What is the Sabbath? – John 5:16-30, Part 2

What is the Sabbath? It goes back to Genesis chapter 2, verses 1-3.  Page #2 of your pew Bibles, so you know this is going back to the beginning.  Well, almost.  Actually, we’re going back to the story of creation, and we read it described like a week.  God creates the universe on the first six days of the week, and then we read this:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

See that word “rested” or “ceased”?  It is the Hebrew word, “shabbat,” which where we get the English word “sabbath.”  Sabbath means “to rest” or “to cease.”  The Sabbath day, the day of rest, would get a lot more attention in the Old Testament Law.  If you turn to Exodus 20, verses 8-11, we read Ten Commandment number 4,

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

In their covenantal agreement with God, the people of Israel were not to work on the Sabbath, and instead they were to preserve it as a time for personal rest, relational connection, and worship with God.  It was an actual 24 hour period, starting on sundown Friday and lasting till sundown Saturday.  It was a day off. 

But it is more than just a 24 hour day off from work.  Notice that there is a principle embedded in the sabbath, that of faith and trust in God.  On that seventh day of each week, the people were to take a break, a day off, from their attempts to earn a living, so therefore they would be trusting God to provide for them.  That means they are purposefully decreasing their earning potential by 14.29% (one seventh).  Think about that.  If they just worked on Saturday, they could give themselves a 14% raise.  That’s a pretty decent raise. 

But God said, “I don’t want you to do that.  Instead, I want you to trust in me, showing the world around you that you trust in me, even as the rest of the world goes on working.  Furthermore, there is something deeply healthy and flourishing about taking time to rest, to worship and to connect with family and friends.  You need the Sabbath.  The sabbath is a gift to you.”

And that’s how it started.  Fast-forward about 1500 years to the days of Jesus.  The Sabbath was still the Sabbath, meaning a time of rest, worship and connecting from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, but it was also something else.  The Jewish religious leaders had turned Sabbath, as they had with nearly the entire Law of Moses, into a legalistic nightmare.  If the foundational law of God was simply, “Keep the Sabbath holy by not working,” those religious leaders, in what was probably, centuries before, rooted in a healthy desire for holiness, placed laws on top of laws.

They strictly and precisely attempted to define what was constituted work.  For example, I’m going to make a rule up, hoping to give you an idea of what it might have been like in Jesus’ day.  Say that the religious leaders decided that you could walk 1000 steps on the Sabbath, and that was not work.  But if you walked 1001 steps, that 1001st step put you over the limit into breaking the law.  They had all sorts of legalistic rules on top of rules like that.  If you were a Jew living in Jesus’ day, your life could be dominated by a repressive legalistic system that had very little to do with the heart of God. 

That’s why these religious leaders saw the healed man carrying his mat, and they confronted him.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  When you keep skimming through the next few verses in John 5, they find out that it was Jesus who healed the man, on the Sabbath, and then told him to pick up his mat, on the Sabbath, the religious leaders are really upset. 

Jesus is clearly ignoring their laws on top of laws, though notice that Jesus is not breaking God’s Law.  Healing a man and telling him to pick up his mat and walk is not even close to breaking the description of keeping the Sabbath holy, which we read in the Ten Commandments. Jesus isn’t earning any money through his healing.  He’s not working on the Sabbath, and neither was the man.  But still, it really angers the religious leaders that Jesus is disregarding their laws, and therefore disrespecting their authority. 

So back in John 5, verse 16, we read that the religious leaders are persecuting Jesus. Persecuting? What does that mean? We’ll find out in the next post.

Is Chick-fil-A’s decision to close on Sundays really necessary? – John 5:16-30, Part 1

My son will nearly every Sunday on our way home from our church’s worship service ask if we can get Chick-fil-A. If you know about Chick-fil-A, you know that my son is either being very forgetful or joking. I can tell you that he’s not forgetful, at least when it comes to getting Chick-fil-A. Instead, he is trying to make a joke, knowing full well that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.

