Physician, heal thyself

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Luke 4:14-30

- The chain-smoker, warning her son about cigarettes…

- The bankrupt, lecturing on good business practices…

- The divorce-riven church, preaching ‘family values’ to the culture…

In all these situations we might use this saying: “Physician heal thyself.”  We expect that those promoting healing powers should be the best advertisements for their cure.  So what about Jesus?

Jesus quotes this proverb while preaching in his home town.  He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and proclaims His mission statement  from Isaiah 61:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? 23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. 24 And he said, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:18-24).

Jesus is claiming to be the Servant of the LORD who is proclaimed by Isaiah – the One who ‘binds up the brokenhearted’.  Initially the people are very receptive.  They wonder at his gracious words.

But they are not at all prepared for how gracious this Physician is!  Jesus is about to expand their concept of grace well beyond the respectable boundaries they set for it:

25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way.  (Luke 4:25-29)

This Physician doesn’t prove Himself by keeping His powers to Himself.  He proves His powers by giving them away.  By the Spirit, He continues to bring the Lord’s healing to those well beyond the borders of Israel.   His grace has always been for outsiders – even Sidonians and Syrians.  He is the true Physician not because He heals Himself, or simply those close to Him.  He is the Physician because He heals the world.

The first hearers of this message were “filled with wrath.”  They wanted to control the grace of God and turn it into a meritocracy (with themselves at the top of course!).  But Jesus’ self-abandoning grace refuses to be contained.  In spite of continual opposition from the religious, Jesus proves Himself the Lord’s Anointed by giving Himself away.  He is the Physician who does not heal Himself, rather He goes to the cross. And “with his stripes we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5).

Whether it’s Peter (Matthew 16:21-23) or the passers-by at Golgotha (Matthew 27:39-43), the wisdom of men always imagines that  Jesus should save Himself.  But His glory is to give Himself away, in total dependence upon the Father.  This is how the Physician heals the world:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  (Matthew 20:28)

Fishers of men

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Matthew 4:12-22

What images spring to mind when you picture an evangelist?

Sometimes we think of an adrenaline junkie, who could sell ice to the eskimos.  Yet when we consider the people who helped us to faith – we are reminded of very different character traits!

Simon Peter can be thought of as an arch evangelist.  But in the Gospels, we see a journey from a brash loud-mouth to a loving pastor.  Only at the end, is Peter finally the evangelist Christ wants him to be.

It all begins in Luke 5 with Christ calling him from catching fish to catching people:

Jesus saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.  (Luke 5:2-11).

Simon is not called because of his great Bible knowledge, his professional religious qualifications or his incredible oratory skills.  In fact he’s not even a good man.  He’s a sinner and he knows it, falling at Jesus’ knees and wanting Him to leave.

Jesus does not find a good preacher and change him into a fisher.  He finds a fisherman – a bad fisherman at that! – and makes him a preacher.  It’s not in Peter’s power to make himself an evangelist.  But when the Lord says “Thou shalt”, it has to happen.

Perhaps Peter started reading popular paperbacks on the work of evangelism, because he starts acting with all the bravado we associate with “the evangelist.”  The epitome of his self-assurance emerges in the upper room on the night before Jesus dies:

Peter said unto Jesus, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I”. And Jesus saith unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice”.  But he spake the more vehemently, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise”. Likewise also said they all.  (Matthew 27:29-31).

Peter is as bold as brass and leads the disciples in utter self-confidence.  Yet Jesus knows that this pride will be his undoing.  The man proclaiming his lifelong fidelity to Christ would deny Him three times within a matter of hours.  Bold Peter is exposed as an evangelistic failure.  But broken Peter would show us the way.

After Christ’s resurrection we read a very touching scene (John 21).  It’s the reversal of Luke 5 and of Peter’s denials.

