3. Family Pressures

Short Meditations in John 7:  3. Family Pressures

Jn 7:3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do

Jesus seems to have regularly attended these feasts and, as we said before, made use of them to reveal something of himself and his purposes for his people. Now, putting the verses 2 to 4 together we are going to see that although this was Jesus’ custom, he would not be pressurised into going to the present feast by his family. Yes, it is a good feast to attend and yes, it would be a good opportunity to reveal himself, but we are going to see that Jesus’ focus is on his Father’s will.

What is it that the Father wants? Does the Father want him to attend this festival? He will assume nothing.

But first we have to observe the pressure or expectation put upon him by his family. We are going to see that their words came from unbelief (v.5) but nevertheless there is an expectation expressed.

The words in themselves seek to have genuine purpose; if they wanted greater publicity for him, it would appear ‘sensible’ for his fame if he took his works south to Judea where there will surely be many more people who will want to follow him, and surely the Feast of Tabernacles will be a time when many pious Jews will be attending the celebrations in Jerusalem, so what a good opportunity it will be to gain more followers.

All good human thinking. But there feels the same sort of thinking here, being put to Jesus, that Satan used when he tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, when he, “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Mt 4:8,9)

The temptation then and the words now, both have the suggestion of Jesus gaining publicity and fame for himself, and so often in modern evangelism, I sense, we try to use publicity to draw people to an event rather than just being Jesus and letting his love and power attract. It is always a subtle temptation.

Now there is something here that I confess I have never much thought about before and it is Jesus’ relationship with his family. Matthew reveals that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (Mt 13:55,56). Marks tells us of one occasion when the family was clearly against him (Mt 3:21). Those are the obvious things we know of his family context, but I wonder what these misunderstandings and failure to believe in him would have left him feeling as a person? If you have a family who misunderstand your faith and even oppose it, you are in good company!

71. Tragic Truth

Short Meditations in John 6:  71. Tragic Truth

Jn 6:71  (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

In the previous study we considered what it meant to be chosen but we did not get to the final part of that verse: Yet one of you is a devil!” In this present final verse of the chapter, John explains what Jesus meant by that, with the hindsight that comes from having lived through the unfolding circumstances.

Now what is remarkable about these two verses together is that we have two apparently conflicting things. First, we have this idea that we have been pursuing that each of the twelve had been chosen by God the Father and Jesus the Son, as committed believers, true followers of Jesus – and that included Judas.

Consider that more fully: Judas who was one of that inner twelve for three years and must have been included in those Spirit-anointed times of evangelism when Jesus sent out the twelve and then the seventy and they had done the works of God. Oh yes, Judas had been used by God in exactly the same way as the others, for three years. The Synoptics give no prior clues as to what would follow and it is left to John to give us a little hint as to the underlying conflict.

In the last days Jesus had been at Bethany and was anointed by Mary and we read, “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for [b]three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (Jn 12:4-6) Wow! That’s a bit of an eye-opener, that Judas, one of the twelve, was actually a thief and, as their treasurer, used to help himself to their money! In Jesus’ presence????? Did he think that this Son of God would not know what was going on in front of him?

But let’s not get wrapped up in the extent of his failures because all of the disciples showed their humanity; Peter by his brash declarations, James and John by the partisan self-concerns and competitive and divisive spirit, and so on. Oh yes, when you come to think about it, none of them were perfect. Yes, Judas is going to betray Jesus, but Peter was going to deny him three times.  The one would facilitate the taking and crucifying of Jesus, the other would bring about the death of his own self-assurance, equipping him to become an even more significant leader of the Church. Yet, we each have free will, let’s never forget that, and after a tumultuous chapter, let’s let these closing two verses remind us that we are all vulnerable to making a mess of things. Let’s try and avoid that with His help. Amen? Amen!

70. Chosen

Short Meditations in John 6:  70. Chosen

Jn 6:70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 

Up to verse 59 we had the talk of bread. From v.60 there is a to-and-fro about belief, and within that Jesus has pointed out that real believers only believe and follow him wholeheartedly when the Father enables them. We have considered the process that involves our surrender as the Spirit convicts us and subsequently indwells us.

Peter has just replied to Jesus’ question about will they also leave him, with a strong declaration of faith that encompassed each of that committed inner circle of believers. It is in response to that, that Jesus now responds with the simple affirmation that he had chosen them, the twelve, with the implication that that is why they are still there, why they have now withdrawn as some of the other apparent followers, apparent disciples, had done.

Previously Jesus (v.39) had spoken of the ones his Father had given him, and later on he will emphasise the closeness of the work of the Father and Son and its effects: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” We also see thus more fully in 17:2,7,9,24.

