51. It’s here today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50. Grab the Opportunity

Short Meditations in John 6:  50. Grab the Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

42. Blindness

Short Meditations in John 6:  42. Blindness

Jn 6:42   They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

We have a propensity to grab on to a piece of knowledge or piece of history and allow that to distort our thinking. Having read one famous atheist, I know that he had an experience as a child that put him off faith, off believing in God. It was an experience with one man who was a questionable Christian and that atheist has clearly allowed the bad testimony of that older man in his childhood to distort everything he thinks about God today. How tragic that our bad testimony can have this effect.

Yet we see a similar blockage in the thinking of these Jews in the crowd who have followed Jesus. The had witnessed the feeding of the five thousand and recognized that it was a miracle but still they had asked for a sign and when Jesus starts teaching about himself, now all they can do is focus on the little bit of limited knowledge that they have about him. He has said he has come down from heave but they know his parents – there are obviously people there who have come from Nazareth and know his family background – and so this is all they can focus on. They apparently know nothing of his miraculous birth, of the events with the shepherds and the wise men and the amazing dreams that had protected and guided that family. They have partial knowledge, incomplete knowledge, and they allow that to hinder belief, they allow that to blind them to the truth.

We live in an age of amazing scientific knowledge and technical advancement, and so in science we know about atoms and molecules and even quarks and dark matter, we know all the theory and we allow this limited knowledge to undermine our faith beliefs. We experience amazing technology, we programme computers with bytes and algorithms to produce artificial intelligence to empower robots, and we think we are masters of the universe as we look into deep space and postulate godless theories, failing to see the Creator who designed and brought all these things into being. We play on social media and have a sense of ‘knowing’ that comes with many ‘friends’ and we allow it to undermine our faith and we question faith and we question church and we lose perspective and thus lose a grasp on truth and reality.

At the heart of all this – in the crowd before Jesus and in so many today – is this propensity to self-centred godlessness that the Bible calls Sin, and it blinds and confuses and sows doubts. Our affluent materialistic lives see only a small part of the picture – like these Jews – and so we say silly things, ask silly questions, blind! Let’s not!

41. Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  41. Grumbling

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

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

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

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

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

33. Bread has come down

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

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

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

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

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

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

28. Recap 3A

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 28. Recap 3A

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Perspective of the Ascension: Before we move on to more practical matters, we would do well to go back over the lessons in this third Part which have been about the Theory to do with this idea of reigning with Christ’. We started out by seeking to put this whole section in the perspective of the ascension of Christ and linked that with our verses above.

Us seated in the heavenly realms: We looked first at the fact of Christ’s ascension which concluded with him now reigning at the right hand of his Father in heaven, and we made that link of us being seated with him in the heavenly realms. We faced the fact that we live in a Fallen World where free will reigns and thus the work of Jesus (with us) is to overcome the effects of that Fallen World. Personal growth comes as we start to really understand these things and move into them, thus fulfilling Jesus’ expectations of us.

A New Perspective: We moved on to consider that it is all a matter of understanding our position in Christ, reigning on high with him, bringing about the will of the Father, cooperating with the Godhead, allowing the Spirit to lead us. This taking hold of a new perspective means that we put the will of God the Father first with everything focusing on Him. Because this ‘position’ is in heaven, it is a place of revelation from on high, a place of power and authority, a place of awareness of the holiness of God, and a place where the strategy of God is worked out, countering the effects of the Fall and expressing the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, on earth.

Considering the Kingdom: Having touched on the concept of the kingdom, we went on to consider that in more detail, starting with the reminder that it is all about demonstrating the will of God in heaven, on earth (note the ‘locational’ aspects). Talk of a kingdom also speaks about a ruler who presides over his followers, who conform to his rules or laws. However, because we live in a fallen world there are likely to be those who resist the rule of the king.  Whether it is people or characteristics of living that run contrary to God’s design, the work of the kingdom comes to overcome those ‘enemies’, which will continue until Jesus comes again.

Us called to reign: From here we went into Revelation, chapter 5, to see us designated as a purchased people who were called to reign on earth. We acknowledged that there is a timing uncertainty – now or the future –  which is also seen in one of the early church sayings used by Paul writing to Timothy. However seeing what he says to the church at Corinth, seeing his call and expectation of us to grow up, we see that part of that is learning to reign now and in fact growing in that. We concluded that thought with the observation that in the period after Jesus coming again, his followers’ role is to reign with him. For us, in the present day, our role is to learn to share with him as he works to overcome these ‘enemies’.

The Body of Christ: From there we went on to consider the idea of the ‘body of Christ’ as the church is called in the New Testament and we noted various things about it – that it’s role is to do the will of God, that it is made up of every Christian, and we are all different with different gifts etc., and that it is designed to grow and develop. That growth comes about, we saw, as we live out our relationship with Christ, as we develop relationships of love within the body that strengthen and hold us together, as we each use our gifts, talents, abilities etc. under his leading, and in accordance with the plans that God has on His heart for us, which are conveyed to us by Jesus, our head.

Relevancy Today? We continued in this Part considering whether we are relevant in the light of the threat or challenge that the enemy might seek to bring in the midst of the tremendous changes that are taking place in the world, especially in the realms of technology in its very wide application in so many spheres of life today. Whatever they may be, we concluded, they do nothing to change the existence and reality of God, and the state of sinfulness of mankind that will still need a saviour. The challenge is not to lose a true perspective.

