I enjoy sharing my heart with you. Like I said, these are my dialogues with God, and I think those are best published. Besides, a good student can explain what he’s been taught.
I think I said somewhere along the way that God told me to read through the four Gospels. I think it was a dare, but it was a dare I couldn’t refuse. 0=) I posted a few times on Matthew, got swept away by Mark and Luke (Mark cracks me up, by the way), and now I’m in John. I usually read three chapters a night, regardless, either in one sitting or broken up. Sometimes I read more. Occasionally God decides I need to read something several times and mull over it, and then I might get through four verses.
Tonight’s reading was supposed to be John 5-9. I got through chapter six. It’s difficult to jump into this without explaining first, so I’ll set this up.
Chapter five: Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath (I mean, the nerve!) and he goes to the temple. Later he finds the man still carrying his mat. Now, maybe I’m a little odd, but if a man heals me and says “Take your mat and walk,” I think I’d understand that I’d walk home. Or, in a Jewish man’s case, go present myself to the priests to prove I’m healed (I mean, the lame guy walking’s a bit obvious, but maybe the priests are slow), then go on home.
This guy won’t go home! He keeps running around (but who could blame a guy who couldn’t move an hour ago) all over town until Jesus makes him go home and put his mat down (It’s still the Sabbath, after all).
Then he calls God his father again, and they all get ticked off. From our perspective, this is to the Jews as it would be to us if some backwater Joe came out of the brush and started up a following, then said he was Jesus come to save the world. Kool-Aid, anyone?
Well, almost. That’s their shock factor. But, as we know, these guys knew the Scriptures and still didn’t understand. They wanted a conquering hero, a William Wallace, a Maccabee to come save the day! They wanted mighty King David with Elijah’s power. They wanted Superman (I’m more into Batman myself, but you get the point).
So Jesus hears them get ticked off and Jesus goes on to describe the relationship he has with his father. Most know this part: “the Son does nothing apart from the Father; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does.”
Translation: Jesus is not saying he’s impotent. Quite the opposite. He’s saying his power comes from the Father, and that he is in the Father and sent from the Father into the world. His will and his Father’s will are the same. They think and act and live and move and breathe as one. They are one.
Because of this, for the Son to be separated from the Father is literally severing him from himself. And maybe that’s how God dies. He separates himself from himself, is born into flesh, lives to die, and because they can’t truly be separated, he lives again.
But now I’m trying to wrap my brain around God, and that isn’t ever going to happen. So if you don’t agree with what I just said, it’s okay. You could well be right. That was brain gymnastics.
Anyway. The Father constantly reveals greater and greater things to the Son, which he shows to those who follow him. See? There’s none of this staggering back, running around, sliding back and forth stuff. You are his follower, or you aren’t. Peter may have screwed up, but he never stopped following. Thomas may have doubted him, but he didn’t call it quits just because he had an eternal amount of questions (indeed, Thomas may well have gotten to heaven and subjected Jesus to two thousand years of questions; and I don’t think Jesus has minded).
Then he says a strange thing. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whomever he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Hang on. We’re back to that “gentle Jesus meek and mild” thing again, that I so “gently” pointed out in my Matthew encounters. Like I said, compassion is dangerous. Jesus is dangerous.
Before you think this is too weird, remember that this is the same Jesus who said, “Don’t think I’ve come to bring peace, but a sword.” If you like cross-references, check out Daniel 7, then flip to Revelation 1. Jesus called himself the Son of Man, who stood before the Ancient of Days and had dominion over the world (Daniel), who had a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth and dressed in a judge’s robes, and freaked his own disciple, John, out (Revelation).
This is the same Jesus who said, “I didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. For whoever does not believe me and my words is condemned already.”
Okay, think of it like this: Have we ever, ever been saved by works? No. It has always been by grace. The Law of Moses cannot save. It can only condemn. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to obliterate it. Faith and deeds work together (James – thank you,
Faith : Flesh ::
Deeds : Spirit
This baffled me when I read it. We humans would never have done that. We would have said that faith is to spirit as deeds are to flesh. Makes sense, seen and unseen, tangible and intangible.
Or maybe that isn’t even the point. Maybe we’re not even supposed to think about it like that. If faith is evidence of things unseen, it must itself be visible. It’s one thing for me to say “My dad will catch me every time I jump off the roof.” It’s quite another to actually jump off my roof and expect Dad to catch me.
