52. Christ Poured Out?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 52.  Christ Poured Out?

Acts 16:7     When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Our temptation, as we have worked our way through Old Testament prophecies, the birth and arrival of Christ, his names, his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension, might be to say, right, that’s it, end of the story, but it isn’t, it isn’t the end of the activity of the Christ, it continues today, and we need to see that. But before we come up to date, we need to take in the events of the Day of Pentecost and all that followed, because that was the START of what CONTINUES today and reveals HOW Christ continues his work through us, and that is vitally important.

It is important here to understand the bigger picture. We concluded the previous study by noting that the New Testament tells us very clearly that Jesus has ascended back to heaven from where he came, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in a position where he rules. In the next studies we will examine this rule in some detail but for the moment we need to realise that that rule, shared with his Father, started from the moment he ascended but was only seen, tangibly if you like, from the moment his Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. We need to link that with Jesus ruling at his Father’s right hand.

Now to see this perhaps even more clearly, we need to see how the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. Most of the time, the third person of the Trinity is simply described as “the Spirit” or often as “the Holy Spirit”, and sometimes as “the Spirit of God”, e.g. those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14 also 1 Cor 2:11,14, 7:40. 12:3 2 Cor 3:3, Phil 3:3, 1 Jn 4:2). However, because there is a unity within the Trinity there are also a (limited) number of occasions when he is referred to as “the Spirit of Christ” or even “the Spirit of Jesus” etc.

Observe: “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (Acts 16:7) and “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) and “I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:19) and “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet 1:10,11) and even, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (Gal 4:6)

The book of Acts, most of us would agree, is an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Usually we use the language of “being filled with the Spirit” or “baptized in the Spirit” but the ‘Spirit’ we refer to is in fact, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. If we hold in our mind’s eye the picture of Jesus now ascended and ruling at his Father’s right hand, what we see in Acts is in fact the outworking of that rule in Jesus, there in heaven, prompting, leading, and inspiring his people by his Spirit. It is the way he expresses that rule when it comes to his people, us, Christians.

One has to admit that there did not yet seem a real consciousness in the apostles most of the time that this is how it is; it is only when we come to an incident as that referred to in our starting verses that Luke and Paul recognize what is going on. They wanted to move on into Bithynia but they became aware that “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” i.e. Jesus, exercising his rule from heaven stirred an unease in them that this was not the right thing for them to be doing. It is one of those rare occasions when it is made clear just what is going on. Most of the time, the apostles just move as, presumably prompted by the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, to act as they did, revealing the power and revelation of Jesus. Those are the two primary ways we see him working through the apostles – through power and through revelation.

When the Spirit is poured out on the Day of Pentecost it is power that energizes Peter to get up and preach and his ‘sermon’ is full of revelation. A short time later at the Gate Beautiful the healing that took place there was attributed by Peter not to themselves (Acts 3:12,13) but as in line with all that happened already (see v.13-16). Power exhibited and revelation poured out in his ‘sermon’ that followed. After being imprisoned over night, when called before what was almost certainly the Sanhedrin, Peter is filled with the Spirit to boldly explain all that had happened (Acts 4:8-). When they leave and tell the others there is a praise meeting and the Holy Spirit fills them so they speak out boldly (Acts 4:31). The incident with Ananias and Sapphira, who both end up dead, has surely got to be a judgment of God (Acts 5:1-11). As a general statement we are told, “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 5:12) Power continues to be seen. And so it continues.

Now most of the time it is simply attributed (where there is an identity) to the Holy Spirit, but all the time we must remember two things: first, the Spirit is sometimes named as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ and all the while we have this picture of Jesus at his Father’s right hand overseeing and directing what is going on. There is in Paul’s writing that which sheds even more light on what is going on, describing the end times, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) I have emphasized what are, in this context, key issues: Jesus is working to establish the kingdom of God and he does that by ruling over – expressing the power of God and bringing the revelation of God – all things until there comes a climax after which he hands back the control, so to speak, to the Father.

Before we finish, there are some things Jesus said that I believe we take for granted but they also shine light into this teaching. For example: Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4) See four times in that one verses Jesus says we are to ‘remain’ in him. Remain means to stay in the same place, or continue in the same place. What is that place? See another expression: “in Christ”. e.g. Rom 6:11,23,  8:1, 12:5, 16:7,9,10, 1 Cor 1:2,4,30, 4:10,15,17 etc. etc.  Elsewhere, of course it talks about him being in us by the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit. We are one with Christ, there is this link with the living Christ who, for the time being is reigning at his Father’s right hand. The story did not end at the ascension, it continues as Christ continues the work of the Father but now at his side and as he administers it through his Spirit. We need to understand more of this if we are to understand his ongoing working today, and that we will do in the following studies.

51. The Mystery of the Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 51.  The Mystery of the Ascension

Acts 1:9     After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus has risen and goes with the disciples north to Galilee again. He had told them all of this previously (Mt 26:32), the women were told by an angel (Mt 28:7), Jesus reiterated it to the woman (28:10), and they all went (Mt 28:16), and John gives details of the encounter (Jn 21:1-24), and now Luke records it in Acts: He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) There he warns them he will leave them again but tells them of the power that will be theirs if they wait in Jerusalem. After forty days it appears they all return to Jerusalem and on the Mount of Olives this event occurs (Acts 1:12).

