Archive for September 2016

00:0000:00


Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 70 - John 17:1

Strange glory



Chapter 17 is the final prayer of Jesus. It was the custom in those days to record a final prayer like this of notable people and John followed that practice, presumably gathering the recollections of the disciples of what Jesus actually said – they often prayed aloud in those days.

Jesus begins by praying for himself, saying “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”What a strange thing to say! He was expecting to die the next day the most excruciating and demeaning of deaths by crucifixion. We think of glory as receiving praise and honour, even adoration and worship. Jesus was asking God the Father to glorify him that rather different way. How amazing! What could he possibly have been thinking? The way he worded his request it certainly refers to that terrible next day. A very few verses later he does say, “now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” and there he is looking forward to when he returns to heaven and sits down at the right hand of the Father, receiving the honour and glory of that position. But not here – here he sees glory in what was about to happen in his death in the next 24 hours and then 3 days later in his resurrection.

Jesus was taking the long view, which in view of the torture he knew he was about to have to endure is quite amazing. He knew, as the disciples didn’t, that his tomorrow, his hour as he called it, was going to be the most glorious day in the history of the world. He, God, was about to die for the salvation of mankind. His tomorrow would be the dividing point of history. Up to that day nobody had had anything more than hope that the Lord God would accept them. From that tomorrow onwards those who turned to him in humility and faith would begin to understand that they would be accepted in his name, on the basis of his sacrificial work on the Cross. Then a few days later they would learn that they had the Holy Spirit of God, his replacement, actively involved in their lives, directing their course through life, supporting them in all the many problems that the human condition brings, challenging and empowering them.

So there was glory ahead, even if it looked a rather strange glory at first sight. Indeed, it was because the followers he left behind recognized that glory that they started to worship him and it was because they found themselves irresistibly worshipping him that they began to realise that he was no less than God walking this earth as well as being a man.

That was his matchless glory. This is his matchless glory for us. We only need a small bit of that glory to come into our lives, to illuminate us, to be deeply blessed.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your prayer, for your constancy, your endurance of all the physical pain and spiritual pain that lay so closely ahead of you as you prayed. Thank you that your glory was for us.


Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!



Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

00:0000:00


Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 69 - John 16:13

The Spirit of Truth



I think we should pause for a moment to think of what all this must have looked like to the disciples. It is no surprise that they said to each other, “We don’t understand what he is saying.” About three years earlier they had agreed to join the new group forming around the person of Jesus. They thought he was a prophet and, very probably, the leader who would set up a rebellion against the hated Roman occupation, which might just succeed. It had been a considerable surprise to find that things were working out very differently from those early expectations. They had been flexible enough minded to cope with the change of orientation, probably because they had been carefully selected by Jesus as those who would be flexible in their thinking. They had learned over the three years they had been with him that when Jesus said something would happen – it happened. Now he was saying that he was going away. He had even said he would be killed by the Roman authorities. In view of what was happening in Jerusalem, the seething unrest, it seemed likely that would happen very soon. What then? Would their small group continue? And, if so, who would lead it? Peter had been the obvious spokesperson of the group but would he be capable of leading them forward as a spiritual force? It seemed doubtful. John was stronger spiritually but he was surely too young. James and John were labelled the sons of Boanerges, that is sons of thunder, and they were certainly two forceful characters but were they at all likely to be able to lead an effective group along the lines that Jesus had set up – lines that were so different from their previous experience and, indeed, all that had gone before.

Into this difficult and worrying situation Jesus seemed to be suggesting there would come nothing more obvious than a spiritual force which he labelled the Advocate, the Counsellor, the Comforter or, in the original Greek, the Paraclete (meaning a bit of all three). Really. Would that be sufficient? How would in work out in practice? Impossible to imagine.

Of course, it did work out because the person being talked about was the Holy Spirit himself. Part of the Triune God, though to say that is to jump ahead several years and even centuries. But their considerable immediate problem was to work out what would he actually do?

That we find Jesus told them in 16: 13 – 15, “when he, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” All of which reinforced what he had already said in 14: 26, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” So we ought to add ‘teacher’ to the list of words translating ‘paraclete’.

