Snapshots: Day 32

Snapshots: Day 32

The Snapshot: “It is finished.”  A vision across time.  Three crosses on a hill, with humans nailing others on to them. The one in the middle started shining brightly but then from every direction darkness hurtled at the one who was light, darkness seeking to obliterate the light. From within me a cry, forgive us, Lord!  A battle for survival. But then as the last glimmer of light vanished under the darkness, there was an immense explosion and light poured forth in every direction and as it poured over me, my chains fell off, failures, disappointments, distress, anxieties, guilt, and shame, and as I looked down at myself I was full of light, transformed and clean. (1 Pet 2:24) Salvation!

Further Consideration: It was approaching Easter and I had a dream, a very vivid one, just as I woke, perhaps more of a vision. It was so clear it seemed appropriate to insert it into these Snapshots of the Bible. In one sense it doesn’t matter where we are in history, or where we are in the Bible, we constantly need reminding that history pivots on this one unique event, the crucifixion of the Son of God.

In shorthand we simply refer to all he did and achieved for us as ‘the Cross’. It is, first, an historical event, noted even in secular history. The details are there in the Gospels: three crosses and on the one in the middle hangs Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He speaks seven times: to ask forgiveness for those doing this (Lk 23:34), to reassure the thief beside him (Luke 23:43), to reassure his mother (Jn 19:26-27), to cry to his Father (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34), to declare thirst (Jn 19:28), to declare it is finished (Jn 19:30) and to commit himself to God (Lk 23:46). These are the recorded facts.

But second, it is a prophetic event, spoken of by the prophets who gave insight into what went on in the spiritual realm (see Psa 22), the powers of darkness attacking him trying to break this ‘perfect sacrifice’ the one without blemish or failure. It was a battle of light over darkness but, the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)

But then, third, it is a life transforming event. It happens when we come to the end of ourselves and like a drowning man we grasp for whatever straw God offers, and He offers the death of His Son on the Cross. Religious Jews demanded signs, intellectual Greeks demanded logic and wisdom, and the apostle Paul declared, we preach Christ crucified…  the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:23,24) and, I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) When we accept the wonder of what happened on the awful day, suddenly He comes in power and we are transformed, our sins forgiven, our lives cleansed, adopted as His sons and made anew. I remind myself of this every day.

5. Darkness?

Transformation Meditations: 5. Darkness?

Isa 61:1b   He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

The work of the Messiah, we said, is to transform us, to redeem us, to save us, and we are looking at some of the aspects of his mandate in Isaiah 61 and reiterated by Jesus in Luke 4. Previously we considered the broken-hearted, captives and prisoners. Now we need to consider darkness.

There is a specific prison that is referred to here. In a sense the other prisons we referred to are legitimate but this characteristic needs special attention – darkness. Isaiah, speaking about Galilee prophesied, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:1,2 reiterated in Mt 4:15,16) Now why was Galilee in the north of Canaan referred to as being a place of darkness?

First, it may be that being furthest away from the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of the Lord seemed weakest, if I may put it like that. His light, His glory, seemed at a distance. There are some for whom the presence of the Lord always seems at a distance. You hear it spoken of, but it is mere words.

Second, Galilee being in the north was always the first to bear the brunt of the enemy invaders that so often came from the countries of the north; they were more vulnerable than the south. There are some who, for a variety of reasons, feel more vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.

Third, because of that, there would be what can only be described as a dread of what might be coming. It only need a whisper, a rumour, that countries to the north are arming and a dread would fall afresh. There are some who live with a sense of fear, of dread of what ‘might’ happen. The enemy has imposed a sense of insecurity and you almost expect the worst.

What is the answer to these three things that bring a darkness to our hearts and minds? It has to be, first of all, the truth, the word of God. The Lord is with you and for you (Rom 8:31) and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5) and is working for your good (Rom 8:28). He has plans and purposes for you (Eph 2:10), plans that are good (Jer 29:11). He loves you (1 Jn 4:4,16) and sent Jesus to die specifically for you as an expression of His love for you (Jn 3:16,17) so that now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1) This is the truth. Stand before a mirror every morning and declare these truths. Copy the verses our and declare them every morning.