(Now I have written about this before and it so impacted me then that I am going to simply repeat much of what I wrote then.)

Our verse above is almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It is embarrassing in the way it baldly states something that none of us have ever seen or are likely to see in our lifetime – a man lifting up from the ground with no assistance and drifting up into a low passing cloud and disappearing.  Now we are given no warning in the text that this was about to happen. Luke, writing in Acts, doesn’t tell us that Jesus had warned them that this was going to happen. Earlier at the Last Supper he had referred to going to his Father, but they would now have assumed that that had been a reference to his death.

In the closing words of his Gospel, Luke had recorded, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51). Mark had recorded, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) (but there is a question mark over whether it actually was Mark writing those words or was something another had added.)  Matthew and John are silent as to what happened. But Luke is the historian who, in his Gospel, had told us that he had gone to great trouble to check out the truth of what had happened – so he records it.

The only other time in the Bible that anything like this happens was the case of Elijah being taken up – but that had been in a chariot of fire by angels, as he was carried up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). His young followers thought he would come down and went to search for him but found nothing. But this account, telling us of Jesus’ departure from the earth, seems almost ordinary by comparison. There is no whirlwind, no great sounds, nothing out of the ordinary recorded. Jesus simply ascended!

How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?  I suspect we would have stood there with open mouths and tears running down our faces as Jesus disappeared from sight. It was only the appearance of two angels that broke into their reverie and gave them something to rejoice about. They were just standing there, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” (v.10)  It was as if they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the spot where he had vanished from sight.

Now we have suggested that the historian, Luke, baldly recounts the facts of what happened but it is then fair to ask, but why did it happen in this way? Why didn’t Jesus just quietly vanish one day? It seems it is yet another of these mysteries surrounding the records of Jesus. However, there seem to be various clues.

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

A Door to the Next Stage: For the moment the disciples may be feeling devastated, utterly bereft at the loss – the final loss – of the One who has brought such light and love and hope to their lives, but it will be only a temporary sense of being bereft because, before a fortnight is out, things will be happening that will sweep them on into the excitement of the rest of their lives, but we’ll leave that for the next study. However, for the moment see his ascension as the next essential step in God’s agenda. He has to go so they will be on their own, waiting for his words to be fulfilled and for power to come.

A Pattern for his Return: Sometime in the future (see Rev 19) Jesus will return in power. He will not come in ordinary human form and so we need to remember his warnings about false Christs (Mt 24:44). People who simply talk the words are not him! When he comes every eye will see him (Rev 1:7). Even as he ascended, so he will descend – but in great power!

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Before we leave this study, we should note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand, and in subsequent studies we will see what he is doing there today. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

These are things into which we need to delve more deeply and we’ll consider more in the coming studies.

50. Resurrection Fact

Focus on Christ Meditations: 50.  Resurrection Fact

Jn 20:11,14   Mary stood outside the tomb crying……At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there.

When it comes to the facts of the resurrection recorded in the Gospels, as I have written in other studies, it is not an easy matter to form a coherent picture and for this I suggest two reasons: first it was a time of great anguish and confusion in the minds of the disciples and, second, some of the things that occurred are in respect of a body that is no longer the same as it was before death, and that is sometimes confusing.

Without doubt the basic facts of the resurrection were clearly understood by the early church for the apostle Paul was able to write so clearly: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) The word ‘appeared’ is seen here four times, emphasizing the testimony of witnesses who saw Jesus and were able to show that the appearances were real and not mere fancy.

The Basic Record: Elsewhere we have focused on specific individual verses and considered what they say but here, perhaps it will be easiest if we, first of all at least, simply provide a list of the appearances as they appear in the records:

  • To Mary Magdalene: Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:10-18
  • The other women at the tomb: Mt 28:8-10
  • Peter in Jerusalem: Lk 24:34  (1 Cor 15:5)
  • The two travellers on the road to Emmaus: Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35
  • Ten disciples behind closed doors: Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25
  • All eleven disciples (including Thomas): Jn 20:26-31 (1 Cor 15:5)
  • Seven disciples (at least) while fishing on the Sea of Galilee: Jn 21:1-14
  • Eleven disciples (at least) on a mountain in Galilee: Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18
  • A crowd of 500: 1 Cor 15:6
  • Jesus’ brother James: 1 Cor 15:7
  • Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven: Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
  • To Stephen: Acts 7:55,56
  • To Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus: Acts 9:3-6, 22:1-11
  • To John in a vision: Revelation, numerous times

The Record of Acts & the Epistles: Our temptation, when seeking to itemise the records of the resurrection is to limit ourselves to those above, but the reality is that those above who were involved and saw Jesus, did not keep quiet about it and so when we read through Acts, because there are so many references in the earlier chapters at least, we almost take them for granted, but the following are the times reference was made to Jesus rising from the dead in Acts alone:   2: 24,  2: 32, 3: 15, 4: 10,  5: 30, 10: 40, 13: 30, 13: 34. In the epistles, again we probably take them for granted but to make the point even more clearly, verses referring to Jesus being ‘raised’ are  Rom 4: 24, 25,  6:4,9,  7: 4, 8: 11,34,  10:9,   1Cor  6: 14,  15:4, 12,15,   2Cor 4: 14, 5:15,  Gal 1:1, Eph 1:20,  Col  2:12, 1Thess 1: 10,  2Tim  2:8, 1Pet 1: 21. It is so embedded in the New Testament writings that we probably almost pass them by without noticing this significance: the fact of Jesus’ resurrection gave credibility to the Gospel message and without it, that message would lose its power.

