I am the resurrection and the life

My life changed 6 weeks ago. It felt like I was going to lose my wife and son on the same day. As I sat by my three-day old son’s side in the Neonatal Intensive Care, I noticed an inscription on the wall by that great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh: ‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart’. The unintended irony of that statement dawned on me. I want my son and my wife to live. More than anything. Honestly, I wanted it even more than I wanted to see God’s glory through our suffering.

My wife had pre-eclampsia and stood the risk of getting fatal seizures during labour. We had no choice but to induce. Later the same day she was in labour but her blood pressure was rising so much that baby’s heart flat lined. I can’t describe the fear. Her blood pressure normalised moments later and so did baby’s heart beat. A few hours later just when I thought we were home free her placenta detached. Baby was born limp. She lost lots of blood. It sounded like someone was emptying a bucket of water over my feet. As her blood filled the floor they resuscitated our son. He started breathing. They gave him to us so that they could stop her bleeding. Then he started going limp again. He was choking. We would later discover that he has Pierre Robin Sequence. His jaw is underdeveloped, his tongue quite far back towards his throat and he has a cleft palate. So when they positioned him on his back he started choking on his tongue. At this point I wasn’t sure if either of them would make it.

I understand what Mary and Martha must have felt when they learnt that Jesus wasn’t coming to save their brother in John 11. When the message was delivered to Jesus that Lazarus was critically ill his response should challenge us to very core.

 “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” John 11.4

Jesus allowed the death of someone’s brother for the glory of God? This commitment to God’s glory is throughout the Bible.

“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Isaiah 48.11

Mary and Martha must have spoken about this as they mourned their brother which explains why they have the exact same response to Jesus when he finally shows up.

 “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” John 11.21,32

Jesus allowed this so that they would “believe” and so that he would be “glorified through it”. As New Testament scholar John Piper rightfully asks of these verses, ‘Is God for us or is God for himself?’ Do I really need the glory of God revealed to me at such a cost?

This ordeal has revealed something in my heart. I allow small things, not unimportant in themselves, but small in comparison to God to take his place in my heart. What Mary and Martha wanted, like me is the life and health of a loved one. What they needed, like me was a deeper appreciation of the ultimate Value; Jesus. After Jesus receives the news of Lazarus’ illness it reads “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11.5-6). He loved them ‘so’ he decided to let their brother die. He did this to me because he loves me! The gospel writer makes this clear by repeating in one way or another that Jesus loved them (John 11.3,5, 36). Verse 33 is particularly telling “When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”. Scholar D.A Carson interprets these words idiomatically as Jesus was ‘outraged and indignant’. Some scholars suggest as Carson does that Jesus was angered by the disbelief of those mourning Lazarus. They grieved as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4.13 ). But as I grieve I respectfully disagree with Carson here. Exegetically – why would Jesus see them cry, get angry and then cry himself (John 11.35)? Experientially – the pain of losing someone you love leaves us deeply moved, angry and sometimes indignant. And most importantly theologically – Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus so much that he let their brother die and ultimately gave his own life!

Jesus died to restore our relationship with God. Is God for us or against us? Is he for his glory or our good? Answer – both. We need God more than we know. And Jesus allows suffering to run its course to restore us to God. To the seeker this may sound foolish, but to the believer, this is a known reality. My wife is on the mend and my son has survived. We’re not home safe yet. In this life we never are. There were other babies I came to love in the NICU that did not leave with their parents. I don’t pretend to understand suffering. But what I do know is that God is good. He is love. And he is far wiser than we know. So the suffering you are going through will turn out for God’s glory in ways you can’t fathom now. It will be for your good. You can be sure of this because He loves you so much that he didn’t only let you suffer, he suffered the ultimate suffering at the Cross. Don’t waste your pain with doubt and disillusionment. The Hand that appears to be against you is for you and the trial that appears to be emptying you is filling your heart with big things, glorious things.

The Bread that Satisfies

There are so many voices telling you what you need. We live in a marketing age. We face those specialist at convincing us that the superfluous is actually the necessity. It’s become increasingly more difficult to know what we really need. And is the church just one more voice telling us what we need? The ancient world of Jesus may not have known the kind of aggressive advertising that we do, but the claim of Jesus to be the “bread of life” certainly records his exclusive claim to satisfy like no other (John 6.35).

