24. The Body brings the Kingdom

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 24. The Body brings the Kingdom

Rom 12:5    in Christ we, though many, form one body

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Eph 1:22,23 God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body

The ‘Body of Christ’: The key to understanding how Christ, ruling at his Father’s right hand, works through us to being in the kingdom on earth, is the concept of ‘the body of Christ’ which comes up numerous times in the writing of the apostle Paul, especially in the three books from which our verses above come. Now what are the key things about this body?

First: To do the Father’s Will: First, it is the way Jesus continues to bring the will of his Father to the earth. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—  I have come to do your will, my God.’” Heb 10:5-7) It was through a human body that he expressed his ministry – teaching, delivering, healing, setting the captives free (Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18). When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost a new body was formed, the church, the ‘called out ones’ who were called to do the same things Jesus had been doing (Jn 14:12, Mt 28:18,19).

Second: Multi-Gifted: The thing about the body is that it is multi-gifted – both in terms of ministries: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,” (Eph 4:11,12) and spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:12:4-11) and more general gifts (Rom 12:6-8) and we are each gifted differently as the Holy Spirit enables us and we need each other with our differences (1 Cor 12:12-26) and all are essential.

Third: Growth Goal: God’s objective for the body is that it grows: “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, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13) and “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:15,16)

Fourth: Growth Determinants:  Now note those characteristics for growth.

  • First, “From him.” Life flows from Jesus and it is life that enables growth. It is through a living relationship with Jesus that the body grows. I’ll say more on that in a later study.
  • Second, “held together by every supporting ligament”. What are the things that hold us together? Real relationships.
  • Third, “in love”. Love is the cement that binds these relationships together; love is the unique characteristic of the body of Christ. We see it in the Gospels as Jesus cares for and accepts the unlovely, the tax-collectors, sinners, prostitutes – you and me!
  • Fourth, “as each part does its work.” A healthy body is an active body and that is as true of the church as it is in personal daily life. We are each designed to play a part.
  • Fifth: The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God knows what He has on His heart for each of us and us collectively. Jesus taught, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deedsand glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) Those “good works” or “good deeds” are God expressing His goodness through us. As we have said before, our righteousness is shown as we conform to the teaching of the New Testament and also as we are led by the Spirit, but often it will be seen as acts or words (“speaking the truth in love”) of love and goodness
  • Sixth: The Head: Earlier we read, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. The thing about the body, (any ‘body’) is that it will be directed by its head and for the ‘body of Christ’, the church, its head is Christ himself, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And Us?  Now in all honesty, I wonder when we look at the Church, can we say that it (and its individual local expressions) can be clearly seen to be directed by Jesus?  You see it occasionally when a local church clearly gets guidance to launch out in a particular direction and you know it is under Jesus’ leading because the fruit of obviously there; the local expression is clearly and obviously expressing Jesus as the fruit of the Spirit is clearly manifest, the gifts of the Spirit are exercised wisely and in love, individuals are growing, prayer is a vibrant part of the body, and others are being saved and added, revelation and power are expressed and the neighbourhood is impacted. THIS is a body where the kingdom is being expressed and God being glorified. In such a body we will grow. May it be seen more and more in these days when so often the world considers the Church irrelevant.

24. Sins Gone

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 24. Sins Gone

1 Pet 2:24  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

I am sure we so often read verses of Scripture and just don’t pause to think exactly what it is that we are reading. This verse above is absolutely amazing in what it says. The first phrase, as with what follows, is clearly a quote from Isa 53. But note carefully.

First, “he himself bore our sins in his body.” The emphasis is on his physical body being killed on the wooden cross. It is a mysterious phrase. I have written on this before, but it bears repeating. Many years ago, I was asked to speak at a youth service at Easter and so I sought for a visual aid through which to communicate. I produced a cross with a figure hanging on it. Nothing special there. I then copied the picture but took a black felt-marker pen and scribbled all over the area of the body so that the body could hardly be seen. The black, I explained were all of our sins being heaped on Jesus as he hung there. It was like they were being given to him, attributed to him, carried by him; it’s like they covered him, soaked into him, become one with him: he was the guilty sinner of the world. Now there is much more we could say about that picture and it is just a visual aid to try and make some sense of this incredible imagery in this verse.

