51. It’s here today

Short Meditations in John 6:  51. It’s here today

Jn 6:51   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The clarity of Jesus’ teaching sometimes is breath-taking and it leaves no room for obfuscation (confusion); it is right in your face and you either receive it – or not. OK, says Jesus, I have been talking about bread that feeds more than ordinary bread, a bread that comes down from heaven that gives eternal life – and I am that bread. It is that simple! See it in this power-packed verse.

“I am the living bread.” Somehow Jesus is a means of bringing a sustenance to our lives that is beyond ordinary, it is ‘living’, it is alive, it is life-bringing.

“that came down from heaven.” This provision – me – is from God, from heaven, that was my home, that is where I have come from.

“Whoever eats this bread.” Yes, that needs thinking about and we did it in the previous study. It means taking Jesus fully into our lives and absorbing him into ours.

“will live forever.” This is the potential that overcomes our fear of death; there is the potential of a life with God that goes on for ever.

“This bread is my flesh”. Somehow or other this analogy of bread applies to Jesus life, his very body. As we observe and react to what this one single human (?) body did, that is what causes the dramatic change in life, that brings the consequences we’ve just spoken of.

“which I will give.” Somehow there is a hint here of Jesus relinquishing this life, of giving it up, a hint of the days to come.

“for the life of the world.” This is not just for a special few here in Israel, this is for the entire world and it is a thing of life and death, something that affects every single human being, past, present and future. What Jesus is talking about is how any person who has ever existed can have the opportunity of receiving this ‘eternal life’, this glorious and wonderful life for ever with God.

So here is the claim in stark definition. It is hard to see how it can be misunderstood and the key thing is, this ‘bread’ is here in front of them today; they are the most privileged people of history to have this ‘bread’ stand before them. Yet many if not most will misunderstand, grumble and turn away. So why does Jesus speak in these somewhat obscure yet staggeringly sharp ways? He uses the language of analogy as well as parables because pictures are graphic and memorable and even if they will struggle to understand at the moment, the word pictures will remain with them. Even their hostility will help create memories that will speak on.

50. Grab the Opportunity

Short Meditations in John 6:  50. Grab the Opportunity

Jn 6:50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die  

I don’t know if you have ever come across ‘painting by numbers’? It involves having a pre-printed picture with each part of the picture has a number in it so perhaps 1 may represent white, 2 may be blue, 3 may be red, 4 may be green and so on, and the idea is you paint in the areas so numbered with the appropriate colour. To start off it appears a number of shapes and numbers but as you add the colour, so the picture comes into focus. I feel this chapter is like that.

We’ve had the feeding of the five thousand. We’ve had the crowd finding Jesus. We’ve had talk of their wants – more bread. We’ve had talk of manna and now of bread from heaven that brings eternal life and then we’ve had Jesus declaring he is that bread. The ‘picture’ should now be clear and obvious. They have, standing before them, the one from heaven whose life can bring them eternal life, but here’s the tricky bit, how do you ‘eat’ Jesus? We’re going to see shortly that this is going to be the stumbling block for the Jews (v.52)

We will see later that these Jews grumble amongst themselves again revealing bad hearts. If they had been open to Jesus and wise, their response would have been, “Lord, teach us how to feed on you.” Instead they just grumble. Talking to Jesus when you don’t understand is the answer, the path to wisdom, not just grumbling.

I suspect if they had done that Jesus might have said something like, “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggest, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him. At another time he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29) (see it beautifully in the Message version).

But there is another thing here. Years later, possibly as many as seven decades later, John was able to look back on those wonderful years when he and the others had walked with Jesus for three years, and their lives had been utterly changed in that most incredible and amazing time. He had that testimony – but probably most of these Jews hadn’t; they hadn’t taken the opportunity that God was offering them. Instead they grumbled. The early disciples are examples of those who simply heard, “Follow me…” and did without lots of caveats, lots of conditions and questions (although they had them and had opportunity in the days ahead to ask them), they just followed. That’s what disciples of Jesus do, and that is what distinguishes them (us?) from the rest of the world.

41. Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  41. Grumbling

Jn 6:41     At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 

Watch people at the end of a service where there has been preaching. How do they leave? Are they animated, full of ‘the word’ they have taken in, absorbed and been changed by, or do they leave with long faces muttering about ‘complicated teaching’ or ‘rubbish preaching’?