Why would an incredibly popular fast food chain close their doors on the day of the week that is arguably the most profitable for fast food? It’s a somewhat radical decision in today’s world. The founders of Chick-fil-A require all their locations to be closed on Sundays, and they do so based on their Christian faith commitments. In fact, their outdoor signs say, “Closed Sundays,” as you can see in the photo above.

Should Christian establishments be open or closed on Sundays? On the one hand, from a business standpoint, it’s a poor decision to close on Sundays.  Open on Sunday, and you’ll likely increase your income quite a bit.  You’ll also be providing jobs for people.  You’ll be providing a service for people who want to visit your establishment.  You can even say, from a theological standpoint, that since we Christians are stewards of God’s money and possessions, we should seek to expand them for him and his mission.  If we have more money, we can support more ministry. 

On the other hand, what about time for rest?  What about making it easy for people to worship?  What about shutting down on Sunday as an act of faith in God?  Those are all good things, all based on a theological, biblical rationale too.

What did Jesus do about Sundays?

Interestingly, Jesus got in big trouble for working on the Sabbath.  In our series through the Gospel of John, this week we are studying John 5:16-30. In John 5, verse 16, John writes:

“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.”

What was Jesus doing on the Sabbath that would get people upset at him?  Sabbath being a day of worship, was he interrupting worship services in the temple or synagogue?  Was he himself skipping worship services and telling people to skip with him?

No.  If you scan back to verse 8 earlier in John chapter 5, we read what we talked about last week.  Jesus healed a man and then said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” 

That’s exactly what you would do if you just healed a man who had been waiting for this healing for 38 years.  John tells us in verse 9, the man did what Jesus said, but there was one little detail about this situation that presented a problem.  It happened on the Sabbath day.  When the Jewish leaders saw the man walking and carrying his mat, as we can see in verse 10, the basically say, “Stop right there, buddy, you are breaking the law.  You can’t carry your mat on the Sabbath.”

Huh? To us, this sounds utterly ridiculous.  How is carrying your mat on the Sabbath breaking the law?  How could that possibly be?  To try to answer that question, we need to understand the importance of the Sabbath in the Jewish mindset and culture.  What is the Sabbath? Is it the same as Sunday?

Check back to the next post tomorrow, and I’ll try to answer that question.

Are you living your best life? – John 5:16-30, Preview

A group of friends are joking around on a hill overlooking a town, so they take a photo and post it on Facebook with the caption, “Living our best life!” A person is enjoying their bowl of Lucky Charms one morning, so they take a selfie of the moment, post it on Instagram, captioning it with “Living my best life!”  Another person is on vacation at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, so they post a video on Tik Tok in which they say “Living my best life!”  

Are you living your best life?  

The idea of a person living their best life is a contemporary phrase that is often used on social media.  It’s not meant to be understood literally, as if we could even know if we are or if anyone else is living this so-called best life.  Even if a person seems to be doing extremely well in all areas of their life, there’s a high probability that they could improve at least something.  So what do people mean when they say, “I’m living my best life”?

They are referring to a really good feeling about life.  It might be a feeling in the moment, or it could be that they are experiencing an extended period of blessing.  In other words, people tend to define their best life in an individual way.

In other eras we called this “living the good life.”  Certainly each individual person can have their own opinion about what the good life is for them.  But is there a kind of life that is good beyond each individual’s opinion?  Can the government tell us what the good life is?  Can a very wise person say, “I have figured out what the real good life is”?  There are certainly many attempts.

Professor Laurie Santos of Yale University teaches a course called Psychology and the Good Life, and it has become Yale’s most popular course in over 300 years.  It led to the creation of The Good Life Center at Yale.  Learn more here.  On their website, they have a “Methods” page that briefly describes their approach.  They emphasize wellness in the following categories: eat well, love well, move well, mind well, rest well, save well, seek well, and work well. 

I must admit that I’m intrigued by what they have discovered about the good life.  They seem to have uncovered some scientifically-verified data and methodology that anyone can apply to their lives if they want to experience a happier life.

I wonder if Yale’s approach might have any alignment with Jesus’ approach?  Jesus also talked about the good life.  We Christians have long claimed that Jesus himself literally lived his best life, and that his vision of the good life is something he wants all people to experience.  In our study of the life of Jesus, as told by the Gospel of John, next week Jesus will talk about that good life.  How does he describe it?  And is it possible that you could make some changes to live the good life of Jesus? 

