2. The Heart of God

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 2: The Heart of God

Prov 8:30,31  I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

(Additional Reading: Prov 8:22-31)

Catching God’s heart: I guess many of us would agree with those famous words from Jn 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (Jn3:16,17) but I wonder if familiarity has dulled our understanding of these two verses. It was God’s love that sent His Son into this world. We saw in our first study that the Father sent the Son and we see it again in these two verses, but let me ask you a question that perhaps you’ve never been asked before: how do you think the Son felt about that? In the Godhead the authority is with the Father who instructs the Son and the Spirit, but this instruction is going to have some terrible implications within it  So let’s limit the question a bit to, what do you think Jesus felt about this instruction in respect of us?

God has Feelings?  I take us down this path because I think sometimes we lose all the emotion from the Advent story for I have a feeling that, for many, the emotion associated most with God would be anger, but I don’t believe that is the truth. Yes, God does get angry sometimes but is that all we find in the Godhead? I find our starter verses from Proverbs amazing. You really need to read verses 22 to 31 of Proverbs 8 to catch the full import of it. Technically it is ‘wisdom personified’ speaking but when you consider the Godhead, it has to be the Son who the creeds tell us was ‘begotten of the Father’ (and begotten simply means ‘comes out of’) who, from verse 27 on indicates that he was there alongside the Father creating the world.

It’s a lovely picture which corresponds perfectly to Jn 1:3 and Heb 1:2 and Col 1:16. But see what the Son says: “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.” (v.30) Delight, joy, pleasure, describe how the Son felt working alongside the Father. But then, even more wonderfully, “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v.31)  The son was blessed by the world they were bringing into being – and blessed by us human beings! Yes, he had this same joy and pleasure in us that he had in the world and in his Father. That is incredible! That’s how it was before the Fall.

Yes but we fell!  Yes, I can hear the negative put-down in this truth, but how do you think God felt about the Fall? Angry, yes, but anything else? Well a while later, when things start going seriously wrong in the world we read, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) The Message paraphrase puts it, God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.”  This is one of those times when God appears, not only as the One who stands outside time and sees everything from beginning to end, but also as the One who is there in time experiencing it as if for the first time. If it had been us, we might have said, “Oh why did I ever create this world when I see what a mess it gets into?” and our hearts would be broken.

Think Again: We often come across ‘the joy of the Lord’ in Scripture but to see more of God’s emotions we simply need to watch Jesus outside Lazarus’s tomb: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Jn 11:33-36) The original Greek seems to suggest that in Jesus’ weeping there was also a feeling of anger as well as anguish, anger for the effect of sin, both in bringing about Lazarus’s death and the impact it had on the family, as well as what he no doubt felt for Lazarus himself. God who is troubled, God who anguishes – over us! This is the love of Jn 3:16 that instinctively enabled the Godhead to plan Advent even before they uttered a word to create the world.

Time to Pray – Thanks: “Lord, I catch but a bit of what your word seems to reveal about how you feel about us.  Father, thank you that you love us, and sent Jesus to die for us. Thank you that it is your love that energizes you to plan all of this to save us. Thank you so much. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Requests: “Lord, please forgive us that so often we never bother to try to catch your heart or understand how you feel. Lord, please open my heart, fill my heart with the truth, touch my heart with the wonder of the emotions you feel that are the guiding and motivating force behind all the Nativity accounts. Please help me see it this year like I’ve never seen it before. Amen.”

44. Accepting Love (3)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 44.  Accepting Love (3)

Lk 15:20    So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Having observed how Jesus expressed the Father’s love by acceptance in the past two studies, we now move on to see how that love is reflected in his teaching or even in his general conversation.  Now something that I confess I have found somewhat surprising is that Jesus rarely spoke of his own love for people. It is the writer John who picks up such references, but they only occur in the closing hours in the upper room.

First Jesus teaches, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). The basis of his command for us to love one another is the fact that he has first loved his disciples. The fact that they are ’disciples’ means they should replicate the life of ‘the Master’ and that means they will love as Jesus has loved.

Second, a little later, he teaches the same thing: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (Jn 15:9) to which he then adds, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (v.12,13) with the clear implication (seen retrospectively) that his death will also be an expression of his love for them, in addition to what he has shown them so far.