Second, it has to be the presence of His own Holy Spirit who does indwell you (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19) if you are a Christian, born again of His Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and He is your inner resource if you will listen to Him, to His words of encouragement and affirmation, but it will mean resisting the lies of the enemy: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:7,8) He HAS come to release you from darkness (Isa 61:1, Col 1:13). We are children of light (1Thess 5:5) and so darkness – fear, dread etc. – is to no longer be part of our lives. May it be so.

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!

36. Ninth Plague – Darkness

Meditations in Exodus: 36. Ninth Plague – Darkness

Ex 10:21   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.”.

As we suggested at the end of the previous meditation there was really not a lot left to do against Egypt. The land had been utterly ravaged by hail and by locusts, the livestock had been wiped out by hail and plague and there was really nothing left. The people had been irritated by frogs, ticks and flies and then boils and those who remained outside had died from the hail. What is left to do? It is an amazing situation where virtually everything that can be done to Egypt has been done – and still the pride and folly of this king refuses to budge, even though many of his people (who responded before the hail) and many of his councilors (who responded before locusts) had already given in, in their hearts at least.

So then we come to what is called the ninth ‘plague’ but catastrophe would be a better word to apply to it. Note that there is no call to Pharaoh to let God’s people go and he is given no warning whatsoever as to what is about to happen. Very simply the Lord tells Moses what to do and what will follow: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” (v.21-23)

Many commentators suggest that this was brought about by a strong wind bringing an intense dust storm so that nothing could be seen for the three days that it lasted. This doesn’t feel right to me, particularly as the Israelites had light wherever they were. There is no suggestion in the text of such a storm. I would suggest that it was more likely (IF we are suggesting some form of ‘natural’ phenomena brought by the Lord) that it was simply a massive cloud bank that was so think, so dense and so comprehensive that no light from the sun could penetrate it in that time. Only breaks in the cloud or the edge of the cloud would provide light for the Israelites where they were.

Now there was no mention of doing this before Pharaoh but one has to assume that some of his councilors at least were around when Moses stretched out his hand to the sky, and then went and reported it to Pharaoh. A day passes, and then two and now it must be playing on Pharaoh’s mind that this is not a temporary storm but is going to go on and on. This spurs him to take action by the third day: “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.” (v.24) Pharaoh is reaching the end of his tether but will still not completely relinquish his hold on Israel, so he insists on the flocks and herds remaining behind. Without them Israel would not be able to last long.

Moses will not have this: “But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.” (v.25,26) Hasn’t Moses grown in stature and confidence since he first encountered Pharaoh!  Yet still Pharaoh will not be moved. In fact this action and these words seem to anger and provoke him even more: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.” (v.27) But he has come to a point of no return  and so, “Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” “Just as you say,” Moses replied, “I will never appear before you again.” (v.28,29)  The die is cast, the ‘negotiations’ have come to an end. Whether Pharaoh thinks there is nothing more God can do, we don’t know. In banning Moses from ever approaching him again, Pharaoh, without realizing it, has shut the door on God’s grace.

Now let’s repeat what we said at the beginning of this Part 4. Although this has been a portion of Scripture that has been very difficult to apply to our personal lives, it has revealed the folly of man and the grace of God that nowhere else in the Bible appears so clearly. The warning that must come through must be against pride and against spiritual blindness. The revelation of God that comes through is of one who hesitates in bringing judgment on this foolish occult-driven, superstitious people and gives them opportunity after opportunity of coming to their senses and repenting. Hold on to this picture of God for it is quite amazing. Power, yes, grace even more so.

It sounds trite and so obvious and yet it needs saying: never think you can outsmart God, never think you can outlast Him. If there is known and obvious sin in your life, repent of it. If He is being merciful to you in holding back His hand of discipline, realise that that is what it is. Realise with the apostle Peter, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

18. Lovers of Darkness

Short Meditations in John 3:  18. Lovers of Darkness

Jn 3:19   This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

What an interesting start: “This is the verdict”. A verdict is a judicial decision after a careful weighing of the evidence. So, the evidence has been weighed in respect of the human race as represented by Israel, and they have been found wanting!

We have already seen John using the analogy of light in respect of Jesus (and it was John in his writing and not Jesus). In the opening verses of the book, usually called the Prologue, he had written, In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (Jn 1:4,5) Yes, later on he would remember Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) which is perhaps one reason why he uses this language himself of Jesus. A few verses later on in that Prologue, he had added, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:7,8).

What does light do? It reveals things, it shows the way, it shows things up for what they really are, it exposes the acts of men to be seen by others, it enables us to live normal lives, seeing what we are doing clearly, it helps make sense of the world and enable us to live in it.