Second, the effect of that, seen in the middle of the verse, is that all those sins and indeed the power of sin have been taken by Jesus and they are no longer ‘on us’.  Because we have been given a completely new and fresh start and because we are now indwelt by his Spirit, the power of Sin in us has been broken. To say we might “die to sins” means their attractive, drawing power no longer has any say in our lives. We are free to live righteously.

Third, there is this mysterious phrase at the end, that comes from Isaiah, “by his wounds you have been healed.” So often his death and resurrection are used as a parallel to what happens spiritually to us when we come to him, but here ‘being wounded’ is contrasted with ‘being healed’. On the cross he was ‘wounded’ – beaten and nailed – and it resulted in his death. The effect of his work on the cross was that in so many ways, we are ‘healed’. Whereas we lived dysfunctional lives, now they have been made orderly and good. Whereas we were out of kilter with God, now we have been reconciled to Him and He to us. Whereas we were at odds with ourselves and with other people, now we have been brought into a place of peace and harmony, and it is all because of what Jesus achieved on the cross. We say we are ‘redeemed’ and that includes all these things, achieved by Christ.

4. The Lamp of the Body

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 4.  The Lamp of the Body

Mt 6:22,23   The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

In our two verses above there is a whole bundle of ideas packaged in picture form. The first one describes the eye as a lamp. Let’s just stop it there a moment. A lamp sheds light, it illuminates, as we saw in a previous study. Now this lamp illuminates the body. What does that mean? What do our eyes do? Light hits the back of them and is basically transferred to the brain where it is translated into images. This ‘lamp’, our eyes, illuminates our mind, our thinking, but here’s the thing, we already have a whole bunch of what are called ‘presuppositions’, assumptions we already have, beliefs about a whole range of ideas. Now we sometimes talk about people being ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to new ideas and so when our eyes pick up new things the mind is either open or closed to what it is seeing.

The Message version’s paraphrase starts these two verses as, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” That’s lovely. The more you are open to what you see, and yes, you may question what you see, but that is different from rejecting it outright, the more there is likely to be light (understanding) shed in you. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it differently. The mind interprets what the eye sees. Atheists, for example, tend to despise Christians as muddle headed, deceived idiots, instead of seeing goodness, kindness, love, hope, wisdom, generosity etc. They fail to see all those good things.

The reality of what Jesus is teaching in these verses is that when your eyes pick up something (you see) and the mind translates what it sees, it can either be good or bad. The ‘light’ coming through your eyes is translated by your mind and so the state of your mind is critical.  In natural terms cataracts hinder light getting to the receptors at the back of the eye, they distort vision, they distort what the mind ‘sees’. Now when we are faced with people or circumstances, there are, similarly, things that will distort what we are seeing, things that will skew our understanding. Things that distort are prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness. All of these are revealed by the way we think of and talk about others – who are poor, different, rich, celebrities, people we like or dislike. (and the reasons for those responses may be completely illogical.)

The light you and I get is a combination of the light waves that hit our receptors plus the understanding our mind gives to what it sees. If our mind is full of anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility etc. then Jesus calls this ‘darkness’. Remember in a previous study we spoke about darkness as an experience that shuts down our lives, hindering us living freely, stopping us going where we want, doing whatever we want, being a different people; darkness locks us in, it acts as a prison. All those things above that we said distort our vision – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility – all these things lock us down, inhibit us, stop us growing and developing. Whatever ‘light’ appears to come in through our eyes, is immediately shut down by these things and that light is in fact, darkness. Our verses above concluded, If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  The JBP version puts it, If all the light you have is darkness, it is dark indeed!”  The Message version puts all this together and says, If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

So when Jesus speaks about our eyes, he really means our sight combined with the understanding we have. If that understanding is locked down by prejudice and all the other things we’ve listed, then whatever gets put before us, whatever we see, is distorted, is turned to darkness, bad, negative thoughts. The Internet has allowed us to see this so clearly. Go to so many chat-rooms or follow the comments at the end of newspaper articles and, if it is the first time you’ve ever done it, you’ll be shocked by the hostility, the anger and the bitterness that is so often poured out of minds that are closed except to their own tunnel-vision view of life.

