Fanatically honest

Corruption is a chronic condition of the human heart. I recall someone from Durban once telling me about an interview he had with a prospective accountant. He asked the applicant, “Are you honest?’ The applicant answered, “Yes, but not fanatically honest, if you know what I mean!” We had some fun imagining what it means to be just moderately honest!

It’s hard not to get despondent when you read about yet another official on the gravy train, spewing lies and selling out his people for money. In South Africa, the sheer scale of looting is estimated at R1 trillion, mainly due to the corrupt awarding of contracts and mismanagement of public funds. The Zondo Commission noted that ANC ‘cadre deployment’ was a great enabler in state capture.

Corruption is not a victimless crime, as it’s always the poor and working class who suffer from poor education and healthcare; crime and unemployment because leaders have drained the public coffers.

Throughout the world, the last two years have shown us that politicians, media, so-called experts and the health industries are corrupt on many levels, with scientists, doctors and safety councils being bought off just as easily as politicians. No wonder trust of authority is at an all time low. People know they’ve been lied to and they’re weary of broken promises.

But the Bible tells Christians not to conform to our culture. We are God’s distinctive people, called out of the city of man “so that we will not share in her sins, so that we will not receive any of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).

Where our society has normalized lying, bribery, kickbacks, censorship, conflicts of interest and collusion, God’s Word tells believers to draw a clear line in the sand. As citizens of the city of God, we are called to be fanatical about honesty! Psalm 15 gives us some practical standards to determine how we are doing as Christians as we enter a fresh year.

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken. (Ps 15)

Who may dwell in your sacred tent?

King David presents an important question, “Who can come before God?” He ends on an assuring note: “He who does these things will never be shaken.”

In one sense, it is a figurative question because David may have wished to live in the house of God (the tabernacle), but it was impossible for him. David was not a priest and he was a sinner. No one can come before a holy God unless they are perfectly blameless.

Yet, in another sense, David is also asking, “Who may be received as a guest into God’s tent, enjoying all the benefits and protections of his hospitality? Who may live as a citizen of his holy kingdom? What is the character of the one who walks in fellowship with God, whose heart, mind and actions are in sync with God’s character?”

David wrote a thousand years before Jesus, from an Old Covenant perspective. The New Covenant gives us the hindsight of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If we have put our faith in Jesus, He has declared us blameless. This imputed righteousness is the basis by which we come before God. There is no other way to approach God and live in fellowship with Him.

Nonetheless, David’s Psalm is still applicable today, because it tells us that the conduct of our lives is a reflection of our fellowship with God. A righteous life is the result of fellowship with God, based on faith in Christ. The same God,  now living amongst his people by his Holy Spirit, says that our bodies are His ‘temple’ or ‘sacred tent’. And so, all of life is worship.

This Psalm tells us that worship is about down-to-earth behaviour, rather than a religious gathering or an emotional experience. It’s not what we claim to be nor how sincere our intentions are. It’s what we actually do and say on an daily basis that demonstrates we are people of integrity. In Psalm 15, authentic worship is marked by seven habits:

Seven habits of a true worshipper.

  1. Speak truth;
  2. Resist slander;
  3. Despise evil people;
  4. Honour good people;
  5. Resist bribes;
  6. Give generously,
  7. Keep our promises (even when it hurts).

These seven marks of integrity apply every day of the week– in business, at home, in online activities, church and Bible study, at school and university, in politics and everywhere. They apply irrespective of our age, race, culture or social standing. Let’s think through the implications of some of these ‘rules of life.’

Speak the truth.

God’s character and standards haven’t changed since King David’s day. Lying lips are still “an abomination to the Lord, but they who deal truly are his delight” (Prov 12:22). “A false witness will perish, but a careful listener will testify successfully” (Prov 21:28). God has not changed.

The New Testament teaches that a righteous life is known by the way a person uses their tongue. Christ himself said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). He taught that we need to say a  simple “Yes” or “No”, and mean it. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matt 5:37). Oath or no oath, simply speak the truth and stick by it. There are no grey areas in being truthful.

But “speaking the truth from our heart” goes beyond not telling outright lies. It is about living a life of integrity, where there is consistency between what we believe, what we say, and what we do. How we treat our neighbour is a measure of our integrity.

Integrity in all things, big and small, is the distinguishing mark of a believer in Christ. (Eph 4:17-25). A believer learns the truth (Eph 4:20-25); lives the truth (Eph 4:22) and loves the truth (Eph 4:25). The new self is created to be “like God in true righteousness and holiness…therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour” (Eph 4:25).

So let’s get to where the rubber hits the road!

Speaking the truth requires that we never plagiarise or steal another person’s words, ideas or invention, but always acknowledge our sources. We don’t pretend to be smarter than we are by inflating our CV or creating a false persona. Instead, we align ourselves with reality: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Rom 12:3).

Speaking the truth means that we don’t invent or listen to propaganda, because propaganda is a twisted form of speech that misleads people with half truths. It means that we do not suppress or hide the truth with word play or by ignoring empirical facts, even if we think censorship is for the ‘greater good’.  Truth lovers support transparency and free debate. They are careful not to manipulate data or build a straw man in order to demolish another person’s arguments.

A truth speaker speaks the truth even when it’s awkward. This may come at great personal cost. Speaking the truth at work may require us to expose sexual harassment or theft in our organisation, or it may lead us to write an open letter to expose injustice and demand accountability. It may require us to explain the gospel clearly or answer a hard question at a dinner party of atheists. Proclaiming truth from the rooftops has never been a popular activity, but that is what Christ calls us to do (Matt 10:27).

Speaking the truth may require us to be a whistleblower or to advocate for voiceless victims. It may mean that we engage in civil disobedience when laws are unjust. Speaking truth to power is the duty of a Christ follower in whatever small sphere of influence we have.

The midwives did it in Egypt; Daniel and his friends did it in Babylon; the Prophets confronted Israel’s corrupt leaders; Esther risked her life to approach King Xerxes and expose Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews. Jocabed hid her baby son Moses in a basket boat to resist the genocidal edict of the Pharoah. The Magi quietly disobeyed a murderous king, while John the Baptist confronted Herod about his immorality. We have plenty of examples of believers who drew a line in the sand and acted with integrity.

Speaking the truth means keeping our promises, even when it hurts. We must be known as people of our word, trustworthy and dependable. And so, a Christian is serious about their marriage vows; their Hippocratic or judicial oath; their testimony and their agreements, verbal or written. But a Christian is equally serious about everyday words, commitments and silences. Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matt 5:37).

Resist slander.

Our tongues must utter no slander or slur which harms our neighbour. Therefore, a Christian cannot join cancel culture in discrediting, silencing, demonizing, isolating or smearing someone’s reputation. It is an affront to Christ to use insulting epithets to describe people or to remain silent when others do so. Instead of ad hominem attacks, a Christian should engage respectfully with ideas, arguments and evidence.

Sometimes our faith demands courage. There are too many people being robbed of their good names simply for being honest, instead of parroting the accepted narrative. I’ve heard few Christians speak up about this slander. But righteousness is expressed in the way we treat one another and defend our neighbour. Is it not possible for our silence to violate the ninth commandment, “Do not give false testimony against your neighbour?” (Ex 20:16).

Human nature hasn’t changed since David’s day, because the problems of rebellion and sin are deep-seated. The hearts of men and women haven’t evolved beyond greed, envy, deceit and the desire to control and destroy others. As virtuous and caring as our culture may appear, contemporary humanity pays no attention to God’s laws. But as citizens of the city of God, we must love God’s laws and resist everything that is crooked.

Resist bribes

God still hates all forms of extortion and inducements, and the Bible has plenty to say about the gravy train! (Eccl 7:7) We would be naïve to assume that our children innately understand the implications of dishonest gain when it is so commonplace in our society. The lines might be blurred for them.

So, we have a duty to teach our kids not to chase unearned gifts and rewards. They should be taught to flee from inducements of any kind. Think of how even the godly prophet Samuel and the high Priest Eli failed to teach their sons, and so the next generation abused their power and the people under their care.

 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).

Here are five biblical marks of bribery:

1.Bribery is cleverly disguised deception“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:8)

2. Bribery is an act of oppression and a perversion of justice. No matter how secret, it is always seen by God. “The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice.” (Proverbs 17:23). “For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Deut 16:19).

3. Bribery is an act of theft, which leads the most vulnerable to suffer: “Your rulers are rebels,
partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless, 
the widow’s case does not come before them. (Isa 1:23)

4. Bribery corrupts the heart of the giver and the recipient: “Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart” (Eccl 7:7).

5. Bribery leads to God’s judgment and consequences which affect whole families and generations to come: “For the company of the godless will be barren,
and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes” (Job 15:34)

A fanatically honest man.

If you recognize your own dishonesty or regret that you’ve been involved in collusion or ill-gotten gain, take heart. If we are honest with ourselves, we should all see that we fail to live lives of integrity on many fronts.

