glory to His Father.  In effect, He is plainly stating that these miracles require the stamp of divine approval or they could not have been conducted.  Those picking up the stones at the moment, are not just rejecting Christ, they are rejecting His Father God, for Satan has never done such acts of mercy to any here on earth.   Lastly; Jesus is asking them to pause for a moment and consider the reasoning that would allow them to kill someone under the guise of a religion that was intended to be one where love to others was first and foremost.  The Ten Commandments after all, which is something they purport to most revere, state plainly “thou shalt not kill”.  It does not grant exceptions for those who do not agree with the law.  It does not grant exceptions for those who believe they know the law better than others.  It does not even grant exceptions for self-defense.  Yet all there this day, were willing to pick up stones and kill the author of their law, because they believed their interpretations of scripture allowed for it.
The Jews respond in verse 33 … “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”  The Jews have interpreted the scriptures to allow for them to kill anyone who commits the sin of blasphemy.  Notice that they do not leave the act of judgment or condemnation up to God on a matter like this, they presume instead to take these actions into their ‘well-qualified’ hands.  Notice too, they do not allow for repentance to occur if it had been warranted, instead choosing to take immediate action to remedy the situation.  They are going to ignore the argument that proves the miracles of Christ come from God the Father, this is something they have no answer for; and they are going to kill Christ rather than accept that what He is saying may in fact be true.  Their interpretation of scripture allows for an on the spot murder conducted in anger, absent a trial, or opportunity for repentance, or even a discussion as to the merits of this claim.  Had Christ been a mere mortal who was making false claims of divinity, He could have easily been proven a liar and blasphemer.  But because of “who” He was, irrational anger was to rule the day.  If they could not prove Him a liar, they would kill Him to shut Him up.
The response of Christ was to cut right to the heart of their motives.  If they were to kill Him based on their interpretations of scripture, then Christ would call them to interpret something they would have no answer for.   Jesus responds in verse 34 … “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? [verse 35] If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; [verse 36] Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?”  Jesus refers here to a Psalm, a poem, included in the Old Testament whose themes were ones of justice for those in need, and refers to a counsel of the mighty where judgment was undertaken.  But in the poem is the exact reference Jesus quotes, the saying “ye are gods”.  If He is to be killed based on their interpretations, then what do they have to say about this text?  Jesus is making the point that not all scripture is so easily understood, or singular in its purpose.  This poem may well have been using imagery to make a point, not attempting to be literal in its interpretation.  And the fact that the men there have no answer for this reference is designed to teach them that their interpretations have room for growth.  They are not the end-all, be-all of scripture interpretation.
Again Christ turns the argument to focus on deeds over words and their interpretations.   Again he says look at the facts, the actions that He has taken and evaluate the reality of who He is, by the reality of what He has done.  Jesus continues in verse 37 … “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. [verse 38] But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.”  Miracles are not possible outside of the divine.  None of us by sheer will can undo the physics of disease.  But God can.  God can do what we believe is impossible.  God can restore what we are unable to restore, both physically and spiritually.  Jesus is saying to His listeners, if I can do these things, and they are not humanly possible, then I MUST have a connection with God.  And if I am the Son of God, and my actions prove it, why are you willing to kill me because I do not conform to your understandings and ideas.  Salvation is on the table, and to prove it, Jesus has done what no one else has ever done.  He has performed the miraculous.  Our reality has been altered by the deeds of Christ, not just by His words.
But simple logic, and yet another offer of proof that cannot be disputed, is not enough to change the mind of one who WILL NOT believe.  This is the problem atheist’s face in our world today.  They ask for proof, but were it given, they would find a “logical” reason to discard the miraculous even if it were done right in front of them.  This is because they have made a choice about what to believe in or not.  This choice will not be undone by that which cannot be explained.  And so the response to love and logic that cannot be undone recorded in verse 39 was … “Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,”.  Even after all this, they would have killed Him.  Nothing He could say would deter them.  Nothing He had done deserved this response.  But evil has only one response to love, and that is to kill it, or be conquered by it.
So Jesus left Jerusalem.  His effort to reach the spiritual leaders of His day had little success; a poignant lesson for the religious leaders of our day.  Christ then returned to the Jordan river area where John the Baptist used to minister, and John footnotes that a great many believed on Him there.  For what John the Baptist had said about Christ had been fulfilled completely in the sight of the people.  Those who were not blinded by the arrogance of their own ideas, were able to see the truth in the actions that Christ had done.  So they found salvation where the Pharisees would have killed it.  Are we ready to be led to truth, or do we believe it our job to lead others there?  Are we humble enough to be led by the child in our midst, or do we believe we have transcended from sheep to shepherd in some way?  The truth of Christ remains.  I wonder, would we too join our Pharisee forefathers and attempt to interpret Him to death as well?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Awesome Symbolism (witness number nineteen) ...

