It’s a Time Machine

It’s a Time Machine
So the Spirit of God just blows where it will.  It is not beholden to our borders and boundaries, but just blows through at will.  Back to the text at hand.  And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””    They are prosecuting Jesus as a sabbath breaker, and the defense Jesus gives is doubly provocative.  He says, first thing you need to understand is that my Father is God – immediately this will get his persecutors bent out of shape.   The great thing in John’s gospel that he never departs from is that Jesus is the revelation of the Father, that if you see Jesus you see the Father.  If you see Jesus, you know what a God is like.  The second thing that Jesus on this phrase is “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”   In other words, when Jesus is being prosecuted by these Judeans for violating their interpretation of the sabbath, Jesus’ defense is the reason I am working today is because God is my Father and  He is working today.   So you see how provocative that is?  They say “It’s a sabbath, nobody can work!”   Jesus says “My Dad is God and he’s working today.  Since he’s working I’m working with Him.

Jesus knows this is provocative and challenging, yet he does this on purpose.   Jesus knows that with statements like this, he is forcing people to make hard decisions about him.  But he doesn’t back off, because he’s not the convenient Christ, he’s the controversial Christ.   The Jewish idea was that God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh.  Well fine, so be it, but Jesus indicates that God is not inactive in the world.  God is at work, and the work of God is to heal the world.  So whatever extent we are working today to heal the world, whatever that means, to heal sick bodies, to heal sick societies, to heal massive injustice, to heal broken relationships, to heal people’s relationship with God, with one another, to heal people’s relationship in their own mind with themselves, to whatever degree we are working to bring healing into the world, we are doing God’s work.

Because God created in six days, rested on the seventh, then things began to fall apart, began to be broken, and God has been working ever since to heal the world.  Those that work with Him in healing the world are doing God’s work.  That’s one way of looking at this story, and it’s true.  But there is a deeper, more mysterious sign fir us to see.

Jesus says My Father is working, and I’m working.  But the Judeans say, No it’s the sabbath and it’s the day for resting and not for working.   If you’ve spent any time in the gospels, you know this happens not one, not twice, not five times, but it comes up over and over, this issue of Jesus doing things on the sabbath that they think shouldn’t be done.   There’s a discrepancy.  The Judeans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the religious lawyers and scribes, they say “It’s the sabbath, you can’t work on the sabbath, you can’t do that.  Not this day!  Don’t come for healing on this day!   Don’t work on this day.”   Yet Jesus keeps doing it.  Jesus is intentionally breaking their idea of the law.  He’s breaking their rule.   What’s going on here?

Maybe we can describe it like this – Jesus and the Judeans are on different time zones.   The dispute is you can’t do this on the sabbath.  It’s  like they are in different time zones.  If you make friends around the world, they might be led to reach out to you at 3 pm New Delhi time.  Which might be 3 am your time.  It can pretty inconvenient if you think about it.   The world is round you know!

We have times zones, 24 of them.  That’s how we divide it, because the world spins in its axis, and the sun is always shining somewhere.  London is a couple of hours ahead of us, they are in the future.  Denver, Los Angeles, they are in the past, for me.  Sydney, Australia is so far ahead of us they are sleeping, dreaming of tomorrow morning..  They’ve gotten up, had coffee, gone to work, had lunch, finished work and are home for dinner and gone to bed.   They are in the future…

It’s because we are in different time zones.  Our Sunday is their Monday.   Jesus and his Father were on different time zones than the Torah-bound Judeans.  The Judeans were saying it’s the seventh day, it’s the seventh day, it’s the seventh day, it’s a time for rest.   But Jesus is saying it’s the first day, better yet it’s the eighth day, it’s the time for New Creation.  Jesus is anticipating the age to come, the resurrection.  In other words, Jesus is from the future.  Jesus is watching football in Sydney on Monday morning, because he’s from the future.

Jesus is from the future, and so are the baptized.   We could say every baptistry in every church is a time machine.  You’re not really a Christian until you have been baptized, it is our initiation.  We baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  When you are baptized into the Christian faith, into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you have joined him in the age to come.  You have passed beyond death, into life.  You are already projected into the age to come.  You are thrust into the future.  You now belong to the age to come.

We are from the future.  Why did Christians begin to build hospitals?   Because health and healing belong to the age to come.   By the help of the Holy Spirit, we meditate, we imagine, we anticipate, In the age to come, what will life be like?   Will there be sickness and disease ruining people?   No?  Well then, let’s work to be there now.  Let’s anticipate that, and work toward healing people now.

