1. What is God doing?

“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 1. What is God doing?

Mt 4:19 “Come follow me,” Jesus said.     

There are high points in life, and low points. At Easter it was the other way round, there were low points and then a high point: He has risen! We live in a world full of high points and low points and for the unbeliever every day is a day of uncertainty, a day of potential worry. But there is another way. An academic-cum-poet, Minnie Louise Haskins’, in 1908 wrote a poem, “The Gate of the Year” that gained fame by being used in King George VI’s 1939 Christmas broadcast, facing the early days of the Second World War. They are still appropriate for today:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”  So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

Writing in Spring 2021, I find myself gazing into the future, wondering. I gaze at the horizon and wonder. What is God doing? Is He coming soon? I wrote elsewhere recently that Spring is a time of peering at the earth with expectancy. I had sowed tomato seeds and each day peered at the seed tray looking for signs of life. Eventually each seed broke the surface and so then I watched their growth with the expectancy that one day, later in Summer, I would be harvesting sweet, small, orange tomatoes. I knew what they should be, I knew it when I sowed the seeds, but would life come forth?

In March this year, we ‘celebrated’ (well the media made a meal of it!) a year since the start of the first of three lockdowns in the UK. At this point in time, optimism is strong on one hand, while realism keeps rearing its ugly head in the form of Government scientists warning or more to come. But a combination of large percentages of the population receiving their vaccine shots, the lengthening of the days of Spring, and the hopes of Summer and of coming out of restrictions, mean that many are peering at the light at the end of the tunnel with hope and optimism.

But for me and you as believers, what is the reality? The bigger question that I find impinging on my consciousness day after day, is what is the Lord doing? For some time now voices have been raised around the globe suggesting that revival is just around the corner. The trouble is that optimism can take our emotions beyond where God is at the moment. Is He coming soon in revival in the world, or renewal in the church? We can but watch and wait. Note those two things, for they are what I sense need to be behind all I write for the remainder of this month. Watching speaks of anticipation; waiting speaks of holding a right attitude until He comes. For the sake of these studies, these meditations, these reflections, can we consider ourselves ‘visionaries of God’, those of His children who will watch the horizon with a realistic anticipation, who seek His heart and will, in order to perhaps hasten the day or, at the very least, prepare for the day.  

But, I wonder, can we think of this in a wider sense, not merely in respect of revival or renewal?  Will He come to my family, my unsaved loved ones, my prodigals, the needs I have been crying out for, for so long? Will He come to the church, to my locality, my nation? Is there really hope – of an end to the pandemic, of change in my family, church, and nation? Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel?

But then I have to come back to basics, to the beginning and ponder on my calling to be a disciple. The mentality of disciples is simply to obey the call – follow me. It was those simple words that made four fishermen leave their nets, a tax collector leave his booth, and others put down and walk away from their daily activities. Where were they going? What did the future hold? It’s been a picture that has grabbed me a number of times in recent years. We like a religion that is neat and orderly, where we know what is happening because we are the ones in control, where we know what is going to happen because it is us doing it – but that is not the calling of a disciple of Jesus who takes on the name ‘Christian’.

No, Jesus’ disciples had one calling, to follow him, without knowing what was coming, without being in control. When Jesus walked, they walked, when Jesus stood still, they stood still, when Jesus ate, they ate, when Jesus slept, they slept, when Jesus performed healings …. yes, they eventually performed healings, when Jesus cast out demons… yes, they eventually cast out demons.

So what is happening today that he calls me to enter into? Well, one thing I do know, and that is what is NOT happening. Thousands of people are not turning to God in revival around the world. The church is not dramatically coming alive with revelation and power. When I pray for healing it only happens occasionally. When I share the gospel it rarely produces an instant reception and life transformation. But does that mean God has packed His bags and gone off to some other universe? I don’t think so! Every now and then, I observe little signs of Holy Spirit activity and encouragement, just like I see the shoots and buds and seedlings coming into life all over the place in Spring. So what is His call today? I believe it is to watch and wait – and DO what He gives us to do when He gives it, to take the opportunities He gives, when He gives.  It’s a call to realism and a call of hope, a call to still involve us in the work of His calling. How can we do that, how can faith rise up in us for these days? Let’s kneel and listen and watch, let’s be available and obedient. Join me in this pilgrimage this month.

