Outside of Karma

Outside of Karma

With the death of Jesus upon the cross, it appears as though blame has won.  Satanic blame appears triumphant.  But – on the third day, the Son rose again!  And you and I are to live in the light.  Not in the darkness of assigning blame.  We are to live in the light of extending grace and mercy to those in need.   Because the Son has risen, it’s a new day, and the light is shining.  And the darkness will nor overcome it…

The question is Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus initially answers by saying that nobody sinned, that’s not what’s going on, that’s not the point.   Those are he works of darkness, we’ve got to work the works of the day.  I’m the light of the world, we’re not playing that dark game anymore.

But then Jesus goes into action.  He’s not only going to heal the man, and show us how to care for and help people, but he does it with a bit of theater.  He starts spitting in the dirt, this is an earthy miracle.  He’s spitting, spitting in the dirt because he’s got to make mud.  He takes the mud made from his own spit, and smears it on this guys eyes.  So we have a man born blind, but now he really can’t see.  He’s got mud over his eyes, and even if he weren’t born blind he wouldn’t be able to see.  Jesus tells him Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  This is actually quite a distance he is sending the man, they are up in the northern part of the city, the pool of Siloam is in the southern part.  The man goes to the pool of Siloam, washes, and comes back seeing.  He’s been healed.

This is the sixth sign in John’s Gospel.  It is a miracle of Jesus healing a blind man, but it’s also a sign.  What’s it pointing to?  How is our faith to be informed?  It points us to Jesus, but what we supposed to see in Jesus through this sign?   John, as always, gives us a clue.  John’s gospel is subtle, but it’s all there.  He gives us a clue when he tells us that Siloam means “sent”.    

Jesus is the sent one.  Jesus is the one the Father has sent.  We are in our darkness, in the night, and the Father has sent his son to be the light of the world.  Jesus is the sent one, and when we wash in the water of the sent one (baptism), we get the mud out of our eyes and we begin to see.  The placing of the mud on this mans eyes wasn’t part of the miracle of healing, but it was part of the theater.  Jesus is in effect saying, “Ok, disciples, watch this.  This is what the whole world is like.”  We are walking around with mud in our eyes.  He tells the man to go to the pool called sent, and be baptized in the name of the sent one.

So the man goes to the pool, then he comes back so the disciples could see “He’s seeing now.”   And likewise, if we will be washed in the pool of the sent one, if we will be baptized, we will begin to look at the world with brand news eyes.  To be baptized is to be immersed into Christ, and it enables us to get the mud out of our eyes, because we haven’t been able to look at the world right.

When we get baptized, we get new eyes and we begin to see things in the light of Christ.  For example, we begin to see that suffering people are not to be blamed, but to be shown mercy.   We see that we are not to blame their suffering on “bad Karma”. And no this is not just a Hindu thing, plenty of Christians fully believe in karma.  What do you think it is when there’s an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane, a tsunami, and you have Christians on television explaining how “200 years ago, their ancestors made a pact with Satan, and this is why this happened…?”   It’s just bad karma, is all they’re saying.  Well, they’ve got mud in their eyes.  They are Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar with their Christian TV programs, explaining to the suffering why it’s their fault that they’re suffering.  But when we get baptized eyes, we look at the world in the light of Christ, and we see that those who are suffering are not to be blamed but shown mercy.  We see that people who blame suffering on “bad karma” still have mud in their eyes, they are still blind, because only the blind blame the suffering.  If you are blaming the suffering for their suffering, you have mud in your eyes.  You need to go to the pool of Siloam, the pool of the sent one, and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit get that washed out of your eyes so that you can come back seeing.  The seeing, those who have been washed, those who have been baptized and are looking at the world informed by the light of grace, see that grace travels outside of karma.  

