Saturday, April 30, 2011

John 18 - some people are strong in trials, and some aren't, and why

John 18 is a great example of the contrast between Jesus meek and mild and that assertive, confident, tower of strength, Peter, whose name of course means rock.

During his nighttime arrest in the olive orchard, Jesus identifies himself as "I Am He" and for some reason the guards fall down. Maybe they slipped on some spilled olive oil. Jesus wants to go peaceably, but Brave Peter draws his sword and cuts off a guy's ear.

While Jesus is inside the high priest's house allowing himself to be grilled and slapped around by the Sanhedrin, Peter stares down the guard outside. Well to be honest the guard is just a slave girl. And maybe the stare has a "deer in the headlights" flavor to it. But when she asks him if he is a disciple of Jesus, he shoots right back with an answer: "I Am Not!" (It is a little known fact that afterwards behind his back the other disciples sometimes called Peter "The Great I Am Not".)

Inside the high priest's house Jesus shows that he would rather defend "truth" than himself. After an official clobbers Jesus, any decently manly prophet would have produced a bolt of lightning or at least a well-deserved prophetic curse. Alas, Jesus just questions the man's motives: "If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" Defend yourself, Jesus! You seem to be mistaken about just who is on trial here.

Brought before Pilate, Jesus is once again so preoccupied with "truth" that he manages to say just the wrong thing ("You are right in saying that I am a king") but won't back it up with a threat ("and for centuries Rome will be so subject to me that Romans will name their kids after my disciples").

Here is the difference between Jesus and Peter. One man knew who he was and what mattered. The other didn't. It's that simple.

ADDENDUM - a sister in Christ sent along the following comment, which I print in full. She is showing considerably more grace to Peter than I did. Happily for Peter, so did the Lord!

I think Peter is in training here. God needed to show Peter, who Peter was, before God could train Peter to become who God wanted him to become. A revelation of who Peter was, was necessary, before training could really begin. I think this is true of many of us. And from here, God took Peter to much higher levels of walking w/ God. And Peter was ready, because he knew where he could fail. And he wanted more of God. May this be true of us all; to want more of God, because we know who we are and how easily we can miss God.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

John 17: WWJP (What Would Jesus Pray?)

Do I really want to know Jesus?

My habitual skimming over of John 17 makes me wonder. In this extended prayer, my Teacher and Lord pours out his pure, inner heart for believers, “those whom you gave me.” As a godly mother stands in passionate authority in the gap between her child and the ravenous world, so Jesus gives himself for us in prayer, revealing much about God’s will for His Beloved.

1.       Jesus asks God for authority over all people and for his own self-glorification (“glorify me”). What a bold prayer. It would seem selfish if I prayed so. But the “lifting up” Jesus seeks is on a Roman cross, and the authority to give eternal life – something he already possesses - will come at the cost of his own dignity, comfort, freedom and life.  “Can you drink the cup I drink?”

2.       Jesus asks God to protect us “so that they may be one as we are one.” What does this mean!? For starters: “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them…they have obeyed my word.” I am one with Jesus and the Father when I accept and obey the words the Father gave Jesus to give to me. AND I AM ONE WITH ALL OTHER SAINTS WHO DO LIKEWISE. Lord it is hard enough to know if/when I obey your word; how can I see into the hearts of others? “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Deep calls to deep, and the Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in other believers – how good and pleasant it is. Separated from them by (some) creed and background and worship practice and language and politics and standards of living, still I see and hear Jesus in the word of their testimony and the humility and love in their deeds.

3.       It has been my experience that unity is best experienced in trench warfare, not behind-the-lines haggling. When Christians gather to debate doctrine, they emphasize their differences. When they stand shoulder to shoulder against the foe – say, at a Billy Graham crusade or an abortion clinic – their very real need for each other is emphasized and their differences de-emphasized. Yes, we must walk in truth together. But meanwhile….Christian unity for me would be the Pope and Billy Graham bicycle-locked together in front of an abortion clinic.

4.       In response to the prayer of Jesus, God will not take me “out of the world,” but he will protect me from the evil one. As I pray like Jesus prayed, I will not pray for my children to be removed from the world, but that their souls will be protected. I work in the Vermont Statehouse almost daily; yeah, I am “in the world.” I am learning how to not be of it.