This claim is made right after Jesus fed thousands by miraculously multiplying a young man’s lunch of fish and barley bread. Here’s why this is such an amazing miracle. What’s the staple diet of Cape Tonians? You couldn’t say right. That’s because it’s varied. But in Jesus day it would have been bread and fish. In fact the average person worked not to pay for a home loan, or to buy a TV, clothes or other stuff we generally work for but they worked to eat! New Testament scholar D.A Carson suggests that in Jesus day 85% of your salary went to pay for your food. When Jesus creates bread and fish to feed everyone they’ve just saved 85% of their daily wage. So, they figure with a guy like Jesus around we’ll have more money for home loans and general stuff and they try to make him king (6.15). But Jesus eludes them by crossing the Sea of Galilee. Some paid precious money by taking the ferry across the Lake (6.24) while others literally ran carrying their paralysed friends on stretchers across the 16 km coastal line to get to Jesus (Mark 6:55). The twist is this; they don’t really want Jesus, they want more food and miracles. How desperate they were for their misunderstood need!

Misunderstood Needs

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
John 6.26

Jesus then tells them “do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (6.27) which is Jesus himself (6.35). Essentially he says ‘I know you need food, money, houses, stuff, but the thing that you need most is me! I can satisfy you. Bread can’t do that, sex can’t do that, drugs may promise to do that, counseling may help to do that, friends may make it a little easier, but what you really need is Jesus. That’s the point of the ‘I AM’ statements. We say ‘but Jesus we need bread – he replies ‘I AM’. We need a new president – ‘I AM’. I need a friend – ‘I AM’. I’m struggling with my co-workers – ‘I AM’. I’m lonely – ‘I AM’. Is the thirst of the human heart not apparent to all? The thirst factory of our hearts are only satisfied with Jesus.

Misunderstood Saviour

Some however were unwilling to see Jesus as greater than Moses; as number one in their lives (v 32). Terry Virgo, a pastor and church planter says that when he became a Christian he naively asked all his other idols to move up one and make space for Jesus. I identify with him. When I became a Christian it was like I called a board meeting with all my idols; ‘idols welcome; Beauty – looking good, Popularity – so glad you could make it, Success – in good shape, Sex – so hot right now. I want you to meet Jesus. He’s going to be joining you…what’s that Jesus? No seat for you…Umm over their….anyway. He’s one of the gods in my life. But rest assured you guys don’t have to leave. I can multi-task. I can worship all of you at the same time…. What’s that Jesus, there aren’t any seats…um…. Just sit on the floor! So, gods, let’s welcome Jesus and be assured nothing will change!

The only problem is Jesus doesn’t share the podium. The first hearers of this claim saw a potential king not the King of kings, they heard a message but not the gospel of grace, they saw only bread & power not what they signify. As Carson puts it “They witnessed the Divine Revealer at work but only their curiosity, appetites and political ambitions had been aroused, not their faith”. And they did not “taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34.8. The command to “eat my flesh and drink my blood” was a signal to the kind of violent death Jesus would die (6.53). “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him” (Isaiah 53.5). If you believe you have eaten. Taking to heart the message and meaning of the cross of Christ is the most soul satisfying work. Is the church another voice among many? Yes. But if you listen closely and you can hear the voice of the Father telling you to look to His crucified Son you can trust and believe. For nothing else can satisfy you.

The Light that Qualifies

The next few entries will focus on the I AM statements in John’s gospel. I hope this will explain the name change of the blog. Let’s starts with John 9.

Jesus first calls himself the light of the world as he stands in front of the Temple in the city of Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles (8.12). Two thousand years later he still calls himself the light for our city. What’s the claim?

The sun is the light of our world. It’s a primary source of life. It gives us heat & photosynthesis which makes things grow, it gives us wind & tides & light so that we can see. Without the sun there would be no life on earth.

But at the same time, unmediated the sun’s power could consume and destroy us. It’s 109 times bigger than the earth, every second it generates 400 million million million million watts. That’s 6000 degrees on the surface and 15 million degrees towards its core. Some of the solar flares exploding from the surface of the sun is 400 million million million million million million million times stronger than the atomic bomb that blew up Hiroshima. It’s devastating. And Jesus says ‘that’s what I’m like’.

The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of the Exodus. At the Feast of Tabernacles they lit a giant Candelabra, a giant lamp in the Temple. The Candelebra symbolized the cloud of smoke and the pillar of fire which led their ancestors through the wilderness after they left Egypt. But it didn’t only lead them it protected them (Exodus 14). The cloud and fire is the very presence of God and it’s unapproachable. When Moses went up the mountain for the commandments the thick cloud hovered around the mountain and no one was allowed up the mountain or they would die (Exodus 19.12). And when they finally established themselves in Israel and built their Temple the cloud filled the Temple. Now it’s the end of the feast, and it’s always a sad end. No one likes to take down the Christmas tree, but it’s worse for them, they have to blow out the Candelebra and they are reminded that God has not returned to the Temple. But Jesus comes standing in front of the Candelebra’s at the feast of Tabernacles at the Temple, not gentle, not docile, but crying out in a loud voice saying “I am the light of the world”. The weighty presence and power of God has returned and this time God approachable by all!

