23. Bringing Honour

Short Meditations in John 5:  23. Bringing Honour

Jn 5:23  that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him

Observe that this is a follow-on to the previous two verses. Honour comes because the Son judges and his judgment involves giving life to whoever he pleases – to whoever will receive it. When they receive his life, they will honour him and through him honour the Father.

How does this work? I suggest in two ways. The first way is that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 3:10) i.e. when another person is saved and added to the church, all the angels and powers and principalities will look and realise the wonder of God’s wisdom in making a form of salvation that transforms sinful men and women into children of God. He will be honoured and the Son will be honoured for the work he has done to accomplish this. In John’s Revelation we see this praise and honour: “To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever,” (Rev 5:13) and that after previous praise for God (Rev 4:11) for His creative work, and to the Lamb for his work of Salvation (Rev 5:9,10,12). Both Father and Son receive honour in heaven for their works of salvation.

The second way it works is in us individually. As we receive our salvation, we find it is natural to give thanks to God for what He has done in us and the more we realise just what has happened, the more we praise and honour both the Father and the Son. In fact, one might go as far as to say that if a person never gives thanks and never honours the Father and the Son, their salvation is in doubt, for the Holy Spirit within the true believer will naturally stir the believer to give thanks and give honour to them, for He seeks to bring glory to both Father and Son in line with all that is going on in heaven.

In addition to what we have just said, Jesus himself has just said that if you do not honour him you will not honour God. If you do not honour Jesus, you do not realize the wonder of what he has done in making our salvation possible. Indeed, I would suggest that as you spend time in his word and in these meditations, if praise and worship is not the outcome we miss the point and it does not touch us and suggests an absence of spiritual life and an absence of the Holy Spirit. At the end of every one of these meditations that I have written over the years, I find myself praising and giving thanks. The wonder of what we have been thinking about naturally stirs praise, worship and thanksgiving within me – it should do in you too. When we realise the wonder of it all, that should be the natural response – honour of Father and Son.

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22. The Son who Judges

Short Meditations in John 5:  22. The Son who Judges

Jn 5:22  Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the So

What we have here is a remarkable statement – very well, most of Jesus’ statements are remarkable! – but this one is perhaps more remarkable than most in that in the Bible, God is seen as THE Judge (e.g. Jas 5:9) Who else has all the abilities required of a perfect judge than the Lord? Who knows everything about every person, every thought, every motive and every deed but God?

But, cries the cynical atheist, why should we need a judge, why does everyone have to come under scrutiny? And there we stumble over a strange feature of the human race and therefore, presumably, even bigger than the human race, and that is the whole idea of justice. The modern world with its relativism shies away from the concept until it becomes personal and then with the rest of us cries, “It isn’t fair! That is unjust!”  Justice is possibly one of the strangest concepts known to the human race, the desire, no, the insistence, that wrongs be righted, that offenders be made to face up to their misdeeds. But what are misdeeds? Anything that goes contrary to God’s design for us! We shy away from it when the spotlight shines on us, but when another offends us we cry for the Law to step in and remedy my injustice, hypocrites that we are!

And so there is justice and there is A Judge but, says Jesus, He gives all judgment to the Son. Why should that be?  It is because clearly from the outset, when the Godhead were planning the coming of the Son, they agreed for the Son to oversee God’s kingdom on earth. (Does God have other worlds that He rules over directly and is the earth the only one that the Son rules over?) There is a reference by Paul to the end of all things when the Son hands back the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor 16:24). The rule of the kingdom includes judgment.

But what is the basis of his judgment, who is declared guilty and who is declared innocent? For that answer we have to go to Paul’s writings in Romans 4 and 5 where he speaks about justification. Justification is all about being put right in God’s sight and that only comes about through belief in Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate basis for assessment, how we respond to him.  The records are simple and straight forward and even a child can read the Gospels easily. No one can claim they are difficult to read. We may not understand everything but the person of Jesus shines through brightly – his life, his death, his resurrection and his ascension. It is all there and obvious. The seeking heart finds what it has been looking for and gladly receives him and immediately the Judge declares, “Not guilty!” and a new life begins.

21. Life Givers

Short Meditations in John 5:  21. Life Giver

Jn 5:21  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it

It might be a scary thought that new birth only comes when God gives it, if it wasn’t for His love and the knowledge that in reality He wants ”everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9) and it is only our own stubborn and foolish hearts that keep us from receiving all of His goodness through salvation. His desire is to bless us and bring us to salvation, to raise us from the (spiritual) dead.