Zacchaeus was once a dishonest tax collector who robbed his own people to enrich himself. He was a sell- out and an extortionist. He worked in an industry where state-sanctioned theft was the norm. But when he met Jesus, Zacchaeus was convicted. He repented of his own corruption and became an honest man. Instead of being a cheat, he repaid his victims four times over and generously gave to the poor.  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10).

Zacchaeus was lost in his corruption until the day he met Jesus and made Christ the Lord of his life. He expressed his new faith and forgiveness by becoming a fanatically honest man. Christ is willing and able to help each of us to do the same.

Listen to Matt Papa’s song, His Mercy is More:

“The vilest sinner who truly believes

That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

Is Christmas under threat?

In the news these days, all we seem to hear is the coming of the latest threat to Christmas. Omicron is the latest Grinch that stole Christmas. Many families are unable to gather together this year and others are experiencing the first Christmas without a loved one. You may be one of them, feeling a sense of loss or wistfulness about how Christmas ought to be.

A Google news search of the word ‘Christmas’ reveals global doom instead of joy and jubilation: “CHRISTMAS UNDER THREAT FROM COVID!”. “COVID CRISIS–ARE CHRISTMAS TRAVEL PLANS UNDER THREAT?” “CHRISTMAS TREES UNDER THREAT FROM SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES.” “CHRISTMAS PARTIES UNDER THREAT—CANCELLATIONS AS NEW STRAIN EMERGES!” ‘ELDERLY MOST AT RISK.” “SOUTH AFRICA IN FOR A BLEAK CHRISTMAS”. The media seem to enjoy stoking the fires of fear, panic and gloom in the general population!

But as I was reading through the nativity stories in Luke and Matthew, thinking about the genuine disappointments surrounding Christmas this year, it struck me how the true impact of Christ’s birth transcends the events of human history and our personal stories, no matter how miserable or chaotic these might be. Christmas is robust, durable and resilient, as the story it represents is safely embedded in the hearts of those who worship Christ as Saviour and Lord. Christ is the Lord of Christmas, not Covid!

Perhaps it’s because Christmas has been hijacked for so many years, that it’s easy to overlook the true identity of the baby in the manger. Christmas is not defined by a single day, nor is it centered around celebrations, a tree or a fat jolly man in red clothes. It is centered around Christ the Saviour, who came to give us the wonderful gift of forgiveness of sins.

Christ is the gift of Christmas, and without Him, we are left with just wrapping paper and ribbons. If Christ is not at the centre of our heart and our delight at Christmas, then fear, disappointment and emptiness are inevitable. Without the King, Christmas is fragile and meaningless. Let’s look carefully at the baby in the manger and ask ourselves who He was and what Christmas truly represents.

Joy to the world, peace on earth.

The greatest gift of Christmas is Christ’s offer to reconcile sinners to our Creator and to reconcile us to each other in love.

And so, a believer’s joy at Christmas time is not dependent on world peace; happy family gatherings; glittering trees and holidays; good health, gifts and a table heaving with gran’s roast ham, turkey and crispy potatoes!  I’m not saying these things aren’t utterly wonderful, but Jesus Himself is the wonderful gift of Christmas. He is the joy of man’s desiring. He is joy to the world. In the words of the angel, Christ’s birth is “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).

“Peace on earth” reminds me of the Christmas truce of 1914, when World War 1 soldiers on opposite sides emerged from the trenches to sing Christmas carols and exchange gestures of goodwill. German Lieutenant, Kurt Zehmisch, recalled:

“How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”

Perhaps these soldiers, surrounded by the horrors of war, instinctively longed for the baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, the only innocent Saviour who can guide our feet into the path of peace and provide peace on earth (Luke 2:14). Those desolate men longed for true, lasting peace that only the Prince of Peace can bring.

Zechariah’s prophetic song gives us insight into the Prince of Peace and what He will do for His people:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
 to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 2:68-79)

Although there is plenty of turmoil in our world right now, we can be absolutely sure that Christ’s reign will bring ultimate peace on earth, as God himself has promised it:

“Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

And so, if Christ the King has come to earth, Christmas cannot be cancelled or threatened by anything in this world, because no one and nothing can contest His rule. Joy and peace are ours in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. He is our Prince of peace.

Christmas is the time we remember how Christ, driven by love, came into our sinful, chaotic world in real time and history. We remember that He will come again. And in the meantime, we hold out his light to those living in darkness, passing on his message of peace and goodwill to the world.

Worship the King.

Christmas also leads us to worship and adore the King, just like the eclectic group of people that God chose to greet His baby Son:

Some Magi from the East, who were trained to identify kings and stars, came to worship baby Jesus in the stable. When they saw the child with his mother Mary, “they bowed down and worshipped him”, offering him their treasures and gifts of gold, incense and myrrh (Matt 2:11). They refused to comply with king Herod’s order, recognizing the greater authority of the divine King in the stable.

Some dirty shepherds in rural fields came to check out the stable for themselves to see if what the angel had said was true (Luke 2:8-21). When they had verified the facts, they returned to their sheep, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). They took time to find out the truth about Jesus and then worshipped Him as King.

Likewise, a devout old priest called Simeon who had been waiting expectantly for the Messiah– “the consolation of Israel,” took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying,

“For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel…

To Mary, he said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your soul also” (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah-King promised in the Old Testament. He said that Jesus would be a light to the entire world and would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. With Jesus, there would be no neutral ground. People would either joyfully embrace him as King or totally reject him.

Nothing has changed today. We either worship Jesus as Lord of all, or not at all. There is no middle ground. Christmas is about recognizing our great sin and need of atonement that only Christ can give. It is apt to bow to Him in repentance and faith, offering Him our lives of joyful obedience in 2022.

Unless we worship Christ as King, Christmas is meaningless.

Welcoming the Saviour of the world.

The nativity story reminds us that the King of the universe was first greeted by the lowly and the ordinary.

A devout teenage girl and a carpenter welcomed Christ into the world in a stable in Bethlehem. It was all they had to offer him. Joseph and Mary completely surrendered their lives to the angel’s extraordinary message, even though they knew they would face the mockery and shame of raising a ‘bastard’ child.

Mary recognized that the son she would bear was no ordinary boy, but the Son of the Most High God. She heard Simeon’s warning that her soul would be pierced (Luke 2:35). Although Mary understood the cost, she responded with joy to her commission. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Listen to Mary’s song of willing surrender, telling us something of the extraordinary baby in the manger and what he would accomplish:

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

We sing sentimentally of the night when Jesus was born to this teenage girl, but do we appreciate how hard it must have been for Mary and Joseph to welcome the Saviour of the world into their lives?

“Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, and all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace..”

It wasn’t all about peace and calm, that’s for sure.

Looking beyond the baby in the manger.

For many of us, the trimmings of Christmas have been stripped away this year. But Christmas is not under threat and it will always be a blessed time if we pay careful attention to the baby in the manger and remember who He really is:

The child who was born in Bethlehem is God with us, ‘Immanuel’, even if you are cut off from your loved ones on Christmas day.

He is the ‘Prince of Peace’, even if there is conflict and chaos around you.

The baby in the manger is the ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, even if it feels like there is no one to help and counsel you. Unlike the leaders of the world, this King needs no one to instruct Him (Isa 40:12-15). He is ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’, the unrivalled King who has no peers. He is the God who measures the waters in the hollow of his hand, who regards the nations like a drop in a bucket.

Christmas is the perfect time to worship and welcome the true King and Saviour of the world. It is the perfect time to remember a tiny human baby who lived a perfect life, died for us, ascended into heaven and will come back to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus Christ didn’t issue a decree from on high or appear remotely on a computer screen. He came in person. Born to a teenage virgin in Bethlehem. During the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. This baby Jesus completely sliced history into two parts—B.C (Before Christ) and A.D (Anno Domini, Latin for ‘the year of the Lord’).

It is not the coming of Omicron we should be concerned about. It is the coming of Christ the King that should occupy our thoughts day and night, all year round.

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, let’s sing together and worship Christ the King for who He really is:

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With th’ angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Har, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of peace
Hail! the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all he brings
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

The righteous shall live by faith

Series: Some maxims worth meditating on, by Rosie Moore.

As humans, we love slogans don’t we? The Bible is full of wise proverbs or maxims that Christians often throw about liberally to clarify a point or make us sound more convincing or credible, or to help us remember something profound and true. I love the pithy way that African proverbs convey down-to-earth advice and wisdom for life.

But sometimes Christians are blissfully unaware that the ‘biblical’ words of wisdom they have just sprouted are not from the Bible at all! For example, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or my personal favourite, “God gives his toughest battles to his finest soldiers”!

I must confess that the walls of my house, my car dashboard,  fridge and even the inside of my extractor fan, are littered with little verses and maxims I’ve held onto over the years to remind me of what God has taught me from his Word.  I confess that I’m guilty as charged!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll sink some shafts into a few Biblical sayings that are worth mining. We will re-visit them in their original context and see what nuggets of gold may be hiding below the topsoil of familiarity. Who knows, perhaps we’ll re-discover a great treasure from God’s Word that we’ve half understood or half forgotten.