It’s a funny thing but Jesus didn’t seem to go out of his way to help people understand what he was teaching, in fact, quite to the contrary, sometimes it seems he was being purposely obtuse. He used parables and then didn’t explain them – except to those closest to him, when they were in private (e.g. Mk 4:1-11). Indeed he quoted Isaiah, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (Mk 4:12). In other words he did not want surface, shallow or unreal repentance, he wanted real heart-moving changes that came to those who truly sought to be close to him.

In our present reading, Jesus made a very simple statement – “I am the source of life that has come from heaven to you” – and the Jews with their hostile hearts just couldn’t see that. We often say that sin blinds (e.g. 2 Cor 4:4. 1 Jn 2:11, Rev 3:17). A truly humble, searching heart might have responded, “Lord, please forgive my obtuseness but can you explain further what that means? Are you equating yourself with the manna that God gave in Moses’ day? And what do you mean when you said you have down from heaven? Do you simply mean you have been sent by God or is there some deeper meaning?” But they didn’t; they just grumbled.

Now grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator. When people leave on Sunday morning in this frame of mind, it is always possible that the preacher was having a bad day, but even then it is still possible to get some crumbs from what was said. People sometimes say, “Well, I find it difficult to concentrate.” Well take notes, that helps anchor your mind on what is being said and helps you take it in and be fed by it. If the teaching is complex (and sometimes the Bible is complex) and you find it difficult to take in and understand what is being said, make a note to yourself to go away, pray over it and ask the Lord for understanding. If it is a small church (not so easy to do in a large church) talk to the preacher afterwards and ask for further explanation; maybe there are other people who would value further help over coffee afterwards. But grumble? No, that simply reveals a bad heart, just like these Jews before Jesus. Let’s not be that.

34. Give us

Short Meditations in John 6:   34. Give us

Jn 6:34  “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Such a simple 8-word verse and yet highly challenging. It is a verse that seems so simple and appears to indicate that Jesus has won them over to his teaching. But stop and think about it. There has been talk about manna in the wilderness centuries before, and there is now talk of bread that can now come down from heaven. Is this a promise of new ‘manna’, a new outpouring of miraculous provision by God?

At this point I am sure that was what was in the minds of these Jews. We, the chosen people of God, are about to receive miraculous provision from the Messiah – we saw him feed five thousand with virtually nothing, so now we can expect him to call down God’s new provision. At Zarephath, the prophet Elisha had provided the means for bread to be made by a widow throughout the years of drought (1 Kings 17:7-16). That was thought by many scholars to be the sort of thing the coming Messiah would do. Surely the feeding of the five thousand was a sign that that provision is here!

There is a word in this verse that I have never noticed before – ‘always’. The Message renders this verse, “They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” We might suggest, “Enthusiastically they liked that idea and responded eagerly, ‘Great Lord, be our supplier for ever and ever, that’s the sort of king we like!’” They can foresee a rosy future, casting off the shackles of the Roman oppressors and living under the benign rule of the Messiah who will provide for their every need, bringing a new security to this questionable life that depends on the absence of drought and good harvests. Yes, we’ll have some of that!

But in this we see a major error of human thinking. It was back there in the Law: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” (Deut 8:3) and Jesus quoted it to Satan (Mt 4:4) which the Living Bible paraphrases, For the Scriptures tell us that bread won’t feed men’s souls: obedience to every word of God is what we need.” We focus on physical needs but life is more than the merely physical (as important as that is).

Now here is the challenge as we think about these things: how do we balance our lives? Do we focus entirely on the material aspects of life to the detriment of the spiritual? Will we appear to have everything and yet in reality have little or nothing that counts? Lk 12:15-21 tells of a foolish materialistic farmer. The warnings (v.15,21) that go with the parable need heeding.

33. Bread has come down

Short Meditations in John 6:  33. Bread has come down

Jn 6:33   For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Before we dig into the verse, we need to remind ourselves of the context. The pivotal point for the discussion about bread was v.27: Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  The context for that had been the feeding of the five thousand and the crowd’s response to that. Subsequent to that they had said, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (v.31). So we have this flow of conversation that started with the bread of the miracle, then a general reference to food that will last, and that triggered thoughts in the crowd of the manna that had been provided for Israel in their years in the wilderness as part of the Exodus.

So we came to v.32 where Jesus concluded, “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”  There has been literal bread, reference to the manna, and now a different sort of ‘bread’ that comes down from heaven and – and this is the big difference – gives life to the whole world, not just Israel.