And John refers to Jesus as the light, but here he is pronouncing a verdict on humanity because of what he had observed. Yes, the “light has come into the world,” he had been a witness to this light but he had also been a witness to something else: “but men loved darkness instead of the light.” You might have expected people to welcome the light for all the reasons we noted above, the things light does, but they hadn’t. As the apostle Peter had declared, “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.” (Acts 2:22) Those things Jesus did, should have come as light revealing who Jesus was – The Light, but instead, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God knew how it would work out and it was by the rejection of the very people who should have gladly received him, the religious leaders and the leaders of the religious community, the Jews. Why did they reject him? “because their deeds were evil”. They were in fact self-centred and godless. If they hadn’t been they wouldn’t have rejected The Light.

19. The Tide of Acceptance (1)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   19. The Tide of Acceptance

John 12:9-11  Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

A sub-title for this study might be, ‘The Battle for Belief’. When we come to chapters 11 and 12, with the raising of Lazarus the battle for belief that has been going on throughout the book seems to come to a climax. This battle for belief is rather like the tide that goes in an out. In this study we will note the incoming tide and then in the next one the outgoing tide. The incoming tide is belief, the outgoing tide is rejection. We have earlier commented that one of the main overriding themes of John is the identity of Jesus. This theme of belief in him is rather like a sub-theme to that, how people responded to the revelation of who he was. (That we will see very clearly in the next study after this one).

John hinted at this tide early on in the Prologue when he wrote, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:10-12) There it is simply laid out – three things people did not do in respect of belief, but nevertheless there were some who obviously did believe and came to be children of God. As we go through John we will see the signs of this tidal movement. So, let’s look at the incoming signs.

“This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (Jn 2:11) In chapter 1 we saw individual responses of the early disciples to meeting Jesus (see Jn 1:41,45,49). Having seen this miracle their faith is bolstered. Yet things were said and done that even they struggled with: “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.” (Jn 2:22) i.e. at the time they did not understand what he was saying.

Nevertheless the things he did swayed the general people: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)

`        When he left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee via Samaria, after the encounter with the Samaritan woman we find, Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (Jn 4:39-42)

He leaves there and goes to Cana in Galilee where, you remember, he healed the official’s son from a distance and we read, “Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.” (Jn 4:53) After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:14,15) But the tide can change so quickly. Before the end of the chapter we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)

The conflict of belief versus unbelief becomes clearer in the following chapters: “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (Jn 10:39-42) When the opposition rose, Jesus stepped away and allowed there to be opportunities for belief to grow in others.

We see the peak of his approval on what we call Palm Sunday, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Jn 12:12-13) and a little later John explains why this peak of popularity: “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18)

There is still a growing opposition in some quarters that we will examine in the following study, but the battle for belief still raged: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (Jn 12:42) John likes that word ‘believed’ for it occurs 19 times in this Gospel. The identity of Jesus is a key theme but how people responded to it is equally important in terms of volume of the reports in John.

14. The Light of the World

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   14. The Light of the World

John 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

If John was writing his Gospel as a college dissertation today he would probably get 2 out of 10 for style. I say this because we come on to this amazing declaration by Jesus which comes in this form, first here and then in 9:5 but what gets worse, the miracle emphasising this is wrapped round that latter verse but there have already been numerous references to Jesus being light. How much better today, we might think, if it was all neatly packed together in one bundle, but the Bible is not like that, it brings it out bit by bit as it occurred in the various circumstances, so let’s check out these ‘light’ references.

We saw the first references in the Prologue: In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:4,5) i.e. the source of all life was in Jesus and he himself was like a light that shone gloriously in this dark, sin-tainted world, and he was not recognized or understood. But then came, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn1:7-9) John’s job was to point out the life that brings light to every human being.

Then we saw in what we called John’s Recap, John summarizing Jesus ministry as follows: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21) This light – Jesus – reveals hearts. Those who are open to God allow his light to shine in and transform. Those who prefer evil shy away.

We have seen previously that the background to this part of John was the Feast of Tabernacles and now Jesus has come to the temple courts to teach (8:2). The fact that they bring a woman to him here (8:3-12) suggests he was teaching in the Court of the Women. On the first day of the Feast there was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple in which four great candelabra were set up and lit at dusk, producing such a great illumination that light was spread far and wide.

