Archive for March, 2014

The Difficulty in Writing A Popular Account of Jesus

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

The biggest obstacle in writing about Jesus is that to do so you have to face some very deep and difficult things about yourself.  To write about someone you have to be able to understand them, know what filled them, what motivated them, how they thought, why they spoke as they did and hopefully be able to walk a few miles in their shoes.  This is an extremely challenging task at the best of times but seemingly impossible in the case of Jesus.

To fill this lack of clarity, in attempting to reveal the man, writers resort to an elaborate piety or deference which does not explain the man but further obscures Him.  Modern scholarship has also gone down another tack by deciding which words recorded in scripture can actually be attributed to Him, all well and good if their scholarship was indeed in any way helpful in revealing the true nature of Jesus, which of course it isn't.

Jesus can only be understood by getting to know Him.  While this seems like a difficulty, it is in fact not impossible for unlike other people who have died, and that is the end of the matter, He is in fact still alive and can choose to reveal Himself to whomsoever He chooses.  The problem with making this statement is that a great many people will turn away at this point and there goes the beginning of popularity!  Jesus had this problem during His life when He told His followers that unless they ate of His body and drank of His blood that they would have no life in themselves.  Many who were following Him turned away at that statement and He turned to His disciples and asked them if they too intended to leave.  But they said where will we go for You have the words of life.

This interchange is pivotal in understanding how the disciples came to love and trust and ultimately know Him.  He spoke words of life!

Jesus lived what He spoke and this obviously was not where anyone else was living.  There was no one to instruct Him in the way He lived, what He spoke and the things that He did.  His life was a closed book to anyone besides Him and the only way, ultimately, to get to know Him was to put your trust entirely in His words and hence walk with Him in this mysterious other world which He inhabited.  Jesus saying that the way is narrow which leads to life and few there are who find it, alludes to this fact.  His other word that He is the door and that no one comes to the Father but through Him, also spells this out.

So then if we want to get to know the man, the way is open for us to do that.  If His words are truth and He is the Truth, then His words are eternal and unchangeable and will lead us to life. And we will know the truth of the words and we will make known the Truth in our lives.  Hence the beginning sentence which I wrote. – The biggest obstacle in writing about Jesus is that to do so you have to face some very deep and difficult things about yourself.

The biggest fundamental hurdle you face in knowing Jesus is the reality that you are nothing like Him.  You don't think like Him, walk like Him or resemble Him in any way and most confrontingly, that everything you have ever lived for is opposed to the way He walked.

Peter discovered this fact when he first met Jesus. “Depart from me for I'm a sinful man,” he cried when he first met Jesus and was bewildered by the immensity of what had happened when Jesus had told him to place his fishing nets on the other side.   Peter who had worked hard all night and caught nothing and whose worldly wisdom thought it pointless, did as he was bidden and was astounded at the result.  Nets filled to bursting point!  The difference between them was further highlighted a little later on in their relationship after Peter had declared Jesus to be the Christ.  Jesus declared him blessed for flesh and blood had not revealed this to him but God in Heaven.  Then Jesus began to explain how He was to be rejected by the chief priest and the elders and put to death.  Peter responded like any good natured man by saying, “God forbid it Lord that this should ever happen to You!”  To which Jesus rebuked him for putting man's interests before God's.  You would have to ask what motivated Jesus and what were God's interests and that this too is necessary to come to know Him.

The disciples, when they responded to Jesus, left everything to follow Him, jobs, wives, families.  They simply felt compelled to respond in this way.  Their hearts could do no other.  Other people did not respond in this way.  A rich young man, later on in the gospel, was offered the same opportunity but could not bring himself to accept, for his wealth was so great that he could not part with it just for the sake of knowing Jesus.  Our own response to Jesus determines how completely we ever can really get to know Him.  “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  With a statement like that from Jesus how can anyone get to fully understand Him?  There is such emphatic assurance in who He is and the authority He wields, how can we ever get to be like Him?  Yet He feels it is possible for He says, “The things that I do shall you also do and greater than these for I go to the Father;” and also “If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”

The disciples had the living breathing man to follow and get to know but what can we do?  Where do we begin to walk the same road of discovery that they walked that we might share with them the knowledge about Jesus that the disciples grew to have.  In the book of Hebrews the writer says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him;” and in the book of psalms David cries out, “When Thou didst say 'Seek My face,' my heart did say to thee 'Thy face, O Lord, I shall seek.'”  So what was available to them must be available to us.

