Compassionate Jesus

The Woman caught in Adultery

John 8:2-11   2 Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Jesus was teaching the crowds at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus attracts people with his wisdom and compassion. People from all over are drawn to him. This makes other people jealous. They want to be in the limelight, they think that their points of view are better. They do what they can to reclaim center stage. So they purposefully disrupt Jesus’ teaching at the temple. They bring a woman into their midst, one who was caught in the very act of adultery. She’s most likely not dressed properly. Likely freaked out and scared to death. She knew as well as they did what the consequence was for getting caught – death by stoning. Jesus knew that too.

But the quote-unquote religious people reminded Jesus anyway what the Law said for this situation and tried to trick Jesus. They said, “Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” But Jesus knew that this is only half of what the Law of Moses said. In the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that took place before Jesus was born, in the book called Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verse 22 “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. So where was the man? I’m pretty sure it takes 2 people to commit adultery. Was it possibly one of them? Had one of the accusers slept with her in order to trap her in the act, so they’d have a pawn with whom they could trap Jesus?

The point is though that there is no accused man there. The scribes and Pharisees only brought the woman. They didn’t follow all of the law. The man was absent and eyewitnesses weren’t called. Technically they could not stone her because they didn’t meet all the requirements. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go! Their plan was flawed from the start. But they pressed on regardless.

So the trap they set for Jesus is as follows: If Jesus were to say that the woman should be stoned, then he would get in trouble with the Romans, who had taken away the Jewish people’s right to capital punishment. Only Romans could execute people these days, and you didn’t want to get on their wrong side. But if Jesus said to let the woman go free, to be consistent with his message of God’s love and mercy, Jesus would be transgressing the Law of Moses the way they saw it.

Remember last time we met, we talked about Jesus coming to fulfill the Law, and not to get rid of it. He came to take the Law that had made people legalistic and hard and show them that the Law was intended to bring love and compassion into the society. So Jesus couldn’t very well just dismiss the Law if he had come to fulfill it, right? Of course Jesus upholds the Law of Moses; he is God; he is part of the team that wrote the law in the first place. Yes, the woman was caught in adultery, but there is neither the guy she was with nor eye witnesses. Her case wouldn’t even stand in court and Jesus knows it.

Jesus, of course, also knew they had come to trap him. But Jesus is much smarter than them. For Jesus, for God, the world looks different than it does for us. We like to divide things into opposites: white and black, rich and poor, straight and gay, male and female, right and wrong. But God doesn’t see the world in these terms. God sees human beings, all intimately loved. All of us beautiful, broken, flawed sinners, but most importantly, deeply loved. That is how God sees everyone! That is how God sees the woman and the crowds who come to hear him and even the scribes and Pharisees.

Some Christians use the term “Third Way” when they talk about Jesus. God’s way is a third way. Not this way or that way, not black and white, but God’s way. And God’s way is different than we often think. Jesus isn’t concerned with winning an argument. Jesus is on the business of winning souls, of showing God’s love. So he doesn’t even enter the argument. Instead, he does nothing. He write in the sand. Very curious. He ignores the accusers, the woman, and the crowds. He hunches down and writes in the sand. The story doesn’t tell us what he writes, so that’s not important. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t like the turn of events. They kept badgering him. So finally, Jesus looked up and told them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Why would he say that? Has he just declared open season?

What has Jesus done by saying that? So those who had set up this trap for Jesus were likely thinking along these lines: Who gets to throw the first stone? Can there be a second stone without a first one? Who is sinless among us? No one? Really? Absolutely no one? Ok, now we’ve been outwitted. If none of us can throw a stone, then what? How can Jesus even say that? He just called everyone a sinner! (Surprise! We are all sinners)

The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that the wages of sin is death. Death is what you earn by sinning. And absolutely every human being falls in that category.  The scribes and Pharisees come to the realization that they too are sinners. They too deserve to die, just like the woman. Just like all of us. But that’s not the way of Jesus. Jesus is all about love and compassion and life. He wants a relationship with all of us. Jesus/God loves us like a mother loves her baby. Only perfectly. We all know we’re not perfect mothers, but God is. AND God wants nothing more than for us to also love Him.

So Jesus lets the Pharisees go. And the scribes. He extends them grace and mercy. Even after what they tried to do to the woman and to Jesus! He doesn’t condemn them. Through his silence, they take the time to think about it, and they realised that they were no better than this woman. They know they are not right with God. One by one they leave. They all leave and by leaving, they all admit that they are sinners.

