John 6:60-72. Decision.

John 6:60    On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61    Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66    From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67    “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68    Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

70    Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

The stated aim of John’s gospel is to illicit a decision: “These things are written so that you may believe…” (see John 20:28-30). In his ministry it is clear that Jesus often brings his followers and disciples to decision points where they are called to commit themselves to either follow Jesus unreservedly or abandon him. The end of John 6 is one of those turning points.

The dialogue and controversy in John 6 has risen to a crescendo over Jesus’ claim to be the ‘bread of life’. As the bread of life; he his greater than Moses, he has come from God the Father in heaven on a mission, he is the Son of Man figure referred to in Dan 7:11-14, he offers eternal life, and belief in him is essential to that life. When unpacked, these are huge claims.

For some in the crowd, this is all too much. They begin to grumble and leave. They abandon Jesus and the pursuit of the kingdom he proclaimed (v66). So Jesus turns the spotlight onto the Twelve. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” It is decision time.

Peter answers on behalf of the Twelve, saying that they have no other options since Jesus has the words of eternal life. Through the process of observation, listening, interacting and living with Jesus, they have come to the settled conclusion that he is ‘the Holy One of God’ (v69). Their commitment is firm.

Jesus’ response is initially very heartening. He replies, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?…” There is a sense in which Jesus chose them first, before they came to their conclusions about him as the Holy One of God. This prior election brings great comfort to the disciples. Their place with Jesus was already sealed before they knew it. And yet, there is also a problem. Though Jesus has chosen each of them, one of them ‘is a devil’! Though chosen, he is not for Jesus but against him. He is a traitor, biding his time. Already Jesus’ betrayal seems inevitable.

Lord Jesus, even when my doubts rise, there are no other real alternatives to you. You alone have the words of eternal life. You alone demonstrate authority over life and death. You alone are worth my abandoned life. Give me grace to follow you, all the days of my life, even to the very end. Amen.

 

John 6:52-59. Eat the Bread.

51… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52    Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53    Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Jesus has just been saying, “I am the bread of life.”  Now he shifts the focus from himself to his hearers. The logical extension of the bread metaphor is that Jesus must be ‘eaten’. That is to say, a person cannot simply agree that Jesus is God’s provision for eternal life. In order to gain that life, metaphorically– spiritually– they must eat and drink of Jesus, who gives up his body and blood on the cross.

So this is not an exhortation to cannibalism. Instead, by faith, the Christian transfers their trust to rest entirely upon Jesus crucified for life with God. Not obedience. Not religion. Not self-reliance or moral living. Jesus alone becomes the believer’s object of faith. In so doing, the Spirit of God unites the believer with Christ. The crucified body of Christ bears the sin of the believer. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross seals the believer’s covenant membership into Christ. This effective union with Christ brings eternal life. These are massive theological truths, all found in the metaphor.

Somewhat surprisingly, in an extended treatment of the Last Supper (Jn 13-17), John’s gospel has no reference to Jesus’ institution of the meal of remembrance; eating bread and drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper. But somehow this passage has echoes of it, with references to Jesus’ body and blood. Although the metaphor is powerful, it is not directed towards a sacramental meal. Instead, faith alone is to be activated.

Lord, I am challenged to entrust myself entirely to you for life. By faith, I embrace your crucified body. By faith, I drink your blood shed on the cross. Your death is my death. Your life becomes my life. I am completely yours. Hallelujah! 

John 6:35-51. Bread.

6:35    Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

41    At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43   “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Like Moses in the exodus, Jesus has just miraculously fed the 5000 in the wilderness with fish and bread. Now he offers the first of his great ‘I am’ sayings, along with an expanded commentary following on from it.

