this guy was about the best you could be in the Jewish world:
Pharisee (Serious about the Bible); member of the ruling council; and
a respected teacher – one of the top guys. He comes to Jesus at
night. Maybe he doesn’t want to be noticed. He has a reputation to
think about. Maybe he wanted time for a decent conversation. Staying
up late to study was a sign of devotion: it cost him extra effort and
extra money for lamp-oil. Coming at night, was a kind of statement:
“I take this faith thing seriously.” Maybe even “I have a
sense of urgency about this question!”
interestingly, he expected the same of Jesus. He wasn’t expecting
to find Jesus is his jim-jams ready for bed! He calls him “Rabbi!”
and he expects him, like a good rabbi, to be a serious scholar who is
ready to engage with his questions late in the evening. (That raises
a question and a challenge for us. Are we “open for business”
when people want to come and engage with us? Or do we expect people
to know when we are there and come along? Are we genuinely available
to dialogue with people who have genuine questions?)
begins by recognising Jesus as a Rabbi and perhaps more than that: a
“Teacher from God”, possibly a prophet. As a Rabbi, Nicodemus
knew about the promises of the coming Kingdom of God, and expected
that one day, some time, God’s Kingdom would come. Although
he hadn’t mentioned it, the coming “Kingdom of god” must have
been very much on his mind. And
now Jesus was was doing these signs of the Kingdom. This
dynamic young man, performing the kind of miracles that were the
evidence of the promised Messianic Kingdom, who was he? What could he
learn from him?
door was actually open for the answer, “Nobody really sees the
Kingdom of God unless they’re born again. It starts with a personal
miracle of new birth.” Jesus is responding appropriately and
sensitively to the situation and the individual who has approached
him. The Kingdom is here. It’s
at hand. it’s just the other side of this thin veil. You can see
it if …. you make a
fresh start, a new birth, one that is
just as definite and real as physical birth, and one that comes
encounter with God is a present possibility,
not just a future promise.
you think Jesus’ answer is abrupt, think again. If you think Jesus
is just jumping in with this message he has to share you’ve not
understood Nicodemus. Jesus is direct, yes. But deeply and graciously
pertinent to where Nicodemus is at.
“Oh yes, I’ll have some of that! But… is it possible? I
mean, I’m knocking on a bit. I can’t go back into my mother’s
too old to change.
You’re not talking about physical birth, obviously. But
changing me, getting rid of my old habits, is just about as unlikely
going back into my mother’s womb.”
Jesus answers in effect,
talking about physical birth. To
get into God’s Kingdom, you need to be born not just of water
(natural birth, or
else baptism, the human and visible sign of coming to God)
but of Spirit. The
thing that is born of the flesh,
is born by coming out of a physical body, is a physical body.
thing that is born of the Spirit,
life that results from the working of the Spirit is a new spiritual
The ruach – the wind-and-breath-and-spirit of God – does his
mysterious, wild life-giving thing.
statement delivers so deeply from Old testament scripture and
theology. The law written on people’s
hearts. The Spirit of God dwelling
in people’s lives…. Look
for example at Ezekiel
36. 25-27. cf.
Isa 59. 21; Joel
2. 28f; Jer 31.33f Gone
are the days, Nicodemus, of staying
up late, wistful
reading history and law and poetry, and figuring
out what to expect from Messiah. The
Spirit wants to breathe this new
your heart. All
of you Pharisees need to be born again.
(Indeed, every human being does!)
how can this be?
It fits with the old prophecies – but how does it happen?” It’s
like too much to take in!
simple. I’m surprised you’ve missed this, you being a big-name
theologian an’ all”. You have knowledge you should be drawing on
to help you. If talking about things that happen on earth (even if
they start with God) doesn’t make you believe, how will you believe
if I talk full-on about what happens in Heaven.
starts with me, Jesus says. The only person who can tell you about
heaven is someone who’s been there: the Son of Man. Think of Moses
lifting up the brass snake: what did people need to do to get healed,
but believe enough to look? I’m going to be lifted up to heal
people’s spirits. Everyone who believes in me will have this new
spirit-birth to eternal life.
happens when you believe, Nicodemus. It happens when you believe.
Through faith you can have a new birth, a new spiritual life from God
life in the spirit. An eternal life. A life within the Kingdom of God
both in the present age and forever. The kingdom starts with a
personal, existential, transforming encounter with God by the Spirit.
the tone of the conversation. It is a dialogue. It is gentle,
responsive, loving, challenging, clear, and so, so breathtakingly
alluring and poetic and beautiful. It is informed, intelligent. It
constantly makes points of contact with what Nicodemus already knows.
And it is challenging. But it isn’t driven, aggressive,
argumentative, or anti intellectual. He was right – not only in his
teaching, but in this reading of Nicodemus.
you experienced this new birth? If you haven’t, I invite you do
enter that new life today. It’s a possibility, through Jesus
Christ, by faith. Here’s a prayer you can use.
God, I know that today I am outside your Kingdom, looking in. And I
see good things there. I know that I need a new birth, into a new
life. I know it needs to come from you. So today, I put my trust in
Jesus who died for me. Please send your spirit into my life to make
me a new person, and the new life you give me, I will live for you,
And if you have, I challenge you to be prayerfully ready to enter dialogue, the way Jesus did, the next time someone raises the subject with you. And I challenge my self with that too. Here’s a prayer for us to use:
you Lord for the gift of new life in your Kingdom. I commit myself to
living my life in such a way that the good things of the Kingdom can
be seen in me. And I commit myself to engaging in genuine, patient,
loving dialogue about that Kingdom. Please equip me by your Spirit
for these challenges.
to Jesus: Lifted up He draws people to himself
1: “LIFTED UP” Reading: John 12: 20 -36.
continue our theme of PAYING ATTENTION TO JESUS with a verse from
12:32 “ I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to
simple sentence, but a vast array of interwoven themes and concepts
about Jesus. I have time only to draw our attention to a few.
what did Jesus actually mean by the phrase “when I am lifted up”
This was an important phrase as John records Jesus using it three
times in his Gospel. (see later)
hearers knew exactly what he meant: look at v. 34:
crowd spoke up, “ We have heard from the law that the Christ will
remain for ever, so how can you say” the son of Man must be lifted
up? Who is this Son of Man?”
knew it meant death by crucifixion, which was totally
incomprehensible to them. Why? Because they believed the Messiah
would not die. (they were ignoring the prophecies that spoke clearly
of the suffering of the Lord’s servant.) Also death by
crucifixion was the most excruciating torturous method of execution
the Romans reserved only for common criminals. Roman citizens like
Paul were beheaded.
in his death Jesus identified himself with the lowest of the low.
Again this death was prophesied.
the death of messiah was prophesied. Isaiah 52:13 -53:12 speaks
graphically about the suffering and death of the Lord’s servant:.
An important passage which includes most of the themes surrounding
the death of Jesus, and also points to the resurrection.
52.13 says “raised and lifted up”. Jesus in using this phrase
calls his hearers to this passage. in v 14 his appearance was so
disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human
likeness…. This happened to Jesus through floggings, and
crucifixion. Then v15 uses the word “sprinkle”…. Jesus blood
is a powerful symbol of victory, cleansing, healing and forgiveness
healing , taking our punishment. See Isa 53 v 4, 5, 6. he was
“not guilty” v8,9 (Jesus was sinless); yet his grave was with the
wicked and with a rich man
9) ; and verse 11 hints at resurrection following from all the
We know death was not the end for Jesus. He rose again on the third
day. We cannot pay attention to Jesus without studying in depth his
crucifixion and resurrection because they are “one inseparable
event”, Bruce Milnesays, “in which Jesus achieves the
glory of God”. They are central to the Gospel.
declares: we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and
foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews
and Greeks, Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of
death on the cross brings healing, deliverance, salvation,
forgiveness and cleansing.
first mentioned being “lifted up” in John 3: 14,
15: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the
son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may
have eternal life.”
is referring to Numbers 21: 4 – 9. The people of Israel were
being justly punished for their rebellion.. or sin. They had spoken
against God and moaned and complained. God sent a plague of venomous
snakes. The people repented ,admitting they had done wrong. So God
told Moses to raise up a bronze snake on a pole so when the people
were bitten they could look at it and be healed and live.
we come under God’s judgement for our sin.. the wrongs were think
and do..Jesus invites us to look at him lifted up on the cross dying
for the wrongs we have done. We look at him, repent and live.
if we repent we receive salvation: we are rescued from the punishment
of God, by Jesus who took our punishment on himself. We receive
forgiveness. We are cleansed from the wrongs we have done and receive
new life .
Scriptures point out that in his sacrificial death, Jesus identified
himself with the lamb sacrificed at Passover …The festival when the
Jews remember how God delivered them from slavery. In Exodus we read
how the Israelites were to kill a lamb and place the blood on the
lintels of their homes to save them from the angel of death who was
going to bring about the death of all the Egyptian first born males.
(the final plague to make Pharaoh let Israel go from slavery). Like
the Passover Lamb, Jesus saves us from death and slavery to sin.
also identifies with the unblemished lambs sacrificed daily in the
Temple for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist declared: Behold
the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”
writer to the Hebrews compares Jesus death on the cross to the lambs
sacrificed daily and their blood sprinkled to bring forgiveness.
Jesus, the one and only unblemished lamb of God, offered himself once
and for all to bring us forgiveness to atone for our sins so we can
enjoy a new life of restored relationship with God.
Peter 1.18 says “you were redeemed with the precious blood of
Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
1:7 says “the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin”
important to note that this victory is not only for us as
individuals. Scriptures state clearly Jesus overcame all evil in his
crucifixion and resurrection :
3:8 the reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the devils
12: Now the prince of this world will be driven out.
look more closely at the context of our verse in John 12. When I am
lifted up …
Greeks were going with the Jews to worship at passover. They were
God-fearers attracted to Jewish religion. They wanted to see Jesus.,
not in the Zacchaeus sense of shinning up a tree to get a glimpse of
what Jesus looked like, but the meaning is they wanted to get to know
him, to discuss with him build a relationship with him.
of Jesus had moved beyond the Jews. This meant it was time for Jesus
sacrifice. The hour had come. Jesus refers to a grain of wheat that
has to die, not be a grain any more, so there can be a harvest.
