Jesus said that he was written about in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, the Old Testament described in three divisions (Luke 24:44). Over 300 distinct prophecies plus many analogies and stories point to Jesus. There is a prophecy of his virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), his place of birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), his identity as God's Son (Psalms 2:7-8), his anointing by God's Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2), his death by crucifixion (Psalms 22:16), his resurrection from the dead (Psalms 16:10) and hundreds more. Before the New Testament was completed the church preached Christ from the Old Testament as well as their own direct experience. According to one source there are “343 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, as well as no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels.”
An oft disputed phrase is found once in each of the Gospels (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33) and twice in Acts (1:5; 11:16). Exaggerated teaching about baptism of the Holy Spirit emphasizes things like speaking in tongues or miraculous powers. However, the phrase actually means something a whole lot simpler than that. An examination of the Greek word for baptism is a good place to start. It literally means to dip, or submerge, but it goes way beyond a simplistic literal meaning. It also means a cleansing or washing (ablution) and that gets us a little closer to a logical answer. The Holy Spirit cleans us up spiritually as water cleans us physically. It also means “to imbue richly with the Holy Spirit” and power from on high (Luke 24:49).
Jesus has gone to be with the Father in heaven (Luke 24:51). His visible presence is no longer with us, but his invisible presence is still with us. He is present with us in the coming of the Holy Spirit. He is present with us in the sacrament of communion. He and the Father have made their home with us (John 14:23). The world has spiritual Alzheimer's disease. They don’t know where they are going or why they are here. The invisible presence of the Holy Spirit gives us power to witness of the world’s most important and greatest enterprise. Jesus is no longer visibly present, but we see him in the “breaking of bread” and in the visible church which bears witness to his invisible presence (Acts 1:8). Christ still lives and his kingdom work continues.
God promised power from on high (Luke 24:49), his power (Matthew 6:13), power to the weak (Isaiah 40:29). Micah (3:8) was filled with power, to declare, by God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). God’s power (Matthew 22:29) is greater power than the grave (Hosea 13:14). The apostles were promised power (Acts 1:8) to be witnesses (martyrs) and were given the power of hope (Romans 15:13) from the Holy Spirit, power of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), power that is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20). It is the power of the resurrection (Philippians 3:10), power for endurance and patience (Colossians 1:11), power in the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5), power for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).
A soldier in Afghanistan stands guard as a little girl plays with a rock in her hand, or is it a grenade? She gets ready to throw it at a passing Humvee. A split second decision has to be made. Do I lose another group of soldiers to a grenade attack or am I shooting a little girl playing with a rock? The moral dilemma affects all sides making people feel abandoned by the world. The loss of innocence, of youth, a parent, a child, a job, or a marriage make us feel abandoned. In John 14:18 Jesus promises not to abandon his disciples like orphans, but send the Comforter. What have we lost? Is the Holy Spirit teaching us how we should act? Ought we come alongside one another without judgment, giving words of comfort, help and healing?
When we read translations of John 14:16 where the Paraclete is translated as Advocate, we might ask the question for whom is he an Advocate? In court the Advocate helps the accused. We are accused of sin and corruption. The accuser is the devil (Revelation 12:10). Who is the judge? It is Jesus (2 Timothy 4:1) who will judge on that day (Revelation 20:11-12). Is the Spirit pleading our case before a harsh God just begging for his mercy? Or is it the opposite? Has not God already shown his mercy and love for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus? Is not the Holy Spirit an Advocate who is also pleading God’s case to us, that we do not need to face death if we accept the truth of God’s love demonstrated in Easter?
In John 14:16-17 Jesus promised another Helper, a Paraclete. The word Paraclete means a helper in court, a legal advocate who stands up in court and pleads our case before a judge, a comforter, an adviser-helper. This helper is also the Spirit of Truth. He communicates truth. He will reveal the truth about all our sins but also the truth about the penalty which has already been paid by Christ. He is not the spirit of lies and our world is filled with lies. The world cannot accept the truth. The world does not see the truth nor know it. It takes the help of the Holy Spirit living with us and in us to see and know the truth, to face our sins and to acknowledge that we have no other hope of justification before God than Jesus.
