5. The Mysteries of God (3)

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 5: The Mysteries of God (3)

Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

(Additional Reading: Isa 9:1,2, Mic 5:1-4)

Recap:  We are following some of the ‘breadcrumb trails’ in the Old Testament, not because it is just fun to do so, but because each of these ‘breadcrumbs’, these prophetic clues that we find there, are highly significant when it comes to examining the Nativity, and without them just reiterating the Nativity story misses some of the key aspects of it all. The two breadcrumbs we are going to consider in this study are both to do with location. Each of the places have great significance.

Location breadcrumbs – Galilee: Our first of the two we are going to consider here, and seen in our two starter-verses above, comes from Isaiah. Being one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, it is not surprising that his book is littered with these ‘breadcrumbs’. Chapter 9 starts with, “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations.” (9:1) Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the tribal areas in the north of the land, both tribes of which had failed to completely oust the Canaanites in the original taking of the land. Perhaps because of this or perhaps because they were simply first in line to encounter enemies coming from the north, they had suffered through the years; it had been a dark area, so often in conflict.

Isaiah, referring to this darkness, speaking in the prophetic future, speaks of “a great light” coming to light up this darkness. In their history, what light came to that land? Only that of Jesus. It should not be surprising, therefore, to note that both Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, located in the centre of lower Galilee, (Lk 1:26) and it was to there they returned after their stay in Egypt after Jesus was born. It was to Galilee that Jesus returned after being baptized and where he carried out most of his ministry.

It was indeed like a great light coming into the land. Why Galilee, perhaps because it was furthest away from Jerusalem in Judah in the south, with the buffer of Samaria in between so that the interference from the religious authorities from Jerusalem was strictly limited. So Mary and Joseph start out from Galilee and return there in order that Jesus be raised there and so that he may start his ministry there.

Location Breadcrumbs – Bethlehem: The second ‘location breadcrumb’ comes from Micah:  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  (Micah 5:2) That had the Jewish scholars scratching their head and yet when the Wise Men, the Magi, turned up it was the verse the scholars of Jerusalem turned to in the Greek Septuagint version, ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler  who will shepherd my people Israel. (Mt 2:6 quoting Mic 5:2 & 4) There it was, a ruler to shepherd Israel, who would come from Bethlehem.

Now what is intriguing about this is that Bethlehem was king David’s home (see 1 Sam 16:1) but David lived long before Micah prophesied so Micah prophetically had another in mind and so, yes, this prophecy was added to the many others that the scholars pondered over in the writings of the scrolls that we now call the Old Testament. And then, of course, we find Jesus being referred to as the Son of David (Mt 9:27, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9) but we’ll have to wait for the next study to see more of that.

And so to prayer: “Lord, thank you for the wonder of your word, thank you that you dropped all these clues, referring to the coming of your Son that had been agreed there in heaven even before You created this world. Thank you that we see your wisdom in the way you set him up in the north to reveal your love to us through his incredible ministry, away from the political and religious pressures of Jerusalem. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you blessed your people in Galilee, revealing yourself and your Father’s love through those three amazing years. Thank you that all of this flows from that amazing episode we call the Nativity that reveals the way you came in humility to bring all this about. Thank you so much. Amen.”

3. Family Pressures

Short Meditations in John 7:  3. Family Pressures

Jn 7:3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do

Jesus seems to have regularly attended these feasts and, as we said before, made use of them to reveal something of himself and his purposes for his people. Now, putting the verses 2 to 4 together we are going to see that although this was Jesus’ custom, he would not be pressurised into going to the present feast by his family. Yes, it is a good feast to attend and yes, it would be a good opportunity to reveal himself, but we are going to see that Jesus’ focus is on his Father’s will.

What is it that the Father wants? Does the Father want him to attend this festival? He will assume nothing.

But first we have to observe the pressure or expectation put upon him by his family. We are going to see that their words came from unbelief (v.5) but nevertheless there is an expectation expressed.

The words in themselves seek to have genuine purpose; if they wanted greater publicity for him, it would appear ‘sensible’ for his fame if he took his works south to Judea where there will surely be many more people who will want to follow him, and surely the Feast of Tabernacles will be a time when many pious Jews will be attending the celebrations in Jerusalem, so what a good opportunity it will be to gain more followers.

All good human thinking. But there feels the same sort of thinking here, being put to Jesus, that Satan used when he tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, when he, “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Mt 4:8,9)

The temptation then and the words now, both have the suggestion of Jesus gaining publicity and fame for himself, and so often in modern evangelism, I sense, we try to use publicity to draw people to an event rather than just being Jesus and letting his love and power attract. It is always a subtle temptation.

