Category Archives: John

John 14:15-31: Five Reasons the Trinity Gives Us Confidence

Today we’re thinking about the TRINITY. The Biblical idea that ONE God exists as THREE PERSONS. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person has different characteristics, but they all share, equally, the ESSENCE, or NATURE, of God-ness.

It’s a DIFFICULT doctrine. Hard to understand, and explain. It’s awkward and slightly embarrassing. And so, we mostly don’t talk about it. You won’t hear many sermons on it. We hope it never comes up in conversations with non-Christians. But instead of ignoring and overlooking it, today I want to HIGHLIGHT and CELEBRATE it. And, in particular, in how it gives us CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD. That’s something many people LACK.

OTHER RELIGIONS lack confidence before God. Because it’s often all about how well they can keep their rules. There’s UNCERTAINTY. And any confidence is seen as PRIDE or PRESUMPTION.

And many Christians lack confidence before God, TOO. It might be a fear of death and judgment. It might be a guilty conscience that makes them doubt God’s forgiveness. Or they compare themselves to other people, and they feel UNWORTHY. Or maybe they struggle TO PRAY. They lack CONFIDENCE. Is that YOU? Do you lack CONFIDENCE in your relationship with God? If it is, then listen up. Because I want to give you five reasons why THE TRINITY gives you confidence.

Five reasons why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. You can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father

Firstly, the Trinity means you can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father. As Christians, we take it for granted we can KNOW God. (LOVE him. That he’s our HEAVENLY FATHER we can speak to, and have a relationship with.)

But that’s a foreign concept for most religious people. For Muslims, Allah is basically UNKNOWABLE. He’s completely SEPARATE. They hope he’ll be MERCIFUL to them. Their experience is all about SERVING him, not KNOWING him. There’s little sense of his LOVE. Or of having a RELATIONSHIP with him.

And for many Australians, if they believe in God at all, he’s Distant, and at BEST UNINTERESTED. At WORST, an impersonal FORCE. An INFLUENCE. It’s no wonder they don’t want anything to do with him!

But that’s not the God WE know. He WANTS TO KNOW US. John’s gospel begins by describing the eternal God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

The WORD (that’s the SON), and GOD (that’s the FATHER). In some sense, the SAME. And in some sense, DIFFERENT.

But God isn’t just God-in-himself. He’s GOD-FOR-US. (God who MOVES OUTSIDE himself). John ch 1 continues, describing Jesus, the Word. V4 4In him was life, and that life was THE LIGHT OF MEN… And v9 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world… And again, in v11. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus the SON comes to us. Becomes ONE of us. And GIVES US THE RIGHT to become like HIM. To become children of God TOO. Born of God. Only God HIMSELF (God the SON) can bridge the gap between US and HIM. WE certainly can’t. It’s like trying to jump to the moon. It’s like a dead person giving herself CPR.

Our problem is our sin. All of us are guilty before God. We’re DEAD and HELPLESS.

And so the loving plan of the TRINITARIAN God was to offer HIMSELF as a substitute. The Son, in obedience to his Father, dies in the place of sinners, satisfying the wrath of the Father against us. The infinitely perfect life of the God-man providing an infinite amount of mercy for all humanity.

It’s a transaction that takes place WITHIN THE TRINITY. The Trinitarian God JUDGES sin/ and IS JUDGED.

Only the truth of the Trinity offers us solid hope and confidence that our sin’s been dealt with. Only GOD HIMSELF can pay for sin, ONCE. For ALL. The Trinity means that God is the OPPOSITE of an impersonal force. The opposite of the distant, unknowable Allah of Islam. God IS relationship. God IS LOVE. From all eternity, he’s been rejoicing in relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.

But not only that, he bridged the gap between us and him by SENDING THE SON. To SWEEP US UP INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP. Into the FAMILY relationship of the Trinity. Tim Chester, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, says “The Trinity is a missionary community. The Father sent his Son and His Spirit into the world to redeem his people. So the Trinity is good news.” (p173)

God is INWARD-LOOKING. Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving each other. But he’s also OUTWARD-looking, reaching to make US children of God TOO. The Trinitarian God is a missionary community.

  1. We can be confident God is with/in us

That’s the FIRST reason the Trinity gives us confidence. (we can be confident Jesus has brought us to the Father). The second reason is we can be confident that God is WITH us. Once Jesus has BROUGHT us, we can be confident that God will STAY.

From John ch 13 to 17, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. He’ll PHYSICALLY leave them, but he won’t PERSONALLY leave them.  Chapter 14 begins with Jesus telling the disciples he’s going away to prepare a place. But then, v3, he’ll come back and TAKE HIS DISCIPLES TO HIMSELF. (Describing the Holy Spirit coming.)

Phillip asks him about THE FATHER. And Jesus answers, v9 “Don’t you know ME, Phillip, even after I’ve been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen ME has seen THE FATHER.” V10 “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” Very simple words, but describing the complex relationship within the Trinity.

And then a bit further down, from v15, Jesus makes the extraordinary invitation TO BRING HIS DISCIPLES INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask THE FATHER, and he will give you ANOTHER Counselor to BE WITH YOU FOREVER– 17the Spirit of truth.

Can you see the Trinity there? Jesus, the Father, and ANOTHER COUNSELLOR, the Spirit of truth. And Jesus promises that this Spirit of truth will be WITH us forever. He continues

The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he LIVES WITH YOU and WILL BE IN you.

Which probably means that, for the disciples, IN THE PRESENT, the Spirit is with them PHYSICALLY, (in the person of JESUS). But IN THE FUTURE, he’ll be IN them, SPIRITUALLY, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Ok so far? But Jesus continues stretching our minds even MORE. V18. I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

He could be talking about the RESURRECTION, when Jesus comes back them PHYSICALLY. But I think he’s talking about coming to them IN THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, at Pentecost, in Acts Ch 2. Listen to how he continues. (v19)

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The day the disciples realised that JESUS was in them was the day they received THE HOLY SPIRIT. The disciples will SEE Jesus in their experience of him living in them.

Jesus continues, down in v23. Now including THE FATHER.

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. MY FATHER will love him, and WE will come to him and make our home with him.

In the person of the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity makes their home in the believer!

And notice it’s RELATIONAL and PERSONAL. It’s not like subconscious POSSESSION. (Like you see in the movies when someone possessed by an evil spirit.) When the three-person GOD lives in you, it’s about LOVE. “If anyone LOVES ME, MY FATHER will love HIM.”

To be filled with God – to have the Trinitarian God living in you – is about participating in the relationship that God himself enjoys, within himself. Of LOVE. V21, that we just jumped over, fills out that idea some more.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Love expressed in obedience. God loving God loving us loving God. That’s the everyday experience of the Christian. CS Lewis, in MERE CHRISTIANITY, describe it like A DANCE.

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made… If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…

Being joined in a dance with the Trinitarian God. It’s what LIFE’S ALL ABOUT. But it’s what other religions don’t know. It’s the SECOND reason why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. We can be confident we are God’s children

The THIRD reason is/ we can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN. Romans 8 describes what life is like when God’s Holy Spirit lives in you. And there are all sorts of good things. (We’ll look at Romans 8 in more detail in the last week of this series). But the blessing I want to focus on is down in v14.

those who are led by the Spirit of God are SONS OF GOD. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received THE SPIRIT OF SONSHIP (or ADOPTION). And by him we cry, “Abba, FATHER.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST,

God’s Spirit lives in us. That means we belong to him. But more specifically WE’RE PART OF HIS FAMILY. We’re his sons and daughters. IT’S A TRUTH THAT FLOWS FROM THE FACT THAT GOD IS TRINITY. We’re SONS and DAUGHTERS/ because we’re connected to Jesus, God the SON.

Let me show you. V1 of Ch 8 describes Christians as those who ARE IN Christ JESUS. (Who are UNITED TO HIM.) Another way of describing that is that CHRIST IS IN US. By the Holy Spirit. V9 says

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

And one more relevant verse is down in v17. If we children, then we heirs – CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST. The benefits that Christ has as God the Son come to US because we’re joined to HIM. We’ve received the Spirit of SONSHIP.

We’re sons (and daughters), so we’re confident to call God “FATHER”. It’s the Spirit of his Son within us who calls, “Father”.

That’s the THIRD reason the Trinity gives us confidence. We can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN.

  1. We can be confident when we pray

The FOURTH reason is we can be confident when we PRAY. No one I know prays as consistently as they’d like to. We all struggle. But remembering that we approach a TRINITARIAN God will give us CONFIDENCE.

Ephesians 5:20 commands us to always give thanks TO GOD THE FATHER for everything IN THE NAME of our Lord Jesus Christ. We approach God, confidently, through THE WORK OF HIS SON.

Hebrews 10 describes the CONFIDENCE we can have because of what Jesus has done. V19.

Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith

(We pray TO the Father, THROUGH the Son). And thirdly, it’s God’s Spirit IN us who HELPS us to pray. Romans 8 again. V26

the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because THE SPIRIT INTERCEDES FOR THE SAINTS in accordance with God’s will.

Guiding, energising, and going before our prayers. We pray TO God the Father THROUGH God the Son BY God the Spirit.

Remembering that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are INVOLVED with us in prayer changes it from being like reading out a shopping list. To a powerful expression of a genuine relationship.

CS Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity.

An ordinary simple Christian… is trying to get into touch with GOD. He knows that what is prompting him to pray is ALSO God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes THROUGH Christ… God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.

The privilege of prayer is something we take for granted. It’s the fifth reason the Trinity gives us confidence.

  1. Christian unity is based on it, and modelled on it

And lastly, the FIFTH reason is because we can be confident in CHRISTIAN UNITY. All the PREVIOUS reasons were individual. (PERSONAL). But this one affects us AS A CHURCH.

In John 17 Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, the church. It’s a unity whose FOUNDATION is the Trinity, and which is MODELLED on the Trinity. And, thirdly, it ILLUSTRATES the Trinity to the world. V21

(I pray that) all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Firstly, notice that our unity is MODELLED on the unity of the Trinity. “May they be one JUST AS you are in me and I am in you.” Our unity should be like that of the Trinity.

For example, John’s Gospel shows THE FULL EQUALITY of Father and Son. (Different ROLES, but of equal worth and dignity). That’s what Christian unity should be like. It shows THE GLAD SUBMISSION of Father and Son. (The Father delegating to the Son, and the Son obeying the Father.) That’s what Christian unity should be like. And it shows THE JOYFUL INTIMACY of Father and Son. Each one loving and enjoying the other. That’s what Christian unity should be like.

But how can we DO that, when we’re all naturally selfish and self-centred? The secret to being joined to EACH OTHER is by being JOINED TO GOD. “May they BE IN US.” Jesus prays that we would experience and know and love God by his powerful, transforming Spirit living in us.

That’s the only way we’ll show unity. God in us is the FOUNDATION of our unity. Unity won’t simply come through agreed goals, or common projects, or a commitment to inclusion and love, or even correct theology.True Unity – unity modelled on the Tri-unity of God himself – only comes when we are IN the Triune God.

And, thirdly, when we do that, the world will believe that the FATHER sent the SON. “(May they be in us) SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”

The unity of the church is a LIVING APOLOGETIC. An EXPLANATION of God. But more than that, Jesus says it shows something of the TRINITARIAN God. Our diverse unity reflects, and models, and explains the TRI-UNITY of God. “(May they be in us so the world might believe) That YOU, the Father, have sent ME, the Son.”

Let’s not worry too much about whether we can EXPLAIN the Trinity. The REAL challenge is to LIVE it. In the way we’re confident of our standing before God. In the way we pray. In our UNITY. SO THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW that the Father has sent the Son, and loved him.

John 1:35-42: Talking about Jesus Andrew’s way

You see a gorgeous sunset, or a full moon, or a funny cat video on Youtube. Or perhaps you find a great new coffee shop, or a band, or playground, or craft brewery, or fashion label. Your FIRST reaction is to ENJOY it. But then, for most of us, our SECOND reaction is to want to SHARE it with someone who’ll APPRECIATE it.

Why do we DO that? I think there are TWO REASONS. Firstly, because a pleasure shared is a pleasure DOUBLED. We get EXTRA enjoyment out of seeing someone ELSE enjoy it. It’s not just the experience, there’s the SHARED experience. Which is EVEN BETTER.

The second reason we want to share good things is because we want our friend to BENEFIT. We want THEM to have a good laugh, or to find JOY just like WE have.

And that’s at the heart of why many people in our church are quite evangelistic about A CERTAIN DIET. Lots of people have found it a really effective way to lose weight, with other health benefits too. And they want their friends to benefit like THEY have. And people have found that the topic of food and the ketogenic diet seems to find its way into ALL SORTS of conversations.

Wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if we were as enthusiastic about sharing OUR SAVIOUR and LORD as we are about OUR DIET?! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got such JOY and BENEFIT from Jesus that telling others JUST BUBBLED OUT of us?! Because we want THEM to know him TOO!

And that’s what we see about the Apostle ANDREW. How he brings people to meet Jesus.

  1. ANDREW’S CHARACTERISTICS: JOHN 1:40

The first thing to notice about Andrew is HIS NAME. ANDREAS. It’s Greek for “man”, or “manly”. And it may be John, the author, wants us to see him as A REPRESENTATIVE DISCIPLE. Every man. Someone for us to IMITATE.

He’s Mr Average. One writer calls him “Saint of the rank and file.” He was never known as a great teacher, or preacher or scholar. God never used him to write Scripture.

He’s less well-known than some of the other disciples. In v40 he’s referred to simply as “Simon Peter’s brother.” Because it’s PETER who’s the well-known one. But that doesn’t mean Andrew doesn’t have an impact. Ordinary people can still make a difference!

Notice that Andrew’s the FIRST one to meet Jesus. (In the Greek Orthodox he’s called Protokletos – the first-called.) And then it’s Andrew who brings Peter to Jesus.

  1. ANDREW’S CONVERSION: JOHN 1:35–39

Jump back up to v35, and notice how Andrew met Jesus. John’s out in the wilderness, baptising people. And he’s with two of his disciples. They’re un-named at the moment. He sees Jesus walking past, and he points his disciples to him. “Look, the Lamb of God.”

It’s a summary of what he’d said the PREVIOUS day. Back up in v29, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away, or who CARRIES, the sin of the world!”

Remember, dealing with SIN is what John the Baptist’s ministry is all about. Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, Mark 1:4 says.  And in Matthew 3:6 people are coming to him in the wilderness, CONFESSING their SINS. And he’s BAPTISING them in the Jordan. And he preaches, in Luke 3, that people need to produce fruit in KEEPING in repentance. (To share with others. To not be greedy. To be just and fair. To be CONTENT.)

But even as he’s DOING that, he recognises that he’s not really DEALING with sin. He’s preaching about people changing their attitudes, and their behaviour. But he can’t change people’s NATURE. He can’t change them so they don’t sin any more. Or don’t WANT to sin. And he can’t bring FORGIVENESS. Or remove GUILT.

He’s only introducing the One who REALLY WILL deal with sin. JESUS. Who’ll baptise WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Who’ll bring new birth. Genuine change. From God HIMSELF.

And here in John’s Gospel, he calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who CARRIES the sin of the world”. It’s the language of a sacrificial sin offering. Leviticus 1:4 says that when the priest offers an animal for pay for sin, he’s to “lay his hand on the head of the animal, and it will be accepted ON HIS BEHALF to make atonement for him.”

The priest, by laying his hand on the animal, symbolises that it’s his REPRESENTATIVE. He is ONE with the sacrifice. His sin, and its guilt, is TRANSFERRED to the animal. And the animal CARRIES it. And then is PUNISHED for it. On behalf of the person who BRINGS it.

And that’s the picture John presents of Jesus. Someone who can deal with your sin. Who can CARRY it. And then bear God’s wrath for it in your place.

John’s preaching can’t do that. And his water baptism can’t do that. And the changed behaviour of his hearers can’t do it. It’s no wonder he points his disciples to Jesus instead. And it’s no wonder his disciples FOLLOW JESUS INSTEAD.

There are all sorts of ways you can help your friends and family. Good advice. Practical help. Financial support. A shoulder to cry on. But you can’t carry their sin. Only Jesus can do that. Do what John did. Point your friends to JESUS.