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

Today, we’ll look at Paul’s well known saying in Romans 1:17“The righteous shall live by faith.”

This saying is actually a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, written around 600BC, speaking about the imminent punishment of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. It was spoken in the context of God’s judgment. This is what the prophet says about God’s faithful people, living amongst the wicked and unjust people who seemed to have the upper hand in Habakkuk’s day. Habakkuk encourages them to keep trusting the Lord for their salvation, even in the midst of the nation’s judgment:

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

The maxim “The righteous shall live by faith” has rightly inspired believers throughout the centuries to live by their faith and trust in God, even when we don’t understand why events occur as they do. To continue to believe, even when evil and oppression seem to be the order of the day. To live by faith and not by feelings; to walk by faith and not by sight.

The power of God for salvation.

But let’s look at the context in which this quote is embedded in Romans. Paul writes:

“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

 An eternal quest for salvation.

Men and women were seeking salvation in the first century Greco-Roman world when Paul wrote his letter, just as modern humanity is still craving salvation today. Humankind is desperately sick and in need of a Saviour, no matter how sophisticated or powerful we may think we are. This great quest for salvation has been exposed in our own generation by the great fears of the last two years.

That’s why Epictetus, the great stoic philosopher in 135AD called his lecture theatre, “The hospital for the sick soul”. In fact, nothing is new. Humanity has been on a permanent quest for salvation since Genesis 3. We know we are in desperate need of help.

This holiday I’ve had the chance to watch a few thrillers on TV. Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington are my favourite heroes! The only problem is, despite my best efforts to stay focussed, I always nod off just before the end of the movie. The next morning I sit at the breakfast table and ask my family, “So guys, what happened at the end of that great movie?” The answer is always a variation on the same theme:

“The good guy/girl saved the family…the space ship…the submarine…the innocent kid…the kidnapped girl…the world!” Every good story involves a saviour of some sort, because that is the theme of the greatest story the world has ever known—the gospel story. Everyone is looking for a human saviour to resolve the tragedies of the world and turn doom and despair into joy.

That’s why Paul declares, without apology, that he is not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew and then the Gentile! The human Saviour is Jesus Christ—God in the flesh. All other saviours are powerless in the one thing that really matters: They cannot make us righteous before God.

Not ashamed of the gospel!

Those are pretty confident words of Paul’s, especially in a sophisticated city like Rome, where Christians were ridiculed for believing a gospel which was centered around a crucified Jewish Saviour, embraced by all classes of people. They were an unusual cohort of believers:

Slaves, soldiers, women, children, half castes, tax collectors, former lepers and demoniacs, beggars, widows and immigrants. Former prostitutes sat alongside synagogue leaders, fishermen, Pharisees, physicians, tent makers, property owners, patricians and a fabric merchant. They were united by one baptism, one Spirit, one faith. And their common Saviour was Jesus Christ.

That’s why Paul is not ashamed of the good news of Jesus Christ! He knows that this gospel has inherent power, because Christ is its Saviour. Christ is the only righteous man capable of saving the world, and uniting us to God and each other.

We don’t give the gospel power by our eloquence or righteous deeds. The power is in the message itself. The gospel is more than good advice, an uplifting message or a call to harness the power within. The gospel is more than a health product that may extend our life for a few more years. The gospel is God’s power for salvation, the only solution to the sin that we all have in common.

And Paul is equally clear that God will never withhold this salvation from anyone who believes. Believing is the only requirement. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith alone. Life is promised to us now, in death and for all eternity.

If you are a believer who is feeling unworthy, doubtful or afraid for the future, be assured that the righteous shall live by faith, not feelings. If you have embraced the gospel by faith, you can bank your life and death on God’s salvation, no matter how you feel. Faith does not depend on constant euphoria or feelings of peace and security.

Faith alone.

Do the righteous live by feelings? Or by knowledge? Or by science? Or by the President’s next family meeting on TV? Or by political stability? No, God tells us that the righteous shall live by faith alone. If we live by anything else, we will be misled and disappointed.

I recently saw a picture of the new giant sculpture that the United Nations has placed in New York. The U.N.  tweeted a photo and description of the statue, which many Christians have noted looks remarkably like the two beasts recorded in the book of Revelation (Rev 13:2) and the beast of Daniel 7:2-4, with allusions to Paul’s warning in 1 Thess 5:2-3. The UN’s tweet reads:

“A guardian for international peace and security sits on the Visitor’s Plaza outside the #UN Headquaters. The guardian is a fusion of jaguar and eagle and donated by the government of Oaxaca, Mexico.”

I’m no reader of the times or judge of the artists’ motives, but if we are believers, we must accept that there is no ultimate guardian for international peace and security apart from Jesus Christ. Through Him, individuals are assured of a right relationship with God our Creator and the world is assured of an end to all death and disorder, doom and despair in the new creation. As we trust Christ, we are saved from all the consequences of sin. We are declared righteous and find life, both now and forever.

Faith is a word with several applications in Scripture:

1. Faith can mean ‘faithfulness’ (Matt 24:45). It was the word Christ used to describe the faithful and wise servant whom God has set over his household and all his possessions.

2. Faith can mean ‘confident hope’ in what God has promised to those who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).

3. Faith can mean ‘a fruitful life’, in contrast to the barren life of a person whose habitual actions don’t live up to his/her words: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14-26“But the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb 4:2).

All of these meanings of ‘faith’ are valid. But, what does Paul mean by ‘faith’ in Romans 1:17, when he says, “The righteous shall live by faith?” It’s clear from the context that Paul tethers faith with the gospel of salvation. He is talking about saving faith.

The assurance of saving faith.

God declares us to be righteous because of faith in Christ. Salvation is through faith alone. But faith is not something we must do to earn salvation. If that were true, then faith would be just one more item on a relentless to-do list, to earn favour with God.

Instead, faith is a gift that God gives us because he is saving us (Eph 2:8). It is God’s grace, not our faith, that saves us.

I don’t know about you, but some days I’m incredulous at God’s great mercy and grace in saving me, not just many years ago, but in the present and future too. In his mercy, he gives us a soft heart to respond to his gospel message. In his kindness and patience, God gives us a relationship with the Lord Jesus to help us become more and more like him. By grace and through faith alone, Christ makes us righteous– unworthy and unrighteous as we are. Saving faith is wonderful and reassuring from first to last!

Over the bridge of faith, Christ carries us from death to life. We have complete assurance of this salvation.

As Jesus himself said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

When Christ was victorious over death, He cancelled all charges against believers and opened the way to the Father (Col 2:12-15). If you are a believer, you can be assured that you are not condemned, as you no longer stand under God’s judgment. The only way for a human being to live without fear is through faith.

From first to last.

Salvation has always been by grace, through faith, from first to last. I love that bit! Even in Old Testament times, the basis of salvation was grace, not good deeds. The blood of all the bulls and goats in the world couldn’t take away the sins of even the most devout Israelite (Heb 10:4). Unless God’s people combined the covenant laws with true faith, they could not be saved (Heb 4:2). God wanted his people to look beyond the sacrifices and laws to Him, but all too often they put their confidence in fulfilling the requirements of the law.

When faith is confused with righteous acts, Christians are robbed forever of their assurance, because we are unable to muster up our own righteousness or faith. Knowing what is right and wrong is not good enough. We have to obey the law we know. Paul goes on to say, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (Rom 2:13).

We can never declare ourselves righteous or construct our own faith, because, in Paul’s words, we are born with “stubborn and unrepentant hearts” that are not inclined towards faith at all (Rom 2:5-11). We are utterly incapable of living up to our own standards of righteousness, let alone God’s perfect standards. Without faith in Jesus, we are capable only of “storing up God’s wrath against ourselves for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Who of us can obey the law of God? Who of us has never hated, lied, lusted, envied, withheld what rightfully belongs to someone else, worshipped a false god, dishonoured our parents or treated the Sabbath just like any other day? Who of us has loved God and our neighbour perfectly?

So then, who can stand on the day when “God will give to each person according to what he has done”, on the day “when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ?” (Rom 2:5-11Rom 2:16). This is our common plight as humanity,”for God does not show favouritism” in his just judgments (Rom 2:11).

But in his kindness, God has held back his judgment, giving people a time to repent and trust in Christ’s righteousness. That’s why Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, because it is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” (Rom 1:16-17). Our righteousness comes from the only perfect man who ever lived—Jesus Christ. We don’t stand alone. We stand with him.

Without faith in Christ alone—in his righteous life, his atoning death and his victorious resurrection, no one will stand that final encounter with the Creator. How then can we be ashamed of the one message that can save a person’s life from the greatest peril that humanity faces?

Powerful salvation.

And so, as we prepare our hearts to enter a new year, perhaps another hard year with temporal dangers like COVID and lockdowns; unemployment and corruption; threats and instability; false fears, false gospels and false saviours, Romans 1:17 reminds us that believers do not have to pack our bags and think as losers.