Now there is something here that I confess I have never much thought about before and it is Jesus’ relationship with his family. Matthew reveals that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (Mt 13:55,56). Marks tells us of one occasion when the family was clearly against him (Mt 3:21). Those are the obvious things we know of his family context, but I wonder what these misunderstandings and failure to believe in him would have left him feeling as a person? If you have a family who misunderstand your faith and even oppose it, you are in good company!

1. Limitations

Short Meditations in John 7:  1. Limitations

Jn 7:1  After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.

Chapter 6 was a package, almost, a miraculous feeding and then talk about bread, natural and spiritual bread. That was the substance of the chapter but underlying it was revelation about Jesus himself as the divine-human in their midst: a miracle worker (feeding many, walking on water), a teacher (on the hillside and in the synagogue), the one who had come down from heaven, and the one who has to be taken into our lives to feed us and give us eternal life. Major revelations.

Now in the first ten verses of chapter 7, John gives us a little insight into both (i) the divine restrictions and (ii) the human pressures, upon Jesus. These are two things we need to understand for our own lives.

After the specific teaching in the synagogue, following which both the crowd and some of his not-so-committed disciples drew back from Jesus, John starts this new chapter with a general insight into Jesus general strategy at this time, and it is important to see – for this is at the heart of the present verses – that his strategy varied according to the dictates of the Father and the general plan they had for the days ahead.

“After this.” After the teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Jesus went around in Galilee.” Jesus didn’t stay in one place but limited himself to the area of the north referred to as Galilee.

“He did not want to go about in Judea.Interestingly there is a footnote after ‘want’ that suggests a possible alternative – not have authority which suggests that Jesus’ ‘wants’ were in fact subject to the Father in heaven’s authority. Why this restriction?

“because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.” We might say today, ‘the knives were out, the word was out to get him!’ It was clear that it was the leaders of Judaism who had a problem with Jesus, such a problem that they saw the only way to deal with it was by arranging for him to be killed.

But what this verse shows us that even the Son of God adapted a strategy to conform to what was going on in the world around him. We sometimes tend to think that God, being sovereign, can just plough on through the affairs of mankind, but Scripture is clear that He works so often within the affairs of mankind to bring about His overall goals. The classic of this was declared by the anointed apostle Peter: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) i.e. God’s plan using man’s sinful intent.

2. The Mystery – a light in the darkness

Focus on Christ Meditations: 2.  The Mystery – a light in the darkness

Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

We are, I suggested in the first study, seeking the big picture in respect of Jesus, instead, as we have done in the past, seeing him through the eyes of just one of the Gospel writers. I suggested that the word of his coming was there again and again in the Old Testament writings and yet as a mystery yet to be revealed. Again I suggested from our vantage point in history we tend to take for granted these prophecies and yet for the people of their day, they were indeed mysterious.

A rich source of such prophecies is the book of Isaiah from which our verse above comes, speaking of a great light yet to come to the earth, but to see it in context we also have to look at the previous verse:  Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.” (Isa 9:1)

It is only when we see the full historical context of this prophecy does the wonder of it shine out. The ‘Nevertheless’ that starts off that verse refers to the prophecy in the previous chapter, a word against Israel but more specifically a word against Samaria (8:4) that said it would be carried off by the Assyrians within a very short while (v.4), who would also come on down into the southern kingdom. This occurred in 732BC when the child was two years old and then the work completed in 722BC when the boy is twelve or thirteen (see Isa 7:16).

The big point in that the prophecy is that Samaria (and by implication the whole of the north of what was originally the whole kingdom of Israel) would be utterly decimated. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the tribal areas in the north, what would become Galilee in the future, were an area that would be virtually eradicated, a land of darkness, a land of distress. When, down through the centuries Israel was restored after the Exile, they spread and settled in the three areas that became known more informally as Judah (in the south), Samaria, and Galilee (in the north).

In the New Testament, we read of Jesus when he was grown up and is in the early time of his ministry, “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah.” (Mt 4:13,14) and Matthew then in v.13 to 16 quotes the Isaiah prophecy: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Mt 4:13-16) There is no doubt that he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of this Isaiah prophecy.