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of the earth.  Not every sin against us must be remembered until the fourth generation.   We don’t all get what we deserve.  We don’t have make sure everyone else gets what they deserve.   Because the friend of sinners, who gave himself for his enemies, praying for his enemies as they were torturing, mocking, crucifying, and killing him, as he hung from that cross, does not return to make sure that what goes around comes around.   He returns with a word of peace.  He returns with the Grace of God.  

So, on this day in which we await his arrival once more, I can simply say Peace be with you.
 
 
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭9:1-7‬ ‭ESV

 

John Lewis
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Living in the Light

Living in the Light
Still looking at this sixth sign of Jesus as given by John.  I’ll have one more message on this, then will hit “pause” on looking at the seventh sign in a John to take a look at what it is that we mean when we call Jesus “king”.  Because after all, it is the time for Christmas carols and all, so just what are we saying when we sing “Glory to the Newborn King”?

In the meantime, here we go.   As I believe this helps when I have a run-on message like this, I’ll begin with the final paragraph of the last message.

To blame the victim is the work of Satan, the work of darkness.  Jesus does not come to do the works of Satan, Jesus comes to do the works of God.  Whose work are we doing?

 
When Jesus and his disciples are passing by this blind beggar, and the disciples see this man who’s had the misfortune of being born blind, they have a question they must ask.  It’s an old question that comes from darkness, it’s a questions which originates with Satan.  They see a man in suffering.  They see a man born in misfortune.   And they ask their question.   Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?   Who sinned?  Who can we blame?   Whose bad Karma is this?   Is it his own?  That’s an interesting suggestion, since this man was born this way.  Yet, apparently, Rabbis had ways of explaining this.  Or maybe it’s the sin of his parents.  There was a Jewish theology that said God punished children for the sins of their parents, you can find it in the Bible.  Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20 will tell you that the sins of the parents will be visited upon their children until the third and fourth generation.

But not everyone agreed with this.  For example, Ezekiel did not agree with this line of thinking.   We can read about this Ezekiel 18.  “The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭18:1-4 ESV.  This is just the beginning, I suggest you read for yourself.  Ezekiel says of that theology of the sins of the parents being visited upon the children, “I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think that’s the way we should think about it.  I don’t think that’s the way we should think about God.”   Sometimes it seems as though the Old Testament is in sort of an argument with itself. It’s all inspired by God, but it’s working toward truth through argument.  So, proverbs says “Live righteously, fear God, good things will happen to you.”   Job says, “Yeah, well, not all the time.”   Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 say “Children will be punished for their parents sins.”  Ezekiel 18 says “No, no , no, no, that can’t be right.

Well, the final, full word of God is Jesus Christ, amen!!??   So they ask Jesus “Who sinned?  Who’s at fault?  Who’s to blame?  There must be an explanation for what has happened here.  Who are we to blame, Jesus?”  

How does Jesus answer?   JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.   Jesus is not going to perpetuate the old question of blame that belongs to the darkness.  Jesus, in effect, is saying “You guys are not even asking the right question.  THE QUESTION ITSELF IS ILLEGITIMATE.  When you see a suffering victim, the question IS NOT who’s to blame.  The question is How can we bring the mercy and grace of God right here?   That’s the question you need to be asking, not who’s to blame, but how do we help??!!”

Oh.  That’s a big difference.   That’s a big change.  That is, in fact, the light beginning to dawn.  By asking a new question, not who do we blame?   But How do we bring the grace and mercy of God here?  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.   Jesus, as the light of the worldbrings a whole new perspective to the works of God.  The works of God are not assigning blame.  There are plenty who think so.  There are those who think the work of God is to walk through the world and identify all the sin they can find.  There’s sin there!  And there is sin!  There is more sin over here!  And there!   And you’re at fault and you’re wrong!” And they think this is the work of God.

Jesus says it is not.  Jesus says it’s the work of darkness, it’s the work of the Satan.  Jesus says we must do the true works of God, while we can, because night is coming, when no one can work.  What is the night that is coming?  The death of Jesus.  Jesus is the light of the world, night is coming when he dies.  Because when Jesus is executed and killed, it’s as if blaming the victim has triumphed.  The whole system of blaming reaches its climax in the blaming and execution of Jesus.  