There was an important reason why Jesus referred to Himself as “the Light of the world”.  For without Him, we are all blind.  For those who seek truth in Christ, the miracle of the healing of the man who was born blind can find equal relevance in our own spiritual experiences.  Those of us who believe we do not need to be led to truth, that we already have a good enough grasp on the scriptures, and a superior interpretation of them, find ourselves much like the Pharisees who preceded us.  At the end of John’s gospel account chapter nine beginning in verse 39 we find Christ speaking to those who were a witness to the faith of the recently healed blind man in the divinity of Christ.  Jesus says to those there … “And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”  Those of us who “think” we see fine, are to discover we are truly blind.  Those of us who realize we cannot see anything until Jesus shows it to us, are to discover we will finally be made to see.  We are made blind by our arrogance and pride, even if that is founded in our ideas about scripture.  We are made to see, when we are willing to forsake our own wisdom and begin to trust in His.
This was the contrast of the formerly blind man standing before Jesus, and the Pharisees who refused to see the Light of Christ.  They respond in verse 40 … “And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?”  This was a rhetorical question in their minds, for from their perspective, no one had a better grasp on scripture or the law than themselves.  They did not anticipate His answer in verse 41 … “Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”  It was NOT the lack of knowledge that caused the Pharisees to remain in their sin.  It was their arrogance in assuming they needed no help with their sin from Christ.  In effect, the Pharisees were comfortable with the idea, that the forms and traditions of their worship were enough to save them.  They could basically save themselves.  They needed no help from a Messiah.  The help they were looking for was not of a spiritual variety, it was of a political one.  They yearned for a strong leader who would blaze the trail of freedom from their heathen Roman oppressors.  They did not think of themselves as blind to truth or salvation, instead they thought they knew everything they needed to know about those topics.  Christ could keep his spiritual ideas about reliance solely on Him to Himself.  Now if He had had something to say on ousting the Romans, they would have been all ears.  But our ideas of God, and what we want from Him, are often not what His ideas are, or what He wants for us.  So to clarify the mission of the Messiah, and dispense with the false leaders who had come before and would come again, Christ decides to tell them in story, why He is there.
Jesus begins his sermon in verse 1 of chapter ten of John’s account … Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. [verse 2] But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”  Soon Jesus would identify Himself as the door.  In these passages Jesus declares, that there is only one way in and out of the sheepfold.  It is THROUGH Christ.  Attempting to gain passage by another route, say, by the strength of our own ideas, or by assuming our own “spirituality” or “goodness” warrants a position in the flock absent Christ for example:  these methods reveal only our own motives.  They do not entitle us to be in the flock, they actually make us dangerous to others who are there.  Those who enter by the strength of Christ are those who “should” be in the number.
Jesus continues in verse 3 … “To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. [verse 4] And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. [verse 5] And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”  Jesus tries to show the difference between Himself and those others who might “claim” to be the Messiah.  Those who seek truth, find it in Jesus.  They realize the only way their tattered lives can ever be remade is through the power of Christ.  As such, they only want Jesus to be their shepherd, because they have found relief in no other way, including in trusting their own abilities.  Thus they crave the voice of Jesus to lead them.  When others come and try to get these sheep to follow, the sheep realize there is no truth in those voices, there is no redemption in them, and they wish only to follow Christ.  Here Christ is trying hard to reveal to those there that He is THE method of their salvation.
And why choose sheep to represent us?  A sheep is not a fierce some creature.  They are not particularly bright.  They make mistakes, get lost, and would starve if not taken care of.  They are easy prey for wolves.  From the perspective of the wolf, it is easy to count sheep.  To those Christians who believe it is their right, and their duty, to defend themselves against the enemy, even if those means include weapons and deadly force; I ask, are you the sheep, or the wolf?   We were not meant to combat Satan.  We are outmatched.  It is no contest.  It is ONLY our Shepherd who can defeat our enemy.  It is our trust in Him that sees us delivered.  It is not our making or gathering of new sheep weapons that will save the day for us.  Wolves will always defeat sheep if there is no shepherd around to save them.  This is how evil works, in nature, and in us spiritually.  Our enemy is superior to us, yet tells us, if we just work hard enough, we can defeat him.  He tries to get the sheep to think they are strong enough, tough enough, and determined enough to defeat the wolf by their sheer power of will.  In this is the perversion of the gospel – that we only need Christ to forgive us when we err, not save us from the erring.  Satan’s entire system of deception is to get us to take our eyes and focus away from Jesus and put it on ourselves.  This is how the Pharisees were blinded to Christ.  They chose to trust in their own understanding and not be humbled before God.