That is all about how the Father and Son work together but from our side what we need to understand is that our coming to Christ is because of his choosing. The apostle Paul was to catch something of this wonder when he wrote of the Father and Son’s work: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Eph 1:4)

Does this mean that the Godhead randomly chose those who would become followers? No, it is a case of them seeing into the future and knowing who would respond to Jesus when he came, and it was on the basis of that response that we would be redeemed. It was in that sense that we were ‘chosen’ before the creation of the world, and that then seen in practice when we lived on the earth, when the Spirit of God starts working in our lives, we respond, and are then born again – chosen by Him, chosen by Jesus, chosen by the Father.

The meaning of church – ekklesia in the Greek original – means the called-out ones, ones called by God. Jesus told a parable at the end of which he declared, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14 NKJV)  The implication from the parable (see Mt 22:1-13) is that God calls (or ‘invites’ as the NIV has it) many people – everyone in fact, I believe, will hear God’s voice calling but many will choose not to respond to it. They were not, thus, the ones the Godhead saw before the foundation of the world who would respond to Jesus and thus they are not “the chosen” in the sense we have explained.

69. Outright Declaration

Short Meditations in John 6:  69. Outright declaration

Jn 6:69  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter has just said that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and we considered that briefly, but why could he say that? Because of what he says now, that they now understand that Jesus is “the Holy One of God”. Now that is an interesting description and I suggest that it does not mean “You are the Son of God” as we would now say. Yes, he does say at one point, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” (Mt 16:16) and John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31) but mostly the apostles seem reticent to call Jesus the Son of God until a lot later on (e.g. Acts 9:20, Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc.) For now, Peter gives Jesus that more general title, “the Holy One of God,” meaning in their terms, the Messiah, but that is sufficient; Jesus is the miracle worker, the healer, the deliverer, the amazing teacher from God, the anointed one from God and that is sufficient for Peter to be able to say, “Lord, we’re with you!”

Again, note he speaks for the others: We have come to believe….” and no one chips in, “Hold on Pete, that’s going a bit far.”  No, these committed hard-core followers are in agreement: they’ve seen it all, heard it all, and they are convinced.

Note also the process: “We have come to believe.” That’s honest. When they were first called, there was something about Jesus that made them follow, but as the days passed and they saw and heard it all, they were utterly convinced. Yes, there was going to come a time when they were all in total confusion and fear when he was crucified, but for the moment, they are sold on him, and it has grown and grown as the have followed him. The depth of belief that I have today is much, much deeper than I had over fifty years ago when I first came to Christ. Why? I have read, I have listened, I have watched, and I am convinced. We start from a basic belief, but he will build on that.

But I am also intrigued by the middle of the verse: “We have come to believe and to know that…”  It’s those two sets of words; there is a significant difference between ‘’believing and ‘knowing’, and it indicates the growth that takes place in us. When we ‘believe’ something we are making a basic declaration of acceptance about something. We may not have concrete ‘proof’ but we have sufficient evidence to enable us to say, “I believe.” But ‘knowing’ is different. If I say, “I know this is true,” I am adding a confidence, an absolute assurance that this IS what is. The evidence may not have changed but in this instance my encounters with Jesus (God) leave me with Peter. We know!

68. The Truth Declared

Short Meditations in John 6:  68. The Truth declared

Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 

Peter was either a walking disaster or the most amazing receptor of heaven; he was either constantly putting his foot in it or coming out with amazing revelation from heaven, and so perhaps we should not be surprised that it is Peter who speaks out on behalf of the other committed disciples – notice his ‘we’.

In his reply there are two things of great significance. This is one of his ‘revelation from heaven’ times. The first thing is that simple question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Now think about in the light of the life they were living with Jesus. We cannot be quite sure how far through the three years of Jesus’ ministry this was, but even if it was quite early, even the things that have recently happened have been like a roller coaster. One minute they are in the crowded area of Capernaum, next they are on the other side of the lake in a lonely place where Jesus feeds five thousand from virtually nothing. Next minute they are struggling in a storm on the lake and Jesus comes walking on the water to them and Peter also walks on the water. Then they are back at Capernaum and Jesus is fielding hostility in the synagogue. That’s not to mention the healing of crowds of sick people and casting out demons, turning water in wine at Cana, and so on. If fishing on the changeable seas of the Sea of Galilee had been an often-exhilarating job, it paled into insignificance in the light of the incredible life of travelling with Jesus. So yes, purely from a practical level, where else or with who else could they find a life any way comparable to this one? This was a blinding revelation understood by few.  And us?