Whether those lights continued throughout the Feast and afterwards is uncertain, but even if not, the candelabra were probably still there and so Jesus possibly stands alongside them (being early morning the light would now be out) and makes this claim which might be interpreted as him saying, “Well, you’ve seen the great light that has been here but I am a light that lights up the entire world. If 8:1-12 was indeed part of the original writing, he is speaking straight after the dismissing of the charges against the woman caught in adultery and it is like he is also saying, “I am the light that shows up the imperfections of every man and woman but I have come to dispel their darkness with my light.

After ongoing discussion and argument Jesus leaves the temple precincts (8:59) and as he goes he comes across a man who had been blind from birth (9:1). Rather than get into a debate with his disciples about the cause of this man’s blindness, he simply heals him (9:2,3,6,7) but not before he has declared, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:4,5) Perhaps we can simply suggest he is saying, “We must do the Father’s works while we still have the opportunity. There will come a time where the light of the world will appear to be snuffed out (temporarily at least) and it will be dark and these works will be halted, but while I am still here in person, I will shed light into the lives of all who come to me.”

The fact of this man having been blind from birth makes the picture even more vivid. It is like Jesus is showing through this miracle that he comes to bring light and therefore revelation to all those who have been spiritually blind since birth – as we all were. He alone opens our eyes so that we can see; that is part of his work and that of the Holy Spirit.

After a lot of discussions, arguments and provocations by the Jews and specifically the Pharisees who were against Jesus, he declares, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Jn 9:39) I like the Message Version’s rendering of this: Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretence of seeing will be exposed as blind.” Those who have been spiritually blind will be enabled to see the truth when they come to Jesus but those religious people who thought they were the ones with the truth, will be revealed as actually being spiritually blind. This is what this light actually does – provide sight for those who recognise their blindness and reveal the true state of those who are self-sufficient and think they see it all – but don’t.

Later on, in further light references, Jesus declares, Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:36) and “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (Jn 12:46) The wonder is that we can become light bringers when we come to him and when we do come to him his light shines in and through us so that darkness (sin) not longer has a place in us. The word ‘light’ appears 24 times in John’s Gospel and again it is all about transformation, us being changed from living in darkness to become and living in light. How wonderful.

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!

16. Light & Darkness

Meditations in 1 John : 16 : Light & Darkness

1 John  2:9-11    Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

John has a tendency to write like the waves on the seashore! A wave comes in – he covers a particular thing – and then goes out, but then shortly it comes back in again – and he uses the same language again. Three times in chapter 1 and now three times in chapter 2 John speaks of light.

His starting point had been, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” (1:5) but then he had applied it to our lives: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (v.7)

Back in his Gospel John recorded Jesus as saying, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21)

He seems to use ‘light’ as good or goodness, purity, holiness.  Thus it becomes, “God is good … if we walk in his goodness as he is good… we have fellowship” and “God’s goodness came into the world (in the form of Jesus) but men loved bad things rather than goodness …. Everyone who does evil hates goodness and does not come under the spotlight of goodness for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into God’s goodness so that it may be seen plainly  that what he has done has been done through God.” i.e. when we come to God His goodness permeates our lives and reveals Him through us. That’s what we saw in the previous meditations.

If we hadn’t got the message clearly the first time, John now presses the point home: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” i.e. if you purport to have come to Christ and are now a Christian, but hate your brother then it is obvious that you are not living in God’s goodness but are allowing evil to remain in you.

To emphasise it even more, John looks at it from the positive side:  “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”  Love is an expression of goodness and so if instead you love your brother you are revealing goodness. One of the things about goodness is that it helps us walk firmly and not be brought down by temptation or sin. While we remain in God’s goodness, living it out, there is no room for bad to creep in and so we will not stumble and fall.

But then he bounces back to the negative again: “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”   Blinded by darkness?  That’s an interesting analogy, but a true one! A person who has allowed hatred for his brother to either remain or take a hold in their life, is not living in goodness but in bad, and when we are living in the bad, it is genuinely like darkness and we lose our way and can’t see where we are going and simply stumble around. We normally speak about being blinded by a bright light, but of course darkness blinds us because in the dark you cannot see. If we allow bad into our lives it brings darkness and in that darkness we start to lose focus, lose awareness, lose sense of purpose and direction.