Why did Christians eventually come to champion the abolition of slavery?  Because Christians came to realize that emancipation belongs to the age to come, and they should be there now.  Because we are from the future.

Why should Christians turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks?   Because peace belongs to the age to come and we are from the future.  Our task is not to accommodate ourselves to the way things are, but “…as he is so also are we in this world.”  1 John‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   We are to be the anticipation of the age to come, the embodiment of the reign of Christ here and now, because we’ve gone into that time machine that is baptism.  And sometimes we are at odds with the society around us because we are in different time zones.   While some are still getting out of church, others are going to work in Monday.  These are time zone conflicts, and we are from the future.  We are to imagine, then embody, the reign of Christ here and now.   Whatever belongs to the age to come, we seek to embody here and now.   We join Jesus in doing the work of the Father, even right now!
 
John Lewis
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The Rules



Back to the story at hand.   Let’s not miss that after the healing narrative in this story of healing the man at the pool of Bethesda, the story says Now that day was the Sabbath.   It was the Sabbath.   “So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:10-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  In this story, it says So the Jews said to the man who had been healed…  We need to recognize that when John says Jews here, everyone in the story was Jewish.   But when John uses the Jew, he almost always means the Judeans, or Jerusalem-ites.    These were a bit more austere and rigid in their various religious observations, and they were constantly clashing with Jesus.  This is who John is referring to when he says “the Jews”, because, again, everybody in the story is Jewish.  But he is referring here to those who were a little more religious, fanatical, and austere in their Judaism.  

The Pharisees had 39 activities considered as work and therefore prohibited on the sabbath.  The Torah has instructed the Jewish people that they were not to labor in the sabbath.  But what does that mean?   They came up with a list of 39 activities that were prohibited.  Among these was moving from one domain to another.   Changing addresses is prohibited on the sabbath.  We can’t move from Main Street to Park Avenue on the sabbath.  That is work for sure, isn’t it?  And that’s exactly what this man whom Jesus has healed is doing.   He has rolled up his mat and is moving on up!   He’s moving from one domain to another.  So the Pharisees see this man walking down the road carrying his mat, and all of a sudden it’s “ Citizens arrest!  It’s against the law!  You can’t do that!”   But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’   And go figure, he thought it was a good idea…

Isn’t this reaction from the Pharisees strange?   Shouldn’t they be struck by the miracle, by the healing that was done in this man?   Shouldn’t they be looking for the man who could simply by his word heal a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years?    But that is not the reaction we see.

Instead, in the face of a great healing miracle, all the Pharisees could hear was that some guy on the sabbath had told someone else to take up his bed and move.  “We need to find out who this guy is.”    They weren’t looking for a miracle worker, they were looking for a sabbath breaker.   And so they missed the sign that something big was going on.  Something big was happening here, but there was nothing bigger to these Judeans than the rules.  Nothing was more important that keeping the rules.   So they missed the sign that God was at work healing the sick in marvelous ways.  All they knew was somebody out there is breaking the sabbath.  Somebody ain’t keeping the rules.  We need to find this man and prosecute him.  Which should show us just how crazy religion can be.

Maybe the lesson to be learned is something like this – if we are focused on the rules, we will likely miss what the spirit is doing.   Now, yes, we need rules.  I do understand rules are important to our lives.  We need rules in a family, in school, in civil society, you need rules in church.  But I will stand by the statement that if we are focused on the rules, if we think that what the Christian life is about is keeping the Christian rules (now you’re a Christian, here are the rules.  We don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t, we don’t we don’t…), if that is your focus, then you are mostly going to miss what the spirit is doing.  That’s what these Judeans missed.  They couldn’t see Jesus as a miracle worker, and that would be a sign, they could only see him as a sabbath breaker.   

The Spirit of God is a little bit wild.  We can’t tame the Sprit of God.   We can’t corral the spirit of God.  The Spirit of God seems to have little regard for petty rules.  The Spirit of God blows where the spirit of God wills.  Think about how the wind blows across borders.  Our national borders, political borders.  If we try to cross borders, there are LOTS of rules.  We stand in lines, have proper documentation, have your passport, your visa, stand behind the line until you are called, wait as they look at your documents, pass them through a scanner, finally out come the rubber stamps and you can pass through.  

