Through the Lens of Passover: Part 11

We now reach a dividing line that separates two opposite flowing theologies. These both center on who Jesus is AND how he saves man. The dividing line is between the necessity, or not, of a present Christ.

When we look at most of Christendom’s theology concerning the crucifixion and resurrection we see that it comes from their understanding of the writings ascribed to Paul. With that understanding comes the concept of salvation I quoted in post # 2 of this series, which is based entirely on Jesus’ crucifixion:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

You will note that this concept of salvation is based on the power of death. Contrast that with Jesus’ statement, “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I am come that you might have life and that more abundantly.” This statement comes in the context of the shepherd who speaks to his sheep and the sheep hear his voice and follow.

The ‘Jesus plus nothing’ salvation does not need a present Christ. Jesus did his work by dying on the cross, and he can now exit the scene only to reappear at the end (finale) of the world termed the ‘second coming’. The ‘shepherd’ salvation depends upon a shepherd actively present, functionally present. Under an absentee shepherd, the sheep scatter and are consumed by the wolf. But the end (goal) of the age has arrived, the shepherd is present, and dwells in and among his sheep.

I want to pull in references from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as those from the book of John that concern Jesus’ work. The parable of the wicked husbandmen is a statement of the situation Jesus found himself in and provides us clues about his view of what he came to accomplish:

There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. (Matt. 21:33-39)

The death of the son is not the redemption of the wicked husbandmen. Their chance of redemption lay in “reverencing” the son of the householder. In their disregard of the owner’s servants and the owner’s son they displayed their disregard for the owner of the vineyard. They were punished accordingly. The sending of the son was the proof of the husbandmen. The householder might as well have stated, “They will regard the son as they regard me.” They did.

A crucial point in the ‘Jesus-plus-nothing’ statement is the concept of forgiveness that it portrays. Biblical translators use one of two words when they translate this concept into English: remission or forgiveness. I will define those words in a moment. But first lets look at some of these texts.

At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus stated:

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt. 26:28)

John the Baptist’s work, a precursor to Jesus’ work, was to

preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

What does all this have to say concerning the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion? Specifically at issue here is the question, “Did Jesus’ death on the cross make salvation possible?” Much of the Church’s theology says, “Yes” and they quote Hebrews “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (see Heb. 9:22) And they make “forgiveness” equivalent with “pardon.” Many translations use the word, “remission” instead of “forgiveness in this text. Remission has to do with release from bondage or imprisonment. Forgiveness has to do with removal of the cause of offense. Neither of these words are a good fit with ‘pardon’.

The Hebrews 9:22 text refers to the rituals under the Mosaic Law. When the law refers to the blood of the sacrifice, it is referring to the life of the sacrificed animal. We can then understand that statement as, “without the pouring forth of life, there is no release from bondage or imprisonment.”

Can we say that the crucifixion was a pouring forth of life? No, that happened when life triumphed over death. Under the Law, man did not have the life of the sacrificial animal, only its death. Those animals “gave” their death, not their life to the participants in the rituals of the Law. The Israelites were not to drink the blood of the sacrifices, for the blood was the life of the animal and belonged to God. Under Christ, we have his life. He told the Jews, “except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, you have no life in you.” (See John 6:53) He then told the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the breath that gives life. The words I am speaking to you, these are breath, these are life.” (See John 6:63) He gives life, his life, to all who will walk in his light, as I have discussed in previous posts. The blood of the sacrificial lamb under the law was a shadow of the life of Christ, which alone has the power to cleanse the soul of dead works that we may serve the living God. This life is our Passover.

Was the crucifixion necessary for forgiveness of sin, as asserted by so much of Christendom? No, Jesus demonstrated his power to forgive before the crucifixion.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he explained to them the events surrounding his crucifixion and resurrection.

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47)

Man’s greatest offense before God is death. We were created to be living beings, but when we walk contrary to the light of Christ that has enlightened us, we die. If I am dead, more death is not going to alleviate my condition. If I am dead, my “salvation” is effected only by being made alive again. “The hour is come and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the son and those who will hear shall live” i.e. come up out of their graves, living beings. (See Ezekiel 37:11-14 and John 5:24-25) The only way to repent of being dead is to become alive, which is beyond the capability of mankind. We can be sorry for being dead, we can be remorseful for being dead, but we can’t repent for being dead. We can turn a full 360 degrees, but we can only repent in the presence of an outside offer of life! That is why repentance from death and remission of death is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ authority which rests entirely on his life. This demands a present, functional Christ who is actively involved in every step of salvation and subsequent life.

So what did Jesus accomplish by his death on the cross?

I must discuss the crucifixion and the resurrection as an inseparable whole. I can’t parcel them out as an anatomist would dissect an object of study. Let’s start by looking at Jesus’ trial before the crucifixion. He told Pilate,

To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. (John 18:37)

A large component of that “truth” is that the power of life, that life that was breathed into man in the beginning that made them living beings, is greater than the power of death. Jesus, as the writer of John indicated, is the Word become flesh, in whom is the life that is the light of mankind. He made man living beings in the beginning. As he hung on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In his death and resurrection, he encountered spiritual death, Satan’s greatest weapon, and overcame it. “All power in heaven and earth is given me,” said the resurrected Jesus. The arch enemy of our souls is defeated and holds no power over all who walk in the presence of the eternal shepherd. We encounter this power, we live by this power when we love and obey the light of Christ within us.

