Taking A Break

To readers of my blog

I am taking a short break from my daily blog posts so that I can recharge my batteries. In the meantime I encourage you to read John’s Gospel through a few times for your own edification

God Bless You

Michael Ross-Watson

THE EMOTIONS OF JESUS

Bible Reading: John 11:33-44

Some years ago I heard someone talk about why David was a man after God’s own heart. I have long forgotten both the occasion and the speaker, but have never forgotten one of his thoughts. He said that one of the reasons why David was a man after God’s own heart was because he understood the emotions of God!

So much of our thinking is selfish, and about how things affect ourselves. For example, we talk so freely about our suffering and human suffering generally, but seem to forget that God also suffers. Spiritual maturity is seeing things from God’s perspective. Sadly we seem to have embraced the Greek perception, common in New Testament times, of a God with no emotions.

I spoke recently with a woman going through a deep trauma, who shared with me that one of the ways of healing was to let out her emotions rather than bottle them up inside. In the English reserved culture that is sometimes considered to be unseemly but it is necessary for true healing to take place. I used to hate seeing my wife crying, until I began to realise that it was a valve for her to release her emotions. There is even a school of faith that says we should never show negative feelings, but God made us as emotional beings. As the perfect human, Jesus was not ashamed to reveal His deep emotions. He admitted when He was physically tired, and at various times Jesus showed anger, compassion, indignation, sorrow, and even frustration. One day, when His disciples were not doing so well, Jesus even said, “How much longer must I put up with you” [Luke 9:41] and yet He never sinned!

In the story of Martha, Mary and Lazarus we find Jesus weeping [John 11:35]. There was none of this silly, “men don’t cry” stuff. Jesus let His emotions show. We cannot be sure why He cried. He knew that Lazarus was going to be raised from the dead, so it is doubtful if He was weeping over Lazarus. Perhaps it was their unbelief that made Him weep, or more probably that He empathized with Martha and Mary in their grief. Jesus cares enough to weep with us in our sorrow. This same passage also speaks of Jesus groaning [v.38], and of “groaning in His spirit and being troubled” [v.33]. The Greek word that is translated as groaning means to feel something deeply and strongly. When Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping, and again when He came to the tomb of Lazarus, He felt something deeply and strongly. I would suggest it was both profound sorrow, but also anger at the evil of the last enemy, death.

Questions:

What do you think it means to understand the emotions of God?

Do you find comfort in the fact that Jesus showed His emotions and gives us the right to do the same?

Why do you think that in some societies we have frowned upon the showing emotion, and instead have suffered by bottling things up inside?

THE PESSIMIST WHO BECAME AN APOSTLE

Bible Reading: John 11:7-16; 14:5; 20:24-29

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” [John 11:16]

In the past few days we have looked at Mary and Martha, who were sisters but had very different personalities. Today we are looking at Thomas, known affectionately as “doubting Thomas.” He was careful, thoughtful, and logical, but struggled to believe. He was the type of person who had to “see it to believe it,” and yet Jesus chose him to be one of his disciples.

Jesus chose His disciples because He heard from His Father. On several occasions Jesus said that the Father gave them to Him [see John 17:6-7]. God sees not just the person as they are but their potential. The people that we think will be most successful are often the ones who ultimately most disappoint us. Conversely, the ones that we didn’t really think would make much, turn out to be the ones who most surprise us.

Our Bible text seems to indicate that there was a mixture of pessimism and loyalty in the way Thomas spoke to Jesus. Even after all that Jesus had taught, Thomas still couldn’t grasp where Jesus was going and the way He was going [John 14:4-5]. If it did not seem logical to him he was at least honest about it. When the resurrected Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples Thomas was absent. Even his friends could not persuade him that Jesus had risen, and famously He said that he would not believe unless he could put his finger into the nail prints and his hand into the side of Jesus.

Despite his doubts Thomas became known as the “Apostle to India”. In AD 52 Thomas sailed to India, where he saw many conversions and churches planted. He was martyred in Mylapore, near Chennai, in AD 72, but the Mar Thoma churches in South India remain as the lasting fruit of his ministry.

