“I am…” (8:48-59)

I am

John 8 feels like one big long argument between Jesus and the Jewish people that seemed hell bent on discrediting him and all that he was teaching. This is of course because Jesus has been making claims that he is the one sent from God, and, in the last passage, he has even called into question their very identity as descendants of Abraham. In this particular passage the dispute, which has been raging through the chapter, rises to a jaw dropping climactic moment when Jesus pretty much seals his fate by uttering two tiny words.

You will remember that Jesus previously had said that if these believers fully believed him, and were truly his disciples that they would experience the truth and the truth would set them free. That particular passage ended with Jesus saying that the reason they could not make sense of what he was saying was that they did not really know God. It is fair to say that Jesus had insulted them in that exchange and so it is unsurprising that this next section opens up with them returning the insult: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

Jesus does not rise to their bait in the exchange and chooses instead to continue to try and prove to them/convince them that he is who he says he is – God’s sent one. He takes his argument a stage further in this passage. He is no longer simply saying that following him will set you free. Now Jesus is saying that if these folks follow him and obey his word will never taste death. This was way too much for the feeble minds of these Jewish followers to conceive. No one can get out of tasting death. No-one – not even the heroes of their tradition had avoided death – Abraham, all the prophets…all of them had succumbed to death just like every other human. What Jesus was saying now was too much for them. Who on earth did Jesus think he was?

Again, Jesus does not rise to the point they are making. He simply continues to offer his testimony. Jesus is under no pressure here. His only work is to glorify God, and that is all that he seeks to do. Again taunts them by questioning whether or not they really do know God in the way their father, Abraham, knew God. Abraham rejoiced at hearing from God – but they cannot even seem to hear God through what Jesus is saying. They cannot even seem to fathom that God might be right there with them in this moment.

Then comes the crescendo moment. These followers have absolutely had enough. This young teacher/preacher is going too far. And what can he know about Abraham anyway: “You are not yet 50 years old…and you have seen Abraham.”

The next words of Jesus are huge:

“Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!”

In my mind, as I imagine the last two words of that sentence being uttered I imagine it being a complete sucker punch to the Jewish descendants of Abraham. There is a silence that only lasts for a couple of seconds, but seems to last for an eternity. Did he really just say that? Did he really just self reference himself as “I am”? Does he know how serious a claim that is? Does he know how blasphemous that is?

Yes.

Yes he does.

For any human to claim that they are God was too much. “I am” was the name God used for God-self in the the Exodus story. To even utter the words was considered blasphemous. So you can imagine the utter shock of this moment, and you can understand why these men picked up stones and were ready to kill Jesus there and then.

Why would Jesus say this?

Because Jesus is who he says he is.

Jesus is the word of God made flesh.
Jesus is the light in the darkness.
Jesus is the living water.
Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the Messiah sent by God.

Jesus is who he says he is and that means Jesus has the power to do what he came to do: heal the sick, bind up the broken, announce, enact, and embody the kingdom of God, save the lost, defeat death, and cancel the power of sin.

The fact that Jesus is who he says he is is exceedingly good news for us all. Will you believe him today?

“And the truth shall set you free…” (8:21-47

The truth shall set you free

In the previous two passages Jesus has faced disputes over what he has been saying and who he has been saying he is. In this passage the reader is witness to another dispute between Jesus and some of the Jews who had chosen to believe what he had been saying so far. Yes, you read that correctly. This passage records a conversation between Jesus and some of his new believers.

Why is that important?

It is important because those 7 little words at the beginning of verse 31 show that even when we have chosen to believe and follow Jesus, the temptation will always be there to fall back into our old identities and find meaning in them. Look at the people Jesus was talking to if you don’t believe me. Jesus says to them that having believed what he says, if they really are to be his disciples they will hold to his teaching, and when they hold to his teaching they will know the truth and the truth shall set them free.

What is Jesus’ teaching? In John 3 Jesus said to Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. New birth. New life. New identity. Or as Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 2nd Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” In John 4 Jesus met a woman at the well in Sychar and invited her to drink living water and live a new life; a life different from her old one. In John 5 Jesus healed the man by the pool in Bethesda and encourages him to go off and live a new life free of sin.

