39. John on Patmos

People who met Jesus : 39 :  John on Patmos

Rev 1:9,10,12,13 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me…. someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.

I never intended writing this meditation until I was doing the previous one and realised that, like Paul, John had encountered the risen and ascended Lord Jesus. Now I know that earlier in this series I covered the apostle John but never touched on this incident. This is as much a time-space historical incident as any other and is a legitimate meeting between John and Jesus. Each of these encounters has told us something about the person and something about Jesus, and this one is no exception.

Most scholars date the book of Revelation as being written by John about AD95 which makes it something like 62-65 years after the death of Jesus. John must be in his eighties or even his early nineties. As noted in the earlier meditation we consider John is the apostle who became a senior elder in the Church and probably settled in Ephesus where eventually he was arrested in a time of persecution and was exiled to the prison island of Patmos, where he stayed for possibly a couple of years before being returned to Ephesus to see out his remaining years. He is an elder statesman of the church, one who knew he was especially loved by his Lord. He isn’t going to be martyred but he surely has only a few years left on this earth before he goes to meet his Saviour in heaven.

It is a Sunday (as the Christians had now designated it the first day of the week, or the Lord’s Day). Presumably he has been praying and is caught up in the Spirit when he suddenly hears an incredibly loud voice. He turns to see who is addressing him in such a way and receives a revelation that has astounded men ever since.

There before him stands one in the form of a man who stands in the midst of seven Lampstands which are later shown to be the seven churches of Asia Minor (v.20). He holds in his hand seven stars which are shown to be the angels or leaders of those churches (v.20).  He is clearly coming as Lord of the church. He is dressed in the manner of a priest or judge of that day. In that form his characteristics are even more significant. His white hair indicates age and wisdom. His eyes penetrate and see everything.  His mouth speaks words that cut right through to the heart of the matter and destroy all opposition. His face shines with absolute purity, there is no doubt whatsoever that what this Being says will be absolutely right. We see Jesus here in a very different form from that seen in the Gospels, as the Lord of the church, one who comes on behalf of the church of God (see 1 John 2:1,2), and yet one who comes with corrective and challenging words to His church. He is Lord AND Saviour (judge and priest)!

His effect on John is similar to that which we saw in Saul – he fell at his feet as though dead. Such was His awesome presence!  He then touched John, apparently to restore him, and encouraged him with one of the Bible’s 366 “fear not’s”.  He described himself as one who exists in eternity (first and last), who is living, but was dead, and who, because he was resurrected, now lives for ever.  Without a doubt this is the risen and reigning Lord Jesus. Because of what he has done and who he is, he also has the authority to say who enters death, who enters Hades (hell) and when.  He is the supreme overseer over life and death.  He has earned that right.

Jesus comes to reassure and the way He does it is by revealing the wonder of who he is himself. Before he commissions John he reassures and strengthens him. Then he goes on to instruct John to record a) what he has seen, b) what is happening [Revelation 2 & 3] and then c) what he will be shown will happen later on [Revelation 4 onwards]. In conclusion He reveals Himself as the one who speaks as Lord over the church, and what follows in the next two chapters is His word to these churches.

So, to conclude our series, we have two very different people from the ones we have seen previously. John is an aged and revered elder who is still to be a mouthpiece for his Lord. It is almost as if he is being rewarded for his long-term faithfulness by being given this revelation. Jesus is no longer the itinerant preacher but the risen Lord and Saviour of the world. He is head over the Church and comes with words of both correction and encouragement. He comes now as a figure before whom no man will stand. Now he is awesome, now he is to be revered and worshipped. This is the Jesus who today is reigning at his Father’s right hand in heaven, before one day we will stand. This is a very different Jesus from the man who walked in Galilee. This is the Son of God as he really is. How wonderful. Worship him!

38. Saul

People who met Jesus : 38 :  Saul

Acts 9:3-7 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.