35. John’s Light

Short Meditations in John 5:  35. John’s Light

Jn 5:35    John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

This whole subject about the testimony to Jesus, is really raised like this nowhere else in the Gospels. The synoptic writers simply declared what they knew and that was it. It was only John, who pondered on all he had seen and heard in those three wonderful years, who remembered this brief teaching of Jesus. The more and more we go into it, the more we see how important and how significant it is.

Jesus has previously referred to John the Baptist two verses back in verse 33 but that was simply about the fact that John had testified powerfully to Jesus, and we looked at that testimony. He had followed that up by saying that he himself did not need to rely upon any human testimony, but having said that he returns to John and speaks some more about him.

John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. Two things about that. First, the nature of John’s ministry. In the spiritual darkness that had existed in Israel at that time, John had come as a light for the people and they had flocked to him. He clearly was a prophet of the old school and there hadn’t been one of those in the land for over four hundred years! But John had come calling the people to repentance and giving them an opportunity to be ceremonially washed clean of their sins by being baptised in the Jordan.

Second, for a while at least, Israel has basked in John’s glory, as uncomfortable as it was. He was at least a prophet and that reminded them that they were truly God’s people and after four hundred years of waiting, suddenly the prophetic tradition was back there in their midst. Hundreds, if not thousands, had flocked to him. He was, as we might say today, the flavour of the month. Now Jesus is going on to say that he has a more powerful testimony than John had, but for the moment he focuses them on how they had, for a while at least, accepted John.

Perhaps the nearest we can get to this in modern Christianity are the ways people leap to follow Christian celebrities on Christian TV or perhaps leap at a ‘new teaching’ that causes excitement for a short while. It may be right to acclaim God’s gifting in Christian leaders and it may be right to work out new or fresh teaching that brings a balance that had been missing, but NOTHING is to compete with the relationship that we have directly with Jesus. He alone is our Lord and Saviour and in him alone are all our answers. Such a recent fad has been that of the ‘mindfulness’ phenomena. Jesus is the answer to our lack of peace and he alone makes sense of the present moment.

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?


4. The Lamp of the Body

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 4.  The Lamp of the Body

Mt 6:22,23   The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

In our two verses above there is a whole bundle of ideas packaged in picture form. The first one describes the eye as a lamp. Let’s just stop it there a moment. A lamp sheds light, it illuminates, as we saw in a previous study. Now this lamp illuminates the body. What does that mean? What do our eyes do? Light hits the back of them and is basically transferred to the brain where it is translated into images. This ‘lamp’, our eyes, illuminates our mind, our thinking, but here’s the thing, we already have a whole bunch of what are called ‘presuppositions’, assumptions we already have, beliefs about a whole range of ideas. Now we sometimes talk about people being ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to new ideas and so when our eyes pick up new things the mind is either open or closed to what it is seeing.

The Message version’s paraphrase starts these two verses as, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” That’s lovely. The more you are open to what you see, and yes, you may question what you see, but that is different from rejecting it outright, the more there is likely to be light (understanding) shed in you. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it differently. The mind interprets what the eye sees. Atheists, for example, tend to despise Christians as muddle headed, deceived idiots, instead of seeing goodness, kindness, love, hope, wisdom, generosity etc. They fail to see all those good things.

The reality of what Jesus is teaching in these verses is that when your eyes pick up something (you see) and the mind translates what it sees, it can either be good or bad. The ‘light’ coming through your eyes is translated by your mind and so the state of your mind is critical.  In natural terms cataracts hinder light getting to the receptors at the back of the eye, they distort vision, they distort what the mind ‘sees’. Now when we are faced with people or circumstances, there are, similarly, things that will distort what we are seeing, things that will skew our understanding. Things that distort are prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness. All of these are revealed by the way we think of and talk about others – who are poor, different, rich, celebrities, people we like or dislike. (and the reasons for those responses may be completely illogical.)