It is John who adds commentary to this effect, but it comes in what Jesus said earlier: “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love,” (Jn 13:1) and then goes on to show Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, but perhaps John’s meaning was deeper than that and referred to the coming ordeal of the Cross.

As we have shown in the previous two studies, Jesus’ love was best demonstrated. One such time we have not noted previously was when he came to the tomb of Lazarus: “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (J 11:35,36) The words here suggest this was not the weeping that so often accompanied death, better described as ‘wailing’ but was a spontaneous outpouring of grief; certainly for Lazarus but maybe even more for Mary and Martha and all the other affected by the death of Lazarus. Just prior to this Jesus had seen Mary weeping and we read, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (v.33) Even though Jesus was completely in control and knew what the outcome was going to be, he nevertheless was moved by all the anguish he observed that was caused by death.

But what about his teaching? Doesn’t he teach about his own love? The answer has to be, mostly not. Yes, he taught about us loving God but strangely there is little the other way round, though of course John makes the famous declaration, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) and others picked up on it, e.g. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(Eph 5:25) and “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

So why this absence? It is, I suggest, similar to the fact that the Bible never defends God; it always simply states what He said or did and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. He is, if you like, big enough and great enough not to need any defense. So, similarly, with Jesus, his actions – coming to earth from heaven, living in a limited human body, ministering the authority and power of heaven to bring healings, deliverances and other ‘miracles’, then giving his life to death on the Cross, all of this speaks of his love more eloquently than any words could do. It is a challenge to us – don’t talk about it, do it!

John himself clearly felt loved when he makes oblique references to himself – “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby.” (Jn 19:26) and “she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” (Jn 20:2) Surely Jesus loved them all and yet John particularly felt it. Perhaps that is how it is with us – we are all loved by God but some of us are particularly aware of it.

Jesus’ teaching rarely spoke of the Father’s love for us, as such, but the exception must be hidden in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father surely has to be God, and when the son returns we find, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) What a beautiful picture – God on the lookout for the returning prodigals (us) and the moment He sees us coming back to Him He runs to hug us and welcome us back to be part of His family, as we were intended to be from the outset.

And so, as a teacher I feel challenged by this. It is easy to teach using words but Jesus did it mostly by example. He rarely spoke about his love except near the end to bring a sharper focus, but instead throughout his three years of ministry, he just loved and loved as he accepted people as they were, chiding sometimes, challenging sometimes, rebuking sometimes, but all because he loved and longed for us to receive and enter into the best that he desires for us. So will others speak about me as a teacher or as an example of love? I hope both, but I think it will be the latter that will touch hearts while the former touches minds. For each of us, do the world around us know us as people of love, loved by the Father, loved by the Son, pouring out the Spirit (of love) and therefore people who express love?

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.

15. The Gospel

Short Meditations in John 3:  15. The Gospel

Jn 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Thus we arrive at what is almost certainly one of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible. My own feeling is that this and subsequent verses are commentary by John rather than ongoing speech by Jesus. There is an objectivity about them, I believe, which separates them from what has gone before. Other commentators disagree, but I will approach it as John’s summary. Verse 19 onwards especially has the feeling of the early parts of chapter 1 which is John. Whoever speaks it, it nevertheless is The defining statement of the role and purpose of Jesus Christ.

The starting point is the love of God, “For God so loved the world.” Right back before the foundation of the world as the Godhead looked into the future of the world they would create, they saw all that would happen on the part of mankind, but their love still made them go ahead with what looked like a doomed plan. Love was not put off; love looked and saw that there was a way, a costly way, that mankind could be won back but it meant the Son going to the earth and living a human life and then giving up that life – or rather have it taken away from him by mankind – to take the punishment that only the divine being could take to cover every human being and satisfy justice.

Thus we find, “he gave his one and only Son.” Note the emphasis that there is only one true Son of God (the rest of us are adopted). There are no others and therefore anyone else subsequently claiming to be the Son is a pretender. Moreover as far as the Father is concerned, He is giving up to this awful fate His one and only beloved Son. Yet love was willing to do this to win us back.