Now let’s go back to the time of Isaiah. What, I wonder, would the people have made of this prophecy?  The emphasis for them that would stick in their minds was the prophecy of chapter 8 that the north would be judged and destroyed. When that happened within a decade or so, the awfulness of it would gradually filter down to those living in the far south who might have been spared the awfulness of the Assyrian onslaught and with the realization of what had happened would come this picture of a land denuded of all life, a land of desolation. But then they might remember the prophecy of chapter 9, a prophecy that had gone on to speak of restoration as they had known before, like that after the Midianites had been removed (Isa 9:4).

The prophet has had his son (see 8:3,4) possibly, they might have thought, the fulfillment of the word about a child being born (see 7:14-16) but the Isa 9 prophecy about war is followed immediately by, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” (9:6) with even more amazing words that we’ll look at in another study. Yet it seems that there is therefore a link between this ‘great light’ and the coming of yet another child. Who that will be remained a mystery for centuries.

Yet this idea of a coming light kept emerging in Isaiah: “Here is my servant …… I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles” (Isa 42:1,6  – also 49:6) Clearly the light is God’s servant, but who is that?

What is so startling here is that from a situation of utter darkness, God brings light, and thus we see the transforming power of God. It should not surprise us for it is there at the beginning, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) and when we come into the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses the analogy to describe what happens through salvation: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)

The big thing, and it is almost certainly taken for granted by all of us who have known the Lord any length of time, is that God’s answer to the spiritual darkness – seen in the prophetic analogy of the north’s devastation in Isaiah’s day – is a child, a human being born of a woman. Somehow this child will bring light into this awful area of darkness, this area with such a dreadful history, this area that was always first to know death when invaders from the north came. This area is going to be transformed by light and that light will come from a human being.

How can that be? Is that all he will be? Can a human being (and that is all he is in the minds of many) bring such a transformation as is being portrayed here? It is only as we see the wonder of the things that went on in Galilee throughout the three years of Jesus’ ministry, that we start to understand even a part of this mysterious prophecy. In Isaiah’s day, they could never have dreamt of it. It would be the equivalent of us time traveling and trying to communicate to someone living three hundred years ago, the wonder of this scientific and technological age. They would not be able to comprehend one per cent of what we could share. THAT is how dramatic this is.

To reflect upon: are there dark places in my life, my circumstances or the world around me that Jesus wants to bring his light into? What is my part to be in bringing that light?


2. But What…

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 2 :  But what….

Acts  1:6   So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Our verse above shows us the disciples questioning Jesus, but before that I have a feeling that they might have had questions but might not have felt they could voice them, because there is no record in the text. I refer to the verse we had at the top of our page in the previous meditation when Jesus said, Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4,5) Now the text is not very clear at this point but we are led to believe that they are still up in Galilee when suddenly, one day over a meal, Jesus says this to them.

If I had been one of the disciples – and the Gospels show us they were very much like this – I would be thinking, “Jerusalem? They are probably still hunting for us back there, I don’t want to go back there!”  and, “Gift my father promised? Holy Spirit? What does being baptized in the Holy Spirit mean?” That is what the humanity of these disciples would be thinking. Jerusalem had provided THE most traumatic experience of their lives. They had followed the Master for three years, seen him totally in control, healing thousands, performing miracles – signs and wonders if you like – and then in Jerusalem he had given himself up without any resistance when the authorities came, and allowed himself to be killed and then buried. And the disciples had fled and hidden behind locked doors, fearful that they might be next. And then, unbelievably, he had come back from the dead. Their senses just didn’t know how to cope, but now after a number of weeks they were beginning to settle down to a new life and, presumably, a continuation of Jesus’ ministry in the north – away from Jerusalem! Don’t tell me they would not have had all these questions, but neither questions nor answers are recorded by Luke and in the light of what follows it is not surprising.

So we come to this spoken question from the disciples, because Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom and so it is quite legitimate to ask about it’s coming, but note the answer he gives them: “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7,8) Now familiarity may have dulled the significance of all of this in your mind, so let’s look at it.

First, don’t worry about dates and then, leave it with God. Second, you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Wow! How will that happen? Third, you’ll be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. To the ends of the earth? We’ve never been outside the boundaries of this country? How can we go to the ends of the earth?

But it gets worse: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9)  He just ascended. Hang on, there was no warning this was going to happen! If there had been, surely Luke would have recorded it? What have we just seen? We’ve seen Jesus bringing incomplete teaching that clearly leaves questions. We’ve seen him decline to answer their question. We’ve seen him talk about their future, and they we’ve seen him disappear without any warning. Now, as I say, it is possible you are so familiar with these verses that you have lost the significance of them. What is the point I am making?