The light you and I get is a combination of the light waves that hit our receptors plus the understanding our mind gives to what it sees. If our mind is full of anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility etc. then Jesus calls this ‘darkness’. Remember in a previous study we spoke about darkness as an experience that shuts down our lives, hindering us living freely, stopping us going where we want, doing whatever we want, being a different people; darkness locks us in, it acts as a prison. All those things above that we said distort our vision – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility – all these things lock us down, inhibit us, stop us growing and developing. Whatever ‘light’ appears to come in through our eyes, is immediately shut down by these things and that light is in fact, darkness. Our verses above concluded, If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  The JBP version puts it, If all the light you have is darkness, it is dark indeed!”  The Message version puts all this together and says, If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”

So when Jesus speaks about our eyes, he really means our sight combined with the understanding we have. If that understanding is locked down by prejudice and all the other things we’ve listed, then whatever gets put before us, whatever we see, is distorted, is turned to darkness, bad, negative thoughts. The Internet has allowed us to see this so clearly. Go to so many chat-rooms or follow the comments at the end of newspaper articles and, if it is the first time you’ve ever done it, you’ll be shocked by the hostility, the anger and the bitterness that is so often poured out of minds that are closed except to their own tunnel-vision view of life.

The truth is that life can be harsh, it can be unfair and it can leave us wounded, and it can, therefore, leave us with distorted vision. Without naming names, I have observed the public comments of more than one crusading atheist and seen their perceptions distorted by bad childhood experiences. What follows is a life of tunnel vision where they focus all their energies, not on studying the evidence with an open, intelligent mind, but on propping up their tunnel-vision views. I have come across great Christian thinkers who just shake their heads in disbelief at some of the amazing things that come from distorted vision of these locked-down atheists.

In these two verses Jesus is giving a warning with such graphic language but it is picture language that really needs thinking about and for the hard-hearted or close-minded that will not happen. Sometimes people need a crisis to bring them to the end of themselves before they will allow light to change their thinking. Some may never let that happen, but others will. Our role is simply to be light, as we saw previously, to give people the best opportunity to see something good from God, something that might just penetrate the darkness which at the moment locks them down, something that may truly help bring changed thinking that results in an opening up to the Lord.

So to conclude: for ourselves, check yourself out and make sure you have none of those negatives we spoke of earlier that will inhibit your life, inhibit your understanding and distort all you see or hear – prejudice, jealousy, self-centredness, low self-esteem, defensiveness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred, bitterness, hostility. If you recognize any of those things confess them to the Lord and ask Him to rid you of them, by helping you understand the wonder of just who you are, loved by Him with a purpose and a plan He has for you for good.

In respect of other people, perhaps people who you have shared with in the past, but with no fruit, persevere and pray and seek to be the very best witness of the love of God that you can be. Seek Him for His grace, His power and His revelation to be that, and then watch this space! He will not only work through you, but start bearing down on that person so that eventually they will one day say, “I see it! I can see! That’s wonderful” Believe it, pray for it, work for it, and expect it. Amen? Amen!

6. Man on the Throne?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 6.  Man on the Throne?

Ezek 1:25,26   Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.

So we have considered the angelic beings revealed as a unity, four living creatures and the wheels that accompany them and now, nearing the end of the chapter we are allowed to see past them, so to speak.

Reality conveyed Symbolically: The creatures come to a halt and Ezekiel hears something: “Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings,” (v.25) and as he look he sees, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (v.26)

Now in a conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Son of God declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit,” (Jn 4:24) but we are looking in on a vision that Ezekiel had in which God seeks to convey to this human being, realities of heaven and of Himself, and so everything that we see must be symbolic, picture form of reality that is beyond human comprehension.

As we have commented before the reality of the vision itself was so ‘other-worldly’ that it was confusing to the observer which is why we read just now, “was what looked like a throng of sapphire.” Was it a throne of sapphire? No it’s a vision and that is how it appears to this limited human mind. But it does give the impression of being a throne, a seat where a ruler sits. As for ‘sapphire’ all we can say is that this was a stone highly prized in the ancient world, and so we are shown what appears to be a throne made of the most costly and precious material.