Of all of our encounters with Jesus so far, this has to be the strangest. Jesus has died, has risen and has ascended into heaven. Life on earth carries on. For a zealous young Pharisee going by the name of Saul of Tarsus, this meant cleansing Judaism of false cults, and particularly of the cult of the followers of the now-dead Jesus of Nazareth. He had recently witnessed the stoning of the heretic, Stephen (see Acts 7:58, 8:1), and had then gone on to persecute the Christians and “destroy the church” (Acts 8:3), putting Christians in prison. As part of his campaign to round up the Christians, Saul went to the high priest and obtained permission to go to Damascus and arrest and bring back any Christians he found there upsetting Judaism (Acts 9:1,2)

Thus we come to our verses today where Paul is on his journey to Damascus. He was later to testify that it was about noon (Acts 26:13). Suddenly it was as if a spotlight from heaven shone on him. Whether it was the sun breaking through the clouds on him or a supernatural light we aren’t told specifically, yet the latter is more likely for he fell to the ground. Something impacted him and all strength went from him. This is more likely than he simply knelt down for there was no reason for him to do that. Loss of physical strength is known to sometimes be a response when the powerful presence of the Lord comes.

As he lies there on the floor, he hears a voice speaking to him, asking why he was persecuting him. His response indicates that he realises that he is having some sort of heavenly encounter for he asks, “Who are you Lord?” It may sound a strange question to ask God but sometimes in the presence of the Lord you do find yourself asking questions that seem to have been inspired by Him. It enables the Lord to declare himself. He is Jesus! The one who is speaking to Saul is the risen Jesus. He has come to call this zealous but wrongly directed young man to a new calling, to become one of the greatest mouthpieces of the Church. For the moment Saul has not got a clue what the future holds. All he knows is that he is now blind (see v.9) and had to be led by the hand to reach Damascus where Jesus has made arrangements for him (see following verses).

Later on Paul, as he was to become known, spoke of his pedigree: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil 3:5,6) yet all of this, he realised, counted for nothing. All this, he realised, did nothing for his standing before God, because he had been persecuting His Son, and now knowing the risen Lord Jesus was THE most important thing in life for Paul, indeed it was life itself.

The life that followed for this young Pharisee was indeed incredible. He wrote many letters to the local churches that he had helped establish and he travelled many miles in establishing them. He stands out in the New Testament as the most influential apostle. His writings, coming down the years of history, have transformed the church. He had insights about his lord and about his lord’s church like no other apostle. He was indeed a remarkable person and he was used by the Lord in a major way in establishing the Church.

This is all the more remarkable for the fact that he had opposed the church and seen it as a subversive force, undermining Judaism. He summed up his own experience in the light of what the early church knew of him, The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Gal 1:23)  Expanding on that he told them, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But … God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, (Gal 1:13-16)

Why doesn’t God turn all rebels around, someone might ask, and I think the answer is that He is only able to do that dependent on the heart of the individual. Paul was all out for God – but didn’t realise he was going the wrong way. Thus when he received the revelation on the Damascus road, he willingly received it – accompanied as it was by the supernatural voice and blinding experience – and went all out in the new direction. A question we might ask ourselves is, are we open to be redirected by God and will we be all out for Him as He guides?

37. Joseph of Arimathea

People who met Jesus : 37 :  Joseph of Arimathea

Jn 19:38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

It is not easy to stand out from the crowd. In fact when you are in the minority it is often very difficult and you can face ridicule and rejection. Standing up for the truth, when everyone else is going in the opposite direction can be both difficult and even dangerous, yet that is what we are faced with when we come across the references to Joseph of Arimathea – and he only appears in a few verses.

Joseph of Arimathea, although appearing in few verses, appears in all four Gospels. Jesus has just died in the middle of the afternoon, and Matthew tells us when this occurred: As evening approached.” (v.57a). Each of them in slightly different words, tell us what John tells us in our verse above, that he “asked Pilate for the body of Jesus,” and that Pilate gave permission for him to take it. It is Mark who tells us that, “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.” (Mk 15:44,45) i.e. the handover had not be straight forward, for Pilate had had to check with the centurion who was overseeing the crucifixions that Jesus had actually died. It must have taken some courage for Joseph to have gone to Pilate which is why Mark records, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” (Mk 15:43). Now our reason for saying that comes from all else we find out about Joseph.

Let’s consider what the accounts tell us about Joseph. Matthew tells us that he was “a rich man from Arimathea ….. who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” (Mt 27:57) Luke simply adds that Arimathea was a town in Judea. It is thought that it was a small town about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. So he’s not a Galilean; he’s a southerner. Mark tells us that Joseph was, “a prominent member of the Council.” (Mk 15:43). Luke confirms he was a member of the council, the Sanhedrin.