If you’re feeling that you’re not living your best life, then take a look at John 5:16-30 ahead of time, and we’ll talk about it further next week on the blog. 

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

What we can learn from Jesus’ ominous warning to a man he has just healed – John 4:43-5:15, Part 5

Jesus heals a man, and then he says something ominous to the man. John 4, verse 14:

“Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Woah. What got into Jesus? Why so dark after healing the man?

I wonder if Jesus was referring to the man letting fear rule him, which we talked about in the previous post.  Or maybe Jesus is just speaking generally about the condition of the soul, which is instructive for all of us.  While we want physical healing, Jesus is saying that there is a spiritual healing, a pursuit of holiness, that is far more important. 

It is not wrong to desire sickness removed from our bodies, but we should have an equal or more passionate desire to be holy, to remove sin from our lives.  To connect our hearts to him.  Jesus came for the purpose of reconciliation.  Is that a regular thought in our heart and mind?  How can we step closer in reconciliation with God and others?

When Jesus tells the man to stop sinning, as I said above, Jesus is referring to the pursuit of holiness.  What “pursue holiness” means is not to be holier-than-thou; it is not to be self-righteous.  Pursuing holiness is a desire and the resulting action to live like Jesus lived.  To care about what he cared about.  To strive to do what he did. 

Otherwise, Jesus says, something worse may happen.  Sickness is bad, and it can lead to death.  But the something worse that Jesus refers to is likely separation from God.  Jesus could be referring to separation from God in eternity, or he could be referring to separation from God in the here and now.  Separation from God is life lived without relationship with him, without connection to him, without his Spirit in our lives.  Any separation from God is truly something worse.

So let’s be passionate about pursuing Jesus and his way of living.  Let’s believe in him so that we give our lives to follow him in 2023 and beyond. 

Again, though, I am shocked when I read how this story concludes in verse 15:

“The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”

This guy seems dominated by fear.  Twice he tells the religious leaders, “It isn’t my fault that I’m carrying my mat on the Sabbath…it was the guy who healed me. He told me to do it.”  Worse, this second time he gives Jesus’ ID to the religious leaders.  I bet the guy was really afraid that he was going to get in trouble with the religious leaders when they confronted him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  That would be awful, especially after he just got healed and was probably overjoyed.  But he was self-focused. 

It is amazing how cold we can be when we are self-focused.  We can receive an astounding undeserved blessing, like loads of Christmas gifts, and still we can fixate on ourselves, on self-preservation.  Jesus had even warned the guy about sin.  Didn’t seem to make a dent, though.  It seems all the guy could think about when he was talking with Jesus was, “Whew, now that I know who this guy is, I can get the Pharisees off my back!”

Here at the end of 2022, maybe you feel a bit like the man who was waiting for 38 years for a miracle.  And it still hasn’t happened, at least as you expected it to. 

In the middle of the waiting, I urge you to start 2023 by counting your blessings.  I urge you to start 2023 by examining your motives and desires.  Are you self-focused, even in some small way?  What can you do to be more God-focused in 2023?

Let’s ask God to help us see him more in 2023.  He is here.  Emmanuel, “God with us.”  And we are called to be his hands and feet to others.  We now have the wonderful privilege to be the presence of the Jesus in the lives of those around us.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Has fear kept you quiet about God – John 4:43-5:15, Part 4

In the previous post, we studied John 5:1-6, the story of Jesus’ in Jerusalem, asking a hurting man if he wants to be healed. What does the man want?  We find out in verses 7-9. 

“’Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘“’I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”

That’s two miracles in a row! The first we studied earlier this week here. In that previous post about John 4:46-54, Jesus healed a man’s son who was on his deathbed, and the man and his whole family responded to the miracle by believing in Jesus. Now we have another piece of evidence to place faith in Jesus.  Will the man in Jerusalem also place his faith in Jesus?