The God-vision: It was on this throne that we read “was the figure like that of a man.” Again notice the word, ‘like’. This in reality wasn’t a man but in the revelation that is how He shows Himself to Ezekiel. Why should God show Himself to us in human form? Well, first, perhaps it is to identify with us and let us identify with Him. If we simply speak of God as Spirit, that is difficult to comprehend.  Scrabbling to define spirit I have suggested ‘energy with personality’ but even that defies our understanding. Second, even though that may be God’s intention, the reality is still far from a normal human man, as we’ll shortly see.

Ezekiel then sees, “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.” (v.27) So the lower half of this figure appears ‘normal human’ (with which we can identify) but the upper half is something else! He’s like glowing metal as if just having come out of a foundry, so full of fire and light, and brilliant light thus surrounded him. The apostle John spoke of the Son of God, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) This is the truth; this figure IS life, all life emanates from Him, energy, power, and it is seen in the form of light that blazes forth from Him when revelation allows even a tip of the reality of Him being shown to mankind.

Impact: But then we read, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (v.28a) Do you see what this is saying? This light that pours forth from Him impacts everything around it and everything is revealed in a myriad different aspects of that light. We refer to a rainbow as an expression of this light split up into the spectrum in water droplets that form a cloud. Here His light is shed on everything around Him and it reveals everything in this wonderful way. His radiance reveals the immense variety and beauty of the reality that God has brought into being at the beginning of all things. If you and I had been able to stand there the many facets of the wonder of the Lord would be reflected in us as we stood there reflecting His glory (ponder on 2 Cor 3:18 in the light of this).

Whenever God is revealed through revelation to us (for there is no other way we can see or even discern Him) it is His wonder or His glory that we behold.  His life, His light, is what impacts us and when it is shown or revealed in our human, material context, it comes as bright light in clouds as we have noted before. But when it is revealed, it impacts those who see it: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (v.28b) So incredible was this vision that it seemed to sap all the energy of Ezekiel and in the vision (or maybe literally) he fell on his face. It was too much to behold and maybe it also left him feeling he was unworthy of such a sight.

Perhaps the apostle Peter caught something of this when Jesus took his boat and performed a miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Peter may have been a brash fisherman, but did Jesus, I wonder, choose him because he was so good at seeing the reality. We see another example of it where we read, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:16,17) Peter ‘saw’ it!

How have we coped with this vision in this first chapter? Our response reveals our spiritual state, our spiritual health, if you like. Jesus often spoke about how it needed people with open hearts to God to discern the wonder of the truths that he was bringing. If you feel you need it, ask the Lord afresh to open your eyes to the wonder of this amazing, almost bizarre, chapter. Remember it is prophetic reality being conveyed through symbolic pictures, God seeking to convey to us realities.

First there was the reality of the angelic body, shown in such a way as to convey a host of truths about the host that inhabits heaven – beings who serve God but ministering to mankind, coming with the might and authority of God (like lions), coming to serve the will of God (like Oxen) and coming with the revelation of God (like eagles) – a host that is utterly united in purpose, to serve the Lord, who move at great speed to do that and who herald Him and glorify Him. An example for us! Then there is the Lord Himself, revealed as the supreme ruler who identifies with His human creation and yet who cannot but pour forth the life that is His, that is seen as incredible power, revealed as light, one with us but utterly different from us. This one alone is worthy of our worship. Pray that these will be more than mere words for us.

1. Let there be light

Meditations on “God of Transformation”: 1:  Let there be light

Gen 1:1-3    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

There is a theme that runs through the Bible that has come to my attention and which will form the basis of this particular series of studies – that God is a God of transformation, that He comes to bring change.  Now as I have observed church life over the years, I conclude that so often there is a form of unbelief that prevails that looks at the present and is not in faith for it to change, certainly not for the good, but that flies in the face of the testimony of Scripture. My hope is that as we progress through these studies my faith and yours will be released in a new measure to break free from the shackles of materialism that says we live in a closed system where nothing can change, only the furniture get moved around!

The appropriate place to begin is at the beginning and, in the first three verses of Genesis 1 above, we see the very first recorded transformation taking place. Now I suspect that these words are so familiar to us that we have perhaps taken them for granted and fail to see the wonder behind them.