All this talk of ‘bread’ may leave us enlightened and affluent westerners of the twenty-first century feeling a bit nonplussed.  Mostly we don’t get excited about bread. If we go out for a meal with friends, it is not bread that we focus on. We may be offered rolls with our meal and that is good. There are many sorts of bread available to us today – I am just enjoying a specialist loaf from the bakery section of our nearest major supermarket that contains cranberries, raisins and cashew nuts, beautiful! – but in Jesus’ day bread was part of their staple diet. Interestingly it was sometimes sweetened with honey and raisins creating a bread not dissimilar to the specialist modern bread I’ve just described.

But the big thing about bread is that it was, as I’ve just described, part of their staple diet, i.e. one of the basic foods that kept them alive. The manna had helped keep them alive in the desert (although no doubt they would have killed a sheep or goat from time to time to supplement their basic diet). There was no wheat in the wilderness and so any supplies of flour from Egypt would have soon run out. Thus manna became the primary source of energy and vitamins providing food for those years in the desert. And it had come miraculously from heaven lasting just one day, but two at the weekend, an ongoing miracle in itself. It was God’s supply for them and it gave them life. Jesus is now saying that something better than that is coming from heaven. Watch this space!

7. Limited Resources

Short Meditations in John 6:  7. Limited Resources

Jn 6:7   Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  

The term ‘resources’ can be very wide ranging. We talk about inner resources meaning the capacity to stick at something or stand up for something, to perhaps persist or persevere or endure. In physical terms we talk about low sugar levels and the need to boost our resources. A business person might speak about financial resources or resources of raw materials for production. Resources are whatever we need to achieve an end goal – the end of a marathon, production targets, the ability to keep on caring. ‘Economics’ we are told, is all about how we use scarce resources. Our resources are always limited and therefore we have to consider how to use our limited resources – until we meet Jesus, that is.

The disciples have yet to learn that. Jesus has just asked where they can get bread to feed the large crowd that has been listening to him. Later they focus on how limited their resources are, but here Philip focuses on how large the need is.  He looks out over the crowd that numbers thousands and does a quick calculation and comes up with this comment: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” How often we look at the size of the problem and allow it to dominate us.  That is what happened with Saul and his army as they faced the Philistines (1 Sam 17) and were confronted by a great giant named Goliath. His enormous size scared them stiff. It needed a young boy named David full of faith to bring him down.

Again and again we allow ourselves to be brought to a standstill by the size of the apparent problem and we need both wisdom and faith sometimes to be able to press through. Quite a number of years ago I had a vision for a Saturday morning children’s work on a poor housing estate (‘project’ for the Americans) and when I shared it with the church I got the response, “That is going to need a lot of people and we’re all just too busy.” Just one other person rose with this vision, so we went to a house-group that comprised mostly younger people and said, “We want your advice. We’ve got this general idea, but we need the nuts and bolts of things we could do with children and being nearer their age, you might have better ideas than we have.” They agreed and for a half an hour they called out varied ideas, some wild and some good, until we had a board covered with their suggestions. As we came to leave one of them, looking at the board, said, “I like the feel of this. I could do that.” Another agreed, then another and before we left we had the team to run it.  Sometimes we need the vision laid out more clearly to overcome the giant, before the volunteers will stand up!

55. Communion

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 55.  Communion

Mt 26:26   While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body

Of all the analogies we have looked at in Matthew, this one is possibly the most familiar if you are a regular church-goer, for it is probable that we may hear these words at Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or whatever else we might call it, because Luke added the words, do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) and the apostle Paul added, “whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:25,26) Thus we take this ‘sacrament’ (‘a ceremony regarded as imparting spiritual grace’) on a regular basis in most churches, for some weekly, others monthly. Possibly because the Synoptic Gospel writers had covered it adequately, John says nothing about what we refer to as Communion because it was obviously only one small part of all that went on at the Last Supper. John recounts Jesus’ amazing prayer then. (see Jn 17)

But at the heart of it there are two analogies. The first we have above, but then Jesus went on: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.27,28) So we have two sets of analogies: bread and wine, body and blood, and indeed they are both analogies.