Again we see a miraculous catch of fish, but on this occasion Peter does not want distance from Jesus.  He races towards the One he has just betrayed so terribly.  Something has happened.  Peter knows that there is forgiveness in this Crucified and Risen Master.  His sins don’t make him flee.  Instead he swims ashore with all his might, as Jesus stands, cooking breakfast for his faithless friends.

Right here, over a fellowship meal, Jesus recommissions Peter:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my lambs”. He saith to him again the second time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee”. He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”. He saith unto him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”. Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”.  (John 21:15-18)

Peter would be, not only a fisher of people, but a shepherd too.  He would be a pastoral evangelist.  And this ministry would be founded, not on his brash resolve, but on his broken-hearted love.

The world needs more fishers of men.  But may they be pastoral fishermen.  May they be those whose ministry is founded, not on gifting or qualifications or resolve or righteousness, but on a brokenness over sin, a fleeing to Christ for grace and a love of Jesus confessed to the world

It is written

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Matthew 4:1-11

After His baptism, Christ is driven by the Spirit into the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11)

In His battle with Satan, Christ is like Adam, like Israel and like David.

Like Adam, the devil tempts Him to doubt God’s word and eat.  And like Adam the fate of humanity rests on His shoulders.

Like Israel, He is called ‘Son of God’, and goes through the waters straight into a wilderness trial.  Yet where they caved in to temptation over 40 years, Christ would be the true Israel, resisting temptation over 40 days.

Like David, He’s just been anointed and now faces a giant, man-to-man, whose 40 days of taunts reproach the God of Heaven.  And like David, Christ’s victory would mean victory for His people.

Adam failed.  Israel failed.  But Christ, the anointed King goes to battle for His people.  He steps up as Adam – the True Man; as the Son of God – the True Israel; as David – our Spirit-filled Champion.  And through apparent weakness He slays the giant who has dismayed and defeated us at every turn.  His triumph is our triumph.

Let’s watch the battle unfold…

Round 1:

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.  (Matt 4:3-4)

The devil assumes that Jesus can produce miraculous bread in the wilderness.   This is what the Son of God has always done (e.g. the Bread of Heaven, Exodus 16).  And it’s what He would do again (Matthew 14 and 15).  But in those cases, the Son of God provided bread for others. In doing so He proved Himself to be the true Bread, torn apart to feed the world (John 6:48-51).

Jesus feeds others – but will not feed Himself.  He has come to die – and a death far worse than starvation.  He does it to feed others.  Thus He says: I entrust Myself utterly to My Father, knowing I can abandon everything to Him and live.

Round 2 echoes the first:

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone”. Jesus said unto him, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.

The devil, like so many of his servants, is a preacher.  He knows enough of the Bible to know that the Psalms proclaim the Son of God.  So he says to Jesus – “Psalm 91, as everyone knows, concerns the Son of God.  If that’s you, then you’ll be able to perform this celestial bunjee jump and the angels will catch you.”

But Jesus rejects this PR stunt.  He has come to hurl Himself down – and not simply to be dashed on the stones of the temple courts.  He came to hurl Himself into the great Abyss for us.  At His arrest He explicitly refuses the help of angels to prevent it (Matthew 26:53-54).   As Son of God He must die on that cross and though 12 legions of angels are on 24 hour stand-by, the Scriptures must be fulfilled.  The Son of Man must go as it is written– He must die.  Jesus refuses to test His Father. He will obey Him, even to the point of death.

Round 3:

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) – not by right but by popular choice.  The world follows him and his lying, self-serving, death-dealing ways.  So Satan offers Jesus the chance to form a coalition government.  Satan says, “Let’s not be enemies.  To dethrone me (Genesis 3:15) –will cost your life.  Let’s rule the world together.  Forget the painful business of eradicating evil – there’s another way. Compromise and avoid the way of the cross.”

Despite the Devil’s words, Jesus will receive the Kingdom from His Father, not the devil.  Instead of bowing to Satan, He will crush Him.  Though it costs Him His life, Jesus will never compromise with evil.  His heart is wholly committed to God His Father and so His heart is wholly committed to the cross.

