Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 10 - John 1:29-51
Names and guys

So far I have managed to keep each short study to one or two verses, but not this time. I hope you have a Bible handy in which you can read these verses. A many-coloured procession of different people come into contact with Jesus in these verses. And as they do we find the passage is full of a good many names and titles of Jesus. Counting in titles like ‘the Surpasser’ but not the equal names like Rabbi and Teacher I can find 13 of them. Here is the passage:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. ’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony:“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. ’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote —Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Have a go yourself. How many names and titles can you find? I put my list at the bottom of the page – don’t look until you have had a go yourself.

They range from the bottom of the pile, which is surely ‘son of Joseph’, son of his step-father, to ‘Son of God’ at the top of the pile. Some have deep Old Testament connections like ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son of Man’, while others are simply derived from what John the Baptist knew first hand.
The really interesting thing is what we see if we compare what is said here with what is said in the other Gospels at the call of the twelve disciples. Without exception the other Gospels are less detailed except they all say that the disciples were called to ‘fish for people’ or, in the older versions, to be ‘fishers of men’.

Why the difference? What does it mean?

The answer has to be that John is solely concerned with Jesus. The rest is incidental. As we shall find as we work through the rest of the Gospel John is completely Jesus centred, or Christo-centric as it is called. Because Jesus was, and is, God He could be all those things at one and the same time. He could meet each one of the men listed here: John, Andrew, Andrew’s companion, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael, and meet them at their point of need. That is what John is telling us. And he is going to go on and tell us that Jesus would meet many other people, all at their point of need, no matter how way out that might be. Before long we shall be in chapters 3 and 4 where Jesus meets at their points of need a senior professor in Jerusalem and a slightly dodgy woman in a country village. Rather different people. I wonder how successful any of us would be at being equally effective in conversation with such different people. Not many, I am sure. Certainly not me!
But turned round and looked at from the other direction this is enormously encouraging for us. It does not matter who we are, what our problems may be, what is our point of need, Jesus, because He is the Son of God can speak to us encourage us, forgive us, save us, for this life and the next. Hallelujah and hooray – many times over.

Names and titles: Lamb of God/the Surpasser/the One to be revealed/ the One on whom the Spirit had come/the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit/God’s Chosen One/Rabbi=teacher/ the Messiah=the Christ/Jesus of Nazareth/the son of Joseph/Son of God/king of Israel/the Son of Man.

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October 28, 2015

HAVE - Yael


Heroes and Villains Explored

Yael (Judges 4-5)

There are in the Bible, both heroes and villains - people of great character, from whom we can learning to apply lessons to life in the 21st Century. An example of those who can be seen to be faithful to God (such as King David - a Hero) and unfaithful to God (such as King Saul - a Villain).

It is perhaps a sad fact of church life (and of church history), that very rarely do we hear the stories about the minor women characters of the Bible. So in this series, we will discover together something about the lesser known characters of the Bible as well as the more famous ones. These people from the Bible are like you and I, and we have lessons to learn from them, in order that God is glorified and honoured through our lives.

Yael (Judges 4&5)

Judges 5v24 - "Yael shall be blessed above women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; blessed shall she be above women in the tent. The first person we are going to look at is Yael. Yael is mentioned in one place and 5 times in all the Bible. Yet as was just read in Judges 5:31, she was accorded great honour and blessing? Why?

Yael's name, like other Bible names, means more than just a name. It means goat, a graceful goat and the term implies that she was an attractive woman.. In the west, comparing your wife to a goat would be an insult, so most translations apparently use the word hind or deer. So we could quite properly, call Yael the name ‘Yael Doe'.

Yael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. The Kenites were not true Israelites, but were the descendants of Moses' non Jewish wife. Because they were a roaming nomadic people they lived in tents. In the days of Deborah they had camped at the foot of Mount Tabor. In fact, they were situated very near the place where Barak and Deborah had destroyed Jabin's mighty army, including his 900 chariots of iron. Jabin had permitted the Kenites to stay in his country because he hoped they would prove to be his ally against the Israelites whom he hated intensely. But they disappointed Jabin's hopes. Perhaps from the beginning, because they remembered Moses's great deeds, the Kenites had occasionally sided with Israel.