In John 14:15 when Jesus states that if you love me keep my commandments, the word for love [agapaté] is a verb, not a noun. Such love is doing something not just a warm feeling inside. In fact if we love Jesus it is obvious by our doing, our keeping of his commandments. It is a mistake to think that means the Old Testament commandments. Many times Jesus said things like you have heard that it was said of old, but I say to you and he gave a new instruction. For instance, the woman caught in adultery was not stoned, but shown mercy. Jesus also did not contradict the Father in these things, but said that these new instructions were from the Father. We are to keep, watch over or hold firmly to these new commandments of Jesus.
Every pastor or missionary eventually becomes a lame duck. The person who worked among the people of God moves on. The book Missionary Methods Saint Paul’s or Ours, (Roland Allen, Eerdmans, 1962) is a masterpiece on missionary work. In a sense, every pastorate is a missionary endeavor. The author challenges missionaries to get in, get on and for the sake of the developing flock to get out. Leaving is one of the best gifts a missionary or pastor can give a church. Only then will leadership develop to its fullest potential. It is with that thought in mind that a pastor leaves a much loved flock behind. Jesus said that he would not leave his disciples orphaned (John 14:15-21). And so it is as a missionary or pastor departs. The Holy Spirit remains behind to complete a maturing work.
Every one of us will become an orphan, unless we die before our parents. I remember fondly the daily conversations with my mother after school. In later years my father and I delighted in lengthy conversations about life. His wisdom was always gentle but firm in the grace that he had taken a lifetime to learn. He had grown to become very much like my grandmother, emphasizing not being critical of others, but realizing that we all make mistakes and are obligated to show others grace. Many of us can relate to the hole that the absence of such conversations leaves. When Jesus left for heaven, his disciples felt abandoned. Yet he said that he would not leave his disciples orphaned (John 14:15-21). He will return. Therein also lies the best hope of seeing our dearly departed ones again.
The 125 Commands
Jesus told his disciples if they love him to keep his commands (John 14:15-21). Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. Come to me and learn from me. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Be perfect [spiritually mature]. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Enter through the narrow gate. Watch out for false prophets. Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Go and learn the meaning of this: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Most of his commands can be found in the Gospels.
How can we disobey Jesus (John 14:15-21)? There are many ways. We can quote church literature more than Jesus. We can prefer popular opinion or psychological definitions of acceptable lifestyles or aberrant behavior more than the teachings of Jesus. We can redefine specific sins along modern cultural lines rather than historically biblical terms. We can become so inclusive that no sin is any longer a reason for exclusion from church or kingdom. In addition to that we can add multiple rules and traditions of mere men like the Pharisees did, which so overshadow the commands of Jesus that they fade to become mere background noise. Or, we can use Jesus commands as mere springboards, given token gesture as we spring off onto our own agendas, rather than seek to plumb the depths of what he envisioned for the church.
In the “oikia” [house, household] of God are many “monai” [lodgings, dwelling-places, rooms, mansions] (John 14:2). Jesus also called the temple his Father's house (oikos) and that he, the apostles, prophets and church would be the replacement temple. John 14:23 declares that the Father and the Son will come and “remain, abide” with anyone who loves him and obeys him. This refers not just to our eternal future, but abiding with God now. Obedient believers live in a permanent dwelling place, a union with the Father and the Son regardless of physical circumstances. God and Jesus abide with us. This is repeatedly stressed throughout the Gospels. Although images of heavenly mansions are exciting, the real dwelling is in the relationship that we share with our heavenly Father and his Son, a "place" in God's family now and forever.
It may come as a surprise, but kings and queens do not usually live in castles, but in apartments within those castles. Castles are often more like grand hotels or ornate boarding houses where royal families, relatives and staff live in separate apartments. Granted, they may have the stateliest of accommodations and control of the whole facility, but their private dwelling is only a part of that castle. In John 14:2 we are promised dwellings in God’s house. Jesus had just spoken to his disciples of his impending suffering, departure and their failure. It’s part of the human condition to fail and feel like we are so far away from God. However, Jesus encouraged his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. How do we get there where he is? Jesus is the way, the only way there.