The two disciples change their allegiances. And start following Jesus, instead. Before long we’ll find out one of them is Andrew. The other one is probably John, the writer of the gospel. V38 and 39. They ask Jesus where he’s staying. He invites them back, and they spend the day there with him.

Most of our English translations say something like that. But a more literal translation of the Greek gives a different emphasis.

“They asked, Teacher where are you remaining (or dwelling)? He said, Come and see. So they went and saw where he remained (or dwelt), and they remained WITH him (or dwelt with him) that day.”

Just in case you didn’t pick it up. Remaining with Jesus seems to be important. In fact John’s gospel uses the word forty times. Especially when we get to Ch 15, and Jesus describes himself as the VINE. And the disciples are the BRANCHES.

You see, for John, the Christian life is about FOLLOWING JESUS, TRUSTING him, and then REMAINING in him.

And Andrew, our representative “every” man, gives us the example to follow.

Don’t follow HUMAN leaders. They can’t carry your sin. Follow Jesus. Trust him. And REMAIN with him. Don’t follow another. That’s the lesson! That’s the model.

We don’t know exactly what they talked about. Or even how long they were there. But it must have been a pretty significant conversation. Because the first chance Andrew gets, once he leaves Jesus, v41, he goes and tells his brother Simon, “We’ve found the Messiah.” And he brings him to Jesus.

Andrew follows Jesus on the strength of John the Baptist’s recommendation – “Look, the Lamb of God who carries the sin of the world”. And by the end of the day, he understands that HE’S THE MESSIAH. Probably KNOWING what it means to have his sins CARRIED. And dealt with. And genuinely washed away.

He experiences something wonderful. And he wants to SHARE it with the brother he loves. He wants PETER to know the joy HE knows. He HEARS about Jesus. He FOLLOWS him. Then he TELLS Peter. And then he BRINGS Peter to Jesus. That’s the process.

And then when PETER meets Jesus, we see the beginning of the NEXT step in the chain. V42. Jesus looks at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

It’s the beginning of Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Andrew means MAN. And Peter, in Greek, means ROCK. In the future, Peter will be part of the foundation stone Jesus builds his church on. One of the key people in how the church grows and spreads. Grows as people like Peter and Andrew HEAR about Jesus, TRUST him, go and TELL others, and bring THEM to Jesus TOO.

And it BEGINS because Andrew TELLS Peter about Jesus. And BRINGS him to Jesus.

But it’s not only Andrew’s FAMILY he tells. There are people he doesn’t even know.

We get a couple more small glimpses into Andrew’s method of evangelism. And they’re only found in John’s gospel. Perhaps John, as a close friend, with the shared background he had with Andrew, was the only one who NOTICED.

In John 6, a huge crowd follow Jesus and the disciples up on a mountainside. Phillip can’t see any way they’ll be able to feed everyone. V7 He says that even if they had eight month’s wages, it wouldn’t even buy enough for a BITE for everyone. And v8 is where Andrew comes into the story.

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?”

Such a small decision, but look at how Jesus used it!

Andrew’s looking around. Perhaps gone for a walk, and meeting people. And he finds a boy, whose mum’s packed him lunch. He can’t see such a small amount will really help the situation. But he does what he’s in the habit of doing. He brings the boy to Jesus. Andrew can’t solve the problem. But he goes to the One who CAN. He brings Jesus what he’s GOT, and trusts Jesus for THE REST.

And it’s not even BIG faith, is it!? “But how far will they go among so many?” he says.

Jesus multiplied that small act of obedience, and used it to bless thousands. Jesus could have produced food out of thin air, but he doesn’t. Instead, he works with what Andrew brings him. He loves to see our dependence and faith.

Can you do THAT? Can you come to Jesus part way? With your questions? And your uncertainties? And trust him for the answers?

“Jesus, here’s my unbelieving family. I’ve tried to share you for years. But they’re not interested. And I keep messing it up. I’m not sure what you can do with them, or with me.”

“Jesus, here’s my Uni friends. They’re all far smarter than me. And everything they say always sounds so reasonable, and well thought out. I never seem to be able to answer their questions very well. I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to save them.”

“Jesus, here’s my gifts and talents. It’s not much. I’m inconsistent, and my prayer life isn’t much. And I’m not experienced. But there’s that need for … a Scripture teacher/ a musician/ someone to meet up with that new Christian … I’m not sure how I can help.”

Can YOU be an Andrew? Bring what you’ve GOT to Jesus. And leave the results up to HIM?

Our last small story about Andrew is in John 12. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s just entered Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowds cheering him, and blessing him as king of Israel.

But it’s not only the Jews who are attracted to Jesus. In v20 we read about some Greeks who are there for the Passover TOO. And they want to find out more about Jesus. They ask Phillip, one of the disciples. Perhaps his Greek name shows he spoke Greek well.

For some reason, rather than taking them straight to Jesus himself. He goes to Andrew. And look at what Andrew does. It’s no surprise. 12.22. “Andrew and Phillip told Jesus.” Such a small gesture, you hardly even notice it. But it may have been LIFE-CHANGING for those Greeks!

Can YOU do that?

Bringing people in from the fringes. Outsiders. To meet Jesus. Gentiles who haven’t been included in God’s people. But their part of the WORLD whose sin the Lamb of God has come to carry. They’re part of the WORLD God loved so much, he sent his one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in him won’t perish, but have eternal life.

And Andrew BELIEVES that. Believes that ANYBODY can have forgiven sins, and eternal life, through Jesus. So that’s who he brings them to.

That’s all we’re told. We don’t know what happened when Jesus met them. Whether they became disciples or not.

And, in a sense, that’s the way it works when WE do it as well. We never know, beforehand, how it will turn out. And often, we never find out AFTERWARDS. But Jesus’ salvation doesn’t depend on whether we’re aware of the outcome. It doesn’t depend on our work AT ALL. Because we can’t save them. Or carry their sin. But we can bring them to Jesus, like Andrew did. And leave the rest up to HIM.

Do you know Jesus like that? Have you had YOUR sin forgiven? Carried? Dealt with? Perhaps you’re OLD. Perhaps you’re YOUNG. Perhaps this is the FIRST TIME you’ve heard about Jesus. Or perhaps it’s the HUNDREDTH time. But if you don’t know what it means to walk through life with the burden of sin and guilt removed, then COME TO JESUS. And let him CARRY it FOR you.

I can’t DO it. But I can bring you to the One who CAN.

Many of you have already DONE that. So I want to encourage you to do what Andrew did next. Find someone to TELL. And then BRING THEM to Jesus.

You may be an ordinary person like Andrew. But God can use ordinary people in extraordinary ways.

YOU can’t save your friends or family or workmates. But you can bring them to Jesus, who CAN save them. You can’t deal with their sin and guilt. But you can bring them to Jesus, who CAN.

Bring them to Jesus in PRAYER. Bring them to the Bible where they can MEET him. Bring them to events and other people who can explain what following Jesus looks like.

And leave the rest up to Jesus. The Lamb of God, who carries the sin of the world.

John 1:1-18: The Word Became Flesh

hitchcockAlfred Hitchcock is famous for making brilliant movies. He’s ALSO famous for making small appearances in his own movies. Cameos. For a brief second, he’d step out from behind the camera to be PART OF THE STORY he was telling.

His fans love to study his movies to identify him. Missing a bus during the opening credits of “North by North West”.  Sitting next to Cary Grant on a bus in “To Catch a Thief”.  Sitting with a child on his lap in a hotel foyer in “Torn Curtain”.  He’s even the “Before” and “after” photos in a weight loss ad in a newspaper. 37 appearances identified so far in nearly 50 years of movies.

For Alfred Hitchcock, it’s quirky and cute and interesting. And it happened again and again. But it’s largely IRRELEVANT TO THE STORY. But at Christmas we celebrate when God, the Creator and Director of creation, chose to step into his creation. He stepped out of heaven, and into the story. Once, and for all. And when he did, in the person of Jesus, , it was utterly unique, and incredibly significant. And it CHANGED THE FACE OF HUMAN HISTORY.

We call it THE INCARNATION. Which just means “became flesh”. God became man, and changed EVERYTHING, FOREVER.

It’s the greatest news story ever. Not just at Christmas time. But ALL the time. It deserves a major investigative television special program every Christmas. But, instead, we sum it up with a clichéd card, a bunch of gifts we don’t really need. And eating far too much food. We distract ourselves from the earth-changing message with decorations, trees, and someone dressed in a red suit.

It’s a SIMPLE truth – God became man – but at the same time one you can spend your LIFETIME trying to understand it and explain it. Charles Wesley pondered it in this hymn: “Let earth and heaven combined, Angels and men agree, To praise in songs divine the incarnate deity, Our God contracted to a span, INCOMPREHENSIBLY made man.” “He deigns in flesh to appear, widest extremes to join; To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine; And we the life of God shall know, For God is manifest below.”

When Alfred Hitchcock does it, it’s cute. But UNDERSTANDABLE. He just moves from behind the camera to in front of it. Nothing really changes – except maybe a costume.

But when Jesus does it, God as SPIRIT takes on flesh and becomes FINITE HUMANITY. God, unlimited and infinite, limited Himself by becoming a human, one of His own creatures.

A Christian kids’ song says, “Fully God and fully man. That’s the truth we must understand.” It doesn’t EXPLAIN it. Just STATES it.

And that’s what the BIBLE does. The Apostle Paul states it. Philippians 2:6-7. Jesus being in very nature God, being found in appearance as a man humbled himself and became obedient to death.

Or writing to the Colossian church. Ch 1:14-20. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. By him all things created. Before all things. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.

And even here in John’s Gospel there’s plenty of evidence that Jesus himself understands he’s God in the flesh. In Ch 3 v12, talking to Nicodemus, he says this about himself

12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except THE ONE WHO CAME FROM HEAVEN-the Son of Man.

That’s Jesus. The WORD, who’s COME FROM HEAVEN, and communicates heavenly things. A similar idea is in John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has SEEN THE FATHER.

In 8:58, Jesus reveals something of his understanding of being ETERNALLY with the Father.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Always existing. Always with God. But more than that, the only one who can INTRODUCE people to God. 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

But he’s more than a prophet who’s seen and known God. Or a priest who stands in between God and man. He’s somehow EQUAL with God. To SEE Jesus is to see God. In 14:9 he says Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. And similarly, to KNOW Jesus, is to know GOD. 8:19 “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  And probably the clearest of all. Jn 10:30 “The Father and I are one.”

And by the time we get to Ch 20 v28, Thomas sees the resurrected Jesus, and exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” And Jesus ACCEPTS the worship.

It took the EARLY CHURCH a few hundred years after the Bible was completed, to come up with THE LANGUAGE to begin to expand and explain what the Bible assumed and described.

For example, the Council of Chalcedon, a town in Bithynia (modern day Turkey) met in A.D. 451. And it wrote the Chalcedon Creed that says, in part

We all with one voice confess our Lord Jesus Christ to be one and the same Son, perfect in divinity and humanity, truly God and truly human, consisting of a rational soul and a body, being of one substance with the Father in relation to his divinity, and being of one substance with us in relation to his humanity, and is like us in all things apart from sin.

That’s the INCARNATION. Jesus is fully God, AND fully man. More than God INSPIRING a man. More than God INDWELLING a good man. More than God LOOKING LIKE a man. But God BECOMING a man. Jesus – at one and the same time, God AND man.

And the way the beginning of John’s Gospel explains it is with A TITLE “The Word”. Look at v1-5.

1:1 In the beginning was THE WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were MADE; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was LIFE, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

It’s talking about JESUS. God’s Son. On the one hand, with God and somehow God himself. But also a light that shines in the darkness. That bridges the gap between God and man. And that’s summed up in the title, THE WORD.

It’s like a super hero title – it tells you something about the person. “The Flash” obviously he’s QUICK. The Hulk – he’s BIG. And “Spiderman”  – he does whatever a spider can.

And THE WORD – well, he COMMUNICATES. He doesn’t just SPEAK words. He IS the word. A walking, talking self-revelation of God himself.

And it’s an ACCURATE word. It communicates PRECISELY and COMPLETELY. Because the Word was with God in the beginning. And WAS God. He was there before the Universe existed. OUTSIDE of space and matter.

You might hear people say, “I was there when they opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House, or when man first walked on the moon in 1969.” It shows you’ve been around for a while.

Well, how about, “I was there when Sydney Harbour was first carved out of the earth.” And “I was there when the moon and all the stars were put in place.” That’s Jesus. He’s ALWAYS BEEN. The exact representation of who God is. A completely accurate expression. Fully God.

But because he’s THE WORD, he COMMUNICATES. And who better to communicate between God and man than someone who IS God and man. The eternal Word communicates by BECOMING man. Jump down to v14.

14 The Word became FLESH and made his DWELLING among us. We have SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The ETERNAL God/ entered TIME. The INVISIBLE God became VISIBLE. The INFINITE AND POWERFUL God became FINITE AND FRAGILE.

He learned our language. The word became flesh. The ultimate in contextualisation. Wrapped himself in skin, bones, hair and blood. Complete with tears and sweat. Sneezes and skinned knees. Willingly chose the limitations of a frail human body.

It’s almost too incredible to imagine. Or understand. But for those of you who know your Old Testament, there’s a whole range of HINTS here in v14. Hints that can help us begin to understand this mind-blowing truth.

“He made his DWELLING among us”. The word for dwelling is TABERNACLE. Just like God pitched his tent among his people Israel in the wilderness and lived with them. And guided them. So Jesus pitches his tent. Not one nation in a desert. But one HUMANITY on a whole PLANET.

And he “REVEALS HIS GLORY.” God revealed his GLORY to Israel like a FIRE or a CLOUD. A visible representation of the invisible God.

But Jesus is God’s ultimate, complete, absolute GLORY. He IS the visible representation of an invisible God. Just like Paul says in Colossians. The glory that only the ONE AND ONLY SON could reveal. Only A SON could portray the family likeness of the Father so perfectly.

And he’s “FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.” Just like God described himself as ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS. So Jesus is full of grace and truth. Not surprising since he’s COME FROM the Father. Full of GRACE in how he deals with us. And full of TRUTHFULNESS in his reliability of character and action.

And we see the TYPE of grace shown in Jesus as we keep reading. V16. From the FULLNESS of his grace, we have received ONE BLESSING AFTER ANOTHER. Or “grace upon grace”.

V17 describes the grace MOSES brought. A SORT of grace. He brought THE LAW. The means of approaching God. What we do for sins to be forgiven. But in Jesus we have something different. We have GRACE and TRUTH. True grace. In Jesus we have God approaching US.

And then v18 completes the description of grace. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has MADE HIM KNOWN.

If there was ANYONE who was close to God – it was Moses. If there was anyone who was thought to have seen God – it was Moses. At Mt Sinai God put him in the cleft of a rock, and then passed by, so Moses saw the glory of the train of his garment.

And we’re even told that Moses spoke with God face-to-face. And when he came down from the mountain, his face SHONE, so the people couldn’t look at him. But EVEN MOSES never saw God.

But WE’RE EVEN MORE PRIVILEGED THAN MOSES. That word translated “made him known” means “explain/ give a detailed report/ revealed.” And that’s what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has given us a detailed report of God. A personal explanation.

We’ve received MORE GRACE than Moses. Because we can meet JESUS. He’s God the one and only Son. We can KNOW GOD through him. Know him, see him, experience him, understand him BETTER THAN MOSES DID. That’s the incredible privilege we have. The Word has become FLESH and dwelt among us. He’s come from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So what?

So what should we do in response? Because you HAVE to do SOMETHING with an act like that. To do NOTHING is an insult. It diminishes its importance. Let me suggest FIVE THINGS to do.

  1. Accept

First. ACCEPT. God has reached out to you. He’s made the friend request. Accept the offer.

Many of you are on Facebook. And the way Facebook works is that you find the profile (or personal page) of someone you know, and you send them a message requesting to be their Facebook friend. And if they ACCEPT, then you can look at their photos and messages and communicate with them.

Mostly, people ACCEPT requests from people they know. But occasionally, I’ll send someone a friend request. Perhaps someone I haven’t seen for a few years. And there’ll be no response.

Normally I forget all about it. But occasionally I’ve come across their profile again. And it says “Friend request PENDING.”

Which is the nice way of saying, they’ve REJECTED you. They don’t WANT to be your facebook friend. And it’s a bit of a shock. I wonder what I’ve done. And it’s like that with God.