Facing the Giants had a perfect analogy. It was beautiful, and I wish I’d come up with it myself. The main character’s talking to this older man, and he asks the man a question. The older man replies, “There were two farmers, both praying for rain. One went out and tilled his fields, planted, and prepared for rain. Which one had faith in God?”
The main character responds, “The one who prepared his fields.”
So, who has faith, the one who listens to Christian music, attends church, and can quote the entire book of Leviticus, or the one who forgets to read his Bible more often than not and can’t ever seem to get out of bed for church, but always, always has a word of encouragement, a helping hand, and is proceeding as if he’s gotten a “yes” from God before he’s even done praying?
Mine isn’t like that, but I continually find myself falling back on the prayer of a man with a demon-possessed son: “I believe! Lord, help my unbelief!”
Oh, right, back to John 5.
Jesus goes on. “If you can’t believe John, who came before me, and you can’t understand, much less believe, Moses, who prophesied me, if you don’t understand all these shadows of things to come—You can never, ever believe me, and thus you cannot be mine. You’ll kill yourself studying and you’ll beat yourself with rosaries and mission trips and student council and dessert theatre and worship music and writing and painting and all of these things—But you’ll never find me because you’ve refused the very thing you were looking for.”
He goes on, and finishes up this part: “But don’t think I’ll be the one accusing you. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. But since you don’t believe him, how can you possibly believe me?”
The shadows of our fathers. Shadows of the futures, foretellings of things unseen. It wasn’t just the rituals and the sacrifices that were shades of the sun; it was the heart of the law itself, all 600 parts, summed up in:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19)
Now for chapter six. Bear with me. I’ve made you read three pages of rambling to come to the point. Remember: Jesus has said, “I am life. I am from the Father, I am with the Father; I am in him and he is in me. If you believe Moses and John, you can believe me, because they testify about me; the Father testifies about me…and if you believe me, my Father has enabled you to do so. And so you are mine.”
Now he’s going to do another 5000+ impromptu potluck again. So he does. Again, there is extra. And a strange thing happens that’s really a little amusing. Jesus sneaks off so the crowd won’t try to force him to be their conquering king, and he goes up a mountain. The text indicates that the disciples knew where he was, left him alone, and refused to tell anyone or let anyone bother him. When the sun goes down and Jesus isn’t back yet, the disciples already know their next destination (this is why you communicate with your teacher, so you can find him when he appears to be lost) and go on across the lake. He walks across the lake and joins them (that’s enough to freak people out, but evidently this is not the same instance where Peter did his little “me too” trick).
The next day the crowd realizes the disciples are gone, Jesus didn’t get on the boat with them, and they can’t find him. Which is pretty funny to me. They finally find Jesus again, and Jesus seems only mildly impressed.
“You came looking for me,” he says, “not because I put on a show for you and did some miracles, but because I fed you and satisfied your hunger. But don’t kill yourself for food that spoils. Come to me for food that will ensure you never go hungry again.”
Sound familiar? Oh, right. The woman at the well. Remember? “If you knew who asked you for a drink, you’d ask for living water, and he’d give it to you.”
Remember Matthew five? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
The first part of Matthew five is one of fulfillment. It’s not a “prosperity” doctrine; it’s spoken in Spirit, and in Spirit is it understood.
Blessed are the meek, the pure, the mourners, merciful, the poor, the persecuted, the hungry and thirsty, the peacemakers.
What’s the rest? They inherit the earth, receive mercy, are called the sons of God, are comforted, are filled. Can you see what’s casting the shadows yet?
But there are more shadows than even this. Remember how the newly-freed Hebrews ate manna and quail in the desert?
So the ask Jesus what they have to do to obey God. What do they have to do? Now, they’re expecting him to say something like “Memorize the Torah” or “keep all 600 laws”. Well, a few of them know better. A few of them have about killed themselves trying to do the will of God, and it’s these he’s really talking to. These are the ones hungry, thirsty, desperate.
And Jesus aims to satiate them. So he says, “Believe in the one whom he has sent.”
Translation: Believe I’m the one he’s sent, and that I come to bring life. That I am life. That I can satisfy your cravings for the things of the Spirit.”
Now, the whole “I’m sent from God” discussion is still fresh. They didn’t change the subject here. They’ve been talking about Moses, about food from heaven, about the Messiah (sent from God). In the desert, the Hebrews ate manna, which, ironically, means something like “What is it?” He’s talking about him being living bread from God that you can depend on, and they think of manna. So they want a sign, and they durn expect him to give them one.