It appears as though blame has won.  Satanic blame appears triumphant.  But – on the third day, the Son rose again!  And you and I are to live in the light.  Not in the darkness of assigning blame.  We are to live in the light of extending grace and mercy to those in need.   Because the Son has risen, it’s a new day, and the light is shining.  And the darkness will not overcome it…
 

 
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭9:1-7‬ ‭ESV
‬‬

 

John Lewis

Work of the Devil

Work of the Devil
Continuing, finally, with this look at Jesus’s healing of a man born blind.
 

So Jesus departs from the temple with his disciples.  It’s fruitless, all they want to do is throw stones at him.  He leaves, and as he’s walking through the gate, leaving the temple complex, there sits a man, blind from birth.  As they pass through the gate, the disciples notice this man, begging, blind from birth.  They ask a theological question.  Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?   And so we come to a third attempted stoning on this day of stoning.

The disciples of Jesus are ready to throw stones of blame at a blind man or his parents.  This may not be a literal stoning, but it’s the same spirit, the same thing.  Let’s blame the woman and stone her.  Let’s blame Jesus, and call him a false teacher and a devil, and let’s stone Him.  Let’s blame either this man or his parents for his condition of blindness.   The satanic impulse to blame is all through this passage.   And Jesus is trying to shine a light on it because we’re blind to it.  We live in the darkness, and we don’t see how we generally try to unite ourselves by blaming others.  We don’t see how we console our own anxieties and fears by blaming others.   This is the darkness we have lived in, this is the blindness that has afflicted the human race that Jesus is trying to bring light to.  He’s trying to heal us of our blindness and show us how we behave and how destructive it is.

The satanic impulse to blame.  Very often it works like this – when we see a situation of deep misfortune, when we see people who are suffering horrible fates, we are appalled by it.  We are scared by it.  We want to assure ourselves that life itself has some semblance of order.  We don’t want to think that life is so filled with vagaries and random chance that such a thing could happen to us.  So we have to explain, in some way, exactly why this bad this has happened to this person or these people.  Inevitably it works like this – this bad thing has happened to this person or these people because they are bad people.  And to assure ourselves that nothing bad like this could happen to us, we invent a system by which we can say that if something bad happened to that group, that nation, those people, that person, then it must be that somehow they must deserve it.   After all, if the undeserving can have bad things happen to them, then it can happen to me.  I can not tolerate that idea, so I must come up with a system where I can blame the sufferer for their own suffering.  

This is the book of Job.  “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  Job‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  God Himself testifies to this about Job.  “And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” ‭‭Job‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Job needs no character witness, God Himself is Job’s witness.  God says “I testify that job is righteous, that he fears me, that he turns away from evil, that he is the most righteous man of the sons of the east…” So that is settled, Job is righteous.

But the Satan, the Ha-Satan, the accuser, begins to bring accusation against Job, and soon after trouble ensues.  In three thunderclaps of horror, Job loses it all.  He loses, his health, his wealth, and his children.  It’s almost too terrible to imagine.  He lost everything dear to him.

That’s when his three friends show up.  The book of Job tells the story of a righteous man who is accused by Satan, bad things happen, and then Satan disappears from the story.  Satan appears in the first 2 chapters, then we never see Satan again in the rest of the 40+ chapters of the book of Job.  So the Satan disappears from the book of Job after the first 2 chapters.

Or does He?  In fact, satan does NOT disappear from the book of Job, he is simply channeled through the three friends of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  These three friends become possessed by the spirit of accusation, the spirit of blame, the spirit of the Satan.  They’ve come to comfort Job, but before long they have to try to explain to Job why this has happened.  But they are really not trying to explain to Job what has happened, though they think they are.  What they are really doing is trying to explain to themselves what has happened.  