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the…[life] of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all…[death]. (1 John 1:5-7)

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 10

I encourage you to sit down and read these final chapters of John (i.e. 13-21). There are many events and important concepts that I am not going to touch on. What I am going to do is pull together a number of passages from these chapters. This concatenation will be clearer if you are familiar with the surrounding text. But for now, I am going to pull them together without providing chapter and verse.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live you will live also, In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. Judas, not Iscariot, said to him, Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world? Jesus answered him, If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. I am the true vine. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Apart from me you can do nothing. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The Jewish authorities arrested Jesus and tried him before the Sanhedrin. They took him to Pilate with the hope of having him crucified.

Pilate said to him, So you are a king? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.

And so Jesus was crucified by the Romans with the approval of the Jewish authorities. And on the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead. John then states,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name [i.e. his authority or character].

Paul wrote,

The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45)

This is the picture I get reading through the passages above. Our first man was created to be a living being. The last Adam, or last man, is the quickening spirit that breathed life into man and woman in the begining. If we turn from that life, by turning from the true light that enlightens everyone, we die. If we walk in the true light, the “last Adam” breathes life into us.

The passages from John that I have quoted above are: (14:6), (14:15-24), (15:1-10), (16:33), (17:2-3), (18:37), and (20:30-31).

In my next post I will take up the question of what Jesus accomplished in his crucifixion and resurrection.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 9

We now come to the final “lesson” (but not my final post) in the book of John, which comprises chapters 11 to the end. These are the events that take place near or during the final Passover of Jesus’ earthly life. My title, Through the Lens of Passover, is meant to convey the sense of looking at the text to see what it says about the passage from death to life.

The book of John makes frequent use of the Passover as a means of highlighting this theme, which is a different approach from the books of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Where the teaching of Christendom, in general, places salvation in the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, the author of the book of John has, throughout this work, pointed people to a living relationship of hearing and following the voice of Jesus today as the source of life and salvation. The original participants in the Passover were to paint the lamb’s life [i.e. its blood] on their door post to signal the angel of death to pass over that household. Jesus said, “the words I am speaking to you,these are breath, these are life.” This life, this “these-words-I-am-speaking-to-you”, we are to paint upon the heart, the doorpost of our innermost being.

Chapter 11 contains the events of Lazarus’ death and how Jesus raised him from the dead. This sets the stage for the rest of the book.

When Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters, said, “If you had been here my brother would not have died,” Jesus stated,

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (11:25-26)

And in proof of the point, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth.” Even though he had been four days dead, he came walking out of the grave.

Humanity has dwelt in death, has been a slave to death, and is subject to manipulation by the fear of death. All the tools of power deal in death and the threat of death. But there is something more powerful. Isaiah wrote,

And all your children shall be taught of [by] the LORD; and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established: you will be far from oppression; for you will not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near you.(Isaiah 54:13-14)

Why do you have great peace and freedom from fear? Because the teacher is here. There is no reason to fear death nor to be manipulated by death when the one who is resurrection and life calls you “come forth” and teaches you to walk in life. The power of life is greater than the power of death.

Jesus’ crucifixion is not the source of life. It was a failed attempt to stop life; a double failure. For not only did Jesus demonstrate, “I am the resurrection” but death itself became the captive of life. Death had once been a terminal point, but now the wall is breached. The resurrection and the life surround you as a shield. This is the Passover, the passage to life. This is the substance of the shadow. The Jewish Passover was a celebration of an event in history. “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the death of the world” takes place here and now. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” said the Psalmist, “I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

How do we become partakers of this Passover, this resurrection and life?

As recorded in chapter 12, Jesus stated

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (12:24-26)

Let’s be clear about this, because it makes sense when we understand it correctly. If you plant a field of wheat and the seed dies, you get no harvest. The seed contains a living embryo that must stay alive. When the seed is planted and the temperature and moisture of the soil are right, that embryo breaks dormancy and begins to feed upon the resources stored in the seed. It puts roots deeper into the ground and raises stem and leaf above ground. The seed is consumed in this process, nurturing the embryo until it can draw water and minerals from the soil and photosynthesize these raw materials into the food it needs to continue growing and to produce the next harvest.

You can love the seed, but you must love it for the sake of the embryo. The seed is consumed so that life may flourish. He who hordes the seed, refusing to plant it, kills the embryo, destroys the life, and remains in death and darkness.

The life of Christ, the words-I-am-speaking-to-you, is the embryo more precious than anything else. There are many illustrations in scripture of the growth of this embryo: “you must be born again,” “unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die,” “he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” and “take up your cross and follow me.” The embryo grows at the expense of our own fleshly will, pride, and kingdom. These must die that the embryo can develop and mature. The embryo emerges and the life of God is manifest within us. In that life we are made partakers of the Passover, and the resurrection.

