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PART THREE: DESCRIPTION
Focus on Christ Meditations: 16. The Word (1)
Jn 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… 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
In Part One we focused on the mystery that was there in the Old Testament yet to be revealed. In Part Two we started focusing on the coming of the one about who those mysterious prophecies had spoken, coming as a baby, and our focus was on the people involved with him at that time. Within that part it was inevitable that descriptions of this child would start to predominate but we left those descriptions within the context of the people involved. Now however, in this third Part, the sun is rising more clearly and we focus on the wider means of identifying this One who has come as a fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and we will observe a variety of names or descriptions given to the Christ.
Although written many decades later, our starting point is with the description that the apostle John uniquely gave Jesus – the Word. Now I want to consider two things about this ‘Word' but we'll have to wait until the following study to see the second thing.
The first is about the Greek meaning of the Word – Logos – which essentially means ‘the logic behind an argument' or, more generally, the ‘reason behind everything'. To the Greeks of his day, the popular culture of what we today call the Middle East , John was saying, this Jesus you have heard about is the cause or reason that everything exists. John expands this for both the Greeks of his day who would understand this, and for us who may not know about that meaning, in the following verses: “ Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (v.3,4) i.e. he is the source of all of existence.
In verse 1 he picked up that staggering declaration that we found in early Isaiah which also echoed around the various other pronouncements around the Nativity story, that this child was somehow God in the flesh. This ‘Word' was actually “with God” (which seems to indicate a distinct entity from God) and yet “was God”. The God of the Bible is the unique, single Creator of all things, and now John, backing up Isaiah, says this child is that One. I like ‘the reason behind everything' definition for Logos.
The writer to the Hebrews echoed this exact same thing for, speaking about God and then Jesus, he wrote: “his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) There are the same elements: distinction, unity, creator activity and indeed the power to sustain and maintain this world.
Earlier in this series I wrote, ‘ The person of Jesus is what makes Christianity stand out as a unique religion and once anyone starts looking at the claims about Jesus in the Bible there is no question whatsoever that Christianity makes claims that are way above and beyond anything any other world religion makes.' The verses we have been considering so far in these studies are many and varied and they all say the same thing – this Christ IS God – divinity that was the Creator, divinity that upholds all of existence.
Why do so many people struggle with this? Because they fail to consider these verses and they focus only on what they see in the human being that was Jesus of Nazareth. John doesn't allow that. Note in the opening verse a hint of what will be made very clear in a subsequent chapter of his Gospel, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.” That is the amazing claim of this Gospel that the Son of God, who is now manifested in the form of the body and life of Jesus of Nazareth, existed in heaven from before time began with all the glory of the Godhead and so what we see in the Gospels is the life of the Son on earth, having come from heaven. You won't find that in any other world religion. This is unique revelation.
Do you see how all the threads we've seen before in the earlier studies come together here – a child who IS God comes as our saviour. But I have only partly answered my question above, why do so many people struggle with this? Not only do they only focus on the human aspect, they fail to take in the big picture that is stated so clearly in scripture: “He is the image of the invisible God.” ( Col 1:15 – also 2 Cor 4:4) Or see Paul's amazing song, perhaps echoing one of the early church sayings, “Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) There it all is: although God, he submitted himself to the will of the Father and came from heaven in human likeness to die on the Cross.
The Word – the reason behind everything – came from heaven from which he, with his Father, had created all things, came here to reveal the Father, and that is the second aspect of this that we will consider in the next study.
To reflect upon: do we understand the greatness and the glory of the Son of God and do we thus worship him for who he is, seated there at his Father's right hand today?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 17. The Word (2)
Jn 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… 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
We have said in this third Part that we will observe a variety of names or descriptions given to the Christ and we have commenced with John's cultural icon to satisfy the Greeks, the Word. I also said I want to consider two things about this ‘Word' and we started by looking at the Greek meaning and its incredible implication. Now I want to ponder a much more simple idea about this term, the Word that can help all people, not merely the Greek culture,.
The most simple approach is to just ask, what is a word? Yes, we've seen the Logos idea but more generally than that, what is a word? It is a communication. We only have to say, “Yes.” or “No.” or “Right,” or “Go!” and we are communicating. Words are the way we communicate mainly. Yes, we have much talk about body language but words are the primary means of communication. And so John says Jesus is God's means of communication.
Now the writer to the Hebrews has this exact same idea in mind when he started his writing: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2) There it is. In the past the whole Old Testament is just that, a testimony to God communicating, but now, says the writer, “he has spoken to us by his Son.” Now that may mean that the words Jesus spoke were God's words, or it may mean that by his very being Jesus communicated what his Father was like, and that latter meaning is the path we are going to follow here.
Again we have to thank John for his years of recollecting the finer points of his experience of those three years with Jesus, for within his accounts we find the following: “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (Jn 14:7) Now I suspect that is one of those verses we skim over without giving it the thought that is due to it, so let's have a closer look at it.
“If you really knew me.” What does that imply? It's not that you have been with me throughout these three years, but have you come to realise who I really am? Therefore IF you have come to realise who I am (God!) “you would know my Father as well.” God is God wherever He is – in heaven Supreme, or here on earth in single bodily form. THAT is what is implied here, and if that wasn't enough, “From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Have seen Him? You have seen the Father? How? By seeing me.
The disciples struggled: “Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (v.8) Jesus' answer? “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (v.9,10) No wonder Paul was to write, as we saw before, “He is the image of the invisible God.” ( Col 1:15) and then almost even more remarkably, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” (v.19)
Now why is this so significant? It is because throughout history mankind has reached out to touch the divine – and failed – and yet now this New Testament declares over and above any other claim any human being has made, this Jesus is God. See Jesus and you see God. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Word, communicates to us what his Father is like, what God is like. Now whatever I say here is going to be inadequate but we have to ask the question, if we come to the Gospels, for the first time, say, with childlike, open hearts, and we've been told this person is God in the flesh, what do we learn God is like?
Well first , simply because He has come, He is interested in mankind. By that we don't just mean He wants to know about us, because He already does, He designed us and originally created us, but that that ‘knowing' means interacting with. His coming was a sign of His desire to interact with us, form relationships with us.
Second , by what we see the way He went about these three years of public ministry, drawing twelve close followers to be trained up, He is concerned to communicate to us His heart and His will so that we will catch it, be changed by it, and pass it on to others so that they will also be changed. Those are the two bigger and wider issues about His intentions, but what else is there?
OK, third , observing the low-key way He approaches mankind, we can see that it is not His intention to dominate us. He comes to earth, draws alongside us, gives us sufficient cause to believe who He is, and acts as an example for us. It is as we observe that example that we see love in action, for we cannot describe it in any other way. He uses the power that He obviously has, not to subjugate people, not to elevate Himself, but to do good to people – to heal them, deliver them and even on rare occasion to raise them from the dead. He seeks to win hearts with love, not by demands.
Yes, fourth , He does reiterate that He has designed mankind to work in particular ways, as the Law showed, and in so doing He did make us face the truth that we had a problem, but that His love was the way He wanted to win men and women back to Himself, so that they might be restored, as far as it was possible, to their state before the Fall. But that love wasn't just doing good.
Fifth , and this they really struggled to take in, just as many today so struggle, He communicated that His answer to the Sin of mankind and the guilt of sins would be to sacrifice Himself by allowing this same sinful mankind to arrest him, falsely try and convict him and then crucify him. In other words, as God He would take the Sin of mankind upon Himself and, satisfy the demands of justice that such wrongs be dealt with ‘legally' so that those sinners who availed themselves of that act, could be declared free and under no further demand for punishment, but be free to fully enter into a loving relationship with Him.
Sixth , he spoke of the possibility of a life after death, not a mere ‘place of the dead' as ‘Hades' communicated, but an eternal home in heaven (in which there may yet exist another new heaven and new earth). To confirm that he had the power over death and to confirm a life after death, He rose from the dead.
Seventh , and finally, to further confirm all He said about Himself was true and that there was this other dimension, heaven, waiting for both him and us, he ascended to heaven in the sight of the apostles.
These are the things that Jesus came to communicate, both with his words and with his deeds. These are the things that God came to communicate, both with His words and with His deeds. This Word communicated all this to us. Hallelujah!
To reflect upon: have we take in all these wonderful truths that that Word came to communicate, and is love and worship our natural response? If not, are we even alive?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 18. From Nazareth?