John notes in verse 6, that the audience there did not understand what Christ was saying.  I would venture because our first response to being referred to as sheep is not a pleasant one.  If we are going to be associated with animals we prefer a much more majestic or fierce creature.  But sheep?  Ouch.  So Jesus must try to explain again, He continues in verse 7 … “Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. [verse 8] All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. [verse 9] I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”  It is only by Christ that we are provided for, both physically and spiritually.  We are fed, both our daily bread, and our daily spiritual growth, by following only Christ.  It is only THROUGH Christ that we can enter safely, and remain safely in the flock without being a danger to the others there.
Imagine for a minute what heaven would be like to a rapist who had never been reformed.  All around him are the most beautiful women, perfect in every way.  All of them are loving, caring, attentive, and eager to serve.  None of them pose a threat, none are violent, none have weapons of self-defense or need of them.  How hard it would be for the wolf to roam the streets of heaven being tempted to defile every single woman he comes across.  Wondering if he could do these acts of violence in secret, or in darkness, and remain undiscovered; fearing that God might see him and cast him out.  Heaven would not be heaven for such a man; it would literally be a place of torture.  Forbidden fruit all around him, intense desire to dominate, but no ability to execute and remain undiscovered for it; this is the situation non-Christ centered religions and ideologies would have you accept.  Those who do not accept that it is Christ who remakes the rapist into a new creature who no longer wishes to ever hurt another again, and wishes now only to serve and love all; offer no way to achieve this transformation other than the power of their corrupted minds and will.  Muslins believe that God forgives.  But they offer no method of transformation outside of the will of man.  Eastern religions teach that enlightenment is achieved through introspection, not through submission to Christ.  Atheism would have us believe that our instinctive desire to preserve our social order could one day result in a lessening of violence despite all the facts that point to the contrary.  And even some Christians, cling to the ideas that they need not submit to Christ to be remade, they can do it for themselves.  But for the rapist who knows he cannot change himself, there is only one who can.  The point of the story of Christ, is the recognition of this need.
Then Jesus says something truly stunning as in verse 10 He continues … “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  The unreformed lead a tortured existence of pain and death.  They cannot help but to wish to please self.  If this means they must steal to do it, then so be it.  How often have you taken something, perhaps even something very small, that did not belong to you?  How many rationalizations do you make to “justify” your appropriation?  We remove a pen from the bank and say to ourselves, they are rich and can easily replace a pen.  Or if it is from an employer, we just say to ourselves that this is simply part of our compensation for working so hard.  After all, the bank and our employers wish us to write things down that they will use for their benefit. 
Or perhaps it is simply how we fill out our timesheets, adding a few minutes here and there, or rounding things up just a bit to make a little extra – rationalizing that we work harder than those around us in the same amount of time and therefore “deserve” a bit more than they do.  We get to a point, where we stop thinking about what we take, as being a theft at all.  It is simply normal behavior for us, the right and wrong of it, have long been decided in our favor.  If evil only stopped at thievery perhaps it would not be so bad.  But evil does not stop at this kind of rationalization.  It is degenerative.  What I steal today, I must protect tomorrow.  If that requires killing, so be it.  If I cannot have it, then nobody can, if I must destroy a good thing to keep others from enjoying it, then so be it.  And thus evil reveals itself as nothing but pain and death, a tortured existence that is not truly worth living, and would not be wanted if sentenced to be lived out in immortality in this condition.
But contrast the nature of evil, with the desires and mission of Christ where He says … “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  He is here to make HOW we live, something more than it is today.  A life in Christ is a life worth living.  It is a life that does not cause pain to others or to me.  It is a life that lived out in immortality would be worth living.  And this is NOT just a future promise.  It is an IMMEDIATE one.  Our lives can be made different today as we submit them to Jesus to be remade.  The whole goal of God was eliminate the pain and death that comes from evil from within us.  The pain we cause when we learn to steal and not even regard it as stealing, is something we do not need to suffer from for yet another day.  It is something we can bring to Jesus and leave in His hands to be reformed.  We do not need to struggle every day pitting our knowledge of good and evil against our inherent nature and desire to choose evil.  We need only submit to Christ, our desires, our will, and our decisions, and allow Him to change HOW we think, WHAT we want, and then what we do will follow.  This is the Life that Christ longs to introduce to us.  He longs to offer us a different life.  Here and now, not just in a place we call heaven; this offer was meant to be taken up on today.  We can be something more.  We can be someone different than who we were.  We can be new creatures, if we but let Christ re-create us as He wishes.  What a precious promise and reason for His visit to our world.  He comes to offer us Life, a real life, not this thing we have grown accustomed to, but something entirely different, new and wonderful.  This is the entire mission of the Messiah.
