46. The Hidden God

Short Meditations in John 6:  46. The Hidden God

Jn 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.   

It is perhaps the fact that God cannot be seen that is the biggest stumbling block to Christian and non-Christian alike. God is spirit said Jesus (Jn 4:24) and you can’t see spirit. There have been times in the Old Testament when there have been ‘visions’ of heaven but that is different from the reality and so Jesus’ statement in this verse is simple and true. The fact is that we may have seen representations of God (angels) but never God Himself – until Jesus came. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)

But Jesus said those words to his close disciples at the Last Supper, and they struggled with it, so here with the crowd he isn’t that specific – but he does imply that he who has come down from heaven has obviously seen the Father. Again, it is a simple statement but so simple and true. But it does require a great leap of faith – that one has come from God, and that one is Jesus.

Now, interestingly, this verse doesn’t claim divinity; it’s a little less than that, simply that he has come from God and that could be taken by the crowd in a variety of ways. It is almost as if Jesus is putting it in ways that are gentler and more easily accepted. The fact that he performed miracles, such as the recent feeding of the five thousand, lends credibility to the claim of having been sent by heaven: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22)

But this verse doesn’t lend itself to the interpretation that he was simply a man, like John the Baptist, sent with a mission. No, the clear and unavoidable implication is that he has seen God face to face in heaven and that, now as a human being, makes him unique.

That is the extent of this particular but the overall teaching of this chapter is much more than that. First and foremost it is that he existed in heaven and left it: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Second, he is constantly claiming a unique relationship with God in heaven who he existed with and calls Father. The strong implication is that he is saying he is the Son of the Father, the unique Son of God.

I think it is fair to say, looking at the Gospels and Acts, that the early disciples struggled with this idea and it took a while for it to settle in, but now we have the full canon of Scripture and have the whole New Testament before us, we should never doubt the claims that we are considering here, that Jesus Christ, was (always has been) and is (and will always be) the unique Son of God. Hallelujah!

40. Miracle Worker (4)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 40.  Miracle Worker (4)

Acts 2:22  Men of Israel, listen to this: 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.

Well, we said we would consider healings, deliverances, raising the dead and then other miscellaneous miracles, as we consider Jesus as a miracle worker. So now we come to the last of that list, miscellaneous or general miracles.

The Synoptics show us Jesus:

  • calming the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:23-27, Mk 4:35-41, Lk 8:22-25)
  • feeding the 5000 (Mt 14:13-21, Mk 6:30-44, Lk 9:10-17)
  • walking on water (Mt 14:22,23, Mk 6:45-52)
  • feeding the 4000 (Mt 15:32-39, Mk 8:1-13)

Then John shows us Jesus:

  • turning water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1-11)
  • feeding the five thousand (Jn 6:1-15)
  • walking on water (Jn 6:16-21)

In addition to these five very obvious miracles we might also add:

  • the miraculous catch of fish early on (Lk 5:1-11)
  • Jesus providing a coin for Peter (Mt 17:24-27)
  • Jesus shriveling the fig tree (Mt 21:18-22, Mk 11:12-14)
  • The second miraculous catch of fish (Jn 21:4-11)

Now, trying to categorize and summarise these miracles we see that they show the following abilities that the Son of God exhibited. He was able to:

  • Change the elements (the storm calmed).
  • Overcome natural aspects of the elements (walking on water) and to this one we might add, after he was raised, the ability to pass through locked doors and apparently transport himself over distances faster than humans.
  • Extending or changing natural elements (feeding the crowds and turning water into wine).
  • Removing life from natural elements (fig tree)
  • Make natural elements turn up where previously that had been none (catches of fish and coin in mouth of fish)

Now I am aware that some of these descriptions are not very precise but I would suggest that is because of the nature of ‘a miracle’, which isn’t always easy to categorize in either cause, nature or extent. However, perhaps we may try to distil come lessons from these things:

  1. Miracles always cause controversy as to their nature, cause or extent, simply because they do go against our natural understanding of ‘nature’.
  2. Miracles are not extensions of natural phenomena but are specific interventions by God to change the natural cause of nature.
  3. These miracles above are included in the Gospels because a) they happened and are therefore naively and simply recorded as they were seen, and b) it would appear in Matthew’s case used to reveal Jesus expressing the kingdom or rule of God, and in John’s case to reveal the unique Son of God.
  4. These ‘general miracles’ as well as the many healings and few instances of raising people from the dead, all extol or elevate the person of Jesus Christ above any other human figure and reveal him, as we have just said, as the bringer of the kingdom of God, the Son of God from heaven, with the power and authority of the Godhead behind him.