The truth is that life can be harsh, it can be unfair and it can leave us wounded, and it can, therefore, leave us with distorted vision. Without naming names, I have observed the public comments of more than one crusading atheist and seen their perceptions distorted by bad childhood experiences. What follows is a life of tunnel vision where they focus all their energies, not on studying the evidence with an open, intelligent mind, but on propping up their tunnel-vision views. I have come across great Christian thinkers who just shake their heads in disbelief at some of the amazing things that come from distorted vision of these locked-down atheists.

In these two verses Jesus is giving a warning with such graphic language but it is picture language that really needs thinking about and for the hard-hearted or close-minded that will not happen. Sometimes people need a crisis to bring them to the end of themselves before they will allow light to change their thinking. Some may never let that happen, but others will. Our role is simply to be light, as we saw previously, to give people the best opportunity to see something good from God, something that might just penetrate the darkness which at the moment locks them down, something that may truly help bring changed thinking that results in an opening up to the Lord.

So to conclude: for ourselves, check yourself out and make sure you have none of those negatives we spoke of earlier that will inhibit your life, inhibit your understanding and distort all you see or hear – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility. If you recognize any of those things confess them to the Lord and ask Him to rid you of them, by helping you understand the wonder of just who you are, loved by Him with a purpose and a plan He has for you for good.

In respect of other people, perhaps people who you have shared with in the past, but with no fruit, persevere and pray and seek to be the very best witness of the love of God that you can be. Seek Him for His grace, His power and His revelation to be that, and then watch this space! He will not only work through you, but start bearing down on that person so that eventually they will one day say, “I see it! I can see! That’s wonderful” Believe it, pray for it, work for it, and expect it. Amen? Amen!

11. A Resource?

Short Meditations in Philippians: 11. A Resource?

Phil 1:24  it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body

Sometimes Biblical teaching comes indirectly out of the actions, or even reflections of individuals and that is what we find here. Paul is here in prison and expects to get out but is not so brash as to be absolutely confident. God may will something else and so he ponders on death and as he does so he makes this comment above, that if he remains alive it will be more beneficial for these believers.

Why? Because he is an apostle, a father figure who helped this church come into being and he has taught them and longs to continue teaching them, hence this letter. He is a resource for them. This is why he says, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me.” (v.22) i.e. I can carry on serving the Lord here on earth. Is that our desire? I know it is something I pray daily: “Lord please use me.” Paul is torn between life and death, so great is his perspective: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (v.23,24)

But it is his awareness that so far the Lord has used him as a resource to the church – to bring the church into being and to build it up – that I find challenging. It is too easy to let scripture remain words and leave it there. I find the Lord challenges me – and perhaps you? – will I be a resource to other people? Will I be a resource that He can use to draw others to Himself? Will I be a resource who, at the very least, He can use to encourage and strengthen and build up other people? Will I be a resource who, regardless of the faith levels of others, will remain faithful to Him and remain available to Him?

Are my resources His resources? Am I generous, hospitable, caring, compassionate in practical ways? I don’t find an automatic ‘yes!’ to every one of them; some of them I feel slightly hesitant about. These are areas for prayer and seeking Him for more grace because, at the end of it all, it is His grace in me that will enable these things to be. I can desire to be like this, but I still need His grace, His power, His presence to actually be like this.

We touch on a fundamental teaching here, that of the ‘body of Christ’ of which I am a member (1 Cor 12:27) and, I hope, you are a member. The concept is of something that Jesus can continue to use to do the will of his Father on earth – then and now. Am I a resource to the other members of this body? Can we collectively be a resource to the rest of the world, an instrument (to mix metaphors) in the hands of God, available to him, in some measure at least, like the apostle Paul, careless of death, available in life?

20. Body Life

Meditations in Colossians 2: 20:  Body Life

Col 2:19    He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

The ‘He’ here in our present verse of course refers to the person in the previous verse, who delights in false humility and the worship of angels (and) ….goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.” (v.18) Whether what follows in verse 19 is a consequence or cause of what we saw in verse 18 is debatable. Seeing verse 19 as a consequence says that because this person (or people – the Gnostics) allowed Satan to deceive them with false teaching, it resulted in them turning away from the Gospel and from Christ. Seeing verse 19 as a cause says, the heart of this person (or people) was weak towards Christ to start with and turning from him they turned to false teaching and all that followed from it. I suggest the ‘consequence argument’ is more likely, although it does show that the heart of the person being deceived was in fact not strong towards Christ otherwise they would never have countenanced any such false teaching.