Jesus continues in verse 11 … “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  He is trying to warn those who hear Him there, that there will be a personal cost to Him, to achieve our redemption.  He must die, taking our place, in order that the punishment of death we have embraced is met on our behalf.  He does this willingly.  This is how far Love will go, to save the object of its affection.  This is the contrast between God and what it means to love others more than self; and Satan who demonstrates where loving self first will lead.  God, who is love, and has done nothing but love us, will now go so far as to take on the punishment we deserve, so that we will not suffer it.  Forgiveness itself is an act of love in the face of evil.  We do not deserve forgiveness we deserve punishment and retribution for the pain we cause to others and ourselves, but forgiveness offers us no punishment, it is love in the face of our evil.  This is the contrast between the nature of Love and the nature of evil.  Evil would demand evil for actions it does not enjoy.  Love offers love even to those who have never earned it and will never deserve it.
As for these other pretender Messiah’s who may come answering the desire of the people to be redeemed of Rome, but offering no way of real redemption Jesus continues in verse 12 … “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. [verse 13] The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”  The Messiah the Pharisees were looking for could never be the true one sent from God.  For at the end of the day, those who seek self first, seek to preserve self at all costs.  Political leaders have no problem having others die for their cause.  They have no problem keeping themselves alive, even if others must die for them to do so.  The contrast of those who seek only power, and He who seeks only to offer us life are so outlined.  He would lay down His life for us.  Those other pretenders would be only all too happy to avoid even the risk of losing their own lives, and if we lose ours, so be it.
Jesus repeats his mission in verse 14 … “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. [verse 15] As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  He again states that despite what reputation the devil would have us believe about God the Father, it is God the Father who works in concert with Christ for our redemption and restoration.  This is a mission of ALL of the Godhead.  Our Father God is every bit as interested in our redemption as is our Creator God His Son Jesus Christ.  It is not the revelation of Jesus that all of the sudden changes the mind of God His Father about our redemption.  It is the revelation of Jesus that shows us that our redemption was ALWAYS the first concern of His Father God and Himself.  Every story in scripture, even every story in the Old Testament that we may not fully understand, was designed to show us the redemptive desire of our God, not the image of a righteous punisher in chief.  Here is Christ on earth, stating personally what He knows to be true, because He has heard it first hand from the mouth of His Father, in conversation between them we would never know.  This is Jesus definitively stating that His Father is consumed with our redemption and restoration.  They work as one in this.
Then in verse 16 come perhaps the most beautiful words in the New Testament for me personally, as I am not of Jewish decent, or was present at the time of this sermon.  Jesus continues … “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”  Praise God, the mission of the Messiah was not just confined to the people He stood before on that day.  The mission was greater than for just those of Jewish decent, and was greater than for just those who share my particular doctrinal interpretations and values.  His mission was to redeem and restore the world.  Jesus Christ would be the uniting method of ALL of our salvation.  There is nothing to separate us from our home with Christ, except our stubborn determination to reject the re-creation and new life He offers us.  “One fold” not many.  “One home” with Christ, not several.  We are One family united in Christ, for only through Christ might we become the new creations He intends.  It is not our interpretation of scripture that unites us, but instead the method of our salvation.  “One Shepherd” not many.  “One Shepherd” not his surrogates.  We are not to follow other followers of Christ, but to follow only the One Shepherd Himself.  We do not find truth in each other; we find it alone in Jesus.  We can reflect the love of Christ to each other as we allow Him to teach us how to love.  But this does not mean that the source of truth moves from Christ to His followers who have learned how to love.  The source remains the source, it will always be Jesus.
It is fine to notice and admire the sacrifice that some of the great followers of Jesus have made to attempt to promote His love and His faith.  But these patriarchs from Adam, to Noah, to Moses, to David, to Peter, to Martin Luther, to Billy Graham, to your local pastor or spiritual teacher – all may have made contributions to the kingdom, but none are to be your shepherd.  For there can be only one true Shepherd as there is only One fold or home of His children.  We are ALL to find our salvation, our redemption, our re-creation, only in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is our distinct privilege that John recorded these words, that the Lord preserved them, that we have a Bible in which we can find them, and take them into our hearts.  For it is “we” who are those sheep of another fold; it is “we” who are to be included in His great number.  No matter where we were born, or when, or how we have been taught, salvation and life itself are ours for the taking through the gift of Jesus Christ.  It is not even our pain and past that keeps Jesus away from us, He longs only to take away our pain, and give us a real life in its place.  This text is a singular promise upon which we can have hope.  For out of the mouth of God, came the words directed at you, that you too, are to be saved under Christ.
Then Jesus states to the crowd the difference between Himself, the true Messiah, and those who would claim that title as well in verse 17 … “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. [verse 18] No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”  Only Christ could both lay down His own life, and take it up again.  Think of it, He was going to die, but here He states none of us could actually kill Him.  He must lay down His own life.  He must give it up Himself, a free will offering, a free will gesture, in order for us to be redeemed.  Only God the Father could give Jesus the power to both lay down His life, and having done so, to take it up again.  Others could come claiming to be the Messiah, some might even be willing to die for their cause.  But none of the pretenders could ever call themselves out of their own graves back to life again.  Only the Son of God could do this, because only He had received this commandment or ability from His Father; again showing the unity of Father and Son in our work of redemption.