The point I am making – and remember this series is about motivation as Christians – is that God doesn’t always make the way ahead clear. He may say many things prophetically to us but still, at the end of the day, we are left walking by faith and constantly looking to Him because otherwise we’re lost and confused.

I had a graphic picture of this once and I can do no better than repeat what I wrote in the basic series of meditations in Acts: Once when I took a small team of four into Malaysia to teach there, we were given a fortnight’s itinerary by the denomination we had gone to, together with plane tickets to get around the interior. On one occasion we were picked up at the small airport by a man with a pick-up truck and taken into the nearby town. He didn’t speak English and so simply signed to us. In the middle of the town, he pulled up, jumped out and unloaded our baggage on the pavement and indicated we should get out. He promptly drove off!

The team of young people with me, turned to me and asked, “What next?” “I haven’t a clue,” I replied, “we just wait here until something happens.” Ten minutes later another vehicle pulled up and an English-speaking local picked us up and took us to the church where we were next speaking. For those ten minutes we were utterly helpless. We couldn’t speak the language and it was a part of the world where few would have spoken English. I suspect that the disciples had a similar sort of feeling at this point in their lives. Now what? What have we let ourselves in for? How long do we have to wait?

Today we are living in a very controlling world. We have created a great sense of ‘being in control’.  For most of us, the day ahead is unlikely to bring surprises. We may not know exactly how some things at work are going to work out, but apart from the details, life is pretty much laid out in order. We know the time of the train or bus we catch to work, or the time we have to get the children to school. We know the things that need to be done today, and we rarely have doubts about them. If we have to go shopping for food, we know it will be there. If we go to school or college we have timetables that decree at exactly what time we will be where and doing what lesson. If we go on holidays we get all the details worked out before we go, even down to booking plane seats on line before we leave home. Oh yes, in a large measure we are living in a very controlled world and so we don’t like being ‘out of control’. None of this helps faith, because faith involves stepping out on God’s word and trusting Him to move.

To be honest, sometimes it seems as if God is keeping you in the dark and all you can do is just take one step after another through life until His guidance becomes clear. Don’t let these mediations leave you feeling motivation and guidance is a nice clear cut package. So often it is not!

2. To Jerusalem!

Meditations in Acts : 2 :  We’re going to Jerusalem!

Acts 1:4,5    On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

It seems like Luke had started off with this fast introduction and then paused up and reflected on where he was going. What should he include in this account of the early years of the life of the church? What was significant? What among the many things that had happened was key to what happened? And so he starts to write again, On one occasion.” In those early days, in the remaining few weeks that Jesus had been with them, there had been one occasion when Jesus had said something very significant which explained so much of what followed. There had been lots of other things, but this particular thing stood out.

Whether Luke had been there (probably fairly unlikely) or whether he had gleaned this memory from those he had questioned in his investigations is unclear, but this particular memory had stood out and it wasn’t just any time it was a specific time “while he was eating with them.” Such mundane words but on this one occasion when they were sitting around eating, Jesus had shared this with them.   Perhaps there had been other times of specific teaching when they had been aware that Jesus was in teacher-mode and had tried to listen carefully to what he had to say, but this was lunch-time or some other meal time, not a time when you might have been alert to key teachings. I wonder, are we alert to God speaking to us at any time?  In the times of particular relaxation are we alert to hear Him. Do we have preconceived ideas as to when God can speak to us, or have we realized He can at any time?

So here they are eating and Jesus drops this bombshell in their laps. Perhaps if it had come in the midst of a load of other teaching, it might have got lost, but it was dropped over a meal and it thus became memorable. It seemed to come out of the blue without any warning. We don’t know what he taught them during those weeks up in Galilee together, because none of the Gospel writers tell us. There is almost an unearthly silence that hangs over that time – except this one bit!

“he gave them this command.” This wasn’t just a bit of theoretical teaching or imparting a spiritual principle. This was a specific instruction, something they had to do and it meant a change of location in preparation of all that would follow. It is, in fact, a vital command. If they do not do this they will not be in the right place when the Father is going to move and if He moved on them on an isolated beach in Galilee, it would have virtually no impact and all that did happen would not happen. Oh yes, this is important!