Jesus gives a challenge to us v25, 26. Fruitfulness is costly. It is
in dying to self that we become life givers.
Milne (The Bible Speaks today, John’s Gospel, p. 187) says “
through a combination of inward struggles, trying circumstances,
opposition from enemies of the Gospel, and our wrestling with
God-permitted weaknesses, we, like Paul, are to learn to ‘die
everyday’ (1 Cor 15:31). The seed must perish for the harvest to
be produced.” See also 2 Cor 4 v 10,11
second part of our verse says I will draw all men to myself.
did Jesus mean?
at John 3:14 and John 3:16….
death requires a response. “Whoever believes in Jesus…”
death of Jesus overcame all evil and personal sin to give everyone
the possibility of redemption.
death by crucifixion testifies that he is the Christ, the son of God.
That’s the message of the second “lifted up” text in John 8:28:
When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I
am the one I claim to be”
draws everyone to himself as they contemplate the cross. They realise
that Jesus is the son of God.
are invited to come to the Cross. All need to respond.
The concluding verses of John 12, Jesus invites people to believe
light of the world, for darkness is coming when it will be too late.
says that like John the Baptist before him Jesus plainly informs us
that without repentance from sin there can be no salvation.
summarises like this: 2 Peter
3:9 The Lord
is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to
come to repentance.
we need to come to the cross – not just once in our lives but
daily, in our quiet times with God, and at the Communion table. We
need to receive forgiveness and healing. We need to remember that the
blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
loads of people were “lifted up”… Even the day Jesus was
crucified, two others were as well. But they didn’t draw people
contrast, when Jesus died, the staff sergeant in charge of the
execution party, a hardened soldier who had in all likelihood seen
men die and quite possibly had seen men crucified, was amazed… He
exclaimed “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
he heard the Jewish leaders saying “if you are the son of God,
come down from the Cross!” But would he understand exactly what
they meant by that? Maybe all he meant was “Surely this man was
a son of God”, a demigod, a superhero
like Hercules, somebody with super powers. That wasn’t the
whole truth. But it was good enough for a start. This was no ordinary
crucifixion. This was no ordinary criminal. This Jesus guy was in no
sense ordinary. He had superpowers. There was something different
about him. That much the Centurion recognised.
knew, of course, that Jesus is the Son of God. He was in no doubt.
One of the themes of his Gospel is how various episodes in Jesus life
cause people to ask, “what kind of guy is this?” So he
picks up what the Roman Staff Sergeant says, and lays it out there to
be understood by his readers: lifted up on the Cross, Jesus revealed
himself to be God the Son.
if the Centurion hadn’t got there yet, something was making him
curious. He was on the journey. Something was drawing him to Jesus.
In fact we know from Pam’s text that it was Jesus who was drawing him
to Jesus. (Legend tells us that the centurion became a
Christian, and accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury in
England. That’s not a Biblical story; but it is perfectly feasible
that a Centurion could be posted from one end of the empire to the
other. And it is highly likely that having seen what he saw, this
centurion did become a believer.)
what made the difference?
the phenomena… Not the external evidence, the earthquake and the
fact that the curtain in the Temple was torn (the Centurion could be
excused for not knowing that detail.) But the internal evidence. It
was the way Jesus died. There was a supernatural thing, the loud cry
and the comparatively early death which together suggest that in fact
Jesus was uniquely ready to face dying: uniquely ready to go. He had
done what he came to do. He had died the criminal’s death. Rather
than having his body run down into increasing weakness through blood
loss, sepsis, multiple organ failure, heart failure, asphyxiation, he
surrendered his life into his father’s hands while still strong
enough to shout.
I reckon that what the staff sergeant saw in the death of Jesus was:
and sacrifice. Jesus said “Nobody
would take his life away from him, but “I lay
it down of my own accord.”
(John 10. 18) And on the cross he says “Father, into your hands
I commit my spirit”
(Luke 23. 46)
assurance and confidence John tells us another thing Jesus said from
the cross. “It is finished” (John 19. 30 ) In no sense was
that an expression of despair, implying “I’m finished, done for”
Rather it was a shout of victory: Finished: I have done the work I
came to do. Sin is atoned for!”
and dignity. The other Gospels give us details that Mark misses
out. Like, when Jesus was being nailed to the cross he called out,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are
doing” (Luke 23.34). And as he hung on the cross, the two who
were crucified with him insulted him. But then one of them changed,
and asked Jesus to help him: Jesus answered, ‘Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23.42). The centurion
saw all of that: how on the cross Jesus dealt even with his
torturers and critics, with grace and forgiveness.
what do we take out of this?
Jesus is truly wonderful! It is in his crucifixion that we see his
glory most clearly. “Hallelujah, what a saviour”
if we lift him up, let people see in our lives, something of his
sacrificial love, his victory and his grace… if these things are
Him in us, he will draw people – all sorts of people, like this
Roman centurion – on their journey to faith in him.
Luke 19:10: The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost
Part 1: Telling the Story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10, also Luke 3:1-20)
Once upon a time, in an ancient and distant land, far far away, there was a city called Jericho. And in that city, there lived a man named Zacchaeus. Jericho was an incredibly rich city. Sitting close to the bank of the river Jordan the land was fertile and produced plenty of healthy produce. There was plenty of locally grown food, spices. And locally manufactured wines and perfumes to enjoy and to trade.
Herod also had a palace there and that added to the importance and prestige of Jericho. It was a busy and bustling city as a result of its location and importance and Zacchaeus liked that. But he also liked it because the city had made him wealthy and comfortable.
Chief Tax Collector/Wealthy
He had bought the
right to collect taxes on behalf of Rome for Herodian Jericho, and so he was
the CEO of the Jericho tax-collectors.
He was able to gain wealth simply by getting a cut of what the other tax
collectors made. When they charged extra Zacchaeus made more money too.
One of Zacchaeus’ own roles was to set the tax at the customs tax centre. Jericho was an important place for the trading of goods as the trade route between Roman ruled Judea and Herodian ruled Perea went through Jericho. Because of the importance of this customs route Zacchaeus was able to set the tax quite high and this added greatly to his wealth. So, Zacchaeus was really quite rich without even really doing much work.
Rejected: The people
Yet his life was
difficult. He was rejected by everyone. Having stuff and being rich could ease the
burden of rejection a little bit, and so buying stuff was one way in which he
could find comfort. Folks in the tax
business in general were rejected by all the residents of Jericho because they
hated Rome and felt like they were over-charged. Zacchaeus was especially hated as the tax
Rejected: Religious Leaders
tax-business, and those who worked in it were hated and rejected the most by
the religious leaders, particularly pharisees: Actually, he didn’t really mind
so much being rejected by these people because they were arrogant, boring, and
boastful anyway. They dressed in special,
elaborate clothes and boasted about themselves.
Even their prayers were loud and boastful about how good they were.
But even worse
than being rejected by the general residents, and the religious leaders, was
the sense of being disrespected by his own employees. He was short, and being short is never easy. He felt looked down on both literally and
metaphorically. When you are short people
just automatically and subconsciously see you as weak; and they find it hard to
show any kind of respect. It’s just a
thing that there seems to be no way round.
People naturally value and respect tall people; and those who are short tend
to get over-looked and undervalued.
People are rarely influenced by a short person. It’s actually a bit like people look at you
like you’re a child. A child in need of
protection, and guidance, rather than as a fully grown adult quite capable of
looking after yourself and being a guide to others.
As a short leader Zacchaeus often felt the need to express himself by being loud and over-bearing in order to stop people walking all over him. He would demand respect, sometimes quite angrily, when he was looked down on.
John the Baptist
A few years ago, however, some of his employees had started treating him differently. They had gone to see some religious guy called John down by the river Jordan. After they had come back, they had started collecting less tax from the people: which meant that he was getting less money too. That had made him angry and he had demanded they continue to give him the same amount of money as they had done before. But these same guys had also started treating him kinder and with more respect than they had done before. After a while he had become interested in what had changed them; and so Zacchaeus had asked them loads of questions. It seemed John had been the exact opposite of pretty much every other religious guy, ever. Rather than being elaborately dressed, boring, and boastful, shunning everyone who didn’t meet their standards, John had been wild and unkept, humble; and, most importantly, welcoming to everyone. He preached about being kind and sharing with those in need. His preaching had also pointed away from himself to someone else who would come after him – someone who would take away everything wrong in the world, and who was to be greater than John. John baptised people in water when they accepted his preaching; but the one whom John said would come after him would baptise in fire. That sounded both dangerous and intriguing.
Searching for Jesus
Over the last few years Zacchaeus had become more and more impressed with the changed attitude of those baptised by John. Herod and Herodias may have had John beheaded because they didn’t want to change their ways when John and kept challenging them. But there was now a lot of talk about a religious teacher called Jesus. Some had even described him as John back from the dead.
Others said he was the one John had preached about that would be greater than him. Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus had fed thousands of people with one loaf of bread and a few fish; that he walked on water; that he spent time with the weak and the lonely; that at his hands the blind could see; the lame could walk; the deaf could hear; and demon possessed people were returned to their rightful minds. With all that – fire baptism seemed an actual possibility.
Rumour had it that Jesus was going to Jerusalem and had to pass through Jericho. He would likely be arriving the next day; and so Zacchaeus made up his mind that he would go to see Jesus. Since he had missed out on the water baptism, perhaps he could have the fire baptism (whatever it meant) and be accepted into Jesus’ group of followers. If Jesus looked like John, all wild and scruffy, then it was likely that, just like John had done, Jesus would not push folks like him from the tax trade away. He felt ready to learn from him about how to be a good person and help change the world for the better.