The first practical consequence of the incarnation is that God has sent you “a friend request” in Jesus. You should ACCEPT it. Don’t leave it PENDING. That’s what LOTS of people do. How do you think that makes God FEEL? Instead, trust Jesus. Receive him. Get to know him and know his Father. If you’ve already DONE that. What ELSE?

  1. Rejoice

Secondly, REJOICE. Rejoice in the incarnation. What a privilege! That God condescended to become man. To become ONE OF US. To take on flesh. All because of LOVE. Costly grace poured out on us. Rejoice. Because if there was no incarnation, there’d be no salvation. There’s no salvation with just INSPIRATION. And no salvation with just INFORMATION. You see, OUR SALVATION DEPENDS ON the incarnation. Because only a GOD/MAN can reconcile God and men. If Jesus was only a man, then he would need to die for his own sin. Only the PERFECT man can bear the sin of another. Only God can be perfect. If Jesus was only a man, then there may be MANY ways to God. And Jesus would just be ONE OPTION. Or no way at ALL. The incarnation means we can BE SURE.

Rejoice in that. Sing with joy songs like Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.

  1. Rest

Third, REST. Rest in the fact that it’s been accomplished. God has made the way to us.  A PERFECT way. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Every other religion tries to make its way to God. Every other religion is about DOING. But Christianity is about DONE. Christ has DONE ALL THE WORK that’s REQUIRED. No more STRIVING to earn, or work or achieve. Come to me says Jesus in Mt 11.28, and I will give you REST.

  1. Be comforted.

Fourth, BE COMFORTED. Because Jesus is fully MAN, it means he understands everything we go through. And because he’s fully God, he’s got the power to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Hebrews 4:15-16 says

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have ONE WHO HAS BEEN TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE-yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Be comforted, and be confident. Approach the throne of grace with confidence.

  1. Reflect the incarnation.

Fifthly, we respond to the incarnation by SHARING IN THE INCARNATION. By following the example of Jesus in the way we minister to others.

Jesus was not aloof. He gave up everything. He got his hands dirty. He didn’t just SPEAK FROM HEAVEN. He lived AMONG us. And he calls us to do the same.

In Mk 10:43-45 he says Whoever wants to become great among you must be your SERVANT, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be SLAVE OF ALL. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And in Jn 13, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and said, 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Incarnational ministry means getting your hands dirty. Sharing your LIFE with people.

Are you looking to SERVE? Or are you expecting to BE served? Respond to the incarnation by being a servant to all like Jesus. The Word became FLESH and DWELT among us. Accept it. Rejoice in it. Rest in it. Be comforted by it. And REFLECT it. For the glory of God, and of Jesus, the Word become flesh.

John 1:1-18: The light shines

CHRISTchristmas-lightsMAS and LIGHTS seem to go hand-in-hand. And for SOME people, the BIGGER the BETTER. Christmas is all about decorating their house with a completely OVER-the-top display of Christmas lights. Perhaps you saw Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Then there’s John K. He spends almost two months putting up 100,000 lights on his house in Hurstville. He reckons he’s spent around $50000 over the last 18 years. But he says it’s worth it, because he loves to see the smiles on kids’ faces. And he raises money from donations to treat leukemia at Sydney Children’s Hospital.

So why do we celebrate Christmas with LIGHTS? ONE option is because it reminds us of the STAR that led the wise men to Jesus. Shining brightly and leading them all the way to Bethlehem.  Or maybe it’s the shepherds in the fields on the night Jesus was born. (We read in Luke 2 how an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE AROUND THEM.) THAT would have been a pretty incredible light show.

But we’re going to think about ANOTHER incredible light show. Because all of those amazing lights just POINT TO, and REMIND us, of the best Christmas light show of ALL. JESUS HIMSELF. THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

The light of men

John’s Gospel doesn’t tell the Christmas story. That’s in Matthew and Luke. But chapter one DOES introduce us to “THE WORD”. A mysterious figure we find out halfway through IS JESUS. He was in the beginning, and was WITH God, and WAS God (v1). He’s existed from all eternity.

And, v2, through him everything was made. (DISTINCT from creation. Yet the AGENT for creation.)

And then v4 says that in him was LIFE. He’s the SOURCE of life. He’s not just ALIVE, but the One who GIVES life. He’s so FULL of life, it flows OUT of him, and gives life to everything.

But not only that. The life he gives has a certain QUALITY to it. We read, “that life WAS THE LIGHT OF MAN.” The type of life Jesus gives produces insight and perception in people. Both intellectual and spiritual. Consciousness of SELF, and of GOD. We have been given the ability to glimpse eternity. To have faith in unseen things.

And not just consciousness, but conscience. We’ve been created with a moral conscience that reflects the purity and goodness of The Light who GAVE us light.

Light shines in the darkness

What a wonderful picture that would be if that’s where it ENDED! (The way things were back with Adam and Eve). But v5 goes on to describe what happened AFTER that.

5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

It’s not as simple as Jesus creating us with the light of understanding. Our basic nature is more about DARKNESS. And, as a general rule, when the light SHINES on our darkness, we don’t understand it. We don’t ACCEPT it, or allow ourselves to be GUIDED by it.

Light shining in darkness has two ideas to it. And they’re CONNECTED. One is to do with information and guidance. Like a car headlight or a lighthouse. It shows the way. Guides and directs. The OTHER is to do with good and evil. Light is about purity and blamelessness. Darkness is about sin, shame, and guilt.

And when humanity, whose basic nature is DARKNESS, has the pure, clean light of Jesus shine on us. We don’t want to know. We don’t want to be guided towards life and love and joy. We block our ears, and run away. Like cockroaches who scurry under the fridge when you turn on the kitchen light. A bit further on, Ch 3 v19 describes that natural human response

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Men loved darkness. In July, 1977, a series of lightning strikes caused a city-wide blackout across New York. When the lights finally came on 25 hours later, arsonists had set more than 1000 fires, and looters had ransacked 1600 stores. The New York Post reported that the streets had become a battleground, with even the looters being mugged.  Many of them, normal law-abiding citizens, who used the darkness as the opportunity to do what their hearts WANTED. Normally, in the light, they wouldn’t THINK of acting like that. Time magazine began an article on the event with this: “It was a crisis of light, and of darkness—the kind of event that brings out the best and the worst in people.”

That’s what Jesus means when he says that men love darkness because their deeds are EVIL. LITERAL darkness hides the darkness of their deeds and desires and natures. And that means they HATE LIGHT (That’s v20 of Ch 3). Because it EXPOSES them. They don’t want ANYONE seeing what they’re really like, let alone JESUS.

I heard of a shopping centre in Brisbane that was having trouble with groups of teenagers hanging around the public areas. Loitering. It was bad for business. They didn’t buy anything, and they made the other customers nervous. Security guards moving them only worked temporarily. But one thing they found worked BEAUTIFULLY was to use pink lights in all the trouble areas. Because pink light shows up all the pimples on a teenager’s face. And no teenager wants to hang around in a light that shows off all their blemishes.  And it’s the same with PEOPLE. We don’t want to listen to the truth Jesus speaks. Because his light shows our blemishes.

A few chapters further on, in ch 7 v7, Jesus says 7 The world cannot hate you, but it HATES me because I TESTIFY that what it does is EVIL.

Jesus speaks the light of truth into people’s lives. And rather than receive it. And CHANGE. They HATE him for it.

The foolishness of that choice is seen as we read on in Ch 1. In v9, we find out more about the light.  9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Jesus is not just A light. (ONE source of light among many). One choice among many on the religious smorgasbord of life. But the TRUE light. The GENUINE light. The light on which all others are MODELLED. All other expressions of the truth flow out of, or contain PART of, the truth of the TRUE light.

And Jesus’ light isn’t just A TWINKLE. A candle. (An out-dated, culture-bound, context-dependent guide). But the true light who gives light to EVERY MAN. From every age, and every situation. Every language or culture. He’s ALWAYS relevant. ALWAYS appropriate. ALWAYS beneficial.

Because he MADE us, he knows us BEST. He knows us from the OUTSIDE – from the perspective of eternity. Like the author knows every paragraph of his novel. And the sculptor knows every curve and line. And the inventor knows every switch and lever. (He’s the TRUE light who gives light to EVERY man).

And HOW did he give that light to everyone? By COMING INTO THE WORLD. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. He didn’t give us light by sending an email, or flipping a switch from heaven. But by stepping out of eternity, and into time. By coming from heaven to earth. By putting aside his heavenly throne, and putting on FEEBLE FLESH. By putting down the author’s pen, and jumping into the pages of the novel. By putting down the paintbrush, and diving into the painting.

Which means he gives true light, not just as the CREATOR, but as the one who’s LIVED it. He knows us from the INSIDE, as well as the OUTSIDE – because he’s experienced EVERYTHING we’ve ever been through. Every temptation and sorrow. Every trial and joy.

The true light CAME INTO THE WORLD. It would be fitting to announce his arrival with fireworks. Or a marching band. Or a twenty-one gun salute. After all, he’s the ORIGIN, the SOURCE, the GUIDE, the ESSENCE of everything created.  But instead he came as a helpless baby, ignored by almost everyone, placed in a feeding trough. In a dusty, insignificant village in a dusty, insignificant nation.

The bitter irony – the One who’d created it all being IGNORED by that very creation. V10.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Like the TV show Undercover Boss. The owner of the company puts on a disguise and comes to visit his employees. He’s established everything in the company. Copyrighted the name. Registered the business. the designDesigned the systems. Built the product line and the markets. He’s appointed them to their jobs. But they don’t recognise him. They treat him like any other employee.

But it’s worse than that with Jesus. Not only don’t they RECOGNISE him. They DON’T RECEIVE him. They REJECT him. They throw him off his own property, and change the locks. Because darkness HATES light. (The light shone in the darkness, but the darkness didn’t understand it.)

But to all who received him

Which is all fairly depressing. And maybe you’re wondering why we have Christmas lights that make you HAPPY to remind us OF THAT. How wonderful this isn’t the FULL PICTURE! V12 points out that NOT EVERYONE rejects the light.

12 Yet to all who RECEIVED him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

Every person who becomes a Christian comes to a turning point. BEFORE, they think they’re FINE. They’re happy with their life, comfortable with their own ability to move through life. Wandering around in darkness. But at some point, they come to the end of themselves. They recognise their SIN. The blackness of their own hearts. And their HOPELESSNESS and HELPLESSNESS and LOSTNESS. They need LIGHT. Guidance, direction, goodness, restoration. And, instead of scurrying for the darkness like cockroaches, they reach out for the light of Jesus. Who speaks to them TRUTH about life and death, about God and man, about sin and forgiveness. And they RECEIVED that light. V10 says they BELIEVED IN HIS NAME. Which means, firstly, that they trusted the truth of the information Jesus brought.

When you’re lost in the dark, and someone comes along, shines their torch, and says, “Follow me. I know the way.” You want to TRUST him. When you’re drowning in the surf, and someone paddles up and says, “Hold onto me. I’ll get you to safety.” You want to TRUST him. And when Jesus comes and says, “You’re lost in the darkness of your selfishness and rejection of God. Follow me, I’ll lead you back to God.” You should TRUST him.  Believe in his NAME. Believe in his authority to speak on God’s behalf. Because from the beginning he was WITH God, and WAS God.

And v12 says that when we DO that, Jesus gives us the right to become children of God. He AUTHORISES it. Stamps the visa for entrance into God’s family. Processes the adoption papers. And welcomes us into the family.

Nicodemus

It’s exactly what we see over in John chapter 3. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He’s spent his life studying the Jewish religion. If there’s anyone who should know where he’s going, it should be HIM. V2 says he comes to Jesus AT NIGHT. Which COULD simply be telling us the TIME. And that he doesn’t want anyone to SEE him. But it’s also telling us about light and dark. Nicodemus is IN THE DARK. And he needs the light of Jesus to give him LIFE.

He says to Jesus, “Here’s what I’ve worked out about you so far. “You’re a teacher from God and you do miraculous signs.”

Jesus says, v3, “Nice try, but you’re not even CLOSE. You’re blind and in the dark. You can’t SEE the Kingdom of God unless you’re born AGAIN. Born from ABOVE. Unless God makes you his CHILD.” (Just like we read back in Ch 1 v12. Jesus giving the right to become children of God. That’s LIGHT shining on DARKNESS.) He continues.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Only God can do it. You can’t get there by study, or racial connections, or birthright, or human effort. Nicodemus isn’t so sure (v9). “How can this be?” He’s in the dark, and Jesus is offering him the light of life. But will he RECEIVE it? Will he BELIEVE in his name?

And then Jesus turns on the spotlight. Floods the room with the greatest truth of human history. And what we must do in response. V14.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be LIFTED UP, 15 that everyone who BELIEVES in him may have eternal life.

Jesus would be lifted up on a cross. Giving his life in our place. To save us from God’s judgment and death. Our response is to TRUST the effectiveness of that act. To LOOK to Jesus. And believe in his name. DO THAT, says Jesus. And you’ll receive eternal life. That’s LIGHT shining on Nicodemus’ darkness.

Light of the world

But not just Nicodemus. Jesus is the true light who gives light to EVERY man. Over in Ch 8 v12, he says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Receive the light Jesus brings. Let him shine on your darkness. Your blindness of your true condition. The deadness of your affection for God. The foolishness of your chasing after things that disappoint and destroy. FOLLOW him, and you’ll never walk in darkness. You’ll have the LIGHT of LIFE. The information that leads you to TRUE life. ABSOLUTE, ULTIMATE, MAXIMUM life. Life with JOY and purpose and perspective.

What’s that going to LOOK LIKE? To walk in Jesus’ light? Let me give you TWO expressions of that. First, REJOICE in the light. As we come up to Christmas, it’s easy to FORGET. To TAKE FOR GRANTED the incredible gift we celebrate. The TRUE LIGHT who gives light to all men came into the world. He left his heavenly privilege, and took on all our mess and muck.

And, as Christians, we should rejoice more than ANYONE. Because for MOST people, the light shines on their darkness, but they haven’t UNDERSTOOD it, or RECEIVED it. In fact they’ve HATED the light, because their deeds are EVIL.  But FOR US, we’ve received the greatest gift of all. John 1 v16 says 16 From the fullness of God’s grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

We’ve seen God. In the person of Jesus. The light of the world. And we’ve RECEIVED him. And we walk in the light. What a JOY to celebrate!

And the SECOND thing we should do is to shine a little light of our own. In Philippians 2, we’re encouraged to have the same attitude as Jesus, who gave up everything to serve people. We’re commanded to consider others before ourselves. And in v14, to do everything without complaining or arguing. All because we’re considering Jesus. We’re walking in the light he’s given us. And then v15 describes the end result. 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, IN WHICH YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE

Forget the Christmas lights decorating YOUR HOUSE. Work a little harder at REJOICING in Jesus the light of the world. Work a little harder at having the same attitude as Jesus. The light of the world. So that you shine a little of HIS light to the people you meet.

And may you bring them even MORE joy than the best Christmas lights. As we celebrate the true light who gives light to all men who came into the world.

John 14:1-9: Exclusive Faith (Big Questions 5)

elephantWhen I was growing up in Gosford in the 1970’s, I don’t remember knowing an Asian person, or even anyone from Europe, other than Britain. And the closest we came to multiculturalism was sweet and sour pork with fried rice at the local Chinese Restaurant. And as far as I knew, everyone identified themselves as either Catholic or Protestant. Sure, there were other religions out there, but they were in OTHER COUNTRIES. And the way they might interact with Christianity was THEORETICAL.

But jump forward 40 years. And today, most cities in Australia are THOROUGHLY MULTICULTURAL. Just in the street you live in, there are probably DOZENS of different nationalities and cultures and religions. Globalisation means we live SIDE BY SIDE with more religious views than any other time in history.

And so the question of how different religions relate to each other has moved from theoretical and abstract to RELEVANT AND PRACTICAL. EVERYONE, whatever their background, wants to live in peace and harmony with those around them. Everyone recognizes that we need TOLERANCE between different cultures and religions. There needs to be an open-mindedness and acceptance of others with different opinions.

And it’s in THIS climate that Christianity is often criticized for NOT being tolerant. For making exclusive claims to TRUTH. (That WE’RE right, and everyone else is WRONG). And we’re accused of being INtolerant, arrogant, divisive and disrespectful. And so people think that whatever TOLERANCE is/ it’s NOT what Christians show when it comes to our beliefs about other religions. So the argument goes.