Our faith relies on a victorious Saviour and a powerful King who will continue to advance and bring salvation in the world, one heart at a time, one community at a time, through his human foot soldiers who trust in Him.  Jesus is seated in power at the right hand of God in heaven, where he will reign until all His enemies are subdued (Ps 110:1).

May we be convinced that the real peril of the world is God’s judgment. The real Saviour of the world is Jesus Christ. And our good deeds are real responses to what God has done for us on the cross. They are not the bridge to salvation. Christ is.

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

I am the Vine, you are the branches

Series: Face-to-face with John, by Rosie Moore.

I think it’s apt that we are finishing off our series in John’s gospel with Jesus’s seventh and final “I am” statement: “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). Christ was addressing his disciples shortly before His final high priestly prayer, just a few days before He laid down his life for his friends. Let’s read it carefully together:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.

A transplanted vine.

God used a vine as a symbol of his people in the Hebrew Scriptures. The metaphor is used to describe how God took his people out of Egypt and transplanted them in the fertile land of Canaan:

You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
    and it took root and filled the land. (Ps 80:8-9).

That’s why there was a large golden vine on the front of the temple symbolizing that Israel was God’s vine. But, despite God’s tender love and care, we know that this vine was not always faithful and true. Look how Isaiah describes his unfaithful people as a fruitless vine:

I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isa 5:1-2)

The faithful, fruitful vine.

In contrast to fruitless, faithless Israel, Jesus calls himself the true vine. In John 15:5, Jesus is making it clear to his Jewish disciples that if they are to bear fruit for God’s kingdom, they must now be rooted in Him, not in Israel or their old traditions. Similarly, as a new covenant community, Christians must identify first and foremost with Christ Himself, not with Israel, our own culture or even the church. Christ alone is the true vine for believers.

Complete dependence.

Reading this passage, it struck me again how vital our relationship with Christ is. The verbs “remain” and “abide”, are repeated over and over again, for this is Christ’s formula for living in this world as a believer and as a community of believers.

Just as a baby in the womb is totally dependent on its mother, so too, there is a relationship of complete trust and unity between a believer and Christ. The branch is utterly unable to survive on its own.  It depends entirely on the vine for its life, growth and fruitfulness.

Just as the lamb depends on the shepherd, and the hungry person craves bread, so too a believer must remain connected to Christ, as intimately as a branch is connected to a plant. Our Christian lives depend on our abiding in Christ, and He in us. As Jesus was preparing his followers for his departure, this was vital encouragement for them as they confronted the world with the gospel, laying down their lives in the process.

The vinedresser.

The Old Testament picture of Israel as the vine depicted God the Father as the vinedresser. The vinedresser plants, cultivates and protects the vine. God does this for his children in the new covenant too. He doesn’t just save us and then leave us. He continues to be our loving gardener.

We see from this chapter that if we are true followers of Christ, we have a relationship with the vine (the Son); with the vine dresser (the Father), and with the Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) (John 15:1-24-59-1026). God’s people are nourished, disciplined and helped by the triune God of the universe, who abides in us personally, as we abide in Him. Do we appreciate this immense privilege that belongs to each and every Christian?

Two kinds of pruning.

But notice the two kinds of pruning in Jesus’s metaphor:

First, there’s the pruning that involves separating the fruitless branches from the vine and burning them. These branches are cut off at the trunk by the vinedresser (God), because they are worthless and will cause infection for the rest of the vine if they remain.

These fruitless branches represent people who were never true believers, as they were never properly attached to the vine. They are people who appear to be part of the church, but because they don’t trust Jesus personally, they do not bear fruit for the kingdom. Often they try to block the efforts of believers and divide God’s people. We are warned that God Himself will cut them off from Christ’s life-giving vine. Judas was a fruitless branch. So were most of the Pharisees.

Secondly, there is the pruning that cuts back fruitful branches to promote further growth and productivity. “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes.” God disciplines his true followers to strengthen our faith and character. While sometimes painful, this pruning is an act of great love by a Father towards his children (John 14:9).

Some Bibles translate this pruning as “cleansing”. The vinedresser cleans up the fruit-bearing branches so that they will bear more fruit. Jesus tells the 11 disciples that they are already clean. They’d heard and received much of his teaching already. They were already Christ’s followers, cleansed from sin and being sanctified day-by- day.

“God removes the dead wood from his church and disciplines the life of a believer so that it is directed into fruitful activity.” (Tenney)

The cleansing of the word.

So, how does the word of God cleanse us? Paul (Ephesians 5:26) helps us understand this when he writes: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

The word of God sanctifies us by showing us what sin is. God’s word convicts and inspires holiness in us. It promotes growth like a gardener’s pruning shears. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the word enables us to have victory over sin. Jesus is still washing his people through His word, the Bible.

Abide in Me, and I in you.

When Jesus spoke about his death, his first disciples were mostly concerned about themselves. If Jesus went away, what would become of them?

These words “Abide in me”, were spoken in the context of a scary future. As their Master who said, “I am the truth”, Christ didn’t lie to his followers or give them false assurance of an easy life. He didn’t give them tips on how to edit their words so as not to offend their culture or jeopardize the preaching of the gospel.

To the contrary, Jesus told them that because they were His, they didn’t belong to the world. It was inevitable that they would be hated by the world because of His name. Some would listen to their message, but many would respond with great hatred towards God and his anointed Son. He warned them that they would be hated, rejected, marginalized, thrown out of the most cherished places in their culture (like the synagogue), and even killed.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”

 In just a few hours, Jesus would be arrested and led away from his frightened disciples. Soon they too would be persecuted, just as their Master was.

We will never understand how important Christ’s promises are, unless we hear his warnings to his followers too. You can read them for yourself in John 15:18-16:1-4. If we view Jesus’s claim about the vine and the branches as a kind of platitude, we will miss the tremendous comfort of his promises.

Mutual abiding.

What are these promises? Just think for a moment of the three assurances Jesus gives to his disciples, and all future believers:

  1. “I am the vine; you are the branches…
  2. Remain in me, and I will remain in you…
  3. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”

Christ offers believers firm assurance in a hard and hostile world. He focuses on the mutual relationship between Himself and his followers: Christians don’t only abide in their Master. He abides in us too.

It makes me think of the mutual love relationship that Solomon describes between God and His Bride: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (Songs of Solomon 6:3)

It’s not just about us abiding in Jesus, but also about Him indwelling us by his Holy Spirit. There’s nothing static or one-sided about this relationship. In no way is the responsibility for abiding only upon us as believers. Isn’t it a huge relief that it’s not all up to us to keep abiding?

What a beautiful picture of the continued mutual relationship that we have with Jesus, even though He isn’t physically with us. But, there’s also an element of personal responsibility and effort on our part. Abiding is something we must choose to do. Abiding is an act of the will on our part. We can abide or go astray (John 16:1).

We must actively abide with Christ if we want to be fruitful in our faith. And fruitfulness is not an optional extra. Fruitfulness is the proof that we are His disciples.

Bearing much fruit.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

Jesus has appointed each one of us to bear fruit—fruit that will last (John 15:16). Not just an odd grape here and there, but “much fruit”! God’s work in us and our connection to Him will be demonstrated by fruit, perhaps by much fruit.

But it’s easy to talk about bearing fruit in a vague way, isn’t it? What exactly did Christ mean when he spoke about bearing fruit? Obviously he was preparing his disciples for a life of evangelism and preaching the gospel to the world. But is fruit limited to gospel preaching and soul winning?

Fruit pursuit.

There is so much talk in our culture about fulfilling your purpose and ‘doing the work’. But being driven, shamed or guilt-tripped into building a legacy of good works is not from Christ. It leads only to condemnation and burnout.

In my women’s Bible studies, I often hear sincere, godly Christians ask, “How do I know the good works God wants me to do? What if I get to the end of my life, and discover that I’ve missed my God-given purpose?” We all dread living a fruitless and barren life, don’t we? Perhaps that’s why Rick Warren’s “Purpose driven life” was such a hit.

But this kind of ‘fruit pursuit’ can be a cause of great stress and disappointment. It can be especially daunting to think of producing “much fruit”, when you’re surrounded by so much death, suffering, poverty and need, as we’ve seen in 2021.

But Jesus said very simply, yet profoundly, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit.”

This is such a liberating assurance to believers who long to fulfill Christ’s commission to bear fruit that will last. Jesus says that good fruit is inevitable… on condition that we abide in Him and He in us. The Holy Spirit will produce the fruit in us.

And so, we don’t have to stress out wondering where to find the good works that God has planned for us! The quality and quantity of our fruit, as well as the exact type of fruit, will differ from person to person. But there will always be good fruit produced, and reproduced, in a disciple who is abiding in Christ. We do not have to pursue good fruit like it’s a holy grail.