Christ proves Himself to be exactly who the Father declared Him to be.  He is the beloved Son of God because through every temptation He serves others instead of Himself.  The true Son of God proves Himself divine through His utter self-giving.

This is the power that defeats the ultimate Egotist.  Everyone else in the history of the world has failed Satan’s tests.  No-one has ever walked the way of the cross like this. But the True Son of God did.  And Satan is sent packing.

As we read of ‘the master tempter’ and the ‘Lord our righteousness’ going head to head, we are not participants, only spectators.  We watch like David’s brothers watched when their champion went out to fell Goliath.

Christ’s temptations are not, basically, a three point primer in spiritual warfare.  They narrate for us the actual victory of our Anointed Champion.  Jesus is not foremost our Example.  He has taken our humanity to Himself, He has become Himself the true people of God and He has won victory on our behalf.

In our own temptations we must not look within for the power to fight.  Instead we must point ourselves, and the accuser, to Christ and His victory.

‘Yes, I am tempted Devil.  And yes I have fallen, times without number.  But it is written – “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”  (1 John 3:8)  In Him I claim victory!’

The heavens opened

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Matthew 3:13-17

For us it’s a description of rain (cf Genesis 7:11).  For Ezekiel it enabled him to see “visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).  In the Gospels, the heavens open for Jesus in order that He sees the Spirit descend:

Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:16-17).

As Jesus unites Himself to our life in baptism, He is affirmed as the Christ, the Son of God.  Entering our humanity does not cost Him His divinity.  Joining us in our estrangement has not distanced Him from the Father.  No – the Gift and love of the Father continues to pour down on Him.  And the veil that separates us from God is torn down for Jesus.  He walks under an open heaven.

In fact, Scripture doesn’t say that the heavens were closed again for Jesus.  Perhaps we are to infer that, from then on, the heavens were always open to Him.  Certainly He always had the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.

But then on Good Friday, He cried out: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:45-46).  The heavens were black and silent before God’s Son. And yet at that very moment, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51).  The heavens were shut for Him, yet opened for us!

Now, with Christ risen again – vindicated by the Spirit and ascended into heaven – He invites us to be baptised into His life.  In Christ we too have the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.   Which means this: today you walk under an open heaven.

Baptism of fire

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Matthew 3:1-12

When the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were decimated at Gallipoli, it was said to be a baptism of fire.  Much less tragically, a baptism of fire might refer to a stormy first year of marriage or a difficult first match for a football manager.  It is the birthing of something new through affliction.

John the Baptist preached that all of us need a baptism of fire.  In fact, he argues that fire will either be the birth or the death of us.

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  (Matthew 3:10-12)

According to verses 9-10, the whole Abrahamic tree is headed for the flames.  In fact, Israel stands at the head of a human race destined for fiery judgement (e.g. Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8).  And, according to verse 12, Christ the Judge will burn up all the unfruitful “with unquenchable fire.”

So with the flames beckoning, what are we to do?  Fight fire with fire!  Verse 11: We must be baptised by Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  What does that mean?

Well the next thing to happen is for Jesus Himself to be baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17).  The Messiah joins the queue of sinners at the Jordan river.  As the Abrahamites confess their sins and repent, Jesus goes to the head of the queue and is baptised Himself.  He identifies with the bad trees who recognise themselves as such.  But instead of burning them down He comes in solidarity, to be with them and for them.  Jesus is baptised into our kind of life.

And He carries that solidarity with us throughout His life.  Indeed He carries it all the way to the cross.  There Jesus stands at the Head of Israel – the Head of the human race – and He bows His head to the fiery judgement we all deserve.  He is consumed on the cross – offered up as a whole burnt offering.  He endures the unquenchable fire… and comes through the other side.  Interestingly, when John sees Him in Revelation he says “his feet [were] like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” (Revelation 1:15).  Jesus bears the fiery judgement owed to us, and He passes through it.

On the other side of the furnace, Jesus offers us His own baptism.  He was baptised into our kind of life – and now we can be baptised into His kind of life.