After an encounter with God, Jacob dedicated the place as God’s house, the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:15-22) and it is still called Beth El (the house of God) to this day. It was at that spot 30 km (20 mi) north of Jerusalem that Jacob vowed to pay God a tenth for his providence. Later, the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem were called the house of God. As members of a royal dynasty like the House of Hanover, the people of God have been described as God’s house (1 Corinthians 3:8-10). True believers are also promised a place of eternal abode with God. That is also God’s house and it contains enough room for all who come to him to dwell forever (John 14:2). The road to that house is Jesus, both now and forever.
|Essential Truths of|
the Christian Faith
Many claim to have the truth, but perhaps discount the most important ingredient. People get sidetracked on all kinds of issues and miss the truth. They believe that a particular twist of doctrine is the truth, which in reality is mere human understanding. They will insult, denigrate and vilify other people for having a different understanding as believing a lie and not the truth. Yet, all Christians agree on the truth, at least the most important element of the truth, Jesus. After all, Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Whatever disagreements Christians may have — forms of baptism, qualifications for ordination, formal versus informal worship formats, biblical versus traditional liturgical days, contemporary versus traditional music, Roman, Eastern and Protestant authority, tongues, church politics — we agree that what Jesus taught is still the truth.
the Way, the Truth
and the Life
Jesus made the bold claim that he is the life (John 14:6). How do we understand that comment? Do we allow the natural reading that Jesus is exclusively the life or do we try and rationalize our way into a more inclusive claim? How can people from religions which exclude Jesus be included? That discussion has continued for the past 2,000 years without universal agreement among Christians. In the west, Rome formulated the theory of purgatory to answer the question. In the east, Christians claimed that Latins did not understand the Greek of passages like Acts 3:21 as well as native Greek speakers do. So Eastern Orthodox Christians formulated a milder theory. It seems that some form of reconciliation with humanity from all religions is planned by God. Jesus’ audacious claim was that he is the life.
God’s house has many rooms (John 14:2) but do our churches? How do we understand a God who includes most others in churches which exclude them? Why in even somewhat inclusive churches, are not more included? Why do churches which accept gays not respect the opinions of folks who disagree? Why do churches which accept women pastors force a woman pastor on those congregations which in faith prefer a man, showing them utter contempt? Why do churches which use grape juice for communion disrespectfully force it upon those who prefer wine? Why does Rome call itself Catholic, which means universal when it really is exclusive? Why do churches which accept tongues apply so much peer pressure on non-tongues speakers to conform? Are there no rooms in the Church for those with a slightly different take on our common faith?
|The Story of|
Jesus said that his disciples would do greater works than he (John 14:12). Does that mean miracles or something different? Andrew founded the church at Constantinople and preached as far as Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Peter and Paul established the church at Antioch and traveled widely. James the Greater seems to have established Spanish Christianity. His brother John became a great Christian leader at Ephesus. Philip preached in Greece and Syria. Bartholomew (Nathaniel) went to India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia and Armenia. Matthew went to the Caucasus, Macedonia, Persia and Parthia. Thomas went to Parthia and India. James the Less went to Lower Egypt. Judas Thaddeus visited Judea, Samaria, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Simon the Zealot headed the Jerusalem church and traveled to Africa and Europe. It is quite clear that the Apostles’ mission was greater in territorial scope than Jesus’.
When Jesus spoke of us being sheep and his being the gate for the sheep he was not speaking literally but figuratively (John 10:6). It is like a mother who calls her infant the most beautiful child in the world. She is speaking in what we call hyperbolic language not literal. It is wrong to pride ourselves on taking the Bible literally, when an overly literal interpretation often misses what God intended. We can all be thieves and robbers entering a church to steal the peace, kill the joy and destroy the unity. Yet the more we listen to Jesus, the more we find spiritual pasture that feeds our souls, the more fulfilled our lives are now as we experience paradise on earth in a manner not available to those who never come to church, to the sheep fold.