What is tolerance?

So it’s worth spending some time thinking about what tolerance might LOOK LIKE. How can people with different opinions about religion live side-by-side?

  1. Avoid the issue

ONE option is to avoid the debate altogether. Keep religion a PRIVATE matter. That was the way my PARENT’S generation dealt with it. Australians used to say, “There’s TWO things you never discuss – religion and politics. People were happy for you to believe whatever you liked in your PRIVATE life. As long as you KEPT it private. And, even in churches, plenty of Christians lived their lives looking like everyone else, good and moral. But never speaking about their faith to anyone. Because it was a private matter. And, I think, many Australians probably STILL live that way. Christian or otherwise.

But one thing the rise in Islamic extremism has done is show that RELIGION refuses to STAY in the private domain. ESPECIALLY Islam, which wants to CLAIM public society, and law and justice for Allah and Islam. If ONE person’s religious belief is that it’s right for him to blow up public buildings and kill innocent people, then that FORCES religion into the public space. Religion like THAT refuses to STAY private.

But it’s not just Islam. ANY of the major world religions, if people are SERIOUS about them, are going to have an IMPACT on OTHERS. There’s a public EXPRESSION of their belief. Because RELIGION IS IMPORTANT. Human beings are NATURALLY religious. It’s an important part of who we are. And you can’t separate it from the rest of life.

The media’s quick to criticize politicians with religious beliefs. The assumption is they should avoid letting their beliefs influence their decisions. (Andrew Hastie was questioned about this a few weeks ago.) But that’s not POSSIBLE. ALL SORTS OF THINGS in a person’s background influence who they are, and what decisions they make. Their family upbringing, their schooling, previous employment, their hobbies and interests, their travel. And the more important something is (the more FOUNDATIONAL it is to who that person is), the more it will INFLUENCE THEIR DECISIONS. It’s unfair and unrealistic to allow all these OTHER things to influence a person, but not their RELIGION.

It might SEEM respectful not to discuss religion. (To keep it private.) But it’s ultimately DISRESPECTFUL. It says to the religious person, “I don’t think enough about you to even LISTEN to what’s important to you, and think about whether you might be true”.

Besides, if you AVOID the debate, you never find out answers. It’s really a cop out. No one moves ANYWHERE if there’s no discussion. And if what a number of the religions say about life after death is TRUE, then it’s a very important conversation to HAVE. AVOIDING the issue puts you in a very DANGEROUS position indeed!

Blaise Paschal, the 17th century French Scientist and Christian, put it something like this, speaking to a non-believer, “If I’M wrong I’ve lost nothing; If YOU’RE wrong, you’ve lost EVERYTHING.” So, tolerance can’t mean keeping religion PRIVATE.

  1. Every religion is true

A SECOND option is that tolerance means saying that every religion is true. Or, perhaps, that every religion has PART of the truth. And that’s the story people use about the different religions being like paths up a mountain. And that God is on the top. All the paths LOOK different, but they end up in the same place. Or another popular story is of a number of blind people describing an elephant. Each person knows PART of the truth. They’re all PARTLY correct. In other words, when it comes to describing what GOD is like, each person experiences what’s true FOR THEM. And each person has a different experience. But no one is WRONG. Because God is ALL of them.

And the point is to criticize Christianity. Because Christianity only experiences PART of the elephant that’s God. How can it say everyone else is WRONG? Or with the paths up the mountain story, how can Christianity claim that it’s the only TRUE path to the top, when all the OTHER paths ALSO go there.

Once again, it SOUNDS inclusive and humble and respectful to say that everyone’s correct. But here’s the problem. Who gets to stand back from the elephant, and see all the blind people holding only one part? It’s the person who stands outside everyone else, and makes an exclusive claim that HE is the only one who sees the full picture. HE’S the only one who’s NOT blind. And that everyone else only sees PART of the picture. Which makes him at LEAST as exclusive and disrespectful as he accuses CHRISTIANS of being.

Or, as we saw on the video excerpt, with the many paths up the mountain example. The only place where you can see all the paths coming to the top is FROM THE TOP. From the place of GOD. So making the claim that all paths lead to God is ARROGANT. It’s setting yourself up AS GOD.

A SECOND problem with this argument is that religions CONTRADICT each other. The elephant example doesn’t work. Religions don’t make claims about God that, taken together, make a complete picture. Much of the time they aren’t even describing the same ANIMAL. Because their claims CONTRADICT each other. Hinduism teaches there are MILLIONS of gods. Judaism teaches there’s only ONE. Those are CONTRADICTORY. There is no greater truth that somehow fits those truths TOGETHER. Or Buddhism teaches that you’re RE-BORN as another creature after you die. But Islam says people live and die ONCE. Those are CONTRADICTORY. There is no greater truth of life and death that somehow fits those truths TOGETHER. Or here’s ANOTHER example. Christianity and Islam both teach that Jesus was a prophet. But Islam says he was just a man, while Christianity teaches that Jesus was God. Those are CONTRADICTORY. There is no greater truth of Jesus’ identity that somehow fits those truths TOGETHER. Now, in each of those cases, both religions might be WRONG about God, or life and death, or about Jesus. But they can’t BOTH be RIGHT.

So, what’s the way FORWARD? Is there ANY way we can be confident what’s TRUE? Well, just like the elephant with the blind men. What the blind men need is someone who’s NOT blind. Someone from OUTSIDE THEIR SITUATION to show them reality. To show them the FULL PICTURE. The complete perspective. What if GOD HIMSELF showed us blind people the FULL PICTURE, as only HE COULD? What if he sent us a visible representation of himself so we could know what he’s really like?

Of course, that’s what he’s done IN JESUS. John’s Gospel begins, ch 1 v1, by describing Jesus as THE WORD. God’s COMMUNICATION. His self-portrait. And he was WITH God in the beginning. And he WAS God. Which means when we talk to people about GOD, we need to make sure we identify WHICH God we’re talking about. He’s not the go we imagine for ourselves. He’s the GOD OF THE BIBLE. The God who’s the FATHER of Jesus. The GOD who IS Jesus.

And then, in v14, it says that the Word became FLESH and made his DWELLING among us. Jesus was born thoroughly, completely human. God became MAN. And people SAW HIS GLORY. Just like Israel saw God’s glory, a cloud that led them through the desert. The INVISIBLE God chose to make himself VISIBLE. And it was glory of the ONE AND ONLY SON who came from the FATHER. If there’s ANYONE who can show you what the Father’s like, it’s his ONLY SON who’s come straight from heaven. And just like the Father is ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS. So the WORD, his SON, was FULL of GRACE AND TRUTH. We can tell the CHARACTER of God from the character of JESUS. Which means that, when it comes to knowing what God is like, we’re NOT BLIND. We’re not groping around in the darkness of our own imaginations. We’re not lucky to stumble across PART of the truth of God.

We look at JESUS. At his character, at his power, at his priorities and desires and qualities. And THAT’S what GOD is like. In all his FULLNESS and GLORY and MAJESTY. He’s loving and good and reliable.

Over in Ch 14, v8, Phillip asks Jesus, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” And Jesus answers, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?

Jesus said some pretty outrageous things. But this one is up there with the BEST of them. That when you look at Jesus, you’re looking at God the Father. I don’t quite know what the Muslims do with this verse. They revere Jesus as a prophet, which I assume means they believe he speaks truth from God. But they won’t believe what he SAYS HERE. They CAN’T believe it.

But that’s not all Jesus does. He doesn’t just SHOW us God. He LEADS us to God. (It’s by coming to know HIM/ that we come to know GOD.)

Let’s think again about the mountain that represents God, with many paths to the top. The TOP is the only place to REALLY see which path makes it to the top. So GOD has to be the One who shows us. So what if God sent us A MAP? What if he sent us THE PATH to the top? And that’s just how Jesus understands himself. At the start of Ch 14, he’s preparing his disciples for his imminent death, when he’ll return to his Father. He says he’s going away. But that he’ll come back.

In v5, Thomas says, “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know how to GET there.” And Jesus says, in v6, either the most arrogant and deluded lie you’ve ever heard. Or else the most comforting and significant words ever spoken by a religious teacher. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

He’s the one who’s COME from the Father (He’s come down the mountain from the top). And now, he’s GOING to the Father. And he’s the WAY to him. And he’s the WAY, because he embodies the TRUTH about God. And when we BELIEVE that truth, he becomes LIFE to us. And he’s not one path among many. The message from the top is that there’s only ONE WAY up the mountain. And it’s come from GOD HIMSELF. Jesus ALONE. Jesus ONLY. You see, according to Jesus, finding God isn’t like climbing a mountain with many paths to the summit. It’s more like a mountain of sheer cliffs with NO paths up. The only way up is if someone at the top lowers a ROPE LADDER from TOP for us to CLIMB on. And that ladder’s JESUS.

And it’s THAT view of Jesus that separates Christianity from every other religion. Religion is about HUMANS climbing their way to God. But Christianity is about GOD, in Jesus, making his way TO US. OTHER religions are about “DO”. Christianity is about “DONE”.

Now, Jesus might be WRONG. (He might be lying. Or he might be DELUDED.) But the more I STUDY him, (the more I investigate his words, and his actions, and his character and personality), the more I’m convinced he’s telling the TRUTH. That when I look at Jesus, I’m looking at the ETERNAL GOD. My Creator, my King, and my Judge. And that he’s THE ONLY ONE who can do that. And so, the more I want to spend my life LEARNING about him. And LIVING HIS WAY. Following him all the way to the Father. I want to live to see him recognized and honoured and obeyed by EVERYONE. Because he’s WORTH it.

  1. A third way: Humble dialogue.

Which leads us to A THIRD way of understanding tolerance. TRUE tolerance. How’s THIS for a definition? Respecting, engaging with, and treating with compassion those you disagree with. You can still DISAGREE with someone and be TOLERANT. Tolerance means defending someone else’s right to hold an opinion even if you don’t AGREE with it.

And if you genuinely CARE for someone, and you genuinely believe they’re WRONG about something IMPORTANT. Then you’ll RISK the CONVERSATION. You’ll talk to them, respectfully and engagingly and passionately, about the things that matter most to you. Important things. You’ll speak the TRUTH/ in LOVE.

Christians have a reputation for being arrogant. For thinking we’re BETTER than others. But we need to be GENTLE and WISE. 1 Peter 3:15 says we need to be GENTLE. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with GENTLENESS AND RESPECT.”

Notice that there’s a DIALOGUE happening. Answers are given to QUESTIONS. Reasons are given. And we’re to BE PREPARED. To have thought through reasons, and explanations. To have STUDIED. Studied our OWN faith, and OTHERS. And to have PRAYED. Prayed for OURSELVES, and prayed for the PEOPLE WE TALK TO. And we’re to be GENTLE and RESPECTFUL. We need to argue the IDEA, not the PERSON. We need to listen TWICE as much as we SPEAK. God gave us TWO ears and only ONE mouth FOR A REASON. Respectful means asking questions and listening well to find out what the other person believes, or DOESN’T believe. And WHY they do, which can be just as important.

And Colossians 4:5 talks about being WISE. 5 Be WISE in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Opportunities are there. Whenever we have conversations. We need to be wise to TAKE them. We need to be on our guard, and paying attention. To SEE the opportunity, and then to TAKE it. With the right REPLY, at the right TIME. And we get a hint what that right reply might LOOK LIKE from this verse. First, wisdom means our reply will BE GRACIOUS. The WAY we argue is more important than WINNING the argument.

Second, wisdom means we’ll add a little SALT. We’ll push the conversation beyond the BLAND and SUPERFICIAL. And add some FLAVOUR. Introduce something of SIGNIFICANCE. It MIGHT be about God, or church, or Jesus. But it might be about the big questions of life. Identity and purpose. Or about disappointment, or hopelessness, or helplessness. It might be about the evil in the world around us. Or the beauty and enjoyment in God’s world.

And the opportunity may not even BE about WORDS. It might just be the opportunity for you to SHOW love. To offer a hand, or an ear, or a shoulder to cry on. When you ask someone how they’re going, ACTUALLY LISTEN. And ask a FOLLOW UP QUESTION that shows you CARE.

You see, true tolerance isn’t about saying NOTHING. And it’s not about PRETENDING differences aren’t REAL. True tolerance is about HUMILITY and DIALOGUE. It’s about GENTLENESS and WISDOM.

And those things are JUST as true IN THE PUBLIC ARENA as well as with our friends. In the media – on TV or newspapers. OR in SOCIAL media. Tolerance doesn’t mean we abandon the public debate. Too often we’re SILENT. And the humanists, and the rationalists and the atheists WIN THE ARGUMENT by DEFAULT. Because there’s NO REPLY to their arguments.

And those without an opinion, or who aren’t SURE, assume they’re RIGHT. Because we don’t care enough to STAND UP.

Jesus IS the way and the truth and the life. NO one comes to the Father except though HIM. He’s the answer to all the big questions. We’re CONFIDENT of that. But that confidence isn’t the same thing as ARROGANCE. It’s wise and humble and gentle and loving. Just like Jesus. Who we want to POINT people to. Might HE be honoured and recognised as we live for him.

 

John 18:28-40: The Problem of Religious Violence

Last year Sydney Morning Herald journalist Sam de Brito wrote an religious violencearticle arguing that religion is the cause of much of the violence in the world.

To be fair, ISIS is giving him plenty of ammunition for that argument with their rape, murder, beheading and general cruelty throughout the Middle East.

And there’s lots of Australians who’d AGREE with him. And they’d include Christianity in with Islam. And want nothing to do with organised religion. Because they reckon it brings out the WORST in people, and encourages violence and hatred.

And there’s two areas of criticism people focus on. The FIRST is the violence in the Old Testament. Like God commanding Joshua to completely destroy the Canaanites.

The SECOND is the violence done in the name of the church DOWN THROUGH HISTORY. Like the Crusades, or the Inquisitions. Which we’ll consider in a few minutes.

  1. The conquest of the Promised Land

First, though, let’s think about Old Testament warfare. In particular, about Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land. Because it’s in conquering Canaan where God, very clearly, says that Israel is to go in and take the land, and drive out those who live there, DESTROYING THEM COMPLETELY.

  1. God’s just, patient judgment

The FIRST point I’d make is that the conquest of Canaan is God’s just, patient judgment against the people.

The Bible’s big story is about how God created everything. And when he created human beings, he demanded that we live with HIM as God. And OBEY him in everything.

But we failed to live up to our calling. Instead we choose independence and rebellion. We chose EVIL every time.

ALL humanity deserve death. Canaanites, Israelites and Australians.

But OUT of that condemned humanity, undeserved and simply by grace, he chose Abraham. And promised to bless him by giving his descendants a land. The land of Canaan. But not yet. In Genesis 15:15, he promises

15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back HERE (that is, CANAAN) for the sin of the Amorites (one of the main nations there) has not yet reached its full measure.”

Hundreds of years before, God knows the sin of the people in Canaan. And he patiently waits for that to reach its worst. Patiently gives them every chance to repent. But knowing they WON’T.

(Deuteronomy 18 describes how, in worshipping their gods, the Canaanites do ALL SORTS OF DETESTABLE THINGS: Sorcery, witchcraft, even sacrificing their children.)

And when the SIN reaches its full measure. The PUNISHMENT will fall. And the JUDGMENT of that sin will be its most JUST. And God would use Israel as his agent of justice.

  • Mercy offered first

A SECOND point to make is that God offered MERCY FIRST. Listen to the instructions he gave Moses in Deuteronomy 20 about cities they meet on the way.

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.

It’s only if the city REJECTS the offer that the war begins. And then it’s only the FIGHTING MEN who are to be put to the sword. The women and children become servants.

V15, we read the qualification.

15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at A DISTANCE FROM YOU and do not belong to the nations nearby.

  1. And that’s the way it worked with the Gibeonites in Joshua 9. They tricked Joshua into thinking they’d come from A DISTANT LAND. They ask for a treaty. And Joshua agrees, without asking God. So they’re SPARED. And they live as servants for Israel, carrying water and cutting firewood
  2. Total removal

Deuteronomy 20 goes on to describe DIFFERENT rules of engagement for the people who LIVE in the Promised Land. V16.

16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive ANYTHING that breathes. 17 COMPLETELY DESTROY them–the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–as the LORD your God has commanded you.