Jn 1:45,46 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." " Nazareth ! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
From the dizzy heights of the Logos, ‘the reason behind all things', John drops us right down to earth as he recounts an incident the other Gospels either knew nothing about or simply missed. Some of John the Baptist's followers now follow Jesus and one of them, Philip, finds his friend Nathaniel and tells him about Jesus who they have just met for the first time. Somehow or other Philip, perhaps asking directly or getting it from John the Baptist, has found out who Jesus is and in those days a person was identified with by his father or by his home location or both.
Thus we now find this description of Jesus as ‘Jesus of Nazareth.” Now we have to admit that in John's Gospel the next time this designation is used is not until chapter 18 at Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane: “ Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said.” (Jn 18:4,5) This is how the arresting crowd designates him. In Luke's Gospel (and Mark's), intriguingly, the first person to identify him as such is a demoniac in a synagogue: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God.” ( Lk 4:34) The fact that Jesus silences him probably is more about not yet wanting to be heralded as the Son of God or the Messiah, rather than about his home town.
It is clear that later in his ministry he is still known with this designation, by some at least: “ As Jesus approached Jericho , a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (Lk 18:35-37) At the end of Luke's Gospel in the Emmaus Road incident, the two mourning disciples designate him thus and to ensure there is not mistake recount all that has happened: “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel .” (Lk 24:18-21)
So in this search for the Christ in Scripture, as we have passed through the events surrounding his birth, we have now moved on to the time of his ministry, some thirty years later. From years after that ministry has concluded John had described him (with years of reflection behind him) as the Logos, the Word, the ultimate reason behind all things. But now, turning to his actual ministry we see the Gospel writers recognising this particular designation – from Nazareth and the son of Joseph.
What is significant about this? Well in any history book that covers the lives of great people, they always cover their origins and here is no difference. Yes, but what is significant about this? Well, remember the early Isaiah prophecies spoke both about Galilee and about the greatness of this Coming One and yet later Isaiah was to say of him, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2b) i.e. he appeared as just an ordinary person. This is the significance of the “of Nazareth ”. Yes, on one hand we are going to see the designation, “Son of God” and on the other, “Son of Man” and we will examine them both separately. On one hand there is divinity and on the other humanity and, to the surrounding world at least, it started with the humanity. He is merely the son of a carpenter and for some that was a problem: “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son ? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mt 13:54:54-56)
We didn't pick it up earlier, but why was Nathaniel so disparaging about Nazareth ? Well, it was a rather obscure town, nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. Yes, Matthew declared, “ He will be called a Nazarene,” (Mt 2:23) but that probably refers to Isaiah's words that the Messiah would be despised for in Jesus' day "Nazarene" was virtually a synonym for "despised". However, the greater reality was that Nazareth was not named in the Messianic prophecies. Here, indeed, is another mystery.
Why? We aren't told and so we must just speculate. In an earlier study I referred to all this “cloak and dagger stuff” indicating that although God clearly was declaring the arrival of His Son, He still largely kept it a secret, only revealing it to those whose hearts He knew would be open to Him. So, from the glory of the Logos we descend to the obscurity of Nazareth . Thirty years before Herod had gone searching for him in the area around Bethlehem . Now God has located him in the north, well away from the hotbed of religion in Jerusalem . It is almost as if the Father wants his Son to be raised in a ‘safe house' away from prying eyes. Yes, he is still the Son of God, the same as he had been in heaven, in many respects, but for the moment he is hidden away. Again, Isaiah had prophesied, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.” (Isa 53;2a) A tender shoot coming up in dry ground; what a description of Galilee in those days.
There is another practical application in all this. It doesn't matter what your origins are when it comes to being a child of God. You and I came from dry, ungodly beginnings. In one sense it doesn't matter what those beginnings were. It doesn't matter whether our parents were poor or rich, single or married. We are what we are today because we have been born again and are children of God. What you rise to do in the kingdom of God has nothing to do with how famous your parents are, or where you were born, or how clever or smart you are, or how handsome or beautiful you are (or aren't); it is all to do with being God's child and how open to your Father you are.
Jesus came as a carpenter's son, not the son of a ruler, not the son of a priest, not the son of a rabbi. It was almost as if God was making a point: this is my Son, hidden away so all those who ‘measure' people will miss him – until he comes and does My works. Then you can start adjusting your thinking!
To reflect upon: do we, in fact, measure ourselves by our background or upbringing or simply by being children of God and all that that means?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 19. Son of Man
Mt 8:20 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head
We have just gone from considering Jesus Christ being the Logos, the Word, the reason behind all things, to Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, apparently with human origins. Now we come to a description of Jesus – Son of Man – that he uses a number of times of himself. This is worth noting, that this is a description that others don't use of him but only he uses of himself.
The phrase comes first, I believe, in the psalms: “ what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa 8:4 also Psa 80:17, 144:3) but its greatest use in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel where 93 times God uses this term to speak to Ezekiel, a term emphasizing the prophet's humanity as he was addressed by the transcendent God. It also appears twice in Daniel in 7:13 and 8:17. It is interesting to note that whereas in the psalms it is a phrase that refers generally to human beings and comes with small-case ‘son', in Ezekiel you will find its many uses are as a title with capital-letter ‘Son' and this is also true of Jesus' use of the phrase.
The words, “son of” are used literally hundreds of times in the Bible and invariably they show the relational link of son to father (highlighting background or origin) and so when we come to ‘son of man' we see the emphasis on the relation of the individual to the human race at large. It is a constant reminder that we are frail and limited human beings and distinct from God. It is a little like the use of ‘ Israel ' and ‘Jacob'; they are both the same person but the use of Jacob is a constant reminder of his origins – a conniving, scheming, cheating, twister. Israel reminds us of the one who has had dealings with and affirmation by God. When capital letters are employed – S on of M an – it is clearly a title that still makes that emphasis but even more strongly.
But why does Jesus use this term? In Matthew's Gospel which emphasises the Jewish aspect of the Messiah and of his kingdom, it appears 27 times. (NB. In what follows, I have managed to pick up 78 uses of the term in the gospels, but my Bible dictionary says there are in fact 81 uses. Take my figures as ‘at least'). In Mark it appears 14 times and in Luke 24 times, and even in John whose big emphasis is on Jesus as the universal Son of God and who emphasises the relational aspect of divine Son to divine Father, the words appear 13 times, and so even John remembers its use and therefore its significance. Yet, why was it significant?
For that we have to go back to Dan 7:13,14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man , coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Now there we have lower case indicating just one who looked like an ordinary human being. But notice what we are told about this one.
First of all this is a vision of heaven and this one comes before God – “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Second, he is divinely appointed – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power .” Third, as a result of this, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (You only worship divinity). Fourth, he is made a ruler with an eternal and indestructible kingdom: “ His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” That is incredible, a person in human form, who can stand before Almighty God, and who is equipped to be an eternal ruler and who receives the worship of all mankind. No wonder the scribes and the teachers and the religious leaders scratched their heads over this – and no wonder Jesus takes and uses this simple little phrase so many times of himself.
When Jesus eventually stands on trial before the high priest, we see, “the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ , the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61,62) where Jesus purposely affirms he is the Christ and then goes on to link it with the prophetic Son of Man clearly linking it to the Daniel prophecy which the high priest understands as a claim to divinity and thus, in his eyes at least, to blasphemy.
In Matthew, Jesus' use of the term shows us him showing the human side of the term: 8:20 having no home, 11:18,19 eating and drinking with sinners, 12:32 one who can be spoken against, 13:37 one who is a sower of the word of God, 16:13 one over whom questions can be asked, 20:18 & 26:24,45 and one who will be betrayed. Yet equally, if not more strongly, the divine side of the term: 9:5,6 one who has authority to forgive sins and heal, 12:8 one who is Lord of the Sabbath, 12:40 one who will die and rise from the dead after three days, 13:41 one who will judge all sin, 10:23, 16:28, 24:27 one who will return in power, 17:9 one having been raised from the dead, 17:12 after having suffered unjustly, 20:27,28 having given his life as a ransom for many, 19:28 and one who will rule eternally in heaven.
This prophetic term is thus one of the strongest used of Jesus revealing his incredible claims that accord perfectly with the prophetic scriptures. The term emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah on one hand – Son of Man – but at the same time brings to the fore the prophetic being seen in Daniel in heaven. Perhaps we should also add that the use of the term so many times in Ezekiel also implies by Jesus use of the same term, that he was emphasizing his role as God's prophetic servant. As Jesus uses it so many times, it seems there is a multi-faceted message being conveyed – the prophetic messiah in human form, coming as a prophetic servant, coming to draw alongside us in our humanity while at the same time establishing God's eternal kingdom on earth. Wow!