John tells us, as we read above, the man, now healed, just walks away, as you would if it’s been 38 years since you walked!  You indulge in it!  But it means that both Jesus and the man disappear into crowd that would have been in Jerusalem for the feast.  They don’t talk further, at least not yet.  But the man does talk to other people. Look at the middle of verse 9 through verse 13:

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.”

Oh boy…trouble is brewing.  The Jewish leaders, probably Pharisees, because they were hyper-concerned about this kind of thing, question the man, “Who did this?!?!”  As if someone had injured the man or mugged him.   No, someone healed him, and then told him to pick up his mat and walk.  I find it interesting how the healed man responds to the religious leaders. 

Also notice how different the healed man’s response is as compared to the royal official’s response in the previous story.  The royal official and his whole family believed in Jesus.  But this healed man?  It seems he lets his fear of the religious leaders get the best of him. 

When questioned by the religious leaders for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, the man says, “The man who healed me told me to pick up my mat and walk!”  I see fear all over his answer.  Think about it. You’ve just been healed, after 38 years of desiring healing, and then when asked by a healer if you want to be healed, you say, “Yes!”. But then you don’t honor and protect the man who healed you?

We could be really hard on the healed man for not sticking up for Jesus.  But frankly, let’s turn the lens on ourselves first.  We are ones who have been abundantly blessed by God.  Some of us have experienced physical healing ourselves.  We could all count our blessings.  And yet, while we may not betray Jesus, we can sure ignore him.  I wonder how that makes him feel?  Keep that in mind.  We forget our blessings so fast.  Instead, we can fixate on the times we did not receive what we hoped for. Or, like the man, we can allow fear of reprisal from others, keep us quiet about the blessings we’ve received.

Back to the story.  Were the leaders upset at the healing or at Jesus’ saying the man should carry his mat on the Sabbath, and thus break the law?  They likely viewed both the healing and the mat-carrying as illegal on the Sabbath.  At this point, we only have a foreshadowing.  John seems to include the interaction between the healed man and the religious leaders to add a tone of ominous threat to the story.

Staying with that ominous theme, Jesus himself gets a bit dark in verse 14, and we’ll find out how in the next post.

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

The important reason Jesus asked permission before healing a man – John 4:43-5:15, Part 3

In Tribe, Sebastian Junger points out that in our nation’s history, there were plenty of English people who for one reason or another became part of Native American tribes.  What might be shocking is to learn that when English people acclimated to tribal life, they almost never wanted to go back to colonial life.  Even if they were prisoners of war, and they were liberated by the English, once they got a taste of tribal community, they didn’t want to go back.  Interestingly, the opposite almost never happened, Native Americans who wanted to become English.  Further, Native Americans who were prisoners of war and even acculturated to English culture always wanted to be back with their tribe.  Junger’s point is that communal life in the tribe is deeply supportive and life-giving. My point is a bit different. In Tribe, I was reminded that there are other ways of life that we might think are backwards or even wrong, but they might not only be okay, some just might be better.

That reality seems to figure largely in the next miracle that we’re studying this week. In John chapter 5, verses 1-6, we read,

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

I love that.  Jesus asks him if he wants to get well.  You might think, “Of course the invalid man would want to get well.” But that’s not always the case.  As awful as it might seem, the man had a made a life for himself.  38 years.  In 38 years, you can not only get used to a certain way of life, you can really come to enjoy it, to find satisfaction in it.  Even if it is not the kind of life that society and culture say is the good life.  But society and culture don’t have the corner on the market of the good life, do they?  Actually, let me rephrase that question this way, “We don’t have the corner on the market of the good life, do we?” 

We American can assume that we know what is best for people.  That our way of life is the best way, and of course everyone would want to live our way.  We can be especially guilty of importing our way of life all over the world.  But not always.  I’m not saying the American Dream is all wrong. I’m just saying, we need to be humble about our way of life.  Not everyone wants it, and you and I just might be surprised about how other ways of life can be fulfilling and lead to flourishing. That’s precisely what Junger talks about in his book, as I mentioned above.