Teaching is not an easy occupation. Some teachers will concentrate not on their students but on their material. At their worst they read out their notes expecting their students to copy them down word for word. That is poor teaching particularly in this age of many copying machines. The good alternative is to teach students how to think, so that what they learn will be of use to them even when they do not meet the exact situations the teacher envisaged, and that is not so easy for the teacher. But it is the sort of teaching the Holy Spirit expects us to transmit to others. It is called ‘discipling’! We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the one who brings specific gifts to individuals: one to this guy, a different one to that girl and so on. But what Jesus is emphasising here, and John is making sure we see, is that the Spirit will be a teacher and a guide for the whole group. That meant the eleven apostles on this occasion, possibly a few more who were also present, and then the ongoing church down through the ages to the present day. Yes, to your church and to mine, imperfect though they may be. This guidance will come as we study the words of Jesus as enshrined in these four Gospels. So much of what we most probably hear and are taught in church actually does not come directly from Jesus but at second hand through the epistles and other scriptures. What Jesus is saying here is a potent reminder of the central importance of his ministry, his life, his death, his stories, his statements.

Of course we all know that the difficulties lie in knowing what exactly we should do to obey him - you think that, I think this. Being human we have the very human problem of working out how to hear the leading of the Spirit. Some churches do it through a strong central decision structure; others through a decentralised arrangement of church meetings and executive committees called elderships or diaconates. It is clear from the epistles that both sorts of approach to the problem were used from the very early days of the church and are recorded in scripture, so there is no clear right and wrong here. We have to fit our approach to our particular society and culture. Being human we will often have a tendency to want to retain structures which worked years previously but are not so good in our present day. We live in an age when all societies and cultures are changing continuously and often with a rapidity greater than ever before so that is not a good idea.

Let us all, you and I, be careful that we contribute positively to the fellowship we are in, good at hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God, good at not hindering his work, good teachers of the Word of Truth, good at helping the church of the ages to progress towards that great day when He, Jesus, returns to say ‘well done good and faithful servant’.

Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!



Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

00:0000:00


Gems in the Gospel of John


Part 68 - John 5:26-27

Eyewitnesses



Jesus selected his closest disciples from those who had ‘been with him from the beginning’. They, with the all important help of the Holy Spirit, will be those who are to tell the world what has happened and would shortly lead the infant church on its first steps.

There is a fundamental and important difference here between what we, in the Western world anyway, would do and what they did. We think it is important that our witnesses to an important event should be dispassionate, uninvolved observers able to provide an unbiased assessment of what is going on. That was not what they looked for in their recorders of events. They, Jewish and Roman alike, wanted their reporters to be those who had been deeply involved in the events recorded. That was probably because they considered the meaning of the events more important than the actual events themselves and wanted a guide to that meaning such as we would resist. Thus, the prime historian of the Roman-Jewish war of AD 68-71, basically the only one we have access to, was a man called Josephus who was first a commander of Jewish forces involved in the war and then an assistant to the Roman general. He was not unbiased but he had seen what was going on first hand.

It is easy to see the point of the way they thought in those days and we must accept its value and not criticise it.

We can see these ideas worked out in the four Gospel-writers. Not one of these four names himself within his writing. They took to heart the modesty and humility that Jesus asked of his followers. We only know who they were from reports from the early church. We cannot be absolutely certain of the accuracy of these but there is no good reason to doubt them. Matthew, also known as Levi, was with Jesus from very near the beginning of his ministry (Mark 2: 13,14). We are told that Mark wrote at the direction of Peter, so his Gospel is Peter’s testimony to the events of the ministry of Jesus that he had observed from close to all the way through. Luke, very aware that he was not an eyewitness himself, emphasises in the first few verses of his Gospel (1: 1 - 4) that he had been very careful to refer to eyewitnesses of the events and had checked what they told him very thoroughly. John was clearly an eyewitness although exactly who he was, which John, is a matter of much argument and disagreement. He was the ‘beloved disciple’ of John 13:23 etc. but we don’t know who that was either. John was a very common name in those days. He is usually taken to be John, son of Zebedee, but he was a Galilean fisherman while the writer of the fourth Gospel seems more likely to have been a sophisticated man from Jerusalem. But he certainly was an eyewitness of at least much of the life of Jesus.

The result is that we have four accounts of the life of Jesus, which the very early leaders of the Christian church wisely refused to have combined into one, leaving them as true eyewitness accounts of what happened. No event of ancient history is anything like as well documented as the life of Jesus. We can rely on its truth and accuracy even where it seems to defy all natural possibilities, as in the resurrection. To believe in Jesus and all the events of his life is not one step down from knowledge, as many would say. We believe because we know.

We cannot testify because we are not eyewitnesses in a literal visible sense. We can testify because of our experiences of the Spirit and his work in our lives. Go! Testify!

Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!



Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

00:0000:00
JohnsGems.jpg

Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 67 - John 15:19

Hate!