It was the revelation of Jesus to Thomas that totally changed him. Jesus appeared personally to him and allowed him to touch the nail prints and His side. His response to Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:29]. If you are a person who struggles to believe, or is sceptical about what Christians sometimes say, why not ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you personally? He does understand your doubts and does want to meet with you, and as with Thomas, work through you for His glory. There is a promise in God’s Word for you today, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13]

Questions:

Why do you think that Jesus chose Thomas knowing that he would doubt Him? What are some of the lovely characteristics of Thomas’ personality?

What does it mean to seek God with all of your heart?

What does it mean to have a revelation of who Jesus is, and submit to Him as Lord? Why is this important if we are to have an effective Christian ministry?

CORRECTING A MISREPRESENTATION

Bible Reading: John 11:17-28

Martha is often unfairly maligned especially when she is compared with Mary. People remember most of all about Martha that Jesus rebuked her because she was too busy to sit down and listen to Him. That is not, however, a fair representation of Martha.

Martha, whose name in her native Aramaic means bitter and business-like was actually a remarkable woman, but of a very different personality and temperament to her sister Mary. Martha was a good host, steady, predictable, dependable, whilst Mary was a deeper thinker, a risk taker, could be outrageous, and perhaps less easy to understand, and yet Jesus loved them both equally. We must be careful to recognize that each person is special, and has a different personality, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. This is the why it is so important to know who we really are.

Let’s consider some of the strengths of Martha. Firstly, she was hospitable. If we read carefully Luke 10:38 we discover that it was Martha who welcomed Jesus into her home. Hospitality is a remarkable gift. It must have meant so much to Jesus to have a place to be at home, especially as He was known as “the one who had nowhere to lay his head” [Matthew 8:20].

Secondly, Martha had the most amazing gift of serving. When Mary sat and listened to Jesus, Martha was “distracted by much serving” [Luke 10:40]. She was still serving when a feast was held in honour of Jesus after he had raised Lazarus from the dead [John 12:1]. The kitchen and making good meals were her domain. I am guessing that Jesus really enjoyed her cooking. There is nothing wrong with serving, but the problem for Martha was that she got the balance wrong. She was so busy that she did not have time to sit and listen to Jesus. That sounds to me like a modern-day problem. Too busy to spend time with Jesus! Don’t let your gift get in the way of relationship with Jesus!

Thirdly, it was Martha, not Mary, who came to talk to Jesus in a time a crisis. Mary remained sitting in the house [John 11:20]. Martha was a woman of deep faith but was lacking in understanding, and was perhaps a little slow to learn. We see this when she still did not understand when Jesus asked for the stone to be removed from Lazarus’ tomb [John 11:39-40]. However, it was Martha, not Mary who said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” [John 11:27]. She was one of the seven witnesses in John’s Gospel who testified to the deity of Christ! How special is that. I trust that today you have seen Martha in a better light than the way she is often represented!

Questions:

Why is it important to recognize that our personalities are different to others, and also to recognize our strengths and weaknesses?

In today’s frantically busy society we need to take time to be quiet, and to learn from Jesus. What are you doing about this in your own situation?

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Bible Reading: John 11:5

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” [John 11:5 NIVUK]

In English grammar this verse is known as a simple sentence. It has a subject, Jesus; an object, Martha, her sister and Lazarus; and a verb, loved. He loved them, full stop!! There are no conditions attached to His love. There was no because, if, or when, attached to this statement of love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He simply loved them. He didn’t love them because they pleased Him, or had achieved a certain status, or even because they obeyed Him. He loved them because He loved them! It was totally unconditional.

Occasionally people have asked me to define love. It is not some sentimental or fanciful kind of feeling. Feelings and emotion maybe a consequence of love, but in themselves they are not love! In a true and happy marriage feelings and emotions may vary by the day, but love is still there. Love is so powerful that the devil has done everything that he can to twist its meaning. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people have mistaken the romanticism of Hollywood for love. Jesus gave a commandment that we should love one another [see John 13:34-35]. One does not respond to a commandment with an emotion, but a decision of the will. Love is a choice, and in the case of Jesus, He was not only love, but He also chose to love!