And so the woman is left alone with Jesus. It doesn’t say, but I wonder if the crowd is still there – the crowd that Jesus had been teaching earlier. I wonder if they all witnessed the departure of the scribes and Pharisees, their admition of being sinners. I wonder what that means to them. What they are to do with that knowledge. I wonder if that means we’re all in that same boat, whether we are religious, whether we try to be good, or whether we get caught doing something we know is bad. We are all in the same boat. And like Paul said, what you deserve is punishment.

But then, Jesus says that he doesn’t condemn the woman either. The only person there who could have thrown the first stone because he is sinless doesn’t go there either. He tells her to go and not sin anymore. .Jesus grants pardon, not acquittal, since the call to leave off sinning shows he knew she was indeed guilty. He gave her her life. He wants her to live, not die. God is all about life, not death. In the mind of God, righteousness and justice are grounded in grace. Whenever grace is removed, we are left with the heartless hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus Christ didn’t overturn the Law. Instead, He re-established righteousness (being right with God) on the basis of grace. He told the woman to stop sinning so that she would be right with God.

Remember last time we did the Hokey Pokey? Why did we do that? To give the kids an idea of what turning around looks like. That’s what Jesus/God calls us to do. To turn around, to change our thinking from black and white to consider mercy and grace in our everyday living, just like Jesus did for this woman. To follow the Law, but through the eyes of Jesus. To love God, to love our neighbour, and to love ourselves because we are infinitely loved by the one who made us. We are lovable, beautiful sinners whose sins have been covered. They don’t affect our relationship with God because Jesus removed that barrier between us. All we need to do is believe that Jesus has broken down that barrier, to feel the love of God, and to love God back. Loving God is revealed through our love for others and ourselves. How simple and how beautiful.

Jesus says to you … and to us … Go and sin no more. I have written a new identity and a new future for you in the dust and dirt of this life.

Understood rather than condemned. Saved rather than stoned. Sin exposed yet covered in His love. – How about you?

 

 

 

 

Divine Jesus

[Based on the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3]

Surely you have heard of baptism? What is that all about? Jews practiced baptism as well as Christians. It’s an age-old practice. – So Christians continued this practice. Different Christian churches do it differently – some dunk your whole self, some sprinkle a little water on the head. But all baptism is symbolic – it stands for something. It stands for a desire to change.

The NIV says to ‘repent’. It means to turn around, to go in the opposite direction, The Message translation says to ‘change your life.’ It is a deliberate turning from one way of living to another. From sin to righteousness. (We’ll talk more about that word in a bit). The original Greek word meant to change one’s mind – the Greeks were big thinkers. But the Hebrew word – the language of the Jewish people – has more heart than head meaning – for them, ‘repent’ meant to change one’s heart, one’s will, and one’s behaviour. It was a top-to-bottom change.

So why did Jesus get baptised then?

Jesus had no need to be baptized—just as he had no need to be born, to suffer, or to die—but he did all that in order to reveal himself to us, to show God to us. The baptism, in other words, was a sign for the world. When Jesus came to the Jordan River, he came as the son of a carpenter. But the proclamation of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove showed him to be far more than a mere carpenter. He was officially and for all to see identified as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour.

Because Jesus is the Son of God, he doesn’t need to change – he’s already God! I think that is why John the Baptist (not John the gospel writer) had a hard time with it and asked Jesus to baptise him instead.) John knew he wasn’t perfect, but that Jesus was.

Jesus told John to baptise him “to fulfill all righteousness.” (MSG: God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.)

It took me years to understand the word ‘righteousness.’ But I believe that to put it simply, it means ‘being right with God.’ So Jesus fulfilling all righteousness by being baptized means that he will be right with God if he does this. Jesus fulfills The Law by being baptized.

We talked a lot about doing what The Law says last time, when we were talking about Jesus’ presentation in the temple as an infant – his parents did everything that the law prescribed, and that made them ‘right with God.’ The Law is in essence the 10 Commandments. – Loving God, not having idols, not murdering people, or lying, or being envious, honouring your parents, etc. God gave those laws to the ancient Israelites after they left slavery behind in Egypt. God gave those laws to them because he loved them. God knows that if we follow his laws, then life will be good, there will be peace on earth as it is in heaven. The laws were to set people free, not to burden them.

We don’t have to look very far to know that isn’t the way the world is, right? People still murder, lie, and don’t obey God’s laws. Jesus was well aware of that in his own time too, as was John the Baptist. Look at the way John speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He calls them snakes – that was not a compliment then either. These people were those who allegedly followed The Law better than anyone else. But John and Jesus saw right through them. Because the biggest problem with them was that they followed the letter of the law, but their heart wasn’t in it. Their heart was off in the opposite direction – hell bound! They had changed the law from something beautiful, that was freeing and life-giving to something burdensome and condemning. They added details so that nobody could manage it. And they got to decide who did well and who failed – not God.