Paul is an interesting example for us because, although he never knew Jesus in the flesh, he became so spiritually alive to Him that he was given the task of being an Apostle, something we usually associate only with the twelve who walked with Him.  If Paul was able to get to know Him so intimately that he was able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” then it is obviously possible for me, or you for that matter, to know Him likewise.  This was why the Lord gave him the apostleship to the Gentiles because being a Jew, and a Pharisee at that, he could speak deeply about the Law and the zeal for the Law which did not produce life, while at the same time being an example of God's patience and mercy and power, and thus being a perfect example to us, of all that we could achieve through real faith if we really desired to know Christ and hence His Father.

The letters of Paul first and foremost reveal the heart of Paul.  They reveal what he has glimpsed of Jesus in his own spiritual encounter with the risen Christ.  Likewise the words of Jesus reveal His heart that by which He lives and thinks and acts.  To begin to receive these words we must abandon entirely our own way of thought and instead put our trust in His words alone to rule our lives.

Just as we saw Peter's response to encountering Jesus we also see Paul's.  His blind confusion on the road to Damascus.  This too must be the start of our journey if we wish to arrive at the same destination.  Jesus says, “The road is narrow and full of affliction which leads to life and few there are who find it,” and this He knows for this is the path that He is on. The path to the cross.  Unless we pick up our cross and follow we have no part with Him.

To know Him, then, requires a brokenness at the very heart of our being, a denial of all of our thoughts and previous desires and a total relentless commitment to every one of His words that we might come to know Him.  It is not good enough, as the Church of today teaches to confess your sins, say the magic words of submission and hey presto you are a child of God, for the children of God are like His son.  It requires every ounce of your being to be turned to Him to receive from Him the words of life by which He lives.  There is no margin of error, for the object of our pursuit is to know and love Him.  If we come to know Him as He is we cannot help but be like Him.

There are various texts in the Old Testament that allude to this brokenness of heart, “Break up your fallow ground for it is time to seek the Lord,” and “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse and… see if I do not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”  Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied,” and “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the case of the disciples it wasn’t simply a matter of them receiving His words but also it was beholding the signs, the works of His faith, taking into their hearts the truth of His power and His authority.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe me: but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.”  Paul also was determined that the faith of those he gathered did not merely rest upon mere words for he says, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.”  So then we need to receive His Spirit in order that we can come to know Him and conform to Him in true knowledge and love.

Peter speaking to the Jews who had rejected Christ but were now pierced to the heart at Pentecost said, “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Here again we see the depth of the brokenness of heart required to receive the Spirit to begin to know Jesus and to become like Him.

So for us to begin to know Jesus we must be completely committed to the task and we must be led by Him.  We dare not make up a story about Him, about what we think He thought or taught, but we must wait on Him to reveal Himself to us.  Jesus says, “No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal.”  Jesus says also, “that no one comes to Me but the Father draws them”.  So without an unseen hand guiding us we cannot even begin our pursuit in getting to know Jesus.  But where is God that we may seek?  “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”

