How can Christ be the Shepherd and the gate?

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s gospel), by rosie moore.

John 10 contains two of Christ’s seven I AM statements in John’s gospel, namely, “I am the gate” and “I am the good Shepherd”. These two claims cannot be separated if we understand the figure of speech that Jesus used to convince the Jews that He was the Messiah, the one and only ‘door’ to God’s salvation. Jesus offers us and his original hearers the only access to safety, security, nourishment and protection. Best of all, he issues an open invitation for each and every one of us to enter his Church, and a promise to those who do. Verse 9 and 11 are key verses:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

But there’s plenty more that Jesus says to put flesh on the bones of these two profound claims, echoed five hundred years before, when God’s people were in captivity in Babylon:

“And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).

Let’s ask the Lord to show us more of Himself in this amazing teaching that John has recorded for us.

The false shepherd.

It’s interesting that Jesus describes Himself by way of contrast to the false shepherds or ‘hirelings’ of God’s people. The context helps us understand why. This chapter is a continuation of the last, where Jesus had been speaking about the Pharisees, the false shepherds who refused to acknowledge or celebrate His amazing healing of the man born blind.

Jesus did a miracle right before their eyes. But instead of worshipping Christ, the Pharisees willfully suppressed the truth of the man’s obvious healing, shaming and slandering him when he simply offered his honest testimony: “You are this fellow’s disciple!” they mocked, but “we are the disciples of Moses!” (John 9:28)

Ignoring the beautifully clear and logical testimony of the man and his parents (John 9:202530-33), the Pharisees threw the new convert out of the synagogue and hurled insults at him, “You were steeped in sin at birth,” they accused the man, “How dare you lecture us!” (John 9:34). Not only did they deny the evidence that Christ was the Messiah, but they also banished the man from the symbolic dwelling place of God with his people—the synagogue. The Pharisees’ chosen path of spiritual blindness makes more sense in light of Christ’s description of false shepherds in chapter 10.

So what are the marks and motives of the ‘hirelings’ who set themselves up as shepherds of God’s people? Jesus draws us a character sketch,

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber… All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them… 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full….12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (selected verses from John 10:1-13)

They climb in some other way.

The bottom line about every false shepherd in the Old Testament, the early church and even today, is that they don’t enter through the real ‘door’, which is by the blood of Christ and his atoning death on the cross. Instead, they climb into Christ’s Church some other way, and thus, have no love or concern for God’s people. They are not saved themselves, so cannot lead others to salvation.

Perhaps the ‘other way’ into the Church is their great learning or impressive CV; eloquence or giftedness; charisma or a characteristic that the world values highly at that particular time. Some are just bullies who climb over the wall using strongarm tactics. A false shepherd knows how to look right and sound right.

But the end game of the hireling is always to steal, kill and destroy God’s Church. He or she tries to rob lost people of the true way to the Father; to kill the joy and fruitfulness of the Church; to destroy the holiness, peace and gospel zeal of God’s people; to rob God’s people of the potency of God’s word.

In one of his sermons in 1884, Robert Murray M’Cheyne quotes verse 5, “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice,” warning Christians to make no friendship with false shepherds. He reminds us to beware of worldly and covetous ministers, for they will come to destroy. He warns believers to flee from those who the world favours, the ones who flatter and impress, the ones who speak of sin and God’s holiness but do not know it in their own hearts. They are the church leaders who come to rob God of his throne and rob God of our souls. M’Cheyne’s words are worth heeding today.

These are the false shepherds who climb in some other way. But what are the marks of the Good Shepherd, whom Jesus claims to be?

The true shepherd.

Jesus tells us explicitly, “I am the good shepherd,” and then proceeds to give us his credentials:

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper 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….I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Every time I read this passage, I’m stirred all over again by its beauty! I want to weep when I think of Christ as the access gate and our Shepherd, who died for Jews and Gentiles alike, his lambs that were condemned to die.

He didn’t flee the wolves.

Christ didn’t flee when he saw the wolves— the wolf pack of soldiers and officials who came to arrest Him in the Garden (John 18:12); Caiaphas the high priestly wolf (John 18:14); Pilate the Roman governor (John 18:31); the crowds and chief priests baying for His blood (John 18:15); the soldiers who shredded his clothes (John 19:24). And of course, Jesus faced head-on the rage of the great wolf himself, Satan, known also as the devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8), the dragon who tries to devour the child that “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Revelation 12:1-6).

Christ, the real Shepherd entered in by the door, even though He was the door. He entered by his own blood. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, Christ “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12).

Reading Christ’s own words in John 10, I’m reminded of how much it cost Him to make us his sheep and bring us into His spiritual tabernacle. Unlike the Pharisees, who banished the formerly blind man from the Temple, Jesus lets us in! He didn’t have to enter into the sheep pen to be our good Shepherd, and I know that I was a particularly motley, lost little stray. But He chose to take our sins upon himself, so that we could access his sheepfold. Christ’s Church is the only place of safety, security and protection. What a privilege to be called one of Christ’s own sheep, known personally by name, and given a new name!

Marks of the good shepherd.

Jesus calls each one of his followers by name, just as He called Zaccheus from a tree; Simon Peter from a fishing boat and the grieving Mary by the empty tomb. Christ knows each of us by name (John 10:3). When we were lost and wayward strays, He called us individually to himself and gave us a new name. He still calls us to follow him and listen to his voice in the Bible.

As the shepherds in Palestine lead their sheep from the front, Jesus goes before us in every way: To the well to drink; to the green pastures of rest and renewal; through the dark valley of the shadow of death. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” (Isa 43:2).

The true shepherd never abandons his sheep. Our good shepherd will always be with us and will go before us, even if human shepherds fail us.

But the marks of the perfect Shepherd should characterize every human shepherd whom Christ sends to look after his sheep. Pastors, elders, teachers, disciplers, parents—we’re not just hirelings who are paid to do a job. We’ve been appointed as shepherds over Christ’s lambs, tenderly placed in our care.

We answer to the Chief Shepherd for the way we lead, feed and protect His lambs. As good shepherds, we lead with diligence and vigilance; with kindness, constancy and courage, even fearlessness when the wolves are around (1 Peter 5:4). We never abandon the sheep.

Just as Jesus goes before us, so every human shepherd should show people the way to the true gate– the cross of Jesus Christ. We can never grow weary of inviting inside any man, woman or child we find outside of his sheep pen, but let’s never encourage anyone to climb in by some other way.

Promise of the Good Shepherd.

Christ’s promise is that “anyone who enters through me will be saved… He shall go in and out and find pasture…I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

It’s a promise of immediate entry into Christ’s church, along with all the privileges —safety, security, nourishment and peace, forever. There are no passports required to enter this sheepfold, and no sin or human characteristic can bar us from its gate. But it’s useless if we just admire the door or make plans to enter it at some later stage. We must leave everything at the gate and enter in.

The gate is still open, but it won’t stay open forever. One day it will slam shut, “for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17). The promise of the good Shepherd and the privilege of the sheepfold is for those who enter through the gate now.

Source:

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, A Basket of Fragments.

I am the Light of the World

 

Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel), by Rosie Moore

There are seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Last week we looked at the first—“I am the bread of life” from John 6. Today we look at the second “I am” statement. Jesus said,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In this statement, Jesus doesn’t merely point to the light. He points to himself and says that He is the light of life to all those who follow him.

What extraordinary claims Jesus made! Imagine one of our world leaders making statements like this today. Most promise safety, peace and prosperity but I’ve never heard a political or religious leader dare to call him or herself the light of the world! Don’t you wish for a godly ruler who epitomizes truth and holiness? A leader who is good, pure, honest and reliable? A King who leads his followers to flourish, rather than a tyrant who controls his subjects for self interest?

John is particularly fond of this language of light and darkness. First let’s look at the immediate context of Jesus’ claim in John 8:12:

When Jesus made this stunning claim, he was speaking in the part of the temple where the offerings were placed (John 8:20), where candles burned to symbolize the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the desert (Ex 13:2122). It is in this context that Jesus claimed to be the light of the world. Jesus was plainly identifying himself as God’s promised Messiah King. And even more than that, He was claiming to be God himself.

God is light.

The Old Testament is brimming with pictures of God and his Word as light. Here are just some of them:

The pillar of fire represented God’s presence, protection, guidance and faithfulness to his covenant people.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? (Ps 27:1).

“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Ps 56:13)

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

“The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Ps 104:2).

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart, The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Ps 19:8).

And then, there are the prophesies of Isaiah, likening God’s promised Messiah to light. The gospel writers are in no doubt that these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus:

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2Matt 4:16).

“I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa 42:6-7Luke 2:32)

This week, let’s pray before we even begin to think through Jesus’s statement, “I am the light of the world:”

Lord, as we sit at your feet to listen to you, give us light to understand your amazing claim. Shine your light in our hearts, so that we can see you for who you are and worship you as the only One who can bring us out of darkness into your wonderful light. Show us your truth and holiness. Teach us how to live as children of the light and to shine as lights in our world. Amen.