They see this horrible thing that has happened to Job.  He’s lost his health, his wealth, and his children.  They want to be assured that nothing like that could ever happen to them (don’t we all?).  So, they begin to explain why such a thing happened.  Jobs three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, are the practitioners of theological certitude.  They believe they can always come up with an answer.   They are the Bible answer man.  They have an answer for every eventuality.  No doubt they would reference the book of Proverbs.

The book of proverbs says if you fear God and live righteously, you will be blessed, prosperous, and happy.   This is the overwhelming theme of Proverbs, there are dozens and dozens of verses that say exactly that.   And…it’s true.  It’s true that if you will turn away from the path of sin, fear God, live righteously, good things begin to happen in your life.   You begin to prosper.  You begin to be happy in a way you weren’t before.  I know many people who can testify to this.  I can testify to this, that in encountering Christ, putting my life in the way of righteousness and in the fear of the Lord, good things begin to happen in your life and you can be a lot happier than you’ve been in years.   

The book of Proverbs gives us this message, that if you fear God and live righteously, good things will happen.  You will be blessed, happy and prosperous.  And it’s true…except when it isn’t.   That’s why we have the book of a Job in the Bible as well.  We have the book of Proverbs balanced by the book if Job, and we have to hold them together.   Proverbs doesn’t tell the whole story.  Generally, it’s true.  You begin to fear God and live righteously, your life will get better, amen and hallelujah.   It’s true.  But it’s not a guarantee of certitude.  And just because it’s generally true that if you live righteously and fear God it leads to a good life, it does NOT mean that if anyone is experiencing pain and sorrow and suffering it must be because they deserve it, they have sinned, they are bad.  That’s what the three miserable comforters of Job said.  That was their theology.  Eventually God shows up and says “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”” Job‬ ‭42:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  God, Yahweh, says that these three have spoken incorrectly of Job and Himself.   

We hold these things in tension.  To blame the victim is the work of Satan.  It’s the work of darkness.  It’s common, it’s repeated throughout history.  It happens all of the time.  We want to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  But sometimes, bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes, the worst things happen to the best people.  That’s the book of Job, and the life of Jesus.

To blame the victim is the work of Satan, the work of darkness.  Jesus does not come to do the works of Satan, Jesus comes to do the works of God.  Whose work are we doing?

 
 
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭9:1-7‬ ‭ESV
‬‬
 

 

John Lewis

The Day of Stoning

Starting with the events of John 8 so we can better understand the events of John 9, because they all go together.    Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  He’s teaching daily in the temple.   Early one morning he arrives at the temple to continue his work of teaching the kingdom of god, the new way of living as human beings which he has been teaching.

No sooner than he had begun to teach than some Pharisees arrived with a woman that they sat in the middle, right in front of Jesus, and they begin to accuse her .  “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  John‬ ‭8:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   We’re told that Jesus ignored their accusations, stooped down and began to write on the ground.  What he wrote, we don’t know.  It was a act of diversion that began to lessen the demonic spell that was upon them.  Jesus doesn’t confront them directly.  They’d been united under a satanic spell.  They want to stone this woman. That’s how they’re dealing with their own fears and self loathing and insecurity.  They want to project it on someone they see as a sinner.   Jesus initially ignores their accusations, but when they persist he finally says this – “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The spell is broken.  They depart.

Jesus says to the woman “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭8:10-11‬ ‭ESV.  And then Jesus continued his teaching.

John 8 is the first time Jesus says in John’s gospel I am the light of the world.  And Jesus begins to shine the light on the devil and the dark foundations of human society.  Things that have been hidden from the foundation of the world.  From the foundation of human civilization, certain dark practices have been hidden.  But Jesus comes as the light to expose them and to show them what they’ve been doing.  

And Jesus says, you have been following a way of darkness.  But if you will stick with me, if you abide in my teaching“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  They said We are already free, we’re a free people.  We’re free!