John 10:1-10 informs us that even though thieves and robbers may sneak into our churches, but there is also good news in the sheep pen. We don’t need to be concerned because if we follow the Good Shepherd we will learn to know his voice. It may be the soft words of one who does good works, letting their light shine. It may be in the words of Jesus preached in a sermon. It may be in the words of encouragement given by a spiritual mother or father in the congregation. Jesus leads us into a worship service each week and he leads us back out into the world to where we will be blessed with lush pastures. The good news is that the Great Shepherd has come that we may have life now, more than what is expected.
|Living with Sheep|
Some may see church-goers as just dumb sheep. Yet the idea of “dumb sheep” is just a myth. Sheep are very intelligent animals. Modern research shows that sheep can remember the faces of up to fifty other sheep and ten human faces. They can find their way out of mazes very quickly. Sheep are smarter than humans in being able to find the plants they need for herbal cures of various illnesses. Sheep in Yorkshire, England have even taught themselves to roll across cattle grids to feed on neighboring pastures. After only one feeding from a group of people, sheep remember who brought the food. Very importantly, sheep know by instinct that independent action is not the best battle strategy for defending against a predator. Instead, when threatened they flock together in a technique known as folding (John 10:1-10).
the Words of Jesus
What is the voice of Jesus like? Is it harsh and authoritarian? Is it soft and effeminate? John 10:1-10 presents us with one picture of Jesus’ voice. It is a voice that the sheep hear. People preach and listen to the voice of all kinds of things other than Jesus’ words. Yet his is the voice that the sheep listen to. All other voices are suspect as potential robbers. Just as in a real flock of sheep, where each can be taught its name, so too does the voice Jesus call each by name. It is a personal relationship. The sheep also recognise the voice of Jesus and follow him. They will never follow another. In fact, they go the other way from the unrecognized voice of a stranger. We can all learn to recognize the voice of Jesus.
|Enter by the Gate|
Jesus described himself as the gate for the sheep (John 10:1-10). Picture a shepherd sitting or sleeping at the entrance to a sheep pen. There is no wooden gate. He is the gate. Who is a true shepherd of Jesus’ flock? Anyone who claims to be a pastor (shepherd) but does not enter by the legitimate gate is a thief and a robber. The only legitimate way is to enter via Jesus, the gate. Entry via Moses is not a legitimate gate, but neither is entry via Paul. Entry via the pope is not legitimate, but neither is entry via Luther, Calvin or Wesley. All of these people may have been wonderful servants of God, but none of them is the gate. Only Jesus is the gate. So, when is a gate a gate? When that gate is Jesus.
Is Christianity a religion of freedom or restraint? It is both. There are times when we need protection and defense. There are also times when we need to run free. In John 10:9 Jesus talks about being the gate. We may say the gatekeeper. If we listen to the voice of the gatekeeper, he will lead us out when it is safe. If we ignore his voice, we may desire to run at the wrong time, headlong into danger. If we enter into safety through the gatekeeper, then we know that he will be watching. It is important for us to be following the right voice, the voice of the gatekeeper, Jesus. Inside the gate is freedom from harm, because the gatekeeper guards us. Outside the gate is freedom to run with protection, because the gatekeeper leads us.
As the cycle of nations takes its natural course in the Anglo Zone, there is a real spiritual opportunity. The Anglo Zone (those nations that speak English) have been at the pinnacle for centuries now. First it was British and then American dominance. As power and wealth arrived, the English speaking nations slowly drifted away from Jesus Christ. Materialism tends to do that. As the delusion of material wealth took over the Anglo culture, spiritual and family destruction have increased hazardously. We have the highest divorce rates in history and the highest crime rates in the world as people have left God in droves in a hedonistic rush for power and wealth. The thief has come and stolen and killed and destroyed us. Will we return to the one who can give us life to the full (John 10:1-10)?
As two disciples of Jesus walked towards Emmaus there was good news that they at first did not recognize (Luke 24:13-35). They reasoned about a mighty prophet who had been killed and their heart burned within them as the scriptures were expounded but could not see the good news right in front of their eyes, that their own prophets had predicted for fifteen hundred years. It was prophesied long ago that the Messiah should suffer and die but then enter glory. The good news is that their eyes were opened at the breaking of bread. The good news also accompanies us on life’s journey, but we don’t always recognize it. The communion bread is more than a mere symbol. It is a sacrament a visible sign of an invisible grace through which Jesus the Messiah is revealed to us.