Monthly Archives: April 2015

I AM: The Resurrection and The Life

It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Given an opportunity, Jesus refused to overturn taxation and so we turn our focus to death. Jesus’ claims about and interaction with death are spectacular and most certainly worthy of closer exegesis.

Jesus’ victory over death at His resurrection is at the very heart of Christianity. Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Corinthian 15:17).” So important is this miraculous event that without it, there is no Christianity. And not only does Jesus come back from the grave, He makes a spectacular claim in John’s gospel.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. – John 11:25-26

Life is an interesting concept in the gospel of John, and in the New Testament at large. John is the one who coins the term born again, or at least quotes Jesus’ use of it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John 3:3,5-6

God promised Adam in Eden that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would die. And in the day he ate that fruit, he was promised an eventual termination to his earthly existence and cast out of the garden, separated from God by an angel with a flaming sword. Adam died spiritually that day, and his death has been inherited by all his descendants.

Jesus brings in Himself a life that no human had experienced since Adam. It’s a life that overlays physical life and can only be attained during it, but is not itself physical or fleshly. First we are born, then in Christ we are born again. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus says these words to a woman mourning the death of her brother. Jesus didn’t rebuke Lazarus. His death was not an indictment of his love for Jesus or his faith.

Paul teaches that physical death is the final enemy Jesus will conquer (1 Corinthians 15:22-28), and this is an eschatological reality- that is, a truth regarding the end of all things. There will come a time in which bodies will never fail, but not yet. The spiritual life Jesus gives now to His followers will be perfected with physical eternal life at His second coming.

When the life Jesus brings is fulfilled, both spiritually and physically, we will experience Jesus the resurrection.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:22-23

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. – Revelation 20:4-5

Eternal life isn’t something purely spiritual, but will be physical as well. We were made created by God with flesh and spirit, and will be redeemed as such. Martha understands this and so she says to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

But then something surprising happens: Jesus raises Lazarus that very day. It’s a twist in the story absolutely nobody saw coming. Martha and Mary, for all their faith in Jesus, had no expectation of having dinner with their brother. Jesus flips the script and astounds everyone, and many believe (John 11:45). The resurrection of Lazarus inspires such faith and devotion in Jesus that His opponents conspire to re-kill Lazarus to stem the tide.

The Resurrection and The Life is a spiritual and eschatological reality, but Jesus occasionally gives a taste, a free sample, that we may believe. Lazarus is not the norm, nor is there any promise of physical resurrection to believers before the second coming of Christ. The New Testament only records four other instances, not including the resurrection of Jesus: A widow’s son (Luke 7:11-16), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). In contrast, Jesus and the apostles heal the sick quite liberally.

But there is a much more ubiquitous foretaste of resurrection in the New Testament, one available to all believers.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:4-5

How do we respond to The Resurrection and The Life? By partaking in the institution of baptism. All who profess faith in Christ are invited to taste and to participate in the resurrection of Christ in rising up from the waters of baptism. When we witness this sacred ritual, let us remember the promise of Jesus and worship the Lord who is our resurrection and our life.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:40

I AM: The Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. These words begin one of the most beloved passages in scripture. Even today, in a society far removed from the agrarian imagery, Psalm 23 continues to provide comfort for believers. We may not know(*care*) much about sheep, but we understand what it is to be nurtured, to be cared for and protected.

God’s care for His people is a frequent theme in all of scripture. A common scene in the gospels is of Jesus meeting the physical needs of the oppressed and downtrodden.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
” – Luke 4:18-19

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  – Matthew 9:36

Jesus cares. Jesus cares for us. Jesus cares for us because God cares for us. This is the truth behind the metaphor of The Good Shepherd. And so as we look as Jesus’ words in John 10, I’m not going to tell you a ton about sheep. I personally do not care the slightest bit about sheep. I’m not going to dig deep to unearth profound mysteries. My goal here is to show how Christ cares for us, to be overwhelmed by the compassion of God, and to respond in worship.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.- John 10:11- 15

Jesus is invested in us. He paid a high price to make us His own and even now is putting the work to cultivate us. This is the message of The Good Shepherd. We belong to the shepherd and are in relationship with the shepherd.

Possession doesn’t seem like a good image to discuss God’s care for us at first glance. When we think of the things we own, we’re not transported into a world of overwhelming sacrifice and protectiveness. Even our most precious possessions- computers, phones, cars, etc- are treasured for their utility. I may take great pains to keep my shoes from getting scuffed, but my love will never go beyond the aesthetic. Once they start getting old, I’m looking forward to the next pair.