In a dark room, the flashbulb of a camera momentarily reveals the contents of the room. In the Gospels, the ‘flash’ goes off again and again as we see a healing, a deliverance, a raising of the dead, and then an even brighter ‘flash’ in the form of one of these more ‘general miracles’. If our eyes are closed we won’t see either the flash or what it reveals; if our eyes are open we will see both the flash and the reality it momentarily reveals. The heart that starts out, “This cannot be!” will not recognize the ‘flash’ (denying a miracle of Jesus) and will certainly remain blind to the logical consequences that must follow. The person who comes with an open heart, seeking truth, being willing to weigh the evidence, this person sees the ‘flash’ – recognizes the miracle – and realises the consequences – these reveal the unique Son of God, Jesus Christ.

I have taken time with four studies looking at this aspect of Jesus’ ministry because I believe that only by facing the pile of evidence will our unbelief be challenged. Unbelief reigns in the world and, tragically, in the church. I witness it every time a prophetic word is brought (“Is this really from God?”), or a healing received (“Well I was probably going to get better anyway” or “Well the body has its natural healing tendencies, doesn’t it.”) or an apparent raising from the dead is recounted (“Well they weren’t actually dead were they!”)

Why do we allow such ungodly attitudes to prevail in our lives when the Scriptures are FULL of supernaturally miraculous accounts – healing, deliverances, raisings, general miracles – that scream at us, “God IS all powerful and can do what He likes with His world, and so often He does it to bless His people – and Jesus came to reveal the Father by doing these things and showing His love for us, so why? Because we listen more to the world and the foolish and so often ignorant crusading atheists and little to God through His word and His Spirit! It is time for that to change!

38. Miracle Worker (2)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 38.  Miracle Worker (2)

Mark 1:27   The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

In the previous study, as we moved on from seeing Jesus as a teacher, we said we would check him as a miracle worker and within that we would consider healings, deliverances, raising the dead and then other miscellaneous miracles. We started with healings and now in this study we will cover deliverances.

For a change we will start by considering Jesus’ deliverance ministry as Luke records it, for he uses the word ‘demon’ more often than any of the other three. In Lk 4:33 we have what is probably the same instance as Mark referred to in our verse above. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.” (Lk 4:33-35) Now what is obvious from such examples is Jesus simple, straight forward authority that can speak a word and the demon HAS to leave.

We see him dealing with demons in the above verses in Luke 4, then in Lk 8 the demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes taken over by ‘Legion’, then after coming down the Mount of Transfiguration, the boy (Lk 9:38-42), then the mute man (Lk 11:14). Mark adds the daughter of the Greek woman (Mk 7:26-30).

A brief teaching: demons are evil spirits who only have access to human beings when that person (or their parent in the case of a child) gives Satan access to their life by becoming deeply involved in evil and especially in occult activity. Deliverance is brought about by word of command when the individual is confronted by the authority and power of Jesus. The presence of an evil spirit in a person may be seen by unusual strength (see Lk 8:29), the person going and doing things that humanly they might not have wanted to do (ditto) and even speaking in a voice that is clearly not that of the person. The evil spirit may also inflict the individual with some form of disability, e.g. fits (Lk 9:39), dumbness (Lk 11:14), deafness (Mk 9:25). When a person is delivered they need to be built up in Christ else there will be the risk of the demon returning (see Mt 12:43-45).

Now we see Jesus generally dealing with demons in the general descriptions that we saw previously in examples that included general healings, e.g.