This looks a funny verse at first sight. “The Father raises the dead”. It is God the Father’s sovereign actions that prevail. Although there is a unity in the Trinity, the Son always submits to the Father in whom is all authority. So the Father seeks to bring us back to Himself and in so doing He rescues us from spiritual death (separation from Him) and imparts life to us, the life of His own Holy Spirit, eternal life. But it starts with the Father. As we have said before, He always initiates the activity.

But then we find, running parallel to this, the Son also gives life to whoever he will. We have seen previously that the Father shows the Son all that He is doing, all that is on His heart, and the Son joins in that activity, so here, when the Father desires to raise a person from their spiritual death, the Son does likewise; it is a joint Father and Son activity and, of course, it is the Holy Spirit who is imparted to bring that new life. Whenever new birth occurs, the entire Trinity is involved.

Note the final expression, “to whom he is pleased to give it.” Even as we said the Father’s desire is for repentance to come and salvation to follow, by implication it also pleases the Son when he is able to bring another person into his Father’s kingdom. There is indeed rejoicing in heaven when every new birth takes place.

Perhaps we cannot emphasise this enough that it is the desire of the Godhead to bring salvation to mankind. Three times in the book of Ezekiel we find God’s desire declared in this manner, for example: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

Some people seek to portray God as a vindictive, nasty being who just delights in bringing destructive judgment on mankind. Nothing could be further from the truth!  The whole point of Jesus coming to the earth and dying on the Cross was to open the way for us to be saved. God wants to bless us and that can only come through His salvation through Jesus, because while we live our self-centred ‘old lives’ we won’t be open to receiving His direction and thus His blessing that He wants to bring to us.

18. Blasphemy?

Short Meditations in John 5:  18. Blasphemy?

Jn 5:18  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

I have a problem with people who sit on the fence about Jesus. You can say you simply don’t believe the Bible (and that raises a whole lot of other questions) but the only options are that you reject the Bible record, or you accept it, and once you generally accept it you have to face the things that it says about Jesus Christ.

You see, there are people who say he was just a good person, or just a good teacher, or just a good worker of miracles, but the Bible doesn’t give us that leeway. We may be slightly unsure of the things we said in the previous meditation about Jesus revealing himself as the Son of God, but the Jews weren’t. They understood his language and they knew exactly what he was inferring and for that reason they got very upset: he is claiming to be God!

Yes, that is exactly what he is doing!  That is exactly what his previous references to Father and Son mean. Now you can say he is deluded if you like but don’t says he didn’t claim to be God, because he did, and these Jews testify to that. You may not like it and they did not like it because that challenged their thoughts about God. They were no doubt happy to think about a messiah figure being sent like a prophet from God to deliver Israel from the Romans but for this figure to actually claim he was God incarnate, was a bridge too far!

And that is where many today will stumble, that Jesus was and is God in the flesh. How can such a thing be, and isn’t this just a claim to raise Christianity above all other world religions, because no one else claims such a thing! Well you may claim he was deluded but you have to look at his works, at the things he said and did and ask, could anyone apart from God say these things and do these things? The trouble is that when you try taking out the miraculous from the New Testament, as some unbelieving scholars over a century ago tried to do, you aren’t left with much. In fact there is virtually nothing worth talking about. On every page of the Gospels there is the divinely supernatural, the humanly impossible, the miraculous.

No, this IS the major challenge of the Bible, that it is full of stuff that challenges the materialist; it says there is something more. But once you get past the thought that just perhaps there is something more than the purely material, the whole thing about God and Jesus makes sense and any objections tend to be personal rather than logical. For these Jews if they accepted that Jesus was God in the flesh their own religious world might get turned upside down.

29. Aspiring to Worship

Aspiring Meditations: 29.  Aspiring to Worship

Ex 8:1    Let my people go, so that they may worship me

1 Chron 16:29  ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

Isa 29:13  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men

In the modern church, when someone says, “Let’s have a time of worship,” often all that is meant is ‘let’s have a time of singing praise songs’. Not wanting to be too disparaging of this, let’s acknowledge that it is a good starting place but worship means more than this. My dictionary has, “Worship = reverence or devotion for a deity; religious homage or veneration, a church service or other rite showing this, extreme devotion or intense love or admiration of any kind.”