Jesus’ teaching is that when you come to him; when you live your life in his way; when you really are his disciples you will know the truth and the truth will set you free, because you will know that the old has gone and the new has come; you will know that you are a new creation in Christ; you will know that in Christ you are adopted into the family of God; that you have become a beloved child of God.

In this text, the Jews who have believed Jesus have not realized fully what it means to believe Jesus. They have not understood that they have become new creations in Christ. How do we know this? We know this because when Jesus tells them that the truth will set them free they respond by stating that they are descendants of Abraham and therefore have never been slaves of anyone. In other words they believe what Jesus is saying, but they still don’t get that Jesus is inviting them to a completely new life, hence they continue to hold on to their old identity as children of Abraham. And Jesus even challenges them on that understanding of themselves: “But if you really were children of Abraham you would do what Abraham did.” What did Abraham do? He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:5, Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6) Jesus is saying that if these followers were really children of Abraham as they claim to be, they would recognize the Father in the Son; they would recognize that Jesus is who he is saying that he is and they would believe him, rather than plotting to capture and kill him. As Jesus goes on to say later in this passage, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” If these believers really do recognize that Jesus is who he says he is then they will recognize God in their midst and will hear what Jesus has to say.

So I say it again, it is possible for us to hear Jesus and believe what Jesus has to say about all things and still not fully get what it means. We can hear Jesus and believe what Jesus has to say about one new life and new birth and still remain unchanged by it.

The Jewish believers in this passage had believed Jesus but had not considered themselves new creations in Christ, and i think that is a challenge to every reader of this passage. Are you a believer of the things Jesus has said? Has believing Jesus brought about a new birth in you? Have you had an experience of the new life? Has the old gone and the new come? Or are you living a life which believes that Jesus taught great things, but ultimately remains stuck in the old identity.

As John has said from the very beginning of this work, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; Jesus is the light which the darkness cannot over come; Jesus is the Messiah; Jesus is the one sent by God. In Jesus you and me and every other human being in the world can be born again and can experience a new life and a brand new identity which is not marred by the old identity. This is the absolute truth from the lips of Jesus himself, and when we become his followers; when we really are his disciples we will know the truth and the truth shall set us free to live this new life as the beloved children of God.

So how about that? Is it time for you to be born again and experience this first hand?

I hope so.

Who are you? (8:21-30)

Again, I offer up my apologies for not being able to update this for over a week. There has been so much to take in and so much going on around us in the USA that I have been distracted from writing. Please bear with me as I find some kind of rhythm of writing again.

“Who are ya?
Who are ya?
Who are ya?”

Who are ya

I have followed English soccer for pretty much my entire life. The fortunes of my beloved Liverpool Football Club have not been great since I was around 10 years old, which, at times, has made following English soccer quite frustrating indeed. One of the great things about English soccer is the interaction of the crowds who gather at the games. On occasion a big name team will be pitted against a team of much smaller stature, and sometimes on these occasions the big team will fail to perform well and the lesser team will score a famous underdog victory. In moments like these sometimes the the crowd will break into the chant I have typed above. It is chanted as a taunt to the bigger club and their fans as the fans of the smaller club point out that they are failing to live up to their reputation. The fans of the smaller club are calling into dispute the perceived superiority of the larger, more successful club.

“Who are ya?
Who are ya?
Who are ya?”

So far in this gospel narrative, John has been at work to convince his readers that Jesus is who he says he is: Light in the darkness, God’s own Son, the Word of God made flesh. In this short passage that very identity of Jesus is being called into question again. It is a “Who are ya?” kind of moment. The Jews are grappling with the words of Jesus and wondering what it is that he means. If you are paying attention in John’s gospel you will know that this is not a new thing – remember in chapter 3 when the Pharisee Nicodemus had trouble understanding what Jesus meant when he said that if anyone wanted to see the Kingdom then he or she must be born again. Nicodemus had to grapple with the things that Jesus was saying. And here we are again in chapter 8 with the Jews again struggling with the things that Jesus says to them. In many ways this section is a microcosm of the entire story of John’s gospel – the story of Jesus declaring to the Jews (and the world) just who he is and them absolutely struggling to understand (or point blank refusing to understand sometimes.)