“…he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

After Jesus makes this declaration he demonstrates that he is not only approachable but that he draws near to those in need. He comes across a blind man. His disciples ask him a really insensitive and simplistic question; who sinned? It’s insensitive because they ask it within earshot of the blind guy. And it’s simplistic because they should have called to mind Job who suffers precisely because he is righteous. Sometimes the people we expect should be good to us are the ones who misunderstand us and disqualify us. A critical parent, a negative spouse, an insensitive word from a spiritual leader; they don’t have to say it but you feel it; ‘something’s wrong with him’.

But this man is not disqualified. Jesus says to them ‘I made him that way for God’s glory’. And no one was more qualified than Jesus to say this and disqualified than Jesus to understand this beggar. Jesus understands not only because he made you but because if you turn back a page, when Jesus first tells the Jewish leaders at the Temple on the Feast of Tabernacles that he is the light of the world they disqualify him (John 8.41). Essentially they call his mom sexually immoral, ‘you’re illegitimate, you’re disqualified’. And ultimately Jesus was disqualified. Not in the way they meant. But He was crucified and as he hung crying ‘My God why have you forsaken me’ he died forsaken so that you would have the love of the Father, he was disqualified to qualify us.

When Martin Luther became a priest he felt like he had to constantly fight off negative thoughts about himself. It’s like a voice was in his head telling him that he couldn’t become a priest because he wasn’t good enough. Here’s how he dealt with it:

 “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

Jesus comes to qualify you! There are so many reasons we may feel disqualified to shine our lights publicly but there’s a greater reason to ignore them all. His name is Jesus, the great light come into the world to destroy darkness. Allow the magnitude of His light bearing cross to warm you in into action.

The Humility of Jesus

I’ve never reposted someone else’s blogpost but this article by the late Dr. Dwight Pryor is written so excellently I think you will find it helpful.

OF THE MONUMENTAL ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECES built by Herod the Great during his three-decade reign as King of Israel, none is more awe inspiring than the majestic palatial resort-fortress he constructed on the edge of the Judean wilderness and named after himself: Herodium.

Poised atop a manmade mountain nearly twenty-five hundred feet high, Herodium afforded the King a panoramic view of his domain, including Jerusalem eight miles to the north. A ruthless ruler who gained power through political intrigue and marriage into the Hasmonean family, Herod was a master builder but a deeply troubled monarch. His rage and paranoia knew no bounds – even to the slaying of his own children and a beloved wife. His edifice complex was equally unchecked.

Herod’s most famous project was the extensive expansion of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In addition to the harbor at Caesarea and the “hanging palace” at Masada, he built multiple fortresses. But Herodium held an honored place in his heart. Not only was it a brilliantly designed fortress but the largest palatial complex in the Roman world at the time. Every conceivable luxury was incorporated into its design, including swimming pools, baths, gardens and a seven-hundred seat theatre.

It also was the place Herod chose to be buried. Only recently have archaeologists discovered the elaborate two-story domed mausoleum that served as his final resting place – midway up the northern face of Herodium. Even the ornate sarcophagus that once held the King’s remains was found among the shattered remnants of his distant kingdom.

NEARBY HERODIUM LAY A SMALL JEWISH VILLAGE named Beit Lechem (House of Bread in Hebrew). Only three miles away in distance, Bethlehem was a world removed from Herod’s opulence and grandeur. Populated by the lowest strata of Roman society, shepherds, and other common folks, no more than 200-300 people likely lived in the lowly rural community at the time.

Herod died and was entombed at Herodium in 4 BC. Probably two years earlier, perhaps in the springtime when shepherds remained in the fields lambing their sheep, an uncommon child was born in Bethlehem to devout Jewish parents. They had taken refuge in a borrowed stable – likely a cave beneath a home, where the animals were kept – and placed their son in a feeding trough. Though he was truly of royal descent, his arrival was attended by livestock and shepherds. Not costly incense but the pungent smells of a stable would have filled the room.

Looking southeast from their primitive quarters, Jesus’ parents would have seen the monumental Herodium towering in the distance. What a contrast! One, a monument to self-exaltation; the other, a testament to the self-condescension of a loving God who, in accord with His word, sent His son to remedy the fractured human condition inherited from Adam.

Though Jesus was “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb 1:3), he did not aggrandize himself by his high-standing with God, but humbled himself and took on the role of a servant (Phil 2:8) – first to the Jewish people, “on behalf of God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises given to the Patriarchs,” but also to the Gentiles, that they “might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom 15:8-9).

