Thursday, April 14, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-14 [Journey to the Cross] Forsaken


My colleague, Andries Combrink, describes Crucifixion as "the most horrible symphony of pain ever designed by man."

Jesus refused to drink the narcotics offered to Him as they crucified Him. He managed, in spite of the excruciating pain, to remain clear and focused throughout the nine hours He was on the cross. During that time He spoke forgiveness over those who crucified and mocked Him, He made arrangements for John to look after His mother, and He assured the repentant criminal that his place in heaven was sure.

There are two opinions about Jesus outcry on the cross. Both, I think, are helpful.

The first is that Jesus knew that the punishment for sin would involve being completely and utterly separated from the Father's presence and love (which the most accurate description of hell) but the reality of that experience was so intense that this gasp of agony and forsakenness is wrenched from Him. It is not that He was caught by surprise at the Father's withdrawal, it is that it was just so bad.

The second opinion is that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 which is the theme-song of suffering in the Old Testament and the most accurate foreshadowing of the crucifixion we have. Any Israelite who had experienced suffering was familiar with Psalm 22. As Jesus suffers God-forsakenness on the cross, He is saying to all who have experienced suffering "I've been there!"

So here's my Easter Picture: Jesus, marred, scarred and stained with the evidence of His suffering - gaunt and pale with pain - cries out in agony. He is literally going through hell for you and me. The pain is beyond anything you and I can imagine and it means that we will never suffer alone. It's a frightening, disturbing, horrendous picture but because of it I have peace.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew27:46)

PS: Break in EmmDevs...

I will be taking a break with eDevs from now to 2 May.
Praying you have a blessed Easter.
God bless and Love,

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-13 [Journey to the Cross] The Nature of True Love

The Nature of True Love

"Sola Gratia" means "by grace alone".

I use this passage when I do marriage prep with couples. For me, the well-loved 1 Corinthians 13 tells us how to love, but 1 John 4 tells us what love is.

According to John, God is love, and He always makes the first move.
  • When we were far away - He brought us near (Eph2:13)
  • While we were still sinners - Christ died for us (Rom5:8)
  • When we were dead - He made us alive (Eph2:4-5)
  • When we were lost - He came to find us (Luke 15:4)
  • When we were blind - He opened our eyes (John 9:25)
  • (And I could go on...)
God always makes the first move - He takes the initiative again and again. The Old Testament is a story of God looking for Adam and Eve, rescuing Noah, calling Abraham, calling Moses, rescuing Israel from Egypt, calling David, sending the prophets and promising the Messiah.

And we don't deserve it - God owes us nothing - but He gives us grace. The Hebrew word -- chêsed - "loving-kindness" is the word that most consistently reflects God's grace.

Norman Snaith, a famous OT theologian, said this about chêsed: "The word stands for the wonder of His unfailing love for the people of His choice, and the solving of the problem of the relation between His righteousness and His loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension."

John uses the Greek word "agape" to describe God's love but I can't help but wonder if he would have used chêsed instead of agape if he could have mixed his languages.

Look at what God's Love -- Loving-Kindness -- Grace does:
  1. It takes the initiative -- God shows His love to us long before we do anything for Him (We are undeserving)
  2. It gives -- God sent His Son into the world so that we could live (He showed us what God is like -- John 10:10)
  3. It sacrifices -- God sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice. (at-one-ment is how God makes us one with Him)
  4. It transforms us -- We can love and become agents of grace.
500 years ago Martin Luther nailed a letter to a church door in Wittenburg. He had tried to get near to God by good works and failed. When he read the Bible he discovered that God had already made the first move: He offered us grace.
  1. God took the initiative
  2. He sent His Son
  3. He died for our sin
  4. He makes us new.
It is by grace alone that we are saved. 
This is the nature of True Love.
 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1John4:9-12)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-12 [Journey to the Cross] Why did Jesus have to die?

Why did Jesus have to die?

Paul wanted the church in Rome to help sponsor his planned missionary trip to Spain. Instead of sending them his CV, he sent them a breakdown of the gospel he preached so that they could see that he was "legit".

In Romans 1-4 Paul has argued that the world and humanity are broken: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom3:23) And in ch.4 he has shown how Abraham had righteousness credited to his account because of faith and not because of his works. Now in ch.5 he explains the "mechanics" of the faith.

In the "first Adam" all of humankind have sinned and are thus far from God. So, we needed a "second Adam" (fully human but untainted by the first Adam's fall) to open a new way. God's incredible gift is Jesus who is the "second Adam". 