“Who are you?” they asked in verse 25? And Jesus replies by telling them again: “I am who I have been telling you I am since the beginning – the Word made flesh, the one sent by the Father…the Messiah”

Jesus went on to tell them that while they maybe did not get it right now, there would come a time in the future when they would get it. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man.” Of course this is a reference to what will happen later on in Jesus’ story when he will be lifted up on the cross, and it is a reference to the fact that the Jews will have a role to play in that (“When YOU have lifted up…”) Jesus has come as the Messiah for Israel; for the Jewish people and ultimately they will reject the one sent for them. Can you hear the echo of that prologue ringing: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)

As Tom Wright rightly points out – this is the tragedy at the heart of the Jesus narrative: that Jesus came to redeem and restore God’s own people; that Jesus was sent by God to do that work for those people and they did not even recognize their own God among them. The tragedy is that God’s own people were unable to recognize God with them.

I am not sure that things have changed that much in the 21st century in that folks still have trouble recognizing God in the world around them. Or folks maybe do see or hear from God and they are left scratching their heads and saying: “Who are you?” SO let me close this little note out by making it quite clear (warning – you might have heard me say this before!):

Jesus is the light in the darkness.
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh.
Jesus is the Chosen One sent by God.
Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is God’s own Son sent so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

That’s who Jesus is for you, for me, and for all humanity.
He has come into the world not to condemn it, but so that through him we might each be saved.
He has come to do a work of reconciliation – between God and humans, and between humans and other humans.
He has come to redeem and restore all the broken things in this world.

We know longer need to have “Who are ya?” moments. Jesus has made it abundantly clear who is is and why he came to live, and eat, and breathe, and sleep, and laugh, and cry among us. So stop what you are doing now and take a moment to take that in. Jesus is all that he say he is, and Jesus is all that for you and for me and for every other human being.

This is good news worth receiving! Hallelujah!

Dirty Glory – John 1

Dirty Glory

I opened up “Dirty Glory” by Pete Grieg this morning. I have had it for a couple of months but have not been able to get it started until today. I am only at the beginning but I am already drawn in (as I usually am) by Grieg’s ability to communicate deep, penetrating truth in such engaging ways. What follows is Grieg’s take on the opening 30 or so words of John’s Gospel, which, if you have been following this blog you will know, is of particular interest to me at the minute. How I wish I had had this stuff when i was writing my opening comments on the gospel of John a couple of months back!

“When God made us again, he came first to a teenage girl, and then to unwashed shepherds and later to pagan astrologers. God spoke the gospel as a dirty word into a religious culture. “The Word,” we are told by John at the start of his Gospel, became “flesh.” The Latin used here is caro , from which we get “carnivore,” “incarnation,” “carnival,” and even “carnal.” [6] God became a lump of meat, a street circus, a man like every man. John is messing with our minds. He knew perfectly well that this opening salvo was a shocking, seemingly blasphemous way to start his Gospel. Like Malcolm McLaren, Alexander McQueen, or Quentin Tarantino, he is grabbing attention, insisting upon an audience, demanding a response.

“In the beginning,” he says, echoing the opening line of the Bible, lulling us all into a false sense of religious security. At this point, I imagine John pausing mischievously, just long enough for every son of Abraham to fill in the blank incorrectly. “In the beginning,” he continues, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s the familiar creation narrative outrageously remixed, featuring a mysterious new aspect of the divinity named, like some kind of superhero in a Marvel comic, The Word . And yet for John’s Greek readers the vast majority of Christians by the time the Gospel was written [7] the Word was not a new concept at all. For them this was the familiar Logos of domestic philosophy, that divine animating principle pervading the cosmos. The bewildering thing for their ears would have been John’s emphatic conflation of this pagan Greek notion of divinity with the Creator God of Jewish monotheism: “The Word,” he says unambiguously, “was God.” And so, in just these first thirty words of his Gospel, John has effectively both affirmed and alienated his entire audience, Greek and Jew alike. And then, like a prizefighter in the ring, while we are all still reeling from this first theological onslaught, John lands his body blow: “The Word,” he says, “became flesh .” It’s a breathtaking statement, equally appalling for the Jews, who had an elaborate set of 613 rules to help segregate holiness from worldliness, and for the Greeks, who despised the flesh with its malodorous suppurations and embarrassing, base instincts. “The Word became flesh.” Imagine the intake of breath, the furrowed brows, the wives looking at their husbands silently asking, “Did he just say what I think he said?” and the husbands glancing towards their elders wondering, “Is this OK?” It’s punk-rock theology. It’s a screaming “hello.””