When God first revealed his personal  Name to Moses at the burning bush (see Exodus 3:14) it opened up a new stage of God’s relationship with Israel. Although already in Covenant Relationship with the offspring of Abraham, God was now revealing more of his character and his purpose. He was inviting Israel to engage with him personally, on the basis of his faithfulness and his commitment to save them. He declared “I am whom I am,” which, in Hebrew, is the source of the divine Name “Yahweh”. In declaring his Name in this way, God also infers that, ‘you will know me by the way that I relate to you in this great exodus-salvation project’– I will be whom I will be. And so God’s name declares his character and his purpose. “I am” (Yahweh) is therefore a highly charged reference, which Jesus seems to quite deliberately draw upon himself.

Other examples of Jesus using this reference appear in John 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15.

So Jesus is the ‘bread of life’; that which is basic, that which sustains, that which is a necessity. Jesus is that bread. As a consequence of having such bread, the believer will never go hungry (v36). Instead of ‘hunger’, there is absolute assurance that the believer has eternal life and that they will be raised up on the last day. Indeed, it is the Father himself who makes this promise and who draws all whom he will to Jesus as this ‘bread of life’.

Belief in Jesus Christ means never lacking ‘life’— not that the believer will never experience physical hunger or thirst. Throughout chapter 6 Jesus has been trying to move the conversation from physical bread to spiritual sustenance which gives eternal life (v50-51). His point is that a relating to him by faith is basic, is a necessity, for life that is substantial, spiritual and eternal. This relationship stands in continuity with the covenant relationship based on faith that God established with Israel through the Patriarchs and Moses.

Lord Jesus Christ, I am learning that I am utterly dependent upon you for life in every sense of the word. Please nurture and nourish me that I might walk in that life; enjoying it, exploring it, truly living it. Grant that in so doing, I become all that you intend for me and that you are glorified for all that you are. Amen.

John 6:28-34. Sign.

John 6:28    Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30    So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?  31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32    Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34    “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Jesus had given the crowd the slip by miraculously crossing the lake at night, on foot. They have finally caught  up with him, but now Jesus accuses them of seeking him out only to avoid labouring for food. So there are some interrelated themes in play: hunger, bread, work and God’s approval.

Someone in the crowd asks the question, “What does God want from us? What should we do?”

Jesus’ reply is direct but opaque. “The work of God is to believe the One he has sent.” The crowd understand that Jesus is referring to himself so they ask for a ‘sign’ to demonstrate that he really is from God, so that they will believe him. None of this makes sense because they are the same 5000 people whom Jesus has just fed in the desert with 5 loaves and 2 fish! And then he’s walked across the lake, literally. What more of a ‘sign’ could they want?

Their reference to manna in the wilderness in v31 seems to imply that the crowd were not ‘convinced’ by Jesus’ effort with the loaves and fishes. They hold that Moses did it better with manna– freshly delivered every day. They were now hungry again. And so they are really saying to Jesus, “If you want us to believe you, you’ll have to exceed the works of Moses.”

But Jesus refuses to be put up against Moses in a comparison test. In verses 32-33 he contends that the exodus manna came not from Moses but from God in heaven. By definition, ‘signs’ are the work of God, not mortals. He is the same God who now has provided Jesus– the true bread that comes from heaven. And he is the bread that gives life that endures into the Age. Therefore, in response to God’s working, the work of people is to believe him.

While the crowd don’t fully understand, they still want ‘in’. Bread that is gifted from God to give life– that is the bread they always want. Whatever that means… Clarification will be required.

Lord, ‘believing’ does not seem like work. Sometimes I just want something concrete to do, a task to complete, an assignment to finish– then I will have satisfied you. But you call me to more. You want me to believe you for all that you are: sent from God, bearing his authority, the source of life. Lord, let me live this way. Let me do the work that this faith produces. Amen.

John 6:16-27. Transit.

John 6:16    When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake,  17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.  18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.  19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.  20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

22    The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25    When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Why does Jesus walk on water? Perhaps it was just a conveniently quick transit across the lake after the disciples got in the boat and left without him. If so, why not fly? Or some other mode of transport? Perhaps Jesus just walks on water because he can.