Now here is the tricky thing: how many of us have allowed something to either remain in our lives after we came to Christ, or allowed something into our lives since we came to Christ, that actually constitutes ‘darkness’? Remember ‘darkness’ is simply wrong, any wrong. John’s example of wrong, is hating your brother. Literal brother or spiritual brother or brother in humanity? It doesn’t matter.  If we have something against a family member, or something against a member of the church, or prejudice against groups within humanity, we have allowed darkness in!  But here’s the other tricky thing: if we have allowed darkness to reside in us, have we realized that we are, at least, partially blind?  What can’t we see because we are in darkness in this area, at least, in our lives? Well obviously that the attitude that we hold is wrong, and we are blind to that, but to what else might we be blind?  How much does the modern church ‘fail to see’ because we tolerate darkness in our lives? It bears serious thought!

5. Walk in the Light

Meditations in 1 John : 5 :  Walk in the Light

1 John  1:6,7   If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

In the early part of this twenty first century crusading atheists have attacked God and the Church and one of the key prongs of their attack has been based on poor examples of Christianity, people whose lives have not lived up to the call of Jesus. There is in these verses a call to a great separation and it is a call to every believer.

Now it may be that John was speaking out in these verses against those who purported to be believers in that time, yet whose lives could hardly be distinguished from the rest of the world. Some religious groups said it was all right to live how you wanted. It was the argument that Paul went against in his letter to Rome:What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? ….. Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:1,15)

John is a great one for calling Christians to live godly lives, lives that are pure and righteous. He does it by contrasting light and darkness. We have already touched on it in the previous verse meditation. Referring to Jesus in his Gospel, John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9)

John uses light and darkness to describe right and wrong living, because the analogy is so clear – light and darkness  cannot exist in the same space at the same time. If you go into a dark room and turn on the light the darkness disappears. It is as simple as that. So, says John, Jesus is light and if you claim to be united with him in fellowship, and yet carry on sinning, that is proof that Jesus’ light is not in you, you are not in fellowship with him and all you say is a lie about being a believer.

When we talk about becoming a Christian we talk about inviting Jesus into your life. Now if you do that – genuinely – then his light will prevent you from sinning. Another way we put it is to talk about the Holy Spirit coming to live in us. He is light and if He genuinely lives in us and we fellowship with Him, then darkness cannot remain in us, sin cannot remain in us. The key word is ‘fellowship’. In his Gospel, John remembered Jesus, at the Last Supper speaking of similar things: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) Remaining in, or, as the older versions had it, ‘abiding in’ simply means living in harmony with Jesus, fellowshipping with him.

Sanctification – that change of life to become more like Jesus – is both an instant and a gradual thing. It is instant and starts from the moment we come to Christ and he places his Holy Spirit within us. At that point the goal of our life, all of our aims, changes. From that moment living for God becomes the all-important thing; that’s what we mean when we talk about surrendering our lives to Him. From that moment on, His will is the all-important thing for us, but the trouble is that often there are things we haven’t realized God wants to change and, in fact, the change will take years and years. But whenever we recognize something that is not right, we must deal with it immediately – for it is darkness and it can no longer exist within us.

When we fellowship or commune with God, He lets us know when they are obvious things that need dealing with. He takes away our peace and we become aware that here is something that must change. How many Christians, I wonder, never commune or fellowship with God? I wonder how many just hold him at a distance in their lives? When you do this you can tolerate wrong things in your life – but be warned, that has spin-offs!

If we hold God at arms’ length, then we don’t fellowship with Him and if we don’t fellowship with Him it means we don’t fellowship with other believers. It is the Holy Spirit within us who enables us to fellowship heart to heart, spirit to spirit, with other believers. But on the positive side, when we do fellowship with Him and with one another, that is how His life in us is supposed to work and that is the outworking of His salvation that He wants in us. That is why John appears to ‘tack on’ this reference to the blood of Jesus, his Son, which purifies us from all sin. It is the outworking of our salvation is to be practical, not merely theoretical.

So often we seek to separate off references to our salvation and being cleansed from our sin, from practical living, but practical living is the outworking of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It wasn’t simply that our consciences can be cleared; it was also to enable us to live new lives and that newness involves interacting with other believers at a deep and meaningful level. If we sin and hold darkness in our lives, that prevents fellowship taking place – fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. We will have an appearance of a Christian faith, but it will not be what God has for you, it will fall short of that. That is how significant these verses are!