I am the Light of the world (8:12-20)

Between 2003 and 2006 my wife and I lived for three very happy years in a town called Port Saint Lucie in Florida. I had been hired as the Youth and Children’s Ministry Director there and enjoyed great fellowship and some real fruitfulness in ministry too. One of the lasting memories of that time for me is how we would welcome new people and visitors to the church. At each service those who were visiting our church for the very first time would be invited to stand up and introduce themselves. They would tell us their names and where they were visiting from and one of the ushers in the service would scurry towards them with a little welcome pack that included some information regarding the life of our church, some candy, a mug and a candle. The candle was the centerpiece of the gift. After everyone had introduced themselves, Renee, our Pastor would explain what had just been given to them and would leave the explanation of the candle to the end. She would say a few words about Jesus being the light and would always finish that little section of what she was saying with these words: “We give you this candle because…” And right on cue the entire congregation would reply by saying: “Jesus is the Light of the world.” I don’t know if anyone was ever overly impressed, or if that little act of the congregation ever changed anyone’s life, but i know that those words have absolutely stuck with me ever since. Light was the theme of Renee’s ministry. We gave the candles out to new visitors and for those who chose to drive by on Prima Vista Blvd. we erected a lighthouse on the corner of our property – another way of stating that Jesus is the light of the world.

In John 8:12 John records the second of the “I Am…” sayings that are included in his gospel. In chapter 6 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Here Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Of course, if we have been paying attention since the beginning of the book we will know that light is a prominent description of Jesus in the prologue (“In him was life and that life was the light to all mankind…The light shines in the darkness…The true light that gives light to everyone in the world was coming.”)

The idea of light in darkness is one which always grabs us. Imagine for a moment that you are trapped in a room with no natural light. In that circumstance you are completely lost as to knowing what is around you. Sure, you can feel your way and fumble around to try and work things out but ultimately the first thing you want and need is some form of light. When the light comes in to that dark space everything around you is exposed and illumined. You can see everything that is going on in that space: the places of beauty and comfort and safety, and the places of danger and risk too. When John is describing Jesus as the true light, John is saying that the presence of Jesus in the world is the presence which will expose and illumine everything that is going on in the world.

When Jesus describes himself as the light of the world he is also saying that he has come to expose and illumine everything that is going on in the world. He has come to be the Messiah of Israel, but the presence of light in that darkness is exposing Israel’s shortcomings – they have not and are not living up to that which God called them to. As Tom Wright says: “They had forgotten who their God really was. Their behavior, their attitude, and their ambitions indicated that they didn’t know the one Jesus called ‘Father,’ and that was why they couldn’t recognize him as having come from the Father.” Jesus came to bring light to the world so that all humans could see the world and escape the darkness. How would this come about? Simply, by following Jesus: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” By staying close to Christ, we will always be walking in the light, and the darkness will always be exposed.

We all need light. We need light around us to show us the way and to expose everything that lies in the darkness, which might cause us to stumble or fall, and we need light within us too; to expose all the darkness which lies in the corners of our own hearts. Maybe it is time for you to invite the light into your life today. By doing so you will never walk in darkness again.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone (7:53-8:11)

Woman Caught In Adultery

It has been said many times that one should be careful when pointing the finger at another in judgement because each time one finger is pointed there are three pointing right back. In a sense, this is part of the lesson Jesus was teaching in this passage.

