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.

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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?

42. Accepting Love (1)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 42.  Accepting Love (1)

Lk 15:1,2    Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In the previous meditation I suggested that in coming to the Gospels it is easy to focus on Jesus as a teacher or as a miracle worker, for those things are so obvious, but there are other things about Jesus that are more important, even though they are not given prominence in the Gospels. The first such thing that we considered was the fact that Jesus came to reveal the Father in heaven, the glory of God, and the purpose of the Godhead.

The second thing, that we now move on to, is even more important as far as our personal lives are concerned and that is the nature or character of Jesus Christ. Now you might say that this has been implied in all that has gone on so far, and that is true, but I would like to make the implicit into explicit by looking again in the Gospels, and I want to try to do this by looking at Jesus’ way of treating people and then, in a later study, how we see it in Jesus’ teaching.

So I wonder what sort of examples come immediately to your mind when we ask the question, “To whom did Jesus show the love of God?” Now put so blandly as that the response might be, “Everybody!” but that is the same as “I love everyone in my street.” That doesn’t become real until we see specific examples. Perhaps we should ask the question first, how is love demonstrated? My shorthand response is, by accepting people as they were and seeking the best for them. (We’ll say some more in the next study)

I think it was about thirty years ago I adopted what almost became a mantra for me (and I had heard it nowhere else then, although I have since), that “God loves you exactly as you are at this moment, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than you are at the moment.” This means two things: first TOTAL acceptance of you the person (not necessarily your behaviour) at this moment and then, second, love desires yet a better you in the future with His help and enabling. So, when we come to specific examples of Jesus loving people, I would suggest that we need to look for his initial acceptance of that person and then signs that he wants something better for them. My choices are purely random and limited and so there are almost certainly others who you might want to add to this list.

In general terms we are told that he met with “tax collectors and sinners”, for example, While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.” (Mt 9:10)  He had just called Matthew the tax-collector to follow him and now he is eating with him and his friends! This upsets the puritanical Pharisees (see v.11). There is no indication that Jesus challenged him over his morals as a tax-collector, change was implied when Matthew went with Jesus. From then on it was relationship and acceptance. Now in this case and, I suggest, the case of every one of the men Jesus called to follow him, it is clear he takes them as they were. For them the next three years are going to be a time of learning and change. He takes them as they were, but will change them.

In addition to this incident, Luke adds, “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Lk 15:1,2) These people were outcasts of society and the thing we all want – and especially if we are an outcast – is  loving acceptance. We don’t want haranguing, we don’t want criticism (we know our faults already, we want to know how to overcome them and we know self-effort doesn’t work), we don’t want judging (we feel guilty enough already) and so we don’t want telling off in whatever form it comes. The thing I have found over the years in both my life and watching the lives of others, is that we change most when we are loved, not when we are nagged, not when we are exposed, and not when we are made to feel defensive. We need loving acceptance and Jesus brings it.

Perhaps nowhere is that seen more clearly than in the case of Zacchaeus (see Lk 19:1-10). This man was a chief tax collector and it is likely that he oversaw a large area. It is also probable that he was a crook who took bribes and took more taxes than he should have done, and he certainly wasn’t liked. He was probably rich and had a select group (a limited group!) of friends – also tax-collectors or others on the take. So he is a classic instance of someone we would like to point a finger at and shout, “Repent you godless, self-centred, corrupt sinner!”

But Jesus didn’t do that. Instead he invited himself to lunch or dinner or whatever meal was due.  Now it is one thing to be invited but to invite yourself to someone else’s house is not only bold and ‘not done’ but it is certainly a sign of imposed friendliness that says, “Hey, I like you and I’d like us to share our lives together over a meal.” Except the account doesn’t give any indication that Jesus told Zacchaeus what he expected of him – and it wasn’t to carry on being a traitor to Judaism and it wasn’t to carry on being a crook who was lining his pocket at other people’s expense. No, there is no record that Jesus confronted him with any of these things. No, as I suggested above, I suspect Zacchaeus knew the truth about himself, knew what was wrong, knew what was right, and just needed loving acceptance to help him to feel secure enough to face all that!