Jesus insisted on being baptized to fulfill the law – to do what the law prescribed, even though technically he didn’t need to for the forgiveness of sin. But he wanted to follow God’s law as an example for the rest of us. Jesus lived to be an example for everyone – how to live righteously, how to live ‘right with God’ so that we might live life well! So that we too might have peace and love and joy!

So there is a conundrum here. If the Pharisees and the Sadducees were the best at following The Law that God had given Moses, but they were called snakes, and yet Jesus sets the example for us by following the law – what gives?

That’s where the Hebrew understanding of the word ‘repent’ makes a big difference. Remember that the Greek word meant to change one’s mind but in Hebrew, ‘repent’ meant to change one’s heart, one’s will, and one’s behaviour – that top-to-bottom, through-and-through change. The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not have a change of heart. It was all in their heads. They followed the law ruthlessly, and they were cruel and hateful all while following the letter of the law. That was not God’s intent.

Some Christians believe that Jesus did away with the law. But that is not true either. In Ezekiel chapter 11, a prophet who lived hundreds of years before Jesus, it is written, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). Matthew 5:17-18 CEV (contemporary English) “Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a period or comma will ever disappear from the Law. Everything written in it must happen.” Jesus did not come to this earth to oppose the law. His goal was to fulfill it. He revered it, loved it, and obeyed it perfectly. The law’s divine design, God’s design, will accomplish the purpose for which it was given – kingdom living.

Jesus fulfilled all of the law. Both in His life and in His teaching, Jesus fulfilled the law. He demonstrated God’s law by His perfect example and gave it its full meaning. He emphasized its deep underlying principles and the need for total commitment to it rather than mere external acknowledgment and obedience (like the Pharisees and the Sadducees). Jesus explains that until God’s plan to glorify humanity in His Kingdom is completely accomplished (second coming), that is, as long as there are still human beings, God’s law as given in the Bible is still necessary. Those who follow Christ and desire to be in His Kingdom are obligated to obey and uphold God’s law.

When Jesus was being tested one time, a lawyer asked him what the greatest commandment was. He was, of course, referring to the 10 Commandments. Jesus responded with” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

To love God with all your heart, soul and might is to keep the Ten Commandments –not the letter of the Law but the spirit of the Law. If we love God with all our heart, soul and might, we will not have other Gods before Him, worship idols, or take His name in vain or deny God the quality time of Praise and Worship He wants from us on His Holy day. No! If we love our neighbour as ourselves, we will respect our parents, not murder, not sleep with another’s spouse, or steal, lie or covet anything that belongs to your neighbour. It is clear that if you love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself you are keeping the Ten Commandments. This is why Jesus said that all of the law hangs on these two Commandments.

Loving your neighbour as yourself was not a “new” commandment and existed from the beginning but the level of love they needed to practise to be imitators of Christ was new in that they loved one another as Jesus loved them to the point of also being prepared to lay down their lives for each other as Jesus did for them and the whole world. So we find that Jesus not only magnified the law with what He spoke of in Matthew chapter 5 but He also taught that we need to demonstrate the same self-sacrificing love that he did – pretty difficult, I’d say! That is the mark of a true Christian. (BTW, none of us are that good, and God knows it)

Non-Christians often complain that Christians have all these rules that stifle life. Don’t do this, don’t do that. That is not the spirit of the law. God gave the laws to increase love in the world. To make the world a better place for everyone. Imagine if everyone loved their neighbour as themselves – there would be no stealing, no murder, no war, but instead there would be love, peace, and joy. God’s law, when practiced in the spirit that it was given in, brings peace, joy and love. That is why Jesus got baptized – in obedience to the law, to show us that the law is a beautiful thing, that it is life-giving!

Sign 6: Do You See?

John, Chapter 9 (all of it)

The disciples ask why the man is blind – they want to place blame. Jesus says it’s nobody’s fault. So that means that bad things happen for no reason, not because that person or his parents are sinners and are getting punished. The reason why he is blind is so that God can demonstrate that God exists and is involved in human lives. God through Jesus gives sight to the blind. Undisputed. Therefore, God exists. Everyone in the story agrees that only God can make the blind see. This blind man saw. Therefore, the only conclusion that can logically berawn is that God exists and that Jesus is from God/is God.