Such statements as these caused his hearers to wonder, “Just who is this guy?” In answer to this question Jesus said,

The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light. (12: 34-36)

and

I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (12:46)

The Greek word used here means literally or figuratively obscurity or darkness, which fits with the text until one remembers that Jesus would not have been speaking Greek. It is much more likely that when he spoke of darkness, he would have been using the Hebrew understanding. If we look at Isaiah 42 where the Messiah is made a light to bring the prisoners out of darkness, that word has the connotations of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness as well as obscurity and darkness.

These last two quotes from chapter 12 recapture the ideas of this post. They show us the contrast between life, i.e. light, and death, i.e. darkness. We understand that just as light overcomes darkness, so life conquers death. The world deals in the currency of death. I-am-the-resurrection-and-the-life has set that currency aside, making it obsolete and worthless by calling “come forth.” Those who walk in the light and believe in the light become sons of the day and no longer abide in darkness.

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Through the Lens of Passover: part 8

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

Jesus’ discourse in John 10:1-14 concerning the shepherd and the sheep is his answer to the question posed by the Pharisees, “Are we also blind?” The eye that is turned toward the light is the eye that sees. The ear that is turned toward the shepherd is the ear that hears. The heart that is inclined toward the shepherd is the sheep that follows.

The pastures are not a safe grazing place. The lion and the wolf are present. Safety does not come from the watchful eye of the sheep nor from being together as a flock. Safety lies only in the presence of the shepherd. The lion and wolf have no power sufficient to pluck sheep out of the shepherd’s hand.

In George Fox’s letter addressed to “All the Kings, Princes, and Governors in the Whole World…” he lays out what following Christ looks like.

So now Christ is come, and you that are called christians will confess him; but how does he exercise his offices in you, or amongst you?

His office, as he is a counsellor; do you hear his voice from heaven, concerning your heavenly state: his office, as he is a leader to lead you out of sin and evil, and to rule in your hearts by faith, as a commander: his office, as he is a shepherd, are you his sheep? and do ye hear his voice? for Christ saith, “I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep:” and again, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and I am known of mine.”

“And he calleth his sheep by name, and leadeth them out; and when he hath put forth his sheep, he goeth before them; and his sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (Works, Vol. V, 319)

Isaiah, in chapter 53, described The iniquity of us all that caused the suffering of the servant. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Jesus’ statement, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” is an acknowledgment of being that suffering servant. His accomplishment is to draw the wandering sheep back to their rightful place as followers of the shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd, and give my life for the sheep” (verse 11) is often misunderstood. Instead of reading that as “I die for the sheep,” we need to look at that verse in light of verse 10: “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I am come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” If the shepherd dies for the sheep, the sheep have only his death, not life. “I have power to lay … [down my life]. I have power to take it up again.” (John 10:18) If the sheep have abundant life, they have a living shepherd who, by all he does (present tense) as shepherd, gives his life to the flock. This is the passage from death to life. It comes by receiving the instructions that open our eyes to the eternal light, open our ears to hear the voice of the shepherd, and incline our hearts to follow.

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. (John 10:37-38)

What are these works that should cause us to know and understand that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”? Some will tell you that it was the miracles he performed. It was impressive that a man born blind could be made to see and that his brain would have been reordered to make sense of this new sensory input. But the real work of the Father is making those who hear and respond to the voice of the shepherd into living beings. Life will not fit into the man-made “Christian” religion any better than the man who received his sight could be accepted by the Jewish authorities.

This is why I have stated there are consequences to hearing and following the voice of the shepherd. Life cannot be hidden. You can’t follow the old fleecers of the flock and follow the shepherd. You are faced with an either/or decision. It is not a difficult decision when one realizes that it is a choice between sheepfold or thieves and robbers, between pastures of life or feeding lions and wolves, and between the hireling who flees at the sight of the wolf or the shepherd who can keep the flock through all dangers.

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Through the Lens of Passover: part 7

…for that eye that is turned from the light is the blind, and leads into the ditch. (Works, Vol. IV, p.25)

In this study, I have been looking at the book of John through the lens of the Jewish Passover. Therefore I am attempting to see what the text has to say about our passage from death to life, our passage from slaves of Satan to becoming sons of God.

It is not clear from the text that the events of chapter nine and all of chapter ten are linked to the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights. I am treating them as though they were joined in theme; an approach you may disagree with.

Chapter nine contains the story of the man born blind, how Jesus gave him sight, the astonishment of all who had known the blind man as a poor beggar, and the Jewish authorities rejection of the once blind man. This chapter sets the background for Jesus’ discourse about the good shepherd, the sheep, and the sheepfold. We then get to the subject of the Feast of Dedication and a discussion between Jesus and the Jews concerning who he is.

What does all this have to do with the Feast of Dedication? How does the history of that feast give us a different understanding of the events of this portion of John? And how does this fit with our theme of passing from death to life?

The Feast of Dedication is centered around the history of the overthrow of the Seleucid (Greek) control of Israel. The Greeks had conquered Palestine, they disrupted temple worship, they put out the light that God had commanded should always be burning in the temple, but when they offered swine on the altar, the Jews rose up in revolt. They threw out the Greeks, cleansed the temple, and rekindled the flame. Thus the second name: Festival of Lights.

