Suffering

God’s grace and glory are displayed in me when I suffer.

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Read: John 9

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Reflect:

There is a clash of ideologies between the disciples’ question and Jesus’ answer. The disciples are looking for a cause to explain the man’s disability, whereas Jesus reveals a purpose to his suffering. The question of suffering is not primarily one of cause and effect, rather, it is one of purpose and plan.

The important thing is not what circumstances led to the suffering. Within the Christian world view, all suffering originated with the Fall, with the first sin and the consequent curse, so all suffering is caused by sin either directly or indirectly. There’s no value in dwelling on who sinned, or what sin led to which consequence, because ultimately, the problem of sin has already been solved.

The solution to sin was and always is Jesus’ sacrifice of himself. However, this sacrifice has not (yet) achieved an alleviation of suffering. The reason any person suffers, whether it is me, my loved ones, you or a man born blind some 2000 years ago, is for the ongoing purpose of showing off the works of God, displaying God’s glory.

This ideology allows Christians to suffer joyfully, to persevere when persecuted, to die with dignity, to mourn hopefully. We can do all this because we know that God is at work within us and within our situation, to bring about our good and his glory, whether or not our wounds are healed in the short term.

Crux:

God’s grace and glory are displayed in me when I suffer.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I truly believe you are a God of loving-kindness, compassion, mercy and grace. You care for your people with tender-heartedness, generosity, patience, gentleness and wisdom.

I see your character at work in this story of Jesus healing a blind man and then speaking to him several times to ensure that he was not just physically healed, but also spiritually nurtured.

When I think of my own past suffering, I am forced to conclude and confess that I have not always glorified you in my responses, particularly my immediate, automatic responses. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Please change my heart so that what I know to be true will be evident from my first response as well as from my more thoughtful and informed responses later on.

I acknowledge that you have always been at work, displaying your care for me as I have suffered. You’ve provided for my needs even before I thought to ask. You’ve comforted me as I cried aloud to you. You’ve encouraged me when I sought your strength. You’ve brought me to the place where I could rejoice with singing where previously I was wailing with grief.

O LORD, continue to magnify your glory in my suffering.

Amen.

PS LORD, even as I pray this, I tremble at the thought of what suffering you might yet allow into my life. Please continue to walk beside me and uphold me, all the days of my life.

Given

I am a gift from God the Father to Jesus his Son.

Read: John 6

And this is the will of him who sent me: that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:39-40)

“You do not want to leave to, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

Reflect:

These verses explain several fundamental Christian doctrines in Jesus’ own words, using the standard Jewish poetical form of parallelism*. The will of God is mentioned twice in the beginning of each of the parallel statements.

What is the will of God?

According to the first statement, that Jesus shall have, keep and never lose all of those whom God the Father has given to him. All of these people are given to Jesus and will never be lost by Jesus. This is the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and perseverance of the saints.

According to the second statement and taking into account the parallelism of the statements, all those who are given to Jesus shall look to Jesus and believe in him, and thereby have eternal life. This is the Reformation doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone.

According to both statements, that Jesus will “raise up” all these people at the last day. This is the second century doctrine expressed in the Apostle’s Creed as “the resurrection of the body”.

Crux:

I am a gift from God the Father to Jesus his Son. Verily, this truth strikes me with awe.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Whom have I in heaven besides you? You are Unity and Trinity, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, just and merciful, compassionate and holy. I bow in awe of your majestic magnificence and in gratitude for your gracious and precious will for me.

Thank you, Father, for giving me to Jesus, your Son, so that I would believe in him whom you sent, so that I would have eternal life.

You have the words of eternal life, the ways by which all your will for me has been and shall be accomplished. Jesus is the Holy One, Christ, Messiah, King, Lord, Saviour, Sacrifice.

Thank you for giving me to Jesus so that I, like Simon Peter, may believe and know all this.

Please help me to tell others the truth about Jesus, today and as part of my everyday ordinary life that I live for your everlasting glory.

Amen.

* Rhetorical Ramble:

Parallelism is a rhetorical scheme of balance, a poetical figure of equality. (See what I did there?) It’s a bit like a written echo.

According to my Oxford Dictionary of English, parallelism is “the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose which correspond in grammatical structure, sound, metre, meaning etc.” The base word parallel comes from Greek words meaning “alongside one another”.

So in parallelism, two (or more) successive words or phrases or sentences follow the same pattern, either in their form or in their meaning.

