21. Safe

A Brief Recap:

John’s Gospel, chapter 6, falls into several very significant sections and so before we continue with these brief meditations in John, it might be well to observe these in order to keep a right perspective:

6:1-15     The Feeding of the Five Thousand

6:16-21   Jesus walks on water

6:22-24   The crowd seek out Jesus

6:25-59    A long dialogue with the crowd

6:60-71    Some disciples leave Jesus.

The theme throughout the chapter is really all about bread – physical bread, spiritual bread and the bread that is Jesus.

Short Meditations in John 6:  21. Safe

Jn 6:21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

So often there are words of scripture that, as you ponder them, make you realise that these are not fiction for if you were writing fiction you would not bother to include them. Such is the starting sentence of this verse: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat.” “They were willing”? What choice did they have? If the figure had been a ghost, how do you keep out invading ghosts??? If it was some other person, who else on earth can walk on water, and could you stop such a person with such powers climbing on board???

No, the words John includes in his account show a change of mind, a change of awareness. It may be so obvious we miss it, but John is making a point that the arrival of Jesus brings a change of awareness, a change of reaction. For the disciples it is strong reassurance. They still don’t know how he could possibly have walked on water but it is still the familiar Jesus that they know (well?).

There is something quite significant here. These disciples have submitted to Jesus, obeyed his call to follow, and having done that they have learnt much about him (and have still a lot to learn) but that puts them on a secure footing with him and are therefore reassured by his presence in the midst of difficult and confusing times (it is going to get much worse!) His presence changes their feelings from negative to positive. Now that wasn’t true for many people, such as the Pharisees and other religious groups who found Jesus a threat. There are many people today who will try and write off Jesus because if they dared read and believe the Gospels they know they could never carry on their self-centred and godless lives as before; things would have to change. Indeed, in the face of a crisis, we see a further distinction between believer and unbeliever. The believer welcomes Jesus into their circumstances and are grateful and thankful. The unbeliever, after some life-threatening incident, wants to revert to their godless life as quickly as possible. They may have prayed in the midst of the crisis but now it is past, they quickly forget that and put their deliverance down to modern medicine, luck or good chance. Folly returns quickly!

But there is something more in this account. We don’t know how it happened but it seems almost as soon as Jesus is in the boat, they arrive at dry land again. They are back in a safe environment. Now that was a physical reality but for us so often it is also a spiritual reality. On our own in difficult circumstances, our lives are under threat. Jesus comes into our situation, peace and calm return and suddenly we are back on firm ground. It is a strange thing but it is true.

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6. New Birth Bringer

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   6. The New Birth Bringer

 

John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again

 

The object of these particular meditations we have said is to catch the big themes that come through in John’s Gospel. In chapter 1 we had a quick glimpse of Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, an indication of the change that was going to come to his life. In the first half of chapter 2 we saw Jesus change water into wine, a picture of what he has come to do with each of our lives. In the second half of chapter 2 we saw him speaking of his capability of bringing life to even a dead body, thus bringing us hope for eternity and hope that our spiritually dead lives can be brought alive by Jesus.

 

An now we come to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here we will not focus on who Nicodemus was or even why he came at night time to speak with Jesus. In this context all we want to note is the area of thinking that Jesus led him into – which is more about new life, more about being transformed.

 

The conversation again starts with reference to the ‘miraculous signs’ that Jesus is performing (v.2). Jesus’ response is challenging: I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3)  Now why does he say that? He says it, I suggest, because he sees into Nicodemus and sees a longing and a frustration. The fact that Nicodemus has risked coming to Jesus says he is a seeker. Yes, he wants to know but even more, he wants to experience. It like he was saying, “Jesus, you have obviously got it all worked out. You are a teacher but unlike any of our other teachers, you operate with God’s power. What is that all about?”

 

Jesus’ response infers, “Well yes, these miracles are clearly signs of God on the move, God ruling, God’s kingdom in operation, but if you want to operate in this realm you need to start life all over again on a completely different basis.”

 

“Hold on,” says Nicodemus, “how can that happen? The picture language you are using says I need to start life all over again. How can that possibly be?”. Well, says Jesus, you need the work of both water and the Spirit. (v.5). Many have speculated on that double suggestion because it is not spelt out. Yes, it is a mystery, like where the wind blows (v.8) but water in the Bible, apart from being a source of life, is usually associated with getting washed, and the Spirit is associated with power. So Jesus’ indirect references suggest this ‘new birth’ comes with a washing away the old and being renewed or rather brought to life from death by the Spirit.