Now we have to recognize that in practice there are different understandings of what takes place. For Catholics what takes place is “the conversion of the substance of the Eucharist elements into the body and blood at consecration, only the appearance of bread and wine still remaining.” For most Protestants, it is merely a symbolic act, an act of obedience which wins the blessing of God and therefore a sense of grace imparted

But we will focus, as in the rest of this series, in trying as simply as possible to catch what Jesus was trying to convey when he originally spoke these words to his disciples and ask, what might these ordinary men have made of these words? It is probable, as the Gospels show with so many things, the disciples were simply out of their depth in the face of such picture language and it would probably be many years before the likes of the apostle Paul helped out with understanding. Yet even in his one piece of writing on this Last Supper, it wasn’t his intention to spell it out, merely correct the Corinthians for their bad behaviour. So let’s look at the wording before us.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Mt 26:26) Now for many years I thought that this was followed by the words, “which is broken for you” but actually Paul’s wording (and the Gospel writers don’t have this) is simply, “which is for you” (1 Cor 11;24) so any desire to impose a ‘theology of brokenness’ is unwarranted. So what did those words mean. In its very simplest understanding Jesus must have been saying, “As you eat this bread, imagine you are eating me, or if that is too much to cope with, imagine you are taking my very life into your life, so I become a living part of you, we being utterly united.”  i.e. this is what this whole thing is about, my coming to the earth, my living in human form; it is that ultimately we may become one, God in you.

Now there is nothing outrageous about that when you see the wider teaching of the New Testament, that we becomes ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’, vessels that contain the glory of God, humans indwelt by God, by Jesus, by his Holy Spirit. Was this a simple piece of imagery to remind us what his ultimate goal is for us?

But then the blood: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.27,28) Now the concept of the Passover covenant was probably more familiar to many of them, that to avoid the judgment of God in Egypt, a lamb had to be slain and its blood put on the doorposts of the home so that the destroying angel would see it and “pass over”. The tricky bit here is “my blood” and in that Jesus is ratifying John the Baptist’s words which the Synoptics had not picked up but John did, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and also 35,36). It is also the picture conveyed in the vision John received in Revelation: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” (Rev 5:6) The analogy is simple: a lamb was previously sacrificed to save the people; that Lamb was now Jesus. By his death a new covenant is inaugurated.

The talk of body and bread being eaten, signifying a oneness, might cause the sensitive spirit to ask, how can such a thing be? The answer is, because a lamb has been slain on your behalf so that judgment is averted and all the blessing of God is released to your life. That is why we can stand secure before the Lord and in the face of all that the world brings. We are one with him and he made that possible for dying for us. Hallelujah!

33. Bread and Dogs

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 33.  Bread and Dogs

Mt 15:26,27    He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

We are, you will remember, examining the picture language that Jesus used in his teaching. The more we do it, the more I realise just how much he did it – all the time! Wherever we turn in the Gospels we find this word-picture language. It is like Jesus does it, a) to make it more memorable and b) to make us think more – whatever is he getting at here? So often in preaching we try and make everything so simple and straight forward, but Jesus didn’t teach like that.  He taught in such a way that those whose hearts were all for him would understand, while those with a lesser commitment would perhaps say, “Nice story,” and go away untouched.

So what is the context of our two verses above? Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” (v.21) He has left his usual area of ministry around the Sea of Galilee and gone north to the area to the far north of Galilee, in the area of the towns of Tyre and Sidon. An area outside Israel, a land of the Gentiles. We don’t know why but we do know that he did what he sensed his Father was doing, what the Holy Spirit led him to. Now he may have ministered to other people in this area but we are only told about this particular woman, for immediately after his conversation with her, we read, “Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee.” (v.29) i.e. he went back to his usual ministry area.

She is “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity.” (v.22a) Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, one associated with the old enemies of Israel, those pagans who had previously occupied the land, many of whom would have left the land and settled elsewhere (when others remained and fought Israel). Mark, perhaps more graciously describes her differently: “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.” (Mk 7:26) However we may look at it, she is not a Jew. Now all of this background is very pertinent to understanding the power and significance of what follows.

She comes to Jesus, “crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (v.22b) Now what is interesting is that Matthew has a variety of supplicants coming to Jesus and addressing him as ‘Lord’ – e.g. the leper (Mt 8:2), the centurion (Mt 8:6,8), a would-be disciple (Mt 8:21), Peter (Mt 14:28,30, 16:22, 17:4, 18:21), now this woman (Mt 15:22,25,27), a father with a demoniac son (Mt 17:15), and two blind men (Mt 20:30,31,33), but in Mark’s Gospel, the only time someone directly addresses Jesus as ‘Lord’ is in this instance, this gentile woman! No doubt both sets of accounts are true but it is as if Matthew goes to lengths to show Jesus’ Lordship and the recognition of that by many people, while Mark, directed by Peter, only uses it in this one exceptional case, to make a point – a Gentile acknowledges Jesus’ Lordship, and that is outstanding!