When Jesus walked among the house of Israel He spoke to them in parables.  “For seeing they see not, hearing they hear not, nor do they understand.”  Elsewhere it says, “Many are called and few are chosen” and again, “make sure of His choosing you.”  So God is always drawing people towards Jesus, giving them the opportunity to consider truth, but because of the witness of the church, who have muddied the water and because of our own hardness of heart we make very little progress because the way is so narrow, for the narrowness is the image of God Himself, in the form of Jesus and Him crucified.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  Getting to know Jesus is getting to know God.  His disciples were often fearful and amazed by His acts.  One such time was when they were in the boat, on the Sea of Galilee, afraid for their lives because of waves whipped up by a storm, and, in their alarm, rousing Jesus from sleep who turned to the wind and said, “Be still”, and the storm immediately subsided.  Getting to know Jesus is not easy, because His ways are not our ways.  The disciples when they began to follow did not fully understand His words, many things He spoke they asked Him to clarify or explain, for much of what He spoke challenged the very assumptions of their life and the assumptions that they had made about the Law.  For He spoke with an authority and a knowledge that they had never encountered, and yet after He had risen and ascended and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they too spoke with the same confidence and assurance in their preaching and before the Sanhedrin.  So to him who puts his trust in Christ he will arrive at the outcome for which Jesus has laid hold of him, for He is faithful and He will accomplish it.

Jesus grew up mysteriously in the land of Israel. We know very little of His childhood except that He was at one point a refugee in Egypt when his parents had fled from Herod’s persecution.  The reason we know so little is that it is His public ministry which is all important.  But what we need to consider is that before His baptism He had arrived at the full knowledge of His purpose and mission and had accepted His Father’s will that He lay down His life for His people.  There are various places in the Old Testament where this purpose is revealed and expressed and also examples among the lives of the prophets of the persecution that awaits anyone who speaks plainly and truthfully to God’s people.  One of the most interesting examples is in the story of Joseph who was hated by his brothers and left to die in a pit before being found by Ishmaelites and carted off in slavery to Egypt.  So, hated and abandoned by his brothers, he proved to be their salvation.  For hidden from their view he was raised to prominence in Egypt and when famine struck their land, the brothers, went to Egypt for sustenance where he recognised and forgave them their trespasses against him.  Because of his high station he provided a home for them, so Jacob and his wives and his sons settled in Egypt which was the beginning of their sojourn and ultimate delivery by God from Egypt.

This and other stories like it in their scripture was partly how Jesus grew to know what was expected of Him and what to expect from His brothers, His fellow Jews in the task which lay ahead.  He has accepted the cost, the pain and the hurt, and the death He would suffer, before He was baptised by John in the Jordan.  So when He went forth preaching, “Unless you pick up your cross and follow you have no part with Me,” He knew what He was talking about.  So to begin to know Him we too must count the cost, put our entire life on the altar, as a willing sacrifice and pursue Him with the same intensity that He was walking to the cross.  Jesus says concerning discipleship, “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?”  Concerning the intensity required He says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.”  In other words if you do not consider the pursuit of this knowledge of Him is worth every ounce of your strength and all of your will, every breath that you breathe, indeed your entire life, then you will be given nothing by Him.

There is a growing in knowledge of the words Jesus speaks.  The disciples although they had left family and friends and livelihood to follow Jesus and in this way were fulfilling Jesus command, “to take up their cross and follow”, did not fully understand what the injunction meant.  What would anyone hearing this command make of ‘the cross’?  We who have heard in some measure the story of Jesus life put our own slant on what Jesus was saying but the disciples and the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking would have put an entirely different construction on the command.  Crucifixion is how the Romans dealt with their enemies and criminals, what exactly could Jesus have meant?  What is our cross and how do we carry it?  Jesus certainly knew what He meant and also what He was carrying, but anyone else would have only had at best a vague understanding.  But at the least it was putting all that your life was worth living for, all that you were prepared to live and die for,  all that you filled your living moments pursuing, a total commitment, even if it meant being condemned as a prisoner to death.  Those who obeyed, Jesus called disciples and ultimately friends.  The disciples never fully understood the cross that they were called to carry until their lives were brought to a shattering crunching halt with Jesus own arrest and crucifixion.  By this time they had no desire for any other life than one filled with Him.