To reflect upon: scroll back to the Daniel verses and marvel again at the wonder of this being who is revealed there. Worship him.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 20. Son of David
Mt 12:22,23 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?”
Starting to chart the names and roles of Christ is like riding a roller-coaster that goes up and down. First we had the Logos, the Word that was the reason behind all things, then we saw Jesus of Nazareth, the human figure with apparently human origins and then we scaled the heights again with the Son of Man who was a human figure who had stood before his Father in heaven and had been anointed to be the ruler over His kingdom. And now we come to “Son of David” which takes us back down again to human origins with strong historical connections.
The name is used 7 times in Matthew, 1 in Mark, 2 in Luke (although 13 times Luke makes reference to the link with David) and none in John although we will see a significant reference in John.
What is interesting about this term is that, whereas ‘Son of man' had been the designation Jesus used of himself, ‘Son of David' mostly appears on the lips of people who come to Jesus in need, e.g. two blind men (Mt 9:27), the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:22), two blind men again (Mt 20:30). It was also the word on the lips of the crowd who welcomed him on his triumphal entrance to Jerusalem: “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mt 21:9).
So what is the origin of this name? It comes from the three major prophets. Isaiah said, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isa 11:1) Jesse, of course, was David's father. He also prophesied, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it-- one from the house of David -- one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.” (Isa 16:5) Note particularly the references to him bringing justice. He also declared, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” (Isa 55:3) The Lord had said through Nathan, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16)
Jeremiah had also prophesied, “The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (Jer 23:5) and Ezekiel had said, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.” (Ezek 34:23,24) Thus all the people of the day knew of these prophecies and expected that, somehow, the Coming One would be a descendant of David. In Matthew's family tree Joseph is clearly shown to be that descendant (Mt 1:6,16). Luke's family tree does similar (Lk 3:23,31).
One of the things about David was that he was known for his humility and his ability to collect to himself “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader,” (1 Sam 22:2) and he then turned them into a victorious army. His memory encouraged the poor and the weak, in that the Coming One would be there for them and would help them and transform them. No wonder these various people we've seen above cried out to Jesus as the “Son of David.”
Yet it was clear that this One would be more than a mere man, a mere descendant of David. Jesus himself entered into debate with the Pharisees over this: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him `Lord'? For he says, " `The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." ` If then David calls him `Lord,' how can he be his son?” (Mt 22:41-45) and Peter in his anointed sermon on the Day of Pentecost used exactly the same argument (Acts 2:25-36).
Also interesting is that John in his Gospel shows the confusion that was there in the minds of some over this issue: “On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” (Jn 7:40-43) We have already been there and have seen the answers to their dilemma but even John recognized that there was this association between the Christ and David, even though John is dealing with bigger issues about the Son of God which we will come to shortly.
Within this thinking about Jesus as the Son of David, there is this interweaving of the idea of a saviour that we have considered previously. For the ordinary people at least, when they heard the things he was doing, they saw in their midst a saviour, one after the likeness of David, one of their three heroes from the past (Abraham, Moses & David).
To reflect upon: we too today need this same ministry, we too need a deliverer and Jesus is that one, and only he can deliver us from our sins and out of the daily problems that confront us. As with David at the cave of Adullam , Jesus gathers to himself the likes of you and me, the imperfect ones, and yet ones he will transform and turn into warriors.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 21. Son of God (1)
Mt 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Having recently considered Jesus as ‘the Son of Man' it is only logical that we move as soon as possible to see him also as ‘the Son of God'. Now from the outset, the big challenge has always been, and still is, is Jesus THE Son of God, and what does that actually mean? “ The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God , tell these stones to become bread.” (Mt 4:3) What is interesting from that quote is that Satan was seeking to do all he could to disabuse Jesus of the idea that he was, in fact, the Son of God. (As a quick aside. Note Satan's tactic to seek to demean Jesus and make him feel he is less than he is. Note that he so often seeks to do that to us, challenging whether we are truly a child of God, challenging our identity. Reject his tactic!) New Age people in the past have said we are all ‘sons of God' and so Jesus was just the first. The question that arises is not only is he the Son of God but is he the unique Son of God? Subsequent to that, the skeptic might ask, does this phrase simply mean he is a human being that God has adopted – but is still merely a human being; i.e. does the term simply indicate a particular relationship of a human being to God.
We, of course, say that he is God incarnate and so many of the previous studies point to that conclusion, but these questions are, nevertheless, worth pursuing. To do that we will, first of all, consider what Matthew's Gospel says about Jesus as the Son of God, simply because Matthew's main thrust seems to be from a Jewish perspective and one which links the Old Testament so strongly to the present kingdom of God. After that, in the next study (because there is far too much material to absorb in one or even two studies) we will consider what the Acts and epistles say about the Son of God and then finally, because it comes chronologically last, we will see what John's Gospel says about this subject. The claim that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God has to be THE claim that separates out Jesus and Christianity from any other world religion. So what do we see in Matthew's Gospel that sheds light on the use of this phrase?
What is intriguing is that the first affirmations of Jesus as ‘the Son of God' come from the spirit world. We have already seen Satan attacking Jesus on this point but early on we also find, “two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted.” (Mt 8:28,29) They knew who he was! (note also Mk 1:23- and Lk 4:33- where demons described Jesus as the Holy One of God).
What is also intriguing (and these add to that sense of mystery I referred to in the earlier studies) is that not only did the enemy appear to know who Jesus was, but the subject must have come up in the minds of the disciples. Observe: “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.” (Mt 14:32,33) Jesus and Peter have walked on the water in the middle of the Lake of Galilee in gale conditions and when Jesus steps into the boat, the wind dies down. This is no coincidence according to the disciples for they, for the first time, acclaim Jesus as ‘the Son of God'.
The second time this affirmation is made is by Peter's famous declaration: “Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Mt 16:16) which Jesus, in turn, affirms is revelation (and true!) from his Father.
Now within Matthew there are two occasions when God Himself made a similar declaration although we are left to assume it was God. The first was at Jesus' baptism: “And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (Mt 3:17) and the second was on what we call the Mount of Transfiguration: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:5)
Now I have used the word ‘intriguing' twice already because there are various aspects of the accounts that often pass us by but, as we slow down and ponder on them, they raise questions. A third such instance here occurs when, “The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.” (Mt 26:63,64) The high priest doesn't merely ask him if he is the Messiah but identifies the Messiah as the Son of God, of which there is no sign elsewhere. Did he find himself blurting this out as a form of revelation in the same way that Peter had done, I wonder?
As we pursue this we see, perhaps, a reason why John eventually wrote, decades later, because there appear to be gaps in the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels that they took for granted but which John seeks to fill in. For example, observe what happened when Jesus hung on the Cross: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God !” (Mt 27:39,40) and if we weren't sure enough from that, it becomes clearer in the verses that immediately follow: “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel ! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.” (Mt 27:41-43) This makes it clear that Jesus' affirmation to the high priest's question has become widely known.
So what have we seen in Matthew? First Satan and two demoniacs affirming that Jesus is the Son of God. Then the disciples in the boat and then later Peter, also making this affirmation. Finally, we saw the high priest associating this title with that of Messiah and the word being spread that Jesus has agreed to this claim. There is one further reference: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son (or ‘a son') of God!" (Mt 27:54). However because it is unclear and so possibly just acknowledging a special person, it does not really help us.
What is interesting, therefore, is that the claim of Jesus to be the unique Son of God, does not come through strongly in Matthew. Perhaps they were still struggling with the concept of God incarnate which becomes clear because, as we considered the creeds in the 12 th study on ‘the virgin question', we noted the struggles the early church went through to affirm this truth: the Apostles Creed Christ Jesus, his only Son, the Nicene Creed, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, …… and it wasn't until about 5th / 6th centuries, the Athanasian Creed spelled out in detail the relationships and origins of the Trinity: Jesus IS part of the Trinity – He is and always has been.
To ponder on: have no doubts, our Saviour is the unique Son of God who has always existed with the Father. Worship him in the context of the Trinity.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 22. Son of God (2)
Acts 9:20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God .”
It is probable that Paul was writing his epistles about the same time that Matthew compiled his Gospel. It is for this reason we extend our search, as to how the New Testament covered Jesus as ‘the Son of God', to examine Acts and the subsequent letters.