This story is truly fascinating from a number of angles. She addresses Jesus as ‘Son of David’, she is emphasizing his Jewishness but also perhaps subconsciously acknowledging his role as ruler in the order of King David, possibly the Messiah. Then she openly acknowledges her problem – her daughter is demon possessed. Now this presents a particular problem. A person only gets possessed (as against ‘oppressed’) when an individual opens up their life to Satan in a big way, usually through the occult – or when someone close to them in authority over them, if they are a child, is seriously involved in the occult. So how did this child become possessed? What had the mother (or father perhaps?) been up to? We are not told. Amazingly Jesus does not appear concerned to apportion blame and point fingers!

Now Jesus’ response to her is strange to say the least: “Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” (v.23) Now perhaps he is remaining silent because he wants to see how all the other players in this scene are going to react. I do believe that the Lord sometimes remains silent because He is testing us and wants to see how we will react to such silence.  The disciples react negatively towards her, and Jesus’ only comment seems at first sight to support their negativity: “He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (v.24) Again, is he wanting to see how she will react?

He is rewarded as she draws closer: “The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.” (v.25) She has sought Jesus out and now she persists. Jesus prods the conversation on again, again possibly to see how she will respond: “He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (v.26)

Ah! At last we have arrived at the picture language, but what we find is almost abusive. His analogy is of a parent who snatches away the food given to their child and gives it to the dogs. ‘Bread’ is fairly obvious as meaning something that is good and nourishing, but ‘dogs’ is something different. Dogs, as we’ve seen before, tended to be unclean street scavengers or, at the best, guard animals tethered outside the family home. The term was used negatively of others – ‘Gentile dogs’, ‘infidel dogs’ and even later ‘Christian dogs’. What we don’t know is how Jesus said it. It could have been with a wry smile, as if inviting a repost – and this he gets: “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (v.27)

Excellent! Perseverance with wisdom! “Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (v.28) He clearly is pleased with her response and sees faith in her. He responds and the daughter is healed. Job done, now he can return to Galilee.

There is something in what we’ve just said that is quite significant and needs to be considered when we read these accounts. I suggested that the look on Jesus’ face would be telling and would be all important. The words at face value are provocative but the face might have been – and probably was – encouraging. If we wanted to expand what happened we might suggest the conversation went something like this: the woman came to Jesus’ house crying out from outside the front door, “Jesus, please come out and help us for my young daughter is horribly possessed by a demon.” Jesus came to the door but said nothing while his disciples in the background whispered, ‘Send her away Lord.’ So she persisted and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, please help us.’ Jesus smiled and said, “But I’ve been sent to our people, to Israel, should I use what I have for foreigners?” She smiles back through her tears, and shoots back, “Fair enough but can’t we have some leftovers of what you have – you are here after all.” Done!

A simple lesson, but a powerful one. If God either doesn’t answer or appears to give a strange answer, remember two things. First, He still loves you. Second, He longs for your growth and development and is watching to see how you will respond. The ball, as they say, is in your court!

(Addendum: if you want to see more of how God provokes, check out Ex 32:9,10 and Num 11:10-15 and Num 14:10-20)

7. The Father’s Provision

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 7.  The Father’s Provision

Mt 7:9-11 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Again we need to see the context to catch the full import of these three verses. Immediately before Jesus has encouraged his followers:Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7,8) Immediately before that, as we saw in the previous study, he had spoken of us not dropping what we had that was sacred, or our ‘pearls’, before dogs or pigs, and that might lead some to think, “Hold on, what have I got that is sacred, what have I got that are the equivalent of precious pearls?” That leads us to realise that there is more in the Christian life to be appropriated than we have at the moment – and this is always true, there is always more to come from the Lord.

But how do you get this ‘more’? By asking, by seeking, by knocking on God’s door, so to speak. The tense of those verbs is ongoing so it means keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Now many people don’t realise this and they settle for what they have and settle into a state of inactivity and immobility, but the truth is that we are called to be seekers. Why doesn’t the Father just give it without us asking? Well asking is a sign of spiritual health and it also brings about a closeness in relationship with the Father so, yes, as we mature there is always this balance, there is always this tension between being contented with what God has made us but a yearning for more of Him, more of the expression of His kingdom, more of the experience of His Holy Spirit.