Jesus knows the human tendency to become accustomed to a way of living. Jesus knows that sometimes one person’s intention to help results in hurt.  So he first asks the man, “Do you want to get well?”  Jesus shows humility here, not just barging into this guy’s world and changing things around, assuming that he knows better.  Certainly, if there was anyone who could say, “I know better,” it was Jesus.  But Jesus shows us the way of humility by asking a question.  Jesus was a master questioner.  Asking the man, “Do you want to get well?” brings dignity and ownership of the solution to the one being helped.  It’s a beautiful teaching as we observe the heart of Jesus in asking the question.

What does the man want?  We’ll find out in the next post.

Photo by Yeyo Salas on Unsplash

The right response to miracles – John 4:43-5:15, Part 2

It’s early in his ministry years, and after having been away from home for awhile, Jesus is heading home. Will he, like he mentioned in John 4, verse 44, be treated with contempt? Or will he receive a hero’s welcome? John writes this in John 4, verses 45-47:

“When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there. Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine.”

It is hard to know what the welcome was actually like.  The way John writes that verse makes it possible, and I think I highly possible, that the Galileans were primarily interested in what Jesus could do for them, because he was a miracle worker.

Remember what happened in John 2, verse 23?  It’s what John refers to above when he writes, “They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.” What he did in Jerusalem was many miraculous signs.  Almost certainly, those miraculous signs were healing the sick, the blind, the lame, the mute.  Of course they welcome him.  They want the magician to do more tricks, especially tricks that will benefit them!  Entertain them.  Heal them.  But it doesn’t seem they are interested in a spiritual savior.  Thankfully, sometimes when you want one thing, and you end up getting something you didn’t originally want, only to realize what you wanted in the first place is not nearly as good as what you got.  Is that confusing?  Keep with me, because what John says happens next will help you understand:

“And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.”

Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker has people excited.  And hopeful.  A man with a sick son visits Jesus, begging Jesus to heal his son.  The man was a royal official, meaning he was a Jewish man who worked for the local king, one of the Herods, who was called King, but was actually a regional governor under the authority of the Roman Empire.  Still, though the man with a sick son is a local bigwig, apparently the medical options available to him haven’t worked, and the man is desperate.  He hears about a up and coming miracle worker, and rushes to him.

Jesus says something in verse 48 that might come across as offensive to this man who has come to Jesus for help:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

Is Jesus being mean?  Doubt it. We know that Jesus is mean.  Instead, Jesus is revealing the truth about so many people that were interested in him.  We don’t know if Jesus’ comment applied to the royal official, or if the royal official’s request gave Jesus an open door to make a comment about the society in general.  The people, by and large, would not believe unless they had some kind of proof.  What is Jesus getting at? 

Jesus is talking about faith. Faith is, by definition, believing in something that cannot, in the end, be proved.  There is evidence, sure.  For believing in Jesus, I would even say that there is lots of great evidence.  But proof?  No. 

For example, Christianity rests on one foundation, that of the resurrection of Jesus.  If the resurrection didn’t happen, the foundation crumbles, and the entire structure of Christianity crashes down in failure.  But we can’t prove the resurrection happened.  We believe it by faith.  There is absolutely lots of wonderful evidence that Jesus really bodily rose from the dead, and I would be happy to have a conversation with read about that evidence, but I cannot ultimately prove it.  That’s where faith comes in.  We choose to believe, not only in our hearts and minds, but more importantly with the choices of our lives, showing that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  For us. For relationship. For love.

Jesus was concerned the people were only into him for the healings, and they were not going to genuinely place their faith in him.  Would they still choose him if he doesn’t perform as they want?  But the royal official, as I said, is desperate.  His son is dying.  He has nowhere else to go.  Sometimes that’s the very position we need to be in to go to God, the awful feeling of desperation.  And that is as good a time as any to go to God.  Which is what the man did.  Look at verses 49-54.

“The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus replied, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.’ Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.”

I love it.  Jesus doesn’t touch the man’s son.  He doesn’t even go to visit him to look at him.  The distance from Cana to Capernaum is 16.5 miles.  Jesus, instead of making that three to four hour walk, just heals the son right then and there by declaring it done.  And it was done. 