Herod designated himself, “the Great,” and lorded it over fearful people. Jesus declared, “I am gentle and humble in heart; learn of me and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). Herod’s kingdom was built of might and power, and he raised up monuments to himself. Jesus proclaimed God’s kingship, propelled by the Holy Spirit, and he spent his life raising up many disciples.

Bethlehem’s child embodied fully the character of the God of Abraham – a God though high and exalted, “he hath respect for the lowly” (Ps 138:6 KJV). The Spirit of the true and living God, like water, always seeks out the low places. He is a “coming-down” God, passionate in pursuit of a people to bear His name and partner with Him in His redemptive agenda for the earth.

So when this God sent His Anointed One with good news for the humble (Isa 61:1), it was not to Herodium but to Bethlehem that he came. The contrast could not be sharper. In the words of the biographer Matthew: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…” (2:1).

Just Do It!

“If you love me obey my commands” Jesus.

To some degree we all know intrinsically that love is a verb, it’s ‘More than words’. Paul says we should worship by “offering our bodies”, John says if we say we love God but don’t give it expression through loving other Christians we are “liars”, James, the brother of Jesus, says that “faith without action” is no faith at all! In fact at one point Jesus says that if you don’t put into practice his teaching it’s like building your house on sand; it’s going to come crashing down! It’s like one big Nike campaign ‘Just do it’! Which happens to big one of the things I’m not very good at.

I was on the train to work. I work at a church. So, there’s this guy preaching in the train and his hearts in the right place, but he’s just not very good at preaching. And I hear God whisper to me “Ryan that should be you”. To which I respond “No thanks!” Eventually I was convinced that God was asking me to preach in the train. I really didn’t want to, but it was just so clear that I had to. I prepared, set a date for a month later, prayed and decided I was going to do it. The day came. I bought my ticket, boarded the platform, waited for the train. I was ready! The light went green. I was ready! The train pulled into the station. I was ready! The doors opened, I put one foot into the carriage and my plan was to immediately greet everyone “Ek groet jou in die naam van die Jure!” but I looked around and it was the worst train carriage I’d ever seen in 12 years on the train! On my far left were these gangsters, straight from Poolsmoor, holding high their cell phones dancing to the music. I thought they’d kill me. On my immediate left were these two big Muslim ladies, with big bomber jackets, to my right was a group of the naughtiest looking school teenagers just looking for someone to laugh at; everyone was staring at me, watching my Bible which was shivering vigorously in my hand… I wanted to raise my voice but I wasn’t ready! Instantly a million justifications flooded my head; ‘You’re not a train preacher, you’re not even Afrikaans. You’re not an evangelist, you’re a pastor. You’re going to die.” So, I decided that I would wait for the next station and run across to the following carriage. So, at the next station I ran to the next carriage, but this one was completely empty, well there were like four people in it! ‘That would be just awkward’ I thought to myself, ‘I can’t preach to four people, do I make eye contact? What happens if they’re together and have to get off the following station?’ So, at the following station I jumped into the next carriage. This one was way too full. I couldn’t even open my Bible, no one would even know I was preaching! So, at the next station, I decided, I would run back to the dangerous carriage I started at. But when the next station came, I realized it was my stop. I got out of the train at first relieved, then overcome by disappointment, then guilt. I preach week after week to lovely Christian folk at church yet I was unable to ‘just do’ what God had asked me to do. I stopped walking, sat down to pray and I heard God say to me that I need not fear, He would be with me, and that I should get back on the next train home and preach. I repented, confessed my unbelief, got back onto the next train and preached the gospel. And my preach was terrible!

Most of the Bible is written in a culture of persecution but in Cape Town we are tormented by a culture of assimilation; silenced by aggressive secularism and tempered by a generation of well-meaning lukewarm older brothers and sisters. As “Saul clothed David with his armor” we too have been clothed with faithlessness. Is it just me or is it hard to reconcile New Testament norms with our experience of Christianity. I don’t feel like God needs me to do anything for Him, I need to act for me. What is God saying to you? Just do it! Let’s make decision today to be people of action. Faith trumps any circumstance you find yourself in. Bad health, bad job, bad church or a bad marriage. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned, Luther on the run, Newton was blind, Cory ten boom stuck in racist country. But they acted in faith. They stepped out. They trusted God. So, here’s to the fellowship of the unashamed, the movement of the Spirit, the misfits and strangers, the redeemed, the disciples of Jesus! Let’s join arms and just do it!