But there is a problem. Now in this year of writing (2017) there has arisen a new term used in the media – false news, or fake news. It means things that are said publicly as if they were true but in reality they are false. Now in spiritual warfare this is nothing new for the Bible tells us that Satan is a deceiver; he deceived Eve at the start and he seeks to deceive whoever will listen to him. Now many of us have listened to him unwittingly and so we have heard such ‘fake news’ as “God is a harsh, judgmental God. God doesn’t love you, you are a nobody, you are a failure in life, nobody loves you.” And all of that is untrue! But people believe it, which is why Jesus spoke out the words in our verses above.

He has just encouraged us to be seekers of more, to keep on asking and keep on knocking at God’s door but the problem is that we are reticent to ask because we’ve listened to the enemy’s ‘fake news’ and we need to get over that. So Jesus asks us to think about any normal family: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

Imagine the picture. A little child comes in tired and hungry from school, say, and says, can I have something to eat please?  The father goes outside, picks up a rock and brings it in and places it on a plate and puts it in front of him on the table. Oh, come on, Jesus’ listeners would have protested, no dad would do that! OK, replies Jesus, let’s change the picture then, let’s make it a living thing. The child asks for a fish and so dad goes out and finds a snake and puts it on a plate before him. Oh, come on!!! A loving dad wouldn’t do that!

OK, says Jesus, think about this. There’s nothing special about this dad, he’s the same as any other human being, a sinner, basically evil when it comes to it. Now you are telling me that this dad wouldn’t ever do something so unkind to his son, so why do you think your Father in heaven is less than this dad? Why is Father going to hold back on giving good gifts to His children when an earthly father doesn’t do that? We might add, think of all the evidence of the whole Bible that tells us that God has blessed and blessed and blessed His people. Think of all the good He has done for you. Think of the salvation He has granted you – earned by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, imparting sonship, forgiveness, cleansing, righteousness, and power, teaching and direction of the Holy Spirit. All this was free, you didn’t do anything to earn it. You didn’t go looking for it, He came looking for you, He initiated everything.

This is a serious argument. Why do so many of us think, I’m nobody, I’m nothing, I’m a failure? Answer: because it is true – but it is only half the story. The other half is the things we listed near the end of the previous paragraph. Jesus has got so much more he wants you and me to enter into but we don’t get it because we don’t keep on asking, seeking and knocking for it, because we listen to the likes of the crusading atheists with their ignorant rantings and believe the fake news. No, we are NOT unloved, No, God is NOT a harsh God. He is a loving heavenly Father and if He holds back, it is because He wants to strengthen your heart, strengthen your resolve and draw you closer to Him.

Go back to that Old Testament ‘equation’: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psa 37: 4) When we delight in Him, when we make Him the focus of our lives, then He starts putting desires on our hearts and as we start recognising those desires and asking and asking for them, so He grants them. There is so much more just waiting for you, but it starts with this ‘equation’.

12. Jesus’ Testimony (3)

Short Meditations in John 3:  12. Jesus’ Testimony (3)

Jn 3:13   No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man

Because we are only taking one verse at a time in these meditations, we have had to only hint at what we knew was coming in later verses but here, now, we find Jesus alluding to something that doesn’t come out in any of the three Synoptic Gospels – that he has come down from heaven. If some of his other claims aren’t always very clear, this one really is; there is no mistaking it. In later chapters when he speaks of himself as the bread coming down from heaven it is even more clear, but here there can be little mistake in understanding what he is saying in this conversation with Nicodemus.

Basically he is saying that he is a unique witness and he is that because he alone can speak of spiritual things originating in heaven because he alone has come down from heaven to earth. Now anyone wanting to be picky might say, well angels had come down but, yes, they had but only briefly as short-term messengers. This is something completely different; this is God in human form who has come to live in a unique human life for the length of a human life (admittedly terminated early!) But that is what Jesus is saying and if Nicodemus struggled with the earlier concepts, this is really going to blow his mind away!

Now of course Jesus is actually answering the unspoken question that Nicodemus had come with. You remember his starting place was, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Now there is a sense that there he was making a statement: “You ARE a teacher – and that’s all (isn’t it?)” That, it seems, was what was implied in his opening remarks – yes, I’m willing to credit you with being a teacher and a pretty special one at that because clearly the power of God is with you, but is that all you are? Are you something more?

So now Jesus is giving him his answer: yes, I am, I am the one who has come down from heaven. In the context of what we have been saying, I am the only one who can speak with authority about spiritual matters because I alone have come from the spiritual dimension that sometimes is called heaven. Now it is only John’s Gospel that makes this claim in this form but of course the truth of it comes out in other scriptures, e.g. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9), “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) These all say the same thing: this is God that you have seen on earth, God who came down from heaven.