Even before Jesus had got to Jericho he had been surrounded
by religious folks and ordinary folks. Even
though the Pharisees often disagreed with him he had become enough of a
religious celebrity, that everyone wanted to be close to him. Some wanted to hear him and listen to his
strange stories, or ask him questions, or argue with him about what he said
about himself and God. Others didn’t
care so much about his words, they just wanted to be healed of something. Zacchaeus, however, just wanted to see
him. To see what he was like as a person
– how he looked and how he dressed.
But he couldn’t see him. There were so many people crowding around Jesus, that he couldn’t see or hear a thing. Zacchaeus tried to push through the crowd, but it was far too dense. Each time he tried to push through he got crushed and had to pull back out again.
After a while of tracing the crowd through Jericho, they came
to a section of the city where there were no alley ways or paths off for quite
some distance. There was no other way for Jesus to go but straight down the
street – and further down the street there was a sycamore fig tree. Jesus, in the middle of the crowd, would have
to go by it. If he was hidden up a tree,
he could see Jesus from above and so the crowd wouldn’t be in his way.
Zacchaeus had climbed
many trees as a child: including that particular one. Sycamore
figs weren’t hard to climb, and even though he was an adult he reckoned he
still had the agility to climb that one.
There were lots of branches, including some low to the ground. He knew it was possible to get quite high in
that tree and so be hidden from Jesus and the crowd, yet able to look down on
Jesus. So, he ran ahead, checked to see
no one was watching him and climbed up the tree, high into the branches –
completely unafraid of getting stuck up there as the key thing was just to see
When Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was hiding, high up in the tree he stopped right there. He looked up through the branches and stared directly at Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus panicked, not knowing what Jesus was going to do. How did Jesus even know he was up there? Jesus spoke with kindness in his voice, and told Zacchaeus that it was really important that he, Jesus, spend time personally with him in Zacchaeus’ home. And that right now, immediately, Zacchaeus should come down and show Jesus where he lived.
Zacchaeus immediately trusted Jesus and was excited to welcome him into
his home, to get to know him and his teaching and spend time together. He got quickly down from the tree, his feet
easily finding each next branch down.
Jesus was dismissing the crowd and heading off with Zacchaeus, the two of them side by side. But the self-righteous, religious crowd reacted with frustration and anger at Jesus, muttering about Jesus spending time with the wrong people. They saw Zacchaeus as a no-good sinner who should keep out of the way of everyone else.
Zacchaeus wanted to prove them wrong, that he wasn’t an awful sinner, that he wanted to follow John the Baptist’s teaching. He also guessed that Jesus already knew that and that Jesus had purposely sought him out to help him learn. So, Zacchaeus stood his ground. He told Jesus that he would give half of all his possessions to the poor. He would share what he had as John had taught. But not only that, out of all he had left he would return any money he had cheated out of anyone, and he would add tax – so that he would return 4x the amount. He didn’t want to put his faith in possessions any more. He wanted to put it in Jesus, and in living for the good of others, especially the poor and those left out. To be honest Zacchaeus knew what it was like to be left out. Jesus had not left him out, and he appreciated that so much he wanted to help others.
Jesus said Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, which for Jews meant someone who received God’s mercy and grace. Jesus told Zacchaeus, and the others around, that he had come to seek and to save the lost. Save means to rescue. He explained that his mission was to find and to rescue those like Zacchaeus, who felt unable to be part of what was going on with faith and religion. And especially those who climbed trees in an attempt to deal with that.
Part 2: Luke 19:1-10, Luke 18:1-30, Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16
about Zacchaeus takes place in Luke chapter 19:1-10. The chapter before it contains a collection
of stories and parables that could relate to Zacchaeus and to how he was
feeling. It begins with the parable of
the persistent Widow who continually hassles a judge until he gives in and
gives her the justice she is after from her enemy. The parable ends by saying that God will
bring justice for those who continually cry out to him day and night in prayer.
parable concerns a pharisee and a tax-collector who are both praying in the
temple. The Pharisee felt that he was
perfect and was thanking God that he was not a sinner; and that included
thanking God he wasn’t like the tax-collector who was next to him. He was proud.
But next to him the tax-collector was humble before God, acknowledging
how imperfect he was, and his struggles with doing right. He was asking God for mercy.
those parables is a little story about people bringing their babies and young
children to Jesus for him to bless them.
The disciples try to block this from happening; they seem to want their
rabbi to get on with some real work of teaching and doing miracles. But Jesus said that the children mattered and
that he wanted to bless them. He talked
of the importance of coming to him like a child. Being a child has a sense of being humble and
trusting and acknowledging a need to grow and learn, rather than attitude of pride
and of thinking you’ve got it all together.
that is a story about a rich man who wanted to follow Jesus, but his love of
possessions was blocking his love for Christ, and so he couldn’t follow Christ
with all of his heart.
of the persistent widow represents Zacchaeus in his persistence to see Jesus,
to see who he is and what he is about. He
doesn’t give up. The pharisees and
others who were part of the religious ‘in’ group were all crowding around
Jesus. They believed they had a right to
be with him, but wanted to keep the likes of Zacchaeus with his tax related
work away from him.
parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the tax-collector was humble and
seeking mercy which is also rather like Zacchaeus.
unlike the rich man in the final story of Luke 18, Zacchaeus was willing to let
go of his trust in wealth and possessions.
In a similar
way to disciples who tried to block people bringing the young children to
Jesus, the people were blocking Zacchaeus from getting to Jesus too. He may have felt like a child in that moment,
not allowed to be part of what the supposedly righteous adults were up to. But Zacchaeus was humble enough to use
child-like behaviour to see Jesus. He
climbed a tree and didn’t care if he would get made fun of for acting like a
Zacchaeus’ quest to get to Jesus. And
Jesus too went on a quest to get to Zacchaeus.
Just like in the parable of the persistent widow Jesus responded to
Zacchaeus by giving him justice and letting him into the centre of what was
going on. Like the parable of the
Pharisee and the tax-collector, it was Zacchaeus and not the religious folks who
went home justified. Like the children
who were being brought to Jesus, Zacchaeus was blessed by Jesus because he came
humble, like a child. Jesus stopped the
others from blocking Zacchaeus getting to him by going out to him.
The story of
Zacchaeus ends with the words. ‘The son
of man came to seek and to save the lost.’
Zacchaeus represents the lost.
The lost aren’t those who have no interest in Jesus; they aren’t those
who have awful behaviours and sins from which they must repent. Rather,
they are the ones who are blocked from getting in to see Jesus as a result of
leaders: whether religious leaders, or political leaders. They are the ones who are humble, and want to
learn. They are the ones who know they
need mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
Both Zacchaeus and Ezekiel 34 talk about the seeking out of
the lost. And in both it is the Lord
himself who seeks out the lost. He seeks
them out because those who should have been caring for the sheep have not cared
for them properly, and as a result many of the sheep are weak or lost, and
nobody cared enough to go and look for them and bring them back. But these sheep are God’s people even though
they are lost and no longer seen within the flock. They are looking for a shepherd to guide them. God himself will come and bring them back and
shepherd them with true justice. In the
story of Zacchaeus Jesus is identifying himself as the Lord in Ezekiel who
seeks out the lost, and then shepherds them personally.
was classed as a sinner by the pharisees, which basically meant that he was a
religious outsider because he didn’t meet a set of standards that had been
defined by his social-religious culture.
We too sometimes have a tendency
to judge by our own standards. Christianity
can subconsciously put up barriers that block people out from seeing
Jesus. We can, without realising it,
have a set of standards that we believe people should conform to – or others
think they need to conform to in order to be part of a church. It may be barriers in regard to a dress code,
or barriers in regard to traditions, or barriers in terms of values and
expectations in relation to patterns of behaviour or thinking. But Ezekiel 34:16 says that the Lord
shepherds with justice. Real
of the message of Ezekiel and of Zacchaeus is that we can trust that God will
seek and save all the lost sheep, irrespective of the barriers that are set up
by those who are crowding around Jesus.
He makes a way for those who are persistently seeking after him to get
to him. He will bless those who humble
themselves, and those who approach him with an attitude of smallness and
openness to learning, like little children.
In fact, he sought out and rescued each one of us who are followers of
of the message of Ezekiel and of Zacchaeus is that God does entrust the
care of his sheep to human shepherds.
Jesus went out to the tree, he made himself available directly under it,
and made it an important part of his mission that he should spend time with
I was at a
conference a couple of weeks ago. One of
the things the speaker said there was this: ‘The church does its best work when
it is on the margins.’
The work of God means caring for and leading the lost: those on the margins of society. We can get caught up in habits of focusing on the benefits the choice sheep can bring us, and forget to go out to those who feel rejected and failed by religion, or by the countries’ leaders, or even by those around them. We need to figure out how to go out to the margins and work there with the lost. A key value of Jesus is that he came to seek and to save the lost, Therefore, it needs to be a key value of ours too as missional churches.
Main text: Mk 3. 14: “So they could be with him and and so he could send them out.”
is announcing the Kingdom of God: the way God acts as King in the
present and will do (more fully) in the future. He claims authority,
not just as a Rabbi, but as Messiah, God the Son. We’ve seen how he
reaches out to broken people. So how
does he build
First, he calls them, to come to him. For Peter, Andrew, James and John, this was a re-run of a previous encounter, which kind of involved them in a larger movement of disciples. Jesus had said “follow and become something that right now they aren’t. (v. 13. cf Mk 1. 17: “Follow me and I will make you become – cause you to become – fishers of men”) And when they had responded the first time round, they responded immediately. The qualification that they show for being Jesus’ disciples, is that they follow him. He is not looking for literacy or learning but for commitment. That made Jesus different from the Rabbis.
discipleship is a process. Jesus calls and calls again. His call is
to follow and become. It is to gather round. He calls his
disciples rather than letting them pick him. That made Jesus
different from the Rabbis.