Defining light.

It’s tempting to come to Christ’s statement with a whole bunch of esoteric ideas of our own: “I think light is this, or that…”

But John says,

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Light represents what is pure, true and holy about God, while darkness represents what is sinful and evil. Jesus says that we must follow Him if we want to walk in the light. We don’t get to define the light for ourselves. Throughout the Bible, light is associated with two main ideas: God’s Truth and God’s Holiness.

Contrary to postmodern thinking, Truth (with a capital T) is not something we decide for ourselves, nor can we discover it through science, medicine, sociology, politics or any human philosophy. God the Creator is the only source of divine truth, and so, only He can reveal Truth to us. We need his divine revelation to know truth.

Perfect truth.

Although we all desire to be wise, just like our ancient ancestors in the Garden (Gen 3:6), the reality is that we have all turned our backs on God, refusing even to acknowledge Him as Creator or give thanks to Him as Lord. As a result, our human hearts are darkened and foolish (Rom 1:21-23). Paul says that in professing ourselves to be wise, we actually become fools.

Jesus’s claim to be the light of the world stands in stark contrast to our own heart of darkness. Our thought processes, assumptions and logic are dark and hostile to God. By nature, we think in ungodly and crooked ways, so that even the most highly respected intellectuals can be fools. We all need God to shine the light of his gospel into the darkness of our futile thinking.

Only through God’s lens of Truth, revealed to us in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, can we make sense of this world. This includes our understanding of human identity and sin; race and ethnicity; justice and law; gender and sexuality; marriage and family; the gospel and the Church; work and the environment; health and our bodies; and every ethical issue we face. Only Christ and His Word can provide the worldview that we need to see clearly, so that we don’t stumble about in the dark, mimicking our culture, and making things up as we go along.

As CS Lewis famously said,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

We need the revelation of God’s truth to see clearly. But we also need the light of God’s perfect holiness.

Perfect holiness.

No other human being has ever claimed to be perfectly pure and good, yet Jesus stood in front of all these people and pointed to Himself as the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness. After claiming to be the light of the world, He then asked the audacious question that no sane person would ever dare to ask, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:45).

If we are even half honest, we will see that we cannot even look at God and live, because He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:161 John 1:5). But Jesus, the perfect God-man, gives us access to God’s light. He experienced the horrific darkness of sin in our place when He died on the cross and brought God’s truth and holiness down to earth, purifying believers from all our sin. In response, His followers ought to walk in His light and live by His truth (1 John 1:6-7).

That’s why Paul can urge the Philippian church (and 21st century Christians), to “shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15). We are empowered to display His light and lead others to Him by our lives and conversations. We are like lighthouses guiding people away from the rocks of darkness and destruction. Like fairy lights adorning a dark world (Matt 5:14-16).

The Light of the world.

In his prologue, John introduces Christ as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9)

Jesus’s light is not restricted to a certain group. It is for everyone in the world. But in the next few verses, John reminds us that not everyone will receive Christ. Even his own people who heard him announce, “I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world” would reject Him as the Christ (John 1:10-11).

Whoever follows me…

Jesus’s inclusive invitations are never unconditional or everlasting. Jesus clearly says that we must take a step into the light and follow Him if we want to grasp the light of life. But sinners who don’t turn to Christ and put their trust in him, will not find light anywhere else.

A few chapters later, Christ made an urgent appeal to his hearers in the first century, as He does to us today:

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35).

Jesus calls you and me to respond in obedience to the light of the gospel that we’ve been shown. None of us knows if we will still have tomorrow to turn to Him as the light of life.

Sometimes it’s not pleasant or comfortable when our life is being exposed by the light of Christ. By nature, we are drawn to darkness like a moth to a flame, even if it means that we don’t know where we are going. It’s easier to stay in the darkness of our own sinfulness and confusion. The truth is that we love the darkness more than the light: The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19).

But isn’t it infinitely better to be exposed now, rather than walk in a state of darkness, not just in this world but for all eternity? There is a consequence to every choice, and there’s a frightening consequence if we persist in rejecting the Light of the world. Light and life always go together. But so do darkness and death.

When we follow Christ, we step into the light of repentance, forgiveness and freedom. Listen to how John describes this wonderful light of repentance:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness….if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world…” (1 John 1:8-92:1-2)

Living in the light.

The apostle John has reminded us today that it is only in Christ that humanity will find the true Light of the world. Satan and his henchmen will continue to masquerade as angels of light, cunningly crafting noble lies and shining false lights for the world to follow, just as they’ve done since Genesis 3. But as Christians, we are called to follow Christ alone, who has revealed Himself through the pages of Scripture.

Walking in the light means being people of truth and holiness. It means refusing to live by lies, but instead placing all things under the scrutiny of God’s Word, our source of truth. Living in the light means rejecting false narratives, false assumptions and false emotions, exposing fake ‘lights’ and replacing them with the truth. It means living in the purity and holiness of Christ, in love and fellowship with other believers (1 John 2:10). And when we sin, it means that we don’t conceal our sin, but confess it to the Lord. The light is not just a decoration, but needs to be switched on by Christ’s followers.

As people of light, we must not rely on books, articles, preachers, social media platforms and so-called experts to find truth on issues we face. It’s good to read widely, but we must turn to Christ and His inerrant, sufficient Word to shed truth on every issue, to convict our conscience and equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).

No matter how dark and confused our world is right now, when we turn to Christ and His Word day-by-day, God’s light invades our thinking and opens our eyes of understanding. We will never be lost or wander in futile circles if we know who we are, how much we’ve been forgiven, and where we are going. Jesus Christ is the world’s only light, in this life and the next.

John’s final words about light in the new world were written down in the book of Revelation. What a wonderful picture of the Lamb as its lamp, with darkness and deceit banished forever!

Bread from heaven

Bread from heaven

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus. (John’s gospel)

By Rosie Moore.

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:33-34).

When I was a little girl, I remember the hour long journey to and from Church every Sunday. We lived on a farm far from the nearest Bible-teaching church, so we had to be ready to leave by 08h00 sharp. “No peace for the wicked!” was my mom’s favourite wake-up call, as she hurled the blankets off her four children and ordered us to get ourselves in gear.

But if I’m dead honest, the highlight of Sundays wasn’t the church service, but the very special bakery we visited afterwards. All the way through the sermon, I dreamed of squishy jam doughnuts, Chelsea buns and the aroma of baking bread!  It was a Dutch bakery called “De Bakhys” and there was a big sign outside that read:

“Man shall not live by bread alone…but it helps!”  I loved reading that sign because I knew the treat that lay ahead.

‘De Bakhys’ sure helped take the edge off that long journey to and from church every Sunday. You’ve never tasted dough that good. And if I could transport that bakery to my own kitchen today, I would be munching their heavenly bread every day of my life!

Bread from heaven.

But in John 6, Jesus claims to be the real heavenly bread. He says, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval….

 “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. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world…this is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live foreover” (John 6:26-2732-33355158).

I am the bread of life.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”.

After feeding over 5000 people with just five small loaves and two fish, Jesus discusses the meaning of the miracle. He combines the Old Testament name for Yahweh, I AM, with a graphic metaphor of ‘bread’, to express his saving relationship with the world. This is one of the seven “I AM” statements Christ made in John’s gospel. Jesus knew exactly what He was saying, and he was neither ashamed nor reticent about declaring his divinity.

As for the Jewish crowds that ate that lavish picnic and heard Christ’s subsequent claims, they would surely have remembered strains of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy 700 years earlier:

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; Listen that you may live” (Isa 52:2-3).

But in John 6:53-54, Jesus drops the biggest bombshell of all:

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

These are stunning claims for a man to make about Himself! I have pondered this text for many days now and hope that you will do the same. My prayer is that we may know our own spiritual hunger and find satisfaction in the risen Christ as our life-giving bread.

Bread of life.

Bread is more than just helpful. It’s the necessary staple food that most of us eat every day. It’s not a luxury, but an essential need of life. Think of some idioms about bread:

Someone’s ‘bread and butter’ is their essential income and livelihood. ‘Breaking bread’ implies deep spiritual fellowship, as well as the physical meal we eat together. The ‘greatest thing since sliced bread’ refers to something more sublime and wonderful than we can imagine.

Bread is also an essential part of the Jewish Passover meal. Jews had to eat unleavened bread during the Passover Feast, and for seven days thereafter, to remember their rescue from slavery in Egypt. And of course, as we saw last week in “Surely this is the Prophet”, bread hearkens back to God’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the desert, through his prophet Moses:

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3).

In fact, Jesus stands his ground against Satan by quoting this exact text from Deuteronomy when he is led into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus was hungry after fasting for 40 days when the tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:2-4).

But in John 6, Jesus doesn’t merely say that He supplies the bread of life. He says that He is  that bread. He identifies himself as the bread of heaven that never spoils or perishes, and gives life to the world. He tells the crowd to come to Him and believe in Him— to feed on him spiritually. This was no ordinary prophet! He was either a megalomaniac or truly God.

Feeding.