That’s incredible, suggests Nicodemus, how can that come about? These are spiritual things discerned by spiritual people, people who have encountered heaven, is what Jesus implies and turns the conversation towards himself: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (v.11,12) In other words, look, you are struggling when I try to convey these things in human terms, how will you do if I try to convey the secrets of heaven?

The answer, of course, in the light of what went before, is that you won’t, you’ve got to be born again first. It will only be when the Spirit enters your life and empowers you that you will plug into God’s wavelength and He will be able to teach you these things. But that still leaves Nicodemus and any other seeker feeling helpless. So what help is there to bring all this about?

It will be, says Jesus, when I am lifted up (v.14). Do you remember how Moses had a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole so anyone who came and looked on it was healed from their snake bites? Well that is how it’s going to be with me. When I am lifted up – first on the Cross, then by resurrection, and then in the ascension – then you will have something to focus your belief on, and when you believe I am who I am, then my Father will grant you eternal life. It is that simple.

Wow! There is the personal life transformation spelled out. The name changing gave an indication of what was coming. The wine showed the power that was available to bring the change, the talk of resurrection pushed it to include spiritually died lives, and now the talk of new birth pushes it to its conclusion. It will come as a work of cleansing from the past, and power for the future, and it will bring a total life transformation. It all comes about when we are confronted with and come to believe in the thrice ‘raised up’ Son of God. When we see him as he is, and see ourselves as we are, we fall on our knees before him in surrender and in worship and he puts his own Spirit in us and we are reborn. Transformation! Hallelujah!  He does in us what we cannot do ourselves. How wonderful!

1. The Incredible Word

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   1. The Incredible Word

John 1:1,14   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Reading through John’s Gospel recently I have been grabbed afresh over how it seems John writes in big blocks,  each block revealing something incredible about Jesus Christ. John doesn’t try to copy the style of the Synoptic Gospels and produce a history of what happened; they have done that already. John has thought over many years of the wonders of what he saw in those three incredible years with Jesus and he has seen things and remembers things the others hadn’t bothered with. Now he writes and every chapter or section seems to light up a whole new area of understanding. Yes, there are overlaps with the Synoptics because he is writing about the same things, but his emphasis is on the wonder of Jesus, not merely the acts of Jesus.

These first fourteen verses of chapter one, so often called the Prologue in John are staggeringly incredible. Have you ever been to a Christian event where they have on the back part of the stage a painter who paints large brush strokes throughout the event until suddenly at the end you see the picture and it is amazing. I find these first fourteen verses to be like that. Massive brush strokes.

Brush stroke number one, a word, The Word.  He takes a concept used by the Greeks of that day and the Greek word is the Logos. There was a different Greek word for the spoken word; this ‘word’ in the Greek means the Thought, the Reason, the Meaning, the power or force of life, the cause behind everything.  John takes this brushstroke and paints in others around it to define it – in the beginning (when it was) – with God (where it was) – was God (who or what it was). Everything about this word, this expression, is of God; it is God expressing Himself.

He goes on in verse 2 – with God in the beginning (one with but distinct). Then in verse 3 more brush strokes – Through him all things were made (he was the agent of Creation) – without him nothing was made that has been made (he was essential to Creation). This word is God and yet distinct within God. This word was there at the beginning of all things, being the agent that brought all things into being.

But then verse 4 – In him was life (life, energy, movement, all came from him). Then another brush stroke – and that life was the light of men (this is life which brings meaning.) Then verse 5 more brush strokes – The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (the meaning came and revealed itself but those there did not understand it.)

So far there have been philosophical concepts, tantalizing in their suggestions but then suddenly there comes a down-to-earth change: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.” (v.6) Suddenly there is something simple and clear, almost off to the side of the picture perhaps, the figure of a man, not part of this word but beside it. So what is he doing, this man? “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (v.7) He is part of the picture to speak about this word, this life bringing light, so that people would understand and respond to the word, this light. But be quite clear as you look on this picture being formed, “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (v.8) He is distinct from this word, this life-bringing light  He isn’t this light; he just comes to tell about this light to get people ready to receive and appreciate this light.