But the wind, it starts up in Canada, blows down into the United States, down to Mexico, into Guatemala.  Or it’s up in Siberia, Russia, goes down into China, then down into India.  It never obtained a passport, got a visa, stood behind the yellow line or waited to talk to an immigration officer.  The wind just blows where it wills.  That’s very much like the Spirit of God.

Someone says it’s against the rules, you can’t heal on the sabbath!  The spirit of God says I just do what I want!   I blow where I want to go.  I don’t check with the men with the boots and the badges.  I just blow right by.   Don’t be so caught up in the rules that you miss the Spirit of God as it just blows right by you.   Or you just may be the one being left behind…

 

John Lewis

Christ in the World

Christ in the World
At the pool of Bethesda, Gentiles and Jews alike gather together in desperate search of healing.   Yes, a few get better on the surface.  A few with skin deep problems get better.  But most, with diseases that go far deeper than skin deep, never seem to get better.  Isn’t this a picture of humanity?  Into this picture, Jesus himself now appears.

He’s come to Jerusalem. Most of John’s gospel takes place in Jerusalem. Especially from this point on, most of John’s gospel takes place in Jerusalem, which is just the opposite of Matthew, Mark and Luke.   It seems as though by the time John got around to writing his gospel, he had decided to do something different from those who wrote before.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are almost all set in Galilee, with a few trips to Jerusalem.  John flips this, and most of his gospel takes place in Jerusalem.

Jesus has come to Jerusalem for one  of the festivals, we are not told which one.  As he is coming into the northern side of the city,  by the sheep gate, he is passing by the pool of Bethesda, with a multitude (what’s a multitude?  Hundreds maybe?) of people that are sick.  They are blind, lame, paralyzed, we are told.  Jesus sees one who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years.  We don’t know how long he has been at the pool of Bethesda, but he’s been there a long time.  He’s basically been living there, as a beggar no doubt.   He’s had his hope that maybe some day maybe he can get into the water and find a miraculous cure, but it has not happened.  Jesus sees this man, knows that he’s been here a long time, and asks him Do you want to be healed?   

Of course, the man wants to get well, but he begins to explain his plight.  He begins to explain to Jesus why it that he can’t find healing for what ails him.  Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.   Maybe this man thinks this kind stranger might be the one to help him into the pool.   Maybe he thinks Jesus is actually offering to assist him.  But of course, Jesus is not here to help him into the pool, Jesus is there to heal him.  

So Jesus simply says to him Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.   In the moment Jesus tells him Get up, take up your bed, and walk, the man is healed, because Jesus is the word of God!   He is the word of healing which God has sent.    Psalm 107 verse 20 tells us “He sent out his word and healed them….”. ‬‬Here is the word made flesh saying Get up, take up your bed, and walk, and the man is healed.

Jesus says Get up!   Maybe this this an anticipation of the day Jesus will say Get up to the whole human race, on the great getting up morning, and we come out of the grave!!   Jesus begins to talk about this later in this chapter as he is debating with these Judeans who are disputing his claims.  “”Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombswill hear his voice [Get up!] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  John‬ ‭5:25-29‬ ‭ESV.   So Jesus says to this man Get up!, like an anticipation of the great resurrection.   But he doesn’t just say Get up!   He says take up your bed, and walk.   This man has been living there by the pool, he has his mat, and Jesus tells this man to roll it up, take it up, and you can just go ahead and leave and because you’re never coming back here!  This is a place for invalids.  It’s a place for the sick.  But for you it’s moving day, because you are now neither.  You have been healed, and you are going to have to relocate somewhere else because this is not the place for you because you have been made well…

But remember, Jesus only heals one.  We are told there are many here, a multitude in fact, that are sick, but Jesus only heals one.  Why?   Because it’s a sign.  Jesus isn’t solving all the worlds problems by his direct miracle activity, but he’s giving a sign that healing is the kind of work we should be engaged in.  So he chooses one, and gives us a sign that healing is the kind of work that we who are the body of Christ are to do.   So we should be engaged in the work of healing the sick.  And yes, this includes praying for the sick, laying hands on them, anointing them with oil, praying for miraculous healing, all of that, amen and amen.

But it also means becoming doctors and nurses, and building hospitals.   It means taking all forms of human knowledge and learning, and capacity for care and compassion, and directing it against sickness and disease and working together with every resource we have available to bring about healing.  