Yael was a friend of Israel. She rejoiced when she heard of Jabin's defeat and would have wept when she heard that Sisera had defeated Israel with his chariots. Yael received the honour that Barak would like to have had. By her hand, as though by a judgement of God, Sisera, the enemy of Israel, was killed. Barak would have had that honour if he had not hesitated on the day Deborah had asked him to attack Jabin. But because he hesitated at that time, Deborah, as a prophetess, told him the word of the Lord in Judges 4v9: She said, "I will surely go with you: nevertheless, the journey that you take shall not be for your honour; for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman."

Sisera showed himself to be made of wiser stuff than his soldiers, or so it seemed at first. The survivor in any kind of work, sport or conflict is the person who can keep cool in a crisis and take rational action. Sisera abandons his chariot, which had made him an easily seen target for Barak, as well as of being no use in the mud when it rained, and so he disappears on foot in the direction of Barak's own town which was perhaps the last direction Barak would look for him.

Near Kedesh, there was land which belonged to the Kenites. Their name likens them to Cain, whose family made all kinds of bronze and iron (Genesis 4:22). More recently they had become friends by marriage with the Israelites, through Moses' marriage to a Kenite. But a nomadic group such as the Kenites survived by the friends and allies they made, and in this case with Jabin. Given their expertise, they would be natural chariot makers and repairers. These chariot experts had in the past been the key to Sisera's success but are now the key to his failure.

Then Sisera meets Yael. When Sisera arrives at her home, he expected to be on friendly territory if these Kenites were true allies of his boss Jabin, he has travelled almost fifty miles. Yael comes out to greet him and offers him a warm and smooth welcome. There is a contrast to be seen here. At the time of Yael, when a woman alone, invites a man into her bedroom, in any other context, it would be the act of the seductress in Proverbs 7. Like Yael, she might well be expected to offer a man refreshing drink and comfort, invite him to lie down and relax, reassure him that everything will be all right, and that she will tell him no-one will know of his visit and then be the death of him.

Yael knows the predicament she was in. As a married woman, though at the moment alone and vulnerable, with all the personal insecurity that that means in a time of ware, and as a Kenite wife, she would have been treated by the people of Israel as a traitor on the losing side. At this point, she behaves just like an independent woman, takes her destiny in her own hands, and acts in a way that brings the victory of Israel to its completion in the death of Israel's enemy commander.

Because she was a woman she easily won the confidence of Sisera. He relaxed, after being so careful on the run to Yael's house, and it cost him his life. Like Barak, Sisera no longer wanted to be involved and was probably fed up of playing the tough macho hero guy. He was physically exhausted, but when he lets himself fall asleep, it is as if he wants to leave everything behind him for a short time. Perhaps he knew that Kenite people were a very caring people to strangers, because in the desert a mutual commitment to hospitality can mean the difference between life and death. He thought he could trust Yael.
But perhaps Yael knew that sometimes this hospitality meant more than just sleep and food, and wanted a role reversal. Sisera made a mistake in telling Yael to lie if anyone asked if he was there. Being a wise woman, she concluded that Sisera was running from the battlefield, which meant that the Jews had won the battle and the Canaanites grip on the land was gone. If she protected Sisera, she would be in trouble with her Jewish relatives.

Yael gets together her woman's weapons - gentleness and consideration, cooking, hospitality and courage. She also had a tent peg and hammer at hand, because it was the job of the woman to put up the tent. She probably gave him milk and not water, because warm milk is known to cause people to become sleepy. So when Sisera shortly falls into a deep sleep, she takes the tent peg & hammer and hits it through the head of Sisera as he sleeps. She must have used a lot of violent force in this horrid incident. Yael joins the role of honour of those who have acted for themselves, and either knowingly or unknowingly acted to free Israel. She becomes a deliverer too. Her story is to be remembered for a long time (Judges 5:31).

However, some questions naturally come to us.

1. Did God answer prayers through this bloody and violent act?

We don't know from what the Bible says. Yael is in the Bible (so the prayer for her to be celebrated for a long time is answered) yet her story is not often read (so the prayer isn't answered). It is not merely that the church has tended to prefer men's stories in Scripture, though that is almost certainly a historical fact. It is that the violence of the story should make us feel uncomfortable. It makes us aware of the violence within each of us, which we prefer to avoid.