The above verse appears very shortly after Saul's (as he was then) Damascus road experience. He is still in Damascus where Ananias had prayed over him and very soon he was speaking in the local synagogue where, as a previous persecutor of the new ‘cult' he would have credibility. But what does he preach? That “Jesus is the Son of God ”. Now that is amazing because he has had no time to take in much of the teaching that would be in the local church and so most of the content of what was on his heart to preach would have come from his encounter on the Damascus road. He has encountered the risen Son of God and he knows who that is. Yet at the same time we find, “ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ .” (Acts 9:22) Jesus – the Christ – the Son of God, all these are one and the same as far as Saul (Paul) is concerned. That is all we find in Acts.
Writing to the church in Rome about the same time that Matthew is compiling his Gospel, Paul is now quite clear on his theology: “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son , who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ” (Rom 1:2-4) What a power packed opening to that great letter. Note: 1) Jesus is the one spoken of in the prophets as God's Son, 2) who on the human side was descended from David but 3) who on the divine side was shown by the Holy Spirit and by his resurrection from the dead, to be the unique Son of God. He is Jesus, the Messiah (or Christ) and therefore their Lord. Paul is sure the Gospel is all about the Son: “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son .” (Rom 1:9)
Now when he starts unpacking his theology we see God's ‘Son' and ‘the Christ' are one and the same, the means of our salvation: “For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son , how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ , through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) In Paul's mind, the Son of God is the means of our salvation and that would not be possible if he were merely a man.
He extends this later: “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” (Rom 8:3) The implication here is that ‘God sent his Son – from heaven – to come in our likeness to become a sin offering for us.'
When he writes to the Corinthians there is that same link between ‘the Son of God', the human person and ‘the Christ' : “For the Son of God , Jesus Christ , who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ .” (2 Cor 1:19,20) Indeed, when he writes to the Galatians the same link is there: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God , who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) and later adds, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law,” (Gal 4:4,5) The same things – the Son coming from heaven, born in human form to redeem us. In Eph 4:11-13 it is our “knowledge of the Son of God” that is our ultimate goal.
The whole of chapter 1 of Hebrews is all about the uniqueness and supremacy of the Son of God. The theology of the Son is perfectly worked out in the first 4 verses and then backed up by the rest of the chapter. Read it out loud and see. There is no question of what that writer thinks: “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God , let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Heb 4:14). Jesus, the human being, is Jesus the Son of God. He sees Jesus as the eternal one: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (Heb 7:3)
When we come to Peter's letters he reminds us of God's own affirmation of His Son (2 Pet 1:16-18) so he, Peter, is equally clear on this.
When we come to John's letters there is an abundance of references to the Son, by whom he clearly means the unique Son who was Jesus for his thirty or so years on earth (see 1 Jn 1:3,7, 3:8,21-23, 4:9,14, 5:5,13,20, 2 Jn 1:3)
So we find all the main epistle writers – Paul, Peter, John & the writer to the Hebrews – all are quite clear in their descriptions. They all see the unity of Jesus, the Christ and the Son of God and in their minds there is no question that the unique Son of God who has come down from heaven is the Christ spoken of throughout the prophetic scriptures and who has now come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.
To reflect upon: when we come to pray, praise and worship, do we expand our praise and worship to include many of the names and roles of Jesus, so that our praying is full-bodied so to speak?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 23. Son of God (3)
Jn 1:34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
John's writing is significant because he appears to have written decades after the other New Testament writings. He has had years to ponder and reflect upon those three wonderful years with Jesus. As he has pondered, it is clear that he sees that, whereas the Synoptic Gospels were good and accurate accounts, nevertheless they were very basic and therefore missed the nuances of just who Jesus was and some of the more profound things he said.
The first 14 verses of John are often referred to as his Prologue and they conclude with an amazingly content-full verse: “ 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.” We have already considered ‘The Word' or the Logos but John now makes sure we don't mistake his use of the word for a simple philosophic description. No, this ‘reason for everything' came to us from heaven, the ‘One and Only' or possibly, ‘the Only Begotten' i.e. the only one who has come out of the Being that is God. This glorious Being has come from heaven and lived here as a human being.
So that is who John is speaking about when he speaks of Jesus; of that there can be no mistake as we go through his Gospel. Consider those other famous and content-full verses of chapter 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son .” [or ‘only begotten son' ] (Jn 3:16 ) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him .” (v.17) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son .” (v.18) No question about it – Jesus is God's unique Son, the means of our salvation.
'The Son' has supreme importance when it comes to salvation and those two words, from what we have seen already are shorthand for ‘God's unique Son who lived in heaven and came to earth'. “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.” (Jn 3:35,36) As the Gospel goes on, so the same thrust continues: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. ” (Jn 5:25-27) Three terms all speaking of the same (for a time) physical being, carrying the eternal Son from heaven.
These are the words of Jesus himself as John remembers all those years back: “I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:30-33) Yes, no question about it, Jesus was claiming to be God – because he was! The Jews heard it and knew the full implication of what he was saying, and yet struggled to cope with the reality.
Later on Martha comes out with a similar declaration to that made by Peter that we have seen before: “Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn 11:27) At the end, the Jews knew exactly what Jesus had been saying: “The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” (Jn 19:7) To their unbelieving hearts, this was blasphemy and yet soon, Jesus by his resurrection from the dead, would validate his claims. John is blatant in his writing: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)
We have taken three studies to emphasise this ‘Son of God' aspect of our search for ‘the Christ' because this claim, above all others, is what differentiates Jesus Christ from any other figure who has walked on the earth. The only way anyone can refuse this claim is a) by ignorance – never having read these things we have been considered throughout these studies, and b) by stubborn will – I will not believe it because of the implications which, if I tolerate them, will force change on my life.
To reflect upon: can I have the integrity and openness and honesty of heart to accept these truths and make Jesus Lord of my life?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 24. King of the Jews (Israel)
Mt 2:1,2 Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
There are not that many references to Jesus being ‘the King of the Jews' but they are there and they are significant. The earliest one is the verse above when the Magi turn up in Jerusalem and ask for this recently born ‘king of the Jews'. In a town with a powerful but paranoid king (Herod) that might not have been the smartest thing to do, which shows they have some information but not everything about this situation. But that is how it goes with ‘the king of the Jews'!
The main references to the ‘king of the Jews' come near the end of the Gospels and so we find, for example, “ Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews ?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) It is left to John to expand on this as we will see later, yet, for the moment at least, it is worth noting Pilate has this information. How? Luke records, “ they began to accuse him saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Lk 23:2) Now apart from the fact that that involves a specific lie, for Jesus has purposefully NOT given any grounds for not paying taxes to Caesar, the Jews specifically linked the Christ to being a king. In the verses that follow in Matthew we see this term becomes a means of abuse (Mt 27:29,37,41,42) And that is all there is in the Synoptics.
When we come to John it becomes more interesting. Early on Nathaniel meets Jesus and, because Jesus uses a word of knowledge, Nathaniel comes out with a most remarkable statement, this early on: “Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel .” (Jn 1:49) Nathaniel appears an astute and knowledgeable Jew and maybe it is because he knows his Old Testament that he associates the Messiah with being a king. But Son of God? Wow! That did take insight of the old prophecies that even we're a bit slow to see.
John shows us that because of Jesus' power the Jews, looking for a deliverer from the Romans, saw in Jesus an obvious candidate, and this becomes quite clear when Jesus has just fed the large crowd: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) It becomes even more obvious at Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem before his last week there: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12;13). In the light of what follows in the subsequent conversation with Pilate, it is significant that Jesus did not follow the road up to the Fortress Antonia, the barracks of the Romans, but instead turned and went up to the Temple where he later overturned the tables of the moneychangers.
Very well, let's see his conversation with Pilate which opens up this whole subject: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" ….. Jesus said, "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." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "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.” (Jn 18:33,36,37)
Note the key elements of these verses. First, Jesus expressly denies he is an earthly king. Any movement that sought to use him as their figurehead was doomed from the start! Second, he claims that he IS a king but NOT of this world. Third, the whole point of him coming to the earth was to testify to this (and, we might add, to die for this world to link the two worlds).
Now we need to remind ourselves of some of the prophecies that we considered in the first Part of this series. Let's just take one as an example: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end . He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever .” (Isa 9:6,7) The child was clearly to be a king, a ruler but his reign was to be everlasting.
Another prophetic word we haven't considered previously comes from the Psalms: “I have installed my King on Zion , my holy hill." I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psa 2:6,7) God declares He has established His own king, His own Son as a ruler of the Holy City .
When we observe Jesus' ministry we often refer to him bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, the rule of God that he was expressing as he set captives and prisoners free. In the opening verses of Psa 110 we see prophetic verses that appear again in the New Testament, “The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies,” (Psa 110:1,2) Again this is God's intent, that Jesus will rule – expressing his Father's power – here on the earth through his body, while at the same time the dominion of darkness rules over the minds of unbelievers.