In chapter 15, Jesus gives us a kaleidoscope of what Christian fruit looks like. They’re not spectacular fruits, but very practical and accessible, wherever we are, whatever our personality type. We could call them ‘low lying fruit’! Let’s do a simple inventory of good fruit from Christ’s own words in John 15:

Are you BELIEVING and trusting Jesus as God’s Son, the true vine, who has cleansed you from all your sin and unrighteousness (John 15:13)? Then your faith is good fruit that gives glory to your Father in heaven.

Are you praying? Then your answered PRAYERS are good fruit (John 15:716b).

Do you have JOY that transcends your circumstances and is contagious to others? Then your JOY is good fruit (John 15:11).

Are you laying down your own wants and convenience to love other Christians in ordinary ways, like hospitality, helping, encouraging, giving, listening, visiting, caring, feeding? Then your LOVE is good fruit (John 15:12-13.)

Are you deeply ASSURED that Christ loves you? Do you remind others of His love for them too? Then you are producing good fruit (John 15:9-10).

Are you reading the Bible and obeying what Christ shows you? Then your OBEDIENCE is good fruit (John 15:1410).

Are you representing the gospel accurately with your words and deeds, with whoever you happen to meet? Then your TESTIMONY is good fruit (John 15:27).

According to Jesus, good fruit is made up of the ordinary, natural stuff of life. It can never be coerced, contrived or manufactured.

The fruit that will last.

Being fruitful glorifies our heavenly Father! (John 15:8) When a vine is heavy with juicy grapes, God is glorified, because He sent the rain and He provided the sap and He nurtured each tiny plant, pruning it to be even more productive. What a great advert for the Lord of the harvest when disciples of Christ are bearing fruit—the character and deeds of Christ. It glorifies the Lord because He made it all happen!

Lasting fruit is the fruit of Christian character which Paul spells out for us in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things, there is no law.”

The fruit of good relationships will last into eternity, long after our bodies have died and our so-called legacies are just a distant memory.

The Apostle Peter also lists the fruit of faith: Goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Peter says that if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus” (2 Peter 1:5-8). These traits are what make our ordinary days fruitful and productive in God’s sight.

Yes, it’s true that we’ve been called to be effective and productive. We are saved so that we can look more like Christ, grow in Christian character, make disciples, and serve others in love. We have been chosen and appointed by Christ to bear good fruit (John 15:16).

But there is nothing stressful or guilt-inducing about bearing the fruit of the vine. Kingdom fruit is not another heavy load to bear. Our productivity isn’t patterned on what our culture defines as ‘doing the work’—those endless acts to atone for our guilt and be seen as righteous in man’s eyes. We are already clean! Just as Christ’s first disciples were already clean when they heard and received the gospel of grace (John 15:3).

Without the sap of Christ’s love in our veins, we cannot possibly translate our good intentions into actions. If we do not bear fruit in our lives, it is because we have forgotten what Christ has done for us and are not depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we are wearing ourselves out with our efforts, it’s time to listen to the Counsellor’s voice and pray for guidance and wisdom from the Spirit of truth (John 15:2616:13.) Jesus will show us the good works He has prepared for us to do (Phil 2:10). There are simple things that we can do right now, where we are, by His powerful Spirit.

The only way to live a truly good and fruitful life is to stay close to Jesus, like a branch attached firmly to the vine. “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Without me you can do nothing.

As we go into the holiday season, may we remember Christ’s final words to his disciples. “Without me, you can do nothing!” Nothing, nothing at all, without His Spirit.

Abiding in Christ is much more than hanging from a tree like a sloth! It’s much more than believing in certain facts about Jesus. It is drawing joy and love from the deep well of a consistent relationship with our Master and our friend (John 15:14). “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Can you believe that Christ actually calls us “friends?” Friendship is the nature of our abiding relationship with Him.

Prayer, Scripture and gathering with God’s people are some of the wonderful channels of grace that the Lord Jesus has provided to us, so that we may keep abiding in Him, and He in us. May we never neglect these precious gifts.

If our lives are attached to Christ, we will be able to walk through every adversity without sliding into despair. We will be able to manage prosperity, pleasure, good deeds and Christmas celebrations with a cheerful spirit, without making them our idols. We will be empowered to live a good and fruitful life wherever God has placed us. But apart from Him, our best efforts will be fruitless.

“All our sap and safety is from Christ. The bud of a good desire, the blossom of a good resolution, and the fruit of a good action, all come from him” (Trapp).

Are you fully convinced that Christ is the Way?

Series: Face-to-face with Jesus, By Rosie Moore.

No claim of Christ is as controversial as his “I AM” statement in John 14:6“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s no surprise that many people are offended or embarrassed by Jesus’s dogmatic words, especially the second half.

A few years ago, my son attended confirmation classes led by the chaplain of his Anglican school. Towards the end, one boy asked a direct and sincere question to the chaplain: “Sir, how do I make sure that I will go to heaven to be with God when I die?”

My son was waiting with baited breath for the chaplain to explain the beauty of the gospel to the 24 captive boys who heard this excellent question. He was waiting to hear the truth about our sin and Christ’s sacrifice to provide the way to God. He was waiting to hear the chaplain describe the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees us a sure hope of everlasting life. But instead, this is how the chaplain replied:

“Whatever you choose to believe, and whatever path you think is best for you, do it with all your heart, and you’ll go to heaven one day.” At the end of the confirmation service, he pronounced all 24 boys, “good Christian gentlemen.”

Truth vs false assurance.

But if this ‘I AM” statement of Christ is true, then with all due respect, the chaplain’s answer provided false and dangerous assurance for these precious young lives. John 14:6 is as exclusive and culturally provocative as you get, and there’s no way to dodge its implications. The reason why Christ’s claim is so offensive is that it defies the many ‘gods’ of our age, which seem so loving, attractive and tolerant, but are false nevertheless.

Firstly, Christ’s claim confronts the god of evolution, erected on the false assumption that there is no sovereign Creator or personal, knowable God. Secondly, His claim also defies the untouchable gods of inclusion, equity (equal outcomes), tolerance and religious pluralism.

Confronting the ‘gods’.

No wonder Christ’s claim is confrontational! If Jesus is the only way for us to approach God as Father, it follows that those who reject the Son as their mediator will be excluded from God’s presence and the home that He is preparing for those who love him (John 14:2-4).  This outcome is far from equitable.

And if Jesus is the only source of truth, then it’s only reasonable to conclude that when we try to construct our own truths; our own sexual identities; our own cultural categories; our own methods of redemption, and our own personal preferences, we are in error and confusion. This confusion and disorder has far reaching consequences for our lives on earth and in eternity.

So, if Christ’s truth claim is true, it’s only logical that every other way is just an empty mirage and a dead end street. It means that all alternative paths to discover God and understand ourselves are like the crumbs that Hansel and Gretel threw on the ground to show them the way home. Sadly, the birds ate the crumbs and the siblings were left lost and alone in the forest. There they fell captive to an evil witch who lived in a seductive house made of gingerbread, cake and pastries.

Exclusivism is part and parcel of historic Christianity and there’s no logical way that we can blend it with our culture’s pluralistic worldview or make it more palatable. They are irreconcilable. And so, in answer to Thomas’s confused question: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we find the way?” Jesus gives a straight and profound answer that goes to the essence of who He is and what He came to earth to do:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him”. Phillip said, “Lord, show us the Father…Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:6-10).

Jesus sets us an example of grace and truth in his interactions with his disciples. See how directly and patiently he engages with Thomas and Phillip’s sincere questions. But at the same time, His claims were as confrontational to his first century hearers as they are to us today, in our re-imagined world.

Let’s survey the landscape of our 21st century world:

A re-imagined world without God, the Bible or churches.

A recent study, the American Worldview Inventory 2021, surveyed the philosophy of American adults, assessing the worldviews of four generations: millennials (born 1984-2002), Gen X (1965-1983), baby boomers (1946-1964 and builders (1927-1945).

The researchers reported that the beliefs and behaviours of young Americans, even those who call themselves Christian, are causing a radical spiritual revolution. This revolution has created a generation “seeking a re-imagined world without God, the Bible or churches.” Basic ways of life are continually being redefined, without any objective source of truth as the standard.

Similarly, an earlier 2020 study by Barna, (“Gen Z: Volume 2”), found that two thirds of teens and young adults agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018. The researchers described Gen Z as the first truly ‘post Christian generation,’ and the drift is rapid.

Moreover, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018. Another 43% agree “somewhat”. Only a tiny percentage—10%– disagree with this basic assumption that truth and morality is relative.

The researchers concluded from their surveys that 43% of millennials ‘don’t know, don’t care, don’t believe’ that God exists.

There are many manifestations of how this worldview affects behaviour and the laws governing our countries. For instance, one in six Gen Z adults in the US identifies as LGBT, and that number is likely to continue to increase (News gallup). Last week in Sweden, a new bill was introduced allowing legal gender change from age 12, without any examination or contact from healthcare authorities.

Spiritual revolution.