When we were in trouble because of the First Adam's legacy and his traits in us, God made a plan: while we were helpless and while we were trapped in unrighteousness, He sent Christ who died for us while we were still sinners!

God sent a Second Adam to redeem the legacy of the first one. Adam, in his brokenness, represented all of broken humankind. Now Jesus in sinless righteousness offers Himself as a sacrifice for our brokenness.

Whereas Satan tempted Adam and Eve try to become like God, Jesus resisted the temptation to usurp God the Father and said: "Not my will, but Yours be done." This act of righteousness and the subsequent sacrifice of His life resulted in His righteousness being imputed by faith to all those who trust in Him.

This is the good news of Easter!

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Friday, April 8, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-08 [Journey to the Cross] Sign#7: A Big Catch and a Splash

Sign#7: A Big Catch and a Splash

This is the second time that the Fishermen have had their nets filled by a Carpenter. Fishing in Galilee was most successful at night - if the sun rose and your nets were empty, your fishing had failed.

When Jesus initially called Peter and some of his friends, He had also filled their nets against all expectations. At that time Jesus called Peter to follow Him and become a "Fisher of Men."

Now, after the resurrection, Peter goes back to fishing and we don't know whether he meant it as a permanent thing or just a "timeout." It doesn't really matter either way... what is significant is that Jesus is there.

Their own efforts have been unsuccessful and so Jesus fills their nets again. By doing this He is reminding them:
1. They hadn't succeeded in their own efforts.
2. The age of miracles wasn't over
3. If they followed His lead they could experience great blessing.

And so Peter jumps into the water! Now, this is not the first time Peter has seen the Resurrected Christ, in fact, this is probably the fourth: Jesus appeared to Peter alone (Luke 24:34), then He appeared to the disciples in the upper room and then again a week later when Thomas was with them.

So why is Peter jumping into the water?? After a long night of fishing, I don't think he was hot! I think it is more likely that he was tired and cold. But when John recognises Jesus, Peter just jumps into the water - he just has to be with Jesus.

But there is a surprise at the shore. Jesus has a fire burning and there are already some fish on it. The Greek word for the coal fire is an unusual word, so unusual that it only appears in one other place in the whole NT: To describe the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest where Peter denied Jesus three times.

What follows is the walk where Jesus asks Peter three times "Do you love me?" and Peter is able to respond - basically undoing his three denials with three affirmations of love.

It seems to me that Peter was still asleep: He'd seen the resurrected Jesus, but he hadn't yet allowed himself to love Jesus again - the resurrection was a fact, but not a relational reality to Peter. But now, here at Galilee where it all started, Jesus wakes Peter up. As Peter recognises Jesus on the shore it dawns on him that he longs for Jesus more than anything.

With a splash Peter begins to wake up!
His guilt is forgiven and he can affirm his love for Jesus.

Sometimes Jesus finds us in familiar places: a favourite hymn, a passage of Scripture we know well, a place where we have prayed significant prayers, or even in a place of familiar failure and He reminds us that we need Him, that He can miraculously bless us and that there is work to do, and, if we'll listen, we'll make a big catch.

Are you awake??? 
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  (John21:4-8)

Thursday, April 7, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-07 [Journey to the Cross] Sign#6: Tearful Determination

Sign#6: Tearful Determination

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 - "Jesus wept." His tears are not just a tear or two shed at a sad moment - He is "deeply moved."

Lazarus, His friend, has died. He has comforted Martha and Mary in the loss of their brother. (It's interesting to note how He comforts each according to their grief - Martha needed tough intellectual questions answered while Mary needed emotional reassurance. Jesus gave them both what they needed.)

Now he stands at the tomb - very emotional. We know that he had already told the disciples that He was going to raise Lazarus (vs.11) and so it can't be that He is weeping over Lazarus.

Why is He so emotional?
- He is weeping with Mary and Martha
- He is weeping in angry frustration at the grip that death has over us.

Death is not part of God's perfect plan. It is a consequence of human sin and a grim fact of our existence. We fear death and we grieve over death. It is the ultimate leveler and, according the Presbyterian Funeral Liturgy, "the end of all that is lovely." ("But", adds the liturgy, "through Christ it is a doorway into God's eternal life".)

Paul reminded the Corinthians that at Jesus second coming, "the last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1Cor15:26)

Lazarus isn't still alive. He did die again. But as He stood there, Jesus contemplated the strangle-hold that death has over human-kind...