This is why hospitals are a distinctly Christian innovation.   Hospitals have not always existed.  It used to be that if you were sick it was entirely the responsibility of your family to take care of you.  If you didn’t have a family, well then, it sucks to be you.   The gods have frowned upon you and smitten you, there’s nothing we can (or will) do for you.   But the Christian said no, our Lord,  who is the word of God, who reveals to us what God is like, he healed the sick, so we have to be engaged in the work of healing the sick. So it was Christians in the second, third, fourth, fifth centuries, that began to establish hospitals.  The idea being that you bring the sick here, and we will have those that are most gifted and skilled at caring for the sick there to treat and help them possibly to recover.  It’s a Christian innovation drawn directly from what we see in the life of Christ.  So the next time we think Christ is not working in the world, we just look at the work of every hospital on the planet and see that refuted right before our eyes.  Because regardless of our race, color, religion, or beliefs, regardless of the beliefs, race, status, religion, or lack thereof of those providing the care, every time we receive life saving or life sustaining, or just comforting care in a hospital, we are receiving the light of Jesus Christ into our lives.  

One of our basic tenets of the faith is that God, Jesus, never changes.   So  he was, is, and always will be the Great Physician.   Whether we believe it or not.   Amen
 
 
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
 
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”
‭‭John‬ ‭5:1-3, 5-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

Hope For the Hopeless


Where the sick and the suffering silently endure their pain.  Where the bruised and battered wait for help that never seems to come.  Where the failures and the forgotten lead lives of quiet desperation, there is where we find Jesus at work.

This is now the third of the seven signs that John gives us to help form our faith in Jesus.   This third sign is the story of a healing of a man who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years.  Jesus heals this man at the pool of Bethesda.  What is the pool of Bethesda all about?  

It was on the northern side of the city by the sheep gate, called the sheep gate because that’s where they brought the sheep in for the sacrifices in the temple.  There was a very large pool there, and around this was built five porticos, five porches, a five sided structure with a roof covering the top and steps going down into the pool.   The pool of Bethesda has been identified and excavated, you can actually visit this excavated site if you visit Jerusalem.

It was fed by a natural spring, and as such the pool would occasionally bubble up.  The legend, superstition, grew up around the pool that when the water bubbled like this, it was an angel come down from heaven doing the stirring.  The idea was that whoever gets in first is healed.  People came, not just because of the legend, but because it was a mineral bath.   We can imagine that those who suffered with skin diseases probably were helped, and some did recover and get better as a result of getting in these baths.  But I don’t know how much help a mineral bath has for a paralytic.

So this was a popular place for people to come in search of getting well, not only Jews but also Gentiles.  This was an unusual thing, Jess and Gentiles both congregating in the same place.   But human sickness and disease crosses all borders and boundaries.  If there’s any kind of hope for people to get well, they will flock to it.  So we know the Jews came here, but so did the Gentiles.  In fact, right by the pool just outside the northern gate of the ancient city of Jerusalem, there has been discovered an Ancient Greek temple to the god Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.  If you see a statue of Asclepius, he carries a rod with a serpent wrapped around, which to this day is our symbol for the medical profession.  And there was a temple to this Greek god of healing right next to the pools.  People (Gentiles) would take the baths then go to the temple and offer sacrifices to this Greek god of healing in hopes of getting better.

So this is where Jesus shows up one day, because Jesus is not just the hope of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the hope of the Jews and Israel.  He’s also the hope of all the Pagans who are looking for something to heal their lives.  That’s who Jesus is.   He is the Great Physician, and he shows up at this pool on the edge of town.  He’s got a whole city full of the sheep if Israel, but he shows up on the edge of town, to love even those unlovables, those who are hurting and know they are hurting.   He’s there to give hope to the hopeless, Jew and Gentile alike.  The souls around this pool are weary, weary of waiting, weary of begging, asking for help from those who pass by, those who are on their way to the temple and don’t have time to stop and help.  Jesus comes here to give rest to these weary souls, crying into a world that passes them by, because to stop and help might in and of itself make them “unclean.”  Yet somehow Jesus never gets made “unclean”, those who touch him are made clean by him.   “…”If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”” John‬ ‭13:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
 
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”
‭‭John‬ ‭5:1-3, 5-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬


http://bible.com/59/jhn.5.1-3,5-9.esv

John Lewis

The Living Word

The Living Word
So what do we mean when we say that Jesus is the word of life, the wisdom of life, the logos of life, God’s divine logic of life?  We mean that Jesus is the translation of God’s love logic, his divine logic, into human form so that we can understand him.  This is what the second sign in John’s gospel points to.      That this divine logic, this love logic, this eternal word made flesh, has become a person in Jesus Christ.   And that to believe in Jesus is to believe that Jesus is the revelation of what God is like.   
 