We have already noted that Matthew identifies him as a man who had “become a disciple of Jesus,” (Mt 27:57) as we see above John does. Both Luke and Mark describe him as a man who was “waiting for the kingdom of God (Mk 15:43, Lk 23:51). Luke also describes him as a “good and upright man,” (Lk 23:50) and Luke also adds, in respect of the council’s decision to act against Jesus, that he “had not consented to their decision and action.” (Lk 23:51)

Thus we see that Joseph was a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin who had obviously encountered Jesus, had become a follower, and was looking for the rule of God to come, and wasn’t afraid to stand out in disagreement with the rest of the Council, and now came to perform a simple service for Jesus after he was dead.

What was that service? Matthew tells us that, Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”(Mt 27:58-60). Mark confirms this as does Luke. Instead of allowing the body to simply be put in a criminal’s grave, Joseph wants to give Jesus a proper burial and so uses his own new tomb that had never been used before. It is interesting that Joseph’s original home was some twenty miles away from Jerusalem but he clearly now lives in or near Jerusalem and already has a tomb carved out for his own future use, in the surrounding area.

So what have we found out about Joseph? He is wealthy, a follower of Jesus, a prominent public figure, a member of the Council, but not afraid to go against the flow and disagree with them when they determine to do something he considers wrong, and not afraid to go to Pilate for the body of one considered a criminal. What stands out in all this? He is not afraid to stand out for Jesus (even when he considers Jesus dead). He is willing to risk reputation and, perhaps, even his position on the Council. What a challenge! How many of us keep quiet when we are in the minority and someone with a large mouth is denigrating Jesus or Christians generally? I always quake at God’s words to the old priest, Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1 Sam 2:30) We have been warned!

36. Pilate

People who met Jesus : 36 :  Pilate

Jn 18:28,29 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Pontius Pilate does not read well in history. He is the Roman Governor in Jerusalem and he is backed by the might of Rome. He features strongly in these closing hours of Jesus’ life. While the name of Caiaphas is mentioned only 9 times in the Gospels, Pilate’s name appears 61 times. As the Roman Governor he is the final authority in Jerusalem and although Caiaphas may be the topmost man in Judaism, while Israel is under the dominion of Rome, Pilate is the man with ultimate authority.

He enters the story when Jesus is brought to him early on the Friday morning by the senior Jews who are seeking his death, for only Pilate has the authority to bring the judgment of death. When they come to Pilate he asks, what are the charges? They reply that Jesus is a criminal (Jn 18:30) and so he tells them to go and judge him by their own laws and they object that they have no right of execution (v.31). It is then that Pilate takes Jesus inside to interrogate him and he asks him if he is the king of the Jews (v.33) Now this may appear a strange diversion except Luke tells us what led to this: And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Lk 23:2) In their accusations they try to bring out things that would get Pilate’s interest.

Thus the conversation with Pilate now revolves around Jesus being a king which ends in Pilate feeling that he is harmless and so for the first time he declares him innocent: “Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Lk 23:4) At which point they declare, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” (Lk 23:5). This gives Pilate a way out: “On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” (Lk 23:6,7). So, so far we have one declaration of innocence and one grabbing at a straw not to have to make a judgment.

Thus Jesus is sent to Herod who interrogates him – unsuccessfully – and sends him back to Pilate, so next we find, Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” (Lk 23:13-16) Note: a second declaration of innocence and a further attempt at getting Jesus off from the death penalty.

Pilate then offers the choice of Jesus or Barabbas to be released as was the custom at the Passover (Mt 27:15) but the crowds call for Barabbas to be released. This further ploy to get Jesus off has not worked. So again we find, “For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” (Lk 23:22). Now the crowds get stirred on: “they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Mt 27:23) and at this point Pilate caves in: “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!” (Mt 27:24) But Pilate, you can’t do that; it IS your responsibility! You alone have the power over death in this situation; merely washing your hands doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility!