5.       I await God’s answer to the glorious prayer of vs. 24, which he has answered at least in part for Diane and many other saints: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Now THAT is Oneness!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

John 16: killing people as a service to God

Jesus warns his disciples that "a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me."

But not because they don't know the scriptures. Moses tells Israel in Deuteronomy 13: if your brother, child, love of your life, or best friend suggests the worship of false gods, "Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death."

Like Sharia law today, Mosaic law punished lawbreaking in a theocracy. The worship of false gods was rebellious treason against the King of Glory. Even today in the U.S., treason is a capital crime. In first century Israel, worship of false gods is responsible for Israel's demise and the synagogue leaders are determined to set matters right.

Just one problem - Jesus IS God. His followers are obeying the One True God. The synagogue leaders are spiritually blind. It is possible to know and obey the scriptures in part but still be horribly wrong. That's why I love reading the gospels. If you bathe in the spirit, teachings and examples of Jesus, it is hard to go far wrong.

The law compelled obedience - or tried to, anyway. Grace compells no-one against their will but works and wills according to His good pleasure - the willing obedience of the saints. "The love of Christ compells us," Paul wrote. Where is stoning? It is excluded. And the persecuted saint must regard threats of same with the closing words of Chapter 16: "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world." Through Him I can live in peace, insofar as it is possible, and walk in truth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

John 15: What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Just for fun I have loosely set the words of 15:10-15 to the music of "What a Friend We Have In Jesus," written by Joseph Scriven to comfort his mother who lived an ocean away. See Wikipedia entry and my notes below for more history of the song.....The rhythm of my contrived wording isn't great, but that's not the point. He could call us servants, but no - you and I are friends of the God-Man. O magnum mysterium.

Verse One

If you all obey my teachings
you will remain in my love
just as I obey my Father
who has sent me from above

I have told you this so my joy
will be in you and complete
My command is love each other
just I have loved you each

Verse Two

Greater love has no one than he
lays his life down for his friends
you are my friends true and faithful
if you love as I command

I no longer call you servants
who know not their master's will
Now, I call you friends and brothers
Bound forever, peace be still

Some notes from Wikipedia -

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is a Christian hymn originally written by Joseph M. Scriven as a poem in 1855 to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada. Scriven originally published the poem anonymously, and only received full credit for it in the 1880s.[1] The tune to the hymn was composed by Charles Crozat Converse in 1868. William Bolcom composed a setting of the hymn. The hymn also has many versions with different lyrics in multiple languages, such as the Japanese version "Itsukushimi Fukaki" (いつくしみ深き?, lit. "Deep Affection"), or a version sung during World War I with the line "When this bloody war is over" in place of the original title.[2] The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal notes, "In spite of the fact that this hymn, with its tune, has been criticized as being too much on the order of the sentimental gospel type, its popularity remains strong, and the hymn retains a place in modern hymnals."

Personally I think that last line is more commentary on its author than on the song. Also, it should be noted that the American labor movement gave its own words to this then-universally popular tune:

Are you tired and heavy laden
Are you living in a shack
Are your wife and children starving
Get that boss right off your back!

Monday, April 25, 2011

John 14: When in doubt, close eyes and open Bible

“So I am 16 years young and a brand new believer suffering my first crisis of faith. I am having trouble "believing in Jesus." So I grab my Living New Testament and shut my eyes and pray "Lord show me you are really there" and open the Bible and stick my finger on the page. And the verse that jumps off the page from underneath my finger is John 14:1: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me."

I laugh now. I wasn't laughing then. I was bubbling over with excitement and sharing my Revelation with the kids at youth group, most of whom looked at me with puzzled glances.

Years later there is still plenty of material for comfort in John 14. I am still a blind young man, yearning to see. Jesus shows me the mansion waiting for me. He reminds me that I will get there by Him: "I am the way, the truth and the life." He reminds me that although He is in heaven and I cannot see Him, yet He is with me because the Father "will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Through the Spirit I can see with the eye of faith Him who the world cannot, will not see.