Apologetic Support: The atheistic skeptic comes up with a number of ways of trying to show that it did not happen as the records say, but we cannot just shrug aside the records for they are, in fact, so comprehensive and by so many witnesses. So let’s pick up the two most common of these things.

i) Wishful thinking: The skeptic says, “Well, of course, it was all wishful thinking, it’s what the disciples wanted to happen so they imagined it and made up folk tales to support their wishful thinking.” The only trouble is that that goes totally against the record. It is quite clear that a) the disciples struggled to understand and believe Jesus when he told them beforehand that it was going to happen, b) when his arrest and death did occur the disciples were in complete disarray, were frightened, fearful for their own lives and had hidden away and were in a state of shock and utterly believed he was dead and c) when he did appear to them their initial reaction was not joyful acceptance but disbelief.

ii) Propaganda: The skeptic then says, “Well, it was probably just propaganda to prop up their years of false belief in Jesus. He didn’t really rise, they just said he did, or perhaps they had a look-alike they used for a couple of weeks to con the other believers.” The problem here is twofold. First, is the total change around, and it is total, of the disciples from being a fear-filled bunch of cowards who abandoned their master and fled for cover in abject terror, to outward going, fearless preachers. Only the knowledge that is was true could affect them like that. Following on from that, second, is the fact that of the remaining eleven apostles (Judas having already committed suicide) ten of them died for their faith as martyrs. It was only John who died of old age. Nothing but the resurrection of Jesus could have caused such a transformation and total commitment of these men.

A Final Witness: One of the most telling of unlikely apologetics-witnesses comes in the form of a solicitor, Frank Morison, who wrote a book, “Who Moved the Stone” from the starting point, in his own words, in respect of the life of Christ that, “His history rested upon some very insecure foundations.” When he eventually came to write about the last seven days of Jesus’ life, his testimony was, “Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew that the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history was stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story which first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.” He then carried out deep and detailed study and the book closes with the words, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed –‘The third day he rose again from the dead’.”

I have written elsewhere in more detail about this part of the account of the Christ, but in this series of amazing information that challenges both mind and heart, the accounts of the resurrection likewise convicts both mind and heart for the person who is open and willing to investigate. He’s alive, he rose from the dead! Hallelujah!

49. Resurrection Necessity

 

Focus on Christ Meditations: 49.  Resurrection Necessity

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

As we move on looking at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, having considered the warnings beforehand that it was coming, before we move on to look at the facts of the resurrection, it would be profitable to consider WHY the resurrection is so vital to our beliefs.

The Problem Stated: The apostle Paul focused on this subject when he wrote, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3,4) In the next study we will consider the greater detail that then follows, but for the moment we need to look at his later remark which goes right to the heart of the matter: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.” (1 Cor 15:14,15)

Death in History: Our starting point, as we considered in some measure previously, is that Christ was dead and buried. If he stayed like that then he would find himself in a gallery of fame that included other famous religious leaders, e.g. Mohammed, Buddha and so on, let alone lesser but important leaders in history. The starting point has to be that history shows that all great men and women died, were dead and buried, and remained dead and buried. THE claim that separates Jesus Christ out from any other major leader, is that although he died, he did NOT remain dead; he rose from the dead, he was resurrected and in that, he is unique, there is NO one else like him in all history.

Two Critical Overview Consequences: Now look back at what Paul wrote: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Two things. First we have this New Testament  that, after the Gospels and Acts,  is full of the writings of Paul, Peter, James and John, and they all say the same thing, and it all hinges on the Lordship of Christ because of his resurrection. If Jesus was not raised then all that teaching was wrong and then, secondly, it means that our faith, founded on all this teaching, is unwarranted and pointless. It isn’t simply the fact of his resurrection that is important, it is also the consequences that flow from that. To understand that, we need to look at some of this teaching we find in the New Testament, and there we will see six consequences.

  1. Ground for Belief for Justification: Going through Romans, we see this again and again. Speaking about our lives, Paul wrote, “us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24) Now see this clearly. The whole of Paul’s teaching is that we are justified by belief and faith, just like Abraham was: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3) Abraham’s belief was focused on God’s power to bring new life to his body, give him a son and make him a nation, resurrection power, if you like! We are justified when we believe that Jesus died for us and rose again: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) The resurrection of Christ becomes the focal point of our belief. If it didn’t happen, we have nothing to believe in.
  2. Ground for Ascension & Rule: The apostle Peter focuses our belief as follows: “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:21,22) We focus on a Lord who was raised and subsequently ascended to heaven where he rules today. If he wasn’t raised, he couldn’t have ascended and would not be in heaven reigning gloriously today. Our faith would be pointless. Paul said the same thing: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:19,20)
  3. Ground for Our Power: But that takes us on to another aspect of this, for the power Paul spoke of there was the power we now have: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Hope, an inheritance and power, the same power as raised Christ. i.e. God releases that same power in us That’s what Paul also said in Romans: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4) and “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Christ being raised is paralleled with us being given a new life and that life is enabled by this same power. If that power DIDN’T come and raise Jesus, then all this is pie in the sky!
  4. Ground for Eternity: He repeats this with the Corinthians: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) But this is not just for now, it is also about our eternal future: “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (2 Cor 4:14)
  5. Ground for the Second Coming: But there is another aspect to be considered: “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” (1 Thess 1:10) We speak about waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming, but if he was not raised from the dead, then his body is still in the ground and has rotted and any talk about a glorious return in power (e.g. Rev 19) is meaningless.
  6. Ground for the Final Judgment: Yet, one more aspect. Men question whether there will be a final judgment. Yes, says Scripture, God keeps His word as the resurrection proves: For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:21) or, as the Message Version puts it, “He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