But then there was that second part, a straight forward declaration, almost a testimony if you like, “You have the words of eternal life.” The JBP version paraphrases it, “Your words have the ring of eternal life!” I quite like that; but I wonder what Peter actually meant by that, or was it one of those ‘off-the-top-of-the-head’ things that come as revelation beyond the intellect? Was it, your words come from another dimension and bring a sense of another dimension, something far beyond this ordinary mundane physical or material world? You transport us into a realm beyond anything we’ve ever known before, somewhere that takes us way beyond the world of fishing or tax collection administration, you have shown us another world beyond our limited material world, a world of divine encounter, a world of divine provision that enables us to join in and do things we would never have dreamed about  few years back, this is a world that has transformed us, and we don’t know where it will end – if it ever will!  Wow!

67. Personal Challenge

Short Meditations in John 6:  67. Personal Challenge

Jn 6:67 You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Yet again Jesus challenges his listeners. Back in v.43 Jesus had challenged the crowd over their grumbling. Back in v.61 he challenged the not-quite-committed disciples over taking offence over his teaching about ‘eating’ him, and now in this verse he challenges his committed disciples as to whether they too are feeling like leaving.

Many of us like a Christianity where we simply go to church, hear a nice sermon, feel warmed by it and go away with a little warm glow but little else. Jesus called his followers ‘disciples’, those who would learn of him, learn to challenged, learn to be changed into his likeness. Before he left them, the ‘Great Commission’ required us to, “go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20)

Some years later the apostle Paul was to write, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) Teaching we may be comfortable with, but how about the rebuking and correcting bits? These are all part of the challenge that Jesus brings to us. Paul continued, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (v.17) Servants? Doing good works?

So challenge is part of Jesus training us, seeking to bring change to us, but challenge does something particular – it makes us face the truth about ourselves and without that we cannot grow into spiritual maturity. Paul also wrote that the purpose of ministry gifts was to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” (Eph 4:12,13)

So, in this process, there will also be times of challenge to face the truth about ourselves and that was what Jesus was now doing with his committed disciples – checking on just how committed we are. As we have seen several times, it meant keep on following without fully understanding all the teaching. Much of the time it seems straight forward, but what about those times when it is not so clear?  That also means keep on following when you do not understand the circumstances or do not understand what God seems to be doing (or not doing!) with your life.

So what sort of Christians are we? The kind that only goes along with it when it is easy and comfortable or those who will stick with Jesus when we don’t understand it all, and when the clouds gather, and when people are not so nice, and so on? Challenge!

66. Withdrawal

Short Meditations in John 6:  66. Withdrawal

Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

People leaving church is disquieting, especially of you are a pastor but if people turn away, realise you are in good company, it happened to Jesus. Possibly one of the most amazing times concerning the guidance of God that I experienced as a leader, came in this respect.

We were a local church with a good number of people. One day I began to be aware of a feeling I had that we were going to get smaller, and so I rebuked the thought for surely the kingdom is about growth. I said nothing to anyone about it. Several weeks went by and one of the prophetic ladies in our congregation came up to me at the end of a service and said, “I believe the Lord wants me to tell you that we are about to start losing people, but you are not to worry about it.” I thought, “Oh, perhaps I did hear the Lord then,” but I still determined to say nothing publicly about it.

A couple of weeks later a friend, a leader from another nearby church, and I went to an annual prayer conference we had been to before. A short while into the first meeting, the leader out front said, “I would like you to get up and greet someone near you.”  I stood up and in the melee that occurs at such times I found the only person free near me was a little old lady. Sorry, that is the only way to describe her. We introduced ourselves and before we could say anything more, the leader said, “Now I would like you to pray with that person.” I am tall and so I looked down on this little old lady and in true male condescending and patronising attitude, I said to this ‘little old lady’, “Would you like to pray first.” She started to pray and then there was a long pause. I opened my eyes and she was looking up at me and said, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this but I believe the Lord wants me to tell you that you are about to start losing people from your church, but you are not to worry about it.” Almost identical words! I repented of my attitude about ‘little old ladies’ and thanked her.

Three weeks later in the middle of the morning worship, one of my leaders came up to me and said, “I believe the Lord wants me to tell you that we are about to start losing people, but you are not to worry about it.” Four times the same word! Sure enough in the months ahead, for no obvious reason, about 20% of our church left in one’s and two’s. As this went on I eventually enquired of the Lord and asked, “Lord, are you closing us down?” Back came the answer, “No son, just pruning you,” and I realised that all those who had left were what one might call periphery people, those on the edge of the church.  “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (Jn 15:2) They left Jesus; they will leave us.