And he promises this blind young man peace. First, peace with God, purchased with sweat, blood and tears in the garden and Golgotha. Second, peace with my fellow humans because I am relieved of the burden of selfish striving. I do not need to justify myself or be first (although I still do so anyway sometimes). What a relief to not be a slave to self, but to cast all my cares upon Him, because He loves me. Neither do I need to compell others to serve my will. Rather than try to control others, I give God control. It's much more peaceful that way.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

John 13: What a crazy idea

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

But before he did that, a disciple wearing a beret and a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Jesus wearing a headband stood up and said, "Lord, it's time to be forceful about your kingdom. Turn the mob against these running dog gentile overlords. John here likes to write - appoint him your Minister of Propaganda. The people will rise up and overthrow the hated oppressors! And to deal with those who don't, Peter here is good with a sword, make him the leader of your Revolutionary Army. You're always praying 'thy kingdom come,' now you need to make it happen."

A second disciple dressed in a fine linen suit and wearing an expansive sundial on his wrist said to Jesus, "that's right, Teacher, it's time to make your kingdom happen. But not by revolution. You need to seize control of the political system. This will take money - appoint Joseph of Arimathea your chief fundraiser. With money, you can held Nicodemus build a power base on the Sanhedrin and make friends with the Romans. Pretty soon you will have real power. You really will be the King of the Jews."

A third disciple told the first two, "that is so worldly. We are called to be separate. Why concern yourself with the rest of the world? As long as we are taught, healed and fed, who cares what happens to all those sinners?" 

Jesus said nothing in response. He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

"Sentimental," snorted the revolutionary.

"Clueless," sniffed the politician.

"Not exactly seeker-friendly," whined the separated but self-focused saint.

Then Jesus said, "you call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."

Listening closely, three other saints - Damian of Molokai, Amy of Dohnavur, and Theresa of Calcutta - reached for their towels.

Friday, April 22, 2011

John 12: Snapshots of the Passion

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. In the emailed version of this Good Friday blog post for the One Year New Testament Blog, I include as an attachment some remarkable photos of a Passion sculpture sent to me by my father-in-law, Clarence Carlsen of Gansevoort, NY. Clarence found these photos on the Internet and passed them along to me. As an accomplished amateur photographer from his days in the Army of Occupation in peacetime Germany, he knows a good picture when he sees one. Thanks, Clarence, and Happy Easter to you and Helen Ann!

The photos provide visual impact for John 12:23-28 from, in which the Lamb of God describes his values and passions:

Jesus Predicts His Death
 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.    27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
   Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[g] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33

I think that the idea of giving up the power to compell in favor of sacrificial service is at the core of Jesus's will for Christians in family, work and government. It is an upside down, transformative way of looking at things, because we have been standing on our heads so long that it seems normal. As John Michael Talbot sings: Behold now the Kingdom, see with new eyes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

John 11: Lazarus - a time to speak, a time to weep (G,D)

What can a person say to someone whose loved one has just died?

Before Diane died, I had never thought much about this question. I would choose from among my small collection of pat phrases the one that I thought most helpful to the situation, sort of like rummaging through the fishing box for the best lure. In my defense I can at least say that I have never used “for a Christian, dying is like graduation.” True for the dead person, but for the family it’s more like Tevye sending his daughter off to Siberia. Especially when one of those family members had been hoping for Mom to witness his upcoming high school graduation.

Sometimes, like Martha, I need to hear truth. Martha accuses Jesus, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” Her unspoken challenge of “why!?” rings loud and clear. To her need for answers, Jesus speaks challenging truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Sometimes, I just need to know someone listens and cares. When Jesus saw Martha’s sister Mary weeping, he saw that her questions weren’t really looking for his answers, right then anyway. She needed comfort. So when she wept, "Jesus wept." 

Thank you to Christian Courtemanche of Jericho Congregational Church for sharing the above insight about the Lazarus story with our Sunday School class several months ago. As Solomon wrote, to everything there is a season, a time to weep and a time to speak. In the presence of grieving friends, Jesus knew when to speak, and when to weep. Holy Spirit, give me such insight into the hearts of the hurting.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

John 10: Very Truly, Who Am I?