Lets look at the events of chapter nine with this in mind. A blind man is a man without light. He was considered defiled, unfit for service in the temple, and thought to be cursed by God. (“Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.”) It is significant that the man was born blind, it was not a temporary loss of sight, it was not a consequence of something he did.

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” said Jesus. And he spat on the ground, made clay from the spittle, smeared this clay on the man’s eyes, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Let’s pause the script. We are witnessing the cleansing of the temple and the kindling of the eternal flame that lights our way to the presence of God. This is taking place within this blind man. Jesus gives the man instruction, the man obeys, he receives sight, and he receives insight sufficient to counter the Jewish authorities. All this takes place on the basis of hearing and following Jesus’ teaching. “If you would be my disciples, abide in my word, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” [from the blindness of following Satan], Jesus stated in John 8:31. Here is our theme of passing out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God, from death to life.

The man, no longer blind, is immediately put to the test. Will he stand by his newly found sight or will he repudiate it to stay in the “comfortable curse” of the religious elite? He stands, he is thrown out of the synagogue as a total outcast. Jesus finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” This is a “believe” that has had consequences and will have further consequences. This is a “believe” that defines the rest of life.

This man has put his life on the line in response to a brief encounter with Jesus. Jesus does not abandon him but seeks him out.

Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” asked the man. Jesus openly identified himself to this no-longer-blind man, who then worshiped Jesus.

One question is “What does it take to believe?” You could argue that the blind man believed because of the miracle. The miracle was substantiated by two or more witnesses (the legal requirement for a fact admissible in court) before the Jewish authorities, who wouldn’t believe.

Jesus’ statement gives us a clue:

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

Even though the event of this chapter concerns physical sight, Jesus’ statement is about that “seeing” within ourselves that shows us our standing before our Creator. In order to believe, we must accept this sight and live by it. The eye that claims to “see” by some other source than the light of Christ must be made blind before the person is convinced of their true blindness. When we come to know that our temple is foul and desecrated, that our “seeing” has been only deception, we can cry out like blind Bartimaeus saying, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.”

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 9:39-10:5)

In the first chapter, the author of the book of John introduces the Word (i.e. the Voice) in whom is the life that is the light of mankind. This voice, this light, this Word, is Christ the teacher that gives us sight to find our way to God. This voice is both our haven of safety (the sheepfold) and the shepherd who reveals to his sheep the pastures of life. In the following two quotes, an epistle addressed, “A WORD FROM THE LORD TO ALL THE WORLD…” and from a letter to Priest Lampitt [“a deceiver, surfeited and drunk with the earthly spirit” (Vol.1, p.167)], George Fox spells out this process of cleansing and enlightening the temple.

And this light is your teacher, which teacheth you holiness, and teacheth you the fear of the Lord; and this light hating of it will be your condemnation, and then you stumble…the earth must be removed, and the earth must be shaken when the glory of the Lord ariseth. This is witnessed…And if you take heed to that light which will exercise your consciences, it will let you see yourselves…and this light will let you see God; but if your minds go forth, the God of this world cometh in and takes the dominion, and so your minds are blinded, and your understandings darkened…mind the pure light of God within, which will teach every one to know God, (Vol. IV, pp. 28-29)

And this light will teach thee, if thou lovest it, it will teach thee holiness and righteousness, without which none shall see God;…The Lord is coming to teach his people himself…The Lord is opening the eyes of foolish people that they shall see such as bear rule over them…Therefore to the light in you I speak…Your teacher is within you; look not forth; it will teach you lying in bed, going abroad, to shun all occasion of sin and evil. (Journal of George Fox, Nickalls Edition, p. 143)

I will look at the rest of Chapter 10 in the next post.

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Through the Lens of Passover: part 6

A short recap of where we have been so far. This study is an endeavor to look at the book of John through the lens of the Jewish Passover. John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” is primarily seen, in today’s theology, as an announcement of a guilt offering. It is primarily taken as a premonition of Jesus’ death on the cross. But this is not the prevailing message of the text. Repeatedly the writer is talking about life, God’s-life-breathed-into-man sort of life, but the source of this life is not related to the cross. What the writer had to say is tied to various Jewish ceremonies, predominantly Passover. The consistent message has been that this life comes by hearing and obeying the voice of the Son. In hearing the Son’s voice, by walking in obedience to the Son’s voice, we are caused to passover from death to life.

In the original incident, Israelite families were protected from the Angel of Death by painting the lamb’s life (or blood) on their door post. Any families who did not paint, lost their first-born to the Angel of Death.

After 60 some years of knowing this story, it has finally occurred to me to ask, “Why the first-born?” The answer to my question, as given below, heightens my sense of urgency that this message needs to be made known.

Throughout man’s recorded history, the first born is seen as the initial blessing of God upon a marriage. Let’s take that concept a little deeper. God’s first blessing on mankind was not offspring, but something else. “And God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living being.” This is the first blessing that is at risk here. Those who fill themselves with the Lamb’s life, as I have discussed in previous posts, do not lose their first born. Those who turn away from the reproof and guidance of the light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world, these lose the breath of life and are no longer living beings. They have lost their first born. There is a lot at stake here, things that can’t be fixed by a sacrificial lamb theology.