Both these forms of parallelism may be seen in the first sentence of this rhetorical ramble, highlighted by the repetition of the words a and of. The word rhetorical matches poeticalscheme has the same meaning as figure and balance corresponds to equality. That last sentence provides another example of parallelism, in this case with three parallel sections of text, rather than the more common two.

Parallelism was common in Hebrew and Jewish writing. A plethora of examples can be found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, such as these from Proverbs 1:8-9:

A: Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
A’: and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
B: They are a garland to grace your head
B’: and a chain to adorn your neck.

Whenever we observe parallelism of sentence structure in the Bible, we should ask ourselves whether there is also an implied equality of meaning.

But be warned! Be wise! The Bible’s authors also used antithesis, where the parallel structure is used to juxtapose contrasting ideas rather than matching ones (Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Corbett & Connors). Proverbs 10:1 includes an example:

The proverbs of Solomon:
A: A wise son brings joy to his father,
A’: but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.

Workers

God is always at his work and it is good for me to be working also.

Read: John 5

In his defence Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:17-18)

“I have testimony weightier than the of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36)

Reflect:

According to this passage, God is a worker. He didn’t stop work entirely on the seventh day of Creation, when he rested from his work of creating new things. Rather, God is living and active, at work accomplishing his purposes and achieving his goals, fulfilling his will and finishing his works.

The Father works. Jesus his Son works. The Spirit also works, giving new birth (John 3:6) and making true worshipers (John 4:23). God is good at his work! So it is entirely appropriate that I, who love God and seek to follow Jesus, living like him, should also work. And I should work hard and well until the work God gives me is finished.

What a brilliant encouragement from God to me as I head off to my first day back for another year of paid employment.

Crux:

God is always at his work and it is good for me to be actively working as well.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your renewed words of encouragement to me this morning as I headed out to my job for the beginning of another year.

I am reassured to know that you are always at your work: you are not lazy, not a slacker, not asleep in charge of the universe. No! You are diligent, disciplined, powerful, strong, active, committed to your work. I honour you as the perfect worker.

Thank you for your work accomplishing my salvation, work which Jesus completed, which you, Father, sent him to do.

I ask your favour in my work for the coming term and year, for my students in their studies and for me as their teacher, tutor and trainer. May I be a hard-worker, showing them your love by my service to them. May I open their eyes to read words so they may read your Word. May I be successful in my work of teaching, and may they be blessed in their work of learning.

Amen.

True Worship

If I met Jesus face-to-face, would I be willing to ask for his advice?

Read: John 4

“The fact is, you have had five husbands…” (John 4:18)

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)

Reflect:

This woman may have had a backstory littered with widowhood and broken marriages, and a reputation that left her an outcast drawing well-water in the hottest part of the day, but she blows me away with her spiritual perspicacity.

She meets a bloke at a well and he starts a conversation about being thirsty and drinking water… so far, so ordinary.

But then he tells her one thing about herself that he had no human way of knowing and BAM! she knows straight away he’s a prophet. And she’s got a religious question right on the tip of her tongue, on a topic of deep spiritual significance, and she just goes ahead and blurts it out.

Maybe all that social exclusion gave this woman time to think some deep religious thoughts, but it’s certain that her outcast status didn’t keep her from wanting to get right with God.

She knows she’s found a prophet and she knows what she doesn’t know. She’s determined to know the truth so she may live in obedience to that truth. Wow! That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

Crux:

If I met Jesus fact-to-face, would I be willing to ask for his advice on worshiping God rightly – and then act on his advice?

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I delight in the irony of you sovereignly ordaining that I should meditate upon this story on a Sunday, the day on which I have gathered with other Christians to publicly worship you.

Even more, you foreknew that today would be a day when our church’s order of service was changed out of the ordinary routine, to help the little ones sit with the whole congregation through the whole service, including the sermon. And next Sunday we’ll be worshiping in a different place, as part of our Church Family Camp weekend.

How appropriate that I should read this today, and be shown that the necessary thing about my worship is not location nor order of service, but that I worship you in Spirit and Truth. And another delicious connection: this morning our Sunday School and sermon were on the Spirit of Truth who testifies about Jesus, as Jesus spoke of him in John 15:26-16:33.

O LORD, I love your ways!

Amen.

Know to Grow

The more I know about Jesus, the more my faith can grow.