In stark and obviously intentional contrast to the last section on love Jesus goes on to speak about hate. While love is to be the ruling principle of the followers-of-Jesus, hate is unfortunately a major part of the world’s reaction to those people. Open and direct hostility will be the experience of at least some of my hearers and readers. For many more the hostility will be much less obvious but nearly as potent. I refer to the sort of hidden hostility that is part of much modern Western culture which prides itself on being ‘liberal’ and secular and therefore puts all religions into one category, all regarded as backward and naive. It leads to much of the present tensions about refugees and immigration in Europe. Hidden behind many of the statements against, or for, the influx are attitudes to Islam and the centuries long Christian background of many of the European countries - but no one dares say so!

Why is there so much antagonism, or to use the shorter more direct word that Jesus used, ‘hate’, against Christian faith and people. Much of the reason is found in the next chapter at 16: 8 – 11, where we read, “When he [,the Holy Spirit,] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Jesus blames the attitudes onto reactions to the actions of the Holy Spirit but, of course, in practical terms those actions are seen as coming from those who present the work of the Spirit to the outside world. We should be showing the world that it is wrong about sin because we are living, if not perfectly pure, lives at least some that are visibly and obviously better than those around us. We may not display perfect righteousness but at the very least we are visibly much closer to acceptance by the Lord than others. Our presence and living practices hold before all others the fact that there is more than one way of living and therefore there is the strong possibility of a judgement still to come. The ordinary non-Christian does not like being shown up in those ways.

We tend to see the situation from inside our own cocoons and miss the implications for those outside. Is it any wonder that we are not always all that popular?

Jesus traces the problem back to its source in 15: 16. It is all his fault! We have probably been encouraged from our beginning on the Christian Way to think that we took all the decisions. ‘Make your decision for Christ’ we were challenged, or ‘follow Jesus’, or ‘your parents are Christian so of course so are you.’. It all sounded as though it was up to us to become a Christian. But Jesus goes back to the true reality of what happened when we started to follow him: HE CHOSE US. He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last” (15: 16). Not only that, he began to call us his friends, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (15: 14, 15). He gave us this status. We are totally secure in him. We just have to be careful about how we present that fact to other people. If we brag about it we shall only intensify the hostility we encounter. On the other hand if we hide it too successfully we shall evade the hostility but deny the truth of who we are. It is a difficult balancing act. May all you, my hearers and readers all round the world, be good and faithful witnesses in your many and varied situations. Let us pray for each other in this.<

Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!

Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

00:0000:00


Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 66 - John 15:16

‘in my name’



One of the most puzzling things Jesus said is ‘whatever you ask the Father will give you’. John records this here and Matthew says much the same in his 7: 7. It sounds like a very good idea. The trouble is that we all know it doesn’t always, or even usually, work! There are lots of things I would love to have but I know full well that asking the Lord for them is going to achieve nothing except frustration. But this is the word of the Lord - how can this be.

If you have your Bible open as you hear or read this (as you should have!) you will realise that I have cheated by leaving out of what Jesus said the three word phrase which heads this section: ‘in my name’.

But before we try to work out the implications of having that phrase in the full statement of 15: 16 let’s think negatively for a moment about some of the ways people try to dodge around the clear implications of the discrepancy between what Jesus said and what our practical experience is.

Probably one of the most common is the thought – ‘I don’t have enough faith’. Oh, really. Since when has our faith been measured to see what we deserve? To think that way would be a backwards step to a faith of works. If our faith was measured like that how many of us would ever have received the greatest gift of all which is our salvation, the Holy Spirit, and a place amongst those who have set out to follow Jesus? None of us.

Then there are those people who happily call white black and black white. They are quite capable of closing their eyes to what has actually happened and announcing that what they want has happened leaving everybody else scratching their heads and puzzled by their naivety.

All sorts of half true phrases are used to cover the situation: the Lord has his own timing - which is different from ours; the answer is wait (implying that if we have to wait long enough we shall have forgotten what we asked for anyway); we get answers to all our prayers but they may not be the answers we wanted. Or we can slide over these verses as if they were not there since we cannot make direct honest sense of them (even some of the best commentators can do that sometimes); and so on.

Enough of the negatives - what can we say positively about these statements? The phrase ‘in the name’ is all important. In the culture of those days one’s name was not just a label by which people identified you (this is probably still true in some of the cultures from which you, my hearers and readers, come.) That is the way it was then. That meant therefore that to say something in the name of Jesus meant that the identification of the speaker with Jesus was so tight, so close, that he was speaking as Jesus would have spoken in the same situation. Since Father God would have reacted directly and positively to the requests of Jesus so he would to the one making the sort of request Jesus is talking about.

He was, of course, speaking in the first place to his immediate apostolic disciples so what he was saying was not as way out as it appears to be when we take it as speaking directly to us. Paul said we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2: 16). And he did that when he was writing to the church in Corinth, which was not exactly the best, spiritually speaking. Few of us, if any, would boldly say that and we probably should never say that or think it about ourselves. To do so is to step out from the humility that we should show. In Philippians 2: 3 we are told “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”

We see a tricky balance is required in our thinking and our actions. On the one hand we are to relish the power and authority of our God and Lord and expect him to help and favour us in all things. On the other hand we read in Galatians 6: 3 – 5, 7b – 15: “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

May the good Lord give us all wisdom in our thoughts and actions so that they are well pleasing to him all the time.

Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!



Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

00:0000:00


Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 65 - John 15:12

Love each other


In our last ‘Gem’ we looked at the pruning of the branches of the vine – that is us – if we do not bear as much ‘fruit’ as we should. The really big question is ‘what is the fruit?’ of which Jesus was speaking. The answer is quite surprising – it is ‘love’. That is what Jesus goes on to talk about in the immediately following passage. He says, “remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love,” and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”, and “I appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last” and “This is my command: Love each other.”

Now ‘Love’ is a very tricky word! Very obviously ‘love’ in this passage and in the New Testament generally is not quite the same thing as ‘love’ as it is in everyday life. Famously, the Greeks had several words for ‘love’ where we have only one. A great many sermons have been preached on the different words for ‘love’ Jesus used in the discussion he had with Peter in the last chapter of this gospel but it is now widely thought that there is no real difference in the meaning between those words.

How then are we to understand the word ‘love’ and how are we to distinguish between everyday common ‘love’ and the sort we have here? (I exclude the use of the word in phrase like ‘I love my car’ or ‘I love the view from here’ keeping to the interpersonal use of the word.) My thinking on this goes like this:

There are 3 phases to a love between two people; there may be some overlap between them. The first phase is almost always emotional. It may be ‘love at first sight’ between 2 people or the love of a mother for her new-born baby. The second phase is hard to describe with a single word – we will make do with developmental. These are the days or months or years after the initial surge of love feeling in which the relationship develops as the two parts of it slowly get to know each other and grow together. Unfortunately much modern Western thinking discourages people from allowing this phase to develop, wrongly thinking that people can continue to live and love on the sole basis of the emotional phase. The third phase is one of action when on the basis of the thinking of the development stage the potential lovers: man and woman, two of a kind, parent and child grow steadily closer, working out who does what in supporting the relationship. This alone will lead to the true deep and lasting love that we all crave.

So in our human relationships to which we attach the label ‘love’ we have emotional, developmental and action phases. What happens when we try to describe Biblical love in these terms, as we must, knowing no others? Biblical love is about either the love of God for a human being or beings or the love of a human for God.

Consider the first of those – we know that God loves humans because he tells us so in John 3: 16, “ for God so loved the world” where the context clearly indicates he is talking about not only the totality of humans but the individual human so that the one who believes in Jesus is saved and the one who does not is condemned. But there is absolutely no equivalent to the first phase of the human love sequence. God even tells us he does not love for any emotional reason in Deuteronomy 7: 7, 8 where he says, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” There was nothing remotely like emotion involved. The love came first, purely out of the hidden purposes of Almighty God. From then on the other two phases, of development and action, are interwoven. God taught his ancient people through his actions. He, so to speak, developed himself step by step. It was never his fault that his people proved to be very slow and poor scholars.

Then we come to the second type of Biblical love in which we are to love God. That is tough to do and cannot start with the emotions. Some people: hermits, recluses, monks, spiritual guides; try to make it do so by their adoration of Jesus. Whether they are very successful very often is extremely doubtful. We, ordinary mortals, need to take the longer, harder but surer route, working steadily at the development of our understanding of Jesus and his work and then using that understanding to give us the potential for action on his behalf. Paul explained what he was doing when he said, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 7 – 11).

The two roads that we should be on, the human-to-human road of love and the human to God road of love are neither of then easy.

I can only end by saying I hope those thoughts may be helpful to someone. They are by no means absolute. Think about them, perhaps even argue them out with a friend or friends. These are in many ways the greatest challenges that face us in life. Paul says the results are of ‘surpassing worth’. Sure thing. Go to it.<

Click or Tap here to listen to or save this as an audio mp3 file

~

You can now purchase our Partakers books including Roger's latest - The Puzzle of Living - A fresh look at the story of Job!

Please do click or tap here to visit our Amazon site!



Click or tap on the appropriate link below to subscribe, share or download our iPhone App!
Subscribe in podnovaI heart FeedBurneritunes_logo.giffacebook.giftwitter.gifAdd to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Read Full Post »

google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html