This, in the briefest possible form is the outcome, so far, of looking at this text through the lens of Passover. Let us now look at chapters 7 and 8.

To understand the book of John, one must read the teachings on two levels. First there is the text as explicitly stated. But beyond that there is the relationship between the words and the context against which those words are set. The context of chapters 7 and 8 is the festival of Tabernacles, which plays a significant role in grasping the central message of this portion of the book. During this festival, the Jews were to build themselves temporary houses, i.e. booths or tabernacles, in which to live. These booths represented, in part, the temporary shelters of the exodus when the Israelites had no permanent abode. Hold onto this while I set the stage, so to speak.

Chapter seven opens with a discussion between Jesus and his brothers about going to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles. Jesus says he is not going, but later goes in “private”. The mood of the crowd at Jerusalem was one of debate, the events of Jesus’ healing and teaching being the subject.

In the middle of the week, Jesus entered the temple and began teaching the people, which added to the confusion of the public. “Is this the Christ?” “Is this the prophet?” “How are we to know?” these were the questions running through the crowd. You will recall the Deuteronomy 18 passage about God raising a prophet like Moses, into whose mouth He would put His words. This prophet would then speak these words to the people. This is “the prophet” the people were asking about. Look at Jesus’ statements in this portion:

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (7:16-17)

…he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him. (8:26)

…I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. (8:28)

Jesus’ statements are a direct claim to be that prophet promised by Moses. The promise was that the people of God are to live by the words of this prophet. By the end of this festival, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. His remarks from verse 8:31 to the end of chapter 8 are addressed to this group of believers. This brings us to the pivotal passage of these two chapters:

Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to any one; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (8:31-36)

I am going to ignore many things of importance in these chapters and concentrate on those things that pertain to the theme of the Passover, i.e. that which brings life.

First, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about the efficacy of belief. Christendom, as commonly practiced today, is a belief-centered religion. Now, I will grant you that believing that Jesus has something vital to impart that is not to be had from any other source is an important step. But it is only a first step, as it were, not the entire process. Remember the quote from the Evangelical pastor from part two of this series?

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

Does belief make us a disciple? Does belief make us free? Does belief make us any less sons of the devil? The answer is “No,” on all counts.

Second is this word “abide.” Jesus is calling would-be-disciples to take up their habitation in His teaching. He is not talking about a multi-volume set containing the sayings and teachings of some great master. On the contrary, “Abide in My word” is a call to an ongoing relationship between master and pupil. It is to be a permanent dwelling rather than the ephemeral dwellings of this festival.

The third thing is this statement? “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

Free from what? Death. The truth shall make you passover from death to life. How did death come upon us? By taking up our habitation in the serpent’s teaching. How do we get this truth? By abandoning our habitation in the serpent’s teaching and taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching. This festival is a recreation of and a reminder of the experience of enslavement in Egypt — the old dwelling — and the exodus and life as nomads — the temporary dwelling. Taking up our abode in Jesus’ teaching is the permanent dwelling — the land of promise. Thus Jesus is the fulfillment of this festival.

By making the claim to be the prophet foretold by Moses, Jesus is not laying down his role as Messiah. Moses was many things to the Israelites, and from the standpoint of Deuteronomy looking forward, we can say that God’s chosen spokesman will be like Moses. However, looking back from the standpoint of Jesus, we can say that Moses was somewhat like Jesus, who is Messiah, Prophet, Shepherd, Counselor, King, Priest, and more. His messianic character is not divorced from the character of the one who brings to us the word of God. Our salvation is inseparable from hearing and abiding in the teaching of the one who is the Word. This, I state again, is our permanent dwelling, and in this dwelling we are free from the bondage endured in the old dwelling, we are delivered from the continual work of the temporary dwelling, and we are made sons of God who remain in the house forever.

Let me say again, the central message of this portion of scripture is that belief is not enough to make you a disciple of Jesus, to make you free from being a slave of sin, or to make you a son of God who remains in God’s house forever. Taking up our habitation in Jesus’ teaching, “abide in my word…” brings us into the truth that makes us free from slavery to sin, taking up our habitation makes us disciples and makes us sons. (Look again at John 1:12-13.) This abode in Jesus’ teaching is our permanent dwelling place rather than a makeshift booth designed to last the week of the festival. It is by this teaching that the Son makes you free from the slavery of death.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 5

This is part five of a series of posts that is endeavoring to look at the statements made in the book of John in light of the Jewish Passover. The rationale for this approach arises because so many of the incidents recorded in this book take place at Passover. Do we come away with a different understanding of this book if we take this approach? I say yes.

John 6 builds on the events that take place in chapter 5, so we are starting from the understanding laid down there and continuing through this post.

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee…And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up into the hills, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him Jesus said to Philip, “how are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:1-6)

The opening narrative introduces the the subject of bread, which is the theme of this chapter. How are you going to feed 5,000 men plus the accompanying women and children with a boy’s snack of five loaves of bread and two fish?