Through feeding the 5000, Jesus exposes a much greater spiritual hunger that is in every human being. We desperately need the spiritual bread that God has provided in the person of his Son.

Feeding is a graphic verb that Jesus gives to describe true faith in Him! Metaphorically, when we put our trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-56). Jesus used this same metaphor at the Last Supper, when he “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Believing.

The crowds specifically ask Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers them pointedly, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”. Jesus’s clear answer reminds us that the gospel is all about believing Christ, from beginning to end:

Pleasing God doesn’t come from the works we do, but from whom we believe. The religions of the world are man’s attempts to answer this big question, ‘What must we do to satisfy God?’ But Christ’s reply is so simple and profound: We must believe on Him whom God has sent! Nothing else is required to satisfy God.

And so, the very first step to feeding on the bread of life is to accept that Jesus is who he claims to be and put our trust in Him alone. It is not religion or noble works that can save or sustain us. It is believing that Christ is the One sent by God to give us life and trusting in His finished work on the cross. That is how we feed on Him by faith.

Bread that cannot spoil.

Only Christ can fulfill our eternal longing to be in a right relationship with our Creator. And only He can satisfy the deep hunger of our soul to be righteous. Jesus is better than manna, which went mouldy after a day and ultimately could not save the Israelites from dying. He is better than the unleavened bread of the Passover. He is the eternal bread of life, because his sacrifice confers a righteousness that lasts forever. It’s why Christ says, “Blessed is the man who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, for he shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). The filling is sufficient and complete.

But Jesus is also the bread that cannot spoil, because He has risen from the dead and promises to raise believers up on the last day.  Imagine John’s incredulity a few months later, when he saw the risen Jesus standing on the beach, after providing a huge catch of fish that broke the disciples’ nets. It was just like the massive picnic all over again! But this time, Christ said, “Come and have breakfast…Then Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:13). It was like déjà vu. No wonder John knew it was the Lord!

The Lord Jesus is the only bread that cannot spoil. If we follow Him only for temporal benefits, we are no different from the crowd that ate their fill of bread, tried to force Jesus to be their king and pressured Him to prove himself by spectacular signs ((John 6:142630-31).

And yet it’s so easy to fill our lives with temporal things — bread that spoils. Unless we feed on Christ, we will remain forever empty, shriveled and parched. He is our daily bread.

Our daily bread.

When asked, “Sir, from now on give us this bread” (John 6:34), Jesus says “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

This is not just a promise for the future, but for life here-and-now too. The Christian life is a present continuous process of feeding and filling by Christ. There is no one else, and nothing else that can fill and feed our souls. And yet, we are so often preoccupied with other ‘bread’ that can’t bring lasting satisfaction.

Feeding on Christ is not just a once-off meal of faith. It is an everyday coming and believing. We know this because Jesus likened himself to manna that the Israelites gathered daily in the barren wilderness (John 6:32-33). It is exactly the same for believers today, as we travel through this barren land. Faith is coming to Christ every day–Not weekly, monthly or yearly. It is only He who can save and sustain us. This is something that the Lord teaches us over and over again, as he is teaching me.

Last week, amongst the excitement and jubilation of our daughter’s wedding this Saturday, our son phoned to say that he had tested positive for Covid! Not only was I deeply disappointed that he may not be able to celebrate with us, but I was also afraid for his health and capacity to isolate and look after himself in a flat shared with other students. I know of many who are experiencing much worse than this, but in the moment, it was hard for me to find God’s provision and peace.

But as I read and re-read this story, Christ consoled and nourished me as if He were right beside me. He made me see that a believer is always sustained by the true bread from heaven, who gives life to the world and will raise our bodies to eternal life with God when He comes again (John 6:54). He is the bread that enables a Christian to live a life of faith that pleases God, and He has borne our sin and sorrows on the cross.  He will amply provide for us, not just physically but spiritually too. And He has given us his peace, love and presence, and many other blessings besides. The Lord Jesus has opened my eyes to see his manna all over the ground around us.

If Christ fed 5000 people with just five small loaves, will He not also provide our daily bread?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving your body for us on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to give us life. Thank you for abundant, eternal, resurrection life that you have purchased on the cross for all those who believe in you. May we feed on you daily by faith. And thank you, Lord Jesus, that you are the bread that really satisfies and always meets us at our point of need. Thank you for the gift of your people with whom we can break bread and share deep love and fellowship in your name. Give us today our daily bread. Amen.

Surely this is the Prophet!

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15)

After feeding the five thousand, it’s no wonder the crowds on the grassy mountainside frothed about Jesus, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They saw Jesus as the great Prophet foreshadowed by Moses, whom God used to liberate Israel from slavery and bring them to their own land—a land of abundance, overflowing with milk and honey. And in those early days of Israel’s history, God had promised to send another prophet like Moses:

“God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut 18:15).

For all who witnessed the miracle, Jesus seemed to be the long awaited Prophet!

No bring-and-share event.

Jesus’s spectacular miracle was beyond a shadow of doubt. He performed an impossible catering job for the great multitude! This was no bring-and-share event. Jesus fed 5000 men (probably 15 000 with women and children) with just five small barley loaves and two small fish.

The fish were probably salted, like little sardines or pickled fish. John makes sure we know they were small, as if to contrast the great multitude sitting on the grassy mountainside and the teeny tiny morsels of food. As Phillip remarked, “Eight month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7)

Not only did Christ reproduce enough food for the crowd to eat “as much as they wanted”, but there were also twelve basketfuls of leftovers! (John 6:11-13) There was abundance and excess in the miracle that Jesus performed with his own hands. And any silly explanations about people taking out their own sandwiches are an insult to John’s integrity and intelligence. Surely one person among the thousands would have debunked this story if there was a natural explanation? It’s either a fraud or it’s true, nothing in between.

The generous picnic must have resembled Moses with the whole congregation of Israel gathered around him, eating manna from heaven. “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 16:12)

And that’s exactly what happened. Every morning except the Sabbath, manna lay like flaky frost all over the ground, “the bread that the Lord has given you to eat…Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat…Each of them gathered as much as he could eat” (Ex 16:15-18). If the coming Prophet was like Moses, it made sense that he would feed the people miraculously as Moses had.

A Prophet like Moses.

Just like Moses, who taught the people of Israel from Mount Sinai,  Jesus stood teaching his disciples on a mountainside. And it all happened just before Passover. Of course, Passover is associated with the great liberation of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, when God saved His people from death, because they painted the lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their houses.

The crowds who saw Jesus distributing the endless supply of bread and fish, must have remembered the miracles of Moses, whose epitaph says:  “….no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10-12).

It’s no wonder the crowd claimed Jesus as their miracle Prophet! They wanted to recruit Him as their king and liberator, to lead their crusade and free them from Roman oppression. After all, wasn’t it true that the tax collectors stole from them? Didn’t the Roman soldiers treat them cruelly? And didn’t the Emperor and his political puppets abuse them? Surely Jesus was patriotic enough to join their good cause?

But they had no idea that their sin was a greater enemy than Rome.

And so, realizing that the crowds wanted to turn Him into some sort of political figure to satisfy their pressing economic, physical and national needs, Jesus withdrew and refused to oblige (John 6:15). He knew that this crowd was only willing to support Him so long as he gave them what they wanted.

Even when Satan came to Him with similar temptations, Jesus would not use his powers to create for Himself an earthly kingdom, but lived to serve and worship His Father in heaven (Luke 4:6).

But does that mean that Jesus does nothing for His people on earth?

I don’t think so, on account of the little story wedged like jam between the miracle and Jesus’s explanation. Jesus comes down from the mountain to walk on water, to meet his terrified disciples in a storm-tossed boat.

“It is I. Do not be afraid”.

“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four milesg they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going (John 6:16-21)

Haven’t you found that mountain top experiences of God’s wonderful provision are often followed by times when you’re tossed like a cork in the ocean? This was so for the disciples. The well-fed, admiring crowd was gone. Jesus was gone. The abundant food was gone. And the disciples were in the middle of the Lake between 3am and 6am, struggling in the dark on their own. The sea had swallowed up their excitement and their Saviour was nowhere to be seen.

Yet this was no accident, as Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus ‘compelled’ his disciples to go back across the lake (Mark 6:45). But after rowing feverishly for 8 hours, with little headway against the wind and waves, the picnic was clearly over! Was Jesus perhaps using this boat trip to show his disciples (and us) something about our desperate spiritual state without Him? That our best efforts will always be useless in bringing us safely to shore?

Understandably, when they finally saw Jesus walking towards them on the water, their first reaction was fear. Mark tells us that they thought he was a ghost (Mark 6:49), but Jesus reassured his disciples,

“It is I; Do not be afraid.”

Christopher Ashe points out a familiar pattern of faith: Fear. Reassurance. Willingness. Each of us must begin our relationship with Jesus by having proper fear, because we are sinful, and Christ has the right to punish sin and evil. But the good news of the gospel reassures our heart, as we listen to Christ’s words, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” True peace and safety only come when we are willing to receive Christ as our Saviour and Lord.