Jesus took the full burden of His ministry upon His shoulders in the Jordan, when He was baptised by John.  Filled with the Holy Spirit He was impelled into the wilderness to be tested and hence strengthened for the work ahead.  “How can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man?  And then he will plunder his house.”  So Jesus had to do battle with Satan and have power over him to do the works that He did.  The disciples too had to do battle with the enemy to take on the ministry of Apostles given to them.  “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

The disciples grew into a knowledge of Christ by watching Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, by taking every word He spoke to heart and thus receiving into their depths, into the very fabric of their being all that He gave and thus the dawning of all He was grew in them.  Jesus words reveal Himself.  All of His commands, His teachings, are the very essence of Himself, in them He reveals the way He lives and walks and breathes.  He is the perfection of faith.  In Him faith and obedience are made full, for this is the way He is, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” “The Father and I are one.”  Without this heartfelt longing to receive from Jesus all that He is, to take into your being all that He speaks, to trust Him perfectly in the fullness of the love He reveals, you will never know Him.  He is the exact image of the Father and to behold Him is to behold life.  Just as He did nothing which He did not first see His father do, we likewise must learn to do only that which we see Him do. We need to live and breathe Jesus.  Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  So then there is far more to being a disciple of Christ than to say ‘He died for my sins, I am forgiven, and I will do my best to keep His commands.  I will go to church, I will tithe and give alms and help out in soup kitchens and op shops.’  No we must thirst for the knowledge of Him knowing our life depends upon it.  The only way to maintain this zeal, this desire, is love.  Real deep abiding love.  Without love of Christ it is impossible.

Jesus walked in a knowledge, in a power, in a love not of this world.  He had within Himself the witness of the truth of His words, and He revealed through His works the authority of His faith.  Though a man, He performed works and did deeds that only God can do.  But He was a man!  And it is precisely for that reason that we can know that we can be just like Him.  When he spoke, He spoke with an authority that those who preached in Israel did not know, or indeed, receive.  In fact they hated Him and sought to kill Him from the first.  The Jews, the church of His day, the religious zealots who believed that they were the keepers of God’s commands, hated Him!  Why?  Because they believed that they had already arrived at righteousness.  They had worked out for themselves an understanding of the Law of Moses which they were determined to keep and they had installed themselves into positions of spiritual authority and anything, or anyone, that undermined their hard fought for position, was a threat to everything they held dear, which in truth was themselves. Sound like the Church of today?

Jesus is life!  To know Him is to live! We do not arrive at His likeness by keeping a list of does and don’ts. We arrive at His likeness, by clinging to Him, by being crucified with Him.  But whatever can that mean?

His disciples walked with Him.  They had left their lives, their jobs, their families, their friends in obedience to His, “Come follow Me!”  They were drawn into His world.  He challenged them, made them fearful, but most of all filled them with a love that they had never known.  They did not want to leave Him, and He was on the path to the cross!  So, in fact, as they walked with Him and were drawn more deeply into His life and faced with Him the hostility of the religious authorities of the nation, they were entering into His cross.  They were, in there following Him, losing sight of any other way of life and with Him they were finding a way of life, a power of life, that was intoxicating and life changing.  The disciples of John the Baptist said to Him, in a spirit of grumbling, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast”  To which Jesus responded, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them can they?”  So His disciples, in His presence, were not knowing the agony of soul which leads others to feel the need for fasting.  For if we fast it is because we have not arrived at that which we seek!  But if we are walking beside the giver and author of life, and are beholding with our hands that which makes for all that there is and all that there can ever be, then we are knowing contentment, or at least we should be!  So in spite of all that their minds would tell them of the objectionable fear of the walk to crucifixion their hearts were more than content.  So when Jesus asked them, while they were struggling over His difficult saying concerning eating His body and drinking His blood, “Will you too leave?”  They were dismayed, “Who else has the words of life!”

