68. The Truth Declared

Short Meditations in John 6:  68. The Truth declared

Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 

Peter was either a walking disaster or the most amazing receptor of heaven; he was either constantly putting his foot in it or coming out with amazing revelation from heaven, and so perhaps we should not be surprised that it is Peter who speaks out on behalf of the other committed disciples – notice his ‘we’.

In his reply there are two things of great significance. This is one of his ‘revelation from heaven’ times. The first thing is that simple question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Now think about in the light of the life they were living with Jesus. We cannot be quite sure how far through the three years of Jesus’ ministry this was, but even if it was quite early, even the things that have recently happened have been like a roller coaster. One minute they are in the crowded area of Capernaum, next they are on the other side of the lake in a lonely place where Jesus feeds five thousand from virtually nothing. Next minute they are struggling in a storm on the lake and Jesus comes walking on the water to them and Peter also walks on the water. Then they are back at Capernaum and Jesus is fielding hostility in the synagogue. That’s not to mention the healing of crowds of sick people and casting out demons, turning water in wine at Cana, and so on. If fishing on the changeable seas of the Sea of Galilee had been an often-exhilarating job, it paled into insignificance in the light of the incredible life of travelling with Jesus. So yes, purely from a practical level, where else or with who else could they find a life any way comparable to this one? This was a blinding revelation understood by few.  And us?

But then there was that second part, a straight forward declaration, almost a testimony if you like, “You have the words of eternal life.” The JBP version paraphrases it, “Your words have the ring of eternal life!” I quite like that; but I wonder what Peter actually meant by that, or was it one of those ‘off-the-top-of-the-head’ things that come as revelation beyond the intellect? Was it, your words come from another dimension and bring a sense of another dimension, something far beyond this ordinary mundane physical or material world? You transport us into a realm beyond anything we’ve ever known before, somewhere that takes us way beyond the world of fishing or tax collection administration, you have shown us another world beyond our limited material world, a world of divine encounter, a world of divine provision that enables us to join in and do things we would never have dreamed about  few years back, this is a world that has transformed us, and we don’t know where it will end – if it ever will!  Wow!

3. The People Interactor

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   3. The People Interactor

John 1:35-38   The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

This first chapter of John comes over to me like a New Year’s Eve celebration at midnight, heralding in the New Year. First of all there is this tremendous spectacular about ‘the Word’, a coming life that brings light, who comes from heaven now in human form. Massive concepts lighting the sky. Then it goes dark again for a moment until two searchlight beams burst out to reveal the Word in flesh  but as a Lamb ready to be sacrificed. Two powerful beams. And then it goes dark again but now come a series of flash-light bulbs going off, revelations about this Word made flesh, revelations out of the mouths of humans. The search lights revealing the lamb had come from the mouth of a prophet sent by God; these flashlights going off come from the mouths of ordinary human beings, and they come as the Word starts to interact with them, and such is the interaction that they each make their brilliant contribution to the revelation.

John has just said for the second time, “Look, here’s the Lamb” and this second time we find, two of his disciples…. saw Jesus passing by….heard him… they followed Jesus..” (Jn 1:35-37) There is a hunger in these two men. They have been with John but the hunger continues so when the Lamb is pointed out, they followed him. Their following is obvious and so, “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” (v.38a)  They rely, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (v.38b) The Lamb is obviously also a teacher. Has John told them that or is it obvious? He gives them a simple invitation: “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (v.39) “So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.” (v.39) It was about 4pm and so they go and spend the rest of the day with him. So far, so good.

But watch what happened: “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (v.40-42) We don’t know what was said in that relatively short time but somehow Andrew has been convinced that all of Johns words were true – this is the anointed one, the anticipated one, the Messiah. The light bulb flashes  and so here in this very first chapter yet another description is given of Jesus. We have seen the Word, the life, the light, the coming one, the Lamb of God and now, the Messiah. Familiarity perhaps dulls our reception of these incredible revelations.

So Simon comes with his brother to see this one and “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter)” (v.42) Comment is often made on the name meanings, Simon meaning small stone, Peter meaning rock. This small stone is going to become a rock, something larger, more observable, reliable, steady and dependable. Jesus reveals himself as one who looks at us and sees our potential. Jesus sees and knows.

The story moves on: “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (v.43) Jesus is obviously staying in this place for a while and so the next day he goes out looking for Philip. Now we don’t know if Philip had been the other disciple with Andrew or just another one who was around to see John the Baptist. Not only have we seen Jesus the one who calls men to follow him, but now we see him as the one who goes looking for men (and women).

Now Philip’s response is similar to Andrew’s: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (v.45) Another light bulb flashes. This is the prophesied one, the one Moses spoke about, the one we’ve been waiting for (another way of saying, the Messiah).