Which sounds EXTREME. And UNJUST. Especially as it includes children TOO. And it’s one of the most difficult ideas both Christians and non-Christians have with the Bible. And I don’t have any COMPLETE answers, but I’ll make SIX points.

  1. To remove the evil influence

First, the reason God gives is because it’s to REMOVE THE EVIL INFLUENCE from the land. Deuteronomy 20 continues, “Completely destroy them…

18 Otherwise, they will TEACH you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will SIN against the LORD your God.

Israel can’t live in peace, and they can’t pursue holiness and obedience with the evil and idolatry surrounding them, INFECTING them. God’s intention of a just, peaceful, holy society couldn’t happen with the nations still spreading their wickedness.

It’s like when one of the kids catches a vomiting bug. And mum disinfects EVERYTHING. Every surface, every sheet and towel. Hands, faces, pens and pencils. The child goes into quarantine- separate from everyone else. All so the REST of the family doesn’t catch it TOO. ONE INFECTED OBJECT that’s MISSED, and everyone can get sick.

The land has to be CLEAN before God’s people can live there, protected.

  1. The Promised Land is a picture/ type of the kingdom of God

And this leads to ANOTHER point. The Promised Land is a PICTURE of what God’s kingdom should look like. And we see that more clearly in the New Testament. And we’ll only see it FULLY when Jesus returns, and God rules the new heaven and earth.

The Old Testament is FULL of pictures. And they all point FORWARD, and help us understand what’s coming in the New Testament. Priests, and prophets and kings. Adam, and Moses, and Melchizedek and Aaron, and King David. Sacrifices, and temples. Feast and festivals. Holiness and purity and judgment. All of them point forward to Jesus and the kingdom of God. They’re LIKE what they point to. And NOT like what they point to.

And it’s the same with the Promised Land. It’s a picture of the new heavens and earth. Paradise. When all evil and rebellion will be justly judged and destroyed by God himself. If it WASN’T destroyed, it wouldn’t be PARADISE.

And the Promised Land, together with God’s command to destroy the wicked, is a poor picture of that.

The Conquest of Canaan only happened ONCE in history. Because it’s not meant to be a standard way of dealing with the world. But a picture that points ahead to a GREATER REALITY.

Which means ONE way we should react to it is to make sure we’re ready for REAL judgment day. The FINAL one.

  • The nations remain defiant

Another point to make is that the nations REMAIN defiant. Joshua 11:20 describes how no other nation asked for a treaty except the Gibeonites. They all CHOSE to fight.

18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, NOT ONE CITY MADE A TREATY OF PEACE WITH THE ISRAELITES, WHO TOOK THEM ALL IN BATTLE. 20 For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Now, that raises ANOTHER question for ANOTHER day. (About how God hardens human hearts. And yet still holds people accountable.) But the point is they refuse to submit to God all the way to their destruction. There’s no second thoughts. No appeal for mercy. Their guilt is confirmed. And God’s judgment is seen to be JUST.

  1. We don’t view sin as God does

ANOTHER point to make is to do with US. We see God’s judgement of Canaan as UNFAIR because we don’t see SIN as GOD does.

We think we’re not too bad. At least not as bad as OTHER people. But our sin is FAR WORSE and our guilt FAR GREATER than we could ever understand or imagine.

We CAN’T understand sin, because we don’t really understand HOLINESS and PERFECTION. To understand how far we fall SHORT, we need some idea of what perfection is LIKE.

The more we learn of GOD, the more we understand purity and perfection. And the more we understand the depth of our sin.

And, as Christians, that means we understand more of the GRACE we’ve been shown in JESUS.

ONE of the messages of Joshua, then, is that for God to destroy people like THAT, sin must be far worse than we realise. And so we can rejoice in MERCY even more.

  1. Most of the judgment in the Bible is against Israel

The FIFTH point I’d make is that this is just ONE EPISODE in the whole of biblical history. MOST of the Bible actually tells the story of God’s dealing with ISRAEL. And how he punishes THEM. How he sends foreign nations to attack and destroy, and ultimately evict them from the land he’d given them.

He uses OTHER nations – Assyria and Babylon – to punish ISRAEL. Just like he’d used ISRAEL to punish Canaan.

  1. External cleansing doesn’t work.

And the FINAL point I’d make about the destruction of the Canaanites is that the message of the whole book of Joshua is that it DOESN’T WORK. Even WHEN Joshua does such a thorough job of obeying God. And completely wiping out wicked cities.

If one of the purposes is to keep Israel PURE, then it FAILS. Spectacularly.

By the end of the book, Joshua WARNS Israel not to fall into the sins of the nations. But when he dies, it takes barely a generation before Israel is headed down the path to being just as idolatrous and wicked as the nations they removed.

Removing evil influences doesn’t cure you of evil. Because sin is A HEART PROBLEM. Externals, like sacrifices or law-keeping only deals with SYMPTOMS.

The problem is our fallen nature. Our hard rebellious hearts. And only A MIRACLE OF GOD can fix that. When he sends his Spirit to make people NEW.

  1. God LOVES the foreigner

That’s a few points about the total destruction God commanded.

But the interesting thing is, even before the conquest, God KNEW there’d still be foreigners in the Promised Land who’d live among Israel. Back when he gives the law to Moses in the desert, he includes a whole series of laws about how the Jews are to treat the FOREIGNER who LIVES AMONG them in the land. (Either those who are captured servants. Or else, who’ve VOLUNTARILY joined Israel.)

And it BEGINS with the truth that God LOVES non-Israelites. Because he’s God over the WHOLE WORLD. Not just Israel. Listen to Deuteronomy 10:17

17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the GREAT God, mighty and awesome, WHO SHOWS NO PARTIALITY and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and LOVES THE ALIEN, giving him food and clothing. 19 And YOU ARE TO LOVE THOSE WHO ARE ALIENS, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

It’s because of WHO GOD IS, and HOW HE TREATS THE FOREIGNER, that Israel is to respect and treat Gentiles well.

And in other places in Deuteronomy we read some EXTRAORDINARY laws concerning non-Jews. Deuteronomy 27:19: They had equal status in the eyes of the law.

5:14: They got to rest on the Sabbath TOO.

24:14 They were to receive fair wages

24:19 Their poor were to be cared for.

14:29 They were to share in the prosperity of the harvest.

And 16:11 They were to join in the feasts and celebrations.

No other ancient nation comes ANYWHERE NEAR that sort of treatment of its foreigners.

  • History of the church’s connection to violent war.

That’s a few thoughts on the Old Testament and violence. Let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years in history, and think about the problem of the violence done in the name of Christianity.

Christopher Hitchens, the well-known atheist, wrote a book called “God is not great: how religion poisons EVERYTHING.”

And his argument is that people are basically GOOD until they get religion. And he cites as evidence the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, and the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

The FIRST thing to say is most Christians today are rightly and deeply ashamed of the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Christian church has done some great evil. And we recognised it long before Hitchens, and others, pointed it out.

A second point to make is to consider what happens WITHOUT religion. Humanity actually does FAR WORSE. There’s only been three atheistic regimes in world history. Mao Zedong in China, Joseph Stalin in Russia and Pol Pot in Cambodia. Between them, it’s estimated they killed close to 100 million people. Which make the Crusades, the Inquisitions and Northern Ireland pale into insignificance.

In fact, when it COMES to those episodes, historian and theologian, John Dickson makes the point that most retellings of those stories involve gross exaggerations. He says “Historians estimate the Spanish Inquisition killed approximately 5000-6000 people over its 350 year history. That’s fewer than 18 a year. One a year is too many, but the number hardly sustains the monstrous narratives we often hear.”

He makes a similar point about Northern Ireland.

“Likewise, the Northern Ireland troubles—if indeed they were religiously inspired—caused the deaths of about 3500 people over a thirty year period. Again, one death ‘in the name of Christ’ is a blasphemy but the iconic status of these two evils of Christendom exceeds the reality.”

The reality is conflicts such as the Crusades and Northern Ireland often have the APPEARANCE of being about Christian belief. But when you look a little closer, you see that it’s often just A CONVENIENT LABEL to gather people together. And the TRUE motivations are more about what USUALLY leads to war: power, wealth and nationalism.

John Dickson makes the point that rather than being TOO Christian, the problem with those episodes was that THEY WEREN’T CHRISTIAN ENOUGH.

“Anyone can tell you that when Christians are violent and imperialistic they are not obeying Jesus but defying him who said ‘Love your enemy and do good to those who hate you.’ At best, the criticisms launched by Hitchens, Dawkins and Coulter only prove that Christians haven’t been Christian enough.”

Look to Jesus

Which leads us to turn from the pages of HISTORY to look at the pages of the BIBLE. And consider JESUS HIMSELF. Because that was where those so-called Christians got it wrong. (They didn’t look at Jesus)

Jesus, who taught and lived, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:5,9)

Who taught and lived that if someone struck your RIGHT cheek, you should let him strike your OTHER one.

And who taught and lived, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)

And, at the start of the chapter we read earlier, we see Jesus REBUKING Peter for taking up the sword against those arresting him.

And he turns the other cheek when he’s struck and insulted and tortured.

And, in Jn 18 v36, when Pilate asks him whether he’s a king. Jesus replies,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Pilate seizes on his reply. You ARE a king, then!

And Jesus replies with the only weapon that’s effective in his kingdom. His WORD OF TRUTH.

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, TO TESTIFY TO THE TRUTH. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

It’s the truth about Jesus that wins victories. That conquers kingdoms and rulers. That demolishes strongholds.

He’s the king who defeats Satan and sin and death. And who builds his kingdom, not by the SWORD, but by the life-giving MESSAGE OF FORGIVENESS.

And in case you think that’s SOFT. And EASILY DEFEATED. Listen to the description of the King of the kingdom as he brandishes his mighty weapon. Revelation 19 v11.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.   12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his MOUTH comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

Jesus is a powerful and mighty warrior, leading a mighty army. But the only weapon is the whole army is one sword that comes from the mouth of the One who NAME is the Word of God.

THAT’S the only weapon the Christian army needs. 2 Corinthians 10:3 says

3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Our weapons are WORDS of TRUTH. Just like JESUS. And they’re POWERFUL.

And, it seems to me, that down through history, Christians have got it wrong when they’ve got THIS verse wrong. And when they’ve taken their eyes of Jesus. And stopped listening to his WORD OF TRUTH. The sword that comes out of his mouth.

And they’ve, instead, taken up REAL swords. And guns, and arrows and fists and bombs.

If Jesus’ kingdom is DIFFERENT to earthly kingdoms, then it seems to me that the church is where it SHOULD be/ when it stands at a DISTANCE from earthly authorities. When it lives on the FRINGES of culture. Rather than at its CENTRE. And when it speaks truth and peace into that culture. And when it LIVES OUT the kingdom, like a light in darkness, or salt that flavours whatever it’s added to.

Justine Toh, writing on the Centre for Public Christianity website lays out an agenda.

“If Christianity can recover its anti-establishment credentials then maybe more people will come to appreciate its beauty and profundity. For while many in the ancient world disdained the service and acts of charity that characterised the early faith, it was by THESE means that Christianity was able, by NON-violent means, TO OVERWHELM AN EMPIRE.”

And not just the EARLY church. Christ-following Christians like William Wilberforce who worked for decades to eradicate the slave trade in England. Or the French Huguenots who protected Jews from the Nazis in WW2, risking their own lives. Or Mother Theresa in Calcutta slums. Or George Muller caring for orphans in 19th century London. Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war. But never firing a shot in anger.

Or the everyday Christians, like you or me. Who donate time, or money, to share the love of Jesus with those in their community. And who speak of him as they can.

THAT’s the way the kingdom of Jesus will conquer all others. Not by violence, but by LOVE.

 

John 15:17-16:33: The cost and the counsellor

FIRIS bannerI’ve been keenly following the push against Scripture in schools on social media. In particular from a group called “Fairness in Religion in Schools.” They’ve just succeeded in getting Scripture removed from class time in Victorian schools, starting next year. And they want NSW to be next. They’ve got ‘fairness’ in their name, but plenty of their tactics and comments are ANYTHING but fair.

This week they’ve weighed into the debate about the pro-gay marriage movie, Gayby Baby. It WAS to be screened at Burwood Girls High School last week, until a number of Christians and parents, including me, complained to the Education minister. You may have seen Mark Powell, the minister at Strathfield Presbyterian has appeared in a number of media interviews defending the Christian position. And they’ve personally attacked Mark as hypocritical, hateful, underhanded, discriminatory and outdated.

And I fear it’s just the beginning. When the publicity campaigns start for the National plebiscite on Same-Sex Marriage, expect more of the same. Christians being branded as hateful bigots, backward and unloving.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Because Jesus PROMISED it would be that way. He’s just finished talking about how the disciples are to LOVE each other. How they’re CONNECTED to each other because they’re all branches connected to Jesus, the vine. But it won’t be like that with the WORLD. Look at the contrast between v17 and v18.

“This is my command: LOVE each other. If the world HATES you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you AS ITS OWN. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you OUT of the world. That is why the world HATES you.”

He talks about a full-scale head-on crash between two completely different systems. Two different KINGDOMS. Those who belong to THE WORLD. (To all that wants NOTHING TO DO with God or his kingdom.) And those who belong to JESUS. Chosen to come OUT from the world by Jesus himself.

And Jesus tells it to the disciples clearly. There’s going to be a full-on battle. Because the world HATES them.

And Jesus goes on (v20). They shouldn’t be SURPRISED when it happens. Because if it happened to THE MASTER, then the FOLLOWERS should expect it to happen to THEM TOO.

It’s presumptuous and proud of you to expect to avoid persecution. If you say to yourself, “Why am I being picked on? I don’t deserve this?” Then Jesus says, “Who are YOU? Do you deserve it less than ME? No servant is above his Master!”

In fact, the hatred of the SERVANTS is nothing PERSONAL. It’s all to do with a hatred of JESUS HIMSELF. V21.

21 They will treat you this way BECAUSE OF MY NAME, for they do not know the One who sent me.

Which is COMFORTING, in a way. And REASSURING. Because it’s not especially about YOU. It’s simply THE UNIFORM YOU WEAR. Like at the cricket or the footy. Opposition fans give you a hard time because you’re wearing the other team’s supporters gear. Nothing personal. It’s YOUR TEAM against THEIR TEAM.

But why do people hate Jesus so much? What do they find so offensive about someone who healed, helped and loved people. Who taught an ethic of sacrificial love. Who never murdered, stole, slandered or raped anyone, and who was known for his consistent personal integrity.

The FIRST reason Jesus gives is there in v21. “They will treat you this way because they don’t know THE ONE WHO SENT me.”

Same thing, down in Ch 16 v3. They’ll even KILL you. “They’ll do such things BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN THE FATHER or me.”

Human beings were made, in God’s IMAGE, to KNOW him. His character and nature are stamped on our conscience, and his fingerprints are all over his creation. We are without EXCUSE when we refuse to recognise him. But MOST people DON’T.

So if people have rejected GOD, then it makes sense that they’ll reject the One he SENDS. They refuse to recognise JESUS’ authority, because they refuse to recognise the authority of the One who SENT him.

It’s like a foreign diplomat who breaks Australian law. He’s there in his embassy when the court officer turns up to serve him a summons to appear in court. But he refuses to receive the summons. He says, “I’ve got diplomatic immunity. I refuse to recognise the sovereignty of the Australian Government over me, so I refuse to recognise YOU, and your right to serve me the summons.

And that’s what people say about Jesus. “What Jesus says about relationships, or same-sex marriage, or morality has no authority over me. Because THE GOD HE SAYS HE SPEAKS FOR means nothing to me!”

Peter Christopher said something interesting this week at the Gospel, Society & Culture training evening. He was speaking about Christians being INVOLVED in the media to provide a Christian voice. And he said that if you want to get a letter to the editor published, don’t begin it with “Matthew 5:28 says…. Don’t commit adultery.” Because it says NOTHING to someone who doesn’t accept God’s authority. You have to use OTHER arguments. Well-expressed, INTERESTING ones, that make people THINK.

People hate Jesus, because they don’t know GOD. The SECOND reason people hate Jesus is because he EXPOSES their SIN. There in v22.

22 If I had not come and SPOKEN to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they HAVE NO EXCUSE FOR THEIR SIN.

And again in v24.

24 If I had not DONE among them what no one else did, they would not be GUILTY OF SIN. But now they have SEEN THESE MIRACLES, and yet they have HATED both me and my Father.