Verse 21 is a picture of deep joy and security when Jesus is in the boat with us. No storm can swallow us when we are in Christ, and He is in us. And we will surely reach our heavenly shore with Jesus in the boat.

You say that I am king.

And so, the crowds were right when they identified Jesus as the long awaited Prophet. Their problem was that they wanted Him on their own terms and wouldn’t listen to His voice or receive Him as Lord (John 6:42). They preferred a political king.

Hours before Jesus died, He told Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice”(John 18:37).

Jesus was sure of His purpose as King, but never wrongly used his powers to set up His own kingdom. He knew that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus is a prophet and liberator of another kind. He came into the world to save sinners like ourselves. Sinners who listen to His voice, and come to Him willingly in repentance and faith.

Are we people of the truth who listen to His voice and come willingly to Christ on his own terms? Or do our preferences matter more?

These two miraculous signs set the stage for Christ’s astounding conversation, which we’ll unpack next in “The Bread from Heaven.”

Prayer

Lord, your word says “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance” (Isa 55:2). Thank you that you have revealed who you are in the Bible, and that you offer shalom and abundant life, rather than just cheap thrills. Thank you for those comforting words, “It is I; Do not be afraid” as we know that your loving presence never leaves us, no matter how buffeted we may feel.  Help us to listen carefully to your Word and trust you fully. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

The blindness of self promotion

Series: Face to face with Jesus (John’s gospel).

By Rosie Moore.

“Jesus claimed to be worthy of the honour due God. For one simple reason. He was. Surely only a fool would make such a claim…and yet, Jesus walked on water…calmed the wind and waves…healed the lepers…and sent demons scurrying. Could anyone but God do so?” (Josh McDowell).

And yet, John tells us that most of the Pharisees refused to come to Jesus to have life in his name (John 5:40). Tragically, despite all the evidence presented to them, they didn’t have saving faith, because they refused to honour the Son of God. Instead, they accused him of blasphemy. In John chapter 5, Jesus describes two obstacles to their salvation:

  • They did not cherish God or His Word within their hearts. In fact, they didn’t love God at all (John 5:42).
  • They did not seek God’s glory, only their own. They loved man’s praise, instead of the approval of God (John 5:4244). Like typical politicians, they were bent on prominence.

In his confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus highlighted the great contrast between Himself and them:

“I do not receive glory from people…(John 5:41)

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

Politicians in priestly robes.

In spite of their outward displays of virtue and vast Scriptural knowledge, Jesus saw the Pharisees’ hearts. He saw how they schemed together to kill him (John 5:18). He saw straight through their public prayers, conspicuous giving and showy acts of humility. And He accused them of doing their ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, ‘to be seen’. Concerned only for optics, the Pharisees announced their generosity “to be honoured by men” (Matt 6:1-2).  And so, Jesus called these original “virtue signalers” hypocrites (Matt 6:5) and “blind guides” (Matt 15:14).

Although Christ demonstrated his absolute authority with meekness and compassion, the Pharisees resented his pure goodness and humility. They refused to bow down to Him as Lord of all, because they were all about their own glory. Let’s look at a small section of what Jesus said to these Pharisees after healing the man by the pool of Siloam and declaring Himself as God’s Son:

“You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:38-47).

Blinded to the evidence.

Self promotion blinded the Pharisees to the vast body of evidence that demonstrated that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

First, there were His miraculous works:

Hadn’t they just witnessed the supernatural healing of the paralyzed man, or at very least, heard him testify that his life had been truly and completely transformed by Jesus? (John 4:11).  His functioning body was there for all to prod and poke at. Yet, all the Pharisees could see was a carpenter from Nazareth, who threatened their power (John 5:18). They completely discounted the man’s true life testimony.

Second, they ignored Christ’s own testimony, backed up by clear evidence: The Pharisees weren’t wrong when they said that Jesus “was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). He had just deliberately broken their man-made rules to demonstrate that He was Lord of the Sabbath, as God is: “Jesus said to them “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). The Pharisees knew that only Yahweh works around the clock to sustain the world and deliver his people (Ps 121:3-4).

In John chapter 5, Jesus speaks uninterrupted from verse 19 to 47. Without ego or pride, He makes some of the most astounding statements about Himself and God the Father. If this were a mere man, the Pharisees had every right to accuse him of blasphemy, as it would be idolatry to pay a man the honour that is due only to God. But they would need to ignore the facts right before their eyes. So, it was a wilful blindness and suppression of the truth, because Jesus performed acts that only God could do.

There’s no shadow of doubt that Jesus identified Himself as being one with the Father, with authority to give eternal life (John 5:24); to judge sin (John 5:27); to do whatever the Father does (John 5:19); to be in an intimate, loving relationship with the Father (John 5:20); even to resurrect the dead (John 5:25-26). He claimed to be the source of all life (John 5:26) and to have the power to give spiritual life to people that the Father has chosen (John 5:21). Most offensive of all, Jesus claimed that He was worthy of the same honour as God the Father, and that those who fail to honour Him, cannot claim to honour God. Alford fleshes this out:

“All must honour Him with equal honour to that which they pay to the Father– and whoever does not, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour Him at all, because He can only be known or honoured by us as “the Father who sent His Son”.

These remain the most offensive claims of the Christian faith today. Increasingly, it is seen as bigoted, un-inclusive, intolerant, and an act of oppression and aggression to claim that Jesus is the only way to know and honour God. Equally offensive is the claim that Christ has divine authority to judge humanity. Yet, unapologetically, this what Jesus claimed about Himself:

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him… 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:22-23).

There are many sceptics who deny that Jesus’ claimed to be God, saying that his followers only started worshipping him centuries later. But if the gospels are primary sources, then this cannot be true. The people who rubbed shoulders with Jesus in his own lifetime were certain that He claimed deity. They were willing to die for this belief. “No one ever spoke like this man!” was the verdict of the guards of the chief priests and Pharisees (John 7:46). Who would you rather believe? A primary source and many eye witnesses? Or a secondary source written in an academic institution, thousands of years after the fact?

There are also others who claim that God the Father emphasizes judgment, whereas God the Son focuses on love. Jesus does not give us this option. He claimed to be inseparable from Yahweh. If these claims are true, there can be no rivalry between Jesus and the Father, who says, “I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal 3:6). In fact, if we scroll through John’s gospel, we see that people who came face-to-face with Jesus, encountered a judge who saw into their hearts, and a merciful Saviour who extended a love they did not deserve.

Third, the Pharisees chose to selectively remember their Old Testament Scriptures. They refused to see that these Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One who would fulfill the Torah perfectly (John 5:3946). They searched the Scriptures zealously and cherished their own man-made rules, but were blind to the shadows of Jesus in the testimony of Moses (John 5:45-46).

And so, they missed the Saviour when he came to earth, and even made his dwelling in their own home town, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Fourth, they ignored the witness of John the Baptist, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:2934),

And so, because of their craving for self promotion, the Pharisees were blind to the great body of evidence given to them. They were blind to the display of life-giving power right before their eyes. And they flatly refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God incarnate, because they were bent on pleasing themselves. Instead of hearing and believing the word of Jesus, they bullied the man who testified to his healing. And as a result, they never crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). It’s tragic to think that these were the men who should have seen Jesus with clear eyes and welcomed the Saviour with open hearts.

But hang on a moment! That’s not actually true of all Pharisees and prominent Jewish rulers of Jesus’s day. Many believed and were saved.

What was the problem with the Pharisees?

In recent years, I’ve heard people attempt to direct Jesus’s accusations against the Pharisees towards a group of people collectively known as ‘oppressors’ on the ladder of disadvantage and intersectionality: Wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated, white men are usually prime targets, accused of being modern day Pharisees. However, the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was their hearts, not their group membership. There was nothing inherently wrong with being a Pharisee.

In fact, we are told of a prominent Pharisee called Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night (John 3:1). This Pharisee became a true disciple. In fact, he helped Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’s body off the cross and place it in the tomb (John 19:38-42). We also know that the apostle Paul was once Saul, “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee”, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6Phil 3:5). Actually, Paul’s knowledge of the Scriptures uniquely positioned him to become a prolific author of the New Testament and an eminent theologian of the early church. God appointed a Pharisee for that task.

Reading through the book of Acts, I was struck by how many synagogue leaders and prominent Jews became followers of Christ, like Crispus in Corinth, whose whole family believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8). After Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, five thousand Jews were saved, among whom there must have been some Pharisees (Acts 2:41Acts 3:4). In Pisidion Antioch, many devout Jews followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43), and the name of Barnabas was actually “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). Levites were from the Priestly tribe. Apollos, one of the most influential evangelists in the early Church, was also “a learned Jew, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28).