Then, he appoints them. And from the group of disciples, he appointed twelve. Now twelve is an important word for Jewish people: their community had always consisted of twelve tribes, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. So when Jesus takes twelve from the larger number of Disciples, he is making them a community, an obedient “People of God”, the pillars of a whole new way of being God’s people. Luke (and some versions of Mark) add “whom he designated Apostles”. All of us have been appointed, made part of the people of God with our specific part to play (matched with our gifts) in the life of that people.
Then, thirdly, he walks with them. He called twelve “so they could be with him”. He accompanies them and they accompany him. The first purpose of their appointing is to be with him. This process of making some guys (even the right number) into the kind of rocks that can be foundational to the Church, takes time. This process of turning Galilee fishermen into Kingdom fishermen, people who engage in the Kingdom activity of patiently bringing people into Jesus end-time harvest, takes time.
focus of what he teaches is Himself.
That made Jesus
different from the Rabbis. Jesus’ focus was on who he is, what he
does, and how he does what He does. His method of teaching was
through presence. Journeying together. Lots of conversations.
Asking questions, listenable to answers as well as giving his own
it was also through example.
He is not simply
teaching from books but “with authority.” That made Jesus
different from the Rabbis. He did stuff. So
the Twelve experienced
life in the new community that Jesus was building. They
saw how he lived; they
saw him handle an embarrassing visit from his Mum. They saw him heal
the sick, raise the dead, drive
out the demons, feed the crowds, and calm the storms.
They saw him pray. They saw that the “Son of
man had nowhere to lay his head”. And
the stuff he did, showed his authority,
to those who followed
him, and to those
who didn’t! (Mark 1.
Then, fourthly, he sends them. He called twelve “so he could send them out..” And he designates them “Apostles” which simply means people sent. “Out there” they are to put into practise the things they have learned, in particularly about
Communication (v. 14) They were to go and preach. That’s not a good word because we have overlaid it with layers of ideas from our own culture: “Go and explain what the Bible means; go and give them a three-point talk; go and bore them to tears for at least half an hour; go and explain of the meaning of the Greek words.” And in doing that we have robbed the word of its true meaning. Go and announce. Go and tell people, make an announcement. He doesn’t even need to tell them what to announce: it’s obvious. “The kingdom of God has come!” They could announce that the kingdom of God had come because they had been with Jesus. What they had seen, they were to talk about.
Authority (v. 15) – like Jesus – to do stuff. The thing Jesus mentions, the ultimate in one sense, is driving demons – unclean and tormenting spiritual beings – out of people. But that is the tip of the iceberg. In Luke 10. 19, Jesus tells the 72 whom he sends out, “I have given you authority … to overcome all the power of the enemy”.
and authority are closely connected: There’s authority in
“preaching”: the authority of one sent, and the authority of one
who has seen. A significant result of their being “with him”, is
that they were able to be witnesses.
We are all different, and Jesus recognises that. In our learning styles some of us are Thinkers (who love theories and ask “Does it make sense?” ), some Planners who love organising and ask “What shall we do?” or “How should we do it?”) some Doers (who need to be active, who make things happen and ask “When do we start?”) and some Reflectors (who will watch stuff happen and wonder why it happens. They are the ones who ask “ Did it work, and why?”)
There’s a cycle in learning. We need right concepts, we need plans, we need action and reflection. You can begin anywhere. That will depend on whether you are a thinker, planner doer or reflector. But you have only learned the lesson when you have been round the circle at least once.
Jesus’ way of dealing with people includes
calling them to community.
hanging around with them, talking about and demonstrating the Kingdom.
sending them out to do the stuff.
That is how he deals with us; it’s still what we need to respond to. Not just to believe stuff, but to journey with him. Bill Johnston says, “For me to prepare my heart means that I come to him in adoration first. I don’t come with a need for a message. I come out of desire to be with him. And I would rather have nothing to say and be current in my fellowship with him than have lots to say and be trying to find him. That’s the main thing for me – I make sure that I am current … that my relationship is fresh . It’s about feeling his pleasure which is the awareness of his heart.”
And to put what we believe into practise, responding to the call to go. Walking with Jesus is a process of what Mike Breen calls “invitation and challenge.” We need both: the invitation, the encouragement, to join something amazing; to engage with the amazing Kingdom of God. And the challenge to let the Kingdom change your life.
And it is how he wants us to deal with those he gives us. To invest time, truth and trust as we call people to community, and as we journey with them to teach, demonstrate and in turn be sent out. To give out both an invitation and a challenge. To take people round the learning circle, from theory to planning, practise and reflection.
Our text is the shortest
verse in the Bible,“Jesus wept.” …
One of Jesus closest friends describes how Jesus responds to the
suffering of three other friends as one of these three, Lazarus,
becomes ill and dies. We know this story so well! It reveals so much
truth, including the intense sense of Passion that motivated Jesus’
The word John uses is literally about shedding tears. And the tense
of the verb (aorist for those who are curious) indicates something
that happened in a specific moment of time. Scholars suggest Jesus
“burst into tears”. You know that thing when you are in an
emotionally charged situation, and you are trying your best to hold
it together, and one last thing opens the floodgates, the tears just
flow. Get that. That happened to Jesus. He experienced intense
sadness and grief. For Jesus, as for us, that was part of a complex
mixture of emotions.
was deeply moved in spirit.
The word carries the sense of anger. Matthew
uses the same word to describe Jesus sternly warning two blind men
not to talk about the healing he has just given them (Mt 9. 30). And
the word is used in Classical Greek of horses snorting in their
bridles as they wait to attack the gates of a city. So there’s
something of anger, impatience, here.
was troubled (verse
33). The word means stirred up, agitated, shaken.
Same word is used to
describe the water in the pool of Bethesda being stirred up (John 5.
7). Something upsets Jesus’ composure. Something is stirred up in
the very depths of his being, like a
pool fed by an underground stream.
can see that passion, that
emotion, in other places in the
clears the Temple of all the traders in an angry and disruptive
moment of protest that gentiles who wanted to worship were
prevented by a few people who were cashing in on people’s desire
to keep God’s law.
Zeal (burning anger or desire or love)
your house will consume me”
7. 34 ‘Looking up to heaven, he sighed (groaned, moaned, as in
childbirth), and said to him, “Eph′phatha,” that is, “Be
opened.”‘ (In the next chapter, 8. 12, he groans because
people come after him looking for “signs”)
5 He looked around at them with anger, grieved, vexed,
mourning, pained (the word is again used of the pain of
childbirth) at their hardness of heart
19. 41 And when he
drew near and saw the city (Jerusalem)
he wept (ἔκλαυσεν) over it. He
wailed, lamented, with uncontrollable, audible grief.
What caused it?
Jesus was surrounded by grief. He had just had a conversation
with Martha and then with Mary,
and both of them had said – maybe with a challenging edge: “If
you had got here
sooner,, Jesus, Lazarus
would not have died. This didn’t have to happen”. The
second chat, with the more emotional Mary, also surrounded Jesus with
the group of mourners (some of the professionals) whose wailing
helped the close family to get in touch with their grief. Do you ever
feel struck by the sheer amount of grief in a room, and carried along
by that? It sometimes happens to me.
Those who watched (maybe a bit more indifferently!) his the nail on
the head. “He loved this guy!” And
he loved Mary and Martha. He couldn’t face suffering and loss
without an emotional response. Of
course there are other aspects to love. At
the beginning of the story, it
almost seems like Jesus is cold, calculating and unemotional. His
actions and responses seem very matter-of fact. He
is concerned about
God’s glory (v. 4)
God’s timing (v. 9:
recalls what Jesus says in John 9 about working while it is day)
purposes. (v. 15: “for
your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe”).
simply shows Jesus in perfect balance: he is
the perfect balance. There are various ways of measuring and
describing our personalities: most of them are based on determining
where we stand between two opposites: are we matter-of-fact thinkers
or emotional “feelers”? Are we introverts or extraverts. Jesus
won’t be put on the extremes. He feels
(very deeply!) But he also
thinks. He understands; he plans.
B. B. Warfield says Jesus “burns with rage against the oppressor
of men.” Behind the grief is the anger. And
behind the anger is the enemy. The Kingdom, the rule of God,
declares war, not on sinners, but on sin. Our warfare is against
every weed that the enemy of our souls has planted in God’s garden:
illness, injustice, starvation,
manipulation, bullying, fear,
deception, and death itself. Paul says (1 Cor 15. 26) “The last
enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Ultimately, it is Jesus
Himself, his internalised
identity, that produces
these passionate responses. He feels what he feels, and does what he
does, because he is who he is. He is “the resurrection and the
life”: everything in him kicks against the presence of death. He is
“the Messiah”, the
kingdom-bringer and Spirit giver:
everything in him resists
what is not consistent with God’s rule. He is “the Son of God”,
passionate about his
What did it do?
Sometimes grief and anger end up leaving us feeling drained and useless. In grief we want to hide in a corner and feel sorry for ourselves. In anger we want to shout and stamp our feet, or go online and vent our frustration on social media or yell at the TV, or break something. What did Jesus do? Where does Jesus’ emotion lead him?
leads him to demand that the stone be rolled away from the tomb.
Never mind the smell; never mind that it’s been four days since he
died. Never mind that the body won’t even look quite
leads him to speak to his
father in prayer. Prayer is always to a heavenly father who loves us;
it needs to be confident, even (especially) in times of emotional
stress; and it builds faith.
leads him to the place where he shows the Glory of God. It
leads him to stand
outside the tomb itself. and
call Lazarus out, alive… And
it leads him to give his life for the world. It leads him to the
Cross and the resurrection. It leads him to
work out in practise what it means to
be the resurrection and the life. His
motivating passion achieves salvation, forgiveness, hope and a
So we have seen the glory of
God! We know Jesus, the resurrection and the life. Anything else of
the supernatural, only points to Jesus, the sin-bearer, the Messiah,
the Resurrection and the Life. Seeing his glory, we believe, we
And as we worship, we can be
transformed. We present our bodies as a living sacrifice. We are
transformed by the renewing of our minds. We begin to respond as
part of the new Creation. We we catch the fire of Jesus’ passion.