  • News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:23,24)
  • “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Mt 8:16)

Again, note the “with a word”. Where there is the authority of Jesus, that is all that is needed. We do not scream or shout at the demon. If the demon is being noisy we simply command it in the name of Jesus to be silent (see Mk 1:25). We do not want to create a show and make the delivered person feel even more embarrassed afterwards. A demon will often try and make the person move in and out of consciousness and so, like Peter and John at the gate beautiful (Acts 3:4), invite the person to focus on you and seek to resist the enemy by remaining ‘awake’ and listen to you. Tell them what you are going to do and explain there may or may not be some physical manifestation and then, with their permission, command the enemy to leave. If a battle ensues, persist in your determination to declare that Jesus is Lord and this demon MUST leave.

Now what we are talking about here is pure spiritual warfare which requires a) for you to be a Christian who b) has a right relationship with the Lord and knows they are a child of God who exercises the authority of the Lord. In Acts we find an example of those seeking to perform deliverance ministry that went astray – see Acts 19:13-16 – because they were neither of these two things. Know your position in Christ, know your calling, and be careful not to exceed the faith the Lord gives you as you move, filled by the Spirit, under the guidance of the Spirit. Do not use the name of Jesus as a talisman and do not be derisory or abusive in respect of the enemy (check out Jude 1:8-10).

Now it is clear, even as Acts 19 shows, that there are ‘other people’ who appear able to carry out deliverance ministry, but the records in respect of Jesus show the level of authority that he exercised that puts him above any others. In this study we have moved into the realm of practicalities simply because so often this subject creates unreasonable fear that comes from ignorance. The key is knowing, not only who Jesus is (the Lord of ALL), but also who you are and remembering that, the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4)

What we should also note is that, clearly, authority was missing in religious circles before Jesus came, in that the demon possessed could obviously happily co-exist with God’s people in weekly synagogue worship and this only changed when the presence of God came in the form of His Son. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them authority to cast out demons (see Mt 10:1) and after Jesus ascended back to heaven we see this ministry continuing through the apostles: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5:16)  See also Acts 8:17,  and 19:11,12.

Without doubt, this aspect of Jesus’ ministry was part of that referred to in the Isaiah prophecy that he read in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) And so it continues today. Hallelujah!

37. Miracle Worker (1)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 37.  Miracle Worker (1)

Acts 2:22  Men of Israel, listen to this: 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.

It is easy when you have been a Christian for many years to take for granted the things you read in the Gospels and it is for that reason that I have approached many of these studies in the way I have. This is as true of what we might call the ‘divinely supernatural dimension’ of Jesus’ ministry as anything else in the Bible. If it were not for this dimension of his ministry, the new reader might be tempted to simply say, “He was a great teacher” (even though much of his teaching was about claims he made about himself, people still say this). But the miraculous side of what he did no longer give even the casual reader that opportunity, and so, in our studies of the Christ, this is an essential area for us to investigate.

Within this area we might consider healings, deliverances, raising the dead and then other miscellaneous miracles. As I have said, I suspect we take many of these things for granted, so let’s try and catch an overview of these. Let’s start in this study at least with healings:

 

There are general references and then specific records. First general references. Let’s be very clear:

  • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:23,24) Note the ‘healing every
  • “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Mt 8:16)
  • “Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick,” (Mt 12:15)
  • “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Mt 14:14) Note, by ‘their sick’, implies ‘all’. Just a bald statement of fact.
  • “People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.” (Mt 14:35,36) Not only his general intent to heal but his very presence brought healing.
  • “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.” (Mt 15:30) No indication that he healed just some of these ‘great crowds’.
  • “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them (Mt 19:2)
  • “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” (Mt 21:14)

There it is – 8  general references. Now admittedly Matthew is the Gospel writer who seeks  to show Jesus as the Messiah bringing in the kingdom but we have to accept the testimony of his writing otherwise we might as well write off all the New Testament writings. The early Church Fathers were sure enough to put Matthew in the canon of scripture, so we should as well. I make these comments because of the strength that comes through these 8 sets of references – and the unbelief that so often prevails today.