And so, it’s quite clear that the problem with the Pharisees was not their knowledge of Scripture, nor their social/ religious group, nor a form of collective guilt. Through the myriad encounters with Jesus in the gospels, we see that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

But in John 5:40, Jesus sees into the proud hearts of the Pharisees and says, “Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” What a sad indictment and a warning that we should still apply to our own hearts today. Just as Jesus saw into the Pharisees’ hearts, He says to us too, “I know you.” (John 5:42). No one except the Lord has the ability to judge the motives of another’s heart.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

“Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus knew that the Pharisees loved prominence more than God or his Word. That is why they would not believe and receive him as Lord (John 5:44).

But the love of prominence is a universal temptation that each of us faces, whether great or lowly. Every human heart is bent towards self-promotion, even if we are not the scheming, political types. We can do it in many more subtle ways. It’s a matter of misguided glory, because Jesus is the only man who could honestly say, “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me…I do not accept praise from men” (John 5:30b41). Only Jesus deserves the glory due to God, as only He could please His Father perfectly.

But by nature, each of us craves the approval, credit and sympathy of people much more than we love to please God. What’s more, in a culture obsessed with optics, it’s especially tempting to create an ‘image’ for the world to see and applaud. And social media is a perfect platform for this form of ‘virtue signaling’, which was the great sin of the Pharisees.

In our generation, we face a constant temptation to look good. We are apt to share photos and videos to prove to the world that we are truly virtuous, caring people. We still seek the best seat at the table and our hearts still long for prominence and significance (Luke 14:7). But this need for self promotion is a serious obstacle to sincere faith in Christ.

As Christians and as a Church, we must spur each other on to good deeds (Heb 10:24). But may we simply give, without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing (Matt 6:3-4). When we pray, may we simply pray from our heart to our Father, who is unseen (Matt 6:6). And may we catch ourselves whenever we try to impress people with our ‘holiness’ or false humility (Matt 6:17). True humility is simply coming to Christ the Son, and allowing Him to reveal to us who God is, and who we are.

What blessed assurance it is to know that if we have put our trust in Christ, we will never be condemned, for we have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). That is a crossing that can never be reversed, for Christ has finished the work that the Father sent Him to do (John 5:36John 19:30). It is a one-way, fully paid ticket. It is done.

Listen to this beautiful old hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance’, sung by Carrie Underwood.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

A Biblical perspective on the South African riots this week.

By Rosie Moore.

Last weekend 33 trucks were destroyed in the Mooi River area, one of them a carrier with a full load of cars. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost as factories and businesses; machinery and equipment; farmlands and gas works; oil refineries and distribution centres; wholesalers and Spaza shops; shopping malls and ATM’s; even Hospital suppliers, a Blood Bank and an NGO that feeds the poor, were looted and reduced to ashes. This list can never capture the human suffering in its wake. We have now seen enough looters stuffing expensive electronic goods and fridges into waiting vehicles to know that our country has reached a turning point. The army who were called on to help enforce the lockdowns, are now being called to quell the riots and targeted attacks on major infrastructure. There is a shortage of fuel, basic necessities and medicines, and the violence has had a devastating impact on the medical community already stretched to the limits with Covid-19.

Where to from here?

I’m sure that each of us is asking the same question, “Where to from here?” By now, we are still counting the losses throughout South Africa, most especially in KZN.

The scale and cost of a few days of looting is unknown, but we do know that economic recovery can take many years. Property developers, businesses and investors are not going to return with confidence. Even if the violence and looting of the past few days runs its course, supply chains have been severed, which will lead to human suffering and an economic crisis for which there is no easy re-set button.

To add fuel to the fire, the uprising of the past week comes on top of an economic crisis caused by long Covid-19 lockdowns; corruption on a massive scale; closures of thousands of businesses; high unemployment and the Eskom crisis. Even if shopping malls and factories can claim insurance payouts, will it really make business sense for them to rebuild?

And now evidence is emerging that individuals set about instigating the so-called protests, riots and looting to achieve their political ends. Some were targeted attacks, while others were opportunistic criminality. But whatever the circumstances and causes, in our post 1994 history, never before have we seen such large scale lawlessness across the country. If we are truthful people, we must call it what it is: unrestrained evil.

And once again, it’s the poor who will suffer most when they can no longer buy their basic groceries from their local shop. Their chance of employment and a hopeful future is even more of a pipe dream, as many jobs will be lost forever. We have seen this devastation play out in our nearest neighbour, Zimbabwe. Ask any Zimbabwean immigrant to describe the effects of their nation’s economic free fall since the land grabs and looting of 2002-2005. These were orchestrated by Zanu-PF in a desperate bid to cling to power. Zimbabweans now need to cross borders to get basic foods and find jobs, where their homeland was once the bread basket of Africa.

But as Christians, our national crisis should not lead us into despair. The Bible reminds us of some timeless truths to help us process what is happening in our country and to respond realistically. Here are just two of these truths:

1. No one is righteous, not even one.

While it’s true that looters seem to act with impunity and instigators of violence shamelessly use people for their own selfish ends, Paul reminds us at the beginning of Romans that without the righteousness of Christ, who died on our behalf, there is no one righteous, not even one…

11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom 3:10-20).

What is true of everyone without Christ— Jew and Gentile; religious and unreligious; black, white and brown; employed and jobless; business owners and looters; instigators and peacemakers; criminals and authorities; male and female–is that we are all condemned by our sin. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). That is not to say that everyone is equally sinful, but all are equally condemned, because by nature, there is no fear of God before our eyes.

The Bible doesn’t try to justify our sin. The righteous God of the universe is not indifferent or nuanced about the lawlessness we witnessed this week (Ps 11:3-7). “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men…The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates…For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” We must not try to excuse or lessen the evil that was committed against our people this week.

Sin affects our minds, motives, will, speech, relationships and attitude towards God (Rom 3:11-18). In these verses, Paul is describing the outworking of sin in the human heart. The videos and eye witness accounts of riots we’ve seen this week have pulled back the curtain to show us the true horror of sin in 3-D, technicolour. As I watched, the thought came to mind:

This is unrestrained evil. This is the ‘secret power of lawlessness’ that Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. This is what our real enemy, Satan, is like. He lies, kills, steals and destroys. He uses people as pawns for his own destructive ends. He never builds, only breaks.

And so, from its opening pages, the Bible reminds us that evil resides in every human heart which is captive to Satan. War and violence, theft and murder, lies and plots, are just a sample of the many faces of sin. Given free reign, we will find something to fight about, leading to political factions, bloody coups, revolutions, murders and wars. We see it vividly in the cameo of Cain murdering his brother, Abel (Gen 4:1-16).

Only Jesus can free us from Satan’s captivity, because on the cross “he disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them”  (John 10:10Col 2:15). Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see that we are moral beings, accountable to a Holy God. Unless we know that we have no defense to make, no goodness to offer God, nothing but empty hands and a ‘silent mouth’ to receive Christ’s righteousness (Rom 3:19), we will remain as lost and guilty as the people who have caused the destruction this week, whose throats are open graves; whose lips hold vipers’ poison; whose feet are swift to shed blood; who do not know the way of peace; and who have no fear of God before their eyes.

Lest we become forgetful or self righteous in our anger, the Bible sets us straight: We are only set free from the life of sin that Paul describes, because of the righteousness of God–a free gift we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ as our substitute (Rom 3:21-26). The perfect God-man, the only Son of God, was punished in our place, for our sin. And only Christ’s Spirit enables us to live a life that is righteous and pleasing to God.

It’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope in South Africa.

So, in our anger and turmoil, let’s not forget God’s amazing grace and love for sinners—looters, arsonists, plotters, corrupt politicians and not least of all, ourselves (John 3:16-18). This is the perspective God provides on our anger:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).

 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (Ps 37:8-9).

2. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

But there’s a second truth that the Lord has brought repeatedly to my mind in the past year. It is from Ephesians 6:10-20.* Everywhere I look, I seem to see this text. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Christians are a people at war. Our ultimate enemy is not a human being, but the ancient serpent with his crafty schemes (Eph 6:11). Satan uses people and energizes rulers of this dark world, as well as demonic forces, to accomplish his evil purposes (Eph 6:12). His plans are to deceive the nations and destroy God’s people (Rev 20:3710Rev 12:17), even to deface God’s image in any human being.

Right now in our uprising, we see the devil demonstrating his two major strategies: He deceives and devours. That’s why he is called the snake who deceives, and the dragon who devours (Gen 3:132 Cor 11:3Rev 12:4). Andrew Naselli describes the devil’s modus operandi: “Snakes tempt and lie; dragons attack and murder. Snakes backstab; dragons assault.”

And so, it is Satan who is ultimately behind the unrest and intrigue that is shaking our country. It has been this way ever since Genesis 3:15, but Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).