Jesus says “No, you’re not.  In fact, the only freedom you have is the freedom to hate your enemies, and to conspire together to kill them, and to justify it in the name of your religion and nationality.  And Jesus says that’s what I came to set you free from.  That’s the devil.  There ensues an argument (go figure), and things get more and more extreme.  It’s all there in John 8.  Finally they get so angry with Jesus, as he tries to show just how dark is the foundation that their civilization is built on, that they took up stones to throw at him.  And that’s how John 8 ends.

John 8 is framed by 2 attempted stonings.  First, they were going to stone the woman accused of adultery.  But Jesus broke the spell and they dropped the stones.  But as Jesus talked to them about light, and about exposing the works of the devil and the dark foundations that their very civilization was built upon, they became angry that they picked up the stones, and now they are ready to stone Jesus.   “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”John‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  

So Jesus departs from the temple with his disciples.  It’s fruitless, all they want to do is throw stones at him.  He leaves, and as he’s walking through the gate, leaving the temple complex, there sits a man, blind from birth.  As they pass through the gate, the disciples notice this man, begging, blind from birth.  They ask a theological question.  Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?   And so we come to a third attempted stoning on this day of stoning.
 
With that, I will have to continue later.
 
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
‭‭John‬ ‭9:1-7‬ ‭ESV
‬‬
 

 

John Lewis

It’s Going to be Alright

It’s Going to be Alright

We don’t have to swim in the sea of empire like a bloodthirsty shark.  We don’t have to sink in the sea of empire like a drowning victim.   We can walk with Jesus and stay above it all because Jesus is Lord!!

Winners and losers are false categories for Christians.   We are not winners or losers, we’re believers.   And one of the things that we believe is that there is another way.   For us, categorizing people as winners and losers is a false category.   Philosophically we would call this a “category mistake”.   We don’t think in terms of this.  We are not winners, we are not losers, we are believers, and we want to walk with Jesus on top of all this mess…

Of course, there is also a more personal way of seeing this fifth sign in John’s gospel.  When it’s a dark and stormy night in your own life, you are not alone.  Jesus will come to you.  And when Jesus comes to you, everything’s going to be alright!!   If you’re in a dark and stormy night…maybe you’re trying to get somewhere.  Maybe you’re trying to get from one side to the other, you’re trying to get somewhere.  But it’s a dark and stormy night and it’s rough, it’s hard going, the sea is churning, the waves are crashing.   Your hands are blistered on the oars, you’re trying the best you can, but you can’t seem to get anywhere.   You’re trying to get somewhere, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.  You’re not even sure where you are.  You’ve lost your bearings, you’re thinking “What’s going on here?”   It’s scary, it’s foreboding, it’s difficult, you’re trying to get there.   In your moment of panic, you finally cry out in terror because you think this could work out badly for me, this could be the end of it.  In the midst of your most desperate moment, Jesus says “Hey!  I’m here.  It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”   Jesus wants to say that to everyone reading this today.  “Don’t be afraid.  I’m with you.  I’ve come to you.  You feel like you’re alone, in the middle of it, by yourself.   You’re not in the middle of it by yourself, I’m here.  I’ve come to you.  Don’t be afraid.”    

And your fear is relieved.  Because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ, who says to you “I’m with you.  I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.   I’ve come to be with you.  I know it’s a dark and stormy night.  You’re afraid of being swallowed up in these dark waves.  But look, I’m on top of it!”   Jesus is on top of your situation.  The situation never swallows Jesus up.   “The situation is under my feet”, Jesus says.  “I’ve come to you.  I’m with you, I’m for you.  It’s going to be alright.”

In your relief, in your joy, you invite Jesus into your situation.  That’s your boat.   You stop trying.  You’re so relieved, you’re suddenly so relaxed.  You’ve got blisters on your hands.   You’ve been rowing for hours.  You’ve been so frightened.   In the panic mode of your crisis you cry out, but Jesus says “Hey!  Don’t be afraid, it’s me, I’m here.  It’s gong to be alright.”  