Now as I have testified elsewhere before, I know people who have gone to observe healing ministries elsewhere in the world and the staggering truth is that God does choose times of spectacular healings in massive numbers, and that was obviously happening through Jesus. If you are still not certain, scroll back up and reread those verses – all EIGHT of them! (Is it coincidence that 8 is the number of resurrection or of new life in Scripture?) There is no doubt that part of Jesus’ acceptance by the crowds was because of this aspect of his ministry.

For individual examples we can cite in Matthew, the cleansing of the leper (Mt 8:2,3), the centurion’s servant healed (Mt 8:5-13), the fever leaving Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14,15), the paralytic healed (Mt 9:2-7), the bleeding woman (Mt 9:20-22), the ruler’s daughter raised (Mt 9:18,19,23-25), two blind men healed (Mt 9:27-30), the blind & mute demoniac healed (Mt 12:22),and two blind men healed outside Jericho (Mt 20:30-34).

It is clear from that list of nine instances that Matthew lumps most of them together in chapters 8 and 9 with two later exceptions. If we go to Mark and Luke we will be able to add other healings not covered by Matthew and if we go to John we find him using what appear to be some of the same ones but he uses healings as signs pointing to who Jesus is, rather than signs of the kingdom coming as Matthew does.

From even our limited coverage above it is patently obvious that Jesus exercised his power as the Son of God, again and again and again and in hardly any cases (one or two exceptions only) sin is not mentioned, i.e. contrary to much modern counseling, surprisingly, Jesus virtually never dug into an individual’s background – which he would have known anyway – but simply healed them. Again he would have obviously known that when it came to the time of his death, many of those who had been healed would not stand up and testify for him, but that clearly did not concern him.

The difficult conclusion – and I say difficult because so much modern evangelical teaching focuses on sin and guilt – is that Jesus just delighted in using his power to heal people regardless of what they would then go on and do. In fact in some instances, if we look further afield in the Gospels than we have done, it is clear that some of those who were healed were either not particularly grateful or not particularly thankful and that they would not then support Jesus. All of this points to a God who simply wants to do good to people and then leave the outworking of that to whatever direction their hearts were facing.

We, the human race, can be incredibly fickle – bless and praising one minute then indifferent or critical the next – but Jesus isn’t. His determination was to bless and bless and bless – and many of us struggle with that. We want to rationalize it or make it conditional but the record shows that it wasn’t!

As far as Matthew was concerned, Jesus did what he did to fulfil his Father’s will which had been decreed in prophecy: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Mt 8:17 citing Isa 53:4) In the next study we will go on to consider another aspect of the miraculous ministry of Jesus.

15. Warning Number 1

Meditations in Hebrews 2:   15. Warning Number 1  

Heb 2:1-3   We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Moving into chapter 2 brings us face to face with the first of a number of warnings that the writer brings to his readers. If this had been the apostle Paul, his style tended to be several chapters of doctrine which are then followed by the practical teaching and exhortations, but this writer having written our chapter 1, now pauses before he brings any more doctrine (which will be integrated into the exhortations).

Having just shown that Jesus is so much greater than angels, that raises a concern in his mind as he reflects on the Law brought by Moses and the salvation now brought by Jesus. He reveals his pastoral concern in verse 1: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  i.e. I know there is always this temptation to drift away (after all, it was what the Israelites had done time and time again) and so the means of stopping this possible drift is to “pay more careful attention… to what we have heard.” i.e. hold onto it, go back over it, make sure you fully take it in and understand it so it impacts you. I like the Message version on this verse: It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.” 

But then he gives another reason for holding firmly onto the truth that has been conveyed to us by Jesus: For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (v.2,3) i.e. the Law was conveyed by angels and those who disobeyed were punished, so how much more serious is it when God speaks to us through His own Son?

Now we perhaps ought to pause up here and note this reference to angels. There is no mention of angels in the historical accounts within Exodus of angels but it is clear that the modern Jews believed that they had been involved. For example, Stephen declared that (Acts 7:35,38,53) as did the apostle Paul (Gal 3:19). This may be because of Moses’ final words to Israel before he left them and died (Deut 33:2). The present writer picks up on this common belief and simply uses it here as a warning not to ignore the salvation proclaimed by Jesus.