No, the resurrection provides a) a focus for our belief, b) a parallel for the power that is ours today that enables us to live today and c) which will also carry us into eternity, but it also shows d) how Jesus could ascend and rule at his Father’s right hand, and e) be there ready to return in glory at the appropriate time, and f) a confirmation that God’s agenda for the end is on course. Without it, all of Paul’s preaching was just pure deception and our faith meaningless wishes. That prepares the ground for us to go on and examine the equally important subject of the evidence for the resurrection which we will consider in the next study.

 

48. Resurrection Forewarned

Focus on Christ Meditations: 48.  Resurrection Forewarned

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

From death to resurrection. Jesus, we saw, had the power to raise others from the dead but now, with his own death, we are told it was the Father in heaven who now raised Jesus from the dead. As with his death we will consider what Scripture had to say about it BEFORE it happened, then the fact of it happening, and finally the significance of it happening. So, first of all, what warning was there that this is what was going to happen?

Let’s start with Jesus’ own words, as we said we would do. Yes, we have seen these verses before but let’s see them again to ensure we really and truly take in this particular aspect of them. They start in Mt 16:

  • From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Then there was,
  • “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) And finally there was,
  • “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) We have seen each of those before because they were linked with his explicitly speaking about his death.

However there are also other references in Matthew: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9) That verse did not make reference to the third day, but it certainly put Jesus’ resurrection on the agenda! Then there was, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,(Mt 12:39,40) a very specific reference to what would happen. The death would only appear as that over three days. After that there would be resurrection even as Jonah was given a new life after what was surely going to be death. Also at the Last Supper there is an oblique comment, “Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mt 26:31,32) There it is again, part of his agenda.

Now it becomes clear that Jesus words were not only discussed among the disciples they were talked about further afield, so much so that they got to the ears of the religious elite. We’ve seen it before but it is pertinent here: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 27:62-64) It was because of this claim that had become widely known that the authorities took these precautions, to prevent any false claims about it having happened. As far as they were concerned such a thing was preposterous and so they wanted to prevent the disciples staging any false resurrection appearances and claims, and so the first stop was to ensure the body remained in the tomb.

Next we turn to Old Testament prophecies to see if this was foretold. Now if you remember what we said when we did this with his death, you will remember that we said that although there are many prophecies about his kingship and the coming kingdom, there is little or nothing about his death. Having said that we should not be surprised, therefore, when we say there is only one reference in the Old Testament that was picked up in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:26,27 citing Psa 16:9,10)  Peter used this verse in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost to show that in fact the resurrection was expected. To that he added his absolute assurance about what had happened: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:29-32)

The apostle Paul also used it in his preaching for the same reason: “So it is stated elsewhere: ” `You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:35-37)

As we search among the strange verses of Isa 52/53 there is just a glimmer of the resurrection there: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” (Isa 53:10) Although death is implied there is also this strong hint that yet there will be life after it.

So again we see this mystery: the two main events of the existence of the Son of God on earth were hardly spoken about in the prophetic utterances of God’s men and women in the Old Testament. Why? We are not told. Perhaps because the Lord did not want to influence the outcome by telling of it beforehand. Perhaps if it had been laid out so clearly there would have been imposters trying to create it like a modern-day illusionist. Again the truth is that in hindsight there are indicators in the Old Testament but very tenuous, and yet when the Son of God comes, he is very specific with his disciples that this is what is going to happen.

No conjuring trick, no pretending death – crucifixion at the hands of one of the most brutal armies in the world does not allow that theory – no spiriting the body away and then having a look-alike stand-in afterwards – the apostles would not have given their lives for a lie – no, none of these possibilities stand scrutiny. That leads us on to the next study where we shall examine the details of what happened and ask, why would anyone make this up?

47. Death Reasons

Focus on Christ Meditations: 47.  Death Reasons

Jn 11:49,50   Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Mt 1:21  “Joseph …. you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

The two verses above summarise the two sets of reasons for the death of Jesus Christ. It was no accident but a purposeful event. We will deal first with the human reasons which we have really already touched upon in the previous study as we saw in Mark’s Gospel those arrayed against Jesus (Mk 3:6, 11:18, 14:1, 27:1). When we look behind those specific verses we see the opposition came because a) Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Mk 3) and thus violated what they saw as their Law, b) he overturned the market in the temple (Mk 11) and thus challenged their spirituality, c) he was present in the city at Passover (Mk 14) after a triumphal entry and was a potential threat to peace, and d) under interrogation he claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, and the prophetic Son of Man, all of which wrong-footed them and challenged their entire existence!