So the sign is not just that Jesus can do miracles.  The sign is going “Right there!  Right there!  Right there!  Right there he is!  Jesus!  That is the word of life!”  That is the word that God has spoken into a sin-sick world to make everyone that believes in him well.   God has sent his word to heal us, and that word is Jesus, because Jesus is what God has to say.  Learn that, that Jesus is what God has to say.

This helps us to understand what the Bible really is.  The Bible is the spirit inspired, ultimate true sign that points us true to the true word of God who is Jesus.  The Bible is not an end in itself.    There is a sense in which you don’t put your faith in the Bible, you put your faith in what the Bible points yout to.  You put your faith in Jesus.  

Is there a difference?  Yes.  A huge difference.   Isn’t it six in one, half dozen in the other?  No.  It’s twelve in one, zero in the other.   Because the Bible can’t save you.   The eternal word of God that saves us is not a theory.  It’s not an idea.  It’s not even a book.  It’s a flesh and blood person named Jesus Christ. What the Bible does, it’s the ultimate spirit inspired sign pointing to Jesus.  If you’ve missed that, you’ve missed  a whole lot.  Kind of like everything…

Let’s look at what Jesus himself says about this, talking to people who know their bibles quite well.  They have bible studies, study aids, everything.   “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭5:39-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   I’m about to get some people upset here.  But get this – the Bible can actually be the cleverest way for us to avoid the Word of God.   You’ve got the book, you read the book, your nose is in the book, studying the book, memorizing the book, the book, the book, the book, and you haven’t figured out  the book is a sign pointing to me.   Imagine Jesus, he can stand right in front of me, and I can keep my nose buried in my Bible, and I can avoid Jesus.   

The Bible is a true witness pointing to Jesus.   But here’s the problem with the Bible – it’s still a book.  And you can make the Bible say whatever you want to say.  You can make the Bible stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   Go back 150 years, when of the Bible believing Christians of America,  most of them believed that God endorsed slavery.  Because if you’re just going to use your Bible, it’s “There is it is right there!  In the Old Testament and the New Testament too!  Slaves obey your masters!  Uh-huh!!   The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!”

So, how many of you believe that the living God, the living Christ, has something to say about slavery other than Slaves obey your masters?   Hello!!??   If we want, we can just use the Bible, make it stand on its hind legs and dance a jig.   We can do that with the Bible, but we can’t do that with the living Christ.   You stand before the living Christ and tell him to roll over and dance a jig for you, he just looks at you with His eyes of fire and says no!

This is what writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”   ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   In talking about  the word of God that is living and active and able to judge and reach down and penetrate into the deepest parts of us, and the word to whom we must give an account, the writer of Hebrews is not talking about the Bible.  It’s in the Bible, these words are in the Bible.  But it’s not talking about the Bible, it’s talking about Jesus.

This may be new stuff to you.  It’s new stuff you need.  Again go back 150 years.  The majority of the devout, religious, bible believing, amen, hallelujah, my sins are forgiven, church going, love Jesus, dying and going to heaven, people of the time supported, aggressively, slavery and defended it with the Bible.  They were willing to go to war defending slavery, believing God was on their side, because they had been able to use the Bible.  If they had been engaging with the living Christ they would have known better.  What they did was use the Bible to hide from Jesus.

That’s history, but here’s a modern example.   An extensive Gallup survey from a few years ago was done.  Should the United States government use torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.  Of course, torture is against the law of our land.  So now we call it “enhanced interrogation?”   Exactly how are we enhancing it???

So the question is, should the United States break its own laws and torture suspected terrorists.  A majority of Americans said.  A majority of Catholics said no.  A majority of Lutherans said no.  A majority of mainline Protestants said no.  Majorly of Jews said no.  Majority of non religious said no.  Majority of atheists said no.