In verse 52 we learn that the man is on his journey home, and it is the next day.  Why the next day, when it was just a 3-4 hour walk?  We learn that the boy was healed the previous day at the seventh hour, which was about 1pm-2pm, so apparently the man waited to return home until the next day.  His servants meet him on the way to tell him the wonderful news that his son is healed!  The royal official is overjoyed, and he and all his household believe.  He wanted one thing, and he got it, but he also got another thing that was better.  His son was healed, and they all believed in Jesus.

I must admit, it is definitely easier to believe in Jesus when you experience his blessing.  When you see him at work in your life and in the world.  On Christmas Eve morning, in my house we woke to a frozen kitchen sink cold water pipe, and a frozen water line in the fridge.  Our family was coming over early afternoon, and we had Christmas Eve worship at night.  I was anxious and saying breath prayers to God, which basically amounted to “Help!”  We had been up at 2:30 and 4:30am stuffing the wood stove, trying to fight against the icy wind blasting the front of the house, which is where the kitchen sink is located.  We even opened the cabinet and put a space heater, hoping to keep the water lines thawed.

Interestingly, the hot water line worked.  There must have been a weak spot in the insulation by the cold water line.  So I went in the basement and used a hairdryer on the cold water line, and prayed more.  After maybe an hour, it thawed!  So I put more insulation around it.  But the hairdryer didn’t seem to be making a difference on the fridge water line.  I wasn’t even sure it was frozen. It might have just coincidentally broke at the same time, but that seems fishy, doesn’t it?  So I stuffed insulation around it too, and we were without fridge water for the day.  Not a big deal at all, but I was bothered.  House stuff stresses me.  When we woke Christmas Day, the fridge water was now working!  I was thanking God.  Was it a miracle?  I doubt it.  But it was a blessing; something I was thankful for.  It is a good thing to thank God whenever we experience blessing of any kind. 

This royal official had just experienced a massive blessing, that of the life of his son, and he believed.  That is the right response to the blessing of God, to believe in God.  To give your life to him.  To acknowledge God’s activity in our world.

Then we come to another miracle, which we’ll find out about in the next post. 

Photo by Andrew Moca on Unsplash

Why Jesus said a prophet isn’t honored in his home town – John 4:43-5:15, Part 1

I learned something about miracles in Faith Church’s worship service yesterday. Each week we have a volunteer host/ess, and they guide the service, welcoming everyone, making announcements, leading the prayer time and providing other transitional elements. Yesterday, our hostess, Chris, in her transition to the sermon, talked about how many albums, songs and movies have the word “miracle” in them. She played clips from a couple songs like Barry Manilow’s “It’s A Miracle” and, from Fiddler on the Roof, “Miracle of Miracles“. One song is about real miracles, one maybe not. The point is that we use the word “miracle” so frequently, as I mentioned in the preview post here, that we are in danger of missing out on real miracles. How do we see and respond to miracles? We’re going to try to answer that question this week on the blog.

This past August we started studying the book of John to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”  After a break for Advent, we now return to that study, right where we left off, John chapter 4.  And since it’s been a month, we’re going to do a bit of review.

As you’re reading this post, I encourage you to open a Bible to John 4, verse 43 and follow along. 

The first words of verse 43 are “After the two days.”  After which two days?  Scan back to verse 40, and there we read that some Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them, and he did so for two days.  When you consider that Jews and Samaritans hated each other in those days, what led, Jesus, a Jew and his 12 Jewish friends, to hang out with Samaritans for two days? 

If you scan back even further, all the way to chapter 3, verse 22, we learn that near the beginning of his ministry years, Jesus had a baptism outreach in Judea, the southern region of Palestine.  But the religious leaders were tracking Jesus, and they became aware that Jesus’ ministry was starting to outpace John the Baptist’s ministry. 

When Jesus found out that religious leaders were keeping an eye on him, he shut down his ministry and headed north toward his home region of Galilee, away from the religious leaders’ headquarters in Jerusalem.  Far away in Galilee, it would be much more difficult for them to watch him. Not impossible, of course, as they had their people stationed around the entire country.