Carriers of Love: Because God ‘is love’, the kingdom is all about love. We observed human need which needs so often strengthening, encouraging and comforting and we saw this is part of the ministry of Jesus to be expressed through His body, both within the Church and to the world outside.

A Community of Goodness: Finally we considered another characteristic of God and of Jesus that should be exhibited in the church – goodness. It is a difficult concept to grab hold of, and yet one with which we are all familiar. However we perceive it, it is to be something we think about and work for, as we seek to represent Jesus and rule with him as he expresses the kingdom

Summary: So let’s try to summarize all these things: Christ is ascended on high and we are to consider ourselves seated with him in his position as a ruler over all things, as he works in this Fallen World to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth through his body, the church, and in this manner we will ‘reign’ with him as we allow him to lead and guide and empower us as he works to bring down all those things that run contrary to God’s design for this world, and replace them with his love and goodness.

Wow! That needs rereading more than once, I suggest, but it does sum up what these principles within this Part have all been about. Now we need to try and see how they can be worked out in practical ways. That is what the next Part will be about.

20. Ascended?

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3A. Theory

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 20. Ascended?

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Third Phase: We are, you may remember, basing our studies on the idea that when Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) there were three applications or phases of his life that correspond to that: first, lifted up on the Cross, his death, then second, lifted up in the resurrection, empowered by God, and now lifted up into heaven, his ascension.  We will take this third Part in two sections, first the theory surrounding the two verses above, and then the practice, how it works out. But first, let’s lay down a basic foundation of understanding from the Bible in respect of his ascension.

The Fact of the Ascension:  In Acts 1:9-11 we see Jesus ascending, leaving the earth and leaving his disciples to continue his work after they have been filled with his Holy Spirit. In ascending in the manner he did, we see him sending the message, I am no longer here on earth, don’t go looking for me. It is also a message, I am ascending to heaven to my place beside my Father. There are in the New Testament 13 mentions of this: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 /   Phil 2:9 / Col 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22

His place in Heaven:  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven: He has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand, and is there as Prince and Saviour, and he pleads for us there, has been given a name above all others, and all angels and authorities bow before him. It is important to understand these things.

Jesus Ruling in Heaven:  Prophetically Psa 110:1,2 indicates there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them. Eph 1:19-23 show Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet and he is head over everything for the sake of the church.  1 Cor 15:24-26 again shows the process of dealing with his enemies and he reigns in the midst of his enemies. 1 Thess 4:16,17 says we will eventually join him there, while our verses above, Eph 2:6,7 declare we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his Spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness.

Us in Heavenly Places? There is a most remarkable truth here apart from the wonder of Jesus ascending and ruling at his Father’s right hand – that we are linked to Jesus by His Spirit and thus in a measure at least, are joined to him to participate in the process of his rule from heaven.

Ruling in a Fallen World: Now many Christians, with limited understanding, question the practical reality of these truth when they focus their attention on the terrible things that go on in the world. There is still slavery in the world, they say, there are still ungodly nations who oppress their people, persecute and kill Christians, there is still injustice, and so on. How can you say Jesus is ruling? Ah, be careful, the Scriptures say Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies; he exercises his rule while the ungodly are still doing their thing.

Free Will Reigns: Having given us free will, God will not overrule it and so He has to allow the world to be ungodly if that is what they want. That doesn’t stop Him acting into the affairs of the world in a variety of ways, and we shall try and pick these up as we go along. This is why it is so important that we keep close to Jesus and listen to him and not jump to our own conclusions in the chaos and apparent confusion that is often there in the affairs of men. One of the ways He works into the world is through His people, but even here He limits Himself to what we will do, our responses to Him. Thus, He may yearn to bring good changes to the world, but we may be slow to hear Him and respond, and thus He waits for us.

Little Faith? It is not His lack of desire, it’s more our slowness, even as the New Testament people of God, to respond to both what we read in His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. There are various times in the Gospels where we see Jesus chiding his disciples for their ‘little faith’ (e.g. Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). Now we may think these things are of little consequence but in reality, they may be the very things that prevent us growing and becoming the people God wants us to be.

Growth? And there we have just touched on the heart of these studies – things to be considered if we are to grow as the Lord wants us to grow. There is always a danger in the Christian life that we either become very passive or we limit our thinking about spirituality or spiritual things to certain parts of the week (Sundays?). Limiting our thinking in this way will definitely stunt our growth. We may achieve great things in the world, but in the kingdom of God we remain infants and if the writer to the Hebrews was our mentor he would be saying, “By now I would have expected…..” (Heb 5:12).

Personal Assessment: So, we might ask, how have we done so far? Have we taken on board and understood and applied all the teaching about having ‘died’?  Have we understood and taken on board the principles we have seen in the second Part in respect of the Spirit-empowered resurrection life? If we have not coped with these, it is unlikely we will handle the teaching about ‘the ascended life’ where our faith will be really challenged

Jesus’ Expectations: The passive Christian is happy to sit in the pews on a Sunday but that is where it stops. The real Christian is the one who hears Jesus words and does something with them: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:24) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) and “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) So there is the challenge for the days ahead. As we obey and move into these things, so we grow. Let’s rise to it!