A majority of evangelicals said “yes”.    There’s a problem here.  The people who most self identify as being all about the Bible, bible, bible, “What does the Bible say about the use of torture?”   Nothing.   So it must be ok, praise God!   “So it’s ok with me!”   The Bible says nothing about the use of torture.  But the living Christ has much to say, if you have ears to hear.   Even the agnostic, or the “non”, may not spend time studying the Bible, but they   have heard enough of Jesus that they have an idea of what Jesus is like.  The word of God has been spoken into the world, and they can not imagine Jesus standing in a room torturing somebody say “Talk, you filthy scum, talk!  Or I’ll waterboard you again!”    Maybe that’s not what we ought to do either.  But if we hide behind the Bible, we can imagine this is right…

Don’t be a modern version of a confederate Christian from 150 years ago, using the Bible to prevent yourself from hearing what God has to say.  What would Jesus do?   You can’t always know what Jesus would do, but sometimes it’s clear what Jesus wouldn’t do, isn’t it?   The Bible can’t say everything, or it would be bigger than this house I’m sitting in right now.  But the living Christ can speak constantly into our lives and world, if we will engage with him.  He is the living word, sharper than a two edged sword.  He is the one with eyes like fire.  He is the one to whom we have to give an account.   

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the living word breathes out.   Sometimes we just have to work that out…

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
‭‭John‬ ‭4:46-54‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

Seeking Signs

Seeking Signs

Jesus is the word of God translated into human flesh so we can understand it, so that it doesn’t remain abstract, ethereal, theoretical, distant.  Jesus is the word, the logos, the wisdom of God translated into a human being so we can understand him.

In the beginning the word spoke creation into existence because the word is with God, the word is God.  The word is the second person of the trinity.   But in the incarnation the word that spoke creation into existence is now spoken into that creation Himself.  So in the beginning, the word speaks creation into existence, but in the incarnation, Christmas, Bethlehem, virgin birth, Jesus in a manger, the word of God is spoken into creation.   How do you do?   God does not stay distant from his creation, but writes himself into the story so that we can know what He’s like!   Jesus is what God has to say. As we look at Jesus, we see the divine logic of God translated into a human being so we can know what He’s like.

More from John, this time from his first letter.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV.   John says “Look, I’ve seen him.  I’ve touched him.  I’ve heard him.  The word, the logos of God that became a human being.   And I’m going testify of Him.  I’m going to tell you what Jesus was like so that you’ll know what God is like.”   God writes himself into the story so that we can know what he’s like.  Jesus is the full, complete, final, eternal self-disclosure of God.  If you want to know what God is like, you look at Jesus.  Into our world of death, God has spoken the word of Life, and that word is Jesus.  And John is going to give us a sign to see how this works.

Jesus is returning from a tour of Samaria and Judea.  He’d gone all the way to Jerusalem.  He’d worked a miracle in Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine at the wedding.  Then he went in a tour through Jerusalem, up through Samaria, meeting the woman at the well.  Now he’s come back into Galilee, but instead of returning to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum, he goes high up in the hills of Galilee, which is where we find Cana, only 5 miles from Nazareth.

25 miles away from Cana, in Capernaum down by the seashore, there is a royal official employed by the king, King Herod.  This is not the same Herod from the birth of Jesus, but one of his grandsons.  Point is, this official is employed by the king, he’s part of the Herodian elite.  He’s wealthy, influential, and powerful.  Maybe he’s in Capernaum because it’s an important taxation town, where all the taxes from the fishing that goes on on the Sea of Galilee is gathered, but we don’t know.   He’s wealthy, powerful and influential, and he has a little boy, let’s say 2 years old.

This little boy has a fever.  Fevers can be dangerous even now, but through all human history before the advent of antibiotics after WWII, fevers were often deadly to small children.  His little boy has a fever and it’s not coming down.  He’s burning up, he’s become listless, his breathing is shallow, his pulse is weak.  He’s afraid his little boy is going to die.  He’s waiting for Jesus to come because he believes somehow that Jesus can do a miracle and heal his son.  So he’s waiting for Jesus to come back to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum.

But then word comes that no, Jesus has not come to Capernaum,  but instead gone to Cana.  So this royal official goes as fast as he can, up, up ,up into those Galilean hills, 25 miles up, to reach Cana as quickly as he could.  He finds Jesus, and begins to beg.  This royal official is not accustomed to begging.  He’s rich, he’s powerful, he’s used to having his way.  He’s used to giving orders and not begging.  But now he begs.   “Please sir, please sir, please come down, come with me back down to Capernaum and heal my little boy, he’s at the point death.  I’m begging you Jesus, come heal my little boy.”

