Sunday 3 May 2015

John 13:31-38 - Denied

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There's a great deal to absorb in these eight verses. Jesus deals with three topics, and Peter has questions about  one of them.

Glory - The first topic is glory; he doesn't begin talking about this until Judas has left. Jesus tells them that the Son is glorified and the Almighty is glorified in him. And he explains that if this is so, the Almighty will glorify the Son in himself and will do so immediately. Do you see the symmetry here? The Father is glorified in the Son, and the Son is glorified in the Father - at the same time.

Can anyone, even Jesus, share the glory of the Father? Yes! The passage becomes clearer if we read some related material as well. Check out John 17:4-5, John 17:9-11 and John 17:20-23. Do you see how his disciples then and his disciples now (you and me!) all share in his glory? The glory of the Father is in and upon you! This is a mystery, incomprehensible to most of the Jewish religious leaders, yet it is what Jesus explicitly tells us.

Going - Jesus is soon going to leave them behind (John 13:33). He tells them this simply and plainly. They probably didn't like what they heard, but nor did they really understand what he meant. And Jesus isn't fazed by this. His followers still don't understand why he has come, his mission seems to teeter on the edge of failure. But he has done everything his Father said to do and he knows that is enough. Now that is faith!

A command - The third and final word he has for them is 'love'. They are to love one another in the same way that he has loved them. This will be the evidence that they are his followers.

Peter's question - It's always Peter! He's not afraid to say what he thinks at times when others are inclined to wonder silently. Peter wants to know where exactly Jesus is planning to go. And Jesus' answer, that Peter can't follow him now, is as perplexing as the knowledge that he is going. This provokes Peter into a further question, 'Why can't I?' And he claims that he will even die for Jesus.

But of course, it is Jesus who must die for Peter, and for all of us. Jesus tells Peter that instead he will disown him three times before the first hint of morning twilight. Jesus goes on immediately to tell them not to be anxious, but this is easily overlooked because of the unfortunate placement of the chapter heading. They are anxious at the tone of this conversation; they need reassurance and Jesus reassures them right away.

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Sunday 12 April 2015

John 13:18-30 - Betrayed

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This is such a well-known passage. Is there anything here to consider, apart from the bare fact that Jesus knows who will identify him to the authorities? I think there is much more, these poignant verses are loaded with fascinating detail.

Yahshua has already shown that he knows who will betray him, just read verses 10 and 11; now he speaks of this again. And he says it is to fulfil Psalm 41:9. So much that he does and says is to fulfil the Law, the Prophets and the other writings of the Tanakh. And then he says something very striking.

'Whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.' (Verse 20) In other words, the Father sends the Son and the Son sends us. And if someone accepts us they are accepting Christ because he has sent us.  And if they accept Christ they are accepting the Father. This is essentially who Yahshua is. He is the very image of the Father and we, in turn, are the image of Jesus! He is telling the disciples about Judas in advance so that they will believe that 'I am who I am'. He is the embodiment of the Father, and we are the embodiment of the Son. Or as Paul has it, we are his body and he is the Head. If we don't understand these things at a deep, deep level we understand very little.

The simple phrase 'I am who I am' (verse 19) is enough to convict him of blasphemy in the eyes of the Chief Priest and Sanhedrin. Check out John 18:5-6 and Mark 14:61-63. The expression 'I am' might be just an innocent phrase, or it might be regarded as the Name that can never be uttered, the name Yahweh. To utter the Name was itself an act of blasphemy according to the Jewish leaders. To this day, Jews refer to him as Elohim (the Almighty), Adonai (The Lord) or  Ha Shem (The Name).

Of course, the disciples want to know who this betrayer will be. They are more than curious! John, prompted by Peter, asks the question. And Jesus tells him, 'It's the one I give this piece of bread to'. He dips the bread and hands it to Judas. He is one of those who shares Jesus' bread (verse 18). Jesus tells him to 'do it quickly' and Judas leaves. But the disciples still have little idea of what is going on, assuming that Judas has gone to buy supplies or donate to those in need. At this very late stage - almost the end of the final act - they are still unable to grasp even the most important things.