On his trip home, Jesus took the unusual step of traveling north through Samaria, unusual precisely for the reason I mentioned above, the Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  In Samaria he met the woman at the well, and he had a conversation that changed her life, as well as the lives of many in the town, and that’s why they asked him to stay for two days more. 

Now return to John chapter 4, verse 43, and we learn that Jesus’ stay with the Samaritans is over, and he completes his trip home to Galilee.  But in verse 44, the Gospel writer, John, makes a surprising parenthetical comment: “(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)” 

Jesus is headed home.  It should be a grand homecoming, but Jesus said a prophet has no honor at home.  Why?    

I think we need to review even further.  When Jesus first leaves home, he’s a no-name.  Literally. He’s a single man, 30 years old, and that means he is getting toward the upper end of marriagability in his culture.  Most men in that culture would have been married by his age.  Not Jesus. He’s just working in his family business.  A handyman.  He’s living in a no-name town, in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire.  There seems to be nothing special about him at this point. 

But there is talk around town about a new prophet named John. This John guy is calling the nation to get ready for the Lord to return, asking them to repent and be baptized.  Thousands make the trip to see this Elijah-like prophet in the wilderness, and when they repent of their sins, John baptizes them in the Jordan River.  It’s no surprise that Jesus would go there too.  Lots of people made the trip. 

When Jesus shows up at John’s baptism ministry, however, John makes some surprising comments about Jesus, saying that Jesus bis the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Then John, who is eagerly baptizing everyone who comes to him, doesn’t want to baptize Jesus.  How many people in the crowd saw this?  Who is this guy that John won’t baptize?  Why won’t John baptize him?  But Jesus convinces John to go through with the baptism, and then something like a dove Spirit alights on Jesus and a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved son.”  Imagine being there for that!

Right away, over the next few days, Jesus calls some men to follow him, to be his disciples.  How odd! A handyman does not normally have disciples.  These are regular salt of the earth fishermen from his home region, and they all travel together back home. They go to a wedding where the wine runs out, and Jesus’ mother cajoles him to do something about it.  And he does.  He miraculously turns water into the best wine they’ve ever tasted, and the disciples place their faith in him.

Then it seems Jesus disappears and the men go back to fishing.  After 40 some days, he shows up again, and now things start to move fast.  Jesus calls more disciples to follow him, and soon enough his entourage has grown to a group of 12 men, plus other men and women start to follow him closely. 

Next they make a trip to Jerusalem that includes a wild scene at the temple, where Jesus turns over the tables of the shady moneychangers and sellers of sacrifices, declaring that they have made a mockery of God’s house.  Amid the ensuing chaos, the religious leaders are watching.  They challenge him, asking Jesus for a sign to prove his authority, and he answers cryptically, “You want a sign.  I’ll give you a sign.  Destroy this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.  That will be your sign.”  The leaders roll their eyes, as of course they aren’t going to destroy their own temple, but even more so because it is ludicrous to think that one person could rebuild the temple in three days when it took 46 years to build and still wasn’t finished.  

Jesus then leaves the temple, and his star shines brighter because he does many miraculous signs in Jerusalem.  The baptism, the wedding miracle, the disciples, the temple riot, then more miracles.  At least one Jewish leader is intrigued.  His name is Nicodemus, and he meets Jesus one evening to talk.  During that famous conversation Jesus says, “Nicodemus, you must be born again,” which is to say that Jesus was inviting Nicodemus to place his faith in Jesus. The writer John explains for us that a faith of heart and mind is demonstrated by a life lived in line with the way of Jesus.  It seems Nicodemus believes in heart, mind and life, but we don’t learn that until a later story. 

Now Jesus launches a ministry, the successful baptism outreach in Judea I mentioned earlier.  That leads to the two-day successful stay in Samaria, and now Jesus is back home in Galilee.  In this short survey of how Jesus’ life changed in a matter of what was probably just a couple months, you can see the stark difference.  Just two months prior, Jesus is a no-name.  Now people across Palestine are starting to say his name.  How do you think the people at home in Galilee would be handling this? 