The bread required at Passover is unleavened bread, dead bread, because there are no organisms in the dough to produce gas bubbles and cause the bread to rise. A loaf of bread that rises, live bread, produces perhaps twice the volume of bread as compared to the same amount of yeastless dough. But Jesus did something that not even yeast could have done. He took these five loaves, intended for one boy, and fed some number of thousands of people with 12 baskets of food left over. This is the contrast he makes later on in the chapter when he declares, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger…” The people have gotten this idea for they go looking for Jesus the next day. Jesus tells them:

Do not labor for the food which perishes. but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal. Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the work of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?’ (vv 27-30)

Now comes one of the most profound portions of the whole Bible. The sign, the authenticating work, that we must see in order to believe Jesus, is that he alone can produce the life of God within. This is the Passover as defined in chapter 5. Jesus picks up the theme from Ezekiel:

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves…I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live,…then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:13-14)

You will know when you are brought up out of your grave a living being! So, this is what is going to happen at the end of the world, right?

No, this is what happens when we hear the voice of the Son, the Pascal Lamb that takes away the death of the world.

Jesus told the Jews:

[T]he bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (vv 33-35)

Remember Moses’ statement, I quoted at the end of part four: “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” In this portion of John 6, The Word made flesh is stating that he is that “word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD” by which man shall live. Keep in mind as you read through this chapter that it is this Word that is speaking, it is the word that, if we will hear it, raises us up from our graves and then we know that the LORD has spoken.

Look again at chapter 5, verses 39-40, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” If you have been around Christendom very much at all, you will have run into people who earnestly contend that the Bible is the Word of God. Many even go so far as to call it “The Word.” The implication of those words, “The Word,” is that you are identifying the source of life. “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life…”

Lets look at some of the key passages in this chapter:

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. (v 33)

I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (v. 35)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me, and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. (vv 38-40)

It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (v. 45)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bead which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (vv. 47-51)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. (vv. 53-56)

It is the spirit [breath] that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken (am speaking) to you are spirit and life. (v. 63)

Now we come to the Deut. 18 passage I promised would be covered in this section.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)

“If you do not believe Moses,” said Jesus in chapter 5, “how will you believe my words?” Moses spoke of one whom God would raise up to be his spokesman, A prophet, not prophets, plural, but prophet, singular. In John 6, Jesus is stating that he is that prophet whom all are to hear.

Do you believe Moses? Is it your primary occupation to hear the voice of this prophet? “The words I am speaking to you, these are breath, these are life.” The time of the Passover is at hand. Are you ready to feast on life? Are you listening to the words that are breath and are life? or Do you take offense and wish to withdraw from following Jesus? When Jesus asked these questions of the 12 disciples, Peter answered, “Lord to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Moses stated, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” There is a lot at stake here, everything is at stake here. Those who hear the Word, the spokesman God has raised up, are raised to life because the Word has the words of life. Those who will not hear are not raised from their grave, which is an abomination. The call, the command of the living God, is to come to life. Those who refuse, “I will require it of him.”

The message of the book of John, and very eloquently stated in chapter 6, is that Jesus is the Word, the source of life. Jesus is the Pascal Lamb who causes us to pass over from death to life by the word he speaks within us. This prescription for life precedes Jesus’ death on the cross, the event most theologies credit with bringing mankind to life.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 4

John, Chapter Five

Now, lest I should lose my way, I want to recap what this study is about. Conventional theology looks at John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as pertaining to Jesus being a guilt offering enabling God to forgive errant humanity. Mankind’s salvation, therefore, lay in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to pay mankind’s debt, to appease God’s anger, or to do whatever is demanded by the theology currently in vogue. But, as I have discovered, if I take the understanding that John the Baptist is announcing the Pascal Lamb rather than a guilt offering, a different picture emerges. Since most of the major events throughout the book of John are ascribed to the time of celebrating the Passover, I feel such a look is not only justified, but demanded.

The “different picture” begins with John setting the stage for the Baptist’s revelation. We are introduced to one named the Word in whom is the life that is the light of men. We are given a glimpse of the Word’s power and purpose. John then brings his prologue to a sharp focus, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

I have stated that the effective agent, causing the angel of death to pass over the households of the Israelites, was the life of the lamb, i.e. its blood, painted on the door post. This is entirely consistent with what the writer has been portraying so far in the book of John. In parts one, two, and three I have looked at material from chapters one, three, and four. Chapter five continues in this same vein, which I am taking up here.

The text opens with the statement, “After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The marginal note in my New American Standard Bible states, “Many good manuscripts read, the feast, i.e. the Passover.” OK, so we can say that it is possible, perhaps probable, that the following events take place during Passover. The ideas presented here are very much in line with what I have been discussing to date. However, this time around, the writer brings in something new to the discussion, or at least if not new, now explicitly stated. Lets follow the narrative.

