Tag Archives: John

BABY BELIEVERS

BABY BELIEVERS

“Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptising in the early days. There He stayed, and many people came to Him. They said, ‘Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.’ And in that place, many believed in Jesus.” John 10:40-42 NIV.

Thus concludes a dramatic and tempestuous encounter between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, and a temporary lull in the conflict between them. He retreated beyond the Jordan, not because He was afraid of them but to allow the dust to settle before the last and final battle that would end in His death.

The writer, John, assures his readers that, in spite of the opposition of the Jewish hierarchy, there were many of the ordinary people who were convinced that He was the Messiah and that John the Baptist’s testimony about Him was true. At this stage they were probably still wobbly believers, convinced of who Jesus was and yet wary of the Pharisees because the religious leaders had the power to do damage to these infant believers because of their position in their religion.

In a few short weeks, the faith of these baby believers would be sorely tested when Jesus was finally arrested and brought to trial before His adversaries. John’s purpose was to present Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, so that his readers would be convinced of His identity and put their faith in Him. Throughout the gospel John assured his readers that this was happening in spite of the hatred of the Jewish leaders towards Jesus.

After the episode of the healing of the blind man, no doubt the common people were in on the hot debate that raged between the Pharisees and Jesus. They heard the accusations levelled against Him because that He had healed the man on the Sabbath. They had listened to Jesus’ defence: ‘Evaluate my works and see whether they don’t match the nature of the Father.’

These enquirers had done their own thinking and concluded that a demon-possessed man could never do the miracles Jesus was doing to bring health and comfort to suffering people. At least they had the good sense to be honest, to weigh up the evidence with an open mind and to reach the conclusion that the Pharisees refused to come to because the Pharisees were convinced they were right.

The Pharisees not only denounced Jesus; they also dismissed the common people as ignorant and stupid! What an indictment against them!

Where were all these so-called believers when the mob, led by the Jewish religious hierarchy, was baying for Jesus’ blood? Were they in the crowd, swayed by mob hysteria to demand His death? Were they too afraid to stand up for Him lest they suffer the same fate? Was their protest so feeble that they were shouted down when they tried to defend Him? We will never know.

However, there must have been many of those early shaky believers who joined the tide of people who repented and were baptised on the Day of Pentecost. Their failure to support Jesus for whatever reason was only a part of the process. They were not denounced or disqualified for their weakness. They were included in the ranks of those who became staunch followers of the risen Messiah.

Does this not encourage us to believe that where we are now, or where our loved ones are now, is not the end of the story? Where was Saul on the day when he stood watching the fanatical Pharisees hurling stones at Stephen and thoroughly supporting what they were doing? Where was he when he set out for Damascus to do as much damage to the church there as he could? He was only hours away from a life-transforming encounter with the Living Christ that would set his life in a new direction.

We must never give up on those for whom we are praying because they are also at some point in the process of becoming new in Christ. God has promised to complete what He has begun and we can count on His promise, not matter what!

Acknowledgement

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

BAPTISING

BAPTISING

“After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John was also baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptised, (This was before John was put in prison).” John 3:22-24.

What was all this baptising about? Who were Jesus and John baptising and why? Were they sprinkling water on people’s heads or were they dunking them under the water?

Baptism, or ritual washing, was an ancient and common practice in Israel. It was carried out in obedience to the Law of Moses for many different reasons. It was also the way of ritual cleansing and initiation into an office e.g., the priesthood, or a movement.

John was a rabbi who had a following of disciples and a “yoke”, an interpretation of the Torah and a lifestyle that he adhered to and placed upon his followers as did Jesus. As he taught about the Messiah, preparing the way for His coming, people wanted to show that they accepted and identified with what John was teaching and the way to do it publicly was through ritual washing.

It would seem that Jesus was initiating His own disciples into Himself and His teaching as well, so that they would become different people while John was baptising people who were willing to change their minds and accept what John was teaching them about the Messiah. The act of washing in running water was symbolic of washing away who they were and giving them a new beginning in a new understanding and way of life according to what their rabbi had taught them. 

Were John and Jesus in competition, each drawing a following and initiating their disciples into their teaching and way of life? For a while they were both teaching and baptising, but John in no way acted like a rival. In fact, John, the author of this gospel, records John the Baptist’s purpose, more than once, of pointing people to Jesus. He did not object when some of his disciples left him to follow Jesus.

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.” John 1:35-37.

When his disciples questioned John about Jesus’ popularity, he responded that he was only the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom. His job was to attend to bridegroom and announce His arrival. He concluded, “He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30.

God had a drastic and unusual way of solving this problem. John did not disappear back into the wilderness. He was forcefully removed by Herod who had him thrown in prison at the instigation of his unscrupulous wife, Herodias. Why did God allow that to happen?

I cannot presume to understand all God’s ways, but it seems to me that John’s work was done. It was his task to prepare the way for Messiah, to announce His arrival and to point out who He was to those who heard him. Did he fulfil his calling? Yes, he did. There was no reason for him to continue because he would actually be in Jesus’ way.