Some probably think this is ridiculous, and Jesus should knock it off and get back to the family business.  Some probably think he has lost his mind, especially when they hear rumors that he started a riot in the temple.  Some are likely thinking what he is doing is wrong, because a handyman shouldn’t be preaching when he never went to seminary.  Some may be wondering, especially when they hear about miracles, if he really is the prophet, the Messiah. 

People probably reacted to Jesus’ newfound fame and ministry in a variety of ways, but what John says in verse 44 is something that Jesus himself said, which you can read about in Matthew and Luke, that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.”  He’s too familiar.  Too known.  Too normal.  He’s the handyman.  Not the Messiah.  Not a prophet.  It seems that John includes that comment as a foreshadowing, because things actually start off rather well in Galilee, which will learn about in the next post.

Photo by Ashley Jurius on Unsplash

Questioning Miracles – John 4:43-5:15, Preview

Have you ever experienced a miracle?  I’m talking a bona fide miracle?  I’m not talking about the non-supernatural way we can use the word “miracle”.  If we’re honest, we can use the word “miracle” in some very mundane situations.  For example, “It was a miracle I got to work on time because Route 30 was a parking lot.”  Or how about this one, “It was a miracle my team won that game.”  Or “It was a miracle the baked corn tasted good because I forgot to add the sour cream.” 

Many events we call miracles are not miracles.  In fact, it’s quite possible we over-use the word “miracle” and are in danger of it losing its meaning.  It’s no small loss when we start calling non-miracles acts of God.  Miracles are those amazing instances of the supernatural impacting the natural.  Miracles are God at work, sometimes bending or breaking the laws of nature, sometimes providing or protecting when our hope is dim or gone.  Many miracles are unexpected, while some are answers to prayer.

Are miracles rare?  Depends on who you ask and how you define miracles.  Some people see miracles often.  Some not so much.  Miracles raise lots of questions in our minds.  Is modern medicine and science miraculous?  What about technology?  If the ancients could see our cars, airplanes, rockets, cell phones, and medical technology, they would likely think each and every one is a supernatural miracle.

Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, once described the iPad as “magical.”  What is the difference between magic and miracle?  Magic is the often complex human manipulation of angle, viewpoint, and sleight of hand, sometimes with astounding speed, agility and intelligence, to make it appear that something supernatural has occurred.  But in magic, nothing supernatural occurs.  Magic tricks can be repeated at will.  So Jobs was right about the iPad.  It is magical, but it is not miraculous. 

This coming week on the blog we resume our study of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  We’ll be looking at John 4:43-5:15, an account of two miracles that Jesus performs.  We’re familiar with the fact that Jesus is a miracle-worker.  As God, it is no surprise that Jesus is able to manipulate the natural with the supernatural.  He does so often.  What is unique about these two miracles is how the people respond.  Two recipients of miracles, two very different responses. 

Join us next week as we learn about the proper and improper response to miracles!

Photo by Some Tale on Unsplash

How Jesus wants you to be the light of the world – Christmas 2022, Part 5

In this week of Christmas posts, we’ve learned that Jesus shines his light into our lives so that we can be a part of his family.  In a previous post this week, I mentioned that one of Jesus’ earliest followers, a guy named Paul, wrote in 2nd Corinthians that people can be deceived so that they cannot see the light of truth.  But Paul had a bit more to say to those of us living in darkness.  He said,

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ [when he created the world], made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

We can know God by placing our faith in him, and we show we have placed our faith in him when we give our lives to follow his ways. That’s how we can receive his light. But it is not as though Jesus wants us to keep his light for ourselves. 

Jesus, who is the Light of the world, would teach his followers that,

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

When we receive Jesus’ light in our lives, he welcomes us into his family, and he leads us to live in such a way that we are shining his light to others by our good deeds.  When we live a life that is like the kind of life Jesus lived, we reach out to help those in need, the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, the hurting, the lonely, to those walking in darkness.  We shine the light of Jesus in their darkness. 

When you see the Christmas lights, may you think not only about Jesus, the light of the world, but also think about how you are shining his light in this world.  How will 2023 be a year in which you shine brighter?  How will live more lovingly, graciously, generously to the people who need it most in our community?

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash