Category Archives: Jesus

Understanding God’s promise and provision?

‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.’ (Matthew 12 v20-21)

This week we take a momentary break from considering the activity of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament history to reflect on an incident recorded in Matt 12.

It’s the Sabbath and Jesus and his disciples  are walking through a field (v1,2) picking the corn and eating it. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem for Jesus or his followers but to the Prarisees that had spotted them doing this, it was a grevious offence  because it was considered as an act of defiance against God and his rules.

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, reminding them of how King David once helped himself and his men to the consecrated bread in the temple, angers the Pharisees even more who (unable to counter his argumant or defend their zealous actions) leave for home – but Jesus is not finished with them yet because:

‘…going on from that place, he went into their synagogue,  and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus,they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.(v9-14)

But what has all this got to do with Isaiah’s prophesy about how Messiah (Jesus) will neither quarrel nor cry out, nor break a bruised reed? To understand this we must look to Jesus’ generosity to his detractors, refusing to chasticse or speak revenge on them. Indeed, in the same way he was gentle to those who would persecute him and those in their care, but he is loving and forgiving too.

 

 


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Who is the author of Job?

‘Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?’              (Job 26v4)

I don’t know how you read this but presumably the answer God is expecting of Job is for him to reply that it was the Divine who gave him words to speak: that God Himself placed the spirit within Job’s mouth to help him find voice. And yet, I imagine that at this moment as Job stands before God – broken by the death of his family –  giving an answer to the obvious does not come high on Job’s agenda  (even when the question is asked by God).

Job is hurting. True, God will provide the ultimate help but Job needs time to grieve. Words may pour forth from his mouth but Job can barely understand what he’s saying right now as he tries to make sense of all that has happened to him – or put another way,  the nonsense of existence and and its unfair outcomes.

Now – at the risk of upsetting some  – I would be less then professional with this passage if I did not address the elephant in the room. That is, when God grants permission to the devil to test Job? Why would a God of love grant permission to a fallen angel – who is seeking to overthrow creation – to do this to Job, especially when it goes against the nature and love of God?

And here, we must return to the question of who is the author of Job? Who is this unseen  eavesdropper who is privvy to the discussion between God and Satan and then feeds it back to us. Moreover, is the character of God – as portrayed in the Book of Job  – in anyway reminiscent to the God revealed in the person of Jesus who is God incarnate?  For God not to be consistent is for us to accept a dualistic rendering in which the God in the Old Testament is wholly different to the one revealed in the character and person of Jesus Christ.


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Fruit of the Spirit – self control

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23) Continue reading Fruit of the Spirit – self control


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Fruit of the Spirit – gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23) Continue reading Fruit of the Spirit – gentleness


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Grace to all?

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2v7-12)As a writer, I love the subtle nuances found in this passage. Luke – who is the author of Acts – frames the dilemma of the visiting Jews who hear their native language coming out of the mouths of Jesus’ disciples. Now, while I don’t want to focus on the semantics of the piece,  there can be no doubt that the visitors curiosity is picqued by the ‘how’ of the situation they find themselves in

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? (v7)

Later, as Peter explains what happened to Jesus and how all of humanity are responsible for this rejection, he delivers his coup de gras:

‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v37)

Challenged by the fact they also are culpable, the visiting Jews respond in the only way possible:

 ‘Brothers- what shall we do?’ (v38)

 Peter’s answer doesn’t seek justice, restitution or payment.

 ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ (v39)

So, in summary: God is in the business of meeting with people. He does this by drawing alongside (through his people) and getting their attention.  A model, the church has found to work and been using ever since.

 

 


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Raving mad or Saviour of the world?

‘”No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” The Jews who heard these words were again divided.  Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’ (John 10v18-21)

Most people would agree that death is the inevitable consequence of having life in the first place – rather like the comic observation about how there are only two sure things in life – death and taxes. The moment that anything is born, it’s one second closer to it’s demise – such is the nature of life and death by old age, illness, accident, malevolence or whatever. We all die. So imagine the surprise of Jesus’ listeners when he  claims:

‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.’

If someone said the same thing to us, we would think it improbable – not just the idea that you can sidestep illness, ageing and injury but rather, you have control over death itself in such a way that the grave can never hold you down. No wonder, those who heard Jesus’ pronouncement responded the way they did. After all, only the mad or demon-possessed would suggest such a thing.

For christians, Jesus is the only one who can make such a claim because he exists both inside and outside of time. Jesus was present at the beginning of Creation as Logos, speaking and directing God’s words in unison with the Divine Father  as the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters and the Trinity went into action – see Genesis 1  and 1 John 1. However, unlike those that were quick to dismiss Jesus, there were others – more rational and open in their thinking – who  on the evidence of the miracles they had experienced were ready to defend Jesus. Moreover, people who could see beyond the immediate to the potential of a different future where death would no longer have the last word.

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’

 

 


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The first of many?

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.’ (John 10v14-17)

Another photo from the Tower of London in 2014 with the  start of the World War One commemorations  that will end later this year (Nov 2018). Each of the 800,000+ poppies placed in the moat area representing someone killed during the conflict.