Now again it might be worth just reflecting on what Jesus did say that we might be able to call the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. His opening words in Matthew are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) or as the Message puts it, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” Matthew was the gospel writer concerned about the Jewish viewpoint and knew they were waiting for God’s kingdom. Matthew then records, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23)  i.e. kingdom word AND power. That IS good news!

Mark records, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Mark, it is believed, was helped in his writing by the apostle Peter, who had come to see the wonder, the good news of everything to do with Jesus. Although this proclamation is followed by power activity you are left feeling how good it was, this was really very good news. Shortly Jesus delivered a demon possessed man in the local synagogue (Mk 1:23-26) and this left the watchers amazed at this brilliant teacher (v.22) who also had power (v.27).

Luke, after his early days’ passages, after the genealogy and temptation, records  Jesus in the local synagogue reading and applying to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) This is packed full of good news but unlike our wishy-washy four rules type of proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus’ Gospel goes beyond words to actually setting people free and letting them know that “This is God’s year to act!” (Message Version) or “the time has come for the Lord to show his kindness,” (Easy to Read version).

Matthew’s equivalent to this is Jesus speaking to John the Baptist’s disciples, Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5)  Jesus’ Gospel is a doing Gospel.

John concurs with this view of Jesus’ Gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  i.e. the signs point to the man, the Son of God.   Belief follows signs, for those who have eyes to see.

Our present writer to the Hebrews is completely in line with this as he continues, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) although he uses the word ‘testifies’ applying the signs, wonders and miracles, to all those things we’ve read above. But not only that, He has imparted divinely supernatural gifts of the Spirit to Jesus’ body – the single body and now the body that is his church.

I wonder if this same message should be the primary message we hear in today’s church? Instead of teaching theory, shouldn’t our leaders be teaching power-practice, for didn’t Jesus say, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). It is shear unbelief, I would suggest, to try and wash this verse out of the Scriptures by coming up with flim-flam that says these things have passed away. Everything we have been reading in this study points in the same direction: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) We demean him and his message if we are content with a mere words-only Gospel. It has served us well and many of us are the proof of it but that is not an excuse not to be the church Jesus spoke about, a church that brings the good news which is both words and transforming power. Without the ‘double-package’ we might ask is that why so much of the Western world is rejecting us?

But the thrust of the start of chapter 2 is, with all this evidence of the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus, we should learn it and live it to stop us drifting away and make it real and obvious so that others will not reject it. That is the message here.

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

20. Careful Restraint

Short Meditations in John 2:  20. Careful Restraint

Jn 2:24,25  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

It is a mistake to take people’s enthusiasm over you or over something you have said or done. That is not a cynical comment; it is a warning based on the truth. A person’s enthusiasm today can turn to scorn, criticism or even hostility on another day. Our emotions fly with the events or circumstances that face us and because they change, we change.

Now Jesus knew this, Jesus understood us and knows what we are like. So Jesus knew that this crowd of people in Jerusalem were responding in a surface way to what were in some ways surface miracles. Yes, they were the simple (and wonderful) expressions of the Son of God, and as such they had the power to stir people’s admiration, yet there is a great deal of difference between someone saying, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn 3:2) and, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) One are words of admiration and the other is a declaration of commitment to an amazing belief and thus a commitment to Jesus himself (even if Peter did at one point deny Jesus).

Jesus does not look for temporary admiration for the miracle he performs, but looks for permanent heart-change commitment to himself that comes out of understanding who he is. One is response to a miracle (and event) and the other is a commitment to a man (Jesus himself) and there is an amazing difference. Indeed we should be aware of this when people make a declaration of faith based on one good thing God has done for them. Salvation does not come in response to a single good thing received but in response to a deep conviction, a conviction of need and a conviction that Jesus alone is the answer to that need.

Jesus’ parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-) shows us that there are many and varied responses to Jesus’ words. Some reject them from hardness of heart, some receive them but soon fall away, some receive them gladly but under the pressures of life soon fall away, while others receive them and they go deep in them and it brings total change and fruitfulness. No, miracles in themselves don’t bring salvation, but they can act as signs to point people to a place of eventual total commitment – that is, when they have open hearts. Hallelujah!