Although I’m not aware of any worldview studies in Africa, raising children in South Africa over the last 26 years has convinced me that the same spiritual revolution has swept over us. It is global rather than localized. Since the earliest days of our parenting in the late nineties and early 2000’s, there has been a massive shift in thinking and ideas. Even established words have been given new meanings and children are compelled to celebrate choices that are contrary to God’s truth.

If every value is considered fluid, no amount of tradition or religion will halt this drift, although a strong family and church can provide a much needed anchor. It’s important for us to understand that the majority of young adults believe that morality, justice and truth shift as society shifts. They are mere constructs of our personalities and cultures.

This relativistic belief is entrenched by the constant barrage of media. Facts have been discarded in favour of narrative. Gen Z is particularly susceptible, as 42% admit they are addicted to social media and can’t stop even if they tried.

Without God as our source of truth, it’s no surprise that so many people are constructing their own identities in search of freedom. Truth has become no more than personal desires, preferences and experiences. Justice is no longer based on true facts and objective evidence as the Bible defines it (Deut 19:15Lev 19:15Heb 10:28). Instead of worshipping God as the ultimate authority, we are ordered to bow to the ‘consensus’ of science or the ‘public good’, which changes from day to day.

As a result, Christ’s truth claims sound increasingly bizarre and offensive to our culture’s ears. Surely he can’t be the only way, the only truth?? It might not be long before foundational Christian beliefs, such as John 14:6, are considered more than controversial. They may be construed as hate speech.

How to respond to our post-truth culture.

And so, how should we, as Christians, engage with those who have a completely different worldview than our own? That may include our children, grandchildren, colleagues and friends who have been led to believe that all paths are equally valid, and reality is something that we invent for ourselves.

Shall we abandon Christ’s exclusive truth claims to keep in step with our culture and keep the peace? This seems to have been the tack of my son’s chaplain.

Or shall we cherry-pick the non-confrontational stories about Jesus and focus on his love and mercy in an attempt to sidestep his unpopular truth claims? Shall we just portray him as meek and lowly?

Or should we hunker down in Christian-only communities to avoid confrontation altogether? After all, no one wants to risk being labelled a narrow minded, phobic bigot these days!

I struggle with these questions too, but I know for sure that there’s plenty at stake in how we engage with our post-truth culture, or we will lose our saltiness. The apostle Paul warns the Colossian Christians, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8). Christians have never had the option of blending in with society!

A desire to blend in and keep the peace will render us silent, lukewarm and useless to God’s kingdom, like the Church in Laodicea (Rev 3:16). How can we expect people to find God unless we share the wonderful, countercultural truth of the gospel? (Rom 10:14).  We certainly can’t be complacent with our children, hoping that they’ll find truth on their own or learn it in their schools. The social current is simply too strong.

But complacency and compromise aren’t our only pitfalls. If we are full of indignation and anger with our confused culture, we will start to believe the worst of people, leading to sinful bitterness and withdrawal. Without love, we will have no positive effect on our culture at all.

I have come to realize my own need to ask the Lord daily for a combination of meekness and courage: “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:1-2). But, at the same time, to speak bravely and truthfully, like Peter in his Pentecost sermon, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

A Christian who is complacent, indifferent or afraid to risk offense is as useless to Christ’s kingdom as a cynical, self righteous or hopeless Christian. Let’s avoid both pits!

Fully convinced.

Before we engage with any unbeliever, may we be fully convinced in our own minds that Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the Old Testament, only Yahweh could say, “I the Lord, speak the truth, and I declare what is right” (Isa 45:19). Yet, here is Jesus is claiming that He is the truth. He is therefore claiming to be God himself.

In our lostness, Jesus never expects us to follow blindly an unreasonable religion or ideology. He invites us to interrogate the data for ourselves and to view his miracles as objective evidence that his claims are true (John 14:11). But He does not merely offer us cold facts and evidence. He offers us Himself.

The Jesus of the Bible offers us personal truth in the form of a relationship with the God who made us. He reaches out to us individually. He satisfies our real needs and connects us with the God who loves us and made us for a purpose. As Abdu Murray writes,

“He is the truth our minds seek and the person our hearts embrace” (Saving Truth, p33).

Are you fully convinced that Christ has made God known to us, and He alone can give clarity in our cultural confusion? His Word, the Bible, is without mistakes and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live).

Do we test all our feelings, practices, experiences, preferences and choices against the claims and ethical standards of God’s Word? God’s Word is true for all time, for all situations, for all people. May we be set apart as Christ’s people, even as we try to be salt and light in the world. As Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is the supreme standard of truth. If we aren’t fully convinced of this, we will be far from convincing.

Do we see clearly that every other ‘way’ leads to captivity and death; that every other ‘truth’ is a lie; that every other promise of happiness is a seductive mirage? Christ alone gives life its meaning. He alone offers freedom from sin, so that we can live, not as we want to, but as we ought. He frees us to enjoy life at peace with the God who made us. If we are not convinced of this, we too will be adrift in the sea of confusion.

May we be fully convinced that there is hope for us and our children in this post-truth world, because Jesus has promised that He will continue to make God known to every generation until He returns to take us home (John 17:2614:3). But we must be on our knees every day, asking the Holy Spirit to turn hearts of stone into flesh. Then we must believe Him without compromise, and let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that you will know how to answer each person (Col 4:6).

Do not let your hearts be troubled

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

In John 14, as Jesus draws near to his death, he says some of the most consoling words to his disciples that have ever been recorded. “Do not let your hearts be troubled…I have gone to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:1-427).

Presence, place, presence, promises, peace.

Jesus leaves his disciples with some comforting promises if they trust him in the dark days ahead. He reminds them of their eternal home, where they are already part of the perfect circle of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 14:1-10). He reminds them of the immense privilege of being able to ask God anything in prayer (John 14:11-14). And he assures them of the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, who will “teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:15-24).

But consolation is not Christ’s only focus. In the same chapter, He makes some of the most confrontational, controversial claims ever heard. His words were as offensive to the pluralistic first century culture as they are to our postmodern ears. In John 14:6, Christ claims to be the only way to God and the only way to heaven.

“I am the Truth, the Way and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Clearly, from the context, Christ’s words of consolation are only for those who have put their trust in Him as the only Way, the Truth and the Life.

We will focus on Christ’s words of confrontation next week, but for today, let’s look at what Christ’s words of consolation meant for the disciples, and what they mean for believers today.

Words of consolation.

The setting is the upper room on the night that Jesus was arrested. The disciples must have felt lost and confused, fearful and sad, disoriented and perplexed all at the same time.  I don’t think we can begin to understand the emotional turmoil that must have gripped their hearts at the prospect of being left on their own, without the Lord Jesus. Their future was bleak and they were overcome with doom.

Christ had been speaking of his imminent betrayal and death, and had just announced that their bravest member, Peter, would deny him three times before the next morning. It was to this troubled group of friends, huddled together in the upper room, that Jesus spoke these tender words of consolation. Only the good Shepherd would have have cared more about comforting his sheep than his own troubled heart:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4).

Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in me.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” is a negative command to resist the natural hopelessness we sometimes feel. The positive command is to trust in the Lord instead. For followers of Christ in every generation, these words are full of reassurance, not merely positive thinking. They remind us to resist our troubled, anxious condition by trusting in God, to cast all our cares on the Lord who cares for us. To call the disciples to trust in these circumstances was no platitude. Let’s bear in mind the reasons why those first disciples had good reason to be very troubled:

The disciples had found love, truth and purpose in following Jesus as their Lord and Master. They’d lived with Him and learned from Him ever since they first left the security of their careers and homes. They’d watched his stunning miracles and rejoiced at the conversions of many who had put their faith in Him. Three of them had been with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Recently they’d witnessed a dead, decomposing corpse emerge from a tomb after Christ called, “Lazarus, come out!”

The disciples had heard Christ’s extraordinary claims of deity and seen the accompanying signs: I am the Bread of Life; I am the light of the world, I am the Gate; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Resurrection and the Life. But although they had all the proof they needed to trust Jesus, their hearts were still troubled at their circumstances.

Naturally, they were scared of what it would mean to follow a betrayed leader, a political and religious outcast, someone considered as a dissident by the Jewish and Roman establishment. They weren’t superhuman. They knew the power of the people who were plotting to kill Jesus. And they knew the might of the Roman empire. There were many crucified bodies to remind them that Rome didn’t tolerate dissidents and troublemakers, no matter how false the accusations.

Rome was determined to make an example of anyone who would not bow to its gods and its Emperor as Lord. The great offense of Christians was not that they followed Christ per se, but that they believed that Jesus was the only way, and the truth and the life. They could not follow other gods or bow to Rome, as only Christ was their Lord, not Caesar.

None of their fears were unfounded. After Christ’s death and resurrection, Christians would soon be called the “Christ-ones” or “the Way”, and many would be shamed, dispossessed and persecuted for pledging their allegiance to Jesus only, rather than bowing to the idols of the age. Beginning in Jerusalem at the hands of the Jews, the pattern of persecution would spread to the rest of the world, wherever Christians gathered and lived out their faith consistently. They would not worship other gods, and this refusal to compromise endangered their lives and livelihoods.