The Greek word used for "deeply moved" is also related to a "stinging rebuke" And so with tender compassion, fierce determination and a grim realisation of what it will cost Him, He decides to send death a message - He is telling death its fortune: "Death your time is running out. You and I are going to tussle soon and you are going to lose. Let me show you what I am talking about, and this will be just a small taste of what is to come... TAKE AWAY THE STONE."
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 
"Take away the stone," he said.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-06 [Journey to the Cross] Sign#5: Light for the Blind

Sign#5: Light for the Blind

This is not the first time that Jesus calls Himself the Light of the World. In John 8:12 He says: `I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life.`

Here in ch.9 however, Jesus demonstrates His power over physical and spiritual darkness. The man born blind was thought to have been guilty of sin, either because of something his parents did or because the Pharisees believed that a child could sin whilst still in the womb. Imagine having to live with the thought that every bad thing that happened was the result of your or your parent's sin!

Jesus brings light in three ways in this passage:
1. He dispels the myth that the bad things that happen in life are always punishment.
2. He brings physical healing to the man.
3. If one reads on in the chapter, the man becomes a follower of Jesus even though this gets him into trouble with the Pharisees.

Jesus is the one who brings clarity into the murkiness of organised religion. For the Christian faith is not a complex set of rules and regulations, but about a person who we can relate to and trust. Because it is about _relationship_, which deepens and becomes more intimate, our faith is simple enough for a child and yet deep enough to boggle the mind of a Professor of Theology.

Jesus is the One in whose name people are healed, set free, and comforted. We must never lose sight of the truth that Christ will at times intervene supernaturally to bring about healing and light.

The most important dimension of all is that Christ will bring the light of salvation into our lives. This chapter is a triumph and a tragedy. The triumph is a man who was physically blind, but received physical and spiritual sight at the touch of Jesus. The tragedy is that the Pharisees, who had physical sight, stubbornly persisted in being spiritually blind. 
Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John9:1-5)

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

EmmDev 2022-04-05 [Journey to the Cross] Sign#4: 5000 Fed

Sign#4: 5000 Fed

This is the second of three miracles of provision in John: Water into wine, the feeding of the 5000 and the big catch of fish in ch.21.

The miracle is the enacted parable of what Jesus would announce later in the chapter: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:32-35)

Bread. Even today it is a significant staple foodstuff - but it was even more so in Palestine. It represented survival and people needed it day by day. When Jesus makes reference to Moses and bread from heaven He is referring to the manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert.

But Jesus extends the metaphor from provision to something even deeper. He is not only the bread in the sense of being the provider. He is the bread from heaven come down to earth who will be sacrificed for the sins of the people. In Leviticus bread is also featured in the sacrifices people made in the temple.

And then He takes the image one step further: We have to eat of this bread, we have to partake of Him, we have to participate.

Jesus is the Bread of Life:
- He is the provider and the sustenance of life
- He is the sacrifice that satisfies
- We need to participate in Him and connect to His amazing love. 
Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. (John6:10-11)

Thursday, March 31, 2022

EmmDev 2022-03-31 [Journey to the Cross] Sign #3: A lame man

Sign #3: A lame man

We know the story of the man by the Bethesda Pool.
What is fascinating is to look at how persistent Jesus is in trying to heal the whole person...

Let's look at the man first.
The first clue we have to his brokenness is in the question Jesus asks him: "Do you want to be well?" Under normal circumstances this question would seem like a no-brainer. My response would probably be: "(With respect) Duh! Of course I want to be well."
But the man's response is telling: "There's no-one to help me..."
He takes no responsibility for himself. He has become dependent in every sense of the word.

The next clue we have is that when Jesus heals him and he gets into trouble for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he doesn't celebrate the miracle, he immediately blames Jesus but can't identify Him.

The final clue to His brokenness is that when Jesus follows up with him, he rushes straight to "the Jews" (John's code for the Pharisees - (or the "religious mafia" as I call them.)) It is clear that the man's dependency syndrome is still in place and he decides to throw his lot in with the Jews by becoming an "informer" and betraying the One who healed him. He has remained a cripple in his heart...

(It's interesting that John gives us a mirror image of this man in John 9 in the story of the man born blind who, when healed by Jesus, stands up for him.)