Jesus’ miraculous transit is given no significance by the gospel writer other than a rebuke to the crowd in verse 26. We do not read here about Jesus’ time of prayer with his Father. His super-natural power to defy the laws of nature is not commented upon, other than Jesus comforting his frightened disciples in the boat. This is not a ‘sign’, as such. Instead, giving the crowd ‘the slip’ allows Jesus in verse 26 to make his diagnostic comment– ‘you only want free food.’

Jesus warns the crowd that they have ignored his other signs, which point to God’s kingdom and its king. They seem only to be self-interested– they like the free food. Instead, they should be ‘working’ for the food that endures to eternal life.

This ‘free bread’ versus ‘toiling for bread’ has an echo of John 4:13-15. Jesus engaged the woman at the well by promising her a source of water that would well up into eternal life. Here the crowd are engaged with food that will not spoil (like yesterday’s manna) but will endure into eternal life. So throughout John 6 Jesus repeatedly refers to ‘bread’ as the staple of life. It’s what we need to live. We hunger for it. We toil for it because, without it, we starve. And Jesus wants us to know that he is ‘the bread of life’.

Lord Jesus, I spend my energy chasing many things. My life is crowded with many competing priorities. Please change my thinking so that I recognise you as the bread of life. Without you, I will starve. Give me an attentiveness to the spiritual hunger that you put within me. Give me a desire to feast upon you– the bread that endures to eternal life– so that all the priorities settle below you, in their proper place. Amen.

John 6:1-15. Bread in the desert.

John 6:1    Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias),  2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5    When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,  9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10    Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12    When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14    After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6 begins a new cycle of ‘sign-controversy-dialogue-revelation’, just as we’ve seen in chapters 4 (the woman at the well) and 5 (the cripple healed on the sabbath). Breaking the text into smaller chunks in this blog can diminish our appreciation of this pattern, so it is worth reminding ourselves.

The Passover (v4) celebrated the exodus from Egypt. Part of this celebration remembered when God fed the people in the wilderness with Manna. Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 here reminds the crowd of this event and so his claim to be ‘the bread of life’ (v35) is set against this background.

It seems that Jesus expresses a sense of responsibility for the crowd. They have come out into the wilderness because of him. He wants to look after them. If Philip were an Australian, he might have responded to Jesus’ “test” by saying, “If they were silly enough to head bush without provisions, let them go hungry.” But instead he gives the accountant’s response, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” .

It’s worth pondering the nature of the “test” that Jesus set Philip (v6). The word for “testing” also means refining. The very process of examination produces the effect being assessed. Will Philip depend upon Jesus as the provider of all things? Asking the question of Philip, and allowing the situation to unfold, will help Philip see that he really can trust himself to Jesus. More than a mere ‘provider’ Jesus shows himself to be the ‘new Moses’ at the head of a ‘new exodus.’ Philip’s faith– along with the reader’s– is refined/tested to embrace this truth.

The ‘gathering in’ of the left-overs really emphasises the super-abundance of this provision. Jesus wants the disciples and the crowd to really experience the bounty of all that God provides– so go pick up the scraps. Why? ‘…that none be lost/wasted.’ While this might just make good environmental sense, it could be a further allegorical flourish referring to the in-gathering of all nations into Jesus’ new exodus.

And the crowd seem to understand. They recognise Jesus as some kind of new Moses, at the beginning of a new exodus through the desert. They ask, “Could Jesus be the Prophet that Moses promised? The One like Moses who will speak directly from God? (See Deut 18:15-18). But the crowd’s grasp of God’s timing is all wrong. Jesus knows it is not time and he does not want to be forced into being the kind of King that the crowd has in mind (v14). So he withdraws to the mountains by himself to pray.

I am challenged by Philip’s testing. To what extent do I trust Jesus to provide above and beyond my human resources? When the crunch comes, will I follow Jesus’ instructions (sit the crowd down in groups) even when I don’t fully understand his solution, his course of action? This unit is all about bread. Jesus is the bread of life– God’s provision for my sustenance.

Lord, please help me to learn to depend upon you as the bread of life.

John 5:31-47. Reliable Testimony.

John 5:31    “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favour, and I know that his testimony about me is true.