And so it was reasonable that the disciples felt troubled. They thought they’d be left to fend for themselves in a dark and hostile world.

But they were wrong. They were not left alone. In the power of the Holy Spirit, those original disciples carried the gospel outside of Palestine and into the whole world. Jesus kept his promise not to leave them as orphans. He gave them His Spirit.

“I will not leave you as orphans.”

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18).

Jesus promised that He would not leave his followers as orphans, but his presence would remain with them by his Spirit. He would come to them in a spectacular way on the day of Pentecost.

These words from God’s written Word are as comforting for believers today as they were for Christ’s first followers. Without the Holy Spirit, there’s no way that John could have recorded his detailed Gospel, letters and the book of Revelation. The Spirit of truth, the Counsellor, spoke in and through him, reminding him of everything that Jesus had done and taught in his lifetime (John 14:16-1726). And there’s no way that Christians today can survive in a troubled world without the Holy Spirit either.

And so, when we read the Bible, we can be sure that the words recorded in it came from Christ’s own lips. We can rely on Scripture as the truth, no matter how different our culture or circumstances may be. And if we are followers of Christ, we can also take comfort from Christ’s promises in this chapter–  the three big P’s, which have big implications for our lives: Our place, prayer and peace.

Our place.

The way to our eternal home is as secure as our trust in Jesus (John 14:2-41-7). Jesus gave us His word that He is preparing a place for us. We will arrive in heaven, not by trying to live a good life, but by claiming only Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. Because He went to the cross and rose from the dead, we can be confident of our heavenly home. It is a roomy place with many mansions, a permanent secure home for all God’s children of every nation, tribe and language.

God’s place is our only safe space, because Christ has already paid for our accommodation in full. He is the way home.

Jesus himself fulfills all the promises of God dwelling with His people, in God’s place, for all eternity. We hear strains of this beautiful homecoming song throughout Scripture (Ex 29:45Lev 26:11Jer 32:38Ezek 37:27Heb 8:10). Our place climaxes in John’s vision in Revelation 21:3:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”.

Don’t you long for that permanent, secure home? Jesus says he’s coming back for us, but then He asks us, “Will you trust me in the meantime? Remember that I am the Lord of life and death!” Our fearful hearts will be stilled if we think more about heaven as we face our daily troubles on earth.

But God’s place is not just future oriented. He has also promised His presence in our lives. Even while living in this world, we are blessed by a God who lives and reigns among His people by His Spirit. When we trust in Christ, He joins his divine life to ours, now and for all eternity. Isn’t it wonderful to think that ordinary Christians are the holy home of God? We are the place where Christ lives by His Spirit. John says, “He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Jesus explicitly tells his disciples what this entails, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

Paul fleshes out the same idea to the Corinthians Christians:

“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Cor 6:16).

How does this apply individually? Well, when God makes his home in our bodies, it follows that we will seek to obey him in all areas, free from the worship of idols (John 14:15). It matters what we do with our bodies and our choices. If we are Christ’s, we are people of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Because we worship Christ as Lord of every area of life, we cannot bow to the lies and idols of our age, no matter how great the pressure to conform or comply.

How does this apply corporately? Well, the Church is not an organization, a business or a building, nor flowing robes, stained glass windows, incense or rituals. No, Christ makes his home amongst his people, who worship the Father in spirit and truth, “for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). He lives and works in “God’s household, rising to become a holy temple in the Lord…built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph 2:21-22).  Christ will not make his home in a church that won’t acknowledge His Lordship and is embarrassed by the Jesus who declared, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” 

Our prayers.

Not only are we promised Christ’s presence before we reach our eternal home, but Jesus also invites believers to ask for anything in His name, “and I will do it” (John 14:14). This is the extraordinary privilege of prayer that we so often take for granted or treat lightly.

How do we ask in Jesus’s name, and what should we ask for? I think to pray in Jesus’s name is to pray according to God’s character and will, with sincere and humble faith. It is how Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer and his own agonizing prayer in Gethsemane. We pray to Him as a child talks to their father, with childlike faith, reverence and expectancy.

Of course we will not do more spectacular miracles than Christ, who raised Lazarus from the dead, but through our prayers, God gives eternal life to spiritually dead people and multiplies his kingdom throughout the world, through all the centuries. The era of the Holy Spirit ushered in miracles far greater and more wonderful than those recorded in Jesus’s three-year ministry.

Our peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Finally, there is a stark contrast between Christ’s peace and the world’s temporary pacifiers.

Jesus reassures us that His peace is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is not a superficial emotion or a fleeting mood. Nor a few months of respite and relief from Covid or our financial woes. It is deep and lasting peace that only Christ can give. Not worldly peace, which is usually defined as the absence of conflict.

Christ’s peace comes to those who open their hearts to Him as Lord and who put their confidence in Him, not in their own goodness, but in His. It is a peace that comes to all who rest in His gracious sacrifice on the cross and the great truth that Christ alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. If you trust in His promises, if you trust that He is Lord of life and death, you will know that you have a new life and an unshakeable future prepared for you. You will have no need to fear and will be given a peace that transcends your current circumstances.

With Christ’s peace, we have no need to fear the present nor the future, nor the prince of this world (John 14:30). We have no need to fear the time when we are called upon to share the gospel with an individual or even a hostile crowd. We have no need to fear the consequences of following Christ, instead of taking the knee to a false god. We have no need to fear even the greatest enemy of all– death.

We see this kind of resolute peace in the face of Stephen, as he faced his enraged persecutors yelling at the top of their voices and grinding their teeth at him: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).

Christ’s peace is nothing like the false pacifiers offered by the world. He does not give as the world gives. For those who trust, He gives the confident assurance of His presence in any and every circumstance. He gives us His Spirit and the wonderful gift of prayer. And He gives us the conviction that He is our home and our final resting place– in this world and the next.

Thank you for joining me today as we looked at Christ’s words of consolation. Please join us next week as we finish our devotion on John 14:6, “ I am the way, the truth and the life–” words of Confrontation.

I am the resurrection and the life

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

Since I started writing ‘The God Walk’ in 2018, I’ve tried to publish a devotional every Friday, except during holiday periods. Some people assume that it’s easy, like a factory churning out words from an established set of moulds, but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a slow writer and a slow thinker. Most weeks I wrestle and scribble and pray in my journal for many days before I timidly start clicking away on the keyboard. I think that’s because I made an agreement with myself long ago that I’d never try to teach or write about the Bible until it had changed me first. I am in awe of God’s Word. And never has it been harder for me to write on a text than today. The text is John 11, the true, historical account of Christ raising Lazarus to life after four days in the tomb. It’s in this awesome story that we see Christ’s fifth “I am” statement in John’s gospel. This is what Jesus told Martha just before he ordered Lazarus to come out of the tomb:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This is surely the greatest ‘I am’ statement that Jesus made, followed by an intensely personal question directed at the grieving sister. It is a question that I myself have needed to answer over and over again.

Do you believe this?

“Yes, Lord,” Martha replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:25-26). Martha makes a profound confession of faith even though she hasn’t yet grasped what Jesus is about to do. Remember that she hasn’t yet seen her brother’s resurrection, or indeed, the resurrection of Christ. She thinks that Jesus is talking about the final resurrection at the end of time, not a miracle in her back yard.

I’m glad that Martha had the chance to publicly affirm her faith after being too preoccupied to sit down and talk to Jesus on a previous occasion (Luke 10:38-42.) It gives me hope for myself! This time, it is busy Martha who runs out to meet Jesus and says, “Lord, If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:20-22).

Even though she didn’t fully understand, Martha was a woman who trusted Jesus as her Saviour and Lord. She believed Christ,  with her limited knowledge of Him at that point. And this is the response God wants from each one of us, even today. He doesn’t first give us all the answers and solve all mysteries, but He calls us into relationship with His Son. He wants us to put our trust in Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead.

A corpse walks.

There is no more audacious claim than this one: “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me, even though he die, he shall live forever”.

Then, to match the claim, Jesus performs a magnificent sign before an audience of mourners. This was no mere resuscitation, for Lazarus’s corpse had been in the tomb for four days. Always the practical realist, Martha warns that the body is smelling bad by that stage. Lazarus was already in an advanced stage of decomposition (John 11:39), and Jesus made sure of that by delaying his trip to Bethany.

I can just imagine the crowd of mourners hearing Jesus pray to his Father in heaven, then calling out in a loud voice,

“LAZARUS, COME OUT!” It was an order, not a request.

The familiarity of this story must never desensitize us to its wonder. It seems almost unbelievable. Yet in John’s mind, this is no fable, no metaphor, no hearsay evidence. He writes it as historic fact. The apostle John heard Jesus with his own ears and saw Lazarus walking out of the tomb with his own eyes, as did many mourners. John’s eye witness account couldn’t be more certain: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44). No one living at the time ever contradicted the resurrection or exposed it as fake news.