The first seven chapters of John’s Gospel have been about Jesus beginning to reveal who he is to those who are following him and those who are challenging him. We have seen a mixture of responses ranging from complete rejection of Jesus and his claims through to acceptance of his claims and willingness to follow him. All the way along John has written in order to convince people that Jesus is exactly who he says he is – light in the darkness, Son of God, Word of God made flesh, but in chapter 8 John is going to take a turn. Having beard witness to who Jesus is, John is now going to begin to bear witness to why it is that Jesus has come; why it is that humanity needs Jesus.

Jesus has returned to the Temple Courts (where the tables had been previously over turned) and was teaching there. In the middle of the lesson the ‘teachers of the Law and the Pharisees’ brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. These men were bringing this woman for no other reason that to try and catch Jesus out. They were not interested in seeing the religious law observed, or even in seeing the woman punished for breaking it. They were simply bringing her there to see what Jesus would do, and they were hoping that Jesus would tell her that her sins were forgiven. Had Jesus done so the teachers of the law and the Pharisees would have been well within their rights to have seized Jesus there and then for his blatant ignoring of the Law of Moses. This action was a devious trap and the woman was being used as a pawn in the bigger mission of these zealous religious leaders.

I always find the next verses a little bit humorous as I imagine the scene playing out. Jesus has been teaching in the Temple Courts, all this commotion has started up around him, and the religious leaders are there questioning him and trying to catch him out…and Jesus just bends down and starts drawing in the sand. No one knows what he was drawing – many speculations have been made, but no-one really knows. The religious leaders are not put off by Jesus’s refusal to pay them any attention and they keep on questioning him:

The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?
The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?
The Law of Moses says we can stone her! Now what do you say?

Finally Jesus stands up and says to them:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And then he crouched down again. Slowly, one by one, they each disappeared until none of them was left, only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asks her if any of them condemned her. She replied saying that none had, and then Jesus said that neither did he and that she should go and leave her life of sin behind.

Of course, if we take the woman caught in adultery as the subject of the tale, we see an amazing act of grace and mercy in her life as Jesus refuses to condemn her and send her off to live a new life. But remember, John is taking a turn here. He is beginning to reveal what it is in humanity that needed Jesus the Son of God; the Light in the darkness; the Word made flesh to come in the first place. With being the case then it is not the woman who we need to fix our eyes on in this story, it is the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees who were willing to drag this woman to Jesus, using her to set a trap, hoping that Jesus would fall for it.

Jesus didn’t.

Instead, Jesus took the pointing fingers of these religious leaders and simply reminded them that there were three other fingers pointing back at them. Jesus was not saying that sin is unimportant, far from it. As Tom Wright says: “[Jesus] hasn’t said the Law of Moses was wrong; only that if we’re going to get serious about it, we should all find ourselves guilty.”

Wright goes on:

“…sin does matter…And the sin that matters even more…is the deep-rooted sin which uses the God given law as a means of making oneself out to be righteous, when in fact it is meant to shine the light of God’s judgment into the dark places of the heart.”

You see it? Jesus is pointing to the fact that ALL fall short when it comes to the Law of Moses. ALL have need for sin to be forgiven. ALL have need for a new life. ALL are in the same boat hence ALL ought to be careful about pointing the finger.

As I imagine this scene being played out, I try to imagine which role I would take. If I am honest, more often than not I probably find myself in the group of finger pointing men. If that is true then I am convinced even more of my need for Jesus today and every day in life.

Which role do you see yourself in? Do you have some fingers pointing back at you too?

As we each learn that we are all in the same boat when it comes to sin and the Law, maybe we need to hear those words of Jesus to the woman again:

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Apologies for the absence…be back soon

Be Back Soon

Just a little word of apology for those who were following along in John’s gospel with me. The Advent/Christmas season tends to be an overly busy one for Pastors. It was definitely a busy one for me. On the back of that I have been in Washington D.C. this past week for classes.

It is my hope to begin post again next week and continue in this journey through John’s Gospel.

I hope that your Advent and Christmas seasons have been seasons filled with all the hope and penetrating love of God.

Back soon!!!