“Do not leave Jerusalem.” Hold on, we are not in Jerusalem; we’re in Galilee. This means we are going to have to go back to the place of our worst nightmares, the place where we saw our Lord crucified, the place where we took shelter behind locked doors for fear of being arrested and maybe being killed ourselves – and you want us to go back there!  And this doesn’t sound like a fleeting visit; you are telling us to wait there until something happens – and we don’t know how long that will be!  You are asking us to wait there in that dangerous environment for an unspecified period of time!

It is only when you try to put yourself into their shoes that you begin to realize just how awful this might have seemed to the disciples. The only comforting thing is that Jesus is still with them, but at the moment this does not appear a happy future.

There are going to come a number of other times in Acts where it seems the followers of Jesus are being led into perilous times. A classic example is that of Philip: “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26) i.e. leave the tremendous blessing you are experiencing and disappear off down in the desert. In a few moments Jesus is going to say, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (1:7) and therein is a principle. The Father knows what He is doing and has a clear plan – but often He doesn’t spell it out. Often we are called (if only we’ll hear it) to step out into what may appear strange circumstances, possibly fearful circumstances, simply trusting our Father’s love and wisdom. May we have the courage to do it!

29. A Life of Purpose

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 29. A Life of Purpose

Mk 1:38,39 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

We commented in the previous meditation that Jesus had other ideas than stay around and minister some more to the people of this particular place. He’s shared the Good News here in both word and deed and he’s not going to keep on doing it, but now he’s going to move on and do it elsewhere in Galilee. He’s come, he says, to share the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom all over the land, not in just one place.

Perhaps sometimes we get bogged down in one place or reaching out to one particular group. Recently in our local church we have been thinking about the local community and have come to the conclusion that there isn’t such a thing – there are lots of communities! In our modern world we tend towards groups, so young people tend to be one community, single parents may be another, and so on. The only reason for seeing them as different groups or communities is to recognize that they have different specific needs, and making it clear what they are sometimes makes it easier to reach them as we minister to those needs that a peculiar to that group.

Yet the truth is that overall we all have the same needs – to be loved by God, forgiven our sins and empowered to live new lives. That is true of every person, whatever colour and whatever people grouping they come from. We are all sinners needing to be reconciled to God, forgiven and cleansed and given a new direction and a new power to live lives of the kingdom of God.

You make think that my referring to different people groups and different ‘access needs’ is unnecessary, but it is exactly what Jesus and the early apostles did. For them it was a case of going to the local synagogue for that was the meeting place of the religious (hopefully, God-seeking) Jews. Hopefully there would be the most open group of Jews. But then later Jesus went to the ‘sinner groups’ the tax collectors, prostitutes etc. These were all different people groups who had a slightly different outlook on life and who would be approached in different ways. In the synagogue the approach was through the Scriptures. To the ‘sinner groups’ it was with the compassionate, caring and accepting love of God. Father, thank you that you love all of us.

32. Death Rebuker

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 32 : Jesus, Rebuker of Death

Jn 4:49-53      The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”  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.

Faith in the face of a crisis is a difficult thing, especially when the crisis is life threatening. In this story of miraculous deliverance from death, which John calls Jesus’ second ‘sign’ (v.54), Jesus has just returned north into Galilee from his trip south to Jerusalem. He arrives in Cana, the place where there had been a wedding feast where Jesus had turned water into wine, described by John as Jesus’ first ‘sign’. Now whether that miracle had been gossiped around and caused hope for this situation is not made clear, but it is likely. John isn’t into ‘coincidences’.

There is a royal official who, because it is in Galilee, would probably be part of Herod’s household, a Jew, living in Capernaum, whose son becomes very ill, on the verge of death. The man comes to Jesus and pleads for his help. Jesus’ response is not to go with him but to simply tell him his son will be well. Now this is where it is remarkable: The man took Jesus at his word and departed. Something about Jesus demeanour, or his words, were sufficient to convince this man that it would be all right, so he returns from Cana to Capernaum. On the journey back he encounters some of his servants coming to find him to tell him that his son is all right. He enquires when it happened and realized that it was exactly at the time when Jesus declared him well.