The threat was made clear in John where, before our verse above and after the raising of Lazarus, we read, some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:46-48) As far as they were concerned, the fact that he was performing miracles was a problem not a blessing because it meant the crowd were following him, and they had a potential uprising on their hands which they saw could mean the Romans cracking down on them. This was actually a very realistic assessment because it was after rebellion that, in AD70, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in it, which has never been rebuilt.

So those were the humans reasons – jealousy, fear and maybe even guilt. But there is an interlinking we should note of the divine AND human wills. Peter understood this under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as he preached on the Day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) These religious leaders, and indeed the Jews who were there on that day who had cried out for Barabbas to be released and Jesus be crucified, these were the human cause of Jesus’ death. And yet there was something far bigger behind their actions – “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”. At least seven times in the New Testament there are references to the fact of all this having been planned by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. God knew that sinful religious people, aided and abetted by the people and the Romans, if put under pressure, would rise up in their Sin and reject and crucify His Son.

That has to lead us on to the final part, the Divine Purpose behind Jesus’ death. It is strange that the prophets were largely silent on this aspect of his ministry. Yes, they saw the coming virgin child being a great leader who would usher in the kingdom of God, but the work of the Cross is largely absent from their words and writings, only understood in hindsight.

The prophetic servant songs of Isaiah speak of the coming one bringing justice (e.g. Isa 42:4) and indeed he will do great things of delivering prisoners (42:7) and He will make him the basis of a new covenant and a light for the rest of the world (42:6), but no mention of death. Even in Isa 52,53 where we have previously considered, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed,” (53:5), if we are honest we have to see it is not clearly spelled out. Even in the amazing Psalm 22 we can now see with hindsight, so much that applies to Christ dying on the Cross, but its original readers must have been confused at its lack of clarity. So yes, there were prophetic hints but that is all they were.

When we come to the Gospels we have these general words, “he will save his people from their sins,” but even John does not spell it out and just relies on the facts of what happened, but virtually nothing about the why. It is almost as if the Godhead wanted to largely keep to themselves – at the time – what they are doing, because it is for THEIR benefit first and foremost, and only then for our benefit.

Now I hope that doesn’t sound heretical but it is true that the divine reasons for Christ’s death are not fully spelled out until at least twenty years after his death. Yet Jesus himself, on the road to Emmaus, chided the two anguishing disciples, saying, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:26) Indeed Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Malachi all said many things about ‘the Coming One’ but there is still little or nothing about the Cross.

The apostle Paul in his great letter to the Romans first explains about God’s anger against unpunished sin which covers both Jew and Gentile (ch.1-3) and then declares, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’,  “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”.

To justify us – to put us right with Himself, so that the estranged human race could have the possibility of coming back to God in a living and loving relationship with God – justice which demands wrong doing be punished, must be satisfied and so God satisfied it (and Satan’s accusations) by taking the punishment in Himself in the form of His Son.

The apostle John wrote the same thing of Christ: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2) The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Pet 3:18) I will leave you to peruse the letter to the Hebrews where Jesus is portrayed not only as the high priest who brings us to God, but also as the sacrifice for sins in the same way that animals were sacrificed for sins in the Old Testament era. In Revelation 5 we see Jesus as the Lamb of God standing before the throne of his Father while all heaven sings, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Justice is satisfied, the universe is at peace, sinful mankind can return to God because the Christ has died in our place. This is the will of God for us to receive. Hallelujah!

46. Death Fact

Focus on Christ Meditations: 46.  Death Fact

Mt 27:1  Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death

Mt 27:24,26  When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” …. Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

In our studies on the Christ, the death of the Christ is of paramount importance. In the previous study we considered the warnings – or the absence thereof – of the death of Christ that were given by Christ, but were limited in the prophets, and in the next study we will go on to see the reasons why the death came about, from both a human standpoint and from God’s standpoint. But now, however, we pause to consider the reality of this death, because there are those, especially of one of the other major world faiths, who suggest that actually Christ never died and some alternative fanciful ideas are put forward.

My original intent was to go through the Gospels and itemise the various verses that take up so much of the back quarter or even third of these four books, but it is a big task and in some ways a dispiriting task and so I simply invite you to read the accounts for yourself for they are full and comprehensive.

Instead, what I want to do is approach the whole subject in a different way. What is clear is that, as our first verse above shows, it was the clear intention of the religious elite to have Jesus put to death and we’ll come back to that in a moment and look at it in more detail tomorrow. It is also clear that they pressurised the weak Roman governor into ordering Christ’s execution; that at least is how they saw it. In reality, observing the details, one might suggest it was pure outright premeditated murder carried out in the name of the state.

But my sense is that we are not to wade through the details but we are to look calmly and logically at what was going on and then ask, in the light of the basic facts laid out before us, is there any space to suggest that Christ did NOT die?