Yes, Jesus is a king, a king over the kingdom of his Father in heaven, yet a kingdom being worked out here on earth. Near the end of his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25). In Revelation 19 we see him coming as The Conquering King, to deal with his enemies and yet in Revelation 5 we see him standing before the throne of God, acclaimed as the Lion of Judah and yet shown as a lamb that has the marks of death upon it. This is the mystery – the ruler, the Lion of Judah, is also the Lamb of God. The currency of this king? Sacrifice, humility and obedience. Hallelujah!
To reflect upon: if this is how Jesus works, surely that should be the way we work?
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 25. The Christ
Mt 1:1,16 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham …… Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ .
Although this series is entitled ‘Focus on Christ', I have left the title ‘Christ' until now in order to see it in the light of all the other titles we have considered so far. The title ‘Messiah' simply means ‘the anointed one' and in Old Testament times kings and priests were anointed with oil (e.g., Ex 29:7,21; 1Sam 10:1,6; 16:13; 2Sam 1:14,16). The ‘anointed one' carries the idea of being chosen by God, consecrated to his service, and endued with his power to accomplish a given task. By Jesus' time, in the light of the prophecies we considered in Part One, it had taken on a special meaning, a sharper meaning of a king anointed and empowered by God to rescue his people from their enemies and establish his righteous kingdom (Dan 9:25-26). In the popular thinking of the day, the title Messiah tended to be political and national in nature, and so it is possible that for that reason Jesus rarely used the term. ‘The Christ' (Greek) and ‘the Messiah' (Hebrew) both have the same meaning, "the Anointed One.”
It first appears in Matthew when Herod called for help in determining where ‘the king of the Jews' was to be born, as requested by the Magi, but Herod avoids repeating that phrase for its obvious political implications and instead resorts to the more traditional Messiah or Christ: “When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.” (Mt 2:4) Perhaps its most significant use was when Peter blurts out his declaration: “Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ , the Son of the living God….. Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ .” (Mt 16:16,20) Note that Jesus was reticent about then using that title, perhaps, as we've said, because it had political connotations and he did not want to be involved in a popular uprising.
Later the high priest used the Messiah/Christ title to make Jesus come out in to the open – which he then did: “The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ , the Son of God.” (Mt 26:63) Now note how Jesus replies : “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you, in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (v.64) He agrees but then turns the focus away to the more spiritual and prophetic term, Son of Man.
However, before that in discussion Jesus had challenged the popular thinking that the Christ was merely the son of David and, by implication, more a political figure: “What do you think about the Christ ? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him `Lord'? For he says, " `The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." `If then David calls him `Lord,' how can he be his son?" No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mt 22:42-45) Clearly, he is saying, the Messiah is far more than the one you have previously thought he was.
In Luke we first see Simeon waiting: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ .” (Lk 2:26) Although Jesus himself appears to have been reticent to use the term, it was, nevertheless, the popular term used. Similarly a little later, “ The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ ,” (Lk 3:15) In John, the Baptist denied he was the expected one: “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ ,” (Jn 1:20) and in argument it was the term the Pharisees used: “Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ , nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Jn 1:24,25) and also others: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah " (that is, the Christ ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (Jn 1:41,42).
With the woman at the well we find her saying, “The woman said, "I know that Messiah " (called Christ ) "is coming.” (Jn 4:25) and later Martha makes a similar declaration to that of Peter: “Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ , the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn 11:27). John himself, responding to this popular belief writes near the end, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ , the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) but note that he also includes the bigger term, ‘Son of God' as well.
The actual term “Jesus Christ” was rarely used, perhaps in situations where the emphasis was on the man who was the Messiah, e.g. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Mt 1:18) and “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ , the Son of God.” (Mk 1:10) Note that Peter, who is believed to be the author dictating to Mark, insists on the term ‘Son of God' to be used alongside. John uses it rarely: “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:17) and “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3)
To summarize: although when we speak about Jesus we so often speak of “Jesus Christ”, it was rarely used in the Gospels and Jesus himself seems to have avoided using the term ‘Christ' because although it was the term the people used of the expected one, he himself preferred the more prophetic term ‘Son of Man' and the term ‘Son of God' came to be used almost only by revelation or when Jesus himself near the end used it, possibly to challenge the beliefs of the authorities. So yes, it may be that it was because of the political implications of the term – which perhaps God used to create anticipation in His people – that Jesus steered clear of the term. For us today, surely the greater emphasis must be on the term ‘Son of God' although to link him into Scriptures we speak of Jesus Christ.
To reflect upon: ponder on the wonder of all you know of the coming of the Lord's Messiah, prophesied of old as the Son of Man, located in geography and history as Jesus of Nazareth, the anointed one or Christ, the unique Son of God – and worship him.
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PART FOUR: SELF IDENTIFICATION – The I AM's
Focus on Christ Meditations: 26. Jesus is ‘I AM'
Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, " I am the bread of life ”.
We have finished covering the main descriptive titles of Jesus, the Christ, and later on we will pick up the things Jesus specifically did as part of his ministry on earth, but for the moment we will, in this next part, cover the various name-descriptions that Jesus gave himself in his claims as to who he was, in what are commonly referred to as the ‘I am” sayings of John's Gospel. If you are not sure about these then hopefully by the end of this particular study you will have a clearer picture of where we are going next.
The “I am” sayings are seven sayings in which Jesus uses the phrase “I am” in a deliberate way to express a specific truth about himself. In reality Jesus uses the expression a number of times in the Gospel; but there are seven that stand out because of the meanings they possess and the way Jesus uses them.
Examples of some of those other uses of “I am” would be, “The woman said, “I know that the Messiah (called Christ) is coming…” Then Jesus declared, I who speak to you am he.” (Jn 4:25,26) and, “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this day, and I too am working .” (Jn 5:17) These first two examples show us that what are really almost insignificant uses of ‘I am' nevertheless demonstrate that such words either identify ‘being' or show ‘activity'. You can keep a watch out for the rest of such uses in John. When we compare the real ‘I Am' sayings we will see that Jesus was calling himself something specific and that specific thing had meaning that revealed something about who he was. Each one was a micro-picture conveying profound revelation of just who Jesus is and what he came to do, just as much, if not more, as all the other revelation of the Gospels.
In the order they appear in John they are: the Bread of Life (Ch.6), the Light of the World (8), the Door of the Sheep (10), the Good Shepherd (10), the Resurrection and the Life (11), the Way, the Truth and the Life (14), and the True Vine (15).
Now not only did each of these ‘pictures' convey a great truth, but too catch the full significance of this order of words, e.g. “ I am the Bread of Life”, we need to remember something the Jews had in the back of their minds that goes back to the call of Moses in Ex 3 & 4. It started with Moses asking God who he should say had sent him: “ Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" (Ex 3:13) It was in reply to this question that we find, “God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.' “ (v.14) From then on, because the Jews feared to use this holy name, you find in your Bible this name printed in capital letters as LORD, thus, “God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD , the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (v.15) So it is that, in a sense, the Jews of Jesus' day were very sensitive to that form of words and when Jesus uses it in conjunction with these ‘picture words' there is an implied association with God, at the very least, or maybe even a direct claim to BE God. Who else could say he was these word-pictures?
This same use of ‘I am' is seen in conjunction with God a number of times in the Old Testament, strengthening what we have already said, for example in the prophets, “You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he . Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD , and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed-- I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God . Yes, and from ancient days I am he.” ( Isa 43:10-13) But this goes right back to Moses: “"See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life,” (Deut 32:39)
In the studies that follow in this Part, we will not keep re-emphasizing this ‘God claim', the ‘I am' part of it, in each one, although it will be there automatically because in most instances the ‘thing' in question has its origins in the Old Testament. As we indicated with the verse at the beginning, each of these have the two key elements, the ‘I am' element and the ‘word-picture element, e.g. Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life”.
In what follows, the investigation of the ‘word-picture' element will add strength to the ‘I am' element and we will see that indeed these are not merely ideas dreamt up by theologians, but are in reality claims by Jesus to divinity.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 27. Bread of Life
Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life.
As we move into this next Part and start considering these word pictures that Jesus used of himself, we can note that often the word picture is linked to something that had either just happened or was about to happen. In this first case the preceding event was the feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1-). Note that it was very near to the Passover Feast (v.4) so the Jews would be aware of that and of its significance – the deliverance by Moses from Egypt . Moses is going to feature in this.