The response of the Pharisees in attendance was only a continued blindness.  They knew the reality of our mortality.  They knew that no-one had ever come back from the dead to life again.  So for Jesus to claim that this was something He alone could do, was just crazy talk to them.  In verse 19 they responded … “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. [verse 20] And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? [verse 21] Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?”  The problem the Pharisees faced were not as much the words of Christ, as the deeds of Christ.  Jesus had made the blind man to see again, an act of love the devil had never performed.  This miracle stood in the face of their ideas.  It substantiated a connection between Christ and God.  At the very least, it made Christ a prophet in the traditional sense.  But any connection to God, removed the power of the Pharisees over their religious flock, and they meant to hold the role of shepherd for themselves.  Do we offer the same response?
When Christ speaks to us that we cannot save ourselves; that we must submit our will to Him, not just to fight harder not to sin on our own – do we call it crazy talk?  After all, my nature is to express my sin, in whatever form it takes.  The only reason why I do not sin more often than I do today, is because of the small measure of self-control I exert over it right?  You are asking me to give up fighting.  If I do that, I will go hog-wild on the sin thing without any restraint.  Because, really, what is going to stop me, if I give up trying to stop myself?  But Jesus asks us to trust Him, in spite of what we know about ourselves.  He is not offering us an excuse to sin more; He is offering us a way to sin NO more.  Submitting our desires to Him, allows Him to remake the things we want.  When we want something else, we pursue that thing, not the old thing we used to want, and perhaps find we no longer want.  When we submit our decisions to Him, we give Him the freedom to make other choices on our behalf.  Doors open and close and we simply walk through them, instead of trying to pry ones open that should be closed, or slam the ones that we were supposed to be entering in.  When we submit our will to Christ, we acknowledge that He alone can remake the “who” of who we are into what He intends instead of what we have done with it.  We begin to think differently.  We begin to see truth.  We begin to understand.  And most importantly, we find we are no longer sinning that old sin, and cannot explain why, because we did nothing to see it removed – Christ did.   Is this just crazy talk, or does it work?  Christ says it does, how will you respond?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Restored Vision of Love (witness number eighteen) ...

What might you do, if you encountered a crowd that hated you for loving them so much, that they picked up stones intending to kill you on the spot?  Most of us would flee if we could, but then we might be motivated by fear, by our fight-or-flight responses.  When Christ encountered this situation, I believe He had no such equal response.  At the end of chapter eight of John’s Gospel account, when the Jewish religious leadership was bent on stoning Christ to death, He simply “hid Himself” and passed right through the midst of them.  This was a miracle.  But it was not based in fear for Himself, perhaps because He knew He would be dying for the world anyway at some point.  Perhaps because He simply knew this was not yet the time for His sacrifice, that His work was not yet finished.  Perhaps even because He loved those who thought to kill Him, and was still hopeful He could turn them around.  But why I believe Christ was not leaving in fear; is because of the first words of verse one of chapter nine of John’s Gospel account … “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.”  Instead of being preoccupied with His own survival and escaping the imminent stoning, Christ notices someone else in need. 
When looking through the eyes of love, there is ALWAYS time for someone else, particularly if they are in pain.  Here was Christ who might have easily been killed for remaining in a place where there was a mob bent on doing just that; but He does not flee, He does not fight, instead He loves.  To refresh the scene, keep in mind that Christ has been preaching to the people in the treasury of the temple, during a feast, and as John will reveal shortly, on the Sabbath day. This was the day He set aside as Holy at creation, and reminded Moses of in the tablets of stone.  Love however, does not take the Sabbath day off.  Love was intended to be amplified on the Sabbath not stifled by it.  To be with God on the Sabbath, to commune with Him one-on-one, hang out with “Dad” so to speak, have playtime, or lunchtime, or help Him out if we could.  These were the desires of God to be with us on Sabbath.  And here on His way out of a life and death situation, Christ does not make His way out of the temple in such a hurry that He misses a need right in front of Him.  The God of love notices everything, and everyone, and on His day, He MAKES time to BE with US.  In this case, He made time to notice one in need, to heal the pain of this man’s life.
