15 January 2021 [The Manse, Lonmore]
The other day I read a review of a book: a compilation of pieces from The Times newspaper, starting with the storming of the Bastille (Paris) in 1789, to the present. The intriguing thing for me was the point that these news items couldn’t include the historical outcomes that flowed from events – things we now know. An example: “Thus, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is presented as a heinous murder in Sarajevo, not the beginning of a cataclysm” (i.e. what we now call World War 1). We just don’t know what tomorrow will bring! And this sort of reflection is a valuable reminder us that our own tomorrows may go in any number of directions. But whatever turn circumstances may take, it remains possible to be sure of one thing, which will also bring a settled spirit however much ‘life’ seems disturbed: is it well with your soul? Don’t be slow to get in touch to let me know you have any concerns, or confidence (!), on that question.
It also makes it all the more important to go on reflecting on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we’ve been doing in John’s gospel. This week we reach one of the Jewish feasts that Jesus regularly shared in – increasingly gaining attention at them. How did the crowds know he ‘had not studied’ (Jn 7.15)? Was it that he was free of the outer tags or insignia that the legal boffins (Pharisees?) commonly wore or carried? Considering how easily ‘ordinary’ folk responded to him, that’s likely; nor did he behave like one of the hierarchy.
Is it true that ‘he had not studied’? From at least 12 years old he had been a learner (Lk 2.46,51,52):
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
It reminds me of our older folk and their knowledge, insights and wisdom, far beyond any university education. They have spent their lives doing just what Jesus himself would love (Lk 12.27):
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.”
In other words, observe, be taught, reflect, consider things – all in the light of God’s word: watch and listen more, talk less.
There were similar outbursts (e.g. v.40), even to the extent of foiling the plans of the folk plotting against him: their temple guards (v.45), not exactly ‘qualified’ as theologians, came back, happily failing in their duty! Why? “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” That’s exactly what was so scary for the people who held power: they could see it slipping away because of him.
Within the setting of the time, as Jesus spoke, his word had power and appeal. At least it did for people who had lived with so little hope; not for those who had prejudged him. It’s still that way, all over the world. There’s a great danger of rejecting the Jesus of wonderful words before allowing him to speak with you. Of course, there’s a history of lots of other people ‘speaking for him’ and getting important bits wrong, but mostly they have our best interests at heart – they know he has the words of eternal life (Jn 6.68) – and want nothing better for you than to hear him too.
But we can all do a similar thing with parts of what Jesus says (from Genesis to Revelation – he is the Word (that) became flesh – Jn 1.14). We are liable to avoid, or close our ears to, bits of the Bible that don’t quite suit us; just enjoying the bits that leave us much as we are. It’s better that we realise that every bit of what he says to us is part of his perfect wisdom, the One who knows and purposes the end from the beginning – from the storming of the Bastille to our latest pandemic ‘shutdown’.
Commending you and yours to his good heart and hands,
8 January 2021 [The Manse, Lonmore]
It seems good that I resume writing to you after the holiday break, especially since we find we are faced with restrictions again, for ‘who knows how long’. Don’t you find that an interesting expression? We use it or similar ones, quite a lot as far as I can tell. But we do know who knows and, in fact, who plans how long or how far, and so on. He also knows what we are able to bear when we’re tested, and we have the promise that he will not allow things to go beyond what’s possible for each of us (see e.g. Matt 11.28-30; 1 Cor 10.13 re temptation).
Or, I’m reminded of Jesus’ assuring words (Luke 11.13):
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Do you notice how specific he is about the truly good gift the heavenly Father has for every one of us who trusts in him? While we may have the desire and capability to give good gifts, he will give the Holy Spirit. There have been plenty of stories of (say) a child who is desperate for some ‘thing’, only for Mum and Dad to give them something so much better – not always wanted, but needed, which is properly good! Our ideas of what is good are severely limited by the little bits of life we can see; he on the other hand is all the ‘alls’: all-knowing, all-wise, all-satisfying, etc. And he is well aware we need the Holy Spirit more than any thing – give that some thought over the coming week.
The next ‘detail’ I’d noticed in John’s gospel, for writing about here, is about that kind of thing too. It’s valuable for every day, including my first letter of the year. It’s what we read in John 7.3-5, and of course, the rest of that short story (vv 6-14):
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
This is a very clear case of the mind of the world being far removed from God’s. Jesus had a plan, and nothing would divert him from it; even his own brothers didn’t ‘get’ him. They assumed he was out to become a public figure, but that can be quite the opposite of a person who is devoted to public service (I’m writing as we watch scenes of chaos in the USA Congress building!). The time was not far off when Jesus did appear to the world, on the cross. He put himself in the place of the weak and broken, although there was ‘no fault in this man’ (Luke 23.4, NKJV). He has since become among the very best-known individuals in the world – very public. All for what?
He anticipated it all, saying (Mark 10.45): “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His high calling was to serve, and he has passed that baton to us too – will we be satisfied with it as he was? See Mark 9.34-35 … on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” And then it’s as if he said, ‘Watch me.’ What do we see? One who demanded this, demanded that? He had every right to, but that’s what Paul talks about in Philippians 2.1-11: the pattern he set for us to follow.
What does that have to do us with today: lockdowns, and all? We are called to live by faith, not by sight; to serve wherever possible, from the grace and mercy of Christ towards us; and to settle our minds and souls in his goodness – (see e.g. Rom 8.32): He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? These are the things I try to keep coming back to myself (with many slips!), so I encourage you to join me.
Commending you and yours to his good heart and hands,