To answer that question I want us to consider the opposition that was mounted against Christ by what I have called the religious elite. It is Mark who leads the charge on this: Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mk 3:6). Then, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11;18) And then, “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” (Mk 14:1) Add to that our first verse above and you have a very strong picture: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.” (Mt 27:1)

Look at that list: Pharisees, Herodians, teachers of the law, chief priests, elders of the people. We’ll see tomorrow why they felt this strongly but there is no doubt about their intentions – it is to kill Christ. Now in case we have any doubt about this, see what happened AFTER Christ’s death and he had been buried: The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” (Mt 27:62-66) At that point they have NO doubts that they have a dead body in a tomb with a large stone over it which they sealed, and that the body must stay there to counter any plots for propaganda claims of a resurrection. At that point there are no signs that Jesus is anything other than dead.

To strengthen this point we need to remind ourselves that on the Cross the Roman soldiers, with hearts calloused by daily deaths, had looked at the body hanging there, decided that he was dead, and just to make sure, stuck a spear in his side so that liquid poured out and carried on pouring out. If we consider this alongside what we know of modern medicine, then even if there is a glimmer of life left in this body – and these expert executioners (and their lives depend on it!) are sure there isn’t – the only attention the body is given is to be rapidly wrapped in cloths before being put into the tomb-cave. There he is left over Friday night, all day Saturday, and into the later hours of Sunday morning, in the cold; technically three days, possibly 36 hours.

With the blood loss, the beatings and the spear in the side, there is no way any rational person can suggest a) this body is not dead and b) if there was an ounce of life in him he could undress himself and walk out of the cave and find clothes and get dressed. In modern parlance, he was on death’s edge at the best, but in reality almost one hundred per cent certainly, dead.

We have already touched on it above, but not only did the religious authorities want Jesus dead, but it was also in Pilate’s interest to keep the peace, to make sure Jesus was dead. If Jesus had come back after the crucifixion experience, in Pilate’s mind surely, this was the stuff that revolutions are made of, and we can’t have that. To suggest that the disciples got in and provided medical aid for Jesus, flies in the face of the evidence: they fled and were afraid of being arrested and suffering a similar fate. No, it was only the women who acted without that thought and they didn’t turn up until Sunday morning. (Note they didn’t come with medicine to revive, but spices etc. to make the death more acceptable).

Observing realistically the religious and civil authorities’ fears of Jesus as a potential leader of an uprising, and noting the intensity of that opposition (and the absence of Jesus’ followers), it is a foolish person, or an ignorant person who has never considered these things in detail, who can deny the claims of the Gospels which are clearly there – that Jesus Christ, was executed and was dead and buried. Having observed all this, it is now time to look at the reasons why Christ died.

45. Death Forewarned

PART SIX: Death,  Resurrection & Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 45.  Death Forewarned

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And so we must move on and leave the activities of Jesus during his three years of ministry, to go  to the closing days and hours of his life and then what followed. Throughout this series, and I know I have emphasised it more than once, I have sought to counter the familiarity with which many of us live. In this day of, not only regular Sunday services but so much TV preaching being available, I believe this can almost make us over-familiar with God’s word and so we take it for granted and lose the sense of wonder and awe that a new believer so often has when approaching it for the first time.  For this reason I am going to take time over the death, resurrection and ascension of the Christ and ask you to read the accounts afresh as if reading for the first time.

Accepting that Jesus did die on the Cross, the fact of which we will consider in another study, the question I want to ask us is, contrary to our familiarity, what evidence is there, if any, that the death of the Messiah or Christ was expected?

If I may start on the easy part, what did Jesus himself say about his death?  We have seen it before but it does bear repeating. Three times Matthew records Jesus warning his disciples that it was going to happen: first, From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Note two thing about this. First with the explicit detail given, there can be no mistake whatsoever about the clarity of Jesus’ understanding of what was going to happen – go to Jerusalem, suffering, killed and then raised on the third day. It’s all there. Second, note Jesus uses the word ‘killed’ and not ‘executed’. This is not going to be a legitimate or even legal execution, we will go on to see.

Then a second time: “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) The previous account had been Matthew’s record but this one now includes Jesus’ own words and within these is the idea that he is going to be ‘betrayed’, which is a word with strong emotional undertones and speaks of disloyalty and even deception. These are the ingredients that will lead up to Jesus death at the hands of the religious and then civil authorities.

Finally, a third time: “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) This again is in Jesus’ own words and, combining the previous two, adds even more detail: Jerusalem, betrayal, in the hands of the religious authorities who will condemn him to the Gentile overlords, the Romans, who will first mock and flog him and then crucify him. When we come to observe the resurrection we will note in these same verses the clear claim that he will rise from the dead, but that is for later on.

Mark and Luke have only one of these instances and John, presumably because he feels Matthew had covered it well, does not give any direct references such as these but we do see Jesus giving indication that his time with his disciples was almost up. In Jn 13:1 it is John who states that he knew what Jesus was thinking: “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.” The washing the disciples feet is also put in that context (see 13:2,3,11,18,21,27) then specifically he declares, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” (13:33, also 14:2,3, 28-31, 16:5,7,10,16,19,20,28)  Thus many times in that last discourse he alludes to the fact of his leaving them, though not the how or why.

Now these have all been warnings during the time of Jesus’ ministry and it is fair to ask, what about in the prophecies in the Old Testament, were there the same indications there, should the Jews (and thus, disciples) have been expecting this?