Jesus is in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, where he encounters a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus heals the man and bids him to take up his pallet and walk. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities raised a fuss about this healed man carrying his pallet. When they found out that it was Jesus who had healed the man and bidden him to carry away his pallet, they felt they had reason to persecute Jesus. Jesus answered them saying, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

This forms the background for Jesus’ lecture, if you will, that follows (see verses 19 through 47). He begins with the assertion that the son can do nothing of himself unless it is something he sees the father doing: a basic precept of education and growth. “For whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (verse 19)

We now come again to the Passover theme, but this time with an added dimension. In the historical account, the angel of death was caused to pass over the house with the lamb’s life painted on the door post. Here, Jesus states, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes…Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life…an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.(verses 21, 24, 25) No longer is it a matter of deflecting the angel of death, but now we are caused to pass from death death to life by hearing the voice of the Son and believing to the point of acting in accordance with what the Son tells us. Whereas all those who were involved in that first Passover died, whoever participates in this Passover has eternal life.

What, then, does this do to our understanding of man’s salvation? Look again at the statement from the Evangelical Pastor I quoted in part two of this series:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

By looking at the book of John through the lens of Passover, we see that the writer’s consistent message is that life, not death, is the agent of salvation. We receive that life by hearing the Word through his light within ourselves.

For those who would attempt to gain salvation through their own efforts, the message from the book of John is that such is impossible. We can appropriate the Lamb’s clothing by killing the Lamb, but we cannot create the Lamb’s life for ourselves. The Serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden was, “You can live in your own image, you don’t need the image and life of God.” That recipe is just as false today as it was then. Life comes only by hearing and following the word of Christ spoken within us by his light. Following the light, we come to be clothed by the life.

The writer is quite explicit and unequivocal “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” as the Revised Standard Version renders it. This runs counter to much of modern practice as it did of the Jewish practice. Jesus told the Jews, and it applies just as much to today as it did then,

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (see verses 39-40) How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (verses 44-47)

What is it that Moses wrote, to which Jesus is referring?

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deut. 8:2-3)

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)

These two passages we will take up in the next section.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 3

The Samaritan woman at the well: the fountain of living water.

The fourth chapter of John has a lot of good material, but I want to focus my remarks on the events surrounding the Samaritan woman at the well. My first thought was to skip this chapter because there was nothing there about the effects of Passover, as I have been discussing it in the preceding sections of this study. However, on second consideration, I see now that there are some pivotal points in this passage: what does life do to the recipient? Let’s follow the narrative.

The chapter opens with a journey that caused Jesus and his disciples to pass through Samaria. Now, on the whole, the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were racially and religiously impure. Their sacred writings consisted of only the five books of Moses. Jesus, weary from the journey, stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar, a city in Samaria, while the disciples went to purchase food. While they were gone a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink.

Thus began a conversation ranging from (a) the merits of the water in Jacob’s well to (b) the greater benefits of the living water Jesus is willing to give, to (c) what constitutes true worship.

The unifying thread that holds this conversation together is Jesus’ focus on life. “Whoever drinks of the water from Jacob’s well shall thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (My paraphrase of John 4:13-14)

Here is our theme of life being the agent that causes death to pass over. Whoever drinks the water of this world remains unsatisfied. Yes for a time you are not thirsty but the water does not endure, the processes of biology drain this water and the life it provides out of your body. You thirst again.

Not so with the fountain of living water. Look again at Jesus’ words, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

This woman, being somewhat practical, asked Jesus for this water. Who wouldn’t? Well, not everyone is willing to endure the effects of a well of living water springing up within them. You can’t hold onto death and the power of manipulation derived from death at the same time you embrace the living water. You must choose one or the other. God stated through Jeremiah: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11-13)

All the religious systems devised by mankind are nothing more than broken cisterns; they can’t hold the water of life.

Doesn’t it count for something that we have made an effort to please God?

Hewing cisterns out of rock requires a prodigious amount of effort, but the effort does not make us living beings. It is living beings that please God. We are made living beings by yielding to the reproofs and guidance of the light that comes from the life that is in the Word. This cannot be stored up against a season of drought. We must walk in it continually. We must know the living water to spring up within us. There is no valve to regulate the flow. The life is abundant, dependable, and constant. It is a more fundamental constant than Planck’s.

Go call your husband

This racially and religiously impure, this scripturally impoverished Samaritan woman did something the “enlightened” Jew would not. She asked for and received living water. She embraced the work of that water within her. To the enlightened Jew, Jesus would say in chapter five, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have life. They testify of me. And you will not come to me that you might have life.”

“Go call your husband,” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. This is the first consequence of her asking for and receiving life. Jesus began to expose the covering of darkness and death of her former manner of living. Her lifestyle must now change to be aligned with the life and purpose of God.

In this portion of the conversation, Jesus explains to the woman that she has had five husbands and the man she now has is not her husband. The woman asks if Jesus is a prophet and launches into one of the major controversies between Jew and Samaritan: Is God to be worshiped in Jerusalem or in the mountain in Samaria? Jesus answered neither in Jerusalem nor in the mountain will you worship the Father. For those who worship him must be alive and worship in that life.

Here we come to the second consequence of the woman asking for and receiving life: the life within us recognizes its source. This woman is given to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one who “will tell us all things.” (See Deut. 18:15-19) Jesus confirmed the revelation, and the woman departed and brought back many of the people of Sychar. These people were made curious enough by the woman’s report that they came to see for themselves. Could this be the Messiah as she testified? They, in turn, came to believe, not only because of the testimony of the woman, but because they had heard for themselves. They drank of the living water.