Guy: Very truly, I am a sheep. Now to some people this is a bad thing, but I like being a sheep. I know my caretaker's voice. Provided I follow his directions and go through the gate, he provides for me. Some of my more clever sheep brethren who are too cool for school have ignored his voice and gone outside the gate. The last time I saw them they were learning how the wolves are provided for.

Jesus: Very truly, I am the gate for the sheep; whoever enters through me will be saved. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. Remember Nazi Germany? Hired hands, most of 'em, except that fellow Bonhoeffer and a few others. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.

Pharisees: Very truly, we are neither Jesus's sheep nor good shepherds. As for the gate, it is exceedingly tall and hard to climb, but we are redoubling our efforts. We'll get those sheep, just you wait. We also are not gods. The stones in our hands are for you, Jesus, because you commit blasphemy.
Jesus: Very truly, time out. I need you to think outside of that dark, tiny, tight little box you jam all of your thoughts and anxieties into. In our Scriptures (Psalm 82) God refers to people as "gods, sons of the Almighty." Now let's not get too carried away here, but God thinks of you as His sons, and he expects you to act like it and work hard in the family business (82:2-4): 
 2 “How long will you[a] defend the unjust
   and show partiality to the wicked?[b]
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
   uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
   deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
If God called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

Monday, April 18, 2011

John 9: There are none so blind as Narnian dwarves who will not see

I wrote earlier this year that Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels did not originate but made famous the saying, "there are none so blind as those who will not see." This saying comes to mind in John 9's display of willful spiritual blindness of Brobdingnagian proportions.

Jesus heals a man born blind. The Pharisees conclude quite naturally that because this Jesus fellow doesn't follow their Sabbath rules and is from the wrong part of Israel, he can't be from God. To validate their conclusion they interrogate the Formerly Blind Guy and his parents. The parents are terrified of saying the wrong thing so they say "ask him, already". The FBG gives back as good as he gets so the Pharisees curse him and toss him out. Not exactly "rejoice with those who rejoice," huh?

In the final Chronicle of Narnia, "The Last Battle," Aslan and his friends offer food, wine and flowers to a pack of rebellious Narnian dwarves. The dwarves perceive these gifts as dirty straw, trough water, and donkey filth.

Sometimes I ask myself, do people not trust Christ because of my poor witness or because they just won't? And sometimes I answer, "yes."

Jesus pronounces the moral of the story: "if you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

John 8: The Final Break between Jesus and the Pharisees

After the temple guards refuse to arrest Jesus, the Pharisees seem to go nuts. They yell at the guards, they curse the mob, and they say (wrongly ) that no prophet could come out of Gallilee (Jonah did). Then, as now, that's what happens when the Middle East authoritarian feels his iron grip on the people being pried loose by a force he does not understand.

So, the gloves come off. Way off. And it must be said, on both sides! When their Messiah stands before them and says, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life," they just "lawyer up": "here you are appearing as your own witness, your testimony is not valid."

Jesus then warns them three times they will die in their sins, "if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be." Three times he calls them children of the devil, whom he describes as "a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

They say in effect "so's your old man" by calling him demon-possessed (twice). And then when their Messiah stands before them and declares, "before Abraham was born, I Am!" they pick up stones to stone him. At the beginning of John 8, Jesus prevents the stoning of an adulterous woman. At the end of John 8, He Himself is nearly stoned by an adulterous generation.

In John 8, Jesus is more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, more fiery prophet than patient reformer. The power structure of Israel has no place for a Messiah it cannot control. The inevitable Final Break has been made. Jesus has an appointment with Gethsemane, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

John 7: family loyalty, true Israelites, a special way of speaking, and the adulterous woman

God sets the lonely in nuclear families. We five Page kids enjoy each other’s mutual love and support. But there are limits to our familial loyalty. When the siblings of Jesus urge him with good intentions on to Jerusalem and worldly greatness, he refuses (v. 6): “the time for me has not yet come.” He spoke likewise to his mother back at the wedding in Cana. I see Jesus practicing what he preaches: a disciple must choose the Kingdom of God over brother and sister and mother. I am a father and a Page and a Vermonter and an American. I embrace the comforts and responsibilities of these identities. But my heart, body and soul belong first and always to Jesus. “I could not love thee, dear, did I not love honor more.”