So what is your motivating passion?
This blind guy is one of my favourite New Testament characters. I love his strength, his courage, the independence, depth and simplicity of what he says. He’s prepared to defend Jesus quite vigorously because of what Jesus has done in his life. So today, I want to look at how my all-time favourite New Testament Character, Jesus, and how he dealt with this blind man. We’re studying this because “Attention to Jesus” is our fourth habit for missional people. (If you want to go a bit deeper into some of the other big themes in this passage, like suffering and God’s purposes, click to have a look at a talk I gave in February 2016.)
Jesus’ method in dealing
with people, involves what I will call Words,
Works, and Wonders.
The encounter starts with
some words. A well-known idea. But a wrong idea. A Popular
misconception. “God must be punishing somebody: that’s why this
guy was born blind.” Jewish people believed in rewards and
punishments in this life. Bad things happened as a direct
consequence of sin. It was so popular that even the disciples
believed it. But Jesus challenged it. His words challenged, and
still challenge, the established ways of thinking that prevail in our
There are literally dozens
of ideas – about God, people, the world, relationships, morality,
prosperity, life and death.… that seem right, but aren’t! Maybe
even some of them are right some of the time. But all of them are
just people’s ideas. All of them point people away from a good
relationship with God. All of them need to be gently, lovingly and
intelligently challenged. Jesus’ words challenged his world’s
Jesus’ words reveal timeless
and life-changing truth.
Verses 4-5 say “As long as it is day, we must do the
works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
time is it? Its is day or night, a time of opportunity to reach out
to God or not. Jesus’ words offer us hope: we are living in a time
when it is possible to reach out to God. It’s daytime. God is
still knocking on people’s doors.
did Jesus come from. “I must be doing the works of him who sent
me!” Jesus’ words demonstrate the character of God, perform
God’s gracious and generous will, because of who Jesus is and
where he has come from.
is Jesus’ relationship to our world? He is the Light of the
World. That is one of the most profound statements. To help
us discover how profound, tell me what you know about light.
We all know what light is, when we wake up in the morning and the
sun shining into our windows. Yet quantum physicists can tell you
the speed of light, that it is a form of electromagnetic radiation,
that is both a wave of energy and a stream of particles. It makes
not just sight but life itself possible. It reveals truth, breaks up
darkness. And Jesus says he is the light of the world. He comes
into our world, shining with God’s energy, shows up what is dark
and wrong, and makes it possible to see God and to have God’s life
Jesus speaks. And our world today still needs to hear Jesus words.
Then in a breathtaking two
verses, we are told about the miracle. Jesus spat on the ground,
made a paste from spit and dry earth from the street, put in on the
guy’s eyes, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam. We don’t
know how the guy found the place, but we do know that when he washed
the mud off, he washed the blindness of his eyes and out of his life
forever. He came back seeing.
Jesus uses a bit of himself.
A bit of the planet, and a bit of the blind man. He performs an act
of re-creating, taking dust, as he had at the beginning of time, and
making something good out of it.
This is part of what Jesus
means when he talks about doing the works of the one who sent him
(his Father). John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus did loads of
amazing things, but only records seven of them, plus the
resurrection. And every one of those signs, every one of Jesus’
miracles, is a response to a need, and brings a positive change in
supernatural signs that show God’s compassion and bring healing,
feeding, or freedom, are part of Jesus’ way of reaching out to
people. What happens when God works a wonder?
People wonder. The neighbours wondered. They couldn’t
believe their eyes when they saw the blind man, walking about seeing
everything. The Pharisees, the hard-line religious right, who
thought it was their job to check up on every infringement of god’s
law, wondered. They couldn’t get their heads around how someone
who as they saw it “broke the law” (by making home-made
eye-ointment on the Sabbath) could possibly be bringing healing from
God. Wonders, are the things that come from god, that make other
people wonder, and as a result point them towards God (if of course
they are ready to let God do something in their lives!)
But the works of God include
more than the wonders.
the Sabbath to do the healing,
thus “breaking the law”, was
part of the work.
often healed on the Sabbath. Breaking down structures that oppressed
people and made coming to God
complicated and difficult, was part of the work.
formerly blind guy got thrown out of the Synagogue – a real
insult, loss and possible threat. If you weren’t allowed in the
synagogue, you were marked out as a bad lot. You lost that sense of
part of a worshipping and supportive
guy has been healed. But he has no training, no skills, questionable
support from family, and no longer any reason to be begging..
So this was
serious. What does Jesus do? He finds the man… because
at this point in his life he needs support.
and over again, Jesus does that. When he heals the woman in the
crowd (Luke 8. 45-48) he is not content simply to have her sneak away
with her body healed: there is human contact, and the encouragement
to “go in peace”. After that, when he gets to Jairus’ home and
raises his wee girl from death, he then says “give her something to
eat!” When he passes under Zacchaeus’ chosen hiding
place up a tree, he doesn’t walk by but speaks to Zacchaeus. When
he raises Lazarus from the dead, he tells the bystanders
to “unbind him and let him go” (John
attends kindly to Lazarus’s practical and emotional needs. When he
feeds the five thousand and the four thousand, it’s more than a
miracle: it’s a banquet. Everyone is organised, so the weakest and
smallest aren’t left out in a kind of free-for-all.
of the work of God, is approaching
people, valuing their humanity,
with their emotional needs, enabling them to experience community,
them into a relationship with god…
looking after the weak, challenging oppression.
could even say, that the wonders – the supernatural signs – are a
subset of the “Works”. They – along with other acts of kindness
and provision and challenge, harness our humanity, in the power of
the Spirit, to minister to the humanity and brokenness of others.
Jesus’ way, is about
words, works, and wonders. When he touches our lives, we believe, we
worship, and we can’t help talking about him, touching the lives of
others with his words, works and wonders.
We encounter two guys called John in this chapter. One is John the Baptiser, who has the the main supporting role in the story. The other is the young fisherman who wrote the story down, John the brother of James. They have some things in common:
relationship with Jesus: John the Baptist was his cousin; John the
fisherman was one of his closest followers.
understanding of the important truths about who Jesus is and what he
passion to draw attention to Jesus.
We’re going to begin with the Baptiser, Jesus’ cousin. People thought he was wonderful. He looked and talked radical – like one of the old prophets. He identified with the poorest of the poor, living a life of absolute simplicity out in the countryside. He challenged hypocrisy and challenged it hard, as he prepared the way for Messiah. But then, he began to realise something: to notice that his cousin ( a few months younger than him) was standing out from the crowd, as someone really special. One day Jesus came to be baptised by John, and John nearly refused to do it because he recognised that Jesus was miles better than he was. But eventually he did it and then he saw the Holy Spirit coming down from Heaven like a dove and resting on Jesus. Then he knew. And he started to be a bit rude, and to point his finger. (He didn’t care about being rude: this is the guy who called the religious leaders a brood of vipers!) “Look – see that guy there – he’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
is speaking out TRUTH ABOUT JESUS. Truth
about who Jesus is and what he does. Truths that were and are
important enough that John the Fisherman, John the Apostle, carefully
remembered and wrote them down.
Jesus is the sin-bearer.
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
(v. 29; see also v. 36). The Old Testament is full of references to
Lambs used as a sacrifice, especially to take away people’s sins.
When God tested Abraham (Gen 22) he provided a ram as a sacrifice in
place of Isaac. When the people of Israel escaped from Egypt, each
family had to sacrifice a lamb so that the angel of death would
“Pass over” their homes (Ex 12). And then there is the
wonderful passage about the suffering servant (Isa 53: “ We all,
like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid
on him the iniquity of us all. He was led like a lamb to the
slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did
not open his mouth.”)
is God. “A man who comes after me has surpassed
me because he was before me.” (v. 30). Wow! Jesus was about six
months younger than John. And he was quietly working and learning
while John launched into public preaching. But John knows from his
parents the story of Jesus’ birth he has seen the Spirit descend
on Jesus. He has heard the Father say “This is my Son, I am
pleased with Him.” Beginning to piece the bits together, he
realises that Jesus, though the younger of the two, is actually
older than him. In fact he says literally “After me came a man
who became before me, because he was before me.”
Jesus jumped the queue in front of John, because he existed before
John was even conceived. The other John, the fisherman turned
Apostle, writing this gospel, makes it his first priority to
establish this truth: Jesus is God. “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word as with God and the Word was
God. He was in the beginning with God and without him nothing was
made that has been made.” (v. 1) “The word became flesh and
dwelt among us full of grace and truth and we saw his glory, the
glory of the only begotten from the father.” (v. 14)
is the Baptiser. This
conversation took place after Jesus had been baptised.And
God had told John,
that the person on whom the Spirit lands like a dove, will Baptise
people in the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Source, the
Giver of the Spirit.Jesus
has the Spirit, in order
to give the Spirit.Life
with Jesus is life in the Spirit.Life
in the Kingdom is life in the Spirit.
is the Messiah. The day
before, John had been asked “Are you the Messiah?”. He
“No!” (v. 19f)
and then said his job was
to prepare the way for the Messiah (v. 23). So
he knew Jesus was the
Messiah. In Isaiah 53, it was the messiah who was “Led like a
lamb to the slaughter”. It is the messiah who says “The Spirit
of the Lord is upon me” in Isaiah 61. With Jesus, not only is sin
forgiven; not only is God revealed; not only is the Spirit given,
but the Kingdom, the Rule
of God, begins to break into our world. The
other John. celebrates this as he tells us that Andrew says to
peter, “We have found the Messiah” (v, 41)
John the Baptiser, and John the fisherman Apostle, we need these big
truths about Jesus. Who he is and what he does. We need to give
attention to Jesus, theologically. (And I hope you are realising by
now, that theology doesn’t have to be overpowering, boring or
difficult.) But what are we going to do about them? What are we
going to do about this Jesus?
we WORSHIP. Knowing who Jesus is, giving attention to the
truth about Jesus, puts us in our place. And our place, is on our
knees in wonder, worship and adoration. John says “he ranks
before me” (NIV, v. 30) John the Baptiser also says “I
am not worthy to untie the
thong of his
“He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn
3. 30). Worship is more than nice words and gestures. It is our
lives laid down at Jesus feet. For
John, it meant that this
to follow Jesus instead.
secondly, lastly, we MAKE
JESUS FAMOUS. John
“The reason I
came baptizing was
so that Jesus
might be revealed
to Israel” (v.
word translated “reveal”
means to make
someone famous. To make
something public. To make something clear. Like
Sam Phillips “discovering” Elvis and Johnny Cash: which
really means he launched their careers, and made them famous. If
like Sam Phillips with Elvis’s voice, we’ve discovered the amazing
truth about Jesus, we want to make Him famous!
not religion, or Church, or the Bible, or Calvin or Billy Graham or
John Wimber or the latest worship artist, is central in our message.
v. 35, John the Baptiser is standing around with two of his
followers. One is Andrew, Peter’s brother. The other is very
likely to have been John, the young fisherman. And he too, became
someone who wanted to make Jesus famous – but all over the world.