We can be like the Pharisees who don’t acknowledge that a miracle occurred. They only see that Jesus broke their Sabbath rules and therefore, they conclude that he cannot be the Son of God, that he is a sinner. They can’t imagine that there is a higher calling than obeying all their rules – that healing a blind person takes priority. That love is more important than rules. That doing the right thing and rejoicing over miracles trumps counting your steps. God said to keep the Sabbath holy. Who said that giving sight to the blind doesn’t fit that category? Jesus said God made the Sabath for us, it is a gift that is meant to restore us. Mark 2:27 says “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a day to take it slower, to listen for God in life. To notice miracles. Not to count your steps and make sure you’re not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing according to human rules. The Sabbath was not about rule keeping, it was about taking a day of rest. A time to reconnect with yourself, with your family, and a time to sit back and take notice of God in your life.

So my word for this year is PAUSE. It is exactly about that – Sabbath keeping – because it’s something I don’t do well. And the challenge is to not beat myself up about it, because it isn’t about keeping rules. It’s about being, and being still. Looking for God in the ordinary events of the day. Noticing everyday miracles. Opening up to the possibility that God loves you and wants the best for you and is actively involved in your life already. Praying to God to helps with that. So at the beginning of this year, to help with pausing, I started a prayer journal. I started writing down some prayers. I try to have a quiet time in the mornings, and sometimes it actually happens. So I sit down and think about what I want God to change in my life and in the lives of other people and I write those things down. I don’t make it a thing I “have to do” so it’s not like the Pharisees “have to do list”. Then I revisit the notes I’ve made and on the opposite page, if something has worked itself out, I write that down too. And more often than not, I realize that prayers are answered. Some sooner, others later, and others not yet, or I haven’t realized that the answer was something other than what I was waiting for. All of this helps me to pause, which helps me to see God in the world. Otherwise, I’d be blind like the Pharisees. They only see the rules, they don’t see God at work. That’s what Jesus was talking about at the end of the story – when they asked, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?” That’s exactly what he was saying.

Sign 5: Jesus Comes in the Middle of the Storm

John 6 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

  • Jesus spent time alone in prayer to recharge. This is important for us as well.
  • The disciples rowing in the storm were already afraid to die before Jesus came to them. It is highly likely that they couldn’t swim.
  • Everyone back then knew for a certainty that walking on water is only something someone divine can do: Jesus walking on the water is a clear sign to them that Jesus is divine, that is, he is God. This sign, therefore, gives clear evidence to those hearing this story that prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, with power and authority equal with God the Father
  • Jesus walked on the water to show His disciples that the very thing they feared, the raging sea, was just a set of steps for Him to come to them.
  • Jesus was testing the disciples’ faith once again, they were in a position where there was nothing more they could do themselves to get out of this disaster on the sea.

This is the definitive miracle that caused the disciples to believe in him.

The disciples needed multiple miracles in order to “get it” that Jesus was God and was from God, that he had come to save the world from evil, not from the Romans.

Jesus comes to people in the storms of life. Jesus may not come at the time we think He should, because He knows when we need Him the most. Jesus had waited until the boat was as far from land as possible, when all their hope was gone. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life such as illness, loss of loved ones, and financial hardships only to discover that these experiences can bring Jesus closer to us.

So why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Because they weren’t looking for Him. Had they been waiting by faith, they would have known Him instantly. Instead, they jumped to the false conclusion that he was a ghost. The point is this: fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, because fear often blinds us to God’s presence.

We sometimes say that God is love. In 1 John, he writes that perfect love casts out fear – fear and love can’t co-exist.

1 John 4:17-18 (MSG) God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

The fear/love is a spectrum. The more fear you have, the less love is possible. The more love you have, the more you lose the fear. You grow in trusting God that he will be with you in times of trouble. God doesn’t take the trouble away, but walks you through it. Remember the Footprints Poem: “When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Sign 4: Bread of Life

People followed Jesus like paparazzi – they wanted to see the miracles because miracles are exciting. Jesus might have wanted some alone time with his disciples, maybe to teach them, or to pray. But the crowds just kept showing up. Jesus doesn’t send them away. He shows them compassion. He knows they’d be hungry and works on feeding them – notice how much grace is present in these actions alone.

Jesus asks Philip, one of his disciples, where they could buy a LOT of bread, not if. Philip has been with him for months. He’s seen what Jesus is capable of, like at the wedding at Cana, where he turned gallons and gallons of water into wine. And yet, he does not show any faith in Jesus’ abilities to work a miracle.

Maybe Andrew shows a little greater faith. He finds a boy with a peasant’s lunch. Barley bread was definitely poor people’s food. He brings this food to Jesus just in case he can do something with it. It’s not very much at all. But just possibly, better than nothing. [When we bring what we have to Jesus and hand it over to him, Jesus can work miracles with that too. Jesus can take anything and turn it into something amazing.]