* * * * * * *

I have often wondered why Jesus described his disciple Nathanael in 1:47 as “a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” See v. 7:18 – “he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” I think Jesus used his unique ability to see into people’s hearts and saw Nathanael’s Spirit-empowered potential. I cannot count the times I have been encouraged by someone telling me about the potential they see in me, which I had not yet seen myself. Lord, give me eyes to see you in others and words to speak aloud the encouraging truth.

* * * * * * *

The temple guards are sent to arrest Jesus. They hear him declare in a loud voice at the Feast of Tabernacles, “whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The crowd is so moved that it cannot decide if Jesus is the Messiah or “just” the reincarnated Prophet Elijah. Not surprisingly they return to their masters without Jesus and announce, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

This is a true statement. But what is so special, exactly, about the way Jesus speaks?

No man besides Jesus has ever spoken with God the father and repeated the words “from God’s lips to our ears”.

No man has ever so ably seen into individual human hearts and known exactly which of those words they needed to hear at that moment.

No man has ever so thoroughly “backed up” those words with signs, wonders and absolute integrity.
Even the pale shadow of his greatness bestowed on a relative handful of saints since his ascension has never failed to stir the authorities to anger and the faithful to godly love, devotion and obedience. Thank God for the detailed, unstinting record of the gospels. To me, the originality of the stunning central character portrayed in these four books is a compelling reason to believe.  No human writer could just “make him up.” There is certainly no record of anyone having done so before, or since.  

* * * * * * *

The wonderful story of Jesus defending the woman caught in adultery may not have been included in the original gospels. That doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen: For a discussion of this question, see

None other than C.S. Lewis said that unless it was an eyewitness account, it would be odd for the author to note that Jesus wrote in the sand, but didn’t say what he wrote! My two cents worth on that question is that “somewhere” in the Old Testament a prophet says that God shall write their sins in the sand. I know this because I found it during a “read the Bible through the year” process years ago and was convinced that I had found buried treasure, a credible answer to what Jesus was doing down there in the dirt. But now I can’t find it – rats.

I like the story because it illustrates the sharp difference between the selfish authoritarian, manipulative ways of the Religious Order with the Savior, who never compelled any other person to do anything against his or her will, yet “somehow” has been the most authoritative voice in human history. And of course his most “authoritative” work is yet to come.

Monday, April 11, 2011

John 6: Questions at Passover Time

In the John 6 "Bread of Life" conversation between Jesus, onlookers, and disciples I count 10 questions. Some are rhetorical, some accusatory, some are honest appeals for knowledge. It is easy to write off the more aggressive questions as scoffing. But then as now, scholarly Jewish conversation was heavily salted with challenging rhetorical questions. Their example was God himself, who posed three to Adam and Eve - what, He didn't know where they'd been, why they weren't naked, and what they'd done? And think of the climactic last verse of Jonah: "And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Questions were especially welcome at Passover time. Although the Passover ("Pesach" in Hebrew, meaning "he passed over") celebration was commanded by Moses, the tradition of the Passover Seder meal seems to have developed at about the same time and place in history as the Lord's Supper. See this account from an online resource called "A Guide to Passover":

"The story of Passover, as well as commandments regarding when and how to celebrate the holiday, originate in the Torah (bible) itself. However, the custom of having a Passover Seder, with ritual and symbolic foods, developed in Talmudic times. The custom began as a modified version of first-century CE Greco-Roman ritualized meals called "Symposia." The original Rabbinic Seder began with serving and eating the meal, followed by spontaneous questions among the Seder participants to prompt discussion, a detailed retelling of the Exodus from Egypt, and finally, a recitation of the ten plagues. By 200 CE, the Seder meal was postponed until after the discussion and set questions known as the "Ma Nishtanah" replaced the spontaneous questions. The early Haggadah began as a narrative to the Seder meal. Over time, the Haggadah grew larger and more varied, including more commentary, cultural inclusions and ritual symbolic foods."