The disciples of Christ however, do not fully understand the nature of evil, or the nature of the mission of redemption of the Messiah.  Jewish tradition held, that bad things happened to those who sinned.  It was held that this was a “punishment” sent from God, not a natural consequence of the choice to embrace evil which brings with it pain and death.  What is more, the idea that the sins of the father, are in effect transferred to the son, carried with it the idea that punishment could be taken out on a subsequent generation.  These ideas were promoted by Satan.  For Satan loves the notion, that we would in effect “blame” God for the pain that comes from serving self.  Satan fosters the concept of God as “punisher in chief” instead of “redeemer in chief”.  Satan wants us to believe that God is unfair in punishing our children for what we do.  When in fact, our children are punished for what we do, but not by God, but by us.  A child will suffer the health consequences of what his mother chooses to do while pregnant.  But a child will also suffer with indifference or abuse if his parents continue to choose to seek their own pleasure ahead of his after he is born.  A child will inherit tendencies reinforced by genetics to repeat behavior long fostered in the generations that precede him.   None of this was the wish, or will of God.  Instead God longs to free our grandparents from the pain of their addictions, long before they can manifest in our parents, or in ourselves.  The intent of God was to remove the pain as soon as it was found, so that the ripples of pain end in us today, and are not carried to our children, or our children’s children through our genetics.  When we refuse the redemption and healing God offers, the effects of our choices do sometimes produce a harvest of pain, even in those we would least like to see it.  So it was, that the disciples of Christ had come to accept the concept of God as punisher for sin, instead of liberator from sin.
In verse 2 they inquire … “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”  This question is akin to the old joke question … ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet?’  If you say yes, you are admitting you used to beat your wife, if you say no, you are admitting you still beat your wife.  It is almost the same thing the disciples are asking, did God punish this man, or did He punish this man because of His parents.  Either way, you beat your wife, and God punishes people with horrific health issues because they “sin”.  Neither is true.  Christ responds in verse 3 … “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”  Christ is saying this is NOT a punishment for sin.  This man’s blindness was a birth defect, not one that came because he did something silly, or was abused by his parents, or because God likes to punish sinners with crippling defects.  Had our world refused to embrace evil back in the garden of Eden, the pain and deformities that follow evil would never have been known.  But because we turned away from perfection, imperfection has become our norm.  Many suffer from the degeneration of man from God’s perfect creation and intentions for us, to the decay of generations of choices that are not in our best interest.  Evil has made us less and not us alone.  Lucifer was once perfect, and majestic, and the third highest being in the universe.  Now he suffers from the effects of evil, and is no longer the perfect creation he was made.  He has decayed, as do we, as we embrace the evil of looking first to self.
Christ was revealing to us here that this man’s condition was NOT the intent of God, or the work of God.  However, what Christ was about to do, was to reveal what God wants to do with this man, and with His disciples, and with the world at large.  The actions of Christ would reveal what God wants as opposed to what Satan is happy to sustain.  Jesus continues teaching the true will of God in verse 4 He continues … “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. [verse 5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  The work of Him that sent Christ, the works of God the Father, are works of REDEMPTION and RESTORATION.  They are not works of punishment.  This man was a sinner, though his blindness was not a result of his sins.  This man was not theologically perfect, nor was he spiritually perfect.  He was still there begging, blind, poor, and sinful.  But the intent of God was not to foster his continued existence in pain, it was to fix his pain, on the spot.  God was not interested in his continued suffering, God the Father was interested in his immediate healing.  Here Christ is revealing that He, who is love, and truth, and the source of life, must also be the Light of the world.  We cannot find the truth while we embrace the darkness.  We must behold the Light and become changed by Him.  This man had been born blind.  He had never seen light of any kind.  He could not read the word, and the interpretation of scripture had gone so wrong, that the religious leaders were angry enough to kill Christ, because He had healed a lame man on the Sabbath.  The teaching of the word had been so perverted it would offer this man no comfort.  But the revelation of the Word incarnate, the revelation of Love in the restoration of this man, would offer something he had never known.  This was the work of the Messiah, to remove OUR blindness, so that WE could see the Word within Him.
The revelation of the motives of God having been stated, John records in verse 6 … “When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, [verse 7] And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) …”  The Creator, who had formed man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life, now stoops and uses the same tools he did at the beginning – water and earth.  We are largely water and a few minerals.  The symbolism should not have been lost on the man, on John, or on us.  The Creator, who was Jesus Christ, had made man the first time, as He had also sanctified and made Holy His day called Sabbath.  The same Jesus had done both things at creation all those years ago.  Before Abraham was, I am – were the very words of Christ not just moments before.  Now here was the Creator, once again doing what He so longs to do, fixing the eyes of the blind that had never known sight.  Christ directs the man to wash in the pool of Siloam which John points out as meaning “sent”.  Christ sends a man so that He will see.  Christ had ALREADY done the work of healing him, BEFORE He sent him.  The washing was going to reveal the work that had already been done for the man.  The man did nothing to earn any of this.  John does not record this man calling out to Christ for healing.  Christ went to him.  The man did not refuse the work of Christ, he embraced it.  He did not ask for it, yet it was given to him.  He did not expect it, yet it was happening.  It was the love of God, that Christ, could not endure the pain of this man one second longer.  He so longed to heal him, and the man was WILLING to be healed.  So restoration was to come to this man who was “sent” of Christ.