33    “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

36    “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

41    “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

45    “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

This dispute with the Pharisees concludes with a weighing of the testimony in support of Jesus. How can they (and the reader) know that Jesus speaks the truth concerning his own person, his identity and mission? The testimony of two witnesses was required to establish the truth (see Deut 19:15).

John the Baptist, universally recognised as a prophet, has clearly testified that Jesus is ‘the One’. In particular, this gospel has recorded the Baptist’s testimony that:

  • Jesus surpasses John in stature and honour because he was before him (Jn 1:15).
  • John is sent to make preparations for the arrival of ‘the Lord’ (Jn 1:23). This arrival of ‘the Lord’, God himself, is foretold by Isaiah 40:1-5.
  • Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
  • The Spirit of God has come down from heaven and remained on Jesus (Jn 1:32).
  • Jesus is the Son of God (Jn 1:34).

But, says Jesus in verse 36, he has a testimony with more weight, more credibility, that John. The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ that Jesus has been doing demonstrate God’s own power and authority (see also Jn 5:20, 14:11-12, 15:24). These affirm that Jesus is sent from God, exercising his authority, and in closest relationship wth him.

But wait, there is more! The scriptures themselves also testify to Jesus (v39). While Jesus does not elaborate further here, at other times he explained how all the Old Testament spoke concerning him. For example, see Luke 24:27,44, Acts 13:27.

So Jesus has no need of human testimony (of which the Pharisees are so fond) because God himself testifies to him– through his signs, his works, and the scriptures. There is weighty testimony in abundance. But the Pharisees’ refusal to believe this testimony places them in the dock (not Jesus). They are under searching examination for failing to believe all that Jesus has said and done. Indeed, Moses himself will accuse them of unbelief and apostasy (v45-47).

Lord, please grow my trust in you. May I learn to view you truly– rather than through my limited human perspective. Amen.

 

John 5:28-30. Resurrection?!

John 5:28    “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice  29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Jesus has been elaborating on the nature of his relationship with his Father; and in particular, the way in which the Father shares his ‘work’ with his Son. Just as the Father– the Creator of all– has authority over life and death, such that he raises the dead and gives them life, so also this authority is given to Jesus (v21-22). Resurrection and Judgment therefore belong to Jesus. We don’t yet see this, but they are under his control.

For this reason, Jesus prepares us for the fact that a time is coming when he will call the dead from their graves and judge them according to their deeds. Somewhat surprisingly to modern evangelicals, it seems that Jesus will judge on basis of what we have done: those who have done good will live, those who have done evil will be condemned (v29).

This idea of Judgement ‘according to works’ does not subvert the Bible’s teaching that ‘salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone’. Just as Jesus teaches in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:41-46), the works of a person demonstrate the authenticity of their faith. The faith that saves is truly revealed in acts of righteousness, compassion and love. And so, even though Jesus will ultimately judge on the basis of our faith in him, that faith will be easily discerned by the kind of life it produces in us.

Jesus’ words here lead me to ponder one more thing about resurrection. He says that “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out…” I can’t help wondering about the dead who, at the time of Jesus’ own death, rose from their graves and went into Jerusalem to appear to certain people (see Matt 27:51-53). The gospel writers give no commentary about the significance or scope of this event, other than to say that it happened. In concert with the rending of the temple curtain from top to bottom, this was a sign that Jesus’ death was no ordinary event. Somehow the resurrection life of the new creation was now  breaking in to the present.

It seems to me that this ‘one-off’ super-natural event foreshadows a greater day, when Jesus will again speak to the dead, and all will rise from their graves and face their final judgment– some to condemnation and others to eternal life.

Lord Jesus, please prepare me now for that great day. And in your mercy, please prepare [insert name] for that day also. Amen.

John 5:19-27. Father and Son

John 5:19    Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

John 5:24    “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Previously we have noted that John’s gospel often has a ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous event,’ resulting in some controversy and extended dialogue; all of which serve to reveal Jesus as God’s unique Son and Messiah. And so here, the healing of the paralysed man results in a sabbath controversy which now serves to further unveil Jesus’ true nature and mission. In particular, this section describes Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.