Jesus is the LIGHT. He SPEAKS and ACTS / PURITY AND HOLINESS. But the world is DARKNESS, and they HATE the light. Ch 3 v20 says,

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Like a thief, who waits until it’s NIGHT TIME to break into the building. Or who hides in a dark alley to attack his victim. Darkness HIDES HIS DEEDS. The world doesn’t WANT the light of Jesus to shine onto their actions and motives and words. And so they HATED him.

And as WE present the light of Jesus to the world, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t want to STAND in the light. Part of the uproar against Scripture has been that lessons DARE to teach that we’re all sinners. Apparently it damages kids’ self-esteem. So the anti-Scripture group, Fairness in Religion in Schools organised a billboard to attract the attention of parents who didn’t REALISE what was being taught. It quoted a lesson “God says you are stuck in your sin, and need to be rescued from his judgment.” Did you sign your child up for this? OPT OUT NOW of Scripture in schools.”

People are OUTRAGED. They don’t want ANYONE telling them that they’re stuck in sin. And they want nothing to DO with Jesus.

And we shouldn’t be SURPRISED. Because Jesus WARNED us it would be like that. There in v2 of Ch 16.

16:1 “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.

And sure enough. Within a few months, the Jews, thinking they were preserving God’s holiness, were dragging Stephen before the Sanhedrin, and then stoning him to death for preaching about Jesus. Stephen – the first Christian martyr.

And Jesus KNEW it would be that way. Because it was just like that FOR HIM.

But he WARNED the disciples. He warned US, So that we’d be READY. That we’d be STRENGTHENED, PREPARED.

Jesus’ solution The Holy Spirit

Which would all be fairly DEPRESSING. If that was ALL he said. But he not only WARNS us. He ARMS us. Jesus gives them a WEAPON against the hatred and the sin and the disbelief. He’s described the COST. Now he promises the COUNSELLOR. THE HOLY SPIRIT. V26 of Ch 15.

26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you ALSO must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

A COUNSELLOR. That’s like LEGAL COUNSEL. Who REPRESENTS you. Looks after your interests. And he’s SENT by Jesus. FROM the Father. With all the POWER of the godhead. And all the INSIDE INFORMATION about God. Because he’s the Spirit of TRUTH. Who’ll testify what’s true about JESUS. The world HATES Jesus. But the Spirit TESTIFIES about him.

And notice Jesus is talking about a type of PARTNERSHIP. It’s the HOLY SPIRIT who testifies to the world about Jesus. But THE DISCIPLES ALSO must testify.

Now the Holy Spirit can testify about Jesus in all SORTS of extraordinary ways. Through dreams, and radio or TV programs, and books and Bibles, or websites, or phone apps. Bill’s got LOTS of stories from Gideons about how people are converted to Christ by NOTHING MORE than a Gideons Bible, and the work of the Spirit.

But the ORDINARY way the Spirit testifies is THROUGH the testifying of an ORDINARY Christian. An ORDINARY Christian who loves Jesus enough, and loves his FRIEND enough, to PUSH THROUGH the fear, and the awkwardness, to point them to Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

If you are a Christian, ALMOST CERTAINLY it’s because a Christian, at SOME TIME, TESTIFIED to you about Jesus. It might have been a parent, or a brother or sister, or a workmate, or a spouse, or a friend.

Ordinary, simple, bumbling words. Spoken by a run-of-the-mill, imperfect Christian. Who’s scared stiff of being laughed at, or insulted, but who SPEAKS ANYWAY. And the Spirit works THROUGH that testimony.

We abdicate our responsibility to testify when we PRAY that GOD would convert people, and pray for his SPIRIT to move through our neighbourhood, or workplace, or family. But then SIT ON OUR HANDS, and DO AND SAY NOTHING.

We testify, and the Spirit testifies THROUGH us.

Which is such an encouragement. Because it’s not all about US. About our wisdom, or persuasiveness. Which means that it’s not about our TIMING either. The Spirit blows where he WILLS Jesus says in John 3. Which means we TESTIFY, but we ALSO PRAY.

A few verses on into ch 16, v8. Jesus explains how the Spirit works. It’s a two-pronged attack. The Holy Spirit works in THE WORLD, and the Holy Spirit works in THE CHRISTIAN. Firstly, the world. V8.

8 When he comes, he will convict THE WORLD of guilt in regard to sin, and righteousness, and judgment:

The message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that it’s GOD, through his Spirit, who opens a person’s eyes to UNDERSTAND THEIR POSITION BEFORE GOD. Without him, we’re BLIND. Dead. Hopeless, Helpless. No one is smart enough, or good enough, or quick enough to work out they need God on their own. It’s God’s Spirit CONVICTING them.

Convicting them of their own sin. Of their own LACK of righteousness. And the certainty of JUDGMENT.

That’s the way it worked for a friend of mine, Gary. He became a Christian when he was about 40. ANYONE becoming a Christian is a miracle, but a 40 yr old Australian male, proud and self-sufficient and godless is a MAJOR miracle. One day a friend told him that God had MADE him, and expected his allegiance. Gary hadn’t GIVEN that to God, and so he was guilty, headed for God’s judgment.

As Gary THOUGHT about that, he COULD have got angry. He COULD have walked away. Plenty others do JUST THAT. But the Holy Spirit made it RING TRUE for him. He opened his eyes, brought him to LIFE. And Gary thought, “I need to DO SOMETHING about that.” And he turned from his rebellion. And God forgave him.

It was the work of the Spirit. But it also took an obedient Christian willing to testify about Jesus too.

That’s how the Spirit works IN THE WORLD. But he’s also at work in THE CHRISTIAN TOO. Down in v13.

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will GUIDE you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

The Spirit is our GUIDE, speaking TRUTH to us. Speaking the things of God. It’s the Spirit who guides our WORDS, and our THOUGHTS. Who guides our conscience. Who strengthens our resolve, who boosts our faith. Who enriches our joy, and comforts our despair.

The Spirit as GUIDE. The book of Acts is full of how the Holy Spirit guided those first disciples around the world, being salt and light in a world that hated them.

But within decades, the Spirit had caused various gospels and letters to be written. And by the turn of the first century, the New Testament was well on its way to being compiled and accepted. And it’s THIS WORD the Spirit mainly uses to guide US TODAY. Ephesians 6:17 says “Take the SWORD OF THE Spirit, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD”

THE SPIRIT uses the Bible as his sword to do his work. It’s the Bible that’s OUR Spirit-powered sword as we battle with a world that hates us. That dismisses and mocks. That doesn’t understand.

It’s a guide to US. Shaping our priorities. Ordering our view of God, of ourselves, and our world. Convincing, rebuking, comforting, correcting and guiding.

And it’s a guide to the WORLD. It’s the message of the Bible, and our testimony, that the Spirit USES to open blind eyes in that world. To CONVICT them of sin and righteousness and judgment.

It’s how God’s people have dealt with the world. And won people for Jesus ever since those first disciples.

And how Jesus will use US, as we’re obedient, as we trust his Spirit and his Word.

Final words of encouragement

Jesus finishes with some final words of encouragement. It’s been a heavy few hours. This farewell sermon.

But as he comes to the end. And just before he closes in prayer. He’s got THREE FINAL WORDS for the disciples. But also for us. Words to comfort and strengthen and hearten. And I’ll finish with them. JOY, LOVE and PEACE.

  1. The joy of new life

First, he promises THE JOY OF NEW LIFE. Like a new mum giving birth. The sheer wonder at the miracle of life. But just like childbirth, there’s going to be PAIN first. He’s warning them about his death and resurrection. V16 of Ch 16, he says,

16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

When the disciples look confused. AGAIN. Jesus explains. V20.

20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but YOUR GRIEF WILL TURN TO JOY. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: NOW is your time of grief, but I will see you again and YOU WILL REJOICE, and NO ONE WILL TAKE AWAY YOUR JOY.

Before long, Jesus’ disciples would be struck by the shock and confusion and pain of his DEATH. While the Jews REJOICED.

But then barely 36 hours later, everything turned around. It was the DISCIPLES who rejoiced. While the JEWS couldn’t work out what had happened to their victory.

And it’s the same WITH US. We know the quiet joy of forgiven sins, and the confident hope of victory over death. The unbelieving world thinks it’s WINNING – that the puny Christian church is getting squashed into submission.

But the JOY of NEW LIFE trumps insults and persecution. The JOY of new life is stronger than threats or violence or even death.

Second word: LOVE. Whatever the future days and months would hold, whatever mistakes the disciples might make. The Father LOVES them. He’s PLEASED with them. Not simply in a second-hand sense via Jesus. Look down to v26

26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf 27 No, THE FATHER HIMSELF LOVES YOU because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

There’s a connection between each Christian and the God of the Universe. Our heavenly Father WANTS to be answering prayers from his children that seek his glory. Because he LOVES YOU. That’s an incredible truth to keep you going in the face of HATRED from the world.

And finally, THIRD word. ANOTHER opposite of hatred and trouble. Jesus promises PEACE. V33

33 “I have told you these things, so that IN ME. you may have PEACE. In this world you will have TROUBLE. But TAKE HEART! I HA VE OVERCOME THE WORLD.

Peace. It’s a calm, trusting contentment. An acknowledgement of God’s sovereign purposes being worked out in his world. Knowing that Jesus, through his death and resurrection has DEFEATED the evil in the world. Peace is knowing you’re exactly where God wants you to be.

Around 50 years after STEPHEN died as the first Christian martyr, AD 107, Rome was martyring many MORE Christians. Including Ignatius of Antioch. He’d been bishop of Antioch for 40 years. And he wrote to his supporters urging them not to plead for his release. Here’s some of what he wrote to the church in Rome

I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.— (Letter to the Romans)

And that’s what happened. Within days of arriving in Rome, Emperor Trajan sent him to the Coliseum. Where he was savagely mauled to death by lions, to the wild cheers of the crowds.

He knew the JOY of new life, the LOVE of his Heavenly Father, and the PEACE of knowing that Jesus had overcome the world. The world that KILLED him.

Ignatius knew it because of the power of God’s Spirit working in him and through him. And he knew that the Spirit could even use his DEATH to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. You see, Ignatius had taken a nickname for himself. He was famous for it. THEOPHORUS. It means bearer of God.

He knew that God was living in him. He bore God’s Spirit. Guiding him into truth. Strengthening him to deal with a world who didn’t understand. If you’re a Christian, SO DO YOU.

May God give US that same courage and awareness of his presence with us.

John 13:31-14:31: Never Alone

single parentingSome jobs are really hard to do on your own. Like using a crosscut saw. Or carrying furniture. Or fixing gyprock to a ceiling.

Then there’s PARENTING. I don’t know how single parents DO it. It’s not just the never-ending lists of jobs. The fact that you never get a break. Or that you have to do every job on your own. But that you don’t have anyone to make DECISIONS with. No one you can talk things over with. Ask advice from. And that’s especially true with the wisdom you need with KIDS.

But what about LIVING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE? Does it ever feel like you’re doing it on your own? And that it’s TOO TOUGH? Difficult decisions to make. Temptations to resist. Struggles to deal with. Problems to solve. Challenging people to love.

Or perhaps it’s just the hard slog of being a Christian month after month and year after year. Where fellowship seems superficial. The Bible seems like just words on a page. And your prayers seem pointless.

Do you ever feel like you’re doing it on your own?

And it seems like that’s what the disciples are worried about. The night before Jesus’ arrest. And he’s preparing them for life without him. And they’re TROUBLED.

Ch 13 v31. Judas has just left to betray Jesus. And Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified!” It’s TIME! The pain of his arrest and torture and death is only hours away. When Jesus’ glory will be seen most clearly.

So he says, in v33, “My children, I will be WITH YOU only a little longer. And where I’m going you can’t come.” They’re about to be left on their own.

Love

So, firstly Jesus commands them to LOVE one another. In the same way that JESUS has loved them. “You’re NOT on your own,” says Jesus. I won’t be physically here to love you. But you’ve got EACH OTHER. So LOOK AFTER each other.

You see, you’re NOT alone. Following Jesus is a TEAM sport, not an INDIVIDUAL one. Sometimes people ask if you can be a Christian without going to church. Sure, but that’s not how you’re DESIGNED. And you can’t THRIVE on your own. Like a coal you take out of the fire. While it’s with the rest, it’s hot and glowing. But lift it out, and put it by itself, and almost instantly it starts to cool. The colour changes, and within a few minutes it’s dead.

ONE way we cope without Jesus’ physical presence with us is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER as Jesus loved us.

It’s interesting that Jesus calls it a NEW command. Because it’s not REALLY new. It’s in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 says. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

In fact, remember Jesus said it was one of the two commands that SUMMARISED the Old Testament law. (Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself.) So what makes it NEW?

Firstly, it’s a new COMMAND because it’s NEW COVENANT love. It’s a command given in the context of the Passover, where Jesus lifts up the cup and declares, “This is THE NEW COVENANT in my blood.”

In Jeremiah 31 we read how God had longed for the day when he would write his law on HEARTS. When he would take out our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. When he would put his Spirit in us so that we’d be MOVED to keep his laws. EMPOWERED to keep them. It’s LOVE that comes from NEW HEARTS. And in THAT sense, it’s a new commandment. That all comes with JESUS. Who also gives us the supreme EXAMPLE of love to follow. Which is the SECOND reason it’s a new command. Because it’s love LIKE JESUS. Not love that’s measured and appropriate for the social conventions. Love that’s a duty. Love as Jesus loves means servant-hearted, sacrificial, laying down life as a ransom, foot-washing love. THAT’S new!

Going away

That’s all very well, thinks Peter. (A new command to love with Jesus going away). But he’d rather not do without Jesus AT ALL. So, v36, he says, “Lord, where are you going? I’ll follow you ANYWHERE! Even to lay down my life.”

Jesus repeats. YOU CAN’T FOLLOW ME where I’m going. At least not AT THE MOMENT. / Which must have been shocking for the disciples. After three years of following him EVERYWHERE.

A few verses further on, down in Ch 14 v4, he seems to answer Simon Peter’s question about WHERE he’s going. He says “You know the WAY to where I’m going”.

Thomas can’t work it out, v5. “We don’t even know WHERE YOU’RE GOING, so how can we know THE WAY?”

So Jesus spells it out. V6. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes TO THE FATHER except through me.

Jesus is going TO THE FATHER. But more than that, he’s the way for OTHERS to come to the Father. They’re extraordinary words. Jesus DOESN’T say, “I can SHOW you the way, I’ll point out the SIGNPOSTS. You just follow ME”. And he DOESN’T say, “I’ll TEACH you what the TRUTH IS. Show you where to FIND it. And he DOESN’T say, “I’ve discovered the elixir of life. I’ll GIVE you life.” He says, instead, I AM the way and the truth and the life.

And he DOESN’T say. I am A way to the Father. But I am THE way. He goes on. “NO ONE can come to the Father except through me.” It’s an AUDACIOUS claim. And critics say it’s insensitive and exclusivist and intolerant AS WELL.

NO ONE can come to the Father except through him. No one can make it to the Father ON THEIR OWN. No one qualifies on the basis of what they HAVE done, or HAVEN’T done.

And following any OTHER way won’t get you there either. No one ELSE has the answers. World religions can’t solve the problem. Following laws, or meditating, or visiting sacred places, or recycling your bottles, or reducing your carbon footprint. None of it will work. There’s only ONE WAY to God. A true and living way.

You see, coming to know God isn’t like climbing a mountain with a dozen different tracks to the top. (Start at any point. Doesn’t matter which track you choose. They’re all the same. They all go to the top.)

Instead, coming to know the Father is like a huge mountain surrounded by smooth, sheer rock faces, thousands of metres high. No handholds, no crevices, no ladders. There are NO ways UP. The only way up is if someone at the TOP lets down a rope.

The reason Jesus is the ONLY way. Is because he’s the only solution who’s COME FROM THE FATHER. Rather than coming from mankind. John 1:18 says that no one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (that’s Jesus), who’s at the Father’s side, has MADE HIM KNOWN.

Coming to know God is TOP DOWN. Which is the basic difference between Christianity and every world religion. RELIGIONS are about man bridging the gap to God – which is impossible. But Christianity is about God, in the person of Jesus, bridging the gap. Letting down the rope. So we could come to him.