Whatever the order, the reality is that such people have lost their connection with Christ. We assume you see Christ as the head of the body which is the Church: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.” (Eph 1:22,23) and “Christ is the head of the church, his body.” (Eph 5:23) The Gnostics of course considered Jesus as less than God which is why Paul had said, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Col 2:9). They turned away from a living relationship with God through Christ to a mystical experience-centred belief system where mystical knowledge was more important.

It is both interesting and highly significant that Paul doesn’t merely speak about Christ, he points him out as the head of his body, the Church. Now why does he do that? Well, we have just said that the Gnostics focused on mystical experience and mystical knowledge whereas the Gospel brings about a situation where we believers are permanently linked to Christ by his Holy Spirit and all life, all spiritual experiences, all growth and development, comes through that linkage, comes through being part of his body and receiving directly from him.

If we have been brought up (since we came to Christ) in a church that is weak on understanding the concept and outworking of the idea of the church being the body of Christ, we will be weak in our understanding that we are directly linked as individuals to Christ, we will be weak in understanding that we are individual members of this body with unique roles and gifting, and we will be weak in understanding that so much of ‘life’ from Christ flows to me through the other members of the body.

If we are weak in these ways we will have an outlook that fails to expect personal growth which comes through Christ and his body, that brings change, development and growing maturity in me, and we  will probably be law-focused people who rely on keeping the rules and making effort to be nice or good people. We cannot emphasise enough how significant the concept of the body of Christ is and the life that flows through it. It is this body life and not mystical experiences or knowledge that make us what we are ‘in Christ’. This is why Paul says, “from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” Growth comes to the body from the head, but flowing through the whole body. Again, and we cannot emphasise this enough times in this present context of rejecting the Gnostics and their false teaching, ‘life’ comes not through mystical experiences and mystical knowledge but through encountering Christ directly as part of his body, and by receiving his life through other ‘members’ of his body, the church.

Note the closeness of ideas that Paul has when writing this letter and the one to the Ephesians. Here he says, “from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” To the Ephesians he said,  “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:15,16) The ligaments and sinews are, I suggest, gifts or ministries that God imparts to the Church that provide strength and direction and power. The body is also built by the love that flows through it.

What a difference we have here. A group of people in confusion about the nature of God and of Christ, who resort to having mystical experiences and claiming special knowledge as a result. On the other side we have the Church, the body of Christ, brought into being by Christ’s death on the Cross, and now energised, empowered and directed by Christ’s own Holy Spirit who indwells every believer regardless of how mature or immature they are. One relies on weird occult experiences, the other encountering the true One God. One relies on dubious knowledge, the other on life pouring through the loving body, the gifted body, the directed body, through whom God reveals His love more and more. Hallelujah!

33. Jesus, head of the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 33. Jesus,  head of the Church

Col 1:18   And he is the head of the body, the church;

In this sweep of the wonder of Jesus, Paul has been pointing out how Jesus is supreme above all (and he will reiterate that later on). So far he has done that by pointing out that Jesus is the temporary ruler over God’s kingdom on earth, that Jesus is the image or expression of God, that he was there before all else, the begotten Son, sharing with his Father in bringing into being all of existence and he maintains all of existence by his word. Now, coming down from these incredible and lofty acclamations he also identifies him as the one who is head of the church.

But before we get to ‘church’ we pass the word ‘body’, his body which is now the church. Taking Paul’s letters in Scriptural order, in Romans this concept does not appear until chapter 12: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12;4,5) There it is, one body with many members – each of us.

This has an echo in 1 Corinthians: “is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:16,17) There is a similar oblique hint about us being part of the one body of Christ, but this comes into its fullness in chapter 12 which details these ideas and culminates with, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) He then goes on to detail specific ministry gifts.

The next big mention is in that wonderful letter of the church, Ephesians: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:22,23)  When he later details the gifts of ministries to the church, he says that they are, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Eph 4:12) He also uses the concept later there in connection with husband and wife relationships.

Which brings us to Colossians where we have our present reference and a few verses later on his reference to “for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (v.24) Later on he makes reference to the proud believer who, he says, “has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Col 2:19)  It is still in his mind when he later makes the appeal, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col 3:15) It is a concept that is unique to Paul’s writing but in it he conveys some wonderful truths.

So let’s summarise what this concept says in Paul’s writings.