Jesus response is surprising, befuddling, confusing, ambiguous.   Why does he say that?    So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”    What Jesus wants people to do is to believe in Him.  He wants people people to believe that He is revealing to them the Father.  He wants people to believe in Him, but he knows that unless people see signs they won’t believe.  But the signs become a problem, because they have to have the signs in order to believe that he can reveal the Father, but as soon as he starts doing signs people get confused and they become distracted by the sign instead of seeing what the sign is pointing to.

The sign is not the thing itself.  If we see a sign for Washington DC, with an arrow pointing north, that’s not Washington DC, that’s a sign pointing to  Washington DC.  Jesus says “I have to do signs or they wasn’t believe,” but there’s a hint of exasperation in his voice.  Because he knows people then get distracted because they just focus on what Jesus can do instead of what the sign points to, who he is, the one who reveals the Father to us.

This is a recurring theme of John’s Gospel.  We see after the feeding of the 5000 that they saw the sign.   “Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” John 6:26 HCSB.  You saw the sign, you loved the sign.  You ate the fish and the bread.  But you missed what it’s pointing to.  It’s pointing to me as the bread of life.   But all the people could see was a free lunch.

This problem reaches its culmination in the story of Thomas at the end of the Gospel.  “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.””  John 20:25 ESV.   So a week later Jesus gives Thomas his sign.   “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””  John 20:27-29 ESV.  Ok Thomas, here’s your sign.  Look, give me your hand, here are the holes.   So Thomas believes.   But blessed are those who have NOT seen yet have believed.

So there’s a frustration for Jesus.  He has to do signs, but the signs can be distracting.   People can be obsessed with the sign, instead of what the sign is pointing to.  Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.   But the father in this story is not really interested in a theological discussion at this point.   God bless him, he just says  “Sir, come down before my child dies.”    So Jesus tells him “Go; your son will live.”   Go, your son will live.   Ok, this father is gone on his way home.  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.   He leaves without a sign from Jesus, just the command to go.  He travels down, it’s a long journey longer than he can go in a day.  It’s 25 miles, rugged terrain, difficult travel.   He travels as far as he can, he’s up at first light the next morning.   As he’s going, he comes across some of his own slaves (he is a rich, powerful man).  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.   Your son is alright, he’s well.  He’s going to be fine, he’s recovering.   So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”    The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.    

The official and his whole household believed in Jesus.   Believed what?   That Jesus could heal the sick?   They already believed that.  That’s why this man made the 25 mike trek up to Cana, because he believed Jesus could heal his sick son.  No, they did not just believe Jesus could do stuff, they believed in Jesus.

Which is what Jesus is after all along.  They saw the sign and were not distracted by it.  They allowed the sign to point them to faith in Jesus.  What do they believe about Jesus?  They believe he is the Messiah.   Which means king.   King of what?   King of the Jews, the king of Israel.

Who is this man in this story?   He is a royal official.   Who does he work for?   He works for King Herod.   And King Herod is the king of what?  He is the King of the Jews, the King of Israel.   But suddenly this man has changed, and now he says “I believe the real king, the true king, the king I’m going to put my faith in is not Herod, but Jesus.  I’m not putting my faith in that anymore.  I’m putting my faith in Jesus.”   He and his whole household.

The bible almost always thinks of salvation as an individual thing as we do, but a household thing.  A whole household believes in Christ.   That’s why we raise our kids in our faith.  We raise them as Christians.  We don’t ask them what they’d like to be (or maybe we do).   Let’s just sample it all…Here’s a little Islam, a little Buddhism, a little Confucianism, a little atheism, a little other-ism.  A little make-it-up-as-you-go-ism.   No we, we raise our children as Christians.   We dedicate them as babies, we baptize them,  bring them to church, put them in Sunday school, vacation bible school.  Because we raise them as Christians.  Because it’s not just an individual thing, it’s whole household  believing in Jesus.

Some days it all seems so much harder to have faith, to believe.  Some days we just take a sucker punch to the gut.  It is on these days when we find out what we really believe.   Do we really believe in Jesus?   Or are we distracted by the signs?   Will we hike that 25 miles uphill,  sometimes through the wind and the rain, and ask Jesus, plead with Jesus please come??!!   Or will we just seek out all the other -isms of the world, especially my favorite, that my-way-ism, do it our own way, then wonder how we wound up making the whole thing worse??