All it needed was for us to believe in this plan, believe in the Son and believe what he had done, “that whoever believes in him.” Belief is essential because without it we will not surrender our lives to him, so they become available for him to save and to change. This is no mere intellectual assent, this has to be heart and mind assent, heart and mind belief, for without it we will be holding back and it is essential that we completely give ourselves to Him so that he may do a complete work in us.

The outcome is twofold, seen as a negative and then a positive. First the negative: “shall not perish.”  The effect of the Cross is that we will not die for eternity and we will not suffer eternal punishment. Then the positive: “but have eternal life.” We’ve seen it in Jesus’ words previously. This is the end game: life with God for eternity, and it begins right now. This is the wonder of this. Hallelujah!

22. Love is

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   22. Love is

John 14:31      the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

We have commented that sometimes these ‘themes’ run all the way through John and at other times they are simply a short burst of light in one place. Well, the word ‘love’ appears 27 times, I think it is, in John and the word ‘loved’ another 21 times. Having reached chapter 14 in our studies I found I was arrested by this short but strange verse above which links love and obedience. In the verses just before this one Jesus has spoken about his ‘going away’ (14:28,29) and then says, I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” (Jn 14:30) That in itself is a strange verse because it says although Satan is coming to do something soon, he has no hold on Jesus. The implication has to be, in hindsight, that this refers to the coming time when Jesus will be arrested, tried and condemned and put to death on a cross. Satan may provoke all this but the implication is clear that Jesus is allowing this to happen and, we know, that is so that the will of God planned before the foundation of the world can be worked through and salvation brought through the Cross.

So, implies Jesus, by observing all that I am about to go through the world must learn of my love for my Father that will I will go through the Cross because it is exactly what my Father wants, it is exactly His will. My love for him must be seen through my obedience of Him.

Now love, in John’s Gospel, is seen in two ways: first in God’s love for us, but then it is seen in us, for Him, by our obedience. To receive His love we have to be obedient to His calling and His directions and that obedience reveals His love now in us, reflecting back to Him. Well we said above that the words ‘love’ and ‘loved’ appear nearly fifty times all together in John so we haven’t enough space to cover them all, so let’s just pick out a few to consider.

Our starting place must be to see His love for us in that classic verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) Later in his first letter John will write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) This is the way round it is. God first loves us and that melts us so that we can come to love Him.

As the end approaches we find, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (or to the uttermost)” (Jn 13:1) One commentator’s version puts it, “although he had always loved his own people in the world, decided to show them what his love was like in a way which went to the ultimate limit.” Now we may take that to refer to going to the Cross but what he then did immediately after this verse should also be taken into account. He strips down and as a servant washes their feet and then proceeds  to eat the Passover Supper with them and explain many things of the kingdom that are found nowhere else.

This is Jesus sharing his life with them and revealing the sort of people they are going to have to become to follow him. This is the love of the Godhead opened up and revealed – the Son is given from heaven, he enters into intimate relationship with his followers, reveals his servant heart, and literally lays down his life so that we might be saved and be able to come into that same close relationship with the Father.

It is with this in mind that he instructs his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:9-17)

Watch his teaching:

1. Love is revealed in the way Father loves the Son and the Son loves us.

2. We are to live in the light of this love at all times.

3. Proof of that is obeying God in all things at all times – but that brings joy.

4. Jesus love in us is a sacrificial love that puts others first.

5. This love takes us from being servants to friends of Jesus, chosen by him to come into a deep relationship out of which fruit flows.

6. As we live like this the Father will give us whatever we ask as we live in His will.

7. His will? To love one another!

Love starts with the Father, is seen in the Son and is expressed towards us. As we encounter it and allow it to melt us, so we are transformed and express it. Being the sinful beings that we are though, it isn’t something we only do naturally, it is something we have to actively put on (see Paul in Col 3:14). We may not feel (emotion) loving all the time and so it is simply an act of the will to be obedient to the Father’s leading and teaching. Love and obedience are inseparable as John shows in his first letter again and again.

Love is shown as the essential character of God (God IS Love – 1 Jn 4:8,16) revealed in His sending His Son (Jn 3:16) and in Jesus laying down his life for us (Jn 13:1). As we receive his love and receive him into our lives so this love becomes a basic feature of our lives and behaviour and as such is seen in our obedience of him. Amen!