Jesus’ point is the disciples know the WAY to the Father because they know JESUS HIMSELF. He goes on to explain the connection between himself and the Father.

  • Knowing Jesus means knowing the Father
  • v9 SEEING Jesus means seeing the Father
  • v10, 11 Jesus is IN the Father, and the Father is IN him. That’s to do with an organic, intimate, unbreakable CONNECTION.
  • V10 The WORDS Jesus speaks come from the Father.
  • And at the end of v10, the WORKS Jesus does are actually the FATHER doing his work through Jesus.

Everything ABOUT Jesus sends the message “THIS is what my FATHER is like. Knowing and understanding these things is how you KNOW my Father. It’s how you COME to the Father.”

Coming back

Which is all fine while Jesus is around to TEACH them and SHOW them what the Father is like. But what about when he GOES? What THEN? How will they cope with being on their own? That’s the question occupying the disciples.

Well, the extraordinary promise of Jesus is that HE’S COMING BACK. And they’ll NEVER BE ALONE. Jump back up to the start of Ch 14. The disciples are scared. So Jesus comforts them, Ch 14 v1. “Don’t be TROUBLED. Don’t WORRY. Keep trusting in God, and in me.”

And then, v2, he talks about HIS FATHER’S HOUSE. And how there are many dwelling places there (which we’ll come back to in a moment).

But in v3, he says 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL come back and take you to BE WITH ME that YOU ALSO may be where I am. In other words, you’ll be on your own for a LITTLE WHILE, then I’ll come back to BE WITH YOU.

Which COULD be talking about Jesus’ second coming, at Judgment Day. But I don’t think so. Jump down to v15. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to BE WITH YOU FOREVER- 17 the Spirit of truth.

Whoever commits to loving and obeying Jesus. God promises to send his Spirit to BE WITH HIM FOREVER.

And that will mean that we’ll KNOW God’s Spirit (v17), because he LIVES WITH US, AND will be IN US.

But surely that’s not JESUS who’s coming back to take the disciples to himself, is it? Well, look at what Jesus says NEXT. V18. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

And just to clear it up, in v20, he says 20 On that day you will REALIZE that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

So, somehow within a few verses, Jesus has said that HE will come back to the disciples. AND that he’ll ask the Father, who’ll send his Spirit to be WITH them and IN them. And that Jesus is in the Father, and the disciples are in Jesus.

Taken all together, it means that the TRINITARIAN God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will come to the Christian and live IN him and WITH him. Which brings us down to v23. 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our HOME with him.

Same conditions as v15. Anyone who loves and obeys Jesus. He promises that he and the Father will LOVE him, and they BOTH will come to him and make their HOME in him.

And it’s all to do with God’s Holy Spirit, who we’ll see more about in the next couple of weeks.

So, back up in v3, when Jesus says he’s coming back to take the disciples to be WITH him, he’s not talking about the end of the world. And he’s not talking about when they die, either. Although both those things are TRUE.

He’s saying that IN THE SHORT TERM he’s coming back. At his resurrection. And then he’ll send the Holy Spirit, so that his disciples can be IN him and WITH him.

And that’s the way we should understand v19. “Before long, the world WON’T see me, but you WILL see me.” Because the Spirit of Jesus is living IN them. V20.

20 On THAT day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

They’ll KNOW it because of the Spirit of truth, who, v26 tells us, will TEACH them all things and REMIND them of everything Jesus taught.

Which brings us back again to v2. Where Jesus says that there are many rooms in his Father’s house. And that he’s going to prepare a place for them.

Which COULD be about HEAVEN. But I wonder if Jesus isn’t describing SOMETHING ELSE. And the clue is back in Ch 2 v16. Jesus is clearing the temple of the money changers. And he says, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn MY FATHER’S HOUSE into a market!”

It’s the same phrase. ‘My Father’s house’. But Jesus means THE TEMPLE. Then, when the Jews demand a sign proving Jesus’ authority. He says, “Destroy THIS TEMPLE, and I’ll RAISE it again in three days!” They think he means THE BUILDING. But John explains, v21,

the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.

Jesus’ body is the NEW TEMPLE. And he’ll BUILD it AGAIN after it’s destroyed in death by being RESURRECTED.

And so I wonder if, in Ch 14 v2, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “MY BODY is the new temple, my Father’s house. It’s going to be destroyed. Which means I’m going to PREPARE it for you to come and dwell WITH me. I’ll be RAISED. Then I’m coming back to take you to myself. Because there are many dwelling places in me.

Which is just what he says down in v23. “My Father and I will come to the believer and make OUR HOME with him.” Which is the same word as ROOM there in v2. We’ll make our DWELLING PLACE in EVERYONE who trusts Jesus.

Which means we’re NEVER ALONE. Jesus may not be PHYSICALLY with us, like he was with the disciples. But he and the Father have made their DWELLING PLACE in every believer. Which means we’re NOT walking the Christian life on our own.

So what DIFFERENCE does that make? 1. It means we have the POWER of God’s Spirit to teach us TRUTH. To teach us about Jesus. And how to love and obey him.

  1. And, secondly, we have Holy Spirit-power to LOVE ONE ANOTHER, like JESUS loves. Jesus says that’s how all men will know that we are his disciples, if we LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

As we reflect the character of Jesus, as we love people humbly and sacrificially, then people see Jesus in us. As people see God’s Spirit working in us, they see something of God himself.

The church is God’s window into eternity. As people look at US. At how we behave. How we talk and work and speak and serve. They recognise something of the ONE we FOLLOW. They should be seeing the resemblance.

  1. And, thirdly, down in v27, we see what ELSE the Holy Spirit brings. Not just POWER, but PEACE. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

When you feel like the pressure is too great. Or you don’t know which way to turn. There’s PEACE. CALM. THE OPPOSITE of troubled hearts, or fear. Because we’re never on our own.

Perhaps you’ve EXPERIENCED that. Jesus’ other-worldly PEACE. In the pain of broken relationships. Or the fear of cancer. Or the uncertainty of what you’ll say in that interview. Or what you’ll do when every option seems bad. Or the loneliness of ridicule or persecution.

The world doesn’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense. The world can’t PROVIDE it. But Jesus can. Because he’s WITH you.

  1. But there’s one final point I want to make. Have a look at Ch 14, v12. If you feel the struggle of living the Christian life on your own, be encouraged by Jesus’ words.

12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even GREATER THINGS THAN THESE, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do WHATEVER YOU ASK IN MY NAME, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

How can we POSSIBLY do greater things than Jesus did? And then there’s what seems like the blank cheque book promise that Jesus will do WHATEVER YOU ASK. What do we do with THAT?

The clue, I suggest, is there at the end of v12. Christian will do greater works than Jesus BECAUSE he RETURNS TO THE FATHER.

It’s not until Jesus returns to the Father that he can SEND THE HOLY SPIRIT. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do the things Jesus does, because Jesus is IN us.

But what about GREATER things? Once again, it’s a question of TIMING. Once Jesus returns to the Father, it means God’s plans for his life, death, resurrection and ascension have all come to pass. Everything’s REVEALED. The complete salvation plan is there for all to see.

While Jesus was on earth, his signs pointed to what God was like, and what his plans were. But it wasn’t super clear. Even the disciples didn’t have much of a clue.

But after Jesus returned home, everything was clear. The SIGNS all made sense. Jesus is the RESURRECTED KING whose death wins the victory for his people.

And it’s in THAT sense that we can now do greater works than Jesus. With the power of his Spirit, the things we say and do POINT to God’s plans in Jesus much more clearly than Jesus could, because NOW the whole plan’s been revealed.

What an extraordinary PRIVILEGE we have!

And it’s in THAT sense we can understand the “cheque book” promise. When we ask for things IN HIS NAME, things that will BRING GLORY TO THE FATHER, they’ll be things that point people to Jesus as the Saviour and King. Jesus LOVES to grant those prayers. Because that’s what we’re to be doing while we wait to go home. Bringing GLORY to Father through pointing people to Jesus.

We need never feel like we’re living the Christian life on our own. We have our brothers and sisters LOVING us like Jesus. We have the Father and Son making their home in us. The Holy Spirit gives us POWER and PEACE as we do greater works than Jesus, and point people to him. And Jesus promises to do WHATEVER we ASK as we live to bring glory to him.

May we KNOW and LOVE and LIVE these truths this week.

John 10: The Joy of Sheep

One thing I noticed on my holidays around Cairns was the number of housing developments, or holiday apartments, or resorts SELLING A LIFESTYLE.

Advertising slogans like: “Paradise found”. The complete lifestyle. You deserve it. “Your search ends here. The perfect blend of tranquillity and luxury.” And in the background there’d be idyllic pictures of sunsets, or glasses of champagne, or delicious meals, or romantic couples, or luxurious houses.

And they’re obviously tapping into a market. We saw it all the way through North Queensland. People looking for the perfect life. Whether they were locals or tourists. Everyone wants to find PARADISE. That rich, satisfying, pleasurable, complete lifestyle. Whether it’s the perfect house, or the view, or the golf, or the boat, or the fishing or diving, or the parties, or the food, or the luxury.

And, to be HONEST, there’s a fair bit of it to be FOUND. It’s a gorgeous part of the world. And we had a GREAT TIME.

But the reality, of course, is that it’s a mirage. A mist. You reach out to grab it, but then it slips through your fingers. You experience it fleetingly, for a moment. But then you have to come back to normal life.

Or you find what you’re searching for in ONE area of life, but not in the REST. You’ve got the great house, but your marriage breaks down, or the kids hate you. You’ve got the great boat, but you get sick and can’t USE it. Or

Or you actually GET what you want, but when you DO, it never quite satisfies the way you THOUGHT.

And I think most people, if they’re HONEST with themselves, recognise all that.

And yet, here in this passage, Jesus comes out with the sales pitch an advertising or marketing executive would be PROUD of. V10 of John 10. “I have come that they may have LIFE… And have it TO THE FULL.” He’s promising life that’s ABUNDANT. EXTRAORDINARY. REMARKABLE. That’s a claim straight from the pages of a Lifestyle magazine.

It’s a big claim! But it’s certainly an ATTRACTIVE one. So what does Jesus MEAN by it? And can he DELIVER? And if he CAN, does it LAST? Does it SATISFY?

  1. Two sorts of Shepherds

The first thing to notice about Jn 10 is that it follows straight on from chapter 9. (That’s not terribly clever, is it?) But the point is/ at the end of Ch 9 Jesus has just finished calling the Pharisees blind, and guilty and sinful. Hopeless for a group who are supposed to be looking after, and leading, God’s people.

So, his claim to deliver abundant life is contrasted with a group who are delivering THE OPPOSITE.

And so, as we listen to Jesus’ description about TWO SORTS OF SHEPHERDS, it’s obvious who the BAD ONES are. Who Jesus is having a dig at.

10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.

THE PHARISEES are the ones who jump over the wall, looking to steal some sheep. They’re the jolly swagmen with jumbucks in their tucker bags. More concerned with feeding on lamb chops than PROVIDING feed for their sheep.

And it’s not that unusual, is it? It’s the sort of thing bad leaders have been doing ever since. It’s certainly been in the news recently. Whether it’s the board members of FIFA, the World Football ruling body, allegedly taking bribes for their vote on which country hosts the Football World Cup.

Or the Royal Commission into child abuse, finding evidence in lots of organisations of all sorts of illegal, abusive behaviour from leaders.

Or even this week, evidence that, allegedly, trade unions have been benefitting themselves at the expense of the workers they’re supposed to be representing.

But as Jesus rebukes the blindness and self-centredness of these bad leaders, it’s a picture he’s taken straight from the Old Testament. Because these Pharisees are simply the latest in a long line of false shepherds. In Ezekiel 34 God blasts the leaders of EZEKIEL’S time, 500 years before, because they’re doing the same thing. Looking after THEMSELVES rather than the sheep. (Ezekiel 34:2-4)

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: WOE TO THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL WHO ONLY TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES! SHOULD NOT SHEPHERDS TAKE CARE OF THE FLOCK? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.

And so God promises that HE HIMSELF will search for his sheep and look after them. He’ll rescue them from wherever they’re lost. And then a bit further on he promises to send a HUMAN shepherd. A Son of David to look after them. Down in v23.

23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

And so Jesus comes on the scene. Jesus, the Son of David. Sent by God to be his SHEPHERD PRINCE. And he says (v14 of John 10).

14 “I am the GOOD shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The picture’s a bit different from sheep stations in Australia. Where the farmer drives the huge mob of sheep in front of him while he rides behind on a motorbike. Swearing at the dumb sheep who won’t go where they’re guided. And lots of dogs herd the sheep around, snapping and barking.

In Palestine, even TODAY. Shepherds look after SMALL flocks. And at night, they’re penned up in a walled compound. Probably with all the flocks in the village, with one watchman rostered on to watch them all. With one door in and out. And when morning comes, the shepherd walks through the gate, calls his sheep, they hear his voice, and they all come out from the rest of the flocks, and follow their leader. And the ones who DON’T know his voice stay behind.

And it’s THAT PICTURE that Jesus says is JUST LIKE HIM. He looks out on the whole of humanity. And he knows the sheep who are his. See it there in v2?

2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of HIS SHEEP. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. HE CALLS HIS OWN SHEEP BY NAME AND LEADS THEM OUT.

Even before you were a Christian – before you were following Jesus, he looked out across the great expanse of humanity. And knew you were one of his. And he CALLED you. “Come and follow me.”

How did Jesus know which sheep were his? Well, the SIMPLE answer is because they’re the ones his father GAVE him. Look down to v27.

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, WHO HAS GIVEN THEM TO ME, is greater than all;

But perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s fine, Dave, for JESUS to know which sheep are his. (For the FATHER to choose, and to let Jesus know). But how can I know? How can I know who belongs to Jesus, and who doesn’t? How can I know if I’M one of Jesus’ sheep?”

Following Jesus’ voice

Jesus gives us the answer. And it cuts through a lot of the difficulties people have with this idea. If you’re one of Jesus’ sheep. (If he’s chosen you. And called out your name). Then this is what happens. Look at v3.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out ALL HIS OWN, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep FOLLOW him because they KNOW HIS VOICE.

You’re one of God’s elect, one of Jesus’ sheep, if you’ve HEARD JESUS’ VOICE. And if you’re FOLLOWING him. Trusting him with your life. And your salvation. Living with him as your King. Imitating him. Walking after him. Choosing his way over yours. That’s the test.

And the FLIP side of that is that you’ll choose NOT to listen to OTHER voices. See there in v5.

5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

All sorts of voices, calling out to guide you one way or the other. Public opinion, the media, academia, peer pressure, expectations from family or employers, all sorts of alternative spiritualities, religions, and ways of thinking about the world.

All sorts of promises about what’s RIGHT and GOOD.

But if you’re one of Jesus’ sheep, then it’s HIS voice, found in the Bible, that will ring LOUDEST, and CLEAREST, and TRUEST. And it’s THAT voice that you’ll FOLLOW.

So if that’s your question: How can I know if I’m a chosen sheep? Ask yourself the question, Is that YOU? Have you HEARD JESUS’ VOICE. Are you FOLLOWING him? Are you trusting him with your life? And are you choosing NOT to listen to OTHER voices?

If you honestly answer Yes to that, then you’re one of his sheep. One of the ones chosen by God himself before the creation of the world! How cool is that?!

That’s the FIRST part of living the abundant life Jesus offers. Concentrating on HIS voice, and FOLLOWING it. And it’s a remarkable and rich life because there’s SAFETY and SECURITY and DIRECTION.

Saved by Jesus

The next part of living the abundant life Jesus offers is that we’re SAVED by Jesus. From v7, Jesus changes the metaphor a bit. (He’s the shepherd who comes up to the gate of the pen, and calls his sheep). But he’s also the GATE, or the DOOR, the sheep have to PASS THROUGH. There’s only one way OUT. And that’s Jesus. V9.

9 I am the GATE; whoever enters through me will be SAVED. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.

And then he goes on to describe what the sheep are being saved FROM. V10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy”

That’s who Jesus is protecting his sheep from. He’s the gate. The sheep go THROUGH him. OUT to find food and water. And they go through the shepherd back INTO the pen to find safe rest.

And for sheep, that sounds like a pretty good life, to me. Which is what Jesus goes on to say. V10. Jesus brings abundant, ultimate, remarkable life.