The joy that they had was remarkable considering, like King David before them, they were treated as outlaws and were excluded from the life of the nation.  Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  So it was not the high life that gave them pleasure, or the love of a wife, or the comfort of home, but being with Jesus!  This must have been an extraordinary dawning in their own hearts.  The depth of their love for Him, their growing sense of their need for Him, their inability to live without Him. This deepening bond that could never be severed was an unexpected dawning in them. That is why when He was crucified they were so torn apart and at a loss as to what to do and why when He arose and appeared to them alive from the dead they were so overjoyed.

It is essential, in our quest to know Jesus, that we comprehend that we are entering a war zone.  Jesus did not speak vainly when He said, “What king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand to encounter the one coming against him, with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.”  Jesus was knowingly entering into battle with the spiritual enemy who held all of us hostage, Satan.  Almost from the beginning of His ministry the Pharisees were discussing with the Herodians how they might destroy Him.  Jesus said to the disciples when He sent them out to heal the sick and cast out demons, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.  Beware of men for they will deliver you up to the courts and scourge you in the assemblies.”  He also said, “You will be hated by all on account of my name.”  Jesus had knowingly gone out into a battlefield and He was calling His disciples to join Him.

Jesus was tackling the power that ruled in the hearts and lives of men.  There was nothing of the world in Him.  His life was hidden in God, so that all who came into His sphere did not comprehend Him.  He spoke in riddles for their hearts and therefore their understanding was far from Him, even amongst those who dimly comprehended and followed.  The price of discipleship was your life and thus complete obedience.  How could it be otherwise?  As His disciples said, “Who else has the words of life?”  All of Jesus teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, where people marvel at the purity and the depth of His instruction are exactly what He was living.  Coming to the house of Israel He knew they would, in the main, reject Him yet He came in love.  “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  Now this is exactly what Jesus was doing, for if He did not, no one would know the love of God in which He was abiding.

The Church today makes too little of these commands for Jesus goes on to say, “If you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The church today teaches, “But of course no one can be perfect!”  Yet this is Jesus teaching.  This is what He commands and, if you trust Him and follow, this is what you must and will become.

So Jesus calls us into a war in which the only way to walk is like Him.  The only way out of the death we are all walking in is to turn from our best efforts and our religious zeal and our worldly wisdom and learn to know His voice and to listen and obey, there is no other way.  All of the powers and the authority who rule this world, both secular and religious, have the power to kill but not to destroy the Son of God, for He has power over death.  Those who cling to Him and conform to the likeness of His death, and this death is to the life and power and way of this world, will also never die, for He is the way, the resurrection and the life.  For us to be like Him, useful witnesses, and effective servants, equipped soldiers, we have to deal with the power of sin we have walked in, and thus been blinded to the glory, which is Christ.  Difficult, but nothing is impossible with God!

Peter may have said, “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man”, but Jesus did not listen and beckoned him to get up and follow.  Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but He said to her accusers, “He who is without sin cast the first stone” and when none were willing to declare their righteousness he bid her to go free and “Sin no more!”  Jesus said He had come to call sinners and that they would get into heaven before those who felt they had no need of repentance.  How could this be, how could adulterers and thieves and blasphemers get into heaven ahead of the strictly religious Pharisees?  “He who is forgiven much loves much!”  “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  Those who have stumbled badly in life and have found the forgiveness of Christ are more likely to now “Hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Consider the woman weeping at His feet wiping the tears away with her hair and kissing them and anointing them with perfume.  The Pharisee who had invited him thought that He should not allow such a sinner to defile Him.  But He said, “Do you see this woman?  I entered your house and you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with perfume.  For this reason I say to you, her sins which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little loves little.”

One of the problems with our concept of sin is that we put greater emphasis on particular sins such as sexual sin and offences against property but the greater sins such as pride and heartlessness we do not condemn.  So a man who has kept himself pure and lives a moral life and is proud of himself because of it and condemns those who have stumbled into drugs and prostitution is as big a sinner as those he condemns, probably a worse sinner, because he is unlikely to see himself as a sinner. This is the purpose of Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son.  The Pharisees who felt that they were worthy of great praise because of their religious efforts were unable to rejoice at those who came to Jesus and were received by Him.  They condemned Him for eating with sinners.  They called Him a drunkard.  They said He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub.  This was war and to walk with Jesus you had to decide if you were with Him and take a stand.  Because the religious life of Israel was ruled by the Pharisees and Sadducees, if a man believed Jesus, and said so, he was risking being ostracised and banned from the religious life of the nation, just as Jesus was.  Hence Jesus parable of the sower and His saying some receive the word with joy but when difficulties arrive because of it they abandon the word that has been planted.