Jesus turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough food for 5000 plus people. Everyone is fed, they had as much as they wanted. And there were 12 baskets of leftovers! Extravagant generosity! Only the Creator himself could “play” with the very stuff of creation and pull this off.

The people clued in that something miraculous had happened in the feeding. They were waiting for a prophet that was promised to them by Moses who was to set them free. They figured that this miracle working Jesus just might be their man. If he can do something like this, then he can certainly free them from Roman oppression. They do not realize that the freedom Jesus brings is not from Roman oppression, but from the oppression of sin. He leaves quietly to evade them. He didn’t come to be involved in the politics of the world. He did say that his kingdom is not of this world.

Not many of the people who witnessed this miracle came to believe in Jesus as the son of God. They saw a man who had powers and they wanted to use those powers for their own benefit. We sometimes think of God as a miracle working genie too.

But Jesus was not going to be their kind of king, he did not come to deliver them from the Romans. They were faithful people, because when they saw the miracle, they knew he was from God, and “from God” meant to them a mighty prophet like Moses, who would deliver them from Rome and restore Israel to glory just as Moses had delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

 

Going deeper:

We have already learned that the Gospel of John has symbolism all through it. Scholars have studied it extensively. Much of what John writes has deeper meanings. Let’s begin with the leftovers. Why does Jesus care to pick them up? Who are they for, when everyone is full? Why 12 baskets?

There are other places in the Bible where 12 is significant.

In the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis, Isaac has 12 sons who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel – God used them to build a nation.

In the New Testament, Jesus picked 12 disciples who were fishermen and tax collectors, essentially nobodies, who became the foundation of Christianity.

Now there are 12 baskets of leftovers that Jesus cares enough to gather up. Not only is nothing wasted in God’s kingdom, but God actually builds his kingdom from that which the world considers useless and throws out.

[What or who do we consider as useless? They are needed to keep, and build a future on…]

This miracle is only a sign of Jesus’ salvation but it is not the same thing. Jesus does not want to be made a king who will just keep producing more wonder bread because Jesus knows that in the long run the business of eating and drinking is quite literally a dead end. Bread or food in general does not keep us alive forever. The people who saw the miracle failed to notice the spiritual significance of it. What they want from Jesus is more of the things he has offered. More food, or more wine, or more healings. And so they want to come and make him their king.

Jesus has supplied for their material needs and material needs are important. But this is not what Jesus came to do, and the glory he will reveal is not the glory of another political regime, not even the most effective and benevolent political regime the world has ever seen. So Jesus withdraws. He refuses to be king on their terms. His word to these faithful people was hard to take; he said “No.” No to all their ambitions and delusions of power and control.

[Jesus said no to the people when they wanted to make him king by force – what do you think about that?]

More accurately, Jesus has come to reveal that God’s essential character is loving and God’s essential desire is to be accessible and available to the people of God. It may not be what we want because we are so convinced that material possessions will make us happy. But it is what we need.

Then as now, we’re altogether too eager to settle for the quick fix. Holy patience insists we stick with Jesus over the long haul, following him all the way to a cross that is definitely not a quick fix, and it even looks like the end of everything. But only when we stay with Jesus that long do we actually discover that he is the beginning of everything.

A little bit later in chapter 6 of John, Jesus says “I am the bread of life.”

[Think about actual bread in your life – what role does it play? Think about bread in Jesus’ day – how might it have been different from today?]

Bread was an everyday staple – an essential item. So when Jesus says “I am the bread of life,” he means that he is essential for life – life in him, eternal life. None of Jesus is wasted. Also, Jesus is modeling a way to create the kingdom of God on earth. For genuine followers of Christ, that is our mission too – to continue doing what Jesus had started. A revolution of turning scarcity into abundance, and fear into love.

Jesus once told his followers, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” When Jesus says “I am the bread of life,” think about eating bread. It enters into your body, you digest it, and your body absorbs the nutrients. It becomes a part of you. Literally, “you are what you eat.” Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” When we internalize him spiritually the same way that we internalize food physically, then Jesus becomes a part of us, a part of our identity. At the same time, we become a part of Jesus and thereby we join him in eternal life. Jesus becomes a part of us, living in our hearts, as some people like to say, and we also become a part of Jesus – we inherit eternal life; we become a part of the Body of Christ. It goes both ways.

Jesus invites us in this passage into as intimate a relationship and communion with him as we can imagine, perhaps a communion and relationship that is even closer than we want!