Both Seder and the Lord's Supper were originally meals in which the guests agreed to remember their common deliverance. Both became ritualized over the centuries. The Jews however have kept it an actual meal, and to the best of my knowledge they have never disagreed over interpretation and practice to the point of killing each other, as happened in 17th century Christendom.
(Sometimes I think some of the more sedate Moslems back then must have watched this interfaith slaughter and thought, "I hope those crazy people leave us alone.")

When Jesus announces that those who would inherit eternal life must eat his body and drink his blood, even some followers grumble: "this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Jesus responds with (of course) another question: "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!" And then when many "followers" leave him, he turns to his disciples, his guys, his friends, and utters the fateful (of course) question to which the whole conversation has been leading:

"You do not want to leave, too, do you?"

Baffled but believing Peter answers with his famous (of course) question: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Not to be outdone, Jesus rejoins confidently with (of course) Question #10: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?"

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that true worshippers would worship in Spirit and in Truth. It does not matter if I sing loud and clap and sway, or not, when I worship, if I am worshipping in the Spirit with my whole heart and mind. It does not matter if I ask lots of questions, or not, if I am seeking His truth with my whole heart and mind. And if both help me do that, but sometimes annoy people - um, I guess, that's just too bad. Let other men judge by appearances. Lord, in you I put my trust - what can man do to me?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

John 5: Sorry, I Can't Leave Yet.....

Leaving John 5 while looking in on “just” the story of the invalid at the pool is like visiting Paris and leaving after “just” visiting the Lourvre. There’s just too much more to see here. I’m staying an extra day.

The story of the invalid man doesn’t end with his healing. A couple of days ago I wrote that the Pharisees, in a well-intentioned but mistaken effort to keep Israel from the spiritual adultery that led to her centuries-long economic and political downfall, imposed and enforced a zillion new “holiness” rules. As government bureaucracy often does, it became absurd in practice. For example, the healed man is walking away with his mat. The PC (Pharisaically Correct) Police approach him and say (pick one):

1.       “Wow, praise God, you’re walking!”
2.       “Race you to the Temple!”
3.       “It is the Sabbath: the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

Wait, wait, I KNOW this……Yep, Door Number Three. Never mind that they themselves could be accused of “working.” No doubt their excuse would be, “yeah, but this is God’s Work. He never slumbers nor sleeps, so neither do we.” In fact that is pretty much what Jesus said (v. 17) in his defense when “the Jews persecuted him.” (About that term “the Jews” - when the gospel writers say “the Jews” the clear meaning in context isn’t all Jews, generic, which would of course include Jesus and themselves and much of the early church. It means the Jews who forcibly opposed the gospel, Jesus and his followers.)

Jesus then breaks into a lengthy sermon declaring and defending his divine authority. How wonderful of Jesus and so unlike fallen mankind that he never compelled others, except demons, to “make his point” or “get his way”. Instead he tells awesome truths that are “backed up” by the miracles:

1.       Whatever the Father does, the Son does.
2.       The Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.
3.       He will show us even greater things than these (healings).
4.       Just as the Father raises from the dead and gives life, the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.
5.       The Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son.
6.       He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father.
7.       Whoever hears His words and believes Him who sent Him has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
8.       The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live.
9.       As the Father has life in himself, the Son has life in himself.
10.   The Father has given him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.
11.   A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
12.   By Himself He can do nothing, but his judgments are just, for he seeks to please God only.
13.   John testifies Jesus is God’s son.
14.   Jesus’s work testifies He is God’s son.
15.   The Father testifies that He has sent Jesus.
16.   Jesus describes the Pharisees thusly: “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
17.   He does not accept praise from men, but He knows their hearts.
18.   Moses, not Jesus, is the accuser of the Pharisees.