  • When he was alive Jesus had one physical body through which he ministered God’s will.
  • Now Jesus’ body comprises every believer and we must assume the purpose is still exactly the same – to do God’s will (see Mt 28:19,20).
  • Each one of us who is a born again believer is a unique member of this body with gifts assigned to us by God and expressed by the Holy Spirit
  • In whatever we do as his members, we are to reveal him by doing his will, and that inspired, guided, directed and empowered by his Holy Spirit, and all for the glory of God.
  • Jesus is the ‘head’ of this ‘body’ as the head of a physical body directs the body. Seated at his Father’s right hand, he leads his body into works of God for the blessing of the church and the world, and for the glory of God.

How far this is from all of the trapping of ecclesiastical ritual we often see on television, with men or women dressed up in special clothes. How far this is from the gimmicky services we often find in many modern churches. I challenged one of our own church leaders about this recently because although I have advocated and used such things as ‘café church’ or ‘messy church’ in the past, my conclusion today is that so often (not always) we use these things to hide the absence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings. Let’s learn to wait on the head of the body to both be inspired and to find out what he has on his heart for us to be and do when we gather together. HE is the head of the church, not the Pope, not the arch-bishop of Canterbury or any other ‘bishop’. When we let him be the head, then we might start seeing the body behaving like his body. May it be so!

18. Resurrection and the Life

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   18. Resurrection and the Life

John 11:25,26      Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

We said earlier in this series that one of the great overriding themes in John is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Very briefly we mentioned that in reference to Jesus speaking about his own resurrection (Jn 2:19,21) when he said, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” The whole subject of his resurrection power is now presented to us head on in his words and deeds in respect of Lazarus.

The start of the story seems strange at first sight. Lazarus is ill and his sisters send for Jesus (Jn 11:1-3) but when Jesus receives the message he purposely stays where he is for another two days (v.4-6).  Eventually he tells the disciples they are going back to Judea to ‘wake him up’ actually meaning to revive him from death (v.11,13).

By the time they get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead and buried four days (v.17). When she hears Jesus is coming, Martha goes out to meet him and when she greets him it seems a greeting with faith in it: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.21,22) Jesus reassures her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) to which she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She simply states what good Jewish teaching taught, that we will all rise on the last day to face the Lord. If her previous greeting had been one of faith it seems she dare not quite go as far as to say, “Yes, you can bring him back now.”

It is in this context that Jesus then made the next of his ‘I Am’ statements: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25,26) After this he presses her, “Do you believe this?” (v.26b)  to which she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”   (v.27)  Excellent!

To cut a long story short, Jesus then goes on and with a word of command raises Lazarus from the dead. And so we have word and action together. What do they mean? Well very obviously we see that Jesus doesn’t only have the power to change water into wine, a little bread into much bread, heal from a distance and heal the long-term sick, he can even raise people from the dead, people who have been well and truly dead for at least four days. This is power and authority beyond anything ever seen in a human being before or since.

So what did Jesus actually mean by the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”? (v.25)  Well we must take his own explanatory words. First, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,” i.e. if we believe in Jesus even though we pass through death we will live. There is no time element in this and so it seems to imply that we will go on living even as we apparently pass through death. On the other side we will be alive. We don’t have to wait for some end time resurrection. This seems confirmed by what he then says, “and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” (v.26) saying the same thing but in different words.

It thus seems that Jesus means, I am the cause and the means for you to have eternal life and never die. Yes, there will be an end time resurrection when all come before the Lord, but before that believers will be resurrected in the sense that they will rise up the other side of death and continue living in heaven. Eternal life is conveyed at the moment of new birth. Jesus had previously said,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  (Jn 5:25) Life comes with his word just as it did with Lazarus. When we are born again, he speaks the word and we receive eternal life at that moment, a life source (his Spirit) that ensures that even though our body will one day cease operating our soul and spirit will continue living in eternity.