7. John’s Recap

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   7. John’s Recap: Picking up the Threads

 

John 3:31,32  The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.

 

The back half of chapter 3 is very much a recap section; it is as if the aged John, being a good teacher, knows that you should go back over the ground again and again to make sure your pupils or disciples have taken it in. The verses that follow the account with Nicodemus, so well known, appear to be Jesus speaking but may be John’s comment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) How we take these for granted but from this new perspective they again reveal Jesus as the one and only Son of God and as the object of our faith and the bringer of eternal life. Twice previously we have seen Jesus proclaimed as the Son of God (1:34,49) and three times Jesus speaking of himself as that prophetic ‘Son of man’ (1:51,3:13,14).

 

These verses accentuate the fact of Jesus being the object of our faith: “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” (3:15) and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (3:16) and “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (3:18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (3:36) Previously we’ve seen Jesus as the Word, the light-bringing-life, the coming one, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the life transformer and it is now as if John is saying, “I’ve said all this so that you know who you are to believe in: HE is the object of your faith, HE is the means of you being forgiven, cleansed and inheriting eternal life.”

 

But then John picks up a thread from the Prologue where we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (or overcome)  it.” (1:4,5) Now he adds, “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.” (3:19-21) Jesus’ life so stood out that it was like the light, say, of a lighthouse, that drew men to him. His love, his grace, his goodness, his power to transform lives and bring healing, this had people flocking to him, but the truth also was that those who hadn’t come to the end of themselves and preferred to stick with the evil of their own self-centred, godless lives shied away from him, rejected him and even plotted against him. His life did that; it either attracted you or repelled you, and that all depended on the sort of person you were.

 

So that was one thread from the Prologue but there was another that John now picks up: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (1:6,7) Of course after the Prologue we saw John’s ministry pointing to Jesus and John the writer reverts to that again now to emphasise John’s testimony. Jesus had also been baptizing people with his disciples (3:22) and John was still baptizing not far off (3:23) and his disciples came to him pointing out that Jesus was also baptizing (3:25,26).

 

John’s response was, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.” (3:27,28)  Now this has an echo of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.” (3:12,13).  John said, I can only speak what heaven gives me; Jesus says, I have come from heaven. This will be something that is repeated again and again in John’s Gospel. It doesn’t appear in the Synoptics but John remembered it and realised how significant it was.

 

Previously John had denied that he was the Coming One (1:20,21) and we suggested that the writer was including this to counter the cult of John-followers that was around later in that century. Now John says, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (3:29,30) He can’t make the implication any clearer: Jesus is the bridegroom and I am merely his friend. He’s the all-important one at the  wedding!

 

He speaks again of their origins: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” (3:31-33) Jesus has come from heaven and so is above all others. I, says the Baptist, am from the earth. He speaks from what he knows of heaven but people don’t understand that but I do and I accept what he says is the truth. Wow! Strong testimony!

 

The chapter concludes with, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him..” (3:36) Jesus is THE object of our faith and he is the one who enables us to receive eternal life.

 

So John has picked up the following threads:

  • That Jesus is the focal point for all belief

 

  • His life stands out like a beacon drawing the hungry and thirsty to him
  • John the Baptist testified to him
  • Jesus has come from heaven and brings a heavenly perspective
  • Believing in him brings eternal life.

These threads or themes are repeated more than once and will come up again in the chapters to come.

42. For the Sick

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 42. Come for the sick

Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There is a sense where this verse very much applies to what was just happening and a sense where it applies very much more widely. The Pharisees have just complained that Jesus is mixing with sinners. “They,” says Jesus, “are just the people who need help.” I know we’ve said before but it bears repeating, but it is at this point when we gaze on ‘sinners’ that we reveal whether we have the heart of Jesus or the heart of a Pharisee.

The Pharisee is content to leave the sinner as they are; they will criticize them and condemn them, but they will not do anything meaningful to reach them. They may preach against them and in any personal encounter tell them to repent, but that isn’t reaching them; it is condemning them. The Pharisee wants it the easy way, a short, sharp burst of condemnatory preaching, but to actually reach these people in any meaningful way requires us, like Jesus, to sit down with them, listen to them, feel with them, and only then, when they open their hearts, can we share God’s love to the way that they need.