If we accept His baptism, we will not escape the fires of affliction.  We will, as the Apostle Paul writes, fellowship in His sufferings, (Philippians 3:10).  But with Christ, this baptism of fire will truly be a birth.  In Him, the flames are not deadly but only refining.

The whole world is heading for the flames.  But will the fires be our birth or our death?  Will we be baptised into the Suffering Christ or will we face the furnace alone?

Turning water into wine

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John 2:1-11

Here’s a phrase, like “David and Goliath” or “the writing is on the wall“.  It doesn’t strictly occur in the Bible.  Instead it arises as a short-hand to describe a famous story.

It’s the first of Jesus’ miracles as recorded by John.  And verse 11 tells us the purpose of it: Jesus “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

As a guest at this wedding, how might Jesus have felt? Engaged couples at another wedding can’t help but have a critical eye for detail.  When the service orders are smudged, they make a mental note not to make the same mistake.

Jesus, as the ultimate Bridegroom, has His eyes firmly fixed on the wedding banquet at the end of history.  He longs for the day when He will be united to His bride, the church.  As such, perhaps he could have sympathised more than most with the “ruler of this feast” (v9). He and the bridegroom were presiding over an unmitigated disaster.

In modern weddings if the wine runs out it’s a little embarrassing.  In the first century however, it was utterly shameful – a reflection on the groom and his family.  Unless Jesus can step in, questions will be asked not just about the groom’s hosting skills, but also his ability to provide for his new bride.

Jesus acts – but with reluctance (v3-4).  Not because he isn’t concerned for the groom – but because “manifesting” His glory will release the handbrake on His public ministry.  It will set in chain a series of events that will lead to the cross.  Nonetheless He rises to the occasion.  And He does far more than anyone could ask or imagine.

Consider first, the quantity of wine produced:

“six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece (v6).”

A firkin is about 10 gallons.  So that’s around 150 gallons or 570 litres of water.  Jesus turns it into the equivalent of 760 bottles of wine.  And, as the “ruler of the feast” calls it, it’s “good wine” – not plonk (v9-10).  Jesus proves Himself to be the true Bridegroom and Ruler of the Feast.

Isaiah spoke of the days of the Messiah in which

the LORD of hosts [shall] make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.  (Isaiah 25:6)

And Amos promised that:

the mountains shall drop sweet wine.  (Amos 9:13)

Here, in little Cana, the Messiah floods this wedding with a “feast of wines.”  It is one aspect of the “glory” which Jesus manifested here: wine represents the new age of the Messiah’s reign.

But wine also means blood.  Indeed, from Genesis, wine is called “the blood of the grape” (Genesis 49:11).  At the end of His life, Jesus would pick up a cup of wine, saying “This is my blood.”  (Matthew 26:28).

In this miracle, Jesus has transformed water used for “the purifying of the Jews” and made it into the blood of the grape.  The old cleansing ritual is gone – replaced with a reminder of blood.  In this way Jesus brings in His new age of blessings and feasting.  Through His blood, He makes us clean and brings us to the ultimate banquet.

The bridegroom from Cana failed to provide.  He is a picture of all us failing husbands.  But in inviting Jesus to their wedding the couple got something right!  The Bridegroom from heaven does not merely make up the shortfall.  He floods them with a superabundance of new life and true cleansing.  He provides lavishly and lovingly for His bride, the church.  And He makes us hungry for that Wedding Feast to come.  Without Jesus we’re drinking water.  With Him, it’s the finest of wine.

Behold the Lamb of God

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John 1:29-51

John the Baptist was a wild and holy prophet whose mission in life was to prepare the way for the LORD Jesus.  John was foretold in the Old Testament as one who would cry out in the wilderness and introduce Jesus to the world.  (Isaiah 40:3ff; Malachi 3:1)  So, when his big moment came, what did John say?