Jesus command that they must pick up their cross and follow made deeper sense to the disciples as they walked along.  For if you did not abandon everything and put your trust in Jesus and in His words alone, you would never come to know Him, but also, once you began to listen and obey, you became isolated from those who desired the life of the existing order which in turn made you need to cling to Him more tightly, for, in fact, there was nowhere else to go.  The cross then became not so much a burden but literally the way to life!  So Jesus cried out, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden light.

The strength of Jesus love was sufficient both for Him, as He walked to certain death, and for His disciples and for the house of Israel, for whom He poured out loving acts of healing and preaching and deliverance from evil.  Jesus poured out His life on the faith of His people, in order that they might come to the knowledge of the love with which God had loved them from the beginning, the love that filled His heart as He walked in their midst.  “There is no greater love than this that a man lay down His life for His friends and you are My friends, if you keep my commandments.”  This was the deepening journey that the disciples were on, an abandoning of everything for the love which they found in Christ.  It was for this love, which burned in their hearts, that they lived as they walked and talked and learnt and listened and bore witness to all that He did and lived and taught and thought.  So deeply did this love transform them that they were overflowing with praise and wonder when, as Jesus was before them, they were baptised in the Holy Spirit, and empowered to join with Him in the work of love which He had begun.  Paul later writes, “So even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.”  So the promise of the knowledge of such love is not confined to the disciples who walked with Him but also to those who never knew Him, but who walk in faith through His Spirit.

The disciples had to learn obedience, and to grow in these bonds of love.  At times they were afraid by His acts of power, at other times they boasted among themselves as to which one of them was greater, they tried to prevent children pressing in to see Jesus, and Jesus had to discipline them and have them to grow to understand that He was not like them. He was always available to those who called upon Him for help.  Many times it is recorded that He healed all who came to Him.  The disciples, obviously concerned for Jesus well-being, tried to turn some visitors aside but Jesus bade them to approach.  Jesus acts of power gave people the opportunity to take to heart the power and authority in which He acted, and He was not going to deny anyone who asked of Him.  This was despite the fact that many did not obey Him subsequently.  There were times when Jesus, for whatever reason, would say after healing someone, “Tell no one what has happened” and as soon as the person had got out of His presence they would tell all and sundry what He had done.

The disciples were often stretched to their limits taking in the events which were unfolding before their eyes, but if they were stretched, Jesus was also stretched to exhaustion in His dealing with the problems and concerns of all of Israel, as well as His patient instruction of His disciples in the task of growing them up into service.  On one occasion, after an extremely tiring day, He was asleep in the stern of the boat as the disciples rowed across the lake into an increasingly threatening storm.  The disciples, many of them extremely experienced on the water, grew alarmed and afraid for their very lives yet Jesus slept on oblivious.  Finally they could bear it no longer, “Wake up Master!  Don’t you care that we are perishing!”  Jesus roused, asked them why they were so cowardly told the storm to be still and presumably went back to sleep, leaving the disciples the more stunned at His power and authority.  But events such as these served a deeper purpose, they were preparing them for the faith that was required of them for service.  Jesus had absolute trust in God and they were to have the same.  When the storm, that was His arrest and execution, blew up all around them it would be good for them to bring to mind that He had power over this particular storm as well.  Jesus work towards them was to bring them into a faith of the same nature as His.