Ah, you might say, but perhaps that happened but Luke wasn’t told about it. I doubt it. Look at the way Zacchaeus responded to Jesus and the way Jesus responded to him. There is a sense of light-hearted joyful freedom about what takes place. You don’t see that sort of response when there has been judgmental chiding and challenges to repent. No, that was the approach of the Pharisees and I would almost guarantee that the Pharisees and the tax collectors – especially powerful ones like Zacchaeus –   walked on the opposite sides of the street of life, so to speak, and the tax collectors called them  ‘religious hypocrites’ and in turn the Pharisees called them ‘sinners!” and that in a most derogatory way. No, challenging or telling off someone does not produce an immediate response of generosity – even if it is using the unlawful gains of the past! The change comes from being accepted!

The ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ were the primary group of obvious people to whom Jesus expressed his Father’s love by accepting them as they were, and that brought the fruit of change. There were others but as space runs out, we shall look at some of the others in the next study. But for personal thought, how about you and me? Would we have accepted Zacchaeus as Jesus did? Indeed, do we lovingly accept as they are, the ‘sinners’ (all those we view as less than us) around us in our lives? Jesus does.

41. Reflecting Glory?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 41.  Reflecting Glory?

John 17:4   I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

In this part we have considered in some measure, Jesus as a teacher and Jesus as a miracle worker. Now these are the obvious things about Jesus, the things that must surely strike the new reader first of all because they are, indeed, so obvious.  Indeed that is how many people sum up Jesus – a great teacher or a great miracle worker – but in so doing and not going any further they miss something that is critical.

In his writing the apostle Paul gives two intriguing pictures about us and the glory of God. First, we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) and then a little later in that same letter, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:6,7) In the first picture we reflect God’s glory as we encounter the Spirit, in the same way Moses’ face reflected God’s glory when he encountered Him in the tent of meeting. In the second picture God’s light shines within us in the same way that a candle might shine light even when it is placed inside an old, chipped and cracked earthenware piece of pottery. It is not our glory, it is His.

Now the truth that comes out in John’s Gospel, that really wasn’t seen clearly in the Synoptics, is that Jesus had existed in heaven with all the glory of the Godhead of which he was part, but had then left heaven and had come down to earth in human form – very ordinary human form (see again Isa 53:2) – with the job of revealing the Father to the world through his life and ministry, and then fulfilling the long-term plan of the Godhead to die for the sins of the world.

Thus, in our verse above Jesus declares this in prayer to the Father in his closing hours on earth: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (v.4) He had revealed the Father for three years in his ministry. Thus he said to his disciples in that last time together in the upper room, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9) and the apostle Paul would write, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15)

If we can chop one of Paul’s other verses, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see …. the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) I have cut out, “the light of the gospel of” to make the point more obvious that spiritual blindness stops people seeing this wonder of who Christ is.  Yes, this gospel we preach should be a gospel that is about the glory of Christ, and so many people just cannot see how wonderful Christ is. Indeed that may be one of the reasons I am writing this series, because we, God’s children, become so familiar with the words that we hear preached so often that we lose the wonder of what they are saying – Christ is God on earth.

Jesus revealed the Father: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working…. the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:17,19) The writer to the Hebrews picked up on this: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “”Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…..  I said, `Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5,7) Through the body that was given him – the form of the man Jesus of Nazareth – the Son worked out the will of the Father that had been formulated from before the foundation of the world.

Throughout much of the Old Testament, it is clear that God’s intention in creating Israel, was to reveal Himself. From that first encounter with Abraham there is a hint of the Father’s intentions: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:3) It was a message repeated again and again (e.g. Gen 17:3-7, 18:17,18, 22:15-18).  With the coming of Moses and the Exodus it was reiterated (e.g. Deut 28:8-10).  Later David would make is a central theme of various of his psalms (e.g. 1 Chron 16:8,24, Psa 57:9 etc.) The message from heaven was there again and again and again – God wants to bless the human race! That was the ‘will of God’ that the writer to the Hebrews spoke about.

Thus we should not be surprised when Jesus declares his mandate: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Lk 4:18a) And what was that good news? “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (v.18b,19) Then later he was able to say to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) i.e. I’m doing it!

But that, of course, was only half the package – the other half would be dying on the Cross for the sins of the world.  Nevertheless we have chapter after chapter in the Gospels of Jesus bringing the love of God to bless mankind, and that love, which again we so often take for granted, will be the subject of our next three studies, for it says so much about the sort of people God wants us to be as He blesses us.

So all the teaching and all the miracles are all part of the same package – to reveal the love and intent of the Father and when he had done it, Jesus was able to say, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” May we be able to say the same when we come to the end of our lives.

