1. Observing the Law

(We’re going to have a two week break from the Aspiring series, but we will be back. For two weeks we’re going to pick up on the short meditations in John’s Gospel we’ve started before)

Short Meditations in John 5:  1. Observing the Law

Jn 5:1  Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast

It was an interesting thing about Jesus that although he spoke about bringing freedom he acted out the life of a good Jew and obeyed the Law of Moses. We aren’t told which ‘feast’ this was that Jesus attended in Jerusalem but it must have been one of the three pilgrimage feasts to which all Jewish males were expected to attend – Passover, Pentecost or Tabernacles: “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Deut 16:16)

Jesus came from heaven to live in this God-revealing culture and so he went along with the Law which, after all, God had instigated for this people, and each aspect of it drew the Jew back into an awareness of God and of their relationship with Him. Jesus reinforced that by attending these feasts. John mentions Jesus going up to Passover at least 3 times: 2:13,23 / 6:4 / 11:55, 12:1 and also the feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of Dedication (10:22). It has been suggested that his ability to go up to so many feasts indicates he has a wealthy background, for poor people could rarely afford to make such a pilgrimage. Perhaps the ‘inheritance’ of the three wise men (Mt 2) still provides for him or provided for Joseph to build a successful business. Real possibilities.

Now we might be skeptical about ‘keeping the Law’ (and we’ll see this in later studies) but it is an expression of God’s desire for the way His people, back in those days, should live their lives. Much of it cannot apply to us today, but nevertheless in the New Testament we find many instructions that we should heed which are tantamount to ‘laws’. We aren’t saved by them but we are saved to keep them, because they are God’s desires for the way we live our lives today.

The other thing to be remembered is that these acts of following the Law by Jesus led him to places and circumstances that just gave him further opportunity to reveal the Father and His love. This feast is going to mean that Jesus will be in Jerusalem again and there he will find a needy person and he is going to bless that person and thus reveal God’s love. This particular healing is going to add a further dimension to the things we have seen so far about Jesus that are revealed in the context of the healing.

Later on, Jerusalem would become a place of threat and eventual death for Jesus but for now, before the threat builds, Jesus takes the opportunity of being there to reveal something of the glory of God yet again.

12. God’s Publicity Machine

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  12. God’s Publicity Machine

Acts 2:5-12  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

I think when it comes to gems in the Bible there is always the risk that we pass them by without realising the wonder of them.  I’ve got a feeling if I asked 100 Christians to give me a verse that they might consider to be a ‘gem’, none of them would come up with these verses. They are, I suspect, by and large, verses that most of us skim over quickly. We focus on the wonder of what was happening on the Day of Pentecost and note in passing that it was verified by many Jews in the vicinity but it struck me just recently how wonderful these verses are.

The start is interesting. The onlookers are “God fearing Jews”. They have travelled from their homes all over the place to attend the feast of Pentecost, that great feast celebrating God’s provision through harvest. It was a great feast to attend if you were a Jew.

But then it says they were God-fearing Jews “from every nation under heaven”. Now the New Testament writers were not like modern researchers who would be careful in the literal way they used words. So it doesn’t mean that every single nation in the world is represented here but it certainly does mean that very many nations were represented here, able to witness this incredible event. Now whether they accepted it or not, these Jews who would return home to their particular nation would go home and tell what they had seen and heard. One way or another, this event was going to be broadcast around the world.

In a day when we are used to tens of millions being able to witness an event through the medium of television we may be a bit blasé about this, but the truth was that by sending His Holy Spirit on this Feast Day He ensured that many, many Jews would see and hear what He was doing. The terrible and remarkable events that had occurred fifty days earlier at Passover might have been forgotten by some and those from foreign lands would have heard about it only second hand as a piece of new gossip. As yet it had not had impact. But now something amazing is happening and it has happened on a day when representatives from around the world were there to see it.

There were Parthians who came from the territory from the Tigris to India, Medes from east of Mesopotamia, Elamites from north of the Persian Gulf, those from Mesopotamia, some from there in Judea, including Galilee, some from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, all districts in Asia Minor, some from Egypt, and some from Rome. This wasn’t the entire world by any means but it was certainly over a large area of what we today might call the Middle East, and even further afield.

Now what we sometimes forget is that not only did these God-fearing Jews witness the new freedom of the disciples, praising God in the languages of all these foreign Jews, but they were also the ones who then heard Peter preaching what is the first Christian sermon, anointed by the Holy Spirit. These men are included in “those who accepted his message” and are in the “three thousand … added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)  These men would have returned home as born again believers and would certainly take that news with them.

Today, at a local level, if we want news spreading we put up advertisements or put leaflets through the door. At national level we use television advertising.  What we have just witnessed is not only the birth of the Church but also God’s means of ensuring the good news would be spread, not merely as cold information but as changed and Spirit empowered lives. We often get so caught up with Paul’s part in spreading the Gospel that we perhaps forget that long before Paul got under way and long before the apostles spread out from “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) these forerunners would have already gone ahead and would have started to spread the kingdom. This is a gem indeed!

9. Following the Law

Short Meditations in John 2:  9. Following the Law

Jn 2:13  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Of course when the feasts were first inaugurated in the Law, Jerusalem did not exist as the capital of Israel (as they had not yet even entered the land!). Yet within the Law we find, Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed.” (Deut 16:16)  With the advent of kings of Israel and the taking of Jerusalem, it became usual for the various feasts to have their main focus at Jerusalem and for many this became a regular pilgrimage. Passover was one of the most important of the feasts.

Thus we now find that because it was the time for Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Note John’s insertion of the word ‘Jewish’ because he is now writing for a world-wide audience and thus needs to spell out specific Jewish things. John mentions these feasts a number of time, e.g. 5:1(a feast), 6:4 (Passover), 7:2 (Tabernacles), 10:22 (Dedication – Hanukkah), 11:55 (Passover) and 13:1 (Passover). These feasts were firmly held by the Jews because they were one way that they held on to their identity under the yoke of Rome. It was also, of course, a way of keeping the Law.

For whatever the reason, Jesus appears to have faithfully attended the feasts in Jerusalem which, while he was fulfilling his ministry in the north in Galilee, was both an interruption and a threat. The Jews of Jerusalem clearly found him a threat and it was that which eventually caused the confrontation and his death. Nevertheless Jesus was confident in his safety and so continued to follow the Law and go to Jerusalem, perhaps also to be an example to his followers to remain good Jews.

Each time he appeared in Jerusalem something happened which perhaps just kept him before the attention of the powers in the city. Perhaps we might say, he just kept the kettle boiling over those three years until the crisis at the end of the third year. The feast of the Passover was particularly significant as it remembered the events of the Exodus and the deliverance from Egypt and God’s judgement on Pharaoh and his people, and also His means of saving His people from the destroying angel – the blood of a lamb. As John has recently declared Jesus to be the Lamb, this is perhaps especially significant.