Three times in telling this story, John the fisherman uses a Hebrew
or Aramaic word, then explains what it means. “Rabbi, which means
teacher” (v. 38); “Messiah, which means Christ” (v. 41);
“Cephas, which means Peter or the Rock” (v. 42) John the
Fisherman Apostle, sent out to make Jesus famous, knew he had to do
that in language that ordinary people, all over the world, could
understand. And sometimes we need to do that, by saying what Jesus
said to the two followers: “Come and see”. We make Jesus
famous, not just by our words but by what people see in our lives.
learned a couple of weeks ago, about the huge significance of
“Eating” in the Christian life.
It’s been a metaphor and
an embodiment of God’s grace since the days of the patriarchs,
from Genesis to revelation.
It’s a hugely
significant factor in the life of healthy Churches: one of the
simplest ways of “doing life together”.
And as our Hospitality
extends to people who don’t know Jesus, it is a wonderful way of
blessing, building relationships and nurturing conversations that
give space for the Holy Spirit to move…
10 tells us about how Jesus sent out 72 of his followers on a mission
trip into the villages where he was about to visit – like he had
already sent the twelve disciples. And a significant part of their
work, involved going into villages and towns and trusting God to
persuade someone to let them stay over, eating what people offered
I want to talk about “Eating out”. I
don’t mean eating at a fancy restaurant, but eating
on someone else’s invitation, on someone else’s territory. And
this passage gives us three
and three accompanying Principles, for
all of our mission,
that apply in particular when we eat with people who don’t know
I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (v. 3)
an encounter between a lamb and a wolf, which would you rather be?
among (literally in the middle of) wolves is quite an extreme image.
“Lambs” suggests inexperience, smallness, innocence, the
inability to defend themselves. Lambs separated from their mothers
are somewhat lost. Have you ever heard the lambs bleating for their
mothers? Lambs are usually born in ones twos or rarely more that
that. Wolves born in larger litters and are pack animals. They are
organised, determined and smart. Lambs among wolves could easily end
up becoming someone’s dinner.
is a key principle in mission. Saying “Come to us” is kind of
safe, for us. Going to others is more frightening. We are more
vulnerable. That vulnerability is not a hazard to be avoided: it is
an essential principle in mission. It’s great to invite people to
come and eat with us. It may be more significant to take the risk, of
going and eating in the middle of a bunch of other people. We fear
rejection, ridicule, embarrassment; we fear being asked questions we
can’t answer; we fear losing an argument; some of us fear
“Contamination” by contact with people outside the Church. But
we mustn’t let that stuff stop us. Prov 22.13 call the guy who
won’t go out in case he gets eaten by a lion, simply “lazy!”
Frost tells the story of a Southern Baptist pastor in Portland,
Oregon. This guy’s next door neighbour held regular “Margarita and
poker nights” in his basement, and always invited the pastor. Now
Southern Baptist Pastors tend not to drink alcohol nor to gamble and
a Margarita is an alcoholic cocktail. So he never accepted the
invitation. Frost (who teaches mission) asked the pastor how many
timed he had ever talked about Jesus with his neighbour. Guess the
answer: it was less than one. So Frost challenged the pastor to
accept the next invitation. His neighbour was really surprised, and
the pastor had more conversion about Jesus than he had for a long
command is to go! Mission is about being sent. We are called to
mobility: to go among people who need the Good news of the Kingdom.
Yes, that is going to be a vulnerable place. To be the only believer
in your home, or in your group at School, or in the place where you
work, may sometimes feel a wee bit vulnerable. Like you are
Jesus isn’t fazed by that. He knows what he is doing. He knows
where he is sending us. Like lambs among wolves, sure. But
the Shepherd is with us by his Spirit. His rod and staff comfort
(have compassion on, give rest to) us.
not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the
road.” (v. 4)
would you want to take on a mission trip?
says literally “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. And no idle
chatter on the way.” The underlying principle is simplicity for
the sake of the kingdom. We are there to say “Peace: The Kingdom of
Heaven has come near.”
doesn’t need to be resource-hungry. It needs simplicity that is
committed to and depends upon the realities of the Kingdom of God.
We need to be among people as those who have nothing to offer –
except the Kingdom of God. Eating with others – showing
hospitality, and moving vulnerable among people, letting them serve
us, is a way of demonstrating some of he values of the Kingdom. Food
doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. We are not there to
impress people. We are not there to sell something. We are not
there to recruit for our organisation. “Eating out” can be
having beans on toast in a neighbour’s kitchen, sharing sandwiches
at school or eating in the works canteen.
command is to Lighten up. The command is “Do not carry stuff.”
Let things go. Opt for the Kingdom way of living, of being among
people, and of engaging with God’s mission. We need to keep life
simple, so that there is room in our lives for the Kingdom of God.
there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker
deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you
enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.” (v.
you an explorer or a settler?
with people is a good way of staying around, of making connexions,
starting conversations and telling stories. The French are possibly
better at this than we are. Meals in France are traditionally
lengthy, time consuming. Not surprising for a country that has more
varieties of cheese than there are days in the year! Snacking is
looked down upon. The idea of grabbing a sandwich at your desk is
seen as strange. They eat a good meal three times a day. Food is to
be enjoyed and it is to be shared. Eating together is an expression
of staying around. It is about presence.
few days ago, someone said in
“Nobody got converted through a pie
chart. We are
want to add, people can be converted through pies, because we are
narrative beings, and the narrative, the story telling – that can
happen when we share food, could point people
to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
is as Alan Hirsch says, possible to eat your way into Heaven!
out involves graciously allowing others to help us. That is the way
Jesus did it: he allowed a group of women to support him during his
earthly ministry Luke . No surprise that these women developed a
faith that kept them walking with Jesus to the day he was crucified;
to the day he rose again, and to the day the Spirit came at
Pentecost. He actually asked the woman from Samaria (John 4) to
give him a drink. And sipping water from her water jar, Jesus was
able to ask her some very searching questions, so that she eventually
went back to her village saying “Come and see someone who told me
my whole life story. Could this be the Messiah?”
command is to stay. To be present as redeemed humanity, with people.
To carry the grace of god, the Kingdom of God and the Spirit of God,
into the homes of men and women of peace.
This passage about Jacob wrestling with a mysterious man is, I think, one of the most fascinating and intriguing sections in the whole of the Bible. It seems like such a random thing: a mysterious wrestling match with a mysterious figure. And yet this is what God uses for one of the most important aspects of the Bible’s overarching story lines. The name Israel comes into being here. And Israel remains a key name into the New Testament and beyond into our lives today. We are part of God’s people ‘Israel’. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians.
Gal 6:15-16 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to[b] the Israel of God.
The name Israel is closely connected with
Blessing. Not only in Genesis 32 but all
the way back in Genesis 12 and in some ways to the beginning of Genesis. Abraham is Jacob’s Grandad and in Genesis 12
Abraham receives his calling and his blessing.
The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from
your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show
‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
That Blessing given to Abraham will become a part of Jacob’s
story. In my talk this morning I will
give some background as to who Jacob is; and how he came to be crossing the
river Jabbok where the wrestling match takes place. On our journey this morning I will also cover
three types of wrestling that we encounter today in our everyday lives. The first is sibling wrestling; the second is
adult and child playful wrestling; and the third is wrestling entertainment
shows such as WWE.
I come from a large family and am the oldest of 8 siblings. After me I have three brothers ranging from 1
– 4 years younger than me. After my
brothers I have 4 sisters. My sisters
are between 6 and 15 years younger than me.
Sometimes in large families there becomes a natural split in the middle,
an older half and a younger half. That
very much happened in my family. I grew
up playing with my brothers while my Mum looked after my little sisters who
played together. Us older ones would
often stubbornly refuse to let the little ones play with us.
Amongst the many games I played with my brothers was play wrestling. Sibling play wrestling though is never just
playing. In our play wrestling as young
children there was always the concept that at the end of all our playing, one
sibling would be the strongest, and that point was never lost. We played wrestling as children because of
sibling rivalry. To this day we remain a
For Jacob and his brother Esau that sibling rivalry through
wrestling began before they were even born.
They were twins and they shared their mother’s womb.
Genesis 25:22-23 says that the babies jostled each other within [their mother, Rebekah] …, and she
said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So, she went to enquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
the elder will serve the younger.’
The brothers were wrestling even in their birth. Esau came out first, but Jacob was clinging
onto him by the heel. Jacob means ‘he
grasps the heel.’ That is the literal
meaning anyway; but that word in Hebrew also had the metaphorical meaning of
‘he deceives’. Names matter and maybe
Jacob took the identity given to him by his name too far. He remained the kind of guy that was always
one-up on his brother, even if that meant winning through trickery or deceit.
In ancient times being the
first born was important. The first born
got all sorts of advantages; and although the two brothers had come out the
womb together attached to one another hand to heel, technically Esau was the
eldest. But twice Jacob deceived Esau out of the
advantages he had as the first born – there was no way he was up for letting
Esau get the best deals as the elder sibling.