Nathaniel is skeptical about the description but comes to see for himself. “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (v.47) As he approaches Jesus takes the initiative with a description of Nathanael. It could be taken as bantering skepticism. Nathanael has just been skeptical about Jesus, he challenges the truth, he needs to know the truth. Jesus sees into Nathanael and immediately knows this. We might paraphrase Jesus’ words as, “Aha, here is one of God’s people for whom the truth is important!”

Nathanael answers a little defensively, “How do you know me?” (v.48a). Jesus gives an interesting reply, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (v.48b) Now we don’t know quite what that means but somehow it is, for Nathanael, like God has seen him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (v.49).  Another light bulb flashes. Whether he had been in a closed courtyard where no one could have seen him and whether he had been praying and questioning, we don’t know, but Jesus ‘word of knowledge’ speaks volumes to him!

The Word, the light bringing life, the coming one, the Messiah, the teacher, the prophesied one, and now the Son of God. Revelation after revelation! But we have been remiss for we did not pick up the earlier descriptions. In verse 14 Jesus was described as “the glory of the One and Only,” and the footnote says, “or the only begotten”. That is repeated in verse 18 and in verse 34 John the Baptist made that incredibly clear declaration, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” So again and again John the writer is leaving us with no room to doubt what he believes. This Jesus is the eternal word, the life that brings light, the Lamb of God who saves people from their sins, the Son of God who has come to reveal his Father in heaven. Flash, bang, crash, more flashes, the light of revelation comes again and again in this first chapter. If not a firework display, surely a kaleidoscope. How wonderful!

5. Andrew

People who met Jesus : 5 :  Andrew

PART TWO : The Apostles

Jn 1:40-42    Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Today we are going to start looking at the apostles, the twelve who walked most closely with Jesus. We’re going to start with Andrew for a reason that will become obvious.

Sometimes I hear people saying that the Bible is full of contradictions. “Oh,” they say, “one Gospel says this and another that,” as if that were proof of a contradiction. It is only a contradiction if one Gospel says one thing and the other specifically says exactly the opposite – and that never happens. What we do find with the Gospels is that different writers include different things, but that simply means we get a fuller picture. Now this is true of the first of the apostles that we will be looking at in the coming meditations.

Andrew originally came from Bethsaida on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee (Jn 1:44) Jesus had settled in Capernaum (Mt 4:13) just a few miles along the coast. Most people remember Jesus encountering the fishermen alongside the Sea of Galilee, so it is somewhere there on the coast that we see Andrew being called with his brother Simon Peter: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him,” (Mt 4:18-20) but that, John tells us in our verses today, wasn’t the first time Andrew had encountered Jesus.

Prior to those verses we find something quite special: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him.” (Jn 1:35-39)   It is then, in our verses today, that we are told that one of these men who had been with John the Baptist was actually Andrew. Andrew had left his fishing up in Galilee, gone down to hear John, had obviously been baptised, stayed on for a while at least, and had then encountered Jesus there for the first time. Andrew was first and foremost a seeker! He meets Jesus, spends the day with him, comes to belief in him as the Messiah, and goes and finds his brother Simon, who is also obviously down there, and tells him. So now we have a seeker who has become a believer and then a messenger of the gospel – we’ve found the Christ!

It would then appear that at some point they go back north and settle in to fishing again, so that that is where Jesus finds them when he too moves north to start his ministry, working out of Capernaum. We’ll see the incident with Simon Peter in the next meditation but for now we simply note that when Jesus starts calling disciples to leave their everyday jobs, Andrew is one of the first to follow him. References to individual disciples are often fairly few; they simply get mentioned when they stand out in some particular way.

We next see Andrew in the account of the feeding of the five thousand: “Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (Jn 6:8,9) Jesus, in teaching mode, has challenged Philip about where to get bread to feed the crowd. Philip sees the size of the crowd and concludes it is a hopeless task. Andrew is willing to step out as little bit further with, “Well we have a few resources here but I realise they are few.” Yes, he’s willing to step out and look silly with his suggestion. (Had he made friends with this small boy?) Is it that he has in mind the solution but doesn’t quite like to bring it out in the open?  Jesus solves the problem and performs a miracle and feeds them all with these few resources.

At a later date we find another simple incident involving Andrew: “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (Jn 12:20-22). It suggests that Andrew is somewhere up the seniority order. Some seekers came but approached Philip. You approach the outer members first. Philip goes to talk to Andrew. Why? To get reassurance from him that this is all right!  He shows he looks up to Andrew.

We next see Andrew with the post-resurrection and post-ascension group: “Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13) Andrew is a sticker, he’s still there and is going to continue there.