In the Synoptics there are references to “inheriting” eternal life. We inherit it the moment we come to Christ and are ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3) or ‘converted’ (Acts 15:3) and we will realise it in reality as we pass through the experience of death and find ourselves alive with Him on the other side of that experience. We will not have to wait but it will be there as a steady, continuous flow of life of the soul. Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the thief on the cross. (Lk 23:43)

The fact of the resurrection being applied to us, is the first part of Jesus claim but he also added, “and the life.” There is a life to be lived out both here now and on into eternity. For the moment we live it through a material body but in the same way that Jesus’ resurrected body seem to have different characteristics, so will our ‘spiritual body’, as the apostle Paul put it:it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:44)  As theologian-author Tom Wright puts it, ‘That is what Paul means by the ‘spiritual body’, not a body made out of non-physical spirit, but a physical body animated by the spirit, a spirit-driven body if you like, still what we would call physical but differently animated. And the point about this body is that, whereas the present flesh and blood are corruptible, doomed to decay and die, the new body will be incorruptible.’

It is in this ‘body’ that we will live in eternity. It is an experience of which we are told little in the Bible only that it is real and that it is with God and that it is good. That is the life that Jesus gives us having ‘raised’ us from ‘death’. This is our destiny. We will go on to consider ‘the life’ more in a later study.

5. The Temple Rebuilder?

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   5. The Temple Rebuilder?

John 2:19-22  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

This is not so much a great theme as an insight and recognition of the symbolic language that Jesus sometimes used to speak a truth but not in a way that many would understand. John has given us the multifaceted chapter 1 and then turned to a miraculous sign to show us that he is a life transformer and now he relates an incident that happened at the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem and we may wonder what was the link or what was the train of thought that was going through John’s mind as he possibly dictated this Gospel to one of his younger disciples.

So what happened? Our problem, I suggest is that we so focus on the drama of this incident that we fail to take note of the key significant thing that comes out of it, that is in fact the link to what has just gone before. So the drama. Jesus arrives in the temple and is horrified to see that it is a veritable market place: In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (v.14,15)

Now we should note that this happens in the first year of his three year ministry in John, whereas it appears in the last weeks of his ministry in the Synoptic Gospels. It is logical to suggest that it did in fact happen twice. It is the start of his ministry and because he would have been to Jerusalem many times as he grew up, and had attended Passover celebrations there many times no doubt, he would have known what was going on. Sacrifices were required in the temple and the authorities had made it easy for people to buy them there rather than have to bring them any distance from home. It also made money for the Temple authorities. Jesus wouldn’t have acted previously because his ministry has a clear beginning (with baptism and temptation and anointing) and so this is the first time he has been there since that. It is unlikely that he would not have acted until the last weeks only, because the cause of his indignation was clearly there the whole time of those three years.

It is probable that he did it at the start of his ministry because he is now moving under his Father’s authority and it is probable that the temple remained ‘cleansed’ for the next year or so and then gradually reverted back to the market approach by the time of his final Passover, when his cleansing of it would now act as a good means of provocation to stir the authorities against him to bring about the events of Good Friday.

What is interesting here is the response of the authorities. They want to know his authority. They don’t so much deny it is wrong but want to know who he thinks he is. So, “the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (v.18) It is at this point that Jesus comes out with this enigmatic statement: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (v.19) Now three things must follow logically from this: First, he is a deluded maniac who is just talking rubbish and can be ignored as such.  Second, if he means recreating the physical temple in three days, he is claiming divinity, because only God could perform such a miracle. They have just asked for a miraculous sign to verify his authority and if he did that, that would certainly be a miraculous sign. Third, he obviously means something else but what that is they don’t know. Certainly references so far to a temple always made you think of the physical building.

John adds the insight of the years: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (v.21,22) They subsequently realise that he was speaking about his own resurrection. So how does that link with what John has told us in the first half of chapter two?

There we saw Jesus the life transformer, as he transformed water into wine. Here we see Jesus the life bringer, and that is in respect of human beings. He doesn’t only transform things and situations, he has the ability to transform human beings. If he can transform a dead body and bring it back to life, then he can transform anybody. More specifically, in the spiritual realm, he can take spiritually dead people and bring them to spiritual life and that is exactly what happens, of course,  when someone is born again. Ah, there is the link to chapter three!

17. Body and Temple

Short Meditations in John 2:  17. Body and Temple

Jn 2:21  But the temple he had spoken of was his body

Suddenly all is revealed! In the next verse John will explain this a little more but for the moment we are simply told that the ‘temple’ Jesus referred to was his own body.

Of the some 680 references to ‘temple’ in the Bible, the vast majority refer to the building built by men as the ‘house of God’, so it was understandable that these unbelieving Jews would have their minds fixed on a building – especially as they were standing right next to it! Theoretically, of course, it was supposed to be the place where the presence of God dwelt. Jesus was the first one to use the word to refer to his body but when you think about it, his body was exactly where the presence of God dwelt.