The first time he tricked Esau out of his birthright; and the second
time, with his mother’s help and guidance, he deceived Esau out of the moment
their blind Father Issac wanted to give Esau a special blessing as his first born
– the covenant blessing that had been passed from God to Abraham and from
Abraham to Isaac.
The particular blessing that Jacob managed to get in place of Esau was this ‘… May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.’
The ending to that is exactly the same as part of the blessing given
to Abraham and his descendants.
So, Jacob seemed to be in a constant
battle with his brother in a bid to be the one to come out on top. To be the brother than won all the good stuff
going and any advantages that there were to be gained within the family.
There wasn’t much
in the way of blessing left for Esau that wouldn’t undo Jacob’s blessing and Esau
felt so angry he wanted to kill his brother.
Jacob had to leave for his own safety.
With his parent’s knowledge and blessing he journeyed to the distant
land of his uncle Laban – his mother’s brother.
Jacob spent 20
years with Laban. He worked hard looking
after Laban’s animals for 14 years so that he could earn his two wives, Leah
and Rachel. The final 6 years he earned
his own flocks out of Laban’s as wages tor tending the flocks and working hard
to keep all the animals safe.
When Laban agreed to give a wage Jacob’s
competitive streak kicked in again. He
figured out ways to get lambs to be born with specific markings. So whatever marking Laban and Jacob agreed to
as Jacob’s wages: spotted, speckled,
streaked, or dark coloured, Jacob would breed the strongest sheep to produce
the required markings, so he would get all the strongest flocks and Laban, his
own Uncle and Father in law, got the weakest.
Laban got frustrated when Jacob kept ending up with the strongest animals, so
he kept changing which markings would be Jacob’s wages. He changed Jacob’s wages 10x and every single
time Jacob would end up with the strongest animals. And so Laban gets angry with Jacob and feels
like he is stealing his animals. Laban
doesn’t quite get to the point of wanting to kill Jacob but nonetheless he kind
of just runs away from Laban because Laban is angry. He goes on the advice of God actually. God tells him to go back to the land of his
fathers and his relatives and that He, the Lord, would be with him.
Jacob heads back to
his homeland with his family and everything he has earned with his hard work –
and trickery. When Laban realises that
Jacob has sneaked away he chases after him.
But God has still
got Jacob’s back and God warns Laban not to let out the full force his fury on
Jacob and to try and remain neutral.
Laban and Jacob promise not to harm each other; then they part ways and
Jacob continues on his journey.
What do you think of Jacob?
Jacob doesn’t have
the strongest relationship with God.
When he was initially running away from Esau God had appeared to him in
a dream about a ladder and promised to be with him and watch over him. The dream impacted Jacob but didn’t seem to
quite believe the dream fully because he made a vow that the Lord would only be
his God only if he did bring him back safely to his father’s household. In all his achievements he rarely realised
that it was God working through it all.
Adult and Child Playful wrestling
As Jacob nears his
home land he sends some messengers ahead of him to tell Esau that he is on his
way. The message he receives in return
is that Esau is on his way to meet them with 400 men. And this is when suddenly Jacob panics. He normally knows how to have the upper hand
but it sounds like Esau is coming to kill him as he was keen to do 20 years ago.
But Jacob has a young family to protect
and he can’t stand against 400 men. His
usual strength and intellect may fail him in this encounter and he doesn’t know
what to do.
Jacob the deceiver
comes up with a trick idea: He designates
his family and his herds and flocks into two parties in the hope that one would
survive. He then spends time in
prayer. Through the night he comes up
with a further trick and sends several very large gifts of animals to Esau
ahead of him – each gift separated out from the others so they arrive at
different times, and each with a message that Jacob was coming behind. His hope
being that the gifts would calm Esau. He
sends his gifts ahead of himself and his family and stays in the camp another
night with his family and flocks.
Most likely his
anxiety, fear, and over-thinking keeps him awake because in the middle of the
night he gets up, wakes his family up and helps them ford the river along with
all his possessions. Presumably still designated into their two parties. It seems the river is shallow enough to wade
And then he is left alone.
He is alone in a
shallow river, or on the muddy bank of the river. Standing in pitch darkness, on the threshold
of his homeland, alone with his fearful thoughts. His last fight in that homeland had been the
one to wrestle the blessing off Esau, the one that now left him fearful of
out of the blue he is attacked by a man who wrestles him. In the pitch darkness he can’t see who it is but
Jacob stands his ground against this unseen man and the two of them
wrestle. They are matched equally in
strength and persistence and so the wrestling continues through the rest of the
night. Presumably the two of them are wrestling
for several hours before the sun begins to rise. It must have been pretty exhausting but Jacob
is always a determined guy and keeps the fight up. There are clues in Jacob’s story that he is a
pretty strong guy so he may be wondering why he can’t quite get the upper hand
over his unseen attacker.
The clue that it
is a very real and very physical fight, rather than a dream, is the physical
limp that Jacob eventually receives.
Eventually Jacob senses that this is God he
has been wrestling. It may seem strange
that God chose to come to Jacob in such a physical manner but I think there are
clues as to why within the concept of parenting.
When my girls were
little they often wanted to play rough and tumble games with their Mum or Dad –
including Wrestling. Rose in particular
loved to play wrestling. She called our
wrestling games ‘battle force’. In
Battle force we would play on the bed I share with my husband, usually chucking
pillows and duvets down the side to break any accidental falls off the
bed. The aim of battle force was simply
to get the other person down for a count of three seconds.
I tended to let
Rose win most of the time, but not every time.
The challenge as the adult over a much smaller and weaker child is to
give the effect that she is actually stronger than you – which is easier said
than done. Another challenge is to play
even when you’re tired or busy. And that’s something I was a bit rubbish at.
Children like to
play wrestling because it can give them the effect of power, and the effect of
control. But I think the physical
matters very much too. It’s a lot like a hug but with a great deal more
The main thing
parent child wrestling does is to build relationship. It builds intimacy and trust in a safe manner.
There are a whole
variety of reasons why play wresting is really beneficial, and it can depend on
the individual child’s need; and I reckon that wresting was the perfect way for
God to be a good parent to Jacob. And
God wasn’t too tired or too busy to meet Jacob at the river for a wrestling
In a book about
play therapy with children, the author suggests rules for wrestling. Some of the rules are these:
Provide basic safety (Well Jacob was wrestling in a shallow river,
or perhaps in the mud on the river bank.
It likely was a safe place for wrestling with soft landings).
Find every opportunity for connection (Jacob needed connection. He needed relationship. Although God had appeared to Jacob on a few
occasions in the past, the two of them didn’t seem to yet have fully
connected. Jacob didn’t yet have
complete trust in God and was relying on his own strength and canniness to get
him through life).
Increase their confidence and sense of power. (I believe that God
matched his strength to Jacob’s and fought all through the night because a need
to feel strong and powerful was linked with Jacob’s identity. He didn’t seem to like being second best in
anything. Jacob didn’t lose the wrestling match even after the hip
dislocation. God didn’t actually want
Jacob to lose his confidence or feel weak.
Jacob had been struggling against a sudden feeling of powerlessness as
he considered facing Esau and God does want to help him overcome that sense of
Use every opportunity to play through old hurts. (Later in the book
the author says this: ‘You may need all your strength to make sure no one gets
hurt when children kick and fight hard.
They aren’t wrestling any more, but releasing a huge pile of terror and
anger: They may be only dimly aware that you are there, holding them and making
sure no one gets hurt…This happens because children have been hurt and scared,
and you may be shocked that they have these emotions inside of them. The wrestling opened the door for the release
of these heavy feelings.’ Genesis 32
says that Jacob was in great fear and distress.
God let Jacob work out all the frustrations and fears he had in a
physical, energy draining wrestling match.
At that moment it was fear of Esau that was getting to him most of all
but there were other hurts Jacob had to work through. I reckon he sensed the unfairness of the
ancient tradition of the eldest getting the benefits and that was why he had
fought so hard to get the benefits that tradition said Esau should get.)
Provide just the right level of resistance to the child’s need. (For Jacob’s situation God needed to match
his strength to Jacob’s exactly.)
Stop if someone gets hurt.
God wrestles with Jacob as his Parent, because of Jacob’s past identity as a wrestler since birth, and because of Jacob’s fears, and because Jacob needs a deeper relationship with God.
For us too we have
our fears that we need God to help us deal with. Like Jacob was we too are recipients of the
promise that God will always be with us, and the recipients of the blessing
given to Jacob in Genesis 12. We too are
children of God.
But like Jacob we
can forget these things, or lose hope.
And maybe we could do with a bit of wrestling to help us deal with our
difficult, negative feelings; or our worries about the future. I don’t think I’ve ever wrestled as an adult
with someone of equal strength but I
have found that doing something physical like running or punching pillows helps
with frustration. And hugs help too. Wrestling
is an interesting combination of hugging and energy releasing activity so it’s
pretty great at dealing with horrible feelings.
Jacob was worried about meeting Esau
because of his past treatment of Esau. What
are you worried about? You are a child of God and he’s got your back
just like he had Jacob’s.
Wrestling Entertainment Shows.
The third type of
contemporary wrestling that is relevant to this passage and that is wrestling
entertainment shows. The difference
between play wrestling and entertainment wrestling is that the hurts and
frustrations to be worked through are written into scripts rather than being
real. They are essentially TV dramas
based around wrestling.
I think this is
relevant to the story of Jacob, not because the story wasn’t real life, but
because God isn’t removed from putting a bit of controlled wrestling into our
storyline as a twist in the plotline. In
fact, as said at the beginning this wrestling match is a key in the Biblical
Narrative that affects us too: The background to the name Israel is fighting.
through the night not knowing who he is wrestling. But, as the very first light of day begins to
dissipate the utter blackness, Jacob might now begin to discern some of the
features of the mystery man. But this is when the figure, who is actually
in control of the script and the story, makes his move to end the wrestling and
He touches Jacobs
hip and it dislocates and asks to be let go because it is daybreak. (Remember the rules of play wrestling
above? Stop if someone gets hurt.)