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Think of all the ways John could have described Jesus.  He could have said “Behold the Word of God”, “Behold the Christ of God”, “Behold the King of God.”  “Behold the Priest of God”, “Behold the Light of the World,” “Behold the Heavenly Bridegroom”, “Behold the great I AM”.  But here’s what John thought we needed to know first:  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Behold the Sacrifice.  Behold God’s Bleeding Victim.  That’s the most fundamental introduction to Jesus.

Remember Genesis 22?  It’s 2000BC and Abraham is walking up a hill in the region of Jerusalem with “his son, his only son Isaac whom he loves.”  He’s told to put a knife to his son as a sacrifice of atonement.  Isaac asks, “Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”  Abraham replies: “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”  And on that occasion, the LORD provides a ram.  The ram dies instead of Isaac.  But from that day onwards that mountain was called “The LORD will provide”(Genesis 22:14).  What will the LORD provide?  The Lamb.  The LORD will provide the Lamb on that mountain in the region of Jerusalem.

Fast forward 500 years to the first Passover.  The LORD’s final plague on Egypt strikes both Egyptians and Israelites alike.  He passes through the land and strikes down the firstborn son of each household – unless a lamb dies instead.  The blood of this lamb must be painted on each household’s door with hyssop.  Then they will be saved.  Israel is redeemed by sheltering under the blood of the lamb.  And Passover becomes the most important festival of the calendar.

500 years on, we’re listening in to a prayer of King David.  He’s just committed adultery and murder and in his famous Psalm 51, he’s praying for forgiveness.  He says to God “Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” (Psalm 51:7)  God has hyssop it seems.  Does God also have a Lamb, a sacrifice that averts judgement?  David prays with confidence, knowing that the Lamb of God can cover even his sins.

Fast forward another 500 years and Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah: He would be led ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’.  In this way Christ would be sacrificed to bring us peace.

Fast forward another 500 years.  We are on the hillside outside Bethlehem.  And the angels appear, not to dignitaries, butto shepherds.  Just as Norfolk is known in Britain as the place that rears our Christmas turkeys, Bethlehem was known as the place that produced Passover lambs.  The angels are telling them: Do you want to see a real passover lamb?  Hurry to the stable!

Now come forward 33 years and Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  It’s the tenth day of the first month – and as all of Israel are bringing their Passover lambs into their houses, Jesus enters into God’s house.  On the 14th day of the 1st month, while everyone else is holding their Passover meals, Jesus is hosting His last supper.  He’s meant to be carving the lamb and passing it around.  But there is no lamb on the menu – not that we’re told of.  There is a Lamb at the table though.  And on that Friday, Jesus is slaughtered.

No wonder the Apostle Paul says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

No wonder the Apostle Peter calls us redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The Apostle John hears the song of heaven, and it’s the Lamb they are singing about:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”  (Revelation 5:12)

In fact, Revelation has a wonderful phrase that’s repeated: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” (Rev 5;6; 7:17).  The throne represents the power and authority of God.  And Jesus our Lamb is at the centre.  Where do we see the Godness of God shining at full strength?  In the slaughter of Jesus, our Lamb.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne.

Do you ever worry that behind lovely Jesus lurks a stern God ?  Do you ever think that the cross was a nice gesture from the Son, but who knows about the Father?  No: Behold the Lamb.  When you see Jesus your Lamb you see to the very centre of the throne – the very centre of God.  God’s eternal nature is revealed in the Lamb: bleeding for you.

Shining light

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John 1:19-28

Surely the adjective “shining” is redundant when attached to the word “light”?  After all, what else does a light do  What can it do except shine?

Surely there’s no such thing as a light that doesn’t shine.  Well Jesus, as we’ll soon see, speaks of people who “put their light under a bushel” (Matthew 5:14-15).  Christians are the light of the world, and yet many are lights that do not shine.

Not so with John the Baptist.  He is described by Jesus as a “shining light.”

“Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.”  (John 5:33-35)

How did John shine?  Was it through his talents? Yes, he was talented(Matthew 11:11), but that’s not why he was a shining light.  Was it because of his achievements?  No, the very opposite.  John shone by pointing away from himself entirely.  In paintings which depict John, he is identified by his pointing finger.  This was the secret of his radiance – he pointed to Jesus.

Jesus tells us the secret of John’s brilliance:  “he bare witness unto the truth.”  As John 1 says:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light…  The true Light, which lighteth every man… cometh into the world.  (John 1:6-9)

Christ is the uncreated Light of the world.  John shines as he points away from himself to the true Light.  John’s light is not a light that draws attention to itself, rather his light spotlights the true Light.

We’re all meant to shine (Matthew 5:15) but John shows us the way.  We’re all witnesses (Acts 1:8) but John is the ultimate human witness.  And what do we learn from his example?  We learn to point away from ourselves to Jesus.  We shine the most, when we forget ourselves and turn to the true Light of the world.  May his self-appraisal be ours:

I am not the Christ. (John 1:19)

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, (John 1:23)

[The] shoe’s latchet [of Jesus] I am not worthy to unloose. (John 1:27)

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

The Word was made flesh

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John 1:1-18

Tom Torrance was an army chaplain in World War Two.  He claimed that the number one question soldiers asked him was this, “Is God really like Jesus Christ?”

With bullets flying and lives on the line, this is what they needed to know.  Why? Because if God is like Jesus then, ultimately, it’s going to be ok.

For this reason, it was Torrance’s greatest joy to point to verse after verse in the bible that said: Yes, God is exactly like Jesus.

One of the places he opened up was John chapter 1 and verse 1.  It’s a phrase we thought about yesterday:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Before there was anything else, God was there with His Word – and His Word could also be called “God.”  God has always had a divine Communication.

Words communicate.  They express.  They reveal.  It follows that the Word is the Expression of God.  Everything God wants to say is wrapped up in this Person called “the Word.”

Who is this Word?  Verse 14 declares:

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.  (John 1:14)

The Word is the Christmas baby!  Born of Mary and laid in a manger, the Word is Jesus.  Or maybe it’s better to say that Jesus is the Word.

Jesus did not begin His existence in Mary’s womb.  As He stood before the Jews of the first century He declared, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:56)  He has always existed along with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  He has always been God’s Word.

To know what God is like, we must see Jesus.  Everything we hear Jesus saying and everything we see Him doing, reveals God the Father.  As Jesus draws near, stoops to our level, loves, heals, touches, teaches, suffers, bleeds and dies for us, Jesus shows us God.

Lord Byron once said, “If God is not like Jesus Christ, then God ought to be like Jesus Christ.”  But God is exactly like Jesus- because Jesus is the Word.

I like to put it this way: Jesus is God-sized.  And God is Jesus-shaped.

Firstly, Jesus is entirely God-sized.  He is the eternal Word of God, there in the beginning, the Craftsman of all creation.  You cannot think too highly of Jesus!

And God is entirely Jesus-shaped.  In the words of one archbishop “God is Christ-like and in Him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all!”  Any God we imagine who is not like Jesus, is not God.

This is what it means to say that Jesus is the Word.  He is the Explanation of God.

What does it mean that He was “made flesh”?

If someone has just been particularly callous we might ask them, “Where’s your humanity?”  When we do so, we’re trying to tap into their sympathy.  We want to stir up love for their “fellow man”.  Here “humanity” is synonymous with “compassion.”  A person without “humanity” is a person without a heart.

Does God have sympathy for humankind?  Does He love us – or have a heart?  Yes.  Because, incredibly, He has humanity!

The Word “was made flesh.”  The eternal Son of God became man.  A member of the Trinity became a member of the human race!

And our verse really wants to drive that point home, so it uses a word that’s shockingly base.  “Flesh”.

In latin it’s the word “carnis”.  It’s the source of the word ‘incarnation’. And, less impressively, the origin of chilli con carne.  A.k.a. chilli with meat! That’s the sense of the word ‘flesh’ here.  The Word became meat.