So now we might be wondering about this light, so John adds more brush strokes: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (v.9) This light that is coming is real light, a light that affects every single human being so they will never be the same again. This light wasn’t yet in the world and so the world was in darkness, unseeing, uncomprehending, and wondering, but it was coming. And so this light came. But then we realise there is a personal pronoun used about this light, and it has been there from the earliest verses – ‘he’ – and this says that this word, this idea, this force, this light, is not some theoretical idea but a person: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” (v.10)

This person who had been involved in the very Creation was now in the world he had had a hand in creating, but his creation did not realise who he was: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (v.11) This word comes as a human being but the other humans did not realise who he was, and yet eventually (the story will show) there were those who did respond to him and so, “who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (v.12) Wow!

Where did that come from. Suddenly there was a brush stroke on this picture that brought focus and the focus was the point of his coming – to create children of God! But how? “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (v.13) This was all going to be a work of God. This is all about God coming to earth to create children for Himself! How incredible. But how did He do it? How was this Word, this light going to do that? “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14) Oh my goodness!  The Word, the meaning, the reason the power, the force that was God which had existed from before anything material came into being, this word appeared on the earth in human form, revealing the glory of the One who has always been, coming as a distinct expression of the Godhead, full of the wonderful love and goodness of God and utterly real  THIS is who this Gospel is going to reveal.

Imagine the start of a film. You are in outer space. Wherever you look around you all you can see are stars, millions upon millions upon millions of them. And then the camera focuses on one gleam of light and dashes towards it but then as it nears it, it bypasses it and goes on to a tiny planet and  homes in on it. As the camera dives through the clouds, land becomes visible and as it nears the land features become clear and soon buildings and people and then it homes in and stops in front of one single human being. We have arrived with John. Now who is this incredible one person who has had such incredible things said about him? What are we going to see through the eyes of this aged saint who had been there all those years back and witnessed the wonder of it all? Read on!

29. Water Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 29 : Jesus, bringer of Living Water

Jn 4:10-14 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” ….Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you were an alien who had just arrived on earth and didn’t know what water was, John’s Gospel would be rather a mystery to you, because water keeps on cropping up.  Jesus was baptized in water (1:33), he turned water into wine (2:6-), he referred to our natural birth as birth of water (3:5), he speaks about water to this Samaritan woman (4:7-), he healed a man by a mystical pool of water (5:1-), he walked on water (6:19), he spoke about streams of water to refer to the coming Holy Spirit (7:38), he washed his disciples feet with water (13:5), water poured out when he was pierced  on the Cross (19:34), and his last miracle was on water (21:7).  What all this says is that water is very common. There is lots of it on the earth and we use it to drink, to wash, to cook with and to manufacture things. Without it we’d be dead.  Water is a vital and essential element of our lives.

The Samaritan woman has come looking for water, ordinary water from the well, but does Jesus sense another yearning in her? It’s a strange thing isn’t it, that we can have different yearnings. When we haven’t drunk for a while we’re thirsty, we yearn for water. In that respect water is symbolic of all the material things we need to stay alive. Yet the truth is that we find yearnings within us that go beyond material yearnings. We have yearnings for love, for beauty, for meaning in life. Without these things ‘life’ is very ‘dry’. The woman was very jaded about life. She’s been through a number of relationships which had all failed or passed. Whether her husbands left her or had died we aren’t told, but she’s had five already. Even for a Hollywood movie star that’s going some. More than that, she’s living with a man now who’s not her husband. For this woman life is unreliable and upsetting. When we form relationships we anguish when they end. This woman yearns for something permanent, something stable, something that will put security into her life, something that will transform it. She comes with at least two needs, therefore.

Jesus senses this and starts talking about ‘living water’.  Living water could first refer to spring water that bubbles up from the ground and she seems to understand it in this way first of all because she says he has nothing to draw up the water.  Jesus’ answer in our verses today indicates that his water is different, because when you drink it, you’ll never thirst again, i.e. if you take Jesus’ provision, all of your non-material yearnings will be for ever satisfied. This provision will remain in you and will act like a spring within you, constantly welling up and providing all you need. This ‘water’ is living, constantly self-perpetuating, never ending in supply.

Even as we mentioned above in John 7:38,39, Jesus referred to this water there and meant the Holy Spirit. There, and in the present passage, are two requirements to receive that ‘living water’: first that you thirst (Jn 7:37), that you have a deep yearning for something more that the material world cannot provide and, second, as seen in the story of the Samaritan woman, you face your state and recognize your need and see that only Jesus can satisfy it. Thus when we surrender to him, he gives us his own Holy Spirit, who lives within us and acts as a constant, never-ending supply of life from within, the ONLY real life satisfying supply.