One of the reasons
for playful wrestling in parenting is to build relationship and to build
trust. In order for that trust and
relationship to be developed between Jacob and God going forward God included a
carefully controlled injury within the fight.
easily at the moment of his choice when they had been wrestling hard all night
showed that the attacker could have done that any time – but chose not to. And asking to suddenly end the wrestling
match just at the very first sign of a wee bit light gave Jacob the hints he
needed to start fitting the pieces together of who this guy was This was
someone supernatural; and so he asked for a blessing. There is a sense of trust in that. Having wrestled through the night he now trusted
his wrestling partner to be a being who would give a good blessing.
trait of persistence is a good personality trait and we can be persistent in
seeking a blessing of some kind too.
There is general
agreement among scholars that the blessing is the name change which is followed
by a farewell blessing.
The blessing of
the name change, and the sudden disappearance following a farewell gives Jacob
the full realisation that the encounter was with none other than the Lord. Not and angel, but God himself.
God asks Jacob his
name before giving a new name because he wants Jacob to say it aloud. Jacob is saying ‘I am a deceiver and a
wrestler – a heel grasper’. And that
gives God the opportunity to contrast it with a new identity. Israel means God
fights or God strives. Though the
explanation given is somewhat different than the name meaning. The explanation: ‘because you have struggled with God and with humans
and have overcome’ highlights that Jacob has achieved
great things – he does have strength and intelligence. But it also highlights that God has been with
him thus far in all his achievements.
The new limp and
the blessing of the new name go together.
Combined they show that, although Jacob’s strength had been God-given,
he should not rely solely on his personal strength and cunning in life. He wins battles because it is God with him
that does it.
Blessing and loss
go hand in hand in Genesis 32; and for us as individuals or as a congregation we
too may need to lose something before we can fully receive a blessing.
We may think we
need certain things to survive – but the reality might be that these things are
actually holding us back from fully trusting God and fully committing our
future into his hands Jacob needed to lose the strength he had in his legs
through his hips so he could learn to stop relying on his own strength and wits
and learn to trust God. In that was his blessing. For us – God may be wrestling with us so that
we can give up some things that we hold dear before he can bless us.
might we need to give up in order to strengthen our trust in the Lord, move
into the future, and receive a blessing? Or maybe we’ve already lost it by a
touch from the Lord, and need to let go and move on?
Maybe it is even
long held traditions that we think are essential to our wellbeing but are in
reality, the things we need to lose.
As we wrestle with
God, and with his Word to us in Scripture, we may find that we come away
injured by God’s challenges to us. But after
losing stuff we need to keep fighting on for a personal blessing. Keep being patient and not giving up.
The new name and
the new limp gave Jacob the confidence he needed to face his brother. When Jacob says that his life was spared in
this encounter with God it includes a realisation that Esau would not kill him
because God was at work fighting on his behalf. As it turns out Esau runs to
hug his brother as soon as he sees him and their relationship is renewed and
As God’s people Israel,
sometimes we too need to stop striving to do things on our own strength, and to
trust God to take us safely into the future. As Zechariah 4:6 says Not by might nor by power, but by my
Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.
Just as Jacob was
upset that Esau might end up more blessed than him, sometimes we look at other
people or other congregations and think they are more blessed than us. But I think the story of Jacob’s wrestling
match shows us that God is aware of supposed injustice and he wants to bless us
too and he is indeed on our side and striving for us.
Jacob was blessed
by grace. God broke tradition and
chose the younger brother over the elder to be the continuation of God’s
covenant people. Jacob learned in that
wrestling match that he had been chosen by grace; and he realised that
one-upmanship was not what God intended.
In his old age he chose to bless each of his own sons equally by
grace. And we too are under God’s
grace. So, let’s hold on tight with
persistence and patience as Jacob did for the blessing God wants to give us.
We are looking at five practises for mission, focussed around the word “bread”. B is for Blessing and R is for Relying on the Spirit. Today, right in the middle, we come to the shortest, simplest, and easiest of the five. I don’t need to define it. We all do it. “EAT!”
eat with other people. I’m not talking about me stopping working
on this to eat a packet of crisps. Most of us eat twice or three
times a day. That’s twenty-one times a week. You can push that up
to 25 times a week if you include coffee and cakes. Now how about if
we took just some of these meals – and made them meals with other
people? And how about if we took at least one of these meals – and
made it a meal with people who don’t know Jesus? For some of us,
that’s dead easy!
looking at the life of the very first Christian Church, in Acts 2.
42-47. It would be very easy to dismiss “Eating together” as
just a tiny detail. But it’s important: it was important enough
for Luke to mention it in his story. It isn’t a silver bullet.
There are actually no silver bullets, no guaranteed simple tricks
that will revive the Church. So we set it in context.
Firstly, these guys were committed.
“They diligently, doggedly devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and the prayers.” (v. 42) God had done something dramatic. Jesus had got a hold of their lives and saved them. Now they were committed to learning how to live this new life the way God wanted them to.
teaching of the Apostles, their witness to the truth about Jesus,
his story (what he had done) and its significance (what it shows us
about God, and about our life in him”
Having something in common. They had a common heritage in Judaism.
They had all been brought up to worship Yahweh; God the Father in
Heaven. The all had Jesus in common:they knew that Jesus is God the
Son and had died for them. And they had all received the Holy
Spirit. It would be inconceivable to have a Trinitarian encounter
with God in common and not let that affect every other part of life.
So they were committed, to the “common life”.
Breaking of bread:
the uniquely Christian act of worship we sometimes call Communion.
And the prayers.
They still took part in the regular prayers of the Temple; and the
Church had its own times of prayer
There is no quick and
easy way round commitment. You can sit down and munch on burgers or
curry, week in week out. And it will not transform your life,
without there being a real commitment to the Lord Jesus and to the
disciplines of following him in community.
Secondly, it was part of the strategy of the Spirit.
The miraculous was happening. (v. 43) The whole story of Acts is the work of the Spirit. The experience of seeing believers speaking about God, in all the languages of the Roman world, had made them curious. They had heard the Good news; 3,000 had been baptised. And the Holy Spirit was still at work. There were signs and wonders continuing. And the Spirit was busy building community, bringing qualitative growth to these three thousand new believers, and in a slower way than before, bringing people to faith. The next number that’s mentioned is a total of five thousand, in ch 4. 4 and that was days or weeks later.) So eating, was part of the strategy of the Spirit.
Thirdly, it was an expression of the common life.
They shared what they had (v. 44). Basically, they started to do life together. That’s an interesting concept! Some churches have done interesting things with that. Bishopbriggs Community Church began its life in a big house, where they worshipped in the living room. When they outgrew that, they got a site on a disused brickworks and built a new Church centre – and twenty houses and eight flats, all owned and lived in by Christians! David Watson lived in a substantial Victorian Vicarage in York and for a number of years had an “extended family” sharing life with his own family. In his story “you are my God” he describes the joys as well as challenges of life in community. It’s not for everyone. But we all need in some way to share our lives and our resources. To do life together. And eating together is one of the simplest – and most Biblical – ways of doing that.
Fourthly, it was a context for worship and spiritual growth.
of Bread took place in homes (not in a religious building,
whether as part of “Breaking Bread” or separately, they partook
of food with glad and thankful hearts.
Breaking bread was associated with meals together. I H Marshall
says, “The idea is that they held common meals which included the
breaking of bread” (cf 1 Cor 11. 17-34)
food is a way of focussing in on God. Of all the the good things we
do in Christian worship – welcoming people, music, Bible reading
and teaching, prayer, sharing news, giving gifts, using gifts –
there’s one thing that Jesus told the Church to do when it
gathers: breaking bread. And that goes back to the mists of
ancient history: food was the test of Adam and Eve’s obedience to
god; food was how Abraham received the news that he was going to
have a son of his own. Food was how on more than one occasion Jesus
showed himself alive after the resurrection. Food is going to be
part of the experience of the new Heaven and the new earth. At the
Breaking of bread, god once again invites us to dine with Him!
is an essential element in Christian Discipleship and in Christian
mission. Discipleship isn’t about filling in the boxes in an
bible workbook. It isn’t a programme to get you to do more things
for the organisation of the Church. It is about growing, through
shared lives, shared stories, shared ideas, shared responsibility.
Round a meal, or a cup of coffee and some biscuits, we can get to
know people; we can make our story much less preachy; we can let our
hair down and relax together with our brothers and sisters.
Discipleship can happen when we eat together.
Lastly, it was a springboard for Mission.
These new believers still hung around together in the “Solomon’s porch” part of the temple. That is partly about the fact that as followers of Jesus, they didn’t stop being Jewish, and it took them a while to realise that the message of Jesus was for all the people of the world. And it’s partly about being there, among their own people, unafraid of mingling with people who don’t know Jesus. It’s about mission.
the very least, when we do discipleship with food, when we do life
together, we rehearse simple skills that are useful in the mission
context. Hospitality (“philoxenia”
“love of strangers”
a command in Rom 12. 13). Conversation (we’ll be coming back to
that one!) and generosity (we’ve already looked at that one!)
Sometimes, when we do life together, we do something that we can
invite others into. We should be fully engaged in the world we live
in (although there may be some places where we would be better
avoiding!) We need to be meeting people who don’t know Jesus,
eating with them, talking to them. We occasionally do food together
as a whole Church. That can be hard work. We’re doing it today.
Maybe we’re not always getting it right. But it is an important
part of church because it is about doing life together.
The coming of the
Spirit creates curiosity. The exercise of the gifts, the bubbling up
of the miraculous, creates curiosity. So does the quality of our life
together – if people can see it and experience it. And to welcome
others to eat with us gives us that same possibility: shared lives,
people approved of the stuff they were doing. (v. 47) People were
saved and added to their number. It’s possible to eat your way into
heaven says Alan Hirsch.