In a nutshell, then: if you reject Jesus, you reject Moses and the God of Israel, by your choice you will be condemned and die. Embrace Him and you embrace Moses, the prophets, the Law, and the great and only I AM, and by your choice you will cross over from death to eternal life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

John 5 – Do You Want To Get Well? (D)

Thirty-eight years.
An invalid.
No-one to help.
The miracle happened for other people. But never for him.
I find this unthinkable. If a thousand years is as a day to the Lord, the reverse is true for people who suffer chronic pain. I do not fear death or poverty or jail or the condemnation of man. I do fear chronic pain. My little taste of it with an infected gall bladder (easily removed, pain gone) felt like torture. The only good thing about it was that it gave me a little more compassion for Diane, who had an advanced degree from the School of Chronic Suffering.
And that’s why it seems like Jesus asks an insensitive and just plain “Duh?!” dumb question of the pathetic invalid who has lain next to a healing pool for 38 years hoping for a cure:
“Do you want to get well?”
But on reflection, maybe not so dumb. John has already established that Jesus knew what was hidden in the hearts of men (and women). Even today, people suffer illnesses related to choices they make every day. To manage inner pain they eat too much (that's me), or too little. They take drugs (alcohol, nicotine, illegal drugs). They sleep around. As a former health care policy advocate, I cannot count the times I have written the phrase “preventable form of death.” But like the poor wretch who could not crawl fast enough into the pool, they are powerless to help themselves.
And then Jesus intervenes. And he asks his question, without condition or qualifier. He does not ask “Do you want to get well without confronting your powerlessness?” Or, “Do you want to get well and I promise you it won’t hurt?” The man has a choice: do it the Master’s Way, or not at all. His admission of powerlessness Jesus takes as “yes.”
I wish all healings were as instantaneous and complete as this man's. Still, it required obedience bred of faith. Jesus gave a direction: “get up and walk.” And the man, believing, complied. All of that, as well as the Spirit at work healing the man, is Grace in action: permitting God to do for me, His way, what I cannot do for myself.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

John 4: Nuthin' fancy 'bout Spirit and Truth

By worldly standards Jesus has weird timing. When he discovers that his ministry in Judea - the New York/L.A. Market of his place and time - is really booming, he heads back to Peoria. As he says elsewhere, "my time has not yet come." Sure proof I guess that he really does listen to the Spirit.

But first he has to go through Las Vegas (well, they called it Samaria back then, but all the good people of Galilee and Judea thought of it as Sin City). To the Jews Samaritans were such vile creatures that one didn't even walk on the same dust touched by their sandals. One certainly didn't talk to them. Especially if the "them" in-the-flesh was a woman. And an adulteress.

So of course Jesus strikes up a water-cooler conversation. He breaks the ice:

"Can I have a drink?"

He turns her "you talkin' to me?!" answer into an evangelistic outreach, pretty slickly I might add. She talks about wells, he talks about the water leading to eternal life. And with a Word of Knowledge which is NOT out of my reach when I am holding the Spirit's hand, he describes her sinful lifestyle. How remarkable that these wonderful words were not first spoken in a church or temple by a priest with robes, but were spoken outdoors in a dusty frogspit of a town to an everyday woman: "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

All this worship in spirit and truth stuff - it's not churchy, it's not even for the Pharisees like Nicodemus, it's for your hairdresser and the checkout lady at the supermarket. Think of that!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

John 3: Tradition Meets the Spirit

I feel a little sorry for Nicodemus and the other ruling Pharisees. Here is their world: centuries earlier their forefathers had sinned terribly and God had given them and their descendants over to economic and cultural domination by the Gentiles. And so it was decided: no more compromise! No more mixing with the outside world! High walls of tradition were built to keep the Jews away from the corrupting pagans. Surely God would be pleased and these hundreds of these new rules and regulations, strenuously enforced, would redeem Israel from her national humiliation.

But of course it didn’t work out well. It never does when Father-Child love degenerates into dos and don’ts. The sons of the reformers become tyrants. National repentance becomes national hypocrisy. Everything done in the flesh eventually dies.

Nicodemus visits Jesus at night. (I think Jesus uses his fear to illustrate those who “will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”) Jesus cuts right to the chase with two bedrock teachings:
1)    Israel must turn from man-made law and listen to the Spirit.
2)    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And of course Jesus himself never forces or manipulates anyone to do anything. He is the un-Pharisee. Instead of rules and force, he is the servant leader. Never authoritarian, He is true Authority. And as for those oppressing Gentiles - in a few centuries they would be naming their children Peter and John and their dogs Ceasar and Nero. The Spirit of Jesus would "overthrow" Rome by making her people his friends.