Here are three practical ways we can apply this truth to our lives as Christians:

  1. As Christ’s people, his Bride, we must be careful not to have our thoughts led astray from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Our minds can easily be led astray by paying too much attention to anger and fear, the external chaos, the inadequacies of the police, instead of keeping our eyes on Christ. Our Government’s God-given duty is to maintain law and order and restrain evil (Rom 13:4). Our corresponding duty as citizens is to respect and submit to these authorities in carrying out their role (Rom 13:1-2). So, let’s be Christ-like citizens and use every opportunity to do good in our communities during these days of distress. Let’s wear gospel shoes of peace (Eph 6:15), showing the world the contrasting beauty of the gospel and the fellowship it fosters. This week, we saw this pure devotion to Christ outside a hospital, where staff and visitors joined together to sing How great Thou art. We mirror the unity and peace of the gospel every time we get together to pray, rebuild or protect vulnerable people.
  1. As Christ’s people, Paul tells us to resist Satan, careful not to be outwitted by him or ignorant of his true designs (2 Cor 2:10-11). The Christian faith is not naïve or passive, but neither does it stoke conflict. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” says James (James 4:7). Peter too, reminds us to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Jesus himself told his disciples to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents (Matt 10:16). It’s been wonderful to see our nation come together to resist evil this week. Communities made up of many races have stood shoulder to shoulder defending their towns and suburbs where police have been unable to protect them. Brave individuals have spoken hard truth to counter the lies of those who stir up strife. Officers of our courts have upheld the rule of law despite intimidation from very powerful people. Farmers have supplied medicines and groceries to communities. Ordinary South Africans have shared what they have with their neighbours and the police, and volunteered to clear up mess. Pastors and civic leaders have called on people to unite and rebuild their towns. As the saying goes, evil is allowed to flourish when good people do nothing. As Christians, “Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9). Let us pay respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed (Rom 13:7). That is how we resist Satan in these times.
  1. And finally, as believers, let’s never forget that the battle belongs to the Lord, because it is Christ, not ourselves, who will finally slay the great dragon, “that ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…He is full of wrath because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:391012). This week it may seem as if evil has the upper hand, but victory has already been secured on the cross. God has placed each one of us in this country and in our community for such a time as this. One of these days, Christ will return to enforce justice, destroy Satan, and get his Bride (Rev 19:6-8). We are that bride! And lest we think that He is only ‘Gentle Jesus- meek and mild,’ Christ is also the great dragon slayer and the commander of angel armies! (Ps 27:1-3;  Rev 19:11-21). That’s why his people can take heart and stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power (Eph 6:101314Ps 27:14).

Stand firm and take heart.

“The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess 3:3).

This is what Paul wrote to Christians facing dark days in the first century. In our own dark days, let’s put on the armour that Christ himself has secured for us on the cross and not neglect the Sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. And over all this, let’s “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:10-20).

Lord, we plead the mercy and blood of Jesus over this beloved country that we all call home. We pray that the people and leaders of South Africa would not tolerate evil, but would come together as a nation and bow before you in this strife. What was meant for evil, please use for the good of the gospel and your eternal Kingdom. Lord, use this crisis to make us conscious of our sin and bring many hearts to repentance and faith in you. Unite us as one nation and help us to resist the lies that Satan uses to divide us. Bring spiritual revival to South Africa and deliver us from evil. We look to you who has already won the victory! In Jesus’ name Amen.

Take heart! That’s the message of this song, by Matthew West.

Sources:

  • The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer– Short studies in Biblical theology, By Andrew David Naselli.
  • *The series I wrote on spiritual warfare in July and August 2020 may help you think through the implications of each of Paul’s pieces of equipment:
  1. Going to War.
  2. The Belt of Truth
  3. The Breastplate of righteousness
  4. Gospel shoes
  5. Putting on our thinking caps.
  6. The Sword of the Spirit
  7. The Weakest saint upon his knees

Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch.

By Rosie Moore.

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s Gospel).

I wonder if you’ve ever heard this accusation: “You’re only a Christian because you need a crutch! Your faith is just a comfort to get you through life!”

Personally, I laugh whenever I hear this accusation leveled against Christians. It’s absurd when you think of the lives of Christ’s disciples and the price they paid for their faith in Jesus. And it’s a false caricature of the Christian faith as a crutch for the weak. In the 45 years that I’ve been a Christian, on more occasions than I can count, my faith has led me straight into the conflict zone and it’s been anything but a crutch. Being an agreeable person, I would always prefer to avoid conflict and quietly get on with my life. But Christ doesn’t give believers that option.

What’s crystal clear from the story in John 5, is that Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch. Nor did He offer prayer, comfort or a well-meaning support group, as we might offer a sick, suffering friend. No, Jesus confronted the lame man with a question. Then he ordered him to get up, take up his bed, and walk! And that’s exactly what the man did. There’s surely no man on this earth who can do that.

An unavoidable confrontation.

It struck me that Christ’s healing of the lame man at the pool (John 5) led Jesus and the restored man straight into the firing line of the Jewish authorities, who cared more about their rules than about doing good. It would seem that Jesus deliberately healed the man on the Sabbath when he could easily have dodged offense by waiting until the next day. Jesus walked purposefully into the combat zone and the poor man didn’t have much time to enjoy his restored limbs before he too found himself facing the Pharisees’ outrage. This was the first of many conflicts which unmasked the Pharisees’ unbelieving hearts and their willful suppression of the truth that was evident for all to see. The extraordinary truth was that Jesus was the Son of God.

Whole, not hobbling.

Instantly the man’s dead cells, nerves, muscles, joints, ligaments and bones regenerated, as if obeying the order of a commander-in-chief. There was complete healing in every corner of his withered body.

After 38 years of paralysis, the lame man left the pool whole, not hobbling! Jesus made him into a new creature, not a cripple with a crutch.

With the Holy Spirit’s help, the reality of this extraordinary miracle should still stun us today:

John 5:2-17:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

That you may believe…

Let’s remind ourselves why John selected this miracle out of the hundreds of signs that Jesus performed: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”

As readers two thousand years later, we must hear John’s clear purpose for writing this story down for us. He didn’t just fancy himself as an author of a biography about his Jewish Rabbi. We will miss the whole point of this true story if it does not lead us to personal, growing faith in Christ. John wants us to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be–Not just God’s Messiah, but God Himself.

“Do you want to be healed?” (v 6)

John doesn’t want us to gloss over the fact that the man’s muscles, bones and ligaments hadn’t moved for 38 years. His body had lain limp beside the pool, absolutely helpless and atrophied. The lame man didn’t show any understanding that Jesus was the Son of God, and there’s no evidence that he had any faith before he was confronted by Jesus. Yet, in verse 6, Jesus singles this man out and asks him a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

Why would Jesus ask this unnecessary question? Surely the answer was self evident and rhetorical? After all, wasn’t the lame man lying beside the pool, hoping to be healed? And why did Jesus single him out from all the other sick people?

It is a mystery why he chose to heal this particular man, but it’s also a wonderful illustration of the mystery of faith. Jesus fleshes it out a little later in the chapter when he says: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” (John 5:21). Jesus was pleased to heal this man.

Then Jesus told the man to do what he could not do. Being paralyzed, it was impossible to get up, or pick up his pallet, or walk (John 5:11). He didn’t have the strength to do any of these three things. But this man did exactly what Jesus told him to do. He responded in faith. As Spurgeon puts it, “Because Jesus told Him, he asked no questions, but doubled up his couch, and walked. He did what he was told to do, because he believed in Him who spoke. Have you such faith in Jesus?”

Do you remember the day, or period in your life, when you first heard the gospel, and Jesus confronted you with this same question, “Do you want to be healed from the disease and ultimate death of sin?” Do you remember when you responded to Christ in faith? The Holy Spirit begins to seek us out long before we seek God.  Jesus singles us out and confronts us in our utter helplessness of sin. And throughout the Christian life, Jesus continues to ask us this same question: “Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus doesn’t force restoration on anyone. And just like the lame man in this story, if we say yes– even tentatively and without much understanding– Jesus will bring us complete healing from sin, death and judgment. There are no half measures with Jesus!

When Jesus heals us spiritually, He doesn’t give us a crutch, but sets our feet firmly on the road to a whole and holy life.

This true, face-to-face encounter with Jesus is a wonderful illustration of free, unearned grace and Christ’s perfect saving power. Like the lame man, Jesus will save us perfectly and completely if we respond in faith to his question. And there’s nothing we need to do except believe in the Son of God.

“Stop sinning that nothing worse may befall you.” (v 14).

But verse 14 contains another response from Jesus that initially sounds strange and harsh. Jesus finds the man in the temple and he gives him this warning:

“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14).

Dick Lucas, the pastor who confronted my own dad with Jesus Christ many years ago, commented on Jesus’s response in verse 14, by explaining the difference between free grace and cheap grace:

“Christ gives him back his health, but now Jesus says that worse things will befall him if he doesn’t repent of sin. If Christ intervenes and forgives me, then He commits me to a lifelong battle against sin and evil in my life. Cheap grace is a perversion of free grace. I cannot ask Jesus to redeem me and then live as though I have no further obligations to him. Do we love our treasured sins? Do we love sin too much? We won’t be completely whole until the last day, but we are being worked on every day until then. We cannot snatch the blessings of eternal life and then continue to live our same old life. That is cheap grace. Jesus offers us free grace, not cheap grace.”