Jesus reveals the depth of His patience towards hostility towards Him.  The Jews, as I have said, conspired almost from the outset to kill Him.  As a child growing up He would have heard about Herod’s desire to kill Him, causing His family’s flight into Egypt.  He also, of course, knew how God’s people had treated the prophets, those sent by His Father to reprimand and discipline them.  But Jesus anger was reserved for the hardness of men’s hearts, not towards Him, but towards their own people.  When Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath and the scribes and Pharisees condemned Him for breaking the Law, His anger burned against them for their hardness of heart, not at their condemnation of Him, but at their lack of pity towards the one He healed.  If an animal fell down a pit on the Sabbath they would feel it lawful to pull it out, but if a person was pulled from the pit of human misery on the Sabbath they declared it unlawful.  Jesus was unimpressed with their treatment of the Law.

Similarly He was angry at the way the money lenders had turned the Temple into a bazaar, more concerned with the trade of animal sacrifice than the reason for the sacrifice in the first place.  “You have turned My Father’s house into a den of thieves.”  The place where people had to come, to put their lives right with God, bringing sacrifices for their stumbling, seeking God’s mercy and help and forgiveness, was being used as nothing more than a place to do business.  In the prophet Hosea’s time he writes, “They feed on the sin of My people, and direct their desire against their iniquity.”  Jesus who had come, once and for all, to free His people from their sin, was less than impressed with the hardness of heart that had them use His Father’s house as a trade in human misery, it made a mock of God and was an offensive stumbling block to all who sought to call on His name.

Jesus looked with pity on His people for they were sheep without a shepherd.  Here in the house of Israel, which should have been a light to the world because of the greatness of the witness of God’s dealing with them, was instead filled with lost and wandering people who neither grasped the love nor the power of God, and whose leaders had turned God’s Laws into foolishness and His house into a spiritually empty slaughter house.  That should give us some food for thought as to God’s attitude to the scandal currently rocking the Church!  The Church has lost sight of the freedom which Christ calls us into and instead has turned the house of the Lord into a rabble led by false shepherds more intent on their career than in the outworking of God’s love.

Jesus was not seeking to destroy the Pharisees but to save them.  He had not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.  Jesus though angered by the hardness of their hearts was not hostile towards them.  He wept over Jerusalem, “Who can save you from the wrath to come?”  Men’s actions have inevitable consequences, judgement finally comes.  If Jesus could not help them to face their errors who could?  Jesus words in the sermon of the mount so deeply describe Him.  He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, and Jesus came in peace to grant peace.  This is kind of paradoxical because He also says, “Do not think that I came to grant peace on earth, I did not come to grant peace but the sword. For I came to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother in-law and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”  He said as He wept over Jerusalem, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.”  The peace of the world, the peace which the people of Israel had sought was not real peace, but a superficial peace.  Real peace the peace Jesus came to give was the peace which comes when you do God’s will, when there is no place in your heart for wrongdoing, when everything you do is love of God and neighbour.  This was the life Jesus lived.  Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, pure in heart, seeking real peace for all men with their Heavenly Father that they might fulfil in their own lives all the good that He desired for them.

To know Jesus, to walk in His shoes, requires that you have the same aim as Him.  That you too hunger and thirst for righteousness, that you too desire that all men know and share the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.  It means that you too are willing to lay down your life that others might taste the wonder of the love of God.  It means that you do not repay with hostility those who are hostile towards you.  It means that you have no other desire than to be a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.  It means that you are a sojourner in this world living for another kingdom that is yet to be revealed.  If this is your aim then you will find that the world is as hostile to you as it was to Christ because, as in the days of Noah when he proved what the will of God was through his actions and in this condemned the world, you too living in the image of Christ will condemn the world through your actions.  For God’s kingdom will be within you and you will no longer be subject to the fears and ways and attitudes which shape the world; but you, having cast aside the sinful ways of the world with its pride of life and loveless commerce and trade and its compromises, will now be walking in an altogether different power, the power of heavenly love.  The world will hate you because, by your life, you will be like Noah secure from the power of death which is at work in this world, and be revealing a life they do not know and thus proving what the will of God is.