The writer of the book of John began with the announcement that the companions of death are deflected, caused to pass over, by clinging to the light that brings us into the life that is in the Word. Misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness can neither comprehend nor overcome the life that is the light of mankind. The proof of these claims, as illustrated by this narrative, is to drink of the living water and experience first hand the effects of the life of God within.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 2

Introduction From part 1:

Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?

John, Chapter 3

The third chapter of John contains some of the most quoted passages of the Christian Scriptures. And it, therefore, likely has the most entrenched theology surrounding those passages. Lay aside those theologies and look at this chapter with new eyes.

Since John the Baptist’s proclamation concerning the Passover lamb in chapter 1, John has taken the reader through Jesus gathering disciples, the wedding feast at Cana, and the cleansing of the temple. Now, during the Passover, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.

In the discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus states, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A human is brought from non-existence into this world by the process of being born. But the kingdom of God, the rightful habitation of human kind, is not to be seen from this birth. In the creation story, told in Genesis, man becomes a living being when God breathes into him the breath of life. In the first chapter of John, the agent of life is the Word. The “breath” of Genesis has become an intelligible Word that we must receive and by which we must live. Before we can see the kingdom of God, we must know the breath of life to be breathed into us by the Word that was in the beginning. Edward Burrough put it this way, “But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long…” (Works of Fox, Vol.III, p.6) This is the birth that can see and dwell in the kingdom of God. This is a birth that comes at the expense of that birth that has its crown, glory, and rest under this sun.

Jesus continued, explaining God’s love and concern for His creation, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Even though the familiar quotation stops here, the passage continues.

For God sent the son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-20)

The light is come that dispels the darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness). The Passover lamb has come and been recognized. The love of God has been set forth in pointing out the way to enter the kingdom of God. But men loved darkness, and all the associated connotations noted earlier, rather than the light that leads to life. When your deeds are evil, you seek out the darkness and shun the light.

“But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” When the angel of death visited Egypt, those whom death passed over escaped because of their deeds. They were instructed what to do and their deliverance was in accordance to their obedience. Notice Jesus’ insistence on deeds. If your deeds are evil you hate and shun the light. If you do the truth, you come to the light and you love the light; your deeds, one way or the other, are made manifest. “Doing truth” is not according to some formula or prescription of actions. “Doing truth” is hearing the voice of God and acting accordingly. Your deliverance from darkness is in accordance to your obedience.

John follows this discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus with another conversation between John the Baptist and various, unspecified, Jews. During this conversation, John the Baptist states, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

All the sermons I ever heard that dealt with salvation and used John three, pick up on Jesus’ statement about being born again and pull John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Furthermore, those preaching these sermons have had a focus on Jesus’ death on the cross. Here, at this point, this study parts company with those theologies. It was not the death of the pascal lamb that caused the angel of death to pass over your dwelling. It was painting “the lambs life” on your doorpost that was effective.

Let us jump forward a little. In chapter six Jesus tells the Jews, “Except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of man, you have no life in you.” He later explained to the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I am speaking to you, these are spirit, these are life.”

If Jesus’ words that he is speaking to us are spirit and are life, then lets rework John the Baptist’s closing statement of chapter three:

For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He [speaks to us] without measure…He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Now, what does this do to our understanding of the message of this chapter? This is telling us something different than that proclaimed by those preachers-of-sermons I mentioned earlier. They would likely have agreed with this statement taken from an Evangelical pastor:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

Look again at John’s progression in this chapter.

  • He introduces the concept of a birth that can see the kingdom of God and a birth that cannot see the kingdom.
  • He has portrayed God as being concerned enough for His creation that He has sent His Son so that any who believe in him can have everlasting life; the life man had in the beginning.
  • He has given us the ‘field marks’ to distinguish those who live in the kingdom from those who do not. Those who do evil hate the light, while those who act in God love the light. Unlike identifying birds, for example, we can choose which field mark identifies us.
  • He has explained that to “believe in” cannot be divorced from hearing and obeying the voice of the Son.

What does this have to say about the new birth and salvation? To as many as receive Him (i.e. the Word who was in the beginning in whom is the life that is the light of mankind), even to those who believe in his authority, to them he gives the power to become children of God, who are born, not of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” (See John 1:12-13) The new birth comes when we receive the light, accept and love the reproof and guidance of the light that shines in our darkness, and enter into the life that comes only from the Word. Thus are we recreated in the image of God — living beings. This is salvation for it takes us out of the darkness, out of death, and brings us into the light, the life, and the relationship with the Father we were created to enjoy. Here we experience death to pass over, leaving us untouched.

Our participation in this Passover is a continual relationship with the Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world. Our Lamb obstructs death by instructing us in the path of life. After all, his name is The Word of God! Instead of a theology purporting to thwart death by death, we are brought to a constant infusion of life into our very being. It is life that causes death to pass away. Jesus’ words that he is speaking are this life that we receive by hearing and walking accordingly. Are we listening? Are we hearing? Are we walking?

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