But it is Jesus' love and persistence that grabs me here.
  • Out of all the people lying at the pool, Jesus chooses this man, who turns out to be ungrateful and traitorous.
  • Jesus, in His initial question to the man, indicates that he knows the man's deepest brokenness. Being well would mean taking responsibility. The man may not be ready.
  • Jesus heals him anyway - the man is to have the choice and Jesus doesn't make it for him.
  • Jesus follows up with him. He affirms that the man is well - that he doesn't need to be a dependent. But the man decides he'd rather be in the Jews' good books and so he betrays Jesus to them.
When we share the gospel with people, they still have their own choices to make. Sometimes, even when people experience the miraculous, they can harden their hearts. This should not deter us. It didn't deter Jesus. He continued to reach out and to follow up.

So should we... 

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?"
"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. 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. 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." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 
(John5:1-15 )

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

EmmDev 2022-03-30 [Journey to the Cross] Sign #2: The Official's Son

Sign #2: The Official's Son

There is so much that is interesting about this second miraculous sign that John records for us.

Jesus is back in Galilee, having been in Jerusalem and traveling through Samaria along the way. John is clear: The Galileans are gathered around Jesus because they are looking for more miracles. 

Then there's high drama: a royal official approaches Jesus with the plight of a son who is severely sick. For a moment we expect a repeat of Jairus' daughter - a desperate rush to the house and the possibility that Jesus may not get there in time. 

The crowd press in - anticipating high drama. They're the rubber-neckers and the ghouls who feed on drama and tragedy. It's clear that they are frustrating Jesus at this point and He rebukes them: "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe!"

The father of the sick boy is persistent: "Come before my child dies!"
At this point Jesus does something unexpected - He heals at a distance...
"You may go. Your son will live."
What a let-down for the paparazzi! No drama, no fireworks, a total and utter anti-climax!

But there was something about the way Jesus said it, because the father "took Jesus at His word and departed." What love and peace did the father see in Jesus' eyes? What authority and power did he sense in Jesus' voice? What comfort and reassurance did he encounter from Jesus' presence? I'm sure that moment was burned into his heart and soul for the rest of his life!

John records the detail that the paparazzi didn't see... on the way home the father gets the message that his son has been healed and that the time coincided with Jesus' pronouncement of healing.

I can only imagine that the father continued to follow Jesus. I imagine him catching up with John at some point and telling him the story: "Remember when my son was sick and Jesus said he would be healed? Well, let me tell you what happened."

What stories might we tell of how God healed us in unexpected and undramatic ways?
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. 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.
"Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."
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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

EmmDev 2022-03-29 [Journey to the Cross] Sign#1: Water into Wine

Sign#1: Water into Wine

When John wrote his gospel, he was selective about the material he included and acknowledged that there were many things that Jesus said and did that he could not include in his portrayal of Jesus' life and ministry.

There are seven miracles of provision and healing in John's Gospel. They reveal His nature and purpose. For the next couple of days we'll be looking at them...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This weekend I was best man at a wedding. Along with the sense of "love is in the air" you could also sense something else... As individuals the couple were much loved and friends and family had watched the romance develop. The sense that pervaded ceremony and reception was one of great delight.

I think it is significant that Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding. (They probably contributed to the wine running out!) It is also significant that Jesus attended the wedding feast. He had an important ministry to fulfill and we would not have criticised Him if He'd sent an apology... But in His mission to be God-with-us, Jesus attended the wedding - I believe it affirmed the couple, their friends and family as well as the institution of marriage, but also I believe that there was a similar sense of delight in Jesus' heart...

I think He looked at the couple and felt joy and delight for them, but I believe He was also thinking about another wedding, the wedding of the Church to the Lamb. The earthly wedding pointed to a cosmic one and I'm sure Jesus watched and participated in the festivities with a deep and profound delight.

However, when the wine ran out and Mary points out the couple's predicament, Jesus is strangely hesitant: He was reminded that the cost for wine at the cosmic wedding feast would be the blood of the Groom - the blood of the Lamb.

But then He turns His focus to the current wedding and He turns the jars of water for ceremonial washing into high quality wine. The water represents our shortcomings - we are unworthy and unclean - in need of washing. It gets turned into wine - a symbol of blessing, abundance and life. (Just think of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof singing "Le Chaim" ("To Life") with a glass of red wine in his hand.)

Jesus' first miracle speaks to our most important human relationship (that of marriage) and promises God's help to turn the water of human effort into the wine of God's abundant blessing. But I believe it does more: It is the bittersweet reminder that the Groom delights at the prospect of marrying us as His bride, but that this marriage will cost Him...

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."
"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.