It gives me great confidence to know that what I have done, whether right or wrong, or what I have not done that I should have done, makes absolutely no difference to God’s love for me. He accepts me just as I am – warts and all! It is such love that makes me want to only do the things that please Him.

Writing to the Romans, Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8]. At the heart of true love is an attitude of selflessness, a willingness to sacrifice for others and a generous spirit. These were clearly attributes of Christ’s love, and for anyone who desires to be Christ-like, these attributes are the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart.

David Wilkerson was a street preacher in New York. A crowd had gathered that included a gang leader named Nicky Cruz. The preacher, recognised him, and said, “Nicky, Jesus loves you.” Nicky Cruz spat at the preacher and responded, “No one loves me!” That night he couldn’t sleep, overwhelmed by the fact that as bad as his life had been someone loved Him. He would kill and hurt people without mercy and be unmoved by what he had done, but the fact that Jesus loved him broke Nicky, and his life was changed forever!

Questions:

Why do you think it is that the most popular Christian song of all time is “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so?”

What does the love of God mean to you personally and how has it affected the way that you live your life?

THE GOD WHO WAITS

Bible Reading: John 11:1-6

It is is a good thing to wait for God, but God also waits, and does things in His time, and when He is ready. God’s Word says, “He [God] makes all things beautiful in His time” [Ecclesiastes 3:11].

When Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was sick He chose to stay where He was [John 11:6]. He didn’t respond immediately, because He knew that His Father had an agenda of which Martha and Mary were not aware [John 11:4]. To heal Lazarus would have been wonderful, but for Jesus to raise him from the dead was an even more remarkable sign to help people believe and understand who Jesus was [see John 11:40,42].

Abraham was seventy-six years old and impatient for God to fulfil His promise and so he had a child by Hagar. He did not understand God’s timing, and so God waited for thirteen years [compare Genesis 16:16 and Genesis 17:1] until Abraham’s body and Sarah’ womb were as good as dead. It then had to be a miracle of faith, and not self-effort [Romans 4:18-21].

God spoke to Jacob through a dream [Genesis 28], but Jacob continued on his own wilful and selfish way. God waited for twenty-five years and then one night wrestled with him [Genesis 32:22-33]. He was broken and his life totally changed forever.

God did not judge the Amorites for four generations because their sin had not yet reached its full measure [Genesis 15:16]. God knew that this people would grow even more wicked and would someday need to be punished. Even though God knew that they would not repent, in His mercy he gave them both the time and opportunity to do so. There would be a right time for them to be punished. God is merciful, all-knowing, acts justly, and His timing is perfect!

Perhaps one of the most beautiful pictures of God is the father in the story of the prodigal son. It might just as well have been called “The Parable of the Waiting Father.”

As missionaries struggling on a fanatical Muslim Island in Indonesia, we were encouraged by a vision that a senior missionary had of God’s fire in the main square of the town where we lived. We have seen drops of His mercy but we still believe after forty years for that vision to come to pass. We may not see it in our lifetime, but we know that in God’s perfect time it will happen!

We live in an age of consumerism and wanting things instantly, but it is good to remember that God has His own time scale. David was aware of this when he “cried to the Lord and then waited patiently for Him” [Psalm 40:1].

Questions:

Why do you think people become discouraged when God doesn’t always instantly answers their requests, or doesn’t answer in the way they expect?

Is there a promise that God has given you that has not yet been fulfilled? Will you continue to believe His promise and trust for it to happen in God’s time?

THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Bible Reading: John 11:17-25

Here is the fifth of the I AM statements of Jesus that were recorded by John.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He deliberately did not come to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, but stayed where He was for two more days. He already knew that God had a different agenda in the death of Lazarus than Martha or Mary could understand. On hearing that Lazarus was sick Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” [John 11:4]. How often it is that we see things from an earthly perspective, but God has a different agenda. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts.

Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead even before Martha came to Him, and He was about to perform another sign in order to help them believe [John 11:15].

When Jesus did finally reach Bethany, Lazarus was already dead and been in the tomb for four days. Four days might have been significant, because there was a common Jewish belief that when a person died his soul hovered over his body for three days hoping to re-enter it, but then gave up and departed. Here there was no doubt that Lazarus was dead and beyond resuscitation.

Martha said that she knew that Lazarus would rise again at the last day, and in response to that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, shall yet live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha responds with a declaration of her belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Here was yet another testimony in John’s Gospel about the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t just resurrect people from the dead – He IS the resurrection! There is no resurrection to eternal life apart from a relationship with Him. It is literally “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” The Greek preposition “in” as in “believes in me” is the word ‘eis’ normally translated as “into”. Faith in Christ brings us into Him and into resurrection life now, so that even though we die, yet shall we live!

Paul wrote, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” [Romans 6:4-5 NKJV]. Today, we have in Christ His resurrection life, and when our body dies our life in Him continues.

Questions:

Will you take time today to thank God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that in His resurrection we receive His life?

Why do you think that we are so prone to see things from an earthly perspective but not from God’s perspective? What can we do to change our perspective and see things from God’s point of view?

MARY OF BETHANY

Bible Reading: John 12:1-8; Luke 10:38; John 11:20

Jesus said that Mary of Bethany is a woman who will be honoured and spoken of wherever the gospel is preached [Matthew 26:13]. Such a statement is remarkable indeed, and deserves a closer scrutiny.

Each time that Mary of Bethany is mentioned in the Bible it is in connection with the feet of Jesus. We first read about her, after her sister Martha had invited Jesus into their home. Mary was sitting at His feet listening. To learn of Him requires that we take time to be quiet and listen. Paderewski, the great Polish concert pianist, once said, that if he didn’t practice the piano for a day he knew it. If he didn’t practice for three days, his critics knew it, and if he didn’t practice for a week, then everyone knew it. To learn from Jesus we need to be in His presence and listening to Him every day.

After her brother, Lazarus, had died Mary was hurting badly, and came to Jesus, falling at His feet complaining. After Lazarus’ death Martha went to meet Jesus and talk with Him, but Mary remained sitting in the house. She was deeply disappointed in Jesus, and felt let down by Him. Why didn’t He come when they had called Him in their time of crisis? When Martha returned she had a message from Jesus for Mary, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you” [John 11:20]. She immediately went to him, fell at His feet and complained, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died” [John 11:32]. She had faith in what Jesus could do, but was disappointment at what He hadn’t done! Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead but He wept. Why? Perhaps it was because of their unbelief!

After He had raised Lazarus from the dead a supper was made in Jesus’ honour [John 12:1-2]. This time Mary was kneeling at His feet worshipping. She is so full of gratitude and joy, that she brings expensive fragrant oil, anoints the feet of Jesus, and wipes His feet with her hair. The oil was spikenard, found only in the Himalayan Mountains. How this family, who were not overly wealthy, had such expensive perfume is a mystery. Perhaps it was a family heirloom. Whatever it was, it was still not the most valuable thing in that home at Bethany. The most valuable thing she possessed was herself!

Only a prostitute in the Jewish culture would let her hair down in public. A woman’s hair was her glory, and so as Mary untied the tresses of her hair and wiped the feet of Jesus she was making a statement. She was saying that the most valuable thing she possessed she was using to wipe His feet! All the glory she had, she placed at the Jesus’ feet. What a depth of love!

Questions:

What is the link between Mary being the only person who anointed Jesus for burial before He died, and sitting at His feet listening?

Have you personally experienced a disappointment when Jesus did not seem to answer your request? How did you handle this?

In what way did Mary show her love for Jesus? How do you show love for Him?

THE CHRISTIAN’S SECURITY

Bible Reading: John 10:27-30; Hebrews 6:4-12

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” [John 10:27-30 NLT].