The opening statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, makes a bald statement but without explanation. It may also be a summary of what follows. Now it is what follows that I think we so often take for granted and give little thought to: “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” The planet we call earth was a mass of rock covered by water, and dark. Here’s my question: why?  God could have said, “Go!” and the whole earth as we know it could have come into being in an instant, but He didn’t; He reveals it in stages. Why? Because God seems committed to doing things in logical stages – you see it throughout history – and therefore we see it in the Creation narrative of Genesis 1.

The first sentence doesn’t even take us back as far as the scientist’s ‘Big Bang’ for we are presented with an Earth that exists but as a formless mass. It is into this that we find God’s first creative declaration, “Let there be light.” When God says it, it is done. He could have said, “Let there be a compete earth”, but He didn’t. Why? I suggest the answer includes that thought that He wants us to think about the stages and ponder on them. We’re doing that purely in respect of the first one, the bringing of light.

But what is light? Depending where you search you will come up with various answers varying from the less technical to the highly technical. For instance, “Light  is the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. Light is what allows us to understand the world we live in.”  That explains what it does. But then, “Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which ranges from radio waves to gamma rays. It is the very narrow range of electromagnetic radiation that our eyes can actually see.” Then “visible light is carried by a fundamental particle or energy packet called photons,” and “light involves fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields, which can transport energy from one location to another.” So it’s all about energy. Where does this energy come from? God, because God is energy.  That’s not quite what the Bible says for the nearest you will get is Jesus saying, “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).  My definition (which still leaves lots of questions) is that the Spirit is energy or power with personality. In any of the heavenly visions in Scripture, light seems to emanate from the throne or the very presence of God.

When God said, “Let there be light,” this may be the very first time the divine expressed Himself in material form (accepting that light particles or waves operate in the material existence. Isn’t it interesting that when God’s presence filled first the completed Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,35) and then the completed Temple (1 Kings 8:11) it came as an incredibly bright light in the cloud, that we call the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is simply an incredibly bright light. When Jesus was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration his clothes shone with incredible light (Lk 9:29).

How amazing that the primary manifestation of God the Spirit is in the form of incredibly bright light, and when He speaks into the dark and formless world it comes as light. The fact that the sun, moon and starts don’t appear until v.14  either means that they did not become visible until later because of the vapour covering the earth or because God is making the point that He is the originating source of life, not the light from the sun etc. I suggest both can be true but when considering meaning, the latter takes on significance. There are few plants that can live without light. We human beings wilt without light. Light is fundamental to life and without it life can rarely exist (but see creatures in the depths of the oceans as an exception). Light in increasing forms translates energy into heat and without that heat we cannot live. Thus from the outset it is like God is saying, “Let there be here in this material world the means to sustain ‘life’.”

A study of the word ‘life’ in the Bible opens up massive areas for consideration but ultimately that is what we are all about – living beings and we live because God has turned His energy into light which in turn enables life in this material world. God is thus both the source of life and the sustainer of life – spiritual AND physical!

Can we appreciate light so that it stirs praise and thanks in us? When the sun comes out and brings life to nature, when the moon and stars shine ay night reminding us of the enormity of this universe and reminding us, so the scientists tell us, of millions of other universes, all created by our God. And when a rainbow appears with the spectrum that together makes up white light, and the clouds create shadows and shades of light, let’s marvel at it and give thanks to the Lord of all things, the Creature not only of what we know but infinitely more.

20. Revealed

Short Meditations in John 3:  20. Revealed

Jn 3:21   But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

What a package of truths in this verse! “Whoever lives by the truth.” There is within this an assumption that there is something called ‘the truth’. Trying to be spiritual be might say it is Jesus, but there may be an even bigger meaning of it. The truth, The reality must surely be existence as God designed it, not as sinful human beings perceive it and distort it by wrong living. Coming to a place of total integrity, total honesty is what coming to God is about, for in Him there is nothing false, nothing pretend, nothing artificial, just utter goodness.