Thus it was that Jesus was then taken away to be crucified. The man with the final authority had failed to use it. At least three times he had declared Jesus innocent. Several times he had sought to avoid making a judgment against Jesus, yet at the end of the day he condemned an innocent man by appearing to opt out – but he was in no position to opt out. He was Rome’s representative in Jerusalem. He could have done what the high priests feared and used the power of his legions against them – but it was easier not to and so an innocent man was condemned. What a travesty of justice!

Pilate screams across history at us, you cannot avoid your duty, if you are in positions of power, and expect to get away with it. You will go down in history as a coward and you will be answerable to God. Public figures have many perks that go with their positions but they also carry greater responsibility and will answerable to God when they fail to exercise it rightly. Pilate’s terrible failures to stand up and be counted for justice bring warning to all who hold similar positions of power. be warned, you are answerable to God.

35. Caiaphas

People who met Jesus : 35 :  Caiaphas

Jn 18:24 Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Luke merely mentions Caiaphas as an historical marker for John the Baptist, as we saw in the previous meditation. Mark doesn’t mention him. Matthew gives him a couple of references, but it is left to John to give most detail.

Matthew shows us that Caiaphas was involved right from the start in plotting Jesus’ death: Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Mt 26:3-5) The plotting starts in a meeting called by the Jewish leaders, which is held in the palace of Caiaphas; it obviously has his blessing.

John adds detail to that particular meeting: “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.” Then one of them, named 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.” (Jn 11:47-50) There John shows us that Caiaphas was there in the midst of this meeting and came right out with it – it is better for one man to die than the nation rebels and is destroyed by Rome (implied). Older versions say, instead of ‘it is better’, ‘it is more expedient’. Expediency is what politics often works with, and that has little to do with the truth!

When it comes to the arrest and trial Matthew records, “Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled…… The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” (Mt 26:57,59,60) which is exactly true but he misses out on the fact that they first took Jesus to Annas. Thus John records, “They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people,” (Jn 18:12-14) to set the record straight.

Matthew gave a good coverage of Jesus’ interrogation by the high priest (see Mt 26:57-66) and so John doesn’t bother to cover it. He simply provides the link, “Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor.(Jn 18:28) We might consider why these two reporters cover what they cover. Matthew seems to cover the basics of the situation but John wrote a lot later and was also known by the high priest (see Jn 18:15,16) and had access to the palace, possibly with family connections, and would have picked up some of the detail from insiders there.

So, we are left with a picture of the high priest in office, equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England, the senior post leader of Judaism, living in a palace and being part of the plot to destroy this itinerant preacher who looks like he could upset the political balance between Israel and Rome. Thus he must go!

We saw in the previous meditation how Annas was involved as ‘the power behind the throne’, the older man ousted from his position but now exercising influence even though not officially the high priest in place. But now we see Caiaphas, who is high priest in place, planning to act against Jesus even before he has arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. This is not a casual, off-the-cuff, attack on Jesus, but a premeditated carefully thought out scheme. This is a politician at a most senior level acting “for the good of the country” as he sees it. The only problem is that he is also the most senior religious figure and, we would expect, should be the best example of God’s representative on earth. So there you have it: the man who should be the best example of God’s representative on earth, acting against God and plotting to destroy God’s Son. How wrong can you get!

We mentioned the dangers of institutionalism in the previous meditation, so we don’t need to touch it again here, even though it applies. The bigger message or warning here is, how easy it is to get it wrong. This man in power, the most powerful man in Judaism was almost certainly most sincere and utterly convinced he was acting for the good of Israel. Well he was, and for the whole world, but in a way quite different to the way he thought. He was acting as the priest who had to sacrifice the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), the Passover lamb to avert the judgment of God and take the sins of the world – but he didn’t know that that was what he was doing. He was doing it for a completely different reason. He was doing what he thought was right to protect Israel, but only God can protect Israel, only God can protect the church and the moment we start working in the same way that the world works, we will have gone wrong.

The weapons we use are spiritual, not material or political. We may engage in politics and have some influence in the world, but it will only be true influence if we are doing it at the leading of God. Indeed, in whatever we do, we will only have true influence if we are doing it at the leading of God. There was one thing about this supposed man of God at the top of Judaism – he couldn’t hear God. If he had he wouldn’t have had the Son of God killed. He would have had to leave that to someone else, someone else who was listening to the enemy.