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Sunday 29 March 2015

John 13:1-17 - A servant heart

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Jesus and his disciples were sharing an evening meal shortly before Passover. Jesus knew it was almost time to leave this world and return to the Father, but he loved his followers deeply and wanted to show them this in a way they would remember. Not only that, he wanted them to learn that they must be servants to one another.

He knew that he had all power and authority from the Father, and he did something extraordinary and very unexpected. Quietly, he left the table and removed his outer robe and possibly his tunic too. Every eye would have been watching him and every mind wondering, 'What is the Master doing?'

Jesus picked up a towel and wrapped it around his waist, then he filled a bowl with water and started washing the disciple's feet and drying them on the towel. This was the humbling and degrading work of a lowly servant; feet were regarded as lacking in honour, dusty as they would have been from the road. To this day Muslims remove their shoes before entering a mosque, and throwing shoes at someone is a calculated insult. The disciples seem to have taken Jesus' unexpected behaviour quietly and without making a fuss. But then Jesus comes to Peter.

Peter was clearly one of those people who just said what was on his mind when others would ponder it quietly. He was not afraid to be wrong. So he came right out with it, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' It doesn't make sense to Peter! It's not quite a refusal to be washed, but it comes pretty close. The question implies incredulity and a sense that this is an utterly inappropriate thing for Jesus to do. So Jesus explains, 'You don't understand this right now, but you will later.'

But Peter isn't ready to give way. He knows the truth, he is the servant, Jesus is the Master. What Jesus is doing is back to front. (It so often is!) Peter declares, probably loudly, that he will not allow Jesus to wash his feet. But then Jesus puts it more starkly, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me'.

This is too much for Peter who now declares he wants to be washed from head to toe! But the point of washing the feet is not to cleanse the whole body, it was a custom used to welcome honoured guests to your home (Luke 7:44). Jesus is welcoming the disciples into his Father's house, he is acting as a lowly servant in his Father's household and he is declaring the disciples to be honoured guests. In effect, he's saying that in his Father's house, they are more honoured than he is. This is an extraordinary statement and I suppose most of us feel about it much as Peter might have done. Yet this is what Jesus did!

But then Jesus clarifies everything for them, and for us. He explains that he has demonstrated servanthood towards them so that they will remember to do the same for one another. Father, may we always be ready to have servant hearts towards one another.

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Tuesday 10 March 2015

John 12:44-50 - See me, see my Father

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Some of the Jewish leaders believe in Yahshua but won't acknowledge him openly because of the Pharisees (verse 42). What a contrast with Yahshua himself here in verse 44! He 'cried out' that those who believe in him also believe in the Father who sent him. The Greek word for 'cried out' is ἔκραξεν (ekraxen), the same word used for a raven's piercing call. It's emphatic, 'Jesus yelled' or 'Jesus screamed' gives a better sense. It's as if he shouted 'Aarrgghh! Whoever believes in me...'

There are two differences between the leaders who believe in him but won't admit it, and Jesus himself. There is the difference between silence and a loud yell, but there are also different implications. Ignoring the Son is bad, but ignoring the Father is worse. Believing in the Father and seeing the Father is essential. In part that is why Yahshua came - to be the light that lets us see the Father as he really is. Jesus came to banish the darkness, the hiddenness of the Father. Yet these Jewish leaders hide what is in their hearts for fear of the Pharisees. If they allowed the inner light to burn and shine they would join him in shouting out the truth!

And although Jesus does not come to judge, the words he has spoken will certainly do so. There will be no escaping these words when the last day comes.

And what about us? Will I, will you, be like those Jewish religious leaders? Will we hide the truth in our hearts, fearful to share it because of what unbelievers might say or do? Or will we, following Jesus, scream out this truth as loudly as our lungs will permit?