Although none of us was a witness at the graveside that day in 33AD, John wants us to know that Lazarus was well and truly dead when Christ called him out of the tomb. He tells us this seven times just in case we’re in any doubt (John 11:142132373944). John was there, along with the rest of the disciples (John 11:16).

I took some time thinking through the implications of this miracle: A living person has ten major systems that must all function simultaneously in order to survive a single day– skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive. A human heart needs to pump 100 000 litres of blood around the body every day. But Lazarus’s heart had stopped beating four days before and every one of his systems had shut down. Rigor mortis had set in and his flesh was decaying.

In an instant, Christ ordered every organ in his friend’s corpse to fire up and function normally again. Without hesitation or medication, every molecule of the finely tuned engine known as the human body, obeyed his voice.

John records Jesus saying, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:43-44).

That you may believe.

“That you may believe” is a phrase that’s impossible to miss in John’s gospel. It’s the whole point of the miraculous sign (John 11:1425-264240). ‘Believing’ is the reason why John wrote his gospel in the first place (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and by believing, to have life in his name. Lazarus’s resurrection was an indisputable object lesson that no one in Bethany or Jerusalem could ignore.

Of course, this miracle seems unbelievable, because we know that no human can create a single molecule out of nothing. The best our scientists can do is mimic systems that God has already created. Don’t our ‘miraculous’ vaccines, prosthetics, implants and insulin pumps just mimic the wonderful bodies that God has given us, from the beginning? As useful as they are, man-made imitations don’t come close to the real thing. The supernatural raising of Lazarus proved, beyond reasonable doubt, the divinity of Jesus. There is no other explanation for the miracle.

And the Jews who witnessed the resurrection knew this. They hadn’t been indoctrinated with the theory of evolution like us. They knew that only Yahweh could give and take life, or reconstruct a rotten corpse with a word. They believed the Creation account described in Genesis 1 and 2.  And that’s why this miracle caused such a stir.

It’s why, a chapter later, the Chief Priests even conspired to murder Lazarus, because “on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him” (John 12:10-11). They weren’t interested in truth or facts. They were only concerned that Jesus was identifying himself as the Creator God and masses of people were believing and following Him!

I am the resurrection and the life.

It’s easy to underestimate the magnitude of this sign, but it undergirds Christ’s claim to be the Resurrection and the Life. It also proves his earlier claim:“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…25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:19-27).

 The raising of Lazarus took place in Bethany. It was a graphic preview of Christ’s own resurrection, which was soon to take place at another tomb in Jerusalem. The sign points us to the spiritual life that Christ gives freely to all believers– the new birth (John 3:3;14-15). But it also guarantees a future bodily resurrection for all who believe (Acts 4:224:1526:8Matt 27:52-53).  The sign of Lazarus emerging from the tomb is a powerful picture of the new creation. John believed this with all his heart and he wants us to too.

Yet, unlike Mary, Martha, John and many mourners who saw and believed (John 11:45), not all who witnessed the miracle put their faith in Christ as Lord. Some were charmed but unchanged. And others refused to open their hearts to Jesus, but instead reported Him to the Pharisees (John 11:46). It seems almost unbelievable that after witnessing such a wonderful miracle of life, after experiencing the goodness and compassion of Christ at the graveside, some hearts would remain stone cold in unbelief.

Yet, John tells us that the Pharisees even conspired against Jesus for fear that so many people were putting their faith in Him. Because Christ threatened the ‘peace’ and their power, they plotted to scapegoat and kill a perfectly innocent man. They knowingly suppressed the truth for the sake of political expediency. (John 11:47-53). Nothing much has changed since then.

The humanity of Christ.

But the main reason this devotion was so hard to write was because the love and humanity of Christ in this story totally overwhelms me. John records the raw emotion of Christ weeping at the tomb of his beloved friend, weeping with the heartbroken people around him. It is a deep cry of the heart that only the bereaved understand.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. 

Jesus wept.

The two words, “Jesus wept,” are pregnant with a deep agony of spirit. Jesus overflows with a mixture of indignation and gut wrenching sorrow. He is “deeply moved and troubled” at the sight of his friend’s tomb and the grief of the mourners. We are told repeatedly in the story that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters very much.

Last Thursday, I taught this story to some students at Christ Church Preparatory School. I don’t think I presented the lesson well, but a boy in the back row drew the class’s attention to the humanity and compassion of Jesus in John 11:32-34, asking a question that stuck like gum in my mind:

“Why did Jesus weep if he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in just a few minutes?”

And so, that evening, whilst having dinner with some dear Christian friends, I threw the question out, asking our dinner guests for the answer they would have given the boy. Our friend, Alex, took a keen interest in the question. He’s always the first to volunteer to teach a Bible lesson and it’s just like him to care for the fidgety kid in the back row! Although I can’t accurately recall every word, his answer was along these lines:

“When Jesus wept, He showed us that He’s not just a God far away, with the power to bring a dead person back to life. He’s also gentle and compassionate towards the brokenhearted. He knows the pain of those left standing at the graveside. He knows that before He returns to earth to restore all things, there will be plenty of death and misery in the world. Jesus was a good friend to Lazarus and he loved Mary and Martha. He hated seeing their grief. He hated death and its power to rip loved ones apart. Even though Jesus knew that He would bring his friend back to life, he also knew that Lazarus would die again, and generations of grieving people would stand over the bodies of their loved ones, mourning all that they’ve loved and lost. Jesus ministers to those who grieve and is very near to the brokenhearted.”

I remember wishing that I’d given Alex’s excellent answer to the boy at the back of the classroom, because he seemed to see God’s grace more than anyone I know. But I hadn’t realized how prophetic his words would be.

Only two days later, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Alex’s own wife and daughters were grieving his horrific death. Alex Otto was ripped from his family and friends when he was hit by a taxi while riding on his bicycle, training for the Cape Epic cycle tour. He was chatting and joking with his friend as they were hit from behind. This week, hundreds of shocked and grieving friends, family and fellow cyclists have been wracked by the gut wrenching horror of death in a way we can’t explain. Alex was only 50 years old and he was dearly loved.

So what is the point of this story? There are so many beloved people that we’ve had to mourn in the last few years. We cannot minimize any of these deaths, old or young, from whatever cause. Each one is precious in God’s sight. I’ve said goodbye to more loved ones in 2020-21 than in my entire lifetime. But is there any consolation to be found in the story of Lazarus, or in Christ’s claim to be the resurrection and the life? Don’t you find yourself asking a version of the same question expressed in John 11:36-37,

“But Lord, the one you loved believed in you with all his heart. If you loved him so much, couldn’t you have kept him from dying?”

Death is always a mystery to us, and it’s also scary. We know it’s not as it should be. As Tim Keller says, “Its terrifying. One person called death “the worm at the core of human pretensions to happiness”. It’s that one thing that’s just always eating away. No matter how successful you are, no matter how happy you are, no matter how healthy you are, no matter how well your life is going, you still know this: Death is coming. We will all die sooner or later.”  Death is the big issue that we can never solve. The Bible tells us that it is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26-2754-57).

Grieving with hope.

But, as those who have put our faith in Christ, we do not grieve without hope or comfort. Jesus made us a categorical promise at the graveside of Lazarus that we must hold onto:

“The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). We cannot miss Christ’s promise or the pointed question at the end. Who is this Jesus that John wants us to believe in?

Even though he never believed, Caiaphas the High Priest unwittingly got it right in John 11:49-52: This is the Jesus who loved us so much that he died for our sins and entered the tomb of sin and death on our behalf. The Jesus who defied the natural order of death by rising from the dead, victorious and transformed in a new and glorious body (Acts 13:29-3034). Like Lazarus, this Jesus appeared to many eye witnesses (1 Cor 15:3-9Acts 2:32). He backed up his promise with his own death, resurrection and ascension.

But unlike Lazarus, Christ did not stagger out of the tomb, covered in strips of burial linen. No, Christ left the grave clothes neatly folded in an empty tomb, never to return. His victory over death was complete, as His atoning work on the cross was done.

And so, when a believer, like Alex, shrugs off their earthly body like a worn-out coat, they slip seamlessly into the eternal presence of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, to be raised with an immortal body on the day that Christ returns– A new body, free from the consequences of sin and brokenness. This future hope of redemption fills today’s grief with meaning and consolation (Rom 8:22-25).

And as we wait and long for that great resurrection day, we live with full confidence that Christ loves his people with a deep, unfailing love. He too is troubled and deeply moved by our sorrows. He hates evil and death, and loves our loved ones as much as we do, even more. He stands at the grave alongside us and ministers to the brokenhearted. He weeps with those who weep. That is what Jesus is doing right now with my friend Janet, and all her family, as they walk through their darkest valley.

Written in loving memory of Alex.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 

Let the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life (Rev 21:522:17).

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.