Commanded

Read: John 14

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happened. so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince off this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:28-31)

Reflect:

The greatest act of love the world has ever witnessed was Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. His death was not compelled by this world’s prince (ie, the devil); it could not be, because the devil has no power over Jesus (v30). Rather, Jesus’ death was an act of obedience to his Father’s command (v31).

Jesus’ words in this passage reveal anew three key things about Jesus’ nature:

  1. Jesus has the ability to foretell truth (v29).
  2. The Father is greater (even) than the Son (v28).
  3. The Son willingly obeys the Father (v31).

Even though Jesus said seeing him was the same as seeing the Father, in some sense God the Father is, has always been and will always be greater than God the Son. There is complete harmony between the members of the Trinity, yet their is also hierarchy and subordination. And this does not mean that there is a lack of love, nor is there any disobedience. This loving obedience allows Jesus to be completely calm and assured for his future, even though he is very aware he is going to his death.

Crux:

Jesus loved me to the cross because his Father commanded him to.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus’ act of love on the cross. Thank you for your love within the Trinity for each other, and for your love for me.

Please help me to love others in the way Jesus loved. Please help me to know others are greater, and that’s okay. Please help me to obey Jesus’ commands and teaching because I love him.

Please help me to understand what Jesus teaches me, with the help of the Advocate’s teaching. Please disciple me, be my Rabbi, through the voice of the Holy Spirit, so I am reminded of all I know to be true about Jesus.

Make me mature in my faith. I know this will mean disciplining me when I am disobedient. I submit to you in that as in all things. Please conform my spirit, my soul and my self to the image of your Son Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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Gods?

Jesus is God’s Son and I was created in God’s image

Read: John 10

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods” ‘? If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father sent as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:34-36)

Reflect:

Jesus begins with one metaphor in this chapter, using imagery of shepherds and sheep, gates and thieves. This is fairly simple to understand, especially since I have had the pleasure of hand-rearing several lambs from birth, feeding them from bottles, taking them for walks through our town (tourists would stop and take photos as I led my lamb along by a leash, as one would do with a dog, and later, as the older lamb followed along behind me without a leash). I’ve rolled my eyes when my lambs knocked at our back door with their front hooves as soon as they heard me in the kitchen in the morning, seemingly demanding the milk they knew I was preparing. I’ve laughed at my lambs rollicking frolics and marvelled at the way they have indeed come to my call, recognising and responding to my voice.

I find it easy to understand the figurative language which describes a Christian knowing Jesus’s voice and following him in the same way a lamb knows and follows her shepherd.

The second metaphor in this chapter is much more opaque. Jesus refers to himself as God’s Son, and to those “to whom the word of God came” as “gods”. The psalm Jesus is quoting (Psalm 82) describes a scene of God’s judgement and rebuke of “gods” who are unjust fools, not like the One True God at all. They are described as “all sons of the Most High” who will still die, just as every mortal dies.

As Jesus stated, this Scripture cannot be set aside. So how do I understand it and what do I do with it?

I can’t accept that it is right to think that those who receive the word of God (people who read or hear the Bible’s message, generally) are literally gods in the same sense the Father, Son and Spirit are God. This understanding would be completely at odds with the rest of the entire Bible, starting with Genesis 1, which related the creation of people by an uncreated God. And this understanding is also at odds with Psalm 82 itself, which is clearly portraying these so-called “gods” in contrast to the One True God who sits in judgement on them and disciplines them.

So I have to understand that this use of the word “gods” by the psalmist Asaph and by Jesus in quoting the psalm, is a metaphor. It is a use of figurative language, just like the use of the word sheep to describe God’s people in other parts of John 10.

One way the imagery can be understood is to say that the people to whom the word of God has come are idolaters who worship themselves, just like each and every person does a little bit of self-worship at some time of their lives or another. If Jesus is using the passage this way, then he is condemning his hearers for their religious hypocrisy in condemning him as a blasphemer when he proclaims himself as God, while at the same time they are acting as if they are their own little self-proclaimed gods. This makes sense with the passage.

Another way the imagery can be understood is as a reference to the fact that when God created people, he made us in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). We are, in some senses, replica gods, image-bearers of God himself, like God but not God. So why should we (or Jesus’ hearers), who are made in God’s image, be surprised when we meet the One who bears the image of God perfectly? This too makes sense with the passage.

I am convicted of my sinfulness and convinced of my need for Jesus and my potential for glory.

Crux:

Jesus is God’s Son and I was created in God’s image.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are perfect and I am far, far less than that. Your Scripture says that I was made in your image, yet I frequently do a very bad job of making your glory known.

You are love, You constantly had compassion on others during your Immanuel years. You care for your sheep, of whom I am one. I frequently am not loving, compassionate or caring. I’m not gregarious or extraverted, which isn’t a fault in itself, but my selfish ignoring of others is a problem. I know if I push myself to hard to be friendly and chatty I will melt down or burn out. Please help me find balance, especially with my church family at Camp this weekend.

Please help me to know you and respond to you just as a good sheep does her shepherd. Please help me to follow in your steps as a good sheep follows her shepherd. May I bring you glory as I show your image clearly to the world.

Amen.

Suffering

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

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.

“Follow Me”

Jesus wants me to follow him so that I may know God.

Read: John 1

No-one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43)

Reflect:

Without knowing Jesus, a person can’t know God. We can’t see God, except in Jesus, the Light of the World. We can’t hear God, except in Jesus, the Word of God. We can’t face God, except through the forgiveness won by Jesus, the Lamb of God. We can’t relate to God, except in his one and only Son Jesus, who is himself God.

So it was an immense, even immeasurable, honour for Jesus to tell Philip of Bethsaida to “Follow me”. Jesus was leaving the place where John the Baptist had pointed him out as the Lamb of God to his disciples (and presumably to the Jewish leaders as well). Jesus was heading back to his home ground of Galilee, and if he hadn’t invited Philip to follow him, Philip might never have seen him again… and Philip would have missed out on not just knowing Jesus, but also missed out on truly knowing God.  But Jesus did ask Philip to follow him, and Philip did follow. What a privilege.

Jesus has extended this call to follow him to me as well, by giving me the opportunity to read and meditate upon John’s record of Jesus for myself. John’s gospel testimony allows Jesus to make God known to me, today, just by opening the Bible and reading John’s words. What a privilege!

Crux:

Jesus wants me to follow him so that I may know God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Father of one and only Son, Jesus; Adoptive Father to many heirs including me; you have known me since the beginning of time, before my life began. You know me inside and out: my motivations, my thoughts, my personality, my quirks… yet you have chosen to reveal yourself and make yourself known to me through Jesus, your Son, your Word, your Light, the Teacher you sent so Philip and I both may learn to know you and love you  and obey you.

Please continue to help me follow Jesus. May he be my Rabbi, and I his disciple, all the days of my life and into eternity, so i may always be knowing more of you.

Thank you for Jesus and for your prophets and disciples who testified aloud and in writing that Jesus is himself God, so that I can know and believe, and by believing have life in Jesus’ name.

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.
img_3901crux
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.]