But it’s also COSTLY. And we see what it COSTS Jesus the shepherd in v11.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Like a human shepherd who risks his life protecting the sheep from wild animals, or thieves.

But here, Jesus doesn’t just RISK his life. He LOSES it. He’s thinking ahead to the CROSS. The sacrifice of his life in our place. That’s what it means that he’s the GATE we have to GO THROUGH to be saved.

And then he compares himself to the hired hand, who doesn’t CARE for the sheep, because they’re NOT HIS. But Jesus gives up his life for the sheep because they’re HIS SHEEP. He KNOWS them (v14), and he CARES for them.

And he’s not FORCED into it. Overcome by the events of history. It’s not weak defeat. He CHOOSES to do it. Down to v17.

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I LAY IT DOWN OF MY OWN ACCORD.

Which is a lovely sentiment. But it’s not much use having a shepherd who lovingly dies for his sheep, and then leaves them helpless and unprotected.

  1. Death-defeating

But look at the REST of v18. Because that’s only HALF the story.

I have authority to lay it down and AUTHORITY TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN.

Jesus doesn’t STAY DEAD. He doesn’t LEAVE his sheep unprotected. He takes up his life again. He’s RAISED. POWERFUL, death-defeating. VINDICATED. STILL speaking his voice to his sheep. Still protecting. Still saving.

And that sets Jesus apart from the OTHER voices. The OTHER shepherds. Because they’re all DEFEATED by death. Their promises come up short. They ultimately disappoint.

And it sets apart the abundant LIFE he offers from the other offers. Because it’s a life THAT LASTS. A life that goes beyond our life here on earth.

The victory he won over death is OURS, TOO. The abundant, saved life he offers LASTS is ETERNAL. It’s death-defeating.

  1. Safe

But that’s not all. The fourth part of abundant life is that it’s SAFE.

It’s a question many of us have had at one time or another. Is it possible to fall away? Either we’re worried about it for ourselves, or for someone we know.

We probably all know people who looked like they were Christians, and then turned their back on it. And we all know how fickle, and easily tempted WE are. How quick we are to fall into sin. To lose our enthusiasm, or our attention.

And if it all depended on OUR ABILITY to keep following Jesus, there’d be GENUINE CAUSE TO WORRY. And so Jesus REASSURES us. Look down to v25. He’s arguing with the Jews again. And in v26 he says, you do not believe because you are not my sheep. And then he talks about HIS sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

All things we know already. But he goes on. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall NEVER perish; NO ONE can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of MY FATHER’S hand.

What wonderful words! Those who are truly Jesus’ sheep. (Who hear his voice. And who FOLLOW him). He gives them eternal life. That’s IN THE PRESENT tense. When he CALLS them, and they hear his voice, they’re BORN AGAIN. And they BEGIN eternal life NOW. That’s the ABUNDANT life Jesus promises in v10. FULL AND RICH AND TRUE life. Life that’s the BEGINNING and the TASTE of the life we’ll live for ETERNITY.

And once you’ve GOT it, you can’t LOSE it. No one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand. Or out of his Father’s hand, who’s greater than all. And if you’re worried whether you’ve been born again. Ask yourself those questions I mentioned before. “Have I heard Jesus voice? Do I trust him? Am I following him? Am I ignoring the other voices around leading me away?”

And if you answer YES to all those things. Then you can have a ROCK SOLID CONFIDENCE that Jesus is the good shepherd who will hold onto you and never let you go. Your life is SAFE IN HIM. Because it’s all about HIM, and not about YOU. He’s CALLED you. He DIED for YOU ESPECIALLY. And he’ll NEVER LET YOU GO.

Live out that ABUNDANT life Jesus has won for you. Follow his voice. He’s SAVED you, and DEFEATED DEATH for you. And it’s SAFE.

In Ephesians 1 Paul paints a huge panorama of God’s purposes for you. All the things we’ve talked about today. Eph 1:11-14. And notice how it’s all about GOD, and not about YOU.

11 In him (that’s Jesus) we were also chosen (that’s ELECTION), having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST (that’s REDEMPTION) when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (that’s ASSURANCE) until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.

Let me close by asking you a question. It’s question one from the Heidelberg Catechism. And it’s all about the joy of being one of Jesus’ sheep. The joy of abundant life. A life that’s FAR BETTER than some advertising slogan for a tropical holiday lifestyle. And as you read the answer, dwell on the words. And make them YOURS.

Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and death? Answer. That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully paid for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil. He preserves me so that unless my heavenly Father decides, not even a hair can fall from my head. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also ASSURES ME of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live for him. Amen.

John 1:10-14 Undercover Boss

undercover boss 4I wonder if you’ve seen any episodes of UNDERCOVER BOSS. It’s a show where owners and General Managers go undercover in their companies. They’ve had some big companies do it: Boost Juice, Domino’s Pizza, IGA supermarkets and Big 4 Holiday Parks.

The bosses take off the Armani suits and Gucci ties. They give up all the privileges. And they put on the company uniform, the steel capped boots, the bad wig and fake glasses. And no one recognises them.

They spend a week doing the normal, dirty jobs of their employees. And often, not very well, either. It’s quite funny watching the frustration of people used to success not being able to do quite simple, practical tasks. Fred Harrison, the CEO of IGA Supermarkets, was actually SACKED for poor performance by his supervisor!

But the intriguing part of the show is when the bosses begin to understand the real-life struggles their employees go through. A single mum who juggles a dozen different parts of her life. A dad working night shifts as a second job to pay for his son’s uni. Someone coping with chronic illness and big medical bills.

Bosses who’ve had all the lucky breaks come to realise that normal people can work just as hard, but not come out on top.

And then at the end of the show, there’s the big reveal. The bosses take off the disguises, and they get to express their admiration for their employees. And they reward their hard work and commitment.

The boss goes back to his corner office and three piece suit. The employee gets a helping hand. Everyone’s changed. And we like to think society will be just that little bit more egalitarian and respectful as a result.

That’s just a TV show.

But what if Undercover Boss happened for real? What if the ULTIMATE boss went undercover? What if GOD became ONE of US?

Well, that’s exactly what we celebrate at Christmas.

It’s what the angel told Joseph. There in v23 of Matthew Ch 1. Mary was going to have a baby conceived by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. And he was to be called IMMANUEL, which means GOD WITH US.

GOD WITH US. In a way that’s impossible to completely understand. God went undercover.

A virgin became pregnant. Simply by the power of God. And then God himself was born as a helpless baby boy.

No longer infinite and absolute and eternal. But weak, and fragile and limited. Human in every way.

The God who CREATED everything chose, instead, to BE CREATED.

The One who was outside of time – who CREATED it – who existed BEFORE time  chose, instead, to step INTO time.

The author chose to enter his own story.

Like Alfred Hitchcock. Apart from making brilliant movies, he’s famous for making small appearances is his own movies. Cameos. For a brief second, he’d step out from behind the camera to be part of the story he was telling.

His fans love to study his movies to identify him. Missing a bus during the opening credits of “North by North West”. Sitting next to Cary Grant on a bus in “To Catch a Thief”. Sitting with a child on his lap in a hotel foyer in “Torn Curtain”. He’s even the “Before” and “after” photos in a weight loss ad in a newspaper.

37 appearances identified so far in nearly 50 years of movies.

For Alfred Hitchcock, it’s quirky and cute and interesting. But largely IRRELEVANT TO THE STORY. But when God, the author of creation, chooses to step into creation, it’s utterly unique, and incredibly significant. It CHANGED THE FACE OF HUMAN HISTORY.

For Alfred Hitchcock, it’s just a fleeting glimpse. A split second. And then he goes back to behind the camera. He doesn’t really experience the life of the actor. There’s no hard work, no learning lines, no aching feet.

But for God, when Jesus came as the undercover boss it was different. He experienced everything we do. From cradle to grave. The lows and the highs. Every weakness, every limitation. He GETS IT.

Like the undercover boss who puts on the overalls and the hard hat. Who gets his hands dirty. And really begins to understand what his employees go through.

That’s Jesus. The book of Hebrews says this. That’s the SECOND reading there on your sheet. Ch 4 v15.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE-YET WAS WITHOUT SIN.

He knew what it felt like to be hungry and weary and sick. He experienced blisters and sunburn and headaches. He understood loneliness and betrayal and frustration. He felt the temptation to get angry or even, and to want his own way.

He was God WITH us.

And that means he understands. He sympathises. He GETS it.

Which is a great comfort. (Even if he was just a NORMAL person. To know someone GETS what you go through.) But it’s even better that GOD HIMSELF understands. Because it means he’s got the inclination, and the power, to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Look at the very next verse.

16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE, so that we may RECEIVE MERCY and FIND GRACE to HELP us in our time of need.

Jesus DID walk in our shoes. But NOW, he’s back in charge of the Universe. Like the undercover boss who’s put the suit back on.

And we can be confident he’ll give us a sympathetic hearing when we ask for his help. He gets it, AND he’s got the power to do something about it. Because he’s GOD WITH US.

He’s the perfect High Priest who stands between us and God. Standing up for us. Presenting our requests to him. Bringing them by his authority.

And that means we can be confident of our prayers being ANSWERED. Of God giving us grace to help in times of need.

Is that something YOU know? Do YOU come confidently before God, because you know Jesus is your high priest?

He’s GOD WITH US. Experiencing everything we’ve gone through.

In fact, far MORE and far WORSE than most of us ever will. He didn’t come to the VERY TOP of society. He didn’t come to a royal palace. To a powerful position. To the front of a parade.

He came to a working class family. In a dusty back corner of an insignificant nation. Recognised only by a bunch of dirty shepherds. And he grew up in anonymity. Like every other teenager.

But that was just the beginning. He began his mission. He preached and healed the sick. He cast out demons and calmed storms.

He was God walking and talking and living human life.

But he wasn’t acclaimed and recognised and celebrated like you might expect. In fact, he was misunderstood, and overlooked, and rejected by almost everyone. The THIRD Bible reading, from Jn Ch 1, puts it like this. There in v10.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, THE WORLD DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM. 11 He came to that which was his own, but HIS OWN DID NOT RECEIVE HIM.

He MADE the world. If there was ANYONE who deserved to be recognised, it was the One who’d MADE everything. But when he ENTERED it, the ultimate injustice was his creatures wanted nothing to do with him. They REJECTED him.

Like the employees who don’t recognise their undercover boss. Who treat him as the new junior. They don’t realise who they’re talking to. You half expect the boss to lose his temper. “I pay your wage, buddy! You can’t treat me like that!”

And it was like that with Jesus. The crowds were happy to follow him when he fed them, or healed them. But when he challenged them to leave everything to follow him. They didn’t want anything to do with him.

And the powerful and pious – the religious leaders – were OFFENDED by him. And JEALOUS of him. And they were wanted him dead.

And in the end, they SUCCEEDED.

He was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit. His friends abandoned him. And then he was unjustly punished with a barbaric, tortuous death.

Which was TERRIBLE news. But it wasn’t the END of the story. Because he wasn’t just ANY man. He was GOD. And so death couldn’t beat him. And he was RAISED TO LIFE.

And THAT’S what the angel was talking about to Joseph. Way back when Mary was pregnant. “Call him Jesus,” he said, which means GOD SAVES. “Because he will SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.” (See it there, in v21 of the first reading?)

And the incredible story of Jesus’ life isn’t just that he CAME. Or that he came as GOD WITH US.

But that he came as God with us TO SAVE PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.

Mankind’s natural inclination is to IGNORE the God who made us. It’s the ultimate insult. To NOT recognise him, or receive him, as John puts it.

To choose OUR way instead of God’s. To act as if God ISN’T the one who made us, and who deserves our loyalty.

That’s what SIN is. It’s that basic attitude that’s such an insult to God.

And it’s the ROOT of every OTHER sin. Every time we break one of God’s commands, behind it there’s the attitude of pride, of self-sufficiency, of rebellion against God.

It’s sin like that  which refused to recognise Jesus as God with us.

It’s sin like that which nailed Jesus to the cross.

It’s sin like that which we’re ALL guilty of.

It’s sin like that which God would be perfectly just to punish us for.

And yet, it’s sin like that which Jesus came to DELIVER us from. Look at how John continues. The world God made REJECTED him when he came to his own. But NOT EVERYONE. It wasn’t UNIVERSAL. V12.

12 Yet to all who RECEIVED him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

There were some people who DID recognise Jesus. Who saw through the disguise. And who RECEIVED him.

Which means to see past the limited human form, and see the infinite GOD HIMSELF. God who walked and talked.

A bit further on there in v14, the author describes the incredible experience of some of those who walked with Jesus.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We HAVE seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

They saw through the disguise, and saw the glory of GOD HIMSELF. The invisible made visible. The infinite made finite.

And they RECEIVED him. Which means they BELIEVED IN HIS NAME. That’s the way v12 puts it.

To believe in Jesus’ name means to TRUST HIS AUTHORITY. To trust that he really IS God with us. That he really DOES speak on God’s behalf. That he really IS the High Priest who sympathises with our weaknesses, and who presents our interests before the Father.

And it means trusting what he’s DONE. What he’s achieved by his death and resurrection. Trusting that it’s on the basis of THAT WORK ALONE that we can approach God. And nothing to do with our own merits. Trusting that he’s DEALT with the sin that separates us from God.

And lastly, it means SHOWING that trust in the way we follow him each day.

And the wonderful promise in that verse is that anyone who RECEIVES Jesus like that. Whether WAY BACK THEN, or TODAY. Anyone who recognises him. And who trusts his authority, he gives the right to BECOME GOD’S CHILDREN.

That’s what it says there in v12. The privilege of being part of God’s family. Connected to the Creator who made us. Which is, ultimately, what we were DESIGNED for.

That’s an offer to ANYONE. No matter how good or bad you’ve been. No matter what your background. All he asks is you RECEIVE. And BELIEVE.

And when you become part of the family, there’s all sorts of BENEFITS that come with that. Gifts from the Boss who went undercover.

Just like the undercover boss who gives gifts to his loyal employees. Jesus hands out FAR GREATER gifts.

He makes us God’s children. Which means we can call God FATHER. And he loves to hear the prayers of his children.

And Jesus brings forgiveness, and peace and purpose and love. He makes us part of his worldwide family.

Are they benefits YOU know?

Have you RECEIVED Jesus? Have you BELIEVED IN HIS NAME?

If you’ve never DONE that, this Christmas is a great opportunity. To RECOGNISE the greatest gift ever given. When GOD GAVE HIMSELF. And to RECEIVE him. And to TRUST him.

After all, Christmas is the time for receiving gifts. And this is the best gift of all.

Or maybe you’ve done that BEFORE, but you’ve DRIFTED AWAY. You’ve got distracted and wandered off doing your OWN thing. You’ve lost the wonder you ONCE felt when you recognised Jesus. And you need to REAFFIRM what you’ve believed before.

Either way, becoming God’s child is as easy as ASKING. Talking to God. That’s what PRAYER is. ACCEPTING the GIFT Jesus offers. It’s as easy as saying something like,

Dear God, thank you that you sent Jesus to walk among us. Thanks that even though I fail to recognise him, and ignore him, he died and rose again to SAVE me from your judgment. Please forgive my sin, and help me to live trusting in Jesus’ authority. In Jesus’ name. Amen

In a moment I’ll finish up by praying that prayer.

The exact words you pray aren’t important. Or when or how you do it. You may like to say it in your OWN words. You may like to do it LATER. What COUNTS is whether you MEAN it.

And perhaps you’re not ready to make that step just yet. Because it’s a HUGE step. A LIFE CHANGING step. And it’s one you don’t want to RUSH INTO.

Perhaps you’ve got some questions. Or you want to do some more investigating. I’d LOVE to help. Helping people asking those sorts of questions is the best thing about this job!

Everyone should have a comment card with them. And, hopefully, a pencil. And, if you’d like, I’d LOVE you to make a comment. Or ask a question. Or ask us to pray for something.

Fill in your details if you’d like me to contact you. I promise we won’t sell them to Reader’s Digest. And when the collection bags come around just pop them in the bags, and they’ll get to me.

And please don’t put any money in if you’re a visitor. You’re our guests.

Let me pray for us all

Dear God, thank you that you sent Jesus to walk among us. Thanks that even though I failed to recognise him, he died and rose again to SAVE me from your judgment. Please forgive my sin, and help me to live trusting in Jesus’ authority. In Jesus’ name. Amen