Monday, April 4, 2011

John 2: Changing Water Into Wine at a Wedding

Jesus does two dramatic things in John 2. He changes water into wine at a wedding in Cana, and he clears the temple. The latter story I've already covered, but the former is told only by John, so to Cana today I go. It's a village just five miles from Nazareth, so it's no surprise that Mary and Jesus are there. They are probably related to or friends with the bride or groom or both. The fact that Jesus makes 120 gallons of wine for a wedding where all the wine is already gone suggests a big crowd, as does the presence of the disciples ("what's 12 more guys in a crowd like this?"). I suspect weddings were their version of the Champlain Valley Fair: everyone comes from miles around, eats and drinks too much, socializes to their heart's content, and eventually goes home.

I could spiritualize about how keeping Jesus in a marriage means the later years will be better than the early ones, and (as I heard from one Catholic brother) Protestants can trust Mary because she will just be telling us what she told the wedding servants: "do whatever he tells you." But the real point of the story is that Jesus performs an amazing, public miracle which "revealed his glory" (vs. 11). As a result "his disciples put their faith in him." In their eyes and those of the wedding guests, Jesus came to the wedding as Mary's son and left as the Miracle Man of Galilee. From that point on he focused on wooing and winning his Bride.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

John 1: In The Beginning....

......of John's gospel, there is no genealogy, no shepherds, no dumbstruck priest, no virgin magnifying the Lord.

Not even close.

In the very first verse John announces that Jesus (although not named as such until vs. 17) is God, was with God in the beginning, and was the conduit through which God created everything.

Wow. Jesus really IS the Beginning and the End.

The synoptic gospels place Jesus as the key player in the drama of human history. He is the hero who defeats the bad guy and gets the girl. John agrees with all this but also places him before human history even begins, as its co-producer, writer and director.

The synoptic gospels continually discuss the identity of Jesus. So does John but unlike M, M & L he leads with 18 glorious verses that drive a theological stake into the ground about the breathtaking identity of his beloved friend:

1. God from the beginning
2. With God and equal to Him
3. Co-creator with God
4. Light unquenchable to all people
5. Life eternal to all people
6. Enabler of our adoption as children of God
7. Grace-giver
8. Blessing-giver
9. Truth-teller
10. God in the flesh - when you've seen Jesus, you've seen God

No matter that John leaves some mysteries wrapped and dwells less on narrative and historical detail than, say, Luke. Reading John I learn most deeply Who Jesus is. May I find, as John did, light and life and the blessings of His gracious adoption.

Friday, April 1, 2011

John Preamble: Who was John?

Before reading a newspaper editorial, I examine the name and affiliation of the author. This usually helps me understand it better. I know so little about John, author of the fourth gospel, that I looked up what Bible commentator Matthew Henry says about him. Henry isn't "inspired" but he is well-informed, or at least better informed than I am. I especially like his last sentence describing the Advantage of Being Different from the other three gospels. I hope to write a post on John One sometime in the next day or two.

By Matthew Henry -

The apostle and evangelist, John, seems to have been the youngest of the twelve. He was especially favoured with our Lord's regard and confidence, so as to be spoken of as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was very sincerely attached to his Master. He exercised his ministry at Jerusalem with much success, and outlived the destruction of that city, agreeably to Christ's prediction, ch. 21:22. History relates that after the death of Christ's mother, John resided chiefly at Ephesus. Towards the close of Domitian's reign he was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he wrote his Revelation. On the accession of Nerva, he was set at liberty, and returned to Ephesus, where it is thought he wrote his Gospel and Epistles, about A. D. 97, and died soon after.

The design of this Gospel appears to be to convey to the Christian world, just notions of the real nature, office, and character of that Divine Teacher, who came to instruct and to redeem mankind. For this purpose, John was directed to select for his narrative, those passages of our Saviour's life, which most clearly displayed his Divine power and authority; and those of his discourses, in which he spake most plainly of his own nature, and of the power of his death, as an atonement for the sins of the world. By omitting, or only briefly mentioning, the events recorded by the other evangelists, John gave testimony that their narratives are true, and left room for the doctrinal statements already mentioned, and for particulars omitted in the other Gospels, many of which are exceedingly important.