[Whether you fully understand it or not, can you accept that Jesus is the one through whom God’s character and will are most fully revealed?]

Sign 3: Getting Unstuck

The Gospel of John 5:1-18

Have you ever been passed over? Have you ever been not good enough, not fast enough or just not enough to be picked? Did the teacher pick someone else? Or a friend didn’t pick you first for their team? Or you didn’t get that job… I think we’ve all been there. It doesn’t feel good. The guy in our story today had been too slow, too sick, for 38 years. Others always got the prize before him. Can you relate to that? But then Jesus came along and picked him. Just him. For no apparent reason, that day was that man’s lucky day.

From the man’s perspective, it started out as any other day. Then, a total stranger came up to him and asked him if he wanted to be healed. Then this guy told him to pick up his mat and walk. He hadn’t walked in 38 years. How ridiculous that command must have sounded to him! Maybe he had just the tiniest shred of hope left. Maybe he was just tired of lying there, watching everyone else getting into that pool before him. Maybe he felt a surge of strength flowing through his body. But he did what Jesus told him to do.

We’d like to be in this man’s spot on that day, wouldn’t we? When we feel like we’re stuck in one place for a long time and can’t seem to get unstuck, it would be so nice for Jesus to come along and just say, “Do you want to get unstuck?” This story gives us hope. Even after 38 years, this man got unstuck. Sometimes we get that lucky break too. God’s grace happens for anyone at any time. There’s nothing you need to do to deserve it. You just receive it and say, “Thank You, God!”

Let’s also look at what happened next.

There was a big problem with what Jesus did. Jesus healed this man on a Sabbath. That was a big no-no to some people in town. They believed that you shouldn’t do anything on a Sabbath. Including helping people. So they decided to give Jesus a hard time about doing the right thing. Sometimes that happens to us too, right? We do something that is good, something that is right, and we get in trouble by the people who make the rules. Like when we help a kid on the playground who is getting picked on but we’re supposed to line up because the bell rang, or stuff like that. Sometimes we do the right thing even when it’s against the rules, and sometimes we get in trouble for that. When that happens, we’re doing just what Jesus did for this crippled man. Not worrying about the rules and doing what is right.

During WWII, the people who were in power, the Nazis, decided that other people, especially Jewish and handicapped people, were not wanted. So they worked towards getting rid of them. That was very wrong. But because they were in power, they made the rules. So, many ordinary people broke the rules and helped these poor people to safety. They did the right thing. But it was very dangerous because the rule makers sometimes found out and then these people would also be in very big trouble. Again, these people did what Jesus did for this crippled man.

Where in our lives do we come across injustice that we can do something about?

Maybe we are being called to identify with Jesus, and not the cripple by the poolside. We might be a miracle in someone else’s life and get them unstuck. Whether that gets us into trouble or not.

We like to identify with the man who was healed – we need healing too.

We are always invited to identify with Jesus – to do good even if it might get us into trouble.

Sometimes we are like the rule makers – not considering all angles, just sticking to what we know the rules say, not acknowledging that rules sometimes get in the way of better things.

Sign 2: Do you want miracles or Jesus?

 

 

Advertising sells. Sex sells. Miracles sell. Jesus advertised his status as Son of God by causing miracles to happen. Who wouldn’t buy into a miracle? Who wouldn’t want an end to money problems by winning the lottery, or an end to hospital stays when someone we love is sick, or an end to phone calls from the school because of your child’s learning disability? Who wouldn’t want a miracle?

We all want a miracle in our life. Probably more than one. We pray for miracles to happen. We hope for them. And when we don’t receive one, our faith in Jesus, the miracle maker, is on shaky ground.

As much as miracles are what we want, they are not the best thing for our faith to grow and mature. Hear this story from the Gospel of John:

John 4 (NIV) 46 Once more Jesus visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

Jesus did miracles for people so they could see that he was the Son of God. Jesus did miracles to grab the public’s attention and advertise his unique status. People came to see him, to hear him. And word about his miraculous abilities spread at a time and place without cell phones, satellites, or newspapers; a time when news spread by word of mouth from one neighbour to the next. That’s how the official heard about Jesus.

The official was a wealthy man and likely not popular with the crowds because he was connected to the Roman governor, either as employee or relative. (The Romans were occupying the land and subjugating the Jews.) He would have seen doctors and tried other things before coming to Jesus. In desperation, he came to Jesus, having heard that Jesus did miracles. He wanted a miracle in the worst way. He hoped that what he had heard about Jesus was true, and that Jesus would heal his son. His faith was such that he went on a 2 day trek across mountainous terrain from Capernaum to Cana because he had heard that Jesus was there.