They’re much closer than they look at this point.
So he says, “My father gives you true bread from heaven [manna], for the bread of God [manna] is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
He’s calling himself manna, but they’re a bit shy of the connection. So he goes on to the big “I am the bread of life” speech. He is the bread of life; whoever comes to him will never go hungry; whoever believes in him will never go thirsty.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
No one who believes will be turned away. For, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son [remember the bronze snake from the desert?] and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Remember, “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up.”
And they really get mad about this, because he calls himself manna—the bread that came down from heaven.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me. I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall never die. I am living water. I am the good shepherd. I am the door. I am the narrow gate. I am the bread of life. I am the one who came down from heaven – manna – and was lifted up – like that bronze snake in the desert. Those were all but shadows of me.”
There is a reason they thought he was blasphemous! You can’t listen to Jesus for five minutes without him saying something like “Before Abraham was, I AM!” Jesus didn’t leave room for much discussion. You believed everything he said or none of it.
Then he repeats everything he just said in a nutshell (poor Jesus really needed an aspirin by the end of the day), and without so much metaphor.
“Oh, stop your grumbling! You can’t come to me unless the Father draws you to me. And you will be taught by the Father because it’s written that way. If you listen to the Father and learn from him, you’ll come to me, and I will satiate you. No one has seen the Father but the one sent by the Father. Whoever believes me has eternal life.
“I am the bread of life. I am manna! Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, and they still died because it was only bread! But I am living manna! I am manna from heaven, and if you partake of me, you will never die. Eat this bread” – as he jabs himself in the chest – “and live forever! This, this bread is my flesh, and I give it to the whole world!”
And at this point the crowd’s thinking “How can he let us eat him?” and I’m thinking “Jesus isn’t a cannibal!”
He doesn’t even bother to respond to that utter nonsense. He just keeps going, because, like I said, he needs an Ibuprofen or something by now. Can’t you see him, eyes squeezed shut, heels of his hands pressed against his eyes, fingernails digging into his creased forehead?
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. And I will raise you up on the last day. And in case you think I’m speaking in metaphor again, I’m not. My body is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him [see John 14].”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him…”
See what I mean? No crazy man can keep this straight for three years; he’d go, well, insane. No liar can either. There’s so many twists and turns and wild metaphors that we mere mortals would lose our minds. We do just reading the thing.
So he says, “Just as the Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
In other words, “No, I’m not promoting you literally eat me. These things are very real, but I obviously am not talking about making myself dinner.”
“Your fathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6.58).
I love the footnote. “By the way, he said all this in the temple.”
Can you imagine Jesus walking into church, stepping up to the podium, and saying “If you don’t drink my blood and eat my flesh, you will die”?
Well, they understood he wasn’t talking about cannibalism, and that the teaching was a hard one, but I’m not so sure they got it. I sure haven’t.
But I think all of this is to say, “It isn’t enough just to believe in me. Abide in me. Cling to me. Don’t just follow me around looking for scraps and handouts. I can give you so much more than a crust of bread and a glass of bad-tasting water. But you have to stick around. Crave more. Eat it up. Drink it up. I have more, and I’m not going to run out. Indeed, you can’t even eat and drink all that I have for you.”
Then his disciples are mad because they don’t get it either, and, remember, they’ve dropped everything, left everything, forsaken everything, to follow him all over the countryside. So they’re worried they’ve lost everything for nothing.
“Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I’ve spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who don’t believe.”
So the majority of the crowd of disciples takes off. They’re gone. So he asks his twelve if they want to desert him, too, and he sounds really upset when he asks it.
Then my dear little Peter. For all his antics, I love him. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus doesn’t correct him, but I can almost see his eyes darkening and his face falling just a little.
Remember, in talking about all this, he’s been talking about his death. For him to give everyone life, he has to die. To eat manna, you have to gather it, tear it up, chew it up, swallow, and digest it.
The Son of Man came from heaven like manna and was raised up like Moses raised up the serpent in the desert. Like Jonah, he was a dark belly for three days, then spat back out.
”Have I not chosen you, the Twelve, Peter? Yet one of you is a devil!”
God sent bread from heaven to feed his children. He ordered Moses to raise a bronze snake in the desert, and anyone who looked at it lived. Jonah was swallowed by a whale and spat on shore three days later.
Shadows of the sun.