The person who is seen to live like this with this outlook on life, comes to Jesus, comes to God and allows the searchlight of His knowledge to reveal; this person “comes into the light”. They are revealed, they are displayed for what they really are, warts and all as they say, and yet redeemed, for it is only such a person who can do this. Without the knowledge of redemption, of God’s incredible love-directed work through Jesus on the Cross, each and every one of us would scuttle into the shade, under cover, into the darkness, as we saw in the previous verse. Knowing what we are like, if there was no saving grace, we would run and hide.  It is only because we have come to realise the wonder of His love, working through the Cross, that we dare come to the One who is The Light, and allow his light to shine on us and reveal us for what we are.

Now when this happens something becomes clear: sinful men and women cannot be something ‘other’ unless it is a work of God, hence, “so that it may be plainly seen that what has been done has been done through God.” This is it, when we live in the truth and come to the light, others will see and know the truth – we are what we are because of God, because there is no other explanation. Which is why Jesus taught, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)

Truth and light go together which is why John was to write in his first letter, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6,7) If we live by the truth and the light of Jesus shines on us, in us and through us, then that light will be one of the things that knit us together and enables us to fellowship together. In the absence of truth and light, real fellowship cannot happen.

18. Lovers of Darkness

Short Meditations in John 3:  18. Lovers of Darkness

Jn 3:19   This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

What an interesting start: “This is the verdict”. A verdict is a judicial decision after a careful weighing of the evidence. So, the evidence has been weighed in respect of the human race as represented by Israel, and they have been found wanting!

We have already seen John using the analogy of light in respect of Jesus (and it was John in his writing and not Jesus). In the opening verses of the book, usually called the Prologue, he had written, In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (Jn 1:4,5) Yes, later on he would remember Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world,” (Jn 8:12) which is perhaps one reason why he uses this language himself of Jesus. A few verses later on in that Prologue, he had added, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:7,8).

What does light do? It reveals things, it shows the way, it shows things up for what they really are, it exposes the acts of men to be seen by others, it enables us to live normal lives, seeing what we are doing clearly, it helps make sense of the world and enable us to live in it.

And John refers to Jesus as the light, but here he is pronouncing a verdict on humanity because of what he had observed. Yes, the “light has come into the world,” he had been a witness to this light but he had also been a witness to something else: “but men loved darkness instead of the light.” You might have expected people to welcome the light for all the reasons we noted above, the things light does, but they hadn’t. As the apostle Peter had declared, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Those things Jesus did, should have come as light revealing who Jesus was – The Light, but instead, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God knew how it would work out and it was by the rejection of the very people who should have gladly received him, the religious leaders and the leaders of the religious community, the Jews. Why did they reject him? “because their deeds were evil”. They were in fact self-centred and godless. If they hadn’t been they wouldn’t have rejected The Light.

19. The Tide of Acceptance (1)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   19. The Tide of Acceptance

John 12:9-11  Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

A sub-title for this study might be, ‘The Battle for Belief’. When we come to chapters 11 and 12, with the raising of Lazarus the battle for belief that has been going on throughout the book seems to come to a climax. This battle for belief is rather like the tide that goes in an out. In this study we will note the incoming tide and then in the next one the outgoing tide. The incoming tide is belief, the outgoing tide is rejection. We have earlier commented that one of the main overriding themes of John is the identity of Jesus. This theme of belief in him is rather like a sub-theme to that, how people responded to the revelation of who he was. (That we will see very clearly in the next study after this one).

John hinted at this tide early on in the Prologue when he wrote, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:10-12) There it is simply laid out – three things people did not do in respect of belief, but nevertheless there were some who obviously did believe and came to be children of God. As we go through John we will see the signs of this tidal movement. So, let’s look at the incoming signs.

“This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (Jn 2:11) In chapter 1 we saw individual responses of the early disciples to meeting Jesus (see Jn 1:41,45,49). Having seen this miracle their faith is bolstered. Yet things were said and done that even they struggled with: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (Jn 2:22) i.e. at the time they did not understand what he was saying.

Nevertheless the things he did swayed the general people: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)

`        When he left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee via Samaria, after the encounter with the Samaritan woman we find, Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (Jn 4:39-42)

He leaves there and goes to Cana in Galilee where, you remember, he healed the official’s son from a distance and we read, “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.” (Jn 4:53) After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:14,15) But the tide can change so quickly. Before the end of the chapter we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)

The conflict of belief versus unbelief becomes clearer in the following chapters: “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (Jn 10:39-42) When the opposition rose, Jesus stepped away and allowed there to be opportunities for belief to grow in others.