His removal seems cruel but we have to ask, “Would it have been better for him to languish in a dungeon for years, never seeing the light of day and living in a hope that was never fulfilled?” It was through God’s mercy that he was taken out suddenly and drastically, leaving Jesus to fulfil His mission without a rival. The people no longer needed John’s message or John’s baptism because the Messiah was among them. John’s work was preparatory and complete.

We cannot always discern the wisdom and ways of the Lord. We know that He is good and always does what is best for us. His ways, Paul said, are “past finding out”. He asks us to trust Him when we cannot see the way ahead.

Acknowledgement

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

CHECK THE FRUIT!

CHECK THE FRUIT!

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” John 1:6-8 (NIV).

Don’t you love the way John puts John the Baptist into the correct perspective? If you have travelled with me through Luke’s gospel, you will have seen how Jesus struggled to teach His disciples to interpret what was going on from the perspective of the kingdom of God, but at that time they just didn’t get it. He promised them that things would be different after Pentecost — and they were! Once they had the Holy Spirit in them, they saw things from God’s point of view just like Jesus did.

Although he was a prophet, John the Baptist’s ministry was unique and special. Just in case anyone mistakenly thought that he was the Messiah, John, the writer, assured his readers that John the Baptist was only a witness albeit a powerful one.

How did John the Baptist bear witness to the light? His preaching on repentance had a twofold purpose — to call God’s people back to a life of generosity and service and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah who would immerse them in the Holy Spirit.

The religious leaders had led the people away from what God wanted into what they thought God wanted, religious people who meticulously kept the minutest details of the law at the expense of loving God by being kind and generous to all people. John’s preaching was fiery and explicit. He called his curious congregation who went to hear what he had to say, “a brood of vipers, a bunch of bastards — fatherless people!”

“Return,” he urged them. “There is someone coming who is far greater than I. My baptism in water is only a preparation for His baptism of fire.” What Jesus was about to do would be like the fire that consumes the chaff that is beaten off the wheat — He would expose and get rid of everything in His people that was incompatible with God – greed, selfishness, unkindness, pride and arrogance. He was not interested in religious rigmarole. He wanted real people who would love God and love their neighbour.

John the Baptist had no desire to promote himself. His only mission was to prepare the way for the coming one by alerting the people to their need to get back to the simplicity of God’s way and to recognise the Messiah when He arrived because He would continue what John began.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent or a husband’s will but born of God.” John 1:9-13 (NIV).

There is a sad note in John’s story — in spite of what John the Baptist preached and testified to, neither the world at large nor God’s people recognised or acknowledged the Messiah when He came. His own people, who should have known Him because they had been taught His Word from their mother’s breast, refused to receive Him.

Since the day when they were taken into covenant relationship with God at Mount Sinai, they persisted in rebelling against God’s best way to live and going their own way with disastrous consequences; yet they never learned. Now, here they were, repeating history all over again.

Except for a few! In God’s story there are always those, few in number, yes, but true children of God who take what God says seriously, act on it and are welcomed into God’s family as dearly loved children. John hastens to add that this is not about natural birth. The Jews assumed that, because they were born Jews and had been circumcised — an external sign of their Jewishness, they were “in” and everybody else was “out”.

John made sure that he told them that it didn’t work like that. There had to be another “birth”, a supernatural one that brought them back into the family of God and reproduced the character of God in them.

How tragic that this erroneous thinking, (that being born into a Christian family makes them Christians), has crept into the church as well! Some branches of the church bring their babies into the family of God by “Christianising” them and “confirming” that ritual when they are of age and yet they have never been supernaturally “born” into God’s family by receiving Jesus as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of sonship (Romans 8:14-16). 

Jesus said, “Check the fruit. That’s the real test.”

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

MARK’S GOSPEL – GOD IS HERE!

GOD IS HERE!

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples Mark 1:12-1

How could Jesus be so sure of His message, “God is here?” He had seen it, felt it, heard it, tasted it, experienced it in the worst possible environment. He has been cushioned and cocooned in the Father’s presence for forty days; heat, cold, hunger, thirst, rocks, cliffs, scorpions, snakes, spiders, prowling wild beasts – any one of these could have taken Him out – and He had to trust, lean on, hold on to the Father until He was perfectly at peace in the midst of all this. He had to move from enduring to embracing and enjoying His wilderness experience because it meant total reliance on the Father.

This was Jesus’ first “Gethsemane” experience and it prepared Him to run the gauntlet of life out there in the jungle of humanity. He had to learn to recognise and rebuff every alien voice until only the Father’s voice was clearly recognisable. “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered…” (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus was not proclaiming a theory: He was declaring a personal, powerful, practical reality. “God is here!” He was offering to His people the renewal of the experience as a “here and now” God. For 400 years they thought He had left them. Jesus wasn’t saying, “God is back.” He was saying, “God is here.” He was rekindling the awareness in them that God was always there, with them; but they had lost that awareness.