Jesus is surely the kindest and most loving person to ever walk the earth. Yet, He still remains offensive to many. Perhaps that’s because Christ speaks the truth when it comes to our sin. He doesn’t whisper about sin, but exposes it as the fatal disease it is (Mark 7:14-23Mark 16:16John 8:34). Even today, He confronts us like he confronted the lame man (Matt 5:30). Would Jesus be loving if He left us to suffer in our sins which enslave us? True Christian faith is about trusting Jesus to save us, and then waging war against self and sin every day of our lives.

That doesn’t sound like a crutch to me.

Prayer

Father, thank you for the way in which you plucked me from the fire and turned my life around. I wasn’t looking for you, but you sent your Son to earth to seek and save a helpless sinner like me. I’m amazed that you singled me out and poured out your free and undeserved favour on me. Thank you for not offering me a crutch or a temporary comfort, but complete healing and restoration from my sin. As the One who spoke life into a lame man’s body, I submit to you as my Saviour and Lord again today. Please invade every corner of my life and help me to hate and wage war against sin in its sly and deceptive guises. Help me to do whatever you tell me to do in your Word, because I trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Join us next week as we look at the stunning claims Jesus makes in the remainder of John 5.

Source

Dick Lucas sermon, The Cure of Souls.

The man who took Jesus at his word.

Series in John’s gospel: Face to face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed (John 4:50).

Often we hear the expression “Seeing is believing”. But the Bible tells us that the opposite is true when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ: “Believing is seeing.” Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Heb 11:1-2).  In John chapter 4, the nobleman believed Jesus and took Him at his word, before he saw the miraculous healing of his son. The same is required of us if our faith is to grow.

Our Lord did perform a sign for this nobleman, but it was to point him to greater faith in Christ, not the sign itself. The spiritual miracle of faith in the desperate father and his whole household was far greater than the physical healing of the boy’s body.

Let’s read together this amazing face-to-face encounter with Jesus:

John 4:43-54:

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

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

“Lord, please grow our faith through this true encounter that John chose to write down for us. Show us that we don’t need to first see sensational signs and wonders to believe you. The Bible shows us enough to know that you are trustworthy and good. As we read these words, may you strengthen our faith so that we may put our trust in you as our Lord and Saviour, just as this nobleman did. Grow our faith through whatever desperate or difficult situation we are facing right now. May our crisis be a severe mercy, just as it was for this father. Amen.”

The man who had everything money could buy.

Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, John chose to tell this story of a desperate Government official, known as a ‘basilica’, whose son was lying in bed at home, at death’s door.  Jesus was not physically with the boy when he healed him. In fact, the sick boy was at home in the city of Capernaum 32 kilometres away, while Jesus was in the village of Cana. But this father, who had everything money could buy, except what he truly needed, saddled up his horse in the midday heat and galloped many miles to find Jesus. He was the man’s last hope.

Let’s put ourselves in this nobleman’s shoes for a moment.

As a ‘basilica’, he was an official of high rank and steady income. He had everything money could buy, except the health of his beloved son. Verse 46 and 47 are understatements. This man was desperate, because his boy was on the verge of death. Reading between the lines of these verses, one can only imagine the misery of this father, who would have given everything and anything to see light in his little boy’s eyes again, to see him running and playing like a normal child. As a parent, I can relate to his fear. When I went to wake up my own son one morning and found him unresponsive, in a severely hypoglycemic state, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done to bring him back to life. Thankfully he recovered, but the extreme helplessness of this loving father turns any parent ice cold with fear.

In fact, whoever we are, we have probably known this desperation sometime in our lives. The oldest book of the Bible reminds us that “Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). Life is like a fire that sends its flames of suffering upward, regardless of what some prosperity preachers may say. All human beings are born for sorrow, and there are no exceptions. Just think of what money can and cannot buy:

Money can buy us a lovely soft bed, but it cannot buy us sleep!

Money can buy us delicious food, but it cannot make our digestive system work!

Money can buy us fame and followers, but it cannot buy us close friends!

Money can buy us medical aid, but it cannot buy our health!

Money can buy us a luxury holiday, but it cannot buy a happy family!

The man came to Jesus.

There are many things that money cannot buy. Even 2000 years later, our hearts must ache with this man’s heart, because he shows us our own desperately helpless condition.

But did you notice that this man got on his horse and found Jesus? He didn’t just bemoan his situation. He rode for 32 kilometres to find the one man whose miracles he had heard about. He must have heard about the story of the first miracle Jesus had performed in Cana of Galilee—when he’d turned water into wine. He must have known that this Jesus was no ordinary man. So the wealthy, finely dressed basilica came personally to meet the carpenter, to beg him to come home with him to heal his son.

Notice that this nobleman didn’t send his wife or servant to fetch Jesus. He didn’t send a proxy to ask Jesus to pray for him. Instead, he cared enough to come himself to seek the help that he desperately needed, and fell down at the feet of the one man who alone could do for him what he was unable to do for himself.

And he called Jesus, “Sir”, putting himself under Christ, even though the nobleman had legal authority over the carpenter. Coming to Jesus and throwing himself at Christ’s mercy was his first act of faith.

This man’s humble trust reminds me of how Hebrews describes the kind of faith that God will always reward: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6). This man was earnestly seeking Christ to meet his desperate need.

Unless you people see signs and wonders…

Jesus’s reply in verse 48 is startling and hardly what you would write if you were making up a story of an empathetic hero.  Jesus was speaking to the crowd who depended on signs and wonders for their faith. Their focus was not on Christ. But this father was no sensation seeker. He did not need to see the miracle he sought before he would believe. He didn’t take offense at Jesus’s charge but he knew that Jesus was his last hope. His eyes held onto what he knew about the Lord, even though Jesus gave him no sign.

Jesus replied, “Go your way, your son lives. The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:50).

The man took Jesus at his word.

What an astounding response. This man’s faith was true, not superficial! Unlike many who craved signs and wonders, the nobleman didn’t need to see his son’s healing before he would believe. The man trusted Jesus’s bare word and acted upon his faith, even before he saw the evidence. He didn’t question Christ’s command to go home, but departed immediately. He simply trusted and obeyed.

The man somehow knew that distance was of no concern for Jesus, and so he obeyed without hesitation. He didn’t bribe Jesus to come home with him, but seemed at peace with Christ’s promise. And when he questioned the servants on the time of his son’s healing, it was at precisely 13h00, the time that Jesus had spoken the word of healing.

When the man saw for himself that Jesus had been true to his word, he couldn’t contain himself. He must have shared his divine encounter with his entire family and those who worked in his home, leading his whole household to faith. They saw for themselves that this miracle was authentic, not just an illusion or the power of positive thinking. The boy was obviously and visibly healed the moment Jesus had spoken the word. On that basis, the basilica’s household believed and put their faith in God’s Son (John 4:53). As Jesus himself described his miracles, “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). That is what each and every one of us must do if we are to put our faith in Christ.

A picture of growing faith.

What a beautiful picture of blossoming faith emerges from this story! Whether we are thinking of coming to Jesus for the very first time, or whether we have been Christians for many years, faith is always taking Jesus at his word and trusting his promises more than we trust our perceptions or our doubts.

A little further on in John’s gospel, Jesus made a promise that is almost incredible to believe. He said,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:35-37).

This is Christ’s promise to each and every one of us: He will satisfy our deepest longings. He will never drive us away. We do not need to see Jesus face-to-face in order to come to him and believe. Like the desperate father, we can come to Jesus in prayer. And like him, we can take Jesus at his word, and believe every one of the promises contained in his Word. The Bible contains the very words by which we can live our lives, and this is how our faith will grow, even when we cannot see or understand.

John reminds us why he wrote his gospel in the first place: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

This story reminds us that it’s not enough to say we believe that Jesus is a great miracle worker, or a wise prophet, or the Saviour of the world. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus can take care of our problems and desperate situations. Faith is acting in accordance with those beliefs. It is doing as the desperate father did, when he got on his horse and galloped 32 kilometers to meet Jesus personally. We need to meet personally with Him, by prayer.

Faith is coming to Jesus as Lord, and submitting our entire lives to him. It is praying,

“Jesus, only you can save me from my sins! Only you can help me in this situation! Only you hold the keys to eternal life, and I desperately need you to unlock the door to let me in. I believe you are the Son of God and your promises are true, so I come to you for forgiveness, for light, for life. I beg for your mercy and grace to fill my desperate need. I will take you at your word and do anything you ask me to do.”

This is how faith is born and this is how faith grows. We will never graduate from the humble attitude of trust that this royal official displayed, as he knelt at Jesus’s feet and begged for what only Christ could give him.

Acknowledging the Source

Series: Thankfulness, by Rosie Moore.

A former congregant of our Church, who is struggling with a brain tumour, has written a wonderful little book titled “Have you heard of Eternity?” After considering how God has revealed himself in the tiny details of the human body and the world of nature, Marius Le Roux writes:

“Evolution postulates that life on earth arose from non-life, that is, from the inorganic, mineral compounds and substances of the earth…

But there is another worldview…based on the reality of a living, personal God who created all that there is, including the human race. This is the God of spotless purity and holiness. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. This is the covenantal God who entered the human domain to reconcile himself with a failed humanity….It is the God who promises us a future, stretching into eternity”.