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”

John 4:46-54 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.4.46-54.esv

In the Beginning

John has an agenda, and his agenda is that you would believe in Jesus.   That’s why he writes.  He wants to initiate faith in Jesus in all who would read or hear his gospel.  Toward this end, he structures the narrative of his gospel around seven signs.  They are miracles, but John calls them signs.  He uses seven miracles he calls signs to structure the narrative flow of his gospel.   This is in stark contrast to Matthew, Luke and Mark.  They have many miracles.  Mark in particular just backs up his truck and unloads every miracle he can think of and throws them at you.   And we can be overwhelmed by the wonder worker who is Christ.

For John, he sees that that’s been done.  That’s not his agenda or what he’s trying to do.  He doesn’t want to just impress us that Jesus can do miraculous works.  He wants to use an economical number of miracles to point people to how we should believe in Jesus.   Because John isn’t so much interested that we believe that Jesus can do miracles, but John wants us to believe in Jesus.   Hello!   And there is a difference between believing what Jesus can do and believing in who Jesus is.

So John uses seven signs.  He told us the first one was the first one, at the wedding in Cana where he turns the water into wine.  Now we are going to look at the second miracle, and again he tells us it’s the second sign.  He’s not going to keep doing this, he’s an artist.  He’s not going clutter up his artistic gospel with a bunch of numbers.  But he’s got to start it, here’s the first, here’s  the second.   And he hopes we catch the clue, after this we are just going to have to figure it out for ourselves.  Which we do, and we find there are seven signs John places in his gospel to point and direct our faith in Jesus.

The first two happen in the same place, Cana of Galilee.  A few weeks apart, maybe a couple of months.  This second one is a far more serious kind of miracle.  A young boy in Capernaum, 25 miles from Cana, is going to be healed as Jesus speaks a word in Cana.   It’s healing at a distance.  All of this is not merely an account of a miracle, but John uses it as a sign to direct your faith, because John says that if you can believe in Jesus, in his identity, in his name in the right way, it will give you life.  John wants  you to have life, but he knows that you have to believe in Jesus in a certain way to have that life, and he’s using these signs to direct your faith toward Jesus.

But before we look to this sign, lets lay some groundwork.  Centuries before Jesus, maybe as much as a thousand years before, an anonymous psalmist was meditating on the history of Israel in God’s care, god’s provision for israel, especially during their wilderness wandering.  He writes psalm 107, and in this psalm is this lyric – He sent out his word and healed them…”  Psalms 107:20 ESV.  The psalmist is meditating upon a particular time in the wilderness wandering when a great plague had come upon the Israelites.  The psalmist says God spoke a word from heaven to Israel as they wandered in the wilderness and it brought healing to those who were ailing and sick.  So we have a picture of God’s word as a healing agent, a word spoken.  He sent his word and healed them.

So now we go to how John begins his gospel in his poetic prologue.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   John 1:1, 14 ESV.   In the beginning was the Word…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.   In the beginning was the word, or the logos.  The logos was with God, and the logos was God, and logos became flesh and dwelt among us.   Logos is a Greek word, it can be translated word, it means that.  But logos is bigger, more robust than just word.   It could also be translated wisdom, we could say that in the beginning was wisdomwisdom was with God, wisdom was God, wisdom came and dwelt among us.

In proverbs 8, wisdom is commending itself.  Wisdom is speaking.   Wisdom towards the end of Proverbs 8 says to us ““The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”  Proverbs 8:22-31 NIV.  Wisdom was with the Lord before anything, wisdom was daily his delight, wisdom worked with God as a son with his father, worked with God in the creation of all things…

This sounds very much like the beginning of Johns gospel, does it not?   In the beginning was the logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.   The logos is the wisdom of God, you might even say the logic of God.  In the beginning was the [logic], and the [logic] was with God, and the [logic] was God.   But this is not any logic.  There is human logic.  But this is divine logic.  The longer we spend studying scripture, one of the themes that is recurrent is that there is a difference between human logic and divine logic.  Human logic, as James will tell us, skews toward the demonic.   Towards scapegoating, blame, self preservation, economic self interest.   The divine logic moves all the time, steadfastly toward love, love, love.

John says that in the beginning was the logos, the logic, the wisdom of God.  He was with God, he was God, he became human flesh.  The theme John wants us to catch is that Jesus is what God has to say.  Jesus is the word that God speaks into his own creation that we at long last might know what God is really like.  Jesus is the word of God translated into human flesh so we can understand it, so that it doesn’t remain, abstract, ethereal, theoretical, distant.  Jesus is the word, the logos, the wisdom of God translated into a human being so we can understand him.

Amen.

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

John 4:46-54 ESV

John Lewis