How can I offer that same awareness to people out there? And more so, to God’s people who struggle in their own “wilderness” experiences? First – I have to know it for myself, not just an intellectual assent to what is written in the Word, but a knowing that comes from leaning and listening to the one who is closer than my breath, the one who envelops me, surrounds me, saturates me and undergirds me until I am more sure and more secure in Him that in my own environment. I need my own wilderness. 6

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE- IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

“‘What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.

God’s Law and the Prophets climaxed in John; now it’s all kingdom of God – the glad news and compelling invitation to every man and woman.'” Luke 16:16.

What an important truth Jesus highlighted in this one statement, something that many of us believers do not seem to have grasped! Firstly, the Old Testament, with its dealings with Israel, is the indispensable foundation for understanding the entire message of the Bible. Many Christians believe that they can do away with it and read only the New Testament, but that’s foolish. It’s like reading a mystery story from the middle of the book.

Secondly, the Old Testament, important as it is, is not the whole story. God had a certain way of dealing with His people because they were His chosen vehicle through whom Messiah would come. His Law was the expression of His perfect nature. It was never intended to refashion His people into His image. It was intended to show them what He required and how impossible it was to live up to His standard by purely human effort.

Thirdly, God was developing a culture which would lay the foundation for understanding His entire recovery plan. All the rituals surrounding the sacrificial system, for example, were to prepare them to understand the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of His Son. The laws regarding clean and unclean would teach them the seriousness of sin, its contagious nature and the need for cleansing through a blood sacrifice.

The cultural practices surrounding courtship and marriage taught them how God was wooing them as His bride and preparing them for an eternal ‘marriage’ relationship of intimacy and oneness with them/ These and many more laws and practices laid the foundation for receiving and understanding the person and work of Jesus when He came.

Imagine for a moment if God had sent Jesus, unprepared for and unannounced, into a country like India with its myriad gods, or into a Muslim country with its rigid system of Sharia law. How would the people have received Him?

What Jesus was emphasizing was that His coming changed everything. All of the types and shadows of the Old Testament system were fulfilled in Him. He is the substance of which these things were the picture. John the Baptist was the cut-off point, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, because he was not gazing at Messiah from a distance but actually introducing Him to the world. Short as his ministry was, it brought into sharp focus everything the preceding prophets had foretold.

This is where many of God’s people have gone wrong. There is a blurring of the difference between the Old and New Covenants and hence, unbiblical ideas and practices are perpetuated through misunderstanding. Let me highlight just two.

Firstly, in our understanding of prayer. A movement has grown up around the world which functions mainly on Old Testament ideas. People are taught to do ‘prayer walks’ and ‘Jericho marches’, to ‘take authority’ over principalities and powers, to identify and pull down ‘altars’ and to ‘bind’ the devil and his demons wherever the ‘spirit of’ this or that is identified. The favourite one, of course, is the ‘Jezebel’ spirit.

A thorough search of the Book of Acts does not reveal any of these practices. Instead, there is a confidence in the power of the cross through which Jesus defeated the devil, publicly exposed and disgraced him, stripped him of his weapons and set people free from his deception. The simple proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and as Lord, and the command  to repent and turn to Him as the truth, set people free to begin a new life under a new Master in the kingdom of God.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is a case in point. Ephesus was the centre of the powerful idolatrous cult of Diana-worship. Paul’s preaching lost the silversmiths business, caused a riot and eventually transformed the city. The new believers brought their witchcraft paraphernalia and made a bonfire of it in the middle of the city. No prayer walking, no pulling down of altars, no taking authority over demons – just the simple proclamation of the Word transformed lives and destroyed the power of Diana.

Secondly, the way we understand ‘deliverance’ is faulty. Satan works through deception. His stance is that he has the power to control people, which is a lie. Neither God nor Satan have the power to control the will of man. We give power through whatever we believe. If we believe Satan’s lies, we open ourselves to his influence.

Satan’s source of power was exposed at the cross. Jesus showed the world that He did not have to respond to the worst that human beings could do to an innocent man by reacting in a sinful way. “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” 1 Peter 2:23, 24 (NIV).  

The way of ‘deliverance’ is the way of truth – expose Satan’s lies and replace them with truth. The need for deliverance implies that we are victims, needing to be rescued rather than people who need to take responsibility for what we think and believe. Confronting the devil is far less effective than helping the victim to accept responsibility for what he thinks, and to receive and believe the truth which renders the devil’s lies powerless and sends his demons packing. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8,9a (NIV).

So what was Jesus saying? The Old Testament era closed with the ministry of John. Jesus ushered in the new era of the kingdom of God. Everything changed when Messiah came. The power of the kingdom of God lies in the truth, embodied by Jesus and empowered by His Spirit and His Word. Now repent – change your mind and believe the good news that Jesus is in charge, no longer the devil!