Yes, there is a time for preaching to the crowds but when that happens in the New Testament – Peter or Paul apply what they are saying to their audience, so if it was a Jewish audience it referred to the past, to the Old Testament; if it was to a Gentile audience they found a point of contact.

These ‘sinners’ that Jesus is mixing with are Jews but who have lost any link with their past. For them, all of their past history is irrelevant so there is no point in trying to approach them at that level; there is only one currency that they value (apart from a materialistic gathering of wealth) and that is love and acceptance – and that is what Jesus is giving them. That is what will open their hearts to God and that alone; everything else has become irrelevant in their godless and self-seeking lifestyle.

Yes, it is wrong but they know nothing else. Indeed, everything else has lost meaning. For the modern unbeliever, the Bible has lost its meaning and the church has lost its meaning – but they still desperately want to be loved and accepted, that is still the currency of value. Can we trade in that currency?

 

27. Entrusted One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 27 : Jesus, the Entrusted One

Jn 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

In the age in which we live, in Britain in the early part of the twenty first century, there is one particular tragedy that stands out and which has devastating effects. It is that of fathers abandoning their wives and their children. Far back in history, before people commuted to work (!), men worked from home or from a location close to home and the family unit, being a lot closer, had a part in that work.  Son would thus join the father in his work and eventually the father would hand over the business to the son who would pass it on to his son. Today all of that has gone and the concept of closeness of father and son seems almost alien, which is why the significance of our verse today may be lost on us.

Already in these meditations we have considered something of the closeness of the Father and the Son as revealed by John in his Gospel. There is something quite glorious in this verse, about intimacy and trust. Jesus declares something very simple but very profound: The Father loves the Son.” Sadly today many sons could not say that about their fathers, but Jesus knew it as a truth. Here in human form, separated from his Father in heaven, he still knew the Father loved him. It is part of human experience to know we are loved and where that is missing that is tragic. It is part of the confidence that the Son has.  Already the Father has intervened on earth to declare His approval of His Son (Mt 3:17) as Jesus was being baptised.  Approval indicates confidence and Jesus has that assurance, that confidence, from his Father. He knows he is loved and that love inspires confidence in what he does.

But then comes this incredible statement: The Father … has placed everything in his hands”. What is this ‘everything’?  It is the whole of the work or ministry that Jesus has come to do.  The outcome of your salvation and my salvation was entirely in Jesus’ hands.  He came first to reveal the Father through the works that he performed.  As we’ve already seen, the miracles were to act as signs pointing toward God, for whoever had eyes to see. The works in themselves, and the preaching and teaching that he brought, turned many to God and revealed God’s love to many in those three brief years. But then came the Cross, that work into eternity that took your sin and my sin so that we might be pardoned and forgiven and cleansed when we turned to God, so that justice could be seen to be done and all sin punished. This staggering work on the Cross was the means of all history being changed. All of that was committed into Jesus’ hands. The Father entrusted him with that work, something they had agreed upon before the foundation of the world.

This is the staggering truth, that the Godhead had placed the eternal future of many in the human race upon this one human body that carried the eternal Son. It seems such a fragile plan, dependant upon one human body, who had all of this eternal plan placed in his hands. The success or failure for a family for God in eternity depended on Jesus and the Father trusted him with it. How did the Son achieve it? We’ve seen it before: he watched the Father moving and followed His lead (Jn 5:19) and the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22). Yes, the assessment of each human being is dependent on Jesus. It is first how each one of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are saved or condemned, and the Son, now seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven confirms the assessment and saves or judges on the basis of our response to him. Awesome!

24. Mourning/Dancing

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Mourning or Dancing

Eccles 3:4 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn?  Of course when someone dies!  That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn?  We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral of someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew who dies. Perhaps we aren’t so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it’s when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can’t imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!  In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it.

Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I’m sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn’t come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won’t be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn’t something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4)  God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It’s right to mourn for close loss. It’s right to cry. It’s right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We’re not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life’, recognizing that life has got to continue, but it’s a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward pleasure and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It’s just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can’t be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again.  Yes, as we’ve said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can’t laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn’t go on for ever. You shouldn’t mourn when it’s a time of happiness. We can’t mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don’t feel the anguish of loss, don’t try and pretend.  Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That’s what life is like; that’s how we are made.