Now when Jesus says something it is significant. When he says something twice it is doubly significant. In the passage that follows TWICE Jesus utters the phrase “I am the bread of life” (v.35 & v.48) and TWICE he says, “I am the (living) bread that came down from heaven” (v.41 & v.51) and a number of other times indicates that he is the bread than has come from heaven. It is a ‘bread' and ‘heaven' packed chapter!
Now, after feeding the five thousand, Jesus and his disciples left the crowd but when they followed Jesus and questioned him he challenged them: “ Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (Jn 6:26,27) Now within this challenge we should note two things: first, Jesus acknowledges that the feeding was a miracle but, second, they had misjudged the value of what had happened. They saw the miracle as a means of satisfying their physical hunger; Jesus saw it as a means of imparting faith to them to believe in him, as we see in v.29.
To this the Jews counter challenge and foolishly ask, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” (v.30) You've just had it you blind people! They continue: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" (v.31) Ah, the manna, the miraculous provision of God for the people in their time in the wilderness! The crowd possibly reasoned that Jesus had done little compared to Moses. He had fed 5,000; Moses had fed a nation. He did it once; Moses did it for 40 years. He gave ordinary bread; Moses gave "bread from heaven.”
To this Jesus gives a doubled edged answer: “Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (v.32) Point one: it was not Moses but God who gave you the manna. Point two: Not only did God give you that miraculous food then, but He has also given you this miraculous “true bread” now, and to their question comes, “I am the bread of life.” (v.35a) But note back in v.32, “the true bread from heaven.” Manna was a temporary provision in a crisis situation, but there is another ‘bread' that does more: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (v.33) This ‘true' bread is Jesus himself and he comes to provide life for not just the Jews but for the whole world.
Now in the discussion that follows, Jesus adds, “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” (v.40) This ‘bread' doesn't only satisfy now, it brings life that goes on and on and on. To this he later adds, “he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life.” (v.47,48) To contrast manna and himself, he adds, “ Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (v.48-51)
This then opened up a discussion among the Jews about eating his flesh and in the verses that follow Jesus pushes it further and further speaking about both his flesh and his blood, and the literal-minded Jews struggled even more, as have parts of the Church ever since. Clearly Jesus was not being literal but was using prophetic shorthand. Flesh = his body, his very being, his very personality. Blood = life, his very life source. The words of Jesus in the argument that follows in v.51-58 might be summarized as, “You need to accept me, my very being, as your Saviour and you need to rely upon my life-giving death for your salvation.” That was the end of Jesus' mission, that believing in him as the Son of God and in his work on the Cross as the means of our salvation, that is what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is all about.
Put most simply, b read is basic food that sustains and satisfies and so Jesus was clearly saying, I am the one who sustains, I am the one who gives you food of life, food that will enable you to live for ever, and that food is me. Believe in me and take me into your life and you will know eternal life. Therefore he says, “I am the one who sustains and gives satisfaction”. This first claim is about being the bringer of the means to life, the means to live, the means to remain alive. Bread does all that.
So when do we ‘eat' of Jesus? It is not at Communion for that is simply a reflection of what has already happened. No, we ‘eat' him when we come to him declaring our belief in him and submission to him. At that point the Father imparts His Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the Spirit of Jesus, and we are born again. From then on as we wait on him and fellowship with him we ‘eat' him and take in and experience more and more of him. The very presence of God within us is what gives us eternal life – now.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 28. Light of the World
Jn 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, " I am the light of the world . Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
It is the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2) and halfway through the Feast, Jesus went to the Temple courts to teach (v.14). The Feast lasted seven days but had a closing additional day. At the start of the Feast in the Court of the Women, four great candelabra were lit that produced so much light that it was said that every courtyard in Jerusalem was lit up by them. It is in this context that Jesus, in the midst of his teaching declared, “I am the light of the world”. What an incredible setting for such a declaration!
Now it was no doubt with this in mind that John uses light so many times in his Gospel in respect of Jesus, for instance, “ In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (1:4) and “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” (1:5) and John “came as a witness to testify concerning that light , so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light ; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (v.7-9) Then later, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light , and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light , so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21).
Then we have our verse above (8:12) which, as we have said, came in the context of the Lights of the Feast of Tabernacles, but that wasn't the end. In chapter 9 Jesus comes across a blind man who he heals and in this context says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5) So again, twice he makes this claim but this time, even though he doesn't specifically apply it, one cannot but see it is linked with him giving sight to the blind. There are further references to light in ch.11 & 12 but they are not so specific.
Now we would do well to also check out ‘light' in the Old Testament because whatever is there – if it is obvious (and it is) it would be known by the Jews of Jesus' day. The obvious starting place is at Creation: “And God said, "Let there be light ," and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) God is a bringer of light and without light the world would be utterly dark and it would be impossible to see or to live. Light brings life to all plant life.
When it came to the Exodus we find, “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (Ex 13:21,22) Light in the pillar, both day and night, was the means of guiding Israel .
The psalmists were to write, “The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear?” (Psa 27:1) “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psa 119:105), and Isaiah was to prophesy about the Messiah, as we saw in earlier studies, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light ; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:2)
So light was there in the history of the world and in Israel 's history, a vital and essential element to enable life and then guidance to be imparted. Without light, life is impossible. God was their light and His Law was their light. Into this context Jesus comes and twice declares that HE is the light of the world.
Now note the TWO aspects that we have seen in the various illustrations. First, light enables life . To have real life there needs to be real light. Books are written by their hundreds on how to live, how to succeed and so on, but every book that fails to reveal Jesus as the light of the world is a temporary and incomplete help. Light shows you yourself and the world around you. Only when Jesus' light shines into your life do you truly see clearly.
Second, light shows you the way to go, where you want to go to and so on. Without Jesus' light your future is determined by selfish ambitions or desires, ambitions or desires that so often fall short of what is on God's heart for you. Selfish desires so often go astray and cause you harm. Jesus' desires for you will always leave you feeling totally satisfied and fulfilled
In reality, in this world, m any people stumble along through life as if in darkness but then Jesus comes and says, “Let me into your life and my light will bring a new life and I'll be the one who shows you the way – the best way.” Someone said after they had become a Christian, “It was as if the light had suddenly been turned on and I could see things for the first time.” Jesus is the light of the world – and you and I are part of that world and he comes to bring light into our lives, not only that we may live (and that thought continues on from him being ‘bread' that we saw before), but also that we may receive guidance and direction in order to enjoy this world that God has given us.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 29. The Door (Gate)
Jn 10:7-9 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
Some versions, as above, use ‘gate' others use ‘door'. In many ways I prefer door and will use that in that most of us are more familiar with doors than gates. Now we have two problems as we come to these verses. The first is that we are taking these word-pictures in the order they come in John but the text runs shepherd and gate together so much there is almost the temptation to take the Good Shepherd first, but we will overcome that because initially there are just references to the work and activity of a shepherd and the ‘Good' Shepherd only comes later. The second problem is that there appears no clear context for why Jesus suddenly starts talking about sheep, shepherds and sheepfolds.
Now Matthew says, “ When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Mt 9:36) and when Jesus sent the twelve out he instructed them, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel .” (Mt 10:5,6) and later, “ I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” (Mt 10:16) and then later still, “He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 15:24) and so on. So, although John doesn't bother to repeat these various things, sheep were very much objects of illustration as far as Jesus was concerned. When we come tomorrow to the Good Shepherd we will see that there are a number of Old Testament references to God being the Shepherd of Israel. For the moment, let's try to catch the big picture that Jesus sets up in this teaching in John chapter 10. Observe his starting point.
“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.” (v.1) He sets up the analogy that would be familiar to the Jews who kept many sheep out on the hills where they constructed sheep-pen or sheep-folds which were simply a stone wall with a single entrance into which the sheep could go at night for protection. The sheep-fold was first of all the place of security at night. There was a single gate through which the shepherd came. Robbers and thieves would seek to sneak over the wall to take a sheep: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.” (v.2)
Note in passing that no one else has the right to enter this place of security except the shepherd. There is a watchman who keeps watch over the gate at night to give the shepherd time for rest, but in the morning it is the shepherd who goes in, calls his sheep and they follow him out: “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. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice.” (v.3-5)
Now before we go on, what have we seen: a place of security, an entrance to it, and the shepherd who goes in and out leading the sheep. In retrospect we may suggest that the sheep-fold is the kingdom of God in which the sheep who follow Jesus, the shepherd, can be secure. The fact that the sheep go out to find grass suggests that we are in this world and get much of our provision from it, because it is after all God's provision for us. When Jesus rules over us, it is a place of security, the kingdom expressed.