The work of Christ bears fruit.  The work of Christ transforms a life.  The work of Christ is to restore us and free us from pain, not perpetuate us in our pain.  Verse 7 concludes “… He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”  Never having seen the light, Light had been restored to him.  He may well have not even had physical eyes before that day, for the Creator used dust and water from His own spit to make clay in his restoration.  But no matter, an encounter with Christ, when one is willing to be healed, we are MADE whole.  This is the very nature of the work of the Messiah, the work of OUR savior, to make US whole.  We are not made whole by our ideas about interpreting scriptures, we are made whole when we look to Jesus and let Him lead us to the revelation of Him throughout scripture.  We can be led to truth.  We can have our vision restored.  We can see truth, when we look first and only at Jesus, and NOT to our own ideas and our own ‘perceived’ wisdom.  The Pharisees were wise and learned men, who spent their lives studying the word, yet they looked away from the Light and found only darkness.  We too, can choose to think, we are wiser than Pharisees, and better at interpreting scripture, until we too, look away from Jesus to save us and make us free, thinking our own wisdom will accomplish this work.  It will not.  It never has.  Only Christ can make what was blind to see.  Only when we are led, can we find what He would lead us to.  This was the lesson that was amplified that Sabbath afternoon.
In verse 8 through 12 of John’s gospel record, the man reveals the work of Christ to those who knew him.  Everyone was amazed.  Some thought maybe this was a different guy, or just someone who liked the blind beggar they knew.  But he plainly states, it was him.  He knew it was a man named Jesus who had healed him.  Perhaps he had heard some of the sermon Christ had offered that afternoon.  But by the time he had returned, Jesus was not apparent to him.  He no longer knew where Jesus was.  It is hard to know why those who were there at that time, then brought the man to the Pharisees.  Sometimes this was done as a final step in a healing to be declared whole by them.  But, as might have been the case, this man was healed on the Sabbath, and being jealous to guard against the perceived demands of the law, they might need to get a ruling from the Pharisees on whether this was OK with them.  In any case, verse 13 and 14 set the stage for his encounter with those who refuse to see the Light.  The Pharisees now had another ‘situation’ to deal with.
Verse 15 continues … “Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.”  It was a simple story.  There were no incantations, or demands for an offering from Christ, or demands that this man do something first, in order to earn the favor of Christ.  Christ took nothing from him, but his pain.  Christ gave him a gift, a gift of healing and sight which he had never known.  But from the point of view of the Pharisees, the only thing that mattered was ‘when’ He did it.  Verse 16 reveals … “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.”  Herein was a sad revelation of the thinking of the Pharisees – they all agreed Christ had not kept the Sabbath day – because He loved, because He healed, because He restored that which was broken in this man.  To them, this act was not permitted on Sabbath.  No one appeared to debate this point.  But what caused division even within their ranks was the miracle itself.  Satan had never taken the time to heal a blind man before, and so this kind of action could only have come from God.  If God heals, then how is it a sin to heal?  This conflict was beginning to make them rethink their ideas of what keeping Sabbath might be about.  It was a logical conundrum that was making very difficult to stay united against the influence of Christ.
As if it mattered, or perhaps more to get the arguing in their own ranks to stop, they decide to question the man further.  Verse 17 states … “They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.”  The Pharisees had a problem.  They did not want to acknowledge that Christ was in any way connected with God, and they did not want to rethink their ideas about what is acceptable behavior on Sabbath.  But literally staring them in the face, was a miraculous act of love that could not be denied.  So they decide to verify the facts of this man’s condition.  Verses 18 to 23 detail the account of his parents regarding his birth, his blindness, and his identity.  On the matter of Jesus being the Messiah, it was a trap his parents were not going to fall into.  For by this time, anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah was cast out and dis-fellowshipped from the Temple.  Is it not interesting that religious leaders thought themselves worthy of deciding who gets to enter the Temple of God to worship?  And is this a tradition we like to maintain in our corporate bodies of worship today, perhaps judging for ourselves, who is ‘allowed” to join us in His house, on His day, to worship Him?  In any case, the man’s condition and identity had been confirmed, if the Pharisees were going to resolve this situation they must do it with the man who was healed.