Notice the key words: reverence, devotion, homage. These are heart and commitment words, words that go further than mere outward acts. Indeed Isaiah was most scathing about this as he brought the word from the Lord: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isa 29:13) What a condemnation. The people came into the sanctuary, actually bowed down before God and yet their hearts weren’t in it, they we doing it because the Law told them to, not because their hearts were filled with love for God. But is that what we do week by week, simply because we’ve got into the habit of doing it?

Let me give another definition of worship: the reverence, by bowing down and paying homage, that is shown by a lesser being to a greater being. Now that ‘bowing down’ may be literal or simply in the heart and it is an acknowledgment of greatness and of superiority of the one being worshiped. The moment we say that is the moment we see the distinction between true and false worship that is seen in so much of the Old Testament. True worship can only be worship of the one true God for He alone has greatness and ultimate superiority. Worshiping anyone or anything else must be false worship because, whether it be wooden idols or even people, none of them can fit the definition of greatness and superiority. A king in olden times was only great as long as his army supported him. In himself he was nothing.

This was seen in the account of Moses confronting Pharaoh in Egypt as again and again he brought God’s word, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” The only trouble with that was that Egyptian culture declared that Pharaoh was a deity to be worshiped – but then so was the Nile! Like the various Roman emperors centuries later, the call to worship God challenged the cultural call to worship the king. It was this that so often caused persecution of God’s people. Reality in the cold light of day, says why should we worship a mere human being who is exactly the same as us in his daily habits and his vulnerability to getting colds or other illnesses.

Worship is reserved for the ultimate deity, the Lord Himself and only Him. As David wrote in his psalm, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” (1 Chron 16:28,29) i.e. give God the glory that is due to Him. When we truly worship we bring ourselves in line with reality. God is great, God is glorious and all we are doing is acknowledging the truth of that and acknowledging that we are vastly inferior. True worship brings a right perspective.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized this in the light of the work of Christ which was bringing the kingdom of God, or the rule or reign of God, onto the earth in a new way, the presence of the Lord coming to the earth in a new way: “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb 12:28) When we really think about what Christ has achieved, and now what is going on in our midst as his Spirit works, convicts and brings individuals to their knees before the Lord God Almighty, we realise that He is here in His world working and moving and that should create in us a sense of reverence and awe (but that will only be perceived with those with spiritual eyes to see).

But the apostle Paul saw the significance of this and realised that true worship was to be an utterly wholehearted thing, something that involved every aspect of our being if we are born-again believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12;1) We may, we say, have given our hearts to the Lord when we came to Christ, but hearts are expressed by daily physical lives lived out and so, says Paul, the logical outworking of this is that you give your entire body to God as an act of worship, every single aspect of your lives being submitted to Him in reverence. Nothing, but nothing, of our lives is thus outside of this attitude.

There are many more verses from Scripture that we could cite in respect of worship but let’s conclude with the thought that in our testimony, like the apostle Paul, we should be free to acknowledge we worship God: “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.” (Acts 24:14). Yes, I need to aspire not only to seek to put meaning into Sunday morning singing, I also need to look at all aspects of my life and lay them down before Him for His inspection or whatever else, and also unashamedly declare, “I admit that I worship God” and in so doing testify to His greatness. Yes, definitely something to be worked on here.

9. Aspiring to Brotherly Kindness

Aspiring Meditations: 9.  Aspiring to Brotherly Kindness

Rom 12:10  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

2 Pet 1:7   make every effort to add togodliness, brotherly kindness

1 Thess 4:9  Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

Now even as I said previously that I find there are some of these characteristics that come more clearly into perspective, I think there are some that seem less significant, but that is a mistake. For instance there are at least three words used in the original Greek for love: Agape, Philadelphia and Eros. Eros doesn’t appear in the New Testament text, it refers to physical love expressions. Agape is the main word that we’ll consider more fully in the next study. It is the one in the middle, Philadelphia, that we have before us now and it doesn’t appear that many times in the New Testament, a word that seems to speak of a love of lesser importance. I say that because much is made of agape and when Jesus instructed his disciples to “love one another” (Jn 13:34) we might wonder why ever employ a lesser word or even have his servants instruct, Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (Heb 13:1)

Well, a dictionary definition of Philadelphia is ‘Warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” We might say, ‘think well, speak well and act well towards the family of God.’  Trying to tie down ‘love’ or even this ‘brotherly affection’ is not easy. I came across a heavy-handed discipling program recently that used questions to prod on believers to growth and one question asked, “Do you love everyone in your community?” I’m afraid I responded, “That is a meaningless question,” but then I did add, “unless you can express it in specifics.” We are told to love our neighbour by the Lord and we know He loves everyone because He is love.