We see the peak of his approval on what we call Palm Sunday, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Jn 12:12-13) and a little later John explains why this peak of popularity: “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18)

There is still a growing opposition in some quarters that we will examine in the following study, but the battle for belief still raged: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (Jn 12:42) John likes that word ‘believed’ for it occurs 19 times in this Gospel. The identity of Jesus is a key theme but how people responded to it is equally important in terms of volume of the reports in John.

14. The Light of the World

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   14. The Light of the World

John 8:12  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

If John was writing his Gospel as a college dissertation today he would probably get 2 out of 10 for style. I say this because we come on to this amazing declaration by Jesus which comes in this form, first here and then in 9:5 but what gets worse, the miracle emphasising this is wrapped round that latter verse but there have already been numerous references to Jesus being light. How much better today, we might think, if it was all neatly packed together in one bundle, but the Bible is not like that, it brings it out bit by bit as it occurred in the various circumstances, so let’s check out these ‘light’ references.

We saw the first references in the Prologue: In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:4,5) i.e. the source of all life was in Jesus and he himself was like a light that shone gloriously in this dark, sin-tainted world, and he was not recognized or understood. But then came, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn1:7-9) John’s job was to point out the life that brings light to every human being.

Then we saw in what we called John’s Recap, John summarizing Jesus ministry as follows: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21) This light – Jesus – reveals hearts. Those who are open to God allow his light to shine in and transform. Those who prefer evil shy away.

We have seen previously that the background to this part of John was the Feast of Tabernacles and now Jesus has come to the temple courts to teach (8:2). The fact that they bring a woman to him here (8:3-12) suggests he was teaching in the Court of the Women. On the first day of the Feast there was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple in which four great candelabra were set up and lit at dusk, producing such a great illumination that light was spread far and wide.

Whether those lights continued throughout the Feast and afterwards is uncertain, but even if not, the candelabra were probably still there and so Jesus possibly stands alongside them (being early morning the light would now be out) and makes this claim which might be interpreted as him saying, “Well, you’ve seen the great light that has been here but I am a light that lights up the entire world. If 8:1-12 was indeed part of the original writing, he is speaking straight after the dismissing of the charges against the woman caught in adultery and it is like he is also saying, “I am the light that shows up the imperfections of every man and woman but I have come to dispel their darkness with my light.

After ongoing discussion and argument Jesus leaves the temple precincts (8:59) and as he goes he comes across a man who had been blind from birth (9:1). Rather than get into a debate with his disciples about the cause of this man’s blindness, he simply heals him (9:2,3,6,7) but not before he has declared, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:4,5) Perhaps we can simply suggest he is saying, “We must do the Father’s works while we still have the opportunity. There will come a time where the light of the world will appear to be snuffed out (temporarily at least) and it will be dark and these works will be halted, but while I am still here in person, I will shed light into the lives of all who come to me.”

The fact of this man having been blind from birth makes the picture even more vivid. It is like Jesus is showing through this miracle that he comes to bring light and therefore revelation to all those who have been spiritually blind since birth – as we all were. He alone opens our eyes so that we can see; that is part of his work and that of the Holy Spirit.

After a lot of discussions, arguments and provocations by the Jews and specifically the Pharisees who were against Jesus, he declares, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Jn 9:39) I like the Message Version’s rendering of this: Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretence of seeing will be exposed as blind.” Those who have been spiritually blind will be enabled to see the truth when they come to Jesus but those religious people who thought they were the ones with the truth, will be revealed as actually being spiritually blind. This is what this light actually does – provide sight for those who recognise their blindness and reveal the true state of those who are self-sufficient and think they see it all – but don’t.

Later on, in further light references, Jesus declares, Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:36) and “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (Jn 12:46) The wonder is that we can become light bringers when we come to him and when we do come to him his light shines in and through us so that darkness (sin) not longer has a place in us. The word ‘light’ appears 24 times in John’s Gospel and again it is all about transformation, us being changed from living in darkness to become and living in light. How wonderful.