It does show faith to ask for help. You wouldn’t ask someone for help if you didn’t think that they could, right?

Jesus is fed up with people wanting only miracles and tells them so. The Galileans were more interested in signs and wonders than in who Jesus actually was. The people welcomed Jesus for his signs and wonders, but they never bothered to see the man behind the miracles. I think that’s a problem. But the official seems to say, “I don’t really care about why they are here, I am here because I have nowhere else to go and I am trying to believe that you are who you say you are and that you can help me.” So he persists.

Jesus granted him a miracle. He spoke a miracle into being, across a space of 20 miles. Jesus gives life to the boy then and there. The fact that life is given for a royal official that was probably quite unpopular among the Galileans breaks social barriers. Jesus and the life he gives knows no borders.

The fact that the official believed Jesus and went home without certainty shows his growing faith. Instead of pestering Jesus to come with him, he believes that Jesus healed his son. He believed Jesus’ word without any guarantee and acknowledged Jesus as the giver of life by believing his word before he saw the outcome. When he met up with his servant and they figured out that the son was healed at exactly the time Jesus said those words, the official’s faith in Jesus was boosted and when his family heard all about it, they believed as well.

Sign 2 points to who Jesus is — the one who can heal at a distance by only a word.

(Sign 1 showed us Jesus converting water into wine – control over physical elements in the world)

What this story teaches us:

  1. Faith based on miracles alone is incomplete.
  2. Faith in who Jesus actually is, in his word and authority; that is praise-worthy faith.
  3. When we need help, we need to ask Jesus ourselves. The official went in person instead of sending a servant.
  4. Faith in Jesus is the priority. Not everyone receives a public miracle. This is the problem with faith based on experience because it’s dependent on “what have you done for me lately.” It’s not the kind of faith that Christ wants from us. He doesn’t want us to trust in him just for things, he wants us to trust Period.
  5. We must sometimes take Jesus at his word and act before seeing the result. Faith that results from a miracle alone, will not grow spiritual faith. However, when faith is placed in the person responsible for the miracle; that will grow faith.
  6. Whoever believes in Jesus will receive the life he gives. One of the reasons that signs and wonders aren’t plentiful today is because of the dangers in that. The miracles become an end in themselves. Signs and wonders actually hinder people seeking Jesus for a right relationship. If miracles were regularly done for Christians then many people would become Christians for the wrong reasons.

Sign 1: What Sign?

Sign 1: Jesus turns water into wine. John 2:1-11

Over the summer, we are going to study parts of the Gospel of John. John records 7 miracles in his gospel even though Jesus performed many more. John calls these 7 miracles “signs”. Each signs shows something specific about Jesus as the Son of God. By calling them signs, John wants us to focus on their significance rather than the marvel of the event. So what is the significance for changing water into wine at this wedding? Why should we care what happened 2000 years ago at a party?

Much of the Gospel of John contains symbolism. What he writes has meaning on the surface, yes, but it also holds a deeper meaning for us today. The gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written. John had many years to reflect on Jesus and he told his gospel from that vantage point. This does not diminish the gospel at all. In fact, he saw deeper truths in the life and death of Jesus because he had spent many years living as his disciple, reflecting on everything that Jesus had said and done. So John carefully wrote his gospel account, working diligently to convey as much of the revolutionary teaching and life of Jesus as he could.

So let’s read through the account. It begins with “On the third day.” This indicates that this event shifts from one era to another, it echoes the death and resurrection of Jesus, who rose from the dead “on the third day.” A shift in the world order is being announced here.

Weddings were typically week-long drinking parties, with wine being the available drink.

The location of Cana is significant in its insignificance. Signs happen in insignificant places. One does not have to go to Jerusalem to witness the works of God. Mary and Jesus were invited – this wedding might have been extended family or close friends.

To run out of wine is a major oops. Family and friends would be very outraged and offended by those who could not carry off a wedding properly. So Mary, in an indirect way, says to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” She knows her son. She knows that he can do something about this. He pushes back. Nonetheless, she tells the servants to do whatever he says. (This is good instruction for us today too, by the way.)

Jesus changes six stone jars of water into wine. That is about 180 gallons – or 4 bathtubs full! And it is really good wine! In the Old Testament (Jewish writings before Jesus), an abundance of wine is used as a symbol of the fulfilment of time. There are several references to this, one being Amos 9:13 The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. So Jesus changing water into an abundance of good wine in this story tells the reader that something new is happening. A new era is coming. The shift is from law to grace, scarcity to abundance. That is the substance of “Sign 1”.