For centuries a theological debate has raged about whether or not a Christian can lose their salvation. If we are saved, is it possible to then be lost? A casual glance at these verses might indicate this, but let’s look a little deeper.

Jesus makes it very clear that if we are His sheep, then no one can snatch us away. Some Bible versions say, “no man,” but it is probably more accurate to say, “nothing can snatch them from the Father’s hands.” This then includes, not just men but spiritual powers of darkness. Paul, writing to the Romans, says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:38]. This verse is all-inclusive – nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, and nothing shall be able to snatch His children from the Father’s hand. Here is absolute safety and protection. Nothing external can take our salvation away!

The question is can we take ourselves out of the Father’s hand? Jesus said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” [Matthew 10:22]. No one can snatch us from the Father’s hand but is Jesus saying that those who do not  endure to the end will not be saved?

Salvation is a gift, but it is possible to hand that gift back and say that we don’t want it. The writer of Hebrews warns us of the danger of falling away. The Aramaic version of the Bible uses the word “abandon” which is implied in the Greek text. It is the deliberate giving up of the faith. The Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith [1 Timothy 4:1]. To depart means to leave or to abandon. Christ’s sheep cannot be taken from Him against their will; but their will is free, and they may choose to leave the flock. God wonderfully promises to protect us and keep us but we must continue to choose Him and His way.

Questions:

What did Jesus mean when He told us that those who endure to the end shall be saved?

How would you define backsliding? The writer of Hebrews warns us to be diligent to the end and not sluggish [Hebrews 6:11-12]. God promises to restore the backslider who repents, but when does backsliding become apostasy and the abandonment of faith?

Jude says that we are to keep ourselves in the love of God [Jude 21]. How do we do we keep ourselves in the love of God?

THE FEAST OF DEDICATION

Bible Reading: John 10:25-30

Every word in the Bible is there for a reason, and sometimes it is necessary to dig deep to find the reason why? Why does John mention the Feast of Dedication and winter in John 10:22? What is the importance of this, and its connection to Jesus speaking about the Good Shepherd?

The Feast of Dedication, also known as the festival of light, and is more commonly known as Hanukkah. It began on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, and lasted for eight days. It was a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration and of spirituality over materiality.

Two hundred years before Christ the Holy Land, was ruled by the Seleucides [Syrian-Greeks]. The temple in Jerusalem was captured and pillaged, and its treasures and artefacts taken, making it unusable for worship. The Syrian King, Antiochus IV, defiled the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus over the altar of burnt offerings in the temple and offered a pig on the altar. This was known as the abomination of desolation [Daniel 11:31]. Antiochus was a type of the anti-Christ, and his vile deed foreshadowed a similar act by the anti-Christ before Jesus returns [Daniel 12:11, see Matthew 24:15].

In the winter of 164 BC against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judas Maccabeus, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Seleucides from the land. They reclaimed the Temple and rededicated it to the Lord. When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah [the seven-branched candelabrum], they found only one uncontaminated cruse of olive oil. Miraculously that one-day supply burned for eight days, until the new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. Hence the festival of light that lasted for eight days.

The Festival of Hanukkah [literally “dedication”] celebrated the re-dedication of the Temple after the sacrilege. So why did Jesus use this festival to speak of Himself as the Good Shepherd? It was because during the festival the priests examined afresh their commitment to service, and they used the passage in Ezekiel chapter 34 as their principal text for reflection. For this reason, at Hanukkah Jesus used the shepherd theme from Ezekiel chapter 34 to distinguish between himself as the good shepherd [John 10:11] and Israel’s current religious leaders as bad shepherds [10:10, 12-13].

Questions:

Do you think that there is a place in our modern Christianity to celebrate great victories in our spiritual lives and in the history of the Church, in a similar way to the Jews celebrating Hanukkah?

Why is it important to re-examine our commitment to serve Jesus on a regular basis?

Why it is so important to understand the background of the New Testament? Does this inspire you to do more research? How would you go about it?