Perhaps, as a starting point, there is the reference, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” (Psa 118:22) which Jesus himself referred to (e.g. Mt 21:42) and which Peter referred to both when he was preaching (Acts 4:11) and in his first letter (1 Pet 2:7), though I wonder how many of the scribes associated that reference with the Coming One, the Messiah?

But then that might be true of other verses from the psalms, for example the cries of Psa 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) Many of the verses that follow can, after the event, be directly linked to the Cross and all Jesus went through, but when it was first written I wonder how many dared link it to the Messiah?

Then in Isaiah in the Servant Song of Ch.52,53 we find those mysterious words, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” (Isa 52:14) followed a bit later by, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5), words that we so easily attribute to what happened to Jesus but which, at the time, I suggest were utterly mysterious to the listeners to Isaiah.

A while later Zechariah uttered one or two things in this direction, which must have left his hearers somewhat mystified: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zech 12;10) and the even more mysterious words, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” (Zech 13:7) which was quoted by Jesus on the night of his arrest (Mt 26:31)

Although there are many prophecies we today call descriptions of the Coming Messiah, many of them just hung there as stars in the sky but leaving the listeners wondering and without much understanding. This, I suggest, takes  us right back to our earliest studies in this series where we referred to ‘the mystery of Christ’. The curse in the Garden of Eden is usually taken to refer to Jesus versus Satan: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15) Satan will be crushed while he injures, but not fatally, the seed of the woman – the Coming Messiah. Hints but no more. That is really all the Lord gave them. Little wonder they struggled when Jesus sought to tell them what was coming.

44. Accepting Love (3)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 44.  Accepting Love (3)

Lk 15:20    So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Having observed how Jesus expressed the Father’s love by acceptance in the past two studies, we now move on to see how that love is reflected in his teaching or even in his general conversation.  Now something that I confess I have found somewhat surprising is that Jesus rarely spoke of his own love for people. It is the writer John who picks up such references, but they only occur in the closing hours in the upper room.

First Jesus teaches, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). The basis of his command for us to love one another is the fact that he has first loved his disciples. The fact that they are ’disciples’ means they should replicate the life of ‘the Master’ and that means they will love as Jesus has loved.

Second, a little later, he teaches the same thing: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (Jn 15:9) to which he then adds, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (v.12,13) with the clear implication (seen retrospectively) that his death will also be an expression of his love for them, in addition to what he has shown them so far.

It is John who adds commentary to this effect, but it comes in what Jesus said earlier: “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,” (Jn 13:1) and then goes on to show Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, but perhaps John’s meaning was deeper than that and referred to the coming ordeal of the Cross.

As we have shown in the previous two studies, Jesus’ love was best demonstrated. One such time we have not noted previously was when he came to the tomb of Lazarus: “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (J 11:35,36) The words here suggest this was not the weeping that so often accompanied death, better described as ‘wailing’ but was a spontaneous outpouring of grief; certainly for Lazarus but maybe even more for Mary and Martha and all the other affected by the death of Lazarus. Just prior to this Jesus had seen Mary weeping and we read, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (v.33) Even though Jesus was completely in control and knew what the outcome was going to be, he nevertheless was moved by all the anguish he observed that was caused by death.

But what about his teaching? Doesn’t he teach about his own love? The answer has to be, mostly not. Yes, he taught about us loving God but strangely there is little the other way round, though of course John makes the famous declaration, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) and others picked up on it, e.g. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(Eph 5:25) and “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

So why this absence? It is, I suggest, similar to the fact that the Bible never defends God; it always simply states what He said or did and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. He is, if you like, big enough and great enough not to need any defense. So, similarly, with Jesus, his actions – coming to earth from heaven, living in a limited human body, ministering the authority and power of heaven to bring healings, deliverances and other ‘miracles’, then giving his life to death on the Cross, all of this speaks of his love more eloquently than any words could do. It is a challenge to us – don’t talk about it, do it!

John himself clearly felt loved when he makes oblique references to himself – “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby.” (Jn 19:26) and “she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” (Jn 20:2) Surely Jesus loved them all and yet John particularly felt it. Perhaps that is how it is with us – we are all loved by God but some of us are particularly aware of it.

Jesus’ teaching rarely spoke of the Father’s love for us, as such, but the exception must be hidden in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father surely has to be God, and when the son returns we find, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) What a beautiful picture – God on the lookout for the returning prodigals (us) and the moment He sees us coming back to Him He runs to hug us and welcome us back to be part of His family, as we were intended to be from the outset.

And so, as a teacher I feel challenged by this. It is easy to teach using words but Jesus did it mostly by example. He rarely spoke about his love except near the end to bring a sharper focus, but instead throughout his three years of ministry, he just loved and loved as he accepted people as they were, chiding sometimes, challenging sometimes, rebuking sometimes, but all because he loved and longed for us to receive and enter into the best that he desires for us. So will others speak about me as a teacher or as an example of love? I hope both, but I think it will be the latter that will touch hearts while the former touches minds. For each of us, do the world around us know us as people of love, loved by the Father, loved by the Son, pouring out the Spirit (of love) and therefore people who express love?

43. Accepting Love (2)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 43.  Accepting Love (2)

Jn 8:11    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

We started, in the previous study, considering how Jesus showed love to those he encountered and we considered, in general, the ‘sinners and tax-collectors’ and then the specific case of Zacchaeus as we saw Jesus love expressed as unconditional acceptance. Now having said it was unconditional we have to note three things, as we seek to understand Jesus’ love.