Now we paused up at verse 5 because it is clear those first 5 verses were Jesus setting the scene and speaking about his kingdom and certain facets of it, e.g. there had been others who had purported to lead Israel but they had not been shepherds but men out for themselves. That accords more with the end of chapter 9 and explains the continuation, for there he is confronting the Pharisees, so often self-appointed guardians of the Law but so often godless – not true shepherds but out for themselves – thieves!
As we come to verse 6 we see his listeners struggle with this: “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.” It is because of this that Jesus now goes on to spell out some of the distinctives of the analogy and we come to our next word-picture: “Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (v.7) He uses this picture (which he will shortly expand upon) but we must remember at this point his main objective seems clearly to reject the activities of the Pharisees: “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.” (v.8) By and large the people disdained the Pharisees who were out for themselves.
He contrasts how he has come: “ I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (v.9) i.e. he has come to show the people of God the way into the kingdom of God and anyone who accepts him as the way in, will in fact be able to come in and out and be able to enjoy God's world as they are meant to – but only if they are part of the secure flock, the flock that is made secure by being under the rule of God, the flock that is in the place of security. Again he contrasts those pseudo-religious Pharisees with himself: “ The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (v.10) He will then go on to use the Good Shepherd concept but for now we simply see these basic distinctions. HE is the means of people entering God's real kingdom, the place of God's rule; he alone is the way into that kingdom.
Now in the Old Testament we see Jacob who had a dream in which he concluded, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven .” (Gen 28:17) The Jews came to believe there was a gate to heaven and it was opened by God himself. Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;” (Mt 16:19) Keys are for opening doors. In Revelation 1 we see Jesus declaring, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18) In Isaiah there had been a similar Messianic prophetic word: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open,” (Isa 22;22) which is echoed to the church at Philadelphia, “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Rev 3:7)
Slightly different imagery – keys to open doors – but the same concept: the Messiah controls entry to the kingdom and the blessing of God, and in this picture, the door, Jesus claims that right. There is no entry except through him. Hallelujah!
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 30. The Good Shepherd
Jn 10:11,14 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me
Notice again and again Jesus repeats these word-pictures as if to make sure we heard it and took in the message. We have prepared the way for this one as we worked our way through the first ten verses of chapter ten yesterday. Jesus has been making the point again and again that he contrasts himself with others who laid claim to the spiritual heritage of Israel but who in reality were out for themselves. As the people of Israel were often referred to in the Old Testament, as sheep, their leaders were referred to as shepherds, but many of them, Jesus declares, being out for themselves were, in fact, thieves and robbers. By contrast he came to bring into being a ‘flock' that would know the love and security of the kingdom of God and would receive eternal life.
It is into this context that he declares that not only is he the door of the sheep-fold, the door into the kingdom, he is also the Shepherd who guards over them and provides for them, thus producing a relationship with them: “ I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (v.14) This point needs to be emphasized for in that land keeping sheep was different from what we know in the West today. We keep sheep mostly for its meat; they kept sheep for its wool, and so the same sheep would be sheared season after season and thus the shepherd would get to know his sheep, each one by name.
The first thing about this ‘good shepherd' is the fact of his relationship with his sheep. The ‘thieves' he referred to previously had no such relationship, they were just out to steal the sheep for their own purposes. There is within this concept an invaluable lesson. The bread was about imparting life, the light was about enabling that life to include guidance, purpose and direction, and the door was about actually entering into this life. Look at other so-called ‘world religions' and there is this significant absence – the adherents do not have this intimate relationship with God whereby they know they are loved by God in a daily intimate way. The Good Shepherd provides that. The voices of the ‘thieves and robbers' were not known or accepted by the sheep of Israel . The Pharisees put themselves above the rest. Jesus came and mixed with the sinners and tax collectors in such a way that he showed care and concern for them.
I recently came across what I believe is a true story that seems applicable here. A Christian encountered a very way-out character who from the word go declared, “You would never get me into church,” and proceeded to launch off on all the reasons why. The Christian remained silent and just listed and jotted down in a notebook all the points the man was making. After twenty minutes of this the man asked, “What are you doing?” The Christian replied, “I am listening to you and taking note of all you say.” There was a pause and the man responded, “Hmmm, well I might go to church if I was going with you.” That was what the Good Shepherd was like, he approached people at their level and loved and accepted them at that level and they recognized where that voice was coming from. Are we listeners?
But Jesus then likens this relationship with his sheep to the relationship he had with his Father and then adds a crucial fact: “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (v.15) The level of his love for his sheep is measured by what he will do, and has now done for us – he laid down his life that we might have life. He goes on to explain that he has other sheep – presumably the Gentiles – and he is going to make us all one flock (v.16), and that will all be possible because he lays down his life voluntarily for us, a life that will be raised up again (v.17,18)
The picture of God as our Shepherd was familiar to the Jews who knew their Old Testament scrolls. Perhaps the most familiar quote from David the psalmist is, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psa 23;1) Be quite clear – see the capital letters – ‘The I AM is my shepherd. Ezekiel had prophesied, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.” (Ezek 34:23,24) The Messiah would come in the likeness of David, a ruler but also a shepherd. The servant song of Isa 53 shows us this one who is both ruler and shepherd is going to achieve his purposes by self-sacrifice, laying down his life for the will of the Father.
There is a remarkable little incident with Jacob, Israel as he now is, when Joseph asks the old man to bless his two boys: “Then he blessed Joseph and said, "May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day… may he bless these boys.” (Gen 48:15,16) What a lovely little testimony from the mouth of this mature saint who had once been known as a twister and deceiver. He had become one of the Lord's sheep! When he later prophesied over all his boys, the same truth is there in the midst of it all, as he spoke of Joseph: “his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd , the Rock of Israel, because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above.” (Gen 49:24,25) Joseph, you have succeeded because of the Shepherd who has blessed you. That is what is conveyed with this image of God as our Shepherd.
So, when Jesus comes he takes to himself the claim of being THE Shepherd, the ‘good' shepherd. We've just seen that God's goodness, love and blessing was what made the likes of Jacob-now-Israel claim Him to be his shepherd. I am told that the word in the original for ‘good' here can mean either beautiful or excellent. Perhaps another way of saying what the text says is, “I am the shepherd, the good one,” and thus he contrasts himself yet again with those present and past who had failed in their self-appointed roles of being God's representatives to His people. The ‘good character' and ‘good activity' of this particular shepherd is revealed by the relationship that he is able to create with his sheep who hear his voice, recognize it for what it is, feel reassured, and follow him. It is also revealed by the way he lays down his life for these sheep – you and me.
To conclude, I am reminded of an incident: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone.” (Mk 10:17,18) Point made. Who else can claim to be a ‘good' shepherd' except God, and here He is in the flesh making that truth explicit. Hallelujah!
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 31. The Resurrection and the Life
Jn 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life . He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
The context for this saying is very clear and obvious. Lazarus has just died and Jesus is going to raise him from the dead. That is implied in the story before this and it is what follows. Life, death and resurrection are the foundation of this incident. There is leading up to this saying an interesting discussion, although discussion does not really describe the interaction between Martha and Jesus. Observe: “ When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.” (v.20) From Luke's little account of the home of Mary and Martha (see Lk 10:38-) we know that Martha was the ‘get up and do' sister and so it is that when Jesus comes it is Martha who goes out to meet him.
See her opening words: “Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) These are words of reproach. She knows Jesus is a healer and so if he had been there he would have healed Lazarus – and they had sent word to Jesus but he hadn't come! But then she says something interesting, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask .” (v.22) Now it is probable that the messenger they had sent to Jesus came back with his answer: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” (11:4) The thought of Lazarus coming back to life after he had been dead and buried some time was just beyond her reach and yet somehow, somewhere in the depths of her mind, there was some glimmer of hope even if she did not understand it herself. Verse 39 shows her mind is on the physical reality – if the grave is opened the body will smell for it must have already started to decay.
Jesus prompts her: “Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) That sounds hopeful, but when? “Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is in the face of this that this strange and, at first sight, incomprehensible word of self-revelation is spoken: “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life .” (v.25a) Now before we try unraveling this, look at what follows: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25b,26) In the face of the teaching of the final resurrection of the dead (see Rev 20:12,13 and 1 Cor 15:12-) it would appear that Jesus is saying that he is the cause of all being resurrected from death to face God at the Final Judgment, but of course at that moment it will be every person who has ever lived, believer and non-believer, so such a general understanding would have little significance. No, there must be a further meaning to what he is saying.