13. A Leper

People who met Jesus : 13 :  A Leper

Mt 8:1-4 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

We move on now from looking at the disciples, to consider various men in need who came to Jesus. It has been suggested that despite this being a day of immense communication, many, many people nevertheless feel distinctly isolated from their fellow humans. The need to be loved, accepted and cared for is very strong in us and when that is absent there is a strong sense of loneliness and isolation. People have commented that you can be lonely in a crowded room. For such a person the future as well as the present looks bleak. The cause is psychological and the person in question does not know how to change it. Some even suggest that with the so-called sexual freedom in the West in the twenty first century, the absence and even inability to find love is greater today than ever before. Now we face these things here because this loneliness and isolation is what this leper in our verses today would have faced.

There are disagreements about the nature of leprosy as described in the Bible, but it is probable that it began with pain in certain areas of the body and numbness followed. Soon, the skin in those areas loses its colour and becomes scaly, and then turns into sores and ulcers. The skin around the ears and eyes swells, eye lashes and eyebrows drop out, and fingers and toes can drop off. The throat is affected so the voice can become croaky. The leper also smells badly. It is no wonder that such people were isolated and not allowed to live in the main areas of population. The existence of lepers in both Old and New Testaments is common; Luke records Jesus as commenting, there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet.” (Lk 4:27) On the way to Judea from Galilee once, we read, “on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.” (Lk 17:11,12).

The leper would not only have a sense of isolation and loneliness, but also of hopelessness. Such would have been the state of this man who comes to Jesus. He isn’t even given a name; he’s just one of the faceless, nameless rejects of society that we’d rather forget about because they seem beyond us. The fact that he came at all is quite amazing. Somehow the word about Jesus must have spread even to the leper community. Already the word had spread about Jesus’ healing abilities and something in the man rose and he determined to come. His determination is made even more clear when we are told of Jesus thatWhen he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him,” and so this man would have to face the revulsion of the crowds to even reach Jesus.

When he comes, he kneels before Jesus and humbly confesses his belief: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” The word clean indicates something of the feeling about leprosy. Those who have been raped testify to feeling unclean for a long time afterwards. These people felt unclean and were called unclean. Imagine working in the garden for a day and getting very dirty, dusty and sweaty – and then being required to go straight into a banquet where everyone is in evening dress – and very clean! That is the sort of comparison that we have here in terms of feelings, but he is so desperate that he dares come through the crowds to Jesus. Nothing will put him off.

And then, wonder of wonders, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. How incredible! Jesus isn’t put off by the man’s state. In the Phantom of the Opera, the heroine, when faced with the phantom’s awful face distortions, kisses him and her willingness to touch him breaks his heart. The need to be touched, accepted and loved is very strong in all of us, and no more so than in the leper. And Jesus touches him! He is accepted. How wonderful. But then Jesus affirms his willingness and simply speaks the words of authority against the disease. What follows is so easily read yet must have been incredible to behold:  Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. The skin changed, the voice changed; everything that had been affected by the disease was changed and restored.

Sometimes I feel the Gospel writers want slapping for their brevity, for surely at this point the leper must have been weeping and all the onlookers must have been weeping. I have been around when God does stuff and you don’t stand there passive, you are moved, deeply!  If you have every watched a film where everything had been going disastrously wrong and then, finally it all works out with a happy-ever-after ending, and found yourself with tears streaming down your face, you’ll know what I mean. If you have never known that experience you are to be pitied!  It is the awareness of the wonder of the goodness that has entered into this situation. This is a staggering miracle, a wonderful life-changing miracle! And it has been brought with love and compassion.

When we looked at the apostles it sometimes seemed a little academic, the wonder of their lives following Jesus and being changed. Yes it is wonderful, but nothing like what we have just witnessed here. This is heart-stirring, tear-jerking stuff and if we don’t see it, it is simply because we don’t think and pray ourselves into the situation.  We are now encountering people who have got to the end of themselves and have then met the wonder and love of heaven in the form of the Son of God. Let your heart be moved, and if it hasn’t, go back and read it all again and pray for revelation. This is the glory of heaven coming to earth and it is wonderful. Appreciate it!