Boeke

What do you call a gangster without a weapon during a gang fight? Dead.

Ephesians 6:10-18

Gangsters not only need weapens, they need the boeke. Its their story. Its about Pomobasa, Kilikijan, Nongaloza and the origins of the Number. If you have the boeke then you are wise. The boeke is power. One time Paul meets some guys and they listen to him talk about Jesus. But they don’t believe him. Instead they check in the Bible to see if what Paul was saying was true. Guess what Paul says to them? He says that they are wise (Acts 17:11)! Why? Because he knows importance of the boeke. Why do Christians need “armour”? (vs 12) Because this is a battle. We have defensive armour (there are 5 listed in vs 14-17) but only one offensive armour (vs 17). The Bible. All Christians face a day of evil against the Devil and his demons or only some Christians (vs 13). So, spend some time memorizing your favourite verses now. You never know when you will need it.

Lust

Just cant say no? How do we deal with lust? We have a case study. David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12.

“Don’t let this upset you, these things happen”

The most striking words in the story, for me, come in 2 Samuel 11:25.

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah and he is still in denial trying to cover up his shame. Do these things just happen?

Let God’s adventure satisfy

It’s springtime; it’s the time when kings go off to war. But David is not at war (vs 1). David is kicking back, shooting the breeze, picking flowers, having a detox, listening to Abba and drinking herbal tea. Is this the same David that rushed out to meet Goliath in battle because he defiled God and the armies of God? Has something changed in David?
David is looking for adventure outside of the purpose of God. You were made for adventure. Men in particular live for adventure. That’s why you like James Bond, that’s why young men do dangerous things like drag races, that’s why sport gets taken so seriously. We are made for adventure, but ultimately for God’s adventure. David should have been fighting with God for God, but instead he has lost his passion for God’s glory. His God centered disposition has been replaced by self-centeredness and he is looking for adventure outside of the plan of God for his life. You have one life and only what is done for Jesus will last. Have you chosen the right adventure?

Kill unborn sin

He hasn’t done anything wrong yet. There just happened to be a very beautiful naked woman bathing on a roof (vs 2). Sometimes we are just thrown into a situation. In our culture sex sells everything. Music, clothes, coffee, motorbikes, deodorant, shampoo, power-tools. Our culture aggressively places temptation before us. But what should David have done? He should have destroyed the unborn desire (James 1:15).
But instead what does he do? Notice the verb “sent” and who is doing the sending.

 3 and David sent someone to find out about her…

4 Then David sent messengers to get her…

 6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.”… he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

 This didn’t just happen as David would have us believe. He made it happen. He is in control. He was tempted and he nurtured his lust and this little seed of lust flourished into adultery and murder.

Tim Keller illustrates this point. An acorn has the potential to grow into an oak tree. And that oak tree spawns more acorns that could start a forest of trees. Essentially a little acorn has the potential to be a forest! It’s much harder to destroy a forest of oak trees, than to destroy on oak tree, and it’s much easier to destroy an acorn than a single oak tree. Kill the sin before it kills you.

Who, reading this blog can claim to have more faith than David the giant slayer, or more revelation about God than the Psalm writer or when was the last time God said to you ‘man after my own heart’? Lust is a tidal wave that sweeps the most steadfast from their feet. Kill the sin before it kills you.

Find a Nathan be a Nathan

A year has gone by and David hides his sin. It’s a hard year though. In Psalm 51 he speaks of what it was like during that year. He felt dirty, defiled, depressed, he couldn’t even worship God. Guilty people have no joy in the Lord.

So, he spends a year in this unrepentant, anxious, shame-filled state until God sends the Prophet Nathan to him. Why does Nathan come to David with a long story (12:1-6)? Why doesn’t he just say it like it is? Because God is always more interested in restoration than in condemnation. How can you be sure of this? How can you be assured of forgiveness? How you be washed cleaner than snow? Jesus. He died in your place for your sin to purify you from a guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22).

God sends Nathan for David’s good, not to condemn him. Just like he sent Jesus for you. David says to Nathan ‘this man must die’! And the Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But when Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate it’s very similar to David before Nathan. Nathan says to David “you are the man”. Pronouncing guilt. Pontius Pilate says to the crowds about Jesus “Behold the man” calling the innocent man Jesus guilty. Nathan says to David ‘you will not die’ but Pontius Pilate has Jesus hung naked on a cross, left to die alone, in your place for your sin.

Let God’s adventure satisfy you, kill unborn sin, be a Nathan and find a Nathan, but most importantly thank Jesus. As Piper puts “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him”. It all stands or falls with your response to Jesus. Love and praise and worship of Jesus and let the joy of the Lord be your strength.