So simple is this story and so straight forwardly told, that it is easy to miss the heart of it: a boy is being pursued by death and Jesus declares it will not happen. Now the way John tells it, it hardly seems that Jesus rebukes death but John clearly identifies it as a ‘miraculous’ sign (v.54) and the fact that he records the man fearing his son’s death does mean it was life threatening. Thus we have in almost a low-key way, Jesus standing against death and saving the life of a young man – without moving a step!  Now Cana is almost twenty miles from Capernaum and so we see Jesus uttering a word in one place and nearly twenty miles away creeping death is reversed!  It would be easy, with the skepticism of unbelief and doubt, to declare the reversal of this fever as something that just happened and it was a coincidence that ‘just happened’ that the fever abated while the father was in Cana, but John won’t have of that! Oh no, that’s why John adds his own commentary to the account of what happened, This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee (v.54)

This Jesus is not just a greater healer who reaches out his hand and imparts a healing touch; no, he is the Son of God with the authority of the Father so that he can speak a word and it doesn’t matter where it is, the thing is done. Distance is of no consequence when you are God’s Son. This is the point that John is making here as he includes this miracle in his book. Don’t ever think of Jesus as ‘just’ another preacher, or healer; he is the living Son of God to whom the Father has entrusted all authority, and that includes authority to rebuke death and release life. Of course if you are God and you have made this world by speaking a word, it’s easy to speak a word and change it!

13. Ordinary Men

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 13. Ordinary Men

Mk 1:16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

I used to live near the sea where there were fishermen who went out in their boats everyday to make their living by catching fish. They tend to be a breed a bit apart. They don’t live comfortable lives; they live according to the constantly changing tides, and they have little to do with the rest of us. And the first people that Jesus chooses to travel with him for the next three years are fishermen. Not  scholars, not religious people, not especially good people, not pillars of society – but fishermen. Very ordinary people. This is a new day, a new religion obviously!

Why does God choose who He chooses? The only answer I can come up with is that He chooses people He knows will respond to Him and who will change as He leads and guides them through life. I have wondered if Jesus chose some fishermen because they were rugged individuals who didn’t care about the creature comforts of life and who could cope with all the travelling that would be involved in following him in the three years ahead.

I have been especially struck as I have read the Bible over many years, how God chooses ordinary people, and then how He changes them. Peter (or Simon as he is called here) was a rough and ready individual who was constantly opening his mouth and putting his foot in it, yet in the course of the years he would be transformed to become one of the leading apostles, a leader of the new church. Who would have believed it? Jesus would! For this is the key, Jesus knows people and knows what we can become. God had had centuries of working with mankind and knew what He could do with ordinary people. Take Jacob, for example, a twister and a schemer, and yet by the end of his life he is the father of a nation, a prophetic patriarch and a man who receives respect from kings. Or take his son, Joseph, a spoilt brat who is transformed into a wise and compassionate world leader. Amazing! So now Jesus chooses these first two men who will not have a clue what is coming – but it will be good!

Lord, I marvel at the way you take ordinary people and transform them, not because they are good but just because they are available. I marvel at what you have done with my life over the years – and I am so grateful. Please continue your work of changing me and may I be an instrument who helps others come to you and likewise be changed.

11. Changeover

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 11. Changeover

Mk 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

If we were first time readers of this Gospel we might, at this point, be somewhat startled by the abruptness of what we read: “After John was put in prison.” Pardon? How did that suddenly happen? Where did that come from? Why was John put in prison? Peter, who we believe is the source behind Mark, has this somewhat abrupt style. Often we find the word ‘suddenly’ being used by him. It was all a bit of a rush in his eyes, a surprise. I’m sure if you were a disciple of Jesus, life was like that. You got up in the morning never knowing what the day was going to bring, and when it did come, it was a surprise. Perhaps that is one of the reasons behind Peter’s style.

We have to wait until chapter 6 to see what happened with John and so for now we’ll simply note it happened and move on. But it is necessary to say that he was imprisoned and killed at the hands of a sinful Herod and his family. It wasn’t a good thing. So, we might have thought that Jesus starting his ministry, waiting until John was gone, was a planned thing, but the events that remove John are really out of his hands.

We might wonder what might have happened if John hadn’t gone to prison. Would he have just stopped preaching and let Jesus take centre stage? Of course we don’t know. It just happened. That’s how life is so often. It just seems to happen and so we have to take the circumstances and get on with them. So John, who has been preaching in Judea in the south, is off the scene and so Jesus starts his preaching as a continuation, it seems, but he moves north to Galilee where he spends most of the next three years exercising his ministry.

Why Galilee? Perhaps because it was furthest from Jerusalem and possible interference from the religious authorities based there. God certainly knew that this is what would happen: in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:1,2). The light has now arrived, just like Isaiah had prophesied!

Lord, thank you for coming into this world and revealing yourself. Thank you for the light you bring us. Lord, help me to just take the circumstances that I find facing me today, and live with your love and grace – whatever!