The apostle Paul went on to use the same analogy: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16,17) and again, “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor 6:16) and “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22).

In that last quote he combines the pictures of citizens (of a kingdom), household (reference to God’s family), and a building, a temple (the visible expression of the church where God dwells.). In the New Jerusalem in John’s revelation, the temple in the city is the Father and the Son: “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev 21:22)

So, when we put together the thought of the presence of God dwelling on earth, with the picture of the Son of God being the incarnate presence of God we see the perfection of Jesus’ description – and of course it now applies to us – the church, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. This temple, Jesus’ body, was to be put to death and then raised from the dead on the third day, but the listeners would not understand that – yet!

6. The Gifted Body (2)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 6:  The Gifted Body (2)

Rom 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

As we started to consider these verses in the previous mediation we noted that these ‘gifts’ are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us, i.e. it is God’s ability being expressed in us that enables us to be and do. We also noted that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good’ at doing one particular thing as the Spirit enables us. We considered prophecy and serving.

We then find, third in Paul’s list of examples, ‘teaching’. Now again we find the writer to the Hebrew declaring,  “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again,” (Heb 5:12) where he clearly implies that part of the growing process or process of maturity in the faith, is becoming capable to teaching new believers. But there are some for whom imparting or sharing spiritual truths to a wider audience and bringing understanding to them, is what comes naturally and blesses them. Obtaining pleasure from the role is perhaps one indication that it is from the Lord – not always, but sometimes – because the Lord wants us to enjoy being the people He is making us to be. When we are blessed we bless others.

Then comes ‘encouraging’. Again this is something we are all exhorted to do by Scripture: “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess 5:11) and “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2 – for preachers at least), and encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) and “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) There it is; in so many different ways we are exhorted to strengthen, support and build up one another, and yet there are those who are particularly good at it, and it is something that just pours out of them all the time.

We might think that when we come to ‘contributing’ this is different but Paul says it is “contributing to the needs of others,” i.e. we see someone in need and we reach out and meet that need. But again we see this in general teaching to all of us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  Yet there will be some of us who have material resources and we feel moved to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Such people are exhorted by Paul, “let him give generously.”  In other words, don’t hold back on your feelings, respond fully and be a big blessing!

Then he speaks of those whose grace gifting is ‘leadership’. I confess this one seems more difficult to apply more generally to all of us. Yet in Paul’s teaching we find “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1). The emphasis, I suggest, is on the role being a noble task, for indeed people can wrongly set their hearts on prestige, yet in the spiritual world they really do not know what they are doing. In the early church it often meant sacrifice and persecution. Leaders in the New Testament were either called ‘elders’, where the emphasis is on wisdom and maturity, or ‘overseers’, where the emphasis  is on the role of watching over and guarding the flock of God, and looking after it.

Leaders also hold a high level of accountability to God for the flock. See Acts 20:28-31 for the burden of responsibility that Paul conveys. But leaders are those who go ahead, in spiritual maturity and in grace and in faith. They need all those to counter the wiles and attacks of the enemy and to be God’s channel to meet the needs of the flock. To the person who finds God putting this desire on their heart and being recognized by the flock of God, his instruction is simple: “let him govern diligently.”  Govern here simply means carry out the caring, protective and administering role that God has given you. To do it diligently means to do it with care and perseverance.

Finally Paul speaks of the grace gifting of “showing mercy.” Commentators often speak of this as ‘Caring for the sick, the poor and the aged,’ but I think that is limited and underplays the gift. Mercy in the New Testament is usually spoken about in relation to the Lord (and there is virtually no injunction for us to show mercy to one another) and is simply undeserved good expressed to us. The emphasis is on the ‘undeserved’ element

Yet James taught: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13,17) In other words the humble life is one that flows from understanding wisdom and goes on to express wisdom, and included within that is being ‘full of mercy’.  Mercy here means, not looking down on those in less fortunate circumstances than you, but expressing all of God’s goodness to them. The person who finds grace within to do this in abundance, is not to do it in any heavy way but, says Paul, “let him do it cheerfully.” That way you can’t be heavy handed in being a carer, a giver, a blesser! Remember, it’s all the grace of God in and through you.