In verses 24 and 25 they ask the formerly blind man to weigh in, on whether he will accept that God healed him, and that this man was a sinner.  But the restored man could only make the declarative statement, He did not know if Jesus was a sinner or not, but what he did know were the facts – once he was blind, now he could see.  This fact was something that all the conjecture and accusation of the Pharisees could not undo.  This fact was now compounded by the first healing of the lame man that was also done on Sabbath.  The ideas of Christ, who had originally blessed the Sabbath day back at creation, and the ideas of the Pharisees who saw this day only as a part of law that must be rigidly guarded were displayed in stunning contrast before the people.  God had created the Sabbath for us, as time He would set aside to be with us.  And we had turned His gift, and His offer of companionship, into a burden that would disallow for restoration and redemption, because of the timing.  Repeating the story would not change it, and the logical problem the Pharisees faced was becoming more evident to everyone there.  They were losing their argument.  They were losing their influence.  They were losing the people.
In verse 26 they ask him to repeat his story again, this would be the third time they had heard it (from the account of those who brought him, from the man himself before his parents, and again after his parents).  At this point, it is evident to everyone including the man, that the Pharisees have no answer for this conundrum.  So he begins to get a little cocky.  He asks the Pharisees if they need to hear the story again so they can become His disciple as well?  While this jab seems like he was only poking a bit of fun at their dismay, it reveals something else.  As of then, the man had decided to follow Jesus.  His exact words to the Pharisees in the end of verse 27 of his question were … “will ye also be his disciples?”  The word “also” implies he intends to follow Christ, and is asking if they intend to join him.  All of their debating and questioning has not pulled this man away from Christ, it has only strengthened his faith in Christ.  He sees now, that the teachers of the law, do not understand the law they teach.  He sees now that the maker of the law of love, was the maker who restored his sight.  He sees the love that was behind the law reflected in the actions of Christ on His holy day.  This contrast leads this man to see Christ as the Son of God, and to see the Pharisees for who they are … blind men … something he knows a lot about.
In verses 28 and 29 the Pharisees respond to his jab by reviling him.  They get defensive and call him out as a sinner, and contrast themselves as being followers of Moses who was confirmed to have spoken with God.  This “fellow” they know nothing about.  Again on display were the simple actions of Christ who loved this man, contrasted with the Pharisees who were content to throw this man away.  His faith grows.  Now He begins to instruct them again by restating the problem for them in no uncertain terms, using their own logic against them, the man reveals in verse 30 … “The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. [verse 31] Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. [verse 32] Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. [verse 33] If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.”  This man was now convinced “who” had healed him, the very Pharisees in front of him had made the case.  It was clear.  Nothing like this had ever been done, only God could do it, it was a marvelous thing, and the fact that you guys don’t see it, is a statement about you, not about Christ.  The Pharisees had done nothing but stand up another follower of Jesus.  So they responded with name calling and threw him out.
It is unclear where Christ was during these preceding’s.  Perhaps He was still in the area, or somewhere nearby.  Perhaps some time passed between these events and what followed.  But in any case, Jesus heard about what happened between the man and the Pharisees, and heard that the man had been cast out of the Temple (a really big deal in those days) for sake of his belief in Christ.  So love again takes time to seek this man out, and reveal the Light to his now restored eyes.  In verse 35 John’s story continues … “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”  Here Christ asks the man in person to answer what He has already heard, and what He already knows.  The man responds in verse 36 … “He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”  Like the angels who sang at the resurrection of Christ … “Who is this King of Glory?”  because they so loved to hear the name of Jesus praised.  The man already knows the voice of He who speaks to him, because He refers to Jesus already as “Lord”.  But like the angels who long to hear the name again and again, He asks who it is He is to believe in.  Jesus knows his love and in verse 37 responds to it saying … “And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. [verse 38] And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.”  Jesus tells the man, it is He.  And the man again uses the term “Lord” and now falls to his feet worshipping Him.
This is the response of one who knew pain, and now finds it removed, by the miracle of Christ.  This is the response of one who knows what it is like to suffer, and find no one who could help, and cannot fix himself, but through the miracle of Christ, is healed anyway.  So it is with us.  When we see our condition, our pain, and our blindness, and find that Christ takes it away, and all we need do, is let Him, we respond likewise.  We do not worship God out of obligation.  We do not worship God because He demands it.  We worship God, because we cannot help but be grateful for the love he has ALREADY shown us, and continues to show us.  Love responds to love.  Love kills the evil in us, for evil cannot stand against it.  Evil thought to kill love, but it could not.  Love conquers all, because God is love.  When we experience redemption and restoration in a real way, we see His Light, His Truth, and our lives are made whole because of it, we respond in the only way we know how, we worship.  It is His Light that can lead us to His Truth in the Word, when we are willing to be led.  That revelation does not happen while we trust in ourselves and our wisdom, this is why the Pharisees remained blind.  When we learn to be led, we are led, and we finally see what we could not see before.  The man who was born blind could now see after an encounter with Christ.  We who are spiritually born blind, can now see, after an encounter with Christ, when we let Him restore us, like He restored that man who could not heal himself.