40. Miracle Worker (4)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 40.  Miracle Worker (4)

Acts 2:22  Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Well, we said we would consider healings, deliverances, raising the dead and then other miscellaneous miracles, as we consider Jesus as a miracle worker. So now we come to the last of that list, miscellaneous or general miracles.

The Synoptics show us Jesus:

  • calming the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:23-27, Mk 4:35-41, Lk 8:22-25)
  • feeding the 5000 (Mt 14:13-21, Mk 6:30-44, Lk 9:10-17)
  • walking on water (Mt 14:22,23, Mk 6:45-52)
  • feeding the 4000 (Mt 15:32-39, Mk 8:1-13)

Then John shows us Jesus:

  • turning water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1-11)
  • feeding the five thousand (Jn 6:1-15)
  • walking on water (Jn 6:16-21)

In addition to these five very obvious miracles we might also add:

  • the miraculous catch of fish early on (Lk 5:1-11)
  • Jesus providing a coin for Peter (Mt 17:24-27)
  • Jesus shriveling the fig tree (Mt 21:18-22, Mk 11:12-14)
  • The second miraculous catch of fish (Jn 21:4-11)

Now, trying to categorize and summarise these miracles we see that they show the following abilities that the Son of God exhibited. He was able to:

  • Change the elements (the storm calmed).
  • Overcome natural aspects of the elements (walking on water) and to this one we might add, after he was raised, the ability to pass through locked doors and apparently transport himself over distances faster than humans.
  • Extending or changing natural elements (feeding the crowds and turning water into wine).
  • Removing life from natural elements (fig tree)
  • Make natural elements turn up where previously that had been none (catches of fish and coin in mouth of fish)

Now I am aware that some of these descriptions are not very precise but I would suggest that is because of the nature of ‘a miracle’, which isn’t always easy to categorize in either cause, nature or extent. However, perhaps we may try to distil come lessons from these things:

  1. Miracles always cause controversy as to their nature, cause or extent, simply because they do go against our natural understanding of ‘nature’.
  2. Miracles are not extensions of natural phenomena but are specific interventions by God to change the natural cause of nature.
  3. These miracles above are included in the Gospels because a) they happened and are therefore naively and simply recorded as they were seen, and b) it would appear in Matthew’s case used to reveal Jesus expressing the kingdom or rule of God, and in John’s case to reveal the unique Son of God.
  4. These ‘general miracles’ as well as the many healings and few instances of raising people from the dead, all extol or elevate the person of Jesus Christ above any other human figure and reveal him, as we have just said, as the bringer of the kingdom of God, the Son of God from heaven, with the power and authority of the Godhead behind him.

In a dark room, the flashbulb of a camera momentarily reveals the contents of the room. In the Gospels, the ‘flash’ goes off again and again as we see a healing, a deliverance, a raising of the dead, and then an even brighter ‘flash’ in the form of one of these more ‘general miracles’. If our eyes are closed we won’t see either the flash or what it reveals; if our eyes are open we will see both the flash and the reality it momentarily reveals. The heart that starts out, “This cannot be!” will not recognize the ‘flash’ (denying a miracle of Jesus) and will certainly remain blind to the logical consequences that must follow. The person who comes with an open heart, seeking truth, being willing to weigh the evidence, this person sees the ‘flash’ – recognizes the miracle – and realises the consequences – these reveal the unique Son of God, Jesus Christ.

I have taken time with four studies looking at this aspect of Jesus’ ministry because I believe that only by facing the pile of evidence will our unbelief be challenged. Unbelief reigns in the world and, tragically, in the church. I witness it every time a prophetic word is brought (“Is this really from God?”), or a healing received (“Well I was probably going to get better anyway” or “Well the body has its natural healing tendencies, doesn’t it.”) or an apparent raising from the dead is recounted (“Well they weren’t actually dead were they!”)

Why do we allow such ungodly attitudes to prevail in our lives when the Scriptures are FULL of supernaturally miraculous accounts – healing, deliverances, raisings, general miracles – that scream at us, “God IS all powerful and can do what He likes with His world, and so often He does it to bless His people – and Jesus came to reveal the Father by doing these things and showing His love for us, so why? Because we listen more to the world and the foolish and so often ignorant crusading atheists and little to God through His word and His Spirit! It is time for that to change!