John’s account of this event finishes with the observation that “and his disciples believed in him.” This sign was primarily for them. It is early in the Gospel of John, being the first sign, so getting the disciples on board with Jesus’ mission is step one: makes sense. But what about the other people at the wedding? The servants who filled the stone jars, the host, the bridegroom: they were at least somewhat aware that something unexplainable had happened. A miracle had occurred and they were not affected by it. The rest of the guests just kept drinking, not even noticing. Something new has come into the world and yet most of the people there are oblivious! A miracle occurred and most of them just kept on drinking.

Jesus revealed his glory and the disciples believed. They were transformed from fishermen to Jesus’ disciples, they answered the call because they understood what had happened, the significance of it. And yet, existence goes on as before for the majority people, for the rest of Cana, Israel, the world.

So why is this important today? Jesus ushered in a new era – a shift from living under the law to living under grace. It is no longer “you must do such and such” but rather, “I already took care of that. It is done” We live in a time of grace if we accept Jesus’ sacrifice. Believing in him as the disciples did then, means we shift our thinking and our hearts to a new perspective. Actually, we allow God to make that shift in us. Our outlook on the world changes from law to grace. Not all at once, but bit by bit. Becoming a follower of Christ is a journey. Often there is a first day, when you say yes to the whole idea. Sometimes it’s because of an event like the disciples experienced – a miracle, but it doesn’t have to be.

Christians believe that the answer to strife in the world is love. To live in the abundance of God. To know there is enough for all, so that hoarding and greed will go away. Fear is the opposite to love. When we fear that there isn’t enough, then we hoard. That’s the way of the world. And there are Christians who are caught up in the world as well. Like I said, it’s a journey and none of us have arrived. As St. Augustine first observed, what Jesus did at Cana was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water from rainfall into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing God is behind all of that. It’s a reminder that we serve a God whose generosity is over the top. It’s a reminder that God is also often content to watch people—sometimes even Christian people who should know better—from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work.

Doesn’t it amaze you that Jesus’ miracle happened within earshot of people who never knew anything unusual had happened? Might it amaze you, when you shift your life outlook to believing in Jesus that that will mean we see divine glory a lot more often in our lives than we do otherwise? When there’s food at the foodbank, when the homeless are housed, when children without decent shoes get nice new sneakers from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come: when we see these things happening in our churches and in our communities and in our families, then we are seeing the glory of God as God continues to guide us back to that for which he created us to begin with.

A Promise Filled

Discussion for May 31:

Who or what is the Holy Spirit? I believe that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence with us (John 14:15-19). That is why Jesus said he had to leave before he sent the Holy Spirit. Last time we met, we talked about the Ascension of Jesus – when he returned to heaven after 40 days of showing himself to his disciples after his death and resurrection.

One of the Greek words for the Holy Spirit is paracletos. It translates in the world of the courthouse, as legal language, as “advocate” The Holy Spirit is our defense attorney. So in a court case, what does the defense attorney do? – They have our back. They represent us. They believe in us and in our story. The Holy Spirit is not the judge or prosecutor. He’s on our side. He wants what’s best for us. The Holy Spirit will advocate for you against those who accuse, against every obstacle, against the voice in your head that says you’re not good enough.

Another word used in the Bible for the Holy Spirit is the Hebrew word Ruach. It means spirit, wind, or breath. When someone makes the decision to become a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit enters that person as if he was breathed in. The air you breathe becomes a part of your system. It gives you life. God gives you life.

God’s very life, breath and energy lives in, with and among us. Christians experience this life through Jesus because they see the Spirit so fully manifest in him. The Holy Spirit is the Yes of God within us. As in: yes you are fully loved just the way you are, yes you matter, yes, you are beautiful, wonderful, and so very special.

When the decision to become a follower of Jesus is made, you don’t look out at reality anymore; you look out from reality. In other words, God is not “out there”: you are in God and God is in you.

Our problems, personal, relational, political and global, are so complex and multifaceted, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. We need power from beyond ourselves to address challenges, and that power comes to us through the Holy Spirit. We also need love, perfect, Godly love. Love is more necessary than ever. Jesus’ love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is essential.

Maybe God is hinting to us that in the Spirit we can come together to be in community, to reverse division, hatred, and that sort of stuff . . . to bring about the kingdom of God.  That is what we ask for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer – “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” The Spirit within us teaches us how to live in community with each other and the world will be a better place as more people believe and learn to live in God’s way. God has designed the world as a very good place. He declared it so in the creation story. But people have made a big mess of it because they often chose their own ways instead of God’s ways.