Jesus is uniquely God’s Son in a way that all mankind who are made in God’s image are not (Gen 1:26-27, ref Gen 5:1-3). Jesus acts only in dependance on his Father. He sees the Father’s work, shares in it, and displays this work to the world in his own actions (v19). This Father-Son relationship is founded on love. In verse 20 we read, “The Father φιλεῖ the Son…” Here is an example where God’s love is not described as agape but philo. That is to say that the Father’s love for his Son has a filial quality to it; an affection that is shared and among equals. No doubt Scripture frequently affirms that God expresses agape love that is selfless and holy, but here God’s love for his Son also has a filial quality to it.

Flowing from this love, the Father entrusts his own prerogatives to his Son. Just as the Father raises the dead to life, so his Son also has this authority. Just as the Father has the right to judge his creation, so also this authority is entrusted to his Son.

In verses 24-27 the result of hearing and receiving Jesus’ testimony is kingdom life such that the believer has crossed over from death to life. That phrase ‘has crossed over’ is in the perfect tense, referring to a singular event in time that has enduring consequences. The Rubicon has been crossed. There is no turning back. The reversal is complete: life not death!

Notice here that Jesus defines “eternal life” in terms of escape from death. Eternal life is a reality that directly opposes and defeats the very real condition we know as death. As such, eternal life is not merely some ethereal or spiritualised notion of ‘niceness’. It is dynamic and vibrant, potent and transformative: death is swallowed up in life.

Lord Jesus Christ, I praise you because you are the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. I marvel that all things were created in you: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through you and for you. You are before all things, and in you all things hold together. Amen. (See Col 1:15-20)

 

John 5:14-18. Betrayal in the Temple

John 5:14    Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

John 5:16    So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.  17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

In the first part of John 5, Jesus heals the paralysed man and sends him off carrying his bed like a walking billboard, thereby declaring loudly that he was breaking the sabbath code. The difficulty for the man was that Jesus had slipped away into the crowd: now he has no one to point the finger at. The one responsible for his law-breaking was also the one responsible for his healing.

But now in verse 14 Jesus seeks the healed man out in the temple. Jesus’ warning to him  comes to us as a surprise— he implies that, in some way, the man’s paralysis was caused by sin. As a result of the fall, there is an association between sin and sickness throughout the bible. Sickness heralds the results of sin: death. And yet Jesus himself says that not all disease or disability is directly linked to a particular sin. See Jn 9:1-3. Instead, there is a more general causality: sin brings death, disease is a precursor to death; therefore sin may lead to disease before it leads to death.

We are not usually in a position to know if a certain sin has led to a particular disease. So for us, if some sickness gets our attention, there is wisdom in examining our own hearts before God and confessing any sins he reveals.

Meanwhile back at the Temple, Jesus does identify that the man’s paralysis was somehow connected to a particular sin (perhaps the sin of unbelief?) and so he’d better stop sinning before something else happens to him. But instead of thanking Jesus, the man then decides to dob him in to the Jewish leaders. “Jesus is the one who made me break the sabbath laws! (It’s not my fault!)”

What is Jesus’ response to the claim that he has been defying God by working on the sabbath? In verse 17, he begins with the commonly agreed premise that God’s ongoing work of sustaining and renewing creation continues on the sabbath– God is always at work to this very day, even on the sabbath. So, says Jesus, in concert with his Father, his ‘work’ of healing is part of God’s sabbath activity of renewal. Jesus’ works are God’s own works; the Father at work through him.

The implications of Jesus’ claim are not lost on the Jewish leaders (v18). Jesus’ claim to have God as his Father was now more than merely an extrapolation of the Old Testament idea of being made in the image of God. The Jews understand Jesus’ claim to include that of Divinity itself. In sharing in the work of God, he himself is equal with God; a partner with him. So Jesus is not an accidental Messiah: instead his claims to Divinity and Messiahship were clear throughout his public ministry.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are one with the Father, equal in glory, sharing in his works that sustain and renew all creation. Please daily sustain and renew me by your Spirit, that I might outwardly display your great character to all the world. Amen.