Let’s summarise what we have seen. Andrew was a seeker who became a believer, who was called to be a follower to serve and his faith gradually grew to the point where he was not afraid to speak what appeared humanly silly. He became a fairly senior member of the apostolic band and carried the faith on after Jesus had ascended. (Yet for some reason he wasn’t included in that very inner group that consisted of James and John and Peter – e.g. Mt 17:1)

Now let’s apply that to ourselves. Do we have seeking hearts? Have we become believers, followers who are willing to go where Jesus leads and live out faith, determined to go on and be continual carriers of the Gospel – even if we don’t get a great deal of recognition. Andrew wasn’t especially famous and didn’t reach the senior ranks of the apostles – but he clearly played a significant part in life. May the same be able to be said of us!


Readings in Luke Continued – No.12

Lk 5:4-11 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”   Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”   When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.  Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Today’s sceptical world is not good with miracles. We try and explain them away; we wriggle about intellectually, trying to show that God cannot interact with the world He made. Why should He do this, we reason, ignoring the obvious answer that He loves us and sometimes, to express that love, He does things that defy our understanding, things that appear to run contrary to nature. Really it all boils down to how big your God is. If He is a limited figure who sits outside of all He has made completely ignoring it, then you are simply a deist and believe in a God who is not found in the Bible. If you start from the position that there is no God then, of course, miracles cannot happen, but that is prejudging the situation and intellectually lacks integrity. If you accept the testimony of the Bible and believe what it says about God, then you will have no problems with miracles because the One who created the world and who loves the world has both the power and the motivation to sometimes step into it and change things as He sees fit.

Let’s, first of all, simply examine what happened in the above account. Jesus has got Peter to agree to use his boat as a floating pulpit so Jesus can preach to the crowds without being trodden on. When he comes to the end of his teaching, Jesus tells Peter to throw out the nets for a catch. Peter is an experienced fisherman and knows these waters and knows that the previous night they spent the whole night out fishing with no success. He also knows the water and knows there are no fish here now, but there is something about this preacher that makes Peter want to please him and so he throws the net out. It is at that point that all of Peter’s world comes crashing around his ears. Suddenly there are fish in large numbers, so many that they need help to get them all in. We’ll stop at that point for the moment. That is the story in its simplest form.

Now our sceptic will say that Peter got so caught up with Jesus’ teaching that he didn’t notice that the fish had arrived. You are trying to tell me that this experienced fisherman did not look at the water as Jesus spoke and that his mind was so taken up with other things that he didn’t see the movement of fish? I used to live on a fishing coast and I’ve seen the water shimmering when this number of fish turn up. No, that explanation won’t fit; in fact no natural explanation will fit. I can’t explain how it happened but all rational explanations don’t fit. If the fish are swimming deeply in the coastal waters (unusual!) then Jesus’ abilities simply change to one who can see what no other person can see! Whatever you come up with, the only rational explanation is that somehow Jesus did something that no human being could do, which is what Peter realised in his response to him.

Indeed Peter’s response is highly revealing. Peter realises that this man in his boat is moving in a dimension beyond anything Peter knows. Peter KNOWS there were no fish one moment, but now he also knows he has just caught an enormous catch, and that seems impossible, and Jesus is the cause of it. He’s heard the teaching and he’s seen the action and he’s left with a conclusion that many of us aren’t comfortable with: he’s sharing the boat with a holy man (at the very least) or with God.

As we implied earlier on, this story challenges our presuppositions about Jesus. If this is the first time we’ve come to the Gospels and thought about what is here, we may try and write it off as a deception worthy of our TV illusionists. The only trouble with that is that this sort of thing happened every single day with Jesus with even more spectacular things happening, things that defy the mind. I know some people, intelligent, non-gullible people who went to visit a particularly spectacular healing ministry in Africa. They said that for the first three days they struggled to cope in their minds with what their eyes were seeing, as growths and injuries were removed before their very eyes. We say it can’t happen, but surely a God who can do the things we’ve seen already in this Gospel, will have no trouble with these things.

No, this account challenges our intellectual integrity. Will we believe the evidence that pours out of the Gospels, that tells us that this was God at loose on His earth? More than that, can we cope with the fact that God is unchanging and if He wants, He can still do exactly the same sorts of things that we read in these accounts? Remember who the writer is: it is Luke the doctor, an intelligent man who has ‘carefully investigated’ all he has been told, and he has no problem with this! He’s seen miracles as he’s travelled with the apostle Paul and so he has no trouble believing what he has heard about Jesus. If you struggle with such things, ask yourself why? It’s not a matter of the evidence; it is a case of the state of your heart that doesn’t want to submit to Almighty God, the God who can and does still bring transformations to lives today. Think about it please. This is a spectacular demonstration of the presence of God with man.