As outlined in the previous post, the Christian hope is that Christ’s grace and generosity extends to all. He who was crucified and rose from the grave, also holds the keys by which all may be  freed from the shackles of death, decay and darkness. Jesus understood the nature of death. He also knew it was not an end in itself. We see this in his explanation as to why he must lay down his life and become the firstborn from the grave but also in his understanding of God’s love for him:

The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.’

Unfortunately, human understanding and fear renders many people hopeless when thinking about life after death. In short, they’d like to believe it but the sheer enormity of death twinned with the finality of the grave, makes it hard for many to see beyond that which is in front of them. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of Jesus whose faith is that God will act and make good on that which He has promised. Moreover, the fact that Jesus Christ has gone in advance to prepare a way  (in death) shows that the realities of Christian understanding converge sharply with rational thinking.

When Jesus returned from the mountain, the morning after the transfiguration, he was assailed by a man whose son who had suffered many seizures. Unable to heal the boy, the disciples handed the problem over to Jesus who challenged the boy’s father over a comment he made which revealed the limitations of his understanding. His response to Jesus is more of a prayer actually in his words: “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

None of us are immune to times of doubting or disbelief but the man’s prayer to Jesus of ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!”is not a bad one to have in our arsenal! 


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Abandoned to death or saved by Christ?

 “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. (John 10v11-13)

I took this photo four years ago. It was at the start of the 100 year commoration of the First World War and a ceramic red poppy was placed in the moat area around the Tower of London to represent each life lost during that conflict. A truly poignant pictorial representation of all the lives lost.

On the day I attended, the approximate count of poppies placed was somewhere in the region of  800,000 with more to be added. Can you imagine it? Eight hundred thousand people dead? Each one with parents, siblings, spouse and friends, all left to grieve their  violent passing. A terrible tragedy affecting millions upon millions of people. (Even worse, the war to end all wars did not do as predicted with 45 wars more wars since that time).

So what has all of this to do with Jesus as the good shepherd?

Well, the Christian belief is that Jesus has won a battle that makes people free from the shackles of death, decay and darkness.  Long before young men and women were cut down in the prime of life, Jesus came to earth to die and be resurrected, determined that the wolf should not have the final victory over humanity. Hence, Jesus’ response to the dying thief on the cross who petitions him to show favour  after he dies. Jesus’ reply answers the ageless question of what exists after death:

“Truly I tell you: today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v47)


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Life to the full?

‘Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”‘ (John 10v7-10)

I love the imagery being used here by Jesus  –  ‘I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.’

In the 1st Century, Jesus’ listeners would have been all too aware of the dangers facing sheep. Corralled into their pen for the night, the sheep would be dependant on the shepherd to sit in the gateway and ensure no animal or person came in to steal them. Hence, Jesus words: ‘whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’

But what of his statement that ‘All who have come before me are thieves and robbers?’  Well, by occupation, Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd so he is describing the spiritual role he is about to fulfil as carer for those who will place their faith in him. People who believe that in death they will pass through a cross-shaped gate to be with him for eternity. Which begs the question: what is it that the people are being saved from?

Jesus says:All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them…(and) the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (but) I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

In short, thieves and robbers bring nothing to the table. They exist to steal and destroy and do this by distracting people away from Jesus who provides the opportunity for eternal life to all. At the time, Jesus was often speaking against religious leaders who opposed his message though today it could just as likely be an institutional practice or system that reduces humanity to anything less than their full spiritual potential  Today, praise God that the full potential of God lives within you as you trust Jesus for the route ahead.


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Clean in a dirty world?

John 10v8-11 recounts this exchange:

(Peter ) “You shall never wash my feet.”

(Jesus)  “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 (Peter) “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

(Jesus ) “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

While all of the other disciples were happy for Jesus to wash their feet , Peter refuses. Although it is not clear why he does this, his over-the-top counter response to Jesus seconds later in which he instructs him to wash his head and hands as well, says something of how Peter was open to correction and ready to change his perspective in an instant.

One possible explanation for Peter’s initial refusal to be washed may have come from his understanding of who Jesus was and his mission. While all of the disciples struggled to grasp Jesus’ teaching and what he was telling them about himself, Peter was  the first to recognise him as the Christ. Moreover, Peter was also present at the transfiguration and it is likely he thought it unworthy of Jesus to degrade himself in this way by washing  feet.

Of course, what Jesus was actually demonstrating in the washing of the disciples’ feet was that just as they had been washed and served by someone greater  than themselves, so they too should serve others in the same way. Living examples of the change being wrought in people’s hearts and lives through God’s incoming Kingdom. A change that will in turn affect and challenge societal norms.

And what of the disciples in this- did they take this lesson to heart?

Well yes! In Acts 6,  the disciples are later called upon to intervene to deal with a problem  with the distribution of food to the widows. In the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ discipoles – Apostles  as they were now called – could have made a case that others others should intervene. After all, their calling was to go out and telling them the good news of Jesus.  Instead – for a season – they put into practice what Jesus had shown them and served the widows in the way a leader in the Kingdom of Christ should do. Something God calls each of us to aspire to.

 


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