John 5:1-13. Healing by the pool.

John 5:1    Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

John 5:7    “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

John 5:8    Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

John 5:11    But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

John 5:12    So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

John 5:13    The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Chapter 5 begins a new section of John’s gospel which focuses on the work of God. There is a general pattern where Jesus performs a sign, which is then followed by controversy and an extended dialogue, through which Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God who is co-worker with God and divine in nature.

The situation surrounding the pool is hard to imagine. Archaeologists have recently uncovered a pool with 5 colonnades in Jerusalem which seems to fit the description, but it is still difficult to imagine how squalid this ‘hospice’ might really have been. A large number of disabled, sick, paralysed and blind people are left lying around the pool, waiting for a miracle to happen to them. There was a legend (recounted in verse 4, which was probably not in John’s original text) that said that an angel of the Lord used to come and stir the waters of the pool, from time to time. When this happened, the first invalid into the pool after the stirring of the waters would be healed.

One man lying by the pool had been there 38 years. As I write today in 2018, I recall 1980 as the year I left high school. A lot has happened in my life– and in the world generally– since 1980. But this man had pretty much been lying by the pool waiting for a miracle to happen since 1980.

So in verse 6, it seems a comedic moment when Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” Surely, that’s a no-brainer! He’s been waiting for 38 years. But in response to Jesus’ question, the man starts making excuses for why he can’t be healed. He has been there so long, he is so institutionalised, he seems reluctant to be healed. So, in verse 7, he begins by complaining, “There’s no one to help me.”

Jesus puts an end to his complaining and misery, swiftly and simply. He says in verse 8, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

And not for the first time in John’s gospel, the author reveals another detail which completely reframes the whole incident: this took place on the Sabbath. And Jesus’ specific instruction to the healed man was to walk around carrying his sick-bed… on the Sabbath! Jesus turned the man into an instant walking billboard.

So it seems that Jesus was very intentional about setting up the controversy which follows. Conflict with the religious authorities is certain.

This is another of Jesus’ “signs” which point towards the nature of the kingdom of God. Humanity has been passively lying, helpless and hopeless, for a very long time, in hospice by a stinking pool of water. Only God can intervene. And in Jesus we now see a radical transformation breaking into this world. There is healing! There is restoration to wholeness. And the sabbath is the most appropriate day upon which to declare liberty, freedom and jubilee. God has come to rescue his people. Hallelujah!

John 4:43-54. Sign #2

John 4:43    After the two days he left for Galilee.  44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

46    Once more he 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.”

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.

Having returned to Galilee via Samaria, a ‘Royal Official’ seeks Jesus out. Just as the Samaritan woman was an unlikely candidate for the kingdom, so is this man. He is rich, powerful and connected to all the right people. He has no need of a peasant prophet. But he is desperate and Jesus does not disappoint.

In verse 46, the back reference to Cana– where Jesus turned the water into wine– prepares us for verse 54. Jesus heals the boy as his second in a series of ‘signs’ in Galilee.

As we’ve noted before, signs are important because of what they point towards. Jesus heals the boy as a testimony to his hometown sceptics: Jesus demonstrates the power of God and the nature of his kingdom. They needed the help of ‘signs and wonders’ in order to believe. What marks this ‘Royal Official’ is his readiness to take Jesus at his word– to believe (v50).

And so I am challenged to take Jesus at his word and believe that the kingdom of God has begun and is on its way in. His kingdom come changes everything. This day, this life, is transformed in its significance. God is in control. He is at work. Many things that are valued and prized in this world will soon amount to nothing– like a Bitcoin Bank Account at the height of it’s popularity, I find it hard to imagine that a day will come when it is worthless. But Jesus’ word tells me otherwise. Taking Jesus at his word, I want to invest in those things of lasting value.

Father, give me such insight into the values of your kingdom that I might give myself today to those things that will endure forever. Amen.