Now isn’t that terrible – this man obviously listened to the enemy who wanted Jesus stopped. Fortunately the enemy didn’t realise what God was planning by allowing His Son to die on the Cross, but it was an enemy action. When Peter, on the day of Pentecost, described what happened he declared, “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) This was an act of “wicked men” who with wrong motivation sought the death of the Son of God – and Caiaphas headed them up. What a warning to those of us in positions of power!

34. Annas

People who met Jesus : 34 :  Annas

Jn 18:12-13 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.

We now move to consider dark times and those involved in them. Yes, these are people who met Jesus but not in good circumstances. The first mention of Annas in the Gospels is in Luke as an historical marker for John the Baptist: during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” (Lk 3:2) Caiaphas was the official high priest and he was son-in-law of Annas who had been deposed by the Romans in AD15, yet it was supposed by the Jews that the high priesthood was supposed to be held for life. Thus it is that we find both of these men being referred to as the High Priest. The position was that of the highest religious leader and was very powerful.

It is significant that the arresting party took Jesus first to Annas for the old man was obviously the ‘power behind the throne’. Annas is going to present the first line of questioning in this dubious series of events. Throughout the preceding week Jesus had been in Jerusalem teaching and healing and had clearly received opposition from each of the religious groupings including the priests, those who attended the Temple in Jerusalem as officials of Judaism. He had clearly upset the religious establishment. It had been after the raising of Lazarus that it had come to a head: 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 11:47,48) ‘Our place’ that they referred to was, of course, the Temple. They feared that Jesus’ activity would stir up the people to revolt and, in the brutal suppression that would follow, the Temple would be destroyed. Of course that is exactly what happened in AD70.

Annas sees his role as protecting Judaism – by whatever means. He therefore heads up the first inquisition: “Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.” (Jn 18:19-24)

He demands that Jesus tell him what he has been teaching the people, for he is looking for an excuse to condemn Jesus for false teaching, but Jesus will have none of it: I have been teaching openly and you know it and you know what I have been saying and you know there is nothing to criticise (implied). One of the other officials resorts to violence and then Jesus is sent to Caiaphas. Later on it is clear that Annas is included in the all-embracing language of condemnation: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.” (Mt 27:1,2)

What is so terrible about this is that this is THE classic example of institutional religion standing against God! Whenever we institutionalize religion we create man-centred and man-focused religion that at times actually opposes God. False religion had often reared its head in Israel and it still did. This lifeless orthodoxy was a poor representation of the life of God and yet, I am sure, if you had questioned these leaders they would have been totally sincere – and yet sincerely wrong! The apostle Paul was a similar example of a sincere man but who was sincerely wrong until he met the risen Christ. When it comes to institutional religion the word ‘expediency’ enters the vocabulary as we’ll see in the next meditation. Religious leaders who are also political have to consider what is expedient for the protection of the institution, not what is the will of God. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why religion should never be institutionalized!

In this man’s hands was terrible power. He could have ended this fiasco then and there and released Jesus, but he is driven by fear that his precious institution will be harmed and he cannot let that happen. As we just suggested, the will of God doesn’t come into it – because he believes protecting the institution is the will of God and so Jesus (the Son of God) must die. How terrible! This must surely have been THE worst misjudgment of history, yet God knew that this is how it would work out so that His Son could be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

What happened to Annas?  Well he was still there in Acts: Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family.” (Acts 4:6). There were a number of men abusing their positions of power at this time. This was one of them. God’s word has a number of warnings against those who misused their authority. Annas should have heeded those warnings. May any of us in such positions, similarly be warned.

33. The Blind Man

People who met Jesus : 33 :  The Blind Man

Jn 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

I have commented before that I felt the woman caught in adultery was one of my favourite stories, but now I have to add that this one comes joint first, and certainly first of all the healing accounts. There are so many aspects of this story that are worth noting.

It starts with a bunch of totally insensitive disciples. We’re like this sometimes! As they are walking along they come across this man who is blind who, they are told, has been like this from birth. Now they are just like Job’s comforters who worked on the basis that if you had anything wrong with you, you had obviously sinned. So the disciples, wanting to look like learners, ask of Jesus why this man would be like this. Was it because of his own sin or because of the sin of his parents? The former option is pretty stupid really, because he had been born like it, so how could his sin have caused it? Anyway, Jesus won’t have this.