And you’re relieved, you let Jesus into your situation, you’re happy, you just stop trying.  You’re  still in the middle of it, the winds are blowing, but you let Jesus in, and all of a sudden you feel a little bump.   “What was that?”  Jesus smiles and says “We’re there.  We’re home.”   But we were so far out!  How did we get here?  Jesus just winks.  Must have been a shortcut.  

That’s good news.  That’s a sign for you to see…
 
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”  John‬ ‭6:16-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  

 

John Lewis

The Sea of Empire

Jesus walks to the disciples in the middle of their storm, he walks to us in the middle of our storms, and he is Lord of all, even the winds and the waves and the sea.   Think about it.

If we are going to understand the true significance of Jesus walking on water, we must understand the Jewish view of the sea.  The Jewish people were not a sea-faring people.  The Phoenicians, the Greeks, even the Egyptians were great sea-faring people.  But as for the Israelites, they’re staying at home, they’re not going anywhere.   They don’t really like the sea, even if they may have fishermen who work the Sea of Galilee, which is really just a lake about 12 miles long and 7 miles wide.  But they really generally view the sea with dread.  In Hebrew thought, the sea is emblematic of chaos and the source of evil.  This is why in the book of Revelation, which is a book comprised of nothing but signs, one of the signs is that in the new earth is there is no more sea.   “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”  Revelation‬ ‭21:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not that there will literally be no more oceans and we’re not going to able to swim with the the dolphins anymore.  It’s that the sea is the origin of evil and this is symbolic that the capacity to generate evil is going to be eradicated.

Job, in his praise of God, says that God tramples the waves of the sea – “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;”. Job‬ ‭9:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not God walks on the waves of the sea, but God tramples the waves of the sea.  Because the sea was viewed with dread, and it was generally a symbol of the source of evil, so Job says God tramples the waves of the sea.

More significant is Daniel’s vision of the beasts that come out of the sea.  “Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea…”  Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Daniel has a dream, it’s at night, yes a dark and stormy night.   He’s looking out upon the sea, the sea is troubled, it’s rough, it’s churning, the winds are blowing and the waves are rising.  Up out of the sea come four monsters, four beasts.  These monstrous beasts that Daniel sees coming out of the sea in his dream are identified later as four empires, or superpowers, who dominate the world. They create oppression among the other people.  The four empires are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  It’s all there in Daniel 7 for you to discern.  But by the end of the vision in Daniel 7, here is the point – the Son of Man has come up from the earth into the clouds of heaven and has been received before the ancient of days, and unto him is given dominion and authority over all of those empires, all of those beasts, all of those nations.  They are now all serving the Son of Man.  The vision is that the Son of Man will prevail over the empires and peaceably rule the nations.

Let’s back up again to the beginning of this chapter.   “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Remember, Jesus lived on the western side of the Sea of Galilee, but when he fed the 5000 he and his disciples had gone seven miles to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  This body of water is seen over and over in the Old Testament and the New Testament as the Sea of Galilee, you’ve all heard of this before.  But here, John refers to it as the Sea of Tiberias.   This is very significant.  Nothing is in John’s Gospel by accident.  We know the Holy Spirit inspired John, but we also know how the Holy Spirit works.  It isn’t automatic writing, this is John working with the Holy Spirit.  That’s why it sounds like John, Matthew sounds like Matthew, Romans sounds like Paul.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t eradicate our personality, or our thinking, or our style, but works with it.  So, if we asked John “How long did you work on your Gospel?”, would it surprise anyone if he said “I worked on that off and on for twenty years.  I kept working, refining it, getting it just right.”   We can tell, can’t we?   There’s so much in there, it’s just so.  Nothing happens by accident.   There are nuggets we continue to find.   So if John tells us that Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberiasthat’s not just some throwaway line.  He wants you to see that.  His gospel is filled with this kind of thing.