Despite his own personal suffering, every page of this book is saturated with the author’s thankfulness and wonder at the “everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…who gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isa 40:28-29). I would highly recommend that you download this little book “Have you heard of Eternity?” as an ebook or order a hard copy from Marius. It will remind you to acknowledge the Source.

Who do you thank?

GK Chesterton said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful but has no one to thank.”

Who do you thank when your immune system is gathering its troops and beating off the coronavirus?  Who do you thank when you look at your loved ones and feel utterly blessed? Who do you thank for a beautiful sunset, or a brilliant little bird that knows exactly how to build its nest? Who do you thank for an eternal home kept safe for you in heaven? And who do you thank for the certainty of a new world and a restored body?

Do you thank your lucky stars? The Universe? The Force? Or do you thank the sovereign, eternal God, who created the universe and everything in it?

This week I’ve felt like we’re fighting a war against an enemy that changes its face every few days. I haven’t felt brave or strong at any stage. In this third wave of Covid, the hospitals are full and many loved ones are in their homes fighting for their lives. We’ve had to face the stark reality that even oxygen in our bloodstream cannot be taken for granted. As Paul reminded the Athenians, God “himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And, as Paul rhetorically asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). We owe everything we have and everything we are to God.

“To whom will you compare me?”

In Isaiah 40, the prophet describes God’s power to create, his provision to sustain and his presence to help his people, Israel. No person or thing can be compared to God, but even so, he cares for each of his flock personally:

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young (Isa 40:11).

Here are some of my favourite verses from Isaiah 40, which have reminded me this week not to underestimate God, nor to stop thanking Him for the many small ways that He is revealing his love to us in Jesus Christ. Even the strongest people get tired and defeated at times, but God’s power and strength never diminish. He is never too tired or too busy to listen to our cries and to help us. His strength is our source of strength. This is a great reason to give thanks.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint (Isa 40:21-32).

The Bible speaks about a particular kind of gratitude that is directed specifically at the author and source of life and salvation—God himself. If our soul is awake to Him, we will recognise His good gifts all around us, and give thanks for them. We will never take things for granted, as though we are entitled to them. As Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth writes,

“If we take it all for granted, if we think life just shows up with this stuff already in place, if we trick ourselves into believing that everyday household items come from the grocery rather than from a gracious God, we walk right past countless reasons for worship (and, I would add, for giving thanks), without even knowing it.”

Acknowledging the Source.

The Bible says that ingratitude to God as Creator and sustainer of the universe is at the heart of sin. Refusing to give thanks or credit to God as the Source of everything, is in fact, the root of all manner of unrighteousness. It actually turns us into fools: “Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-2229).

But sadly, the great delusion of our time is the humanistic worldview which arrogantly holds that there is nothing more than the natural order. Science is god, we are god, mother earth is god. But in reality, there’s no God, no Creator, no higher authority, and certainly no Father with whom we can have a personal relationship. This atheistic worldview suppresses the truth of God. It insists that Creation merely exists, without cause or reason. Nothing happens at the end of life. Our lives are accountable to no one and therefore count for nothing. Our lives will end and be extinguished forever. Every honest atheist must reach the same logical conclusion as Betrand Russell did, “The whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” But this atheistic worldview is a lie.

How different is the worldview of David, who worshipped God as the Creator 3000 years ago, as he gazed up into the night skies. They are the same heavens that cover us in the 21st century:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds….” (Ps 9:1).

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth (Ps 19:1-6).

Thankful worship.

Thankful worship is the right response of anyone who understands that God is the everlasting Creator and caring Shepherd of his people. And thankful worship is the natural outlet pipe of a heart that is radically transformed by the Holy Spirit, when the Word of Christ dwells richly in us (Col 3:15-17). In all circumstances and for everything, it’s God’s will for us to give grateful thanks to Him (1 Thess 5:18).

If we don’t give thanks to God for who He is, for who He has made us, and for the wonderful things He’s done and is doing, then we’re the ones who will suffer for our ingratitude. God’s glory is self sustaining and not dependent on our thanks. Even the stones would cry out if we were silent (Luke 19:40).

Listen to this wonderful song by Sandra Mc Cracken, which reminds us that God is altogether good. And that’s why it’s altogether good for us to direct our thanks to Him, and to thank those whom God has provided to help us on life’s journey.

Thanking our Father…and our dads too

Series: Thankfulness, By Rosie Moore.

This Sunday is Father’s day. For many people, it’s a day that brings up painful memories because of a less-than-perfect father. But as Christians, we should see our own earthly fathers through the lens of our great heavenly Father, who is the Father of the fatherless and protector of the widow (Ps 68:5). He is the Father who loved us so much that He gave up his firstborn Son, so that we too may be called his sons and daughters (1 John 3:12 Cor 6:18). No wonder John exclaims,

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) The Fatherhood of God is almost unbelievable!

Jesus died, so that we can live with our Father in an eternal home that is being prepared for us (John 3:1614:2). Jesus the Son reveals the Father to us and is the only way to know God as Father (Matt 11:27). And even now, Jesus is interceding for us at our Father’s throne, holding securely onto us, even when we can’t hold onto Him ourselves (Heb 7:25Rom 8:34). Do we grasp the Father’s love for us, not just in our heads, but in our hearts too?

No fear when Father is near.

Why would we not give thanks to God for this wonderful privilege of adoption? It is the reason why we have no need to fear again: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba? Father!” (Rom 8:15). There’s no fear when our Father is near. And He is always near to us through His Spirit.

God is our personal, loving, ever approachable Father, who has our very best in mind. Unlike our human fathers, who are flawed just like us, our heavenly Father’s ways are always upright and just (Deut 32:4). He is always faithful and does no wrong (Deut 32:4). In the security of this perfect Father, we can thank our human fathers for all they have done in our lives, even if they haven’t been perfect. In the embrace of our perfect Father, we can overlook their wrongs and weaknesses as human fathers.

My own human father loves to read the final chapter of Packer’s book, Knowing God, over and over again. The chapter is about the unique Christian privilege of calling God our Father. And the reason that dad reads it so often is because he says that he’s apt to forget just how loved he is in Christ. Most of us are forgetful of this awesome reality. This is how Packer starts his chapter on the fatherhood of God,

“You sum up the whole of New Testament if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)

Thanking our Father.

It’s only right that we direct our thanks at God the Father because:

Things haven’t gone well in our household this week. Covid has struck, including my mom and dad. My dad, who is usually sprightly and brimming with energy, is looking frail and tired. But human dads are sons of God too, and I hope this devotion will remind him, and all fathers, of how much their heavenly Father loves and cares for them. Jesus described the heavenly Father to whom every son and daughter must ultimately look for everything:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matt 6:25-34)…

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

When we thank our Father for his good gifts; his faithfulness; his beautiful Creation; his generous provision; his loving correction and his amazing capacity to make all things work together for good, gratitude flushes the debris out of our eyes. We are able to see clearly how truly privileged we are. And when we give thanks to our Father, even for our sufferings, even in the midst of our sufferings, we are entrusting ourselves to our Father’s kindness and goodness. Hope and expectancy spring from knowing God as our caring Father.

Our Father never slumbers.

When we thank God as our Father, we are reminding ourselves that He is at work every minute of every day and night, fulfilling his sure and good purposes (John 5:17Rom 8:28-31). Our Father will not let our feet slip, because he never slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 121:3).

And so, Christian thankfulness is so, so much more profound than the world’s idea of positive thinking or good manners. Thankfulness takes the believer’s focus off ourselves, our grievances, our weaknesses and fears, even our genuine suffering, and turns our hearts towards God our Father. It is like the north star that leads us back home.

Let’s thank our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers today.

Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven,

Even as we address you as Father, we can hardly fathom what a great and awesome privilege that is. Today, we thank you for creating us, and for giving us the opportunity to live in a right relationship with you, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Father, for your undeserved grace, which covers us every day, even while we are sleeping.  Today we trust in your promise to be with us in everything–in the present and the future, through trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, sickness, danger, in life and even in death. You’ve said that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, and we stand firm on that truth today.

Father, we pray for your blessing on each father and grandfather in our church family. Give them the means to provide for their families during these difficult times. Help them to love you before all else, so that they may love their wives and be faithful to them. Help them to bring up their children to love and serve you with whole hearts. Thank you for the human fathers you’ve given us and help us to remember to thank them for all they’ve done for us.

Heavenly Father, when fathers are discouraged, weak or tempted to sin, turn their hearts towards you, so they may have the strength they need to lead their families in your ways. May each father be convicted to read the Bible with their children and pray with them. Help Christian fathers to model your fatherly goodness, grace and discipline in their own homes and families. Do not allow them to exasperate or neglect their children, but give them the grace to be a blessing to their households.

Most importantly, remind us all daily of our real identity and destiny in Christ:

“I am a child of God, God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.” (Packer)

Amen.