2. Should we bless or blame Yael for what she did?

She invited Sisera into her tent, treated him kindly, and told him not to be afraid; so she was deceitful. The Kenites were at peace with Jabin, so she violated a national treaty. She gave Sisera the impression that she would guard the door, so she broke a promise. She killed a defenceless man, so she was a murderess. Yet Deborah sang, "Yael shall be blessed above women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; blessed shall she be above women in the tent.' (Judges 5v24)

So how are we to understand this question? To begin with, let us not read into the time of the Judges, the spiritual standards taught by Jesus and the apostles. Also let us keep in mind that the Jews had been under terrible bondage because of Jabin and Sisera; and that it was God's will for the nation to be delivered from its enemies. Both Jabin and Sisera had been mistreating the Jews for years, and if the Canaanite army had won the battle, hundreds of Jewish girls would have been captured, raped and probably killed (Judges 5v30). Yael not only helped to deliver the nation of Israel from bondage, but also she helped protect vulnerable women from vicious enemies. She was a courageous woman, in the middle of a war, and she stopped being neutral and took her stand with the people of God.

3. How is God's purpose realized in the world?

It is achieved; through kings like Jabin who are involved in the fulfilment of God's purpose, without them knowing, in ways they enjoy and in ways they wish they could escape; through the people of God crying out to God in the middle of their suffering (even when the suffering was deserved); through a woman of insight who become a woman of a violent act, using her female wiles to become a traitor and assassin. Yael succeeded because God was with her. She played a part in the purpose of God, and in the introduction of 40 years peace in the land, for the sake of which it might almost seem worthwhile to be a victim.

As we conclude, one question for you to think about and enact upon:

What principles and lessons for living as a Christian, can I learn from God, through the life of Yael?

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October 26, 2015

Think Spot 26 October 2015


26th October 2015

Count Your Blessings

Reading in my Bible this morning following a pattern of reading through the Bible in a year I am not always aware till I open my accompanying Bible notes of what I am about to read.

This morning I needed to read a portion of the Old Testament concerning Israel and Judah and sadly their disobedience towards God after He had blessed them so much. It was a wake up call for all of us who profess to know Christ to “Count every blessing” as the song goes then we will not forget His abundant kindness towards us Whom He loves dearly.

Scripture makes it clear that that the old nature within, does sometimes blind us to God's continuous blessings which abound if we were alert to them. Parking spaces found for us, requests for quick replies for urgent needs answered swiftly, sunny days for that special event, and of course rain which we need desperately at this time in UK.

We may be forgetful of that reassuring touch from the Lord when a friend comes round and says “I just felt you needed someone at this moment.” Psalm 103 reads “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his blessings (benefits) towards you. If you continue in that psalm and quietly give it some thought, you will find many times God has richly blessed you as you have waited upon Him and trusted Him.

To make sure you are constantly doing this without having to think about it why not share your blessings with others you meet during the course of the day? I find that is a refreshing way in serving our Lord is giving praise and glory to Him by passing your blessings on.

Try it and see I am sure you will find it to be true and you will receive a measure of joy in your heart as well.
In psalm 23 we read of the believer’s daily walk with the Lord and even though we walk through the vale of death we need fear no evil.

Why? The Lord is with us giving us reassurances He will never leave us. Note the joy in David the psalmist’s voice as he perhaps shout “My cup runs over” Oh the joy there is to be found in knowing Jesus.
Then the climax of the ages as we move towards the day when we see our wonderful Lord face to face. Psalm 23:6; “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever!”

Have a nice day and may you be blessed in all your circumstances and remember “Count your blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done?”

Joy’s Prayer

Dear Loving Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the wonder of knowing You as our Heavenly Father and the One who supplies our every need on every occasion we require help and surprises us with unexpected blessings which delight us.
Forgive us if we ever take You for granted or forget to thank you for your regular daily blessings. Help us to remember just how dependant we are on You. We sometimes find ourselves asking even for the seeming impossible and although we may have to be patient and wait.
You have never let us down.
As the hymn writer reminds us “We are coming to a King, large petitions with you bring we can never ask too much...You have amazing resources Lord and we can never out ask your provision. Thank you for that knowledge and help us to be wise in our asking and swift in our thanksgiving. We love You for loving us so much and making sure our cup is never empty.
In Jesus Name


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