Look again at verses 25b and 26. Jesus puts forward two possibilities, both about believers in Jesus. First, even though someone dies, they will live. So this puts forward the idea of life after death. The second one speaks of never dying. Are those contradictions? No, they are one and the same. We may appear to pass through physical death but that is not the end for us; we continue living with God, i.e. in reality we never ‘die'. We may appear to die physically but in reality, no, we continue on.
The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) When we are born again, Christ by his Spirit indwells us. In respect of God, our starting point is that our body is lifeless or ‘dead' but our spirit is alive to God but then because the Holy Spirit is there within us, He imparts ‘life' to our physical bodies so that in both body and spirit we are raised up or resurrected to be alive to God. This is how healing can come about, by the indwelling power within us. Yes, our physical body is still subject to physical death, and yet there appears a promise in scripture that somehow our whole being – new body and spirit will be raised in eternity (check out 1Cor 6:14; 15:20,23; 2Cor 4:14; Phil 3:21; 1Thess 4:14) There is a mystery here but without doubt we will receive new spiritual bodies, bodies not limited as they are now (ponder on 1 Cor 15:35-44).
We have seen in earlier word-pictures Jesus as the Bread of Life, the one who imparts life to enable us to live. We have seen him as the Light of the World, and we observed that light is necessary for life to occur and continue. There have been references to eternal life but this present word-picture presses that home more vigorously; it is a life that prevents death, a life that continues after physical death has occurred and a life that will even enable us to have some tangible, expressible ‘body' after death and on into eternity.
This opens up a whole new world of speculation, but we will have to wait to experience and understand the reality of it when it happens. In the meantime, we can look into the future with hope. This present life is not all there is! The path ahead of us stretches away into eternity but changing and improving all the way. If you have ever read C.S.Lewis's last Narnia book, ‘The Last Battle', you will remember he sought to convey this wonder and the cry “further in, further up” was the cry that kept coming, all going on from one degree of glory to another in eternity.
To speculate and ponder on: whenever our hopes are dashed by the enemy or by the world and Sin, just remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection. Speaking of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, the writer to the Hebrews declared, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) Whenever our hopes or ambitions die, remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection by bringing himself into the equation, but as with our new bodies in 1 Cor 15, remember what he raises up may not be the same as that which died – but it will always be gloriously better! Hallelujah!
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 32. The Way, the Truth and the Life
Jn 14:6 Jesus answered, " I am the way and the truth and the life . No one comes to the Father except through me.
The context for this penultimate word-picture declaration is at the Last Supper and Jesus is just explaining that he is going to have to leave them (v.2) but will come back for them (v.3) and concludes, “ You know the way to the place where I am going," (v.4) presumably meaning the path of the Cross that he has previously told them about (Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:18,19). The disciples aren't sure about this and so Thomas responds: “Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way ?” (v.5) Note the emphasis is on the way to his final destination. It is in this context that Jesus declares, “ I am the Way ”.( v.6)
The ultimate destination for the believer has surely got to be heaven but the big question for the disciples is to be reassured about how to get there, the way to get there. Now note that Jesus doesn't give a set of rules to be followed as his answer of how to get to heaven. He doesn't say, go to synagogue (church) at least once a week and be nice people. That is NOT the way to heaven. He says, “ I am the Way ”.
Now the best explanation of this I have heard comes in the story of a man or woman driving to a particular destination, but they are not sure of the way. They pull up and call to a passer-by who gives detailed instructions, but they are so complex that a few streets later they need help again. They ask another passerby who gives much more simple directions but they are so vague that, again, a few streets later, they need help again. So they call out to a third passer-by who responds, “Yes, of course. I know the way. Let me in and I'll come with you and guide you along the way.” That third person becomes ‘the way' and that is what Jesus does, he comes into our lives and lives the life out with us that culminates in heaven. He is the Way.
But can we be sure of anything? What can we rely upon? Different politicians put forth different ideologies. Different philosophers put forward different ways of looking at life. Different life coaches have different opinions. Who is right? What is the truth? And so Jesus says, “I am the Truth”. You want to know the way to go? Ask me. You want to know the right thing to do? Ask me. You want to know what is the right ideology or the right philosophy or way of looking at life? Ask me. Jesus, as the Son of God who was at his Father's side in Creation bringing everything into being (Jn 1:3, Prov 8:30), Jesus, the Son of God, who upholds all things by his word of power (Heb 1:3), this Jesus knows everything. He knows how everything was made, he knows how everything works, he knows the best way to do everything and he knows what is true and what is false. You want the truth? You find it in him, and when he resides in you, he will convey it to your conscious understanding.
Recapping on some of these things, you want to know what life to live to get to heaven? Live Jesus and let Jesus live in you for he said, “I am the Life ”. None of these things are separate graces that God imparts; they are expressions of Jesus himself and he only shares himself with the person who believes in him and has surrendered to him and invited him into their life. When we have done that then we have this ‘resource' within who shows us the way, shows us what is right, what is real, what is true and shows us the life to be lived on a daily basis. HE himself is the answer to all our questions – how to get to heaven, what is real, what life to live – but he doesn't give it to us in the form of a number of directions (they are there for background support in the teaching of the New Testament) but in the form of his very presence living within us. These three descriptions are all interlinked and they are all worked out as he lives his life within us after we have surrendered to him and invited him in. There it is, that simple. Do it. Rejoice in him.
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Focus on Christ Meditations: 33. The Vine
Jn 15:1,5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
This last of these word-pictures that Jesus applies to himself appears to have no present or immediate context, but it does have strong echoes in the Old Testament. In Isa 5, Isaiah prophecies about a vineyard that was Israel : “ I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isa 5:1-2) It continues and in case we are uncertain of its meaning he adds, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel ” (Isa 5:7) That was well-known, but it was a vineyard and not simply a vine. For that we have to go to Jeremiah: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer 2:21)
The more plaintive but clearer cry comes in the Psalms: “You brought a vine out of Egypt ; you drove out the nations and planted it.” (Psa 80:8) No question about who that refers to, but it goes on to question why the Lord had allowed it to be ravaged. Ezekiel also used the same picture: “Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard planted by the water; it was fruitful and full of branches.” (Ezek 19:10) Hosea also declared, “ Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself.” (Hos 10:1) Centuries before Jacob had prophesied, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring.” (Gen 49:22).
So, here is the challenge: in the Old Testament so often the vine is the picture used by the prophets to depict Israel , the people of God. It is not God but the people of God. Therefore, now when Jesus says he is the vine, he is implying, “I am the source of all true relationships with God.” But as he goes on he teaches us various things about this vine.
First, his origin : “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (v.1) He is the real expression of a true relationship with God the Father, and the Father brought him into being and tends and looks after him.
Second, his fruitfulness : “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (v.2) The Father expects him to be fruitful. This is seen by branches growing out of him – believers joining themselves to him – and these branches are expected to bear fruit and if they don't they are trimmed back (pruned).
Third, the branches' relationship : “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v.3,4) They have been purified and (implied) joined to Jesus by accepting his words. Now all they have to do is stick with him, remain with him, abide in him, and then they will be fruitful. We only bear fruit within the relationship that we have with Jesus. If it is not real, there will be no fruit. He reiterates this: “ I am the vine ; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (v.5) It is a simple picture: He is the main stem, and we grow out of him and as we grow we bear fruit, the outworking of his activity through us.
Fourth, a warning : “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (v.6) People may apparently come to Jesus but not be bonded in, shall we say, and so they are not real branches and are thus thrown away to be destroyed. That sounds harsh but that is the bad news side of the Gospel: failure to receive it means judgment and destruction.
Fifth, a reassurance : “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (v.7) If we do have this living relationship with him, then we will know his will, know his heart, and so when we ask the Father for these things, we will receive them.
Sixth, a wonder : “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit.” (v.8a) God will be glorified when others see the fruit that He is able to bring in and through us (see Mt 5:16).
Seventh: clear identification : “that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (v.8b) You say you are a disciple of Jesus? Where is your fruit? Is it the fruit of a changed character? Is it the fruit of success at the leading of His Spirit? Is it the fruit of other lives changed? All these things are the things the Father expects and will come as we deepen our relationship with Jesus.
So to summarise: Jesus is saying that he alone is the one true source of relationship with the Father in heaven, and when we join ourselves to him, his life will flow in us and we will bear the fruit of the outworking of that life in us, that comes from him.
Thus, as we come to the end of this part, let's recap. Jesus is:
All of these things are true of the One who came from heaven to save us, and each thing shows us a particular facet of that salvation. Hallelujah!