It’s nothing to do with sin; it’s all about glorifying the Father.  What? Yes, stop your insensitive questions (what must the man have been feeling while they voiced their questions infront of him?); let’s just take the opportunity to heal him! There’s the challenge! Let’s stop criticising and blaming people; let’s just bring God’s love to them, bless them and save them!

Now the way of healing here is unique to the Gospel healing accounts: he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” (v.6,7) So why did Jesus do this? Did he want to give the man some privacy in his healing and so did something that made him go elsewhere to receive the healing? Did he do it because he knew the man needed that extra faith-motivation? We don’t know – but the man was healed!

The incredible nature of what happened is revealed in what follows: “His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.” (v.8-12). They couldn’t believe what had happened. Obviously Jesus wasn’t performing great miracles at this stage of his ministry in Jerusalem, because the enquirers haven’t got a clue about him yet.

Now their response shows how unpleasant and short-sighted people can be: “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.” (v.13-16) The neighbours take him to the guardians of the Law, the Pharisees. Why? Were they trying to stir things up? Instead of rejoicing over the wonder of what had happened they look to cause trouble. The Pharisees pick on the fact that it was the Sabbath and in their eyes healing was work. How petty! This story reveals the worst of people and the wonder of Jesus. But the best is yet to come”

Let’s jump a little bit: “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (v.24,25) That’s the bit that always makes me laugh. The Pharisees want to denounce Jesus and try to get the man to do it for them, but all he can do is declare his testimony which is as simple as you can get: One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

You may think you don’t know what to say to people about the Christian life, but you have a testimony and no one can take that from you. For me it was, “Once I was lost, purposeless, lonely, and drifting into alcoholism, but then I met Jesus and he gave me purpose, security, healing, friends, a wonderful wife and a wonderful family.

You can criticise it but I know the truth of it – and so do millions and millions of other people who have met Jesus. Rather than be mean minded and criticise people who say they have found a new purpose in life that is filled with love, joy and peace, why not look for it yourself if you’ve never yet found it? God is in the business of transforming lives, not condemning them, and it’s there for whoever will come to Him, surrender to Him and put their life in His hands. Once I was blind, but now I can see! And you?

32. Long-term Invalid

People who met Jesus : 32 :  The Long-Term Invalid

Jn 5:5-9 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The story of the invalid at the pool raises a number of important questions. He is, we note somewhat obviously, described as “an invalid” but we are not told what it is that makes him in this condition. It is obvious that he is unable to move himself and so whether it is a form of paralysis or some form of wasting disease where the muscles have been deprived of their strength is unclear. Whatever it is, he has been like it for a very long time. How he survives we don’t know. Whether his family come back once a day and feed him or whether he begs, we don’t know. He has a mat on which he lies and his life is just lying by the pool waiting for something to happen.

Now, apparently, every now and then the water in this pool became stirred and it was believed that if you got into the water when it was being stirred you would be healed. One assumes that this had happened otherwise the belief wouldn’t have come about.  Again whether such healings had been psychosomatic or had been physiologically genuine we don’t know, but people in need will grasp at whatever straws they can.

Now there is a horrible hopelessness about this man’s plight. He can’t move quickly on his own and if there is anyone else there when the water stirs, they are likely to be those who are sick and so will ignore him and get in ahead of him, for it seemed it was only the first person in who could get the healing. There was no way, in a land where there appeared a lot of sickness and even demon possession, this man was going to get in first. It was an utterly hopeless situation. Then Jesus comes along.

The question he asks is devastating for such people: “Do you want to get well?” If you’ve never come across anyone in this sort of situation you might wonder about such a question, but it is a very real question. The truth is that we learn to live with our illnesses and infirmities and after a while we can’t imagine life without it. In fact very soon we become so used to it that we fear the alternative – being healed. Today in Western society it is even worse for we provide financial benefits for such people and the fear becomes, what will I do if I am healed and they take away my benefit? This is very real and I have heard it expressed at least twice.