Read: John 2

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:22)

Reflect:

Jesus’ disciples believed in him from his first miraculous sign. Then, after the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophetic words regarding his death, they believed the scripture (that had foretold of Jesus) and Jesus’ own words. This poses a conundrum. How could the discipled believe, and then believe again later? It seems as if belief is not solely a one-time event, but more of an ongoing series of events. The more Jesus revealed his glory, the more his disciples could believe in him.

Or perhaps another way of putting it is: the more the disciples saw of Jesus and got to know him, the more their belief was based in truth. So the disciples’ belief in Jesus became fuller, richer and deeper as they witnessed Jesus’ glory revealed in his life and ministry.

Belief expands with knowledge of the truth.

Crux:

The more I know about Jesus, the more my belief in him can grow.

Christology is necessary for Christianity.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

In his miraculous actions at the Cana wedding, I see Jesus having compassion for an awkward social situation and smoothing the way with the best wine possible. Please help me to believe in Jesus’ glory when I need him to cover my inadequacies, mistakes and insufficiencies (which, as you know, is all the time). It is great to know that Jesus cared enough to intervene at Cana and to know my life is in your loving hands.

I see Jesus’ righteous wrath and zealous passion for your holiness and glory in his abrupt, curt response to the challenge of the Jews at the Temple. Please keep me trembling in fear before your holiness. Please help me to believe in Jesus’ death for my sins and also in your gracious forgiveness. Please help me also to be deliberate in taking your glory seriously, so I do not dishonour you or your name, especially in those situations where I do the ‘right’ things in a completely wrong way, like shouting at the kids to get ready for church(!).

Please magnify your glory in me and through me in my everyday ordinary life.

Amen.

Conscious > Righteous

Through the law I become conscious of my sin

I’m pretty sure I got a speeding ticket a few days ago. I was driving in an 80 km/hr zone, about 100m from the 110 km/hr zone boundary when I saw the black camera on the side of the road, partially obscured by leaves. I glanced down at my dash and saw, to my dismay, that the speedo had crept up without me noticing and it was presently hovering just below 90 km/hr. Drat! I was breaking the speed limit law.
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There was no point slowing down; by the time I’d realised I was going too fast, I was almost into the highway speed zone and it was time to accelerate, not brake. For the rest of the drive home, an entire hour, I fumed at myself and at the police. Mostly the police, in accordance with my sinful nature.

When Jeff met me at the door ready to hug me and offer commiserations, I burst into tears. I told him I felt like Job – under unbearable examination every moment (Job 7:17-19), found guilty even though I try my hardest each and every time I drive not to break the speed limit law.

For a bit of perspective, it’s been almost 12 months since my last speeding ticket. Living in the country, driving several hundred kilometres up and down a long, straight highway most days of the week, I’ve earned a ticket every year or so for the last few years. The truth is, no matter how hard I try to keep within the law, I do, occasionally, break it.

There have been lots of times I’ve passed one of those roadside cameras confident I was doing a legally correct speed. But when I get one of those dreaded envelopes in the mail with its smug photos of the side of the car and the number plate, I know there is no getting around it. My inability to perfectly keep the law  is exposed by the law itself.

I shouldn’t be surprised by my inability to keep the law. Nor should I be surprised by the law’s ability to make me conscious of my failure. This is, after all, the ultimate purpose behind all laws, from the least societal convention to the most profound commandment.

Romans 3:19 and 20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law… through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

When I see those cameras, symbols of the law in Australia (whether they are currently taking my photo or not) I am reminded that I am, by nature, a sinner. I am not naturally perfect, pure, blameless or righteous*. Far from it! I cannot keep the laws of Australia – how much more do I fail to uphold the perfect standards of my holy God!

When I contemplate the seemingly easy to attain standards of road rules in Australia, I become conscious of my sin. When I think about the oft-misunderstood social mores of my peers, the rules of propriety, I become conscious of my sin. When I meditate upon the 10 commandments, I become conscious of my sin. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” as David wrote in Psalm 51. The law makes my sin obvious.

A few days ago, when I saw that camera, it was too late to act and slow down to a safer speed. Paying the fine I’ll be getting in the mail sometime soon won’t take away the fact that I was speeding, either. Waiting out the loss of a few more demerit points from my licence won’t make me a better driver.