Ask a biologist to describe humanity and they might use the phrase ‘homo sapien’.

Ask a philosopher to describe humanity and they might say ‘a rational animal’.

Ask a butcher to describe humanity and they might say ‘carnis’, ‘flesh’, meat!

When Jesus came it was not in a dreamy visitation.  He didn’t float 6 inches off the ground or don a halo. He didn’t descend like a deep sea diver, wearing a man-suit.  The Word did not ‘put on’ flesh, ‘enter’ flesh, ‘borrow’ flesh, ‘hide behind’ flesh ‘get diluted’ in flesh.  The Word was made flesh.

God has humanity.  And His name is Jesus.

If a king remains on the throne and never climbs down, that’s one kind of greatness.  But there’s another kind too.  It’s the greatness of the King who climbs down, who humbles Himself and who condescends to join His people.  And what about a King who descends even further – becoming a slave, serving His people in poverty, suffering, fighting, bleeding and dying for them.  That’s another kind of greatness entirely.

Think of an adult who speaks to a toddler while towering over them.  And now picture one who stoops down to their level.  Or imagine a homeless man, drunk and lying in the gutter.  One ‘helper’ gives advice from on high.  Another lies down in the gutter, speaking face to face.  This is the gutter-level glory of the Word made flesh.

He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.  He came into our situation to invite us into His situation.  He entered our family – the human race – so that we can enter His Family – the Trinity!  He, the Son of God, became flesh, so that we who are flesh might become sons and daughters of God.

In the beginning was the Word

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John 1:1-18

One of the most common questions about prayer is this: “Should I really pray to God about such and such?”  Sometimes we feel that “bothering God” with the minutiae of our lives is beneath the majesty of the Most High.  Surely God is too lofty to consider me? What He wants are grand acts of devotion, not needy requests.

This is nonsense – but we all fall into such thinking.  That’s why we need the Apostle John to revolutionize our thinking.  Listen to the opening phrase of His Gospel::

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1)

John takes us to the ultimate beginning: Genesis.  The God who was “in the beginning” was not Word-less but Word-full.  Indeed it is by the Word that He has made all things.  But God and His Word go way back – before creation.  God has never been without His Word.  He has always had Another alongside Him.

This “Other” is “with” Him (v1) and “in His bosom” (v18).  Verse 17 names Him most clearly as “Jesus Christ.”  But there are three other names by which He is known in this chapter: the Word (v1), the Light (v4) and the only begotten Son (v18).

We could spend years considering what such names mean for Jesus.  But, for now, let’s explore what this means for the God in Whose bosom Jesus has ever dwelt.

It means that God is eternally Speaker/ Shiner /Father.  Rewind the tape into the depths of eternity and you will only ever see the Speaker communicating His eternal Word, the Shiner radiating His eternal Light, the Father begetting His eternal Son.

This is wonderful news, because these three qualities are quintessentially outgoing characteristics.   God is not first God (in all His Godness) and then Speaker / Shiner / Father.  No, God has never been anything other than Speaker / Shiner / Father.  God is other-centred, to the depths of eternity and to the core of His Being.

Someone who grasped this and its profound pastoral impact was the puritan Richard Sibbes.  He wrote:

“God’s goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness. . . . If God had not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world.  The Father, Son and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves and enjoyed one another before the world was.  But that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation nor a redemption.  God useth his creatures not for defect of power, that he can do nothing without them, but for the spreading of his goodness. . . ”

God is a Speaker, a Radiating Light, a Father, a Fountain and a spreading goodness.  He is not first concerned for Himself and then complaisant to the needs of others.  His whole being is condescension!

Remember this next time you pray.  God’s life and being are directed outwards.  We do not exist as a distraction from His divine glory.  We’ve been birthed by that glory – an outgoing glory that delights in affirming and upholding the other.

He is more committed to listening than we are of praying.  More desirous of helping than we are of help.  His “goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness.”  So now, speak to your Father who loves you more than His own life.