So, in this sort of situation there is not only the illness itself but there is also the fear of the alternative that locks us in. Although, most of the time, such people would deny this, it is nevertheless true for many, and it is a very real and genuine fear. The fear of how to cope with a totally different life is very real, even though it may be one that most of us cannot comprehend. So when Jesus asks this question he is probing for the truth. The man does not answer with a “Yes, of course!” answer but seeks to justify why he’s there, and that too is a very natural reaction. In a more humorous vein, when there is discussions about differences between the sexes, men so often are chided for their fears of going to a doctor when there is something wrong. The wife eventually finds out that there is something wrong with her husband and then chides him to go to the doctor. Watch the resistance! What it is that creates this resistance in us I don’t know (because I’m, a man!). Perhaps it is that we don’t like facing up to the fact of it, and hope it will just go away if we ignore it. It’s a form of denial whatever it is and it’s a form of denial that we find in this man. He puts the blame for his ongoing infirmity on the lack of people to help him. Maybe that is a genuine cry; maybe it is an excuse.

In the face of his impossible situation, Jesus simply declares healing for the man in the form of a command to get up and walk. Now there may be those who may suggest that this was just a psychosomatic illness and in fact there was nothing wrong with the man at all, but the fact is that he had been like it for thirty eight years. If it wasn’t physiological, it was therefore a psychological illness – yet it is an illness that makes a person lie on a mat for that length of time if there is nothing wrong physically! It doesn’t matter if it was psychological; it was just as real to the man. There may be those of us who are locked in by some psychological thing. It is just as real to us and we are just as much a prisoner to it as if it had been purely physical. Whatever it is, such a thing needs the command of Jesus being spoken to it to break the power of it. Gloriously the man is freed and he gets up and walks. If it was physical it was a miracle of healing. If it was psychological it is just as wonderful that the word of the Son of God can release the bondage of the mind. Mind or body; Jesus is still our Saviour! Hallelujah!

31. Nicodemus

People who met Jesus : 31 :  Nicodemus

Jn 3:1,2 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Nicodemus only appears in John’s Gospel. Again this may be because the Synoptic Gospel writers’ might have wanted to have given him privacy but by the time John wrote he had passed away. We first see him as he comes to Jesus at night to question him. The fact of it being at night suggests that this is a private visit; he is not coming on behalf of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, and he doesn’t want others to know that he has come. He comes and accepts that Jesus is a teacher for he starts out with the respectful address, “Rabbi.” Moreover he acknowledges that he is a teacher who has come from God for that is clear by the miracles that Jesus performs.

Now from the outset we can see that Nicodemus is a seeker of truth. He is a respected senior member of the Jewish community, being on the ruling council, he has heard about Jesus and so, while Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover, (Jn 2:23) he decides to go and question him. As a leader of the people he comes with a measure of authority and superiority. Many of us think we are someone.

Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus moves with the power of God but Jesus says you can’t see or enter into the place where God moves in sovereign power (his kingdom) unless God gives you a new life: In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3) Nicodemus says he has been seeing the works of God but Jesus says you can only look in from the outside until you’ve been ‘born again’. This catches Nicodemus on the hop: “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (v.4) He is thinking in literal terms and suddenly he is not as confident in himself and shows he doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.

Jesus focuses it back on the kingdom of God as if to say, don’t worry about the material technicalities; it’s all about spiritual issues: “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (v.5,6) i.e. you’re not going to experience the kingdom of God for yourself until God’s Holy Spirit does a work in you so it is like your own spirit is reborn and brought alive to a new life in a new dimension.

Nicodemus obviously looks perplexed for Jesus continues, “You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (v.7,8) It’s a mystery, says Jesus, the way the Spirit works. Just like the wind you sense His movement but you won’t know when or where He’ll move next.

Nicodemus is still confused: “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.” (v.9) Jesus isn’t going to give him neat, pat answers; he’s going to challenge him some more: “You are Israel‘s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. (v.10-13) In this manner Jesus brings himself right back before Nicodemus.

There’s something very challenging about this conversation. In our preaching we try to be very clear but that’s not the way Jesus did it. Very often he spoke enigmatically so that the listeners had to really think about what he had said. It was only those with seeking hearts who pressed through to understanding. (See what Jesus said about his use of parable in Mt 13:10-17). People who say they don’t understand Jesus reveal hearts that are not seeking.