In contrast, God’s law is not ineffective. God’s law makes me conscious of my sin for a far higher purpose than revenue raising or road safety. When I am conscious of my own sin, I turn away from my sin and repent. I seek God’s mercy and clemency. I ask for God’s forgiveness.

Whenever the law makes me conscious of my sin, I realise just how unrighteous I am and how very much I need God’s righteousness. Instead of thinking I can become righteous through my own efforts to keep the law, I seek Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that “is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I learn to trust God’s promise that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24).

I realise that obeying Jesus and being like Jesus is only possible because I have faith in Jesus Christ, whom I know and love.

crux: Jesus Christ is righteous. On my own, I am not righteous. Through the law, I become conscious of my sin so I will have faith in Jesus Christ and be given his righteousness.

* Righteous means morally perfect. Other words with similar meanings are pure, upright and blameless. Good and godly also mean the same thing. Another related word is justified, which means that God has judged you, removed your guilt, and announced that you are righteous.

[This musing is based upon Romans 3:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]

Christology

Why study Jesus Christ?

Acts 11:26 tells us, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” What led to the people of this city taking a new name, a new identity?

A story to share with children:

After Jesus was crucified, rose to life again and ascended to heaven, his disciples* were persecuted. One man, Stephen, was even killed with stones. Many of Jesus’ disciples fled from Jerusalem. But everywhere they went, they told people the good news about the Lord Jesus.

In Antioch, lots of people, including non-Jews, believed what they were told about Jesus. The book of Acts says they turned to the Lord. God changed their hearts through his grace. The people of Antioch gave up their old religious practices and turned away from their previous religious beliefs. Instead, they believed the truth that had first been declared at Pentecost (Acts 2:3): “God has made this Jesus, whom [the Jews] crucified, both Lord and Christ.” They became new disciples of Jesus.

The apostles in Jerusalem heard about these new disciples in Antioch, and sent Barnabas the Encourager to the city. Barnabas was glad to go, and even more glad to meet these new disciples. He was very excited to see that God’s grace was helping the people of Antioch to believe in Jesus Christ.

Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a while to encourage the new believers to stick with their new faith. They had lots to learn. Who was Jesus? Why was he called “the Christ”? What had Jesus taught to his disciples while he was on earth? What should they do to obey Jesus? How could they follow Jesus, now that he had gone up to heaven to be with God the Father?

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Illustration copyright Chrissie D.
Permission to print this image is granted to families or churches for use in teaching children about Jesus Christ. This image must NOT be sold or used for any commercial reason. Please do NOT copy it to your website or blog.

The Holy Spirit was in Barnabas’s heart. He was full of faith in Jesus Christ. So Barnabas had answers for all their questions. The believers at Antioch learnt about Jesus. With Barnabas’s help and encouragement, even more people in Antioch believed in Jesus. Together they became a church, a new gathering of God’s people. Barnabas taught them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

After a while, it seemed as if there were too many believers in Antioch for one man to teach them all. So Barnabas went to find Saul, to bring him to help. Barnabas found Saul in his hometown, Tarsus, and brought him to Antioch.

For a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught big crowds of people. The disciples of Jesus at Antioch spent twelve months studying all about Jesus Christ, with Saul and Barnabas as their enthusiastic teachers. As the new disciples learned about Jesus Christ, they came to love Christ, to obey Christ and eventually, to be a bit like Christ.

Barnabas and Saul taught the people in Antioch that Jesus had commanded his disciples to love one another, in the same way Jesus had loved them (John 11:34). The new disciples obeyed Jesus’ command. They loved one another very well. They showed compassion and were kind, humble, gentle and patient with each other.

In time, other people noticed how well these Antioch disciples loved each other. They commented, “They are loving other people just like Jesus Christ did.”

Some said, “They must belong to Christ.”

Other people said, “They are just like little Christs!”

So they gave the Antioch disciples a nickname, calling them Christians, which means little Christs. Ever since, the disciples of Jesus have been known as Christians. This was just what Jesus had said would happen (John 11:35).

crux: Like the believers at Antioch, I am a Christian. I am a disciple – a student – of Christ. So I study Christ. I seek to know Christ so I may love Christ, obey Christ and be like Christ.

I hope you will enjoy studying Christ with me at crux.live.

* Disciples are students or followers. Jesus’ disciples were the people who followed him to learn from him all the wonderful things he had to teach them about knowing, loving and obeying God.

[This text is based upon Acts 11:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]