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Saturday 28 February 2015

John 12:37-43 - Believe it or not

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Jesus has healed the unhealable, raised the dead, and performed all the miracles that, according to the best Jewish teaching, could only be done by the Messiah. And despite this the authorities still don't believe! Why not?

It's significant that in verse 36, Jesus 'finished speaking, left and hid himself from them'. He is acting out what is in their hearts; he is also fulfilling the words of Isaiah. Verse 39 tells us they could not believe, Jesus has chosen to hide himself from them by blinding them and hardening their hearts. This should sound familiar, it's exactly what Yahweh did to Pharaoh, hardening his heart (Exodus 11:9-10).

In much the same way, the Jewish authorities are not permitted to accept Jesus' teaching. Just as Pharaoh didn't want the Israelites to be free to leave Egypt, so the chief priests and teachers did not want them to follow Jesus into freedom from the Temple worship. They saw this as a dangerous, existential threat to their own power and privilege. And just as Pharaoh would not let the people go until the death of the firstborn and the first passover, so the Jewish powers will not let them go until the death of Jesus (the Firstborn, the Son himself) and the final passover with his followers.

Verses 43 and 44 are very striking. Many among the leaders did believe in him, but they loved human praise more than praise from the Almighty. They were afraid of being thrown out of their places of power and authority. Can you imagine their dilemma? They were thinking, 'Yes, this man Yahshua has done all the things the Messiah would do, the evidence is there, he must be the One to come. But if we admit this and accept him openly the Pharisees will kick us out of office.

Let's be careful that we don't think in this way. Jesus is far more important than any institution or tradition. We can cling to what we have always known and remain respectable, or we can risk everything to follow Jesus. Which do you value the most, people's respect and approval, or life in Christ?

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Monday 26 January 2015

John 12:20-36 - The light of the world

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The Pharisees had just commented that the 'whole world' was following Jesus (John 12:19). And now we see how right they were; here are some Greeks asking to see him! These were either Greek-speaking Jews from one of the Greek cities in the eastern Mediterranean, or they were Greeks who 'respected Elohim' by believing in him and abandoning pagan worship but without actually becoming Jews. These Greeks asked to see Jesus, and John makes a point of telling us that they specifically asked Philip.

Philip is a Greek name, Φιλιππος (Philippos), that literally means 'Horse lover'. And the village he came from, Bethsaida (בית ציד) is a Hebrew name meaning 'Hunting-house' or 'Fishing-house'. Perhaps the Greeks asked Philip because he spoke Greek, or because they thought that he might speak it. Philip told Andrew, and Philip and Andrew together told Jesus.

Verse 23 tells us that Jesus 'replied'. In other words, what he says next is a response to the statement from the Greeks, 'We would like to see Jesus'. On the face of it, he doesn't say or do anything to acknowledge the request. Yet on a deeper, spiritual level, everything Jesus says in verses 23 to 36 is about seeing Jesus. Indeed, it's true of the remainder of the chapter too.

What do we see when we see Jesus? We see the glory of the Father embodied here on Earth (v 23). We see that his fruitfulness requires his death (v 24). We see that we must become like him in this (v25). And we see that he requires us to follow him (v 26). We see that he is troubled by what lies ahead, but that he presses on regardless (v 27) and glorifies the Father's Name (v 28).

When the voice like thunder responds to his prayer, 'Father, glorify your Name', Jesus tells the crowd that it was for their benefit, not his. Perhaps this voice enabled the Greeks in the crowd to understand that they were seeing more than just Jesus the man, but Jesus the Son of the Most High. In more ways than one they really had now 'seen Jesus'.

And in verses 35 and 36 he refers to himself as 'the light'. The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus will have understood this message too. Without the light, not only is it impossible to see Jesus, it's impossible to see anything at all!

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