So who is Tiberias?   It’s Tiberias Caesar, who became the Roman emperor in the year AD 14, when Jesus was a teenager, and his reign was through AD 37.  From Jesus‘s teenage to adult years, through his ministry and the first seven years of the church, Tiberias is the Roman emperor.

Tiberias is also a city.  It’s there to this day, right on the Sea of Galilee.  The city was built in AD 20.  This episode in John chapter 6 is probably about AD 28-29.   This city has only been there for 8 or 9 years.  It was built by Herod Antipas, grandson of Herod the Great.  He was the client king of the Jews for the Roman Empire.  He built the city of Tiberias intentionally on the Sea of Galilee to be the capital of the Roman Empire in Galilee.  It housed the Roman army, the Roman officials in Galilee, and lots of Gentiles moved there.   Very few, if any Jews, went to live in Tiberias.
 
This city has only been there for seven or eight years.  Herod names it for the emperor, Tiberias.  This is the way of empire.  Empire is just swallowing up everything.  They even try to rename this sea, which has been known forever as the Sea of Galilee forever, to the Sea of Tiberias.  It’s like when they take some great historic ballpark, and rename them with corporate name and logo.  It is in this way that empire just attempts to swallow up everything.   Maybe this is why Revelation shows them as beastly, because they just swallow up everything in their path, even the sea.   The emperor Tiberias has his mark on everything.   

In Jesus’ day, Tiberias was the face of the empire, his image was everywhere, his name was everywhere, he’s swallowing everything up.  John wants you to notice that the empire tries even to name the historic seas after itself.  The empire was devouring everything, it’s a beast.   Most people either sink or swim in the sea of empire.    You’re either a winner or a loser in the empire, you sink or swim.

But not Jesus!!   Jesus just walks on top of it!  John wants you to see this anti-imperial sign.  That’s why he tells you it’s the Sea of Tiberias.  He hopes that you will know or learn enough about the way Jews typically viewed the sea.  He hopes you know something about what Job says about how God tramples the waves of the sea.  He hopes you remember Daniel’s vision that it’s out of the sea that all these monsters come.   The latest monster out of the sea is the Roman Empire, represented by Tiberias, who wants to swallow up everything, and everybody had to sink or swim in the sea of empire.  But not Jesus, because he’s Lord and he just walks in top of it!!

We don’t have to swim in the sea of empire like a bloodthirsty shark.  We don’t have to sink in the sea of empire like a drowning victim.   We can walk with Jesus and stay above it all, because Jesus is Lord!!

Amen.
 
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”  John‬ ‭6:16-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  
 
John Lewis

Lord of All

Keeping it light today, we’ll get more heavy into this later on, but we are going to dive deep into those waters Jesus walked on so long ago.

The very next night after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus is doing another of his great miracles.  He’s fed the masses, escaped those same masses who wanted to make him king by force, sent his disciples across the Sea on a boat, and gone up the mountain and prayed by himself.  And now his disciples are in trouble, out on the sea, and here comes Jesus, walking on water to come to them.

This is not Jesus doing tricks.  It’s not even primarily a miracle, although it’s obviously miraculous.  No, it’s a sign.  That’s what John wants you to know, he’s been telling us repeatedly.  He never uses the word miracle, he calls these signs.   But what does this sign point to?   There are only  seven signs in John’s gospel, which is very few.  Matthew, Mark and Luke have dozens, but John only has seven.  And what does this sign of Jesus walking on the water in the middle of the dark and stormy night point us to?

In many different ways, it’s pointing to this, and we will work it out, but it’s pointing to this – Jesus is Lord.

Jesus walks to the disciples in the middle of their storm, he walks to us in the middle of our storms, and he is Lord of all, even the winds and the waves and the sea.   Think about it.
 
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”  John‬ ‭6:16-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  
 

 

John Lewis