But what does that mean? It means He thinks and feels well towards all people, some might say, but actually love is expressed in a whole variety of ways. A father may express it with a child as he watches them from a distance, by the smile that appears on his face that expresses something of what he is thinking and feeling as he watches. It is love. But then he may sit with the child and read with them or listen to them. Some times he will say ‘No’ to the child as he brings correction or direction, and at other times he may bring discipline to impose a sense of seriousness over some misdemeanor. All of these are different expressions of love. There can be great differences in the expression of love. There can be the giving of a present at a birthday, which is simple and straight forward, or there can be the mother who pushes her child off the road infront of an oncoming speeding lorry, and who is killed.

The sacrificial love (agape) of Jesus that took him to the Cross is certainly different from ‘warmhearted affection’ but sometimes that ‘warm hearted affection toward all in the family of faith’,  can seem for the moment equally hard. The trouble is people are not perfect, none of us are, but so often we expect the people of God to be. When the minister/pastor/vicar produces a rubbish, boring sermon, it is difficult not to be negative. When some of the old ladies seem more concerned about the flower rota than seeing people saved, it is difficult to feel charitable. When long haired, tattooed young people turn up in your nice respectable church, it is difficult not to be defensive, even when you find they out are outrageous evangelists. When someone doesn’t care about scripture / comes out with wrong understandings of scripture / brings heresy, it is difficult to be graceful in the face of their less-than-perfect expressions of church life.

The world would be so much easier without people, it seems sometimes. But then other people probably think that about us as well. I know I haven’t always found words of grace to drop into a difficult situation and so I have needed the love, grace and forgiveness of others at times, those things that put content to that description, “warm hearted affection”. Tell me, how do you react when someone really lets loose and blows it, and speaks out in anger, frustration and hostility? I saw that once and those around drew back like Pharisees withdrawing from Jesus, into a critical, gossiping huddle. Instead it needed someone to put an arm of love around them and say, “Come and sit down. What is going on here old friend?” How easily that “warm hearted affection” flees out the door!  How easy it is to become a Pharisee and look down our spiritual noses at others who are not handling life as well as we are!!!

Oh yes, we’ll need God’s grace to actually have that “warm hearted affection” when people are being people. It doesn’t matter that they are believers, that seems to make it worse. If we can get God’s grace, why can’t they?  I think one of the most poignant stories I’ve heard was of the man who stepped into an almost empty carriage on the Underground, accompanied by his two noisy and boisterous children. As the train rattled along through the tunnels, another nearby occupant struggled not to spit out, “Why don’t you control your noisy children. Get them under control!” but didn’t. When the train came to the stop where the man and his children was alighting, he turned to the other occupant whose face clearly showed what he thought and said, “I’m sorry I’m a bit distracted and let my little ones upset the peace. We’ve just come from the hospital where their mother is, and I’ve just been told my wife has probably only got about three days to live. I’m sorry,” and then they stepped off the train. The occupant suddenly felt different.

I’m told there is an old native-American saying (we used to call them Indians): “Never criticize another until you have walked in their moccasins.”  We don’t know what is going on in one another’s lives in church. Yes, the grace of God is there for us all, but it’s not always easy to appropriate it. Sometime we need the loving acceptance of our brothers and sisters and their gentle encouragement to make it through. That’s why I think there is this fairly rare reference to brotherly-kindness, this Philadelphia love, this “warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” Yes, I need more of it. Yes, it is something I need to aspire to even more, for the sake of my local church, and for Jesus’ sake. May he find it in me.

7. Aspiring to Perseverance

Aspiring Meditations: 7.  Aspiring to Perseverance

2 Thess 3:5  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Pet 1:6    For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance

Rom 5:3,4  we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope

Let’s from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance’. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It’s like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I’m afraid you won’t get fit (that’s ‘endurance’) until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.”  Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn’t thrilling!

In spiritual terms it is the same: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won’t let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you’ve just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you’ve just got to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added,  “but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!”

That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering’ before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)

Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.

So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance’ into me. But don’t ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he’s mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don’t believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here’s the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace’ being God’s resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.

So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial’ was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God’s direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.

But then in Paul’s speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn’t want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.

For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter’ also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us.  Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might’ happen in the future – it might not! And whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!