First, the very nature of God IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that means that everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love and so, because Jesus is the Son of God, we may expect him to express this same unchanging and therefore unconditional love.

Second, His expression of love will vary (although His love doesn’t) and so we see Jesus responding differently to a) his disciples, who he knew were imperfect but expected to change and so chided on occasions of ‘little faith’, b) the crowds who he accepted would often be there for what they could get from him – healing or food – and nevertheless gave them those things as well as his teaching and then finally, c) what I will call the ‘religious antagonists’, those who purported to represent God but who were, in reality’ far from true representatives and were out for themselves, and they he rebuked soundly. Each expression IS an expression of love: expectations of his disciples, acceptance of limited understanding of the crowds, and challenging the intransigent hardness of heart of the religious apparent leaders of society.

Third, Jesus’ love is long-term and ultimate and so although he may have to chide his disciples, tolerate but bless the crowds, and rebuke the antagonists, he is doing these things in his desire for the best of each of them in the long-term. For his disciples he raised the bar of expectation for them, so they would grow in faith, and that would sometimes involve chiding them when they didn’t rise to it – because he knew they could! For the crowds his hope was ever that they would hear his teaching and see beyond the miracles and realise God was also calling them to follow. As the parable of the Sower shows, he knew that some would hear but ignore, some would hear, follow, but then give up, and so it was only a limited percentage who would hear, eventually respond, become his followers and become fruitful. For the antagonists, within their ranks he knew there were those whose hearts were questioning and although mostly they had gone along with the rest, nevertheless their questioning hearts might hear, respond and bring them though. Nicodemus was such an example (see Jn 3:1-, 7:50, 19:39)

Perhaps we should add a fourth important thing and that is that the expression of love by Jesus will be unique to the person before him. Love is not a mechanical thing, it reaches out to bless the person before it – in whatever way is pertinent to them. There are three people in particular who we find in the Gospels, who come to mind.

The first is the adulterous woman, apparently caught in adultery (but where is the man?), who is brought before Jesus. (Jn 8:3-11) It is a group of the ‘antagonists’ – teachers of the Law and Pharisees – who bring her to Jesus. They point out that the Law required stoning for such a woman, so what does Jesus say about it? Presumably they either want him to be harsh and conform to the Law and condemn here, or let her off and appear to be a Law-breaker. A no-win situation! But this is the Son of God, and love sees a way through and wisdom prevails. OK, he says, whoever of you have never sinned, you can be the first to cast a stone. They go silent and sidle away. Reality prevails and Jesus has loved her and accepted her, but he’s still got her best in mind when he says, Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11). He knows the truth about her but he’s more concerned to redeem her than condemn her. Nothing that we have done pushes the love of Jesus away.

The second is a leper who came to Jesus: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.” (Mt 8:2,3) Now lepers were among the outcasts that we mentioned previously, unable to be touched by anyone and living in little communities out of town. So this man comes with faith in Jesus and Jesus heals him, but that is not the point that screams out at us – it is that Jesus reached out and touched the man BEFORE he was healed. If that is not a sign of loving acceptance, I don’t know what is. It is almost as if Jesus makes the point and says, nothing can come between you and your unclean nature, and me. Nothing that we are pushes away the love of Jesus.

The third is the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). It is midday and Jesus is resting while the disciples go into Samaria for provisions. This woman comes to get water. The fact that it is midday and in the worst heat of the day is the first clue that she is an outcast from society. Jesus asks her to draw water for him. He has just crossed two cultural divides. First because she was a woman and second because she was a Samaritan, disliked by the Jews for their history. No respectable Jewish man traveling would have spoken to her. The fact that she is there at that time also presupposes she is not someone a respectable Jews should encounter – but Jesus does. After teasing her with talk about ‘living water’ he suddenly says, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (4:16) She responds, “I have no husband.” (4:17)

True but only half the truth. Jesus faces her with the truth revealing his prophetic insight: “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (4:17,18) Wow! Look at that, the truth squashed between two affirmations: “You are right when you say you have no husband…. What you have just said is quite true.” These two are indeed affirmations but in so doing they almost accentuate the fact that she has not spoken the important part of her situation.

Now to understand this situation we must realise that divorce was instigated by the husband and so five times this girl has been rejected by men and she is now living with a man who has not committed himself to her. In our modern Western societies, it is the fear of rejection, of not being loved, that makes so many young girls and women give way to the desires of men, not realizing that is not sex that brings love. Now if you read on you will see that she sidesteps this and Jesus does NOT bring her back to it. It is enough that he knows and she knows he knows! The conversation that follows reveals him as messiah and she accept that and goes and tells others about him. No, we don’t know if she changed her lifestyle but it is probable. Cultural divides and dysfunctional lifestyles will not push away the love of Jesus.

So here is love looking beyond the sin to redemption, looking beyond the uncleanness to the person, looking beyond the cultural divides and utterly dysfunctional lifestyle to the person. How often do we allow sin, ‘uncleanness’, prejudice and a dysfunctional lifestyle, to keep us from touching the person with love, Jesus’ love?  Time for change?