We next see mention of Nicodemus when there is discussion about Jesus among the religious leaders and we find, Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” (Jn 7:50,51) He is subtly defending Jesus without being an out and out follower.

Our final reference to him comes after Jesus’ death: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus…. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (Jn 19:38-40)

Community leader he may be – and the community has just killed Jesus – but his conscience makes him, with Joseph of Arimathea, go to give the body a proper burial. He is a follower of sorts. It is not clear how much of a follower but more and more he is standing out for Jesus. He looks like he’s on the way to being a citizen of the kingdom.

Interestingly, in the story of Nicodemus, Jesus never said to him, “Follow me.” That was only for people who were ready for it. Nicodemus has got a lot of thinking to do so Jesus gives him plenty to think about. The story about Nicodemus is seriously challenging because it asks us what sort of seekers WE are. Are we those who look in from the outside and just criticise because we don’t understand – and can’t be bothered to really seek? Or are we those who half hear the truth and complain that the preacher isn’t making it clear enough?  Jesus is looking for genuine seekers who will spend time seeking God for the truth. Will we be such people?

30. The Pharisee

People who met Jesus : 30 :  Simon, the Pharisee

Lk 7:36-39 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”

We move on to a new group of people now, people who struggled with Jesus, people who showed resistance to him. Now two meditations ago we considered weeping Mary who appears in this story and we also noted that in Matthew’s Gospel this appears in the home of ‘Simon the Leper’ (Mt 26:6). Because of the similarities of the stories we concluded that this must be one and the same person. Now if he had been a leper at that moment they would not have been dining in his home for he would have been an outcast, which leads us to suppose that he had been a leper but had been healed – by Jesus? That may have been so but we can’t know for sure. What we do know is that he is a Pharisee, a member of that conservative group who saw themselves as guardians of the Law. They were also (or because of this) legalists and were more concerned with people’s sin that with their restoration. We thus find that Simon is a classic Pharisee!

He has invited Jesus into his home to have dinner with him. Mary enters the house with her perfume to anoint Jesus with it. Luke tells us in his account that Lazarus and Martha are at this meal and that adds credibility to the woman being their sister, Mary. Because they were there, she would feel easy about coming as well. As we considered previously she weeps with a mixture of gratefulness over having been forgiven and restored from her old life, and also, perhaps, from a sense of foreboding about the weeks ahead of Jesus.

Simon, the host, looks at this woman – who he knows – and wonders what sort of prophet Jesus is, if he can’t discern the sort of woman Mary is. The problem Simon has, though, is that he is locked into the past. Yes, that’s what she had been like but that’s not what she’s like now!  Simon, catch up! She is clearly a repentant sinner and God loves repentant sinners!!!!  I know we have covered this previously but it is so important for us in the Church today that it bears repeating. Previously our focus had been on Mary; now it is on Simon.

Jesus has a story to tell him: “Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.” (v.40-44)  Now what is interesting is that above we read of Simon, “he said to himself.” In other words he didn’t speak out loud what he was thinking but Jesus reads minds and Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking, which is why we now read, “Jesus answered him.” He is directly addressing what Simon is thinking. If you think it is virtuous not to speak out what you are thinking, beware, Jesus reads minds. It’s better not to think it in the first place!

The lesson is very obvious. The more you are forgiven, the more grateful you will be. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus now applies it to Simon: “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” (v.44-46) Look Simon, he says, when I came into your home, as an apparent honoured guest, you did not have my feet washed or give me anything to put on my head to freshen up, as is customary, yet this women that you write off has done both things.

And then, to push home the point even further: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (v.47) i.e. her love for me is a clear sign of her repentance and so anything she may have done in the past is now forgiven.

Being judgmental is a dangerous hobby. We mostly don’t know the state of heart of the people we condemn. Simon went on what he knew of her past and didn’t realise that her heart had changed. How terrible it might have been if he, the moment he saw her entering his home, had sent her out again. And yet that is what we do sometimes with people whose hearts are changing as God draws them. Those of us who have been religiously righteous all our lives, because that is how we were brought up, have an even bigger difficulty in accepting that all-out sinners can repent and are loved by God. This is especially so when they are still struggling to bring changes to their lives – which often takes time. We want instant perfection, and yet don’t have it ourselves. If we do that, get ready for a rebuke from Jesus!