But God doesn’t own us in the same way we own our stuff. He died to redeem us from darkness and death and into His possession. And once we are His, He remains committed to our welfare. The price He paid for us is the assurance of our value. The Christian is under Christ’s authority, yet is considered a friend.

In His care for us, the Good Shepherd leads us out to pasture. He takes us to places that are good for us and away from those that are not. Life in Christ is not aimless; we are being taken on a journey. We are led from the safety of the enclosure out into the openness of the world, with all its mess, brokenness, and pain. Under the shepherd’s guidance, we encounter the consequences of sin in our broken world. We see heartbreak, compromise, and lasciviousness. We may even partake of it ourselves.

Yet the Good Shepherd is always with us. He is our protection. Picture a child in a market. His play is free and rambunctious when his father is in view. But the moment he looks around and can no longer see his father, his demeanour changes: He freezes up, finds a corner and makes himself small. The sea of legs which had been a playground maze now seem threatening and imposing. But then he hears the voice of his father. Watch his face light up, his posture open up. Nothing has changed in his environment, and yet everything is different.

The Good Shepherd is our assurance of safety even in the darkest of times. He will not run from us when the wolf comes; He will fight for us and He will win. He descended to the grave for us and will not now abandon us. Though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

The Good Shepherd leads us to pasture. We follow because we know Him and He knows us. We trust Him, that He will not lead us astray. The shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep is important. He knows better than we do what is good for us. We knows the destination when all we see is the pathway, and He knows the destination will nourish our souls. We don’t know where we are going, but we know who is taking us there. And that is enough for us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is invested in us, and is working all things together for our good. This truth puts me at peace when I should otherwise the worried. There are times I feel adrift, like I’m living at the mercy of a world beyond my control. When the plans and structures I put my hope in come crashing down, Jesus reminds me that He is leading me to pasture. He loves me and will protect me from all danger. He does that because I am His.

So let us rest at ease in the presence of The Good Shepherd. Let us follow His voice to the exclusion of all others, that we might find pasture. And let us remind our fellow believers in times of trial that Jesus will keep us. He died for us and will not now let us die.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
– Psalm 23

I AM: The Door of The Sheep

I AM: The Door of The Sheep

Of the seven I AM statements of Jesus in John’s gospel, this is the least frequently discussed. There are several reasons for this. One, it comes in very close proximity to a more tantalizing metaphor- The Good Shepherd. Both statements appear in the same discourse and Jesus mixes metaphors in painting the same picture. So, as any child whose birthday falls on a holiday knows too well, the famous overshadows the obscure.

Another reason we probably don’t talk about the Door of the Sheep is that it doesn’t have high play count in scripture. In the chapter it appears, John devotes all of five verses to it and the New Testament writers don’t really take up the metaphor. This makes it hard to devote much space to exploring it.

But exploring this metaphor is exactly what we’re going to do in this space. Again, as with the other posts in this series, my prayer is that you and I will have our focus drawn to Jesus, the source and foundation of our faith.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep… Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:1,2,7-9

The image here is of an enclosure which houses sheep. In this picture, the door plays three roles: it legitimizes access, protects the flock, and acts as a gateway to provision.

First, the door grants legitimate access to the sheep. According the image we’re given, there is one door and one shepherd who has the key. Anyone else who wants to get at the sheep is an intruder.

The intruder trespasses with a purpose: He attempts to lead them away from their rightful owner. He is a thief. But instead of using force or carrying off the sheep, the intruder attempts to lead the sheep with his voice. If the sheep follow the intruder, they will walk into the possession of another and away from the protection of the shepherd.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:6-8

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  – 1 Timothy 6:3-4a

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:1

The New Testament warns frequently against false teachers who will come up to lead God’s people astray. And the Door of the Sheep makes for us a clear distinction between the Shepherd (with His agents) and the intruder (with his agents). Anyone who intends to be a leader of the church must do so in submission to Christ and in accordance to His teaching. The Door of the Sheep is our protection against being led astray by showing who we should follow (2 Thessalonians 2:9-17, 2 Peter 2:1-2).

The Door to the Sheep also provides salvation for the sheep. They come in through Him to a safe place. This obviously has eternal significance, but also matters in this life.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. – Proverbs 18:10

The Psalmists and authors of proverbs were not looking into eternity when they made statements like this (Psalm 18:2, 61:3, 91:2, 144:2, Proverbs 14:26 among others). What they meant is when I’m scared, overwhelmed, unsure, stricken with doubt, I can run to God and He will protect me. When I have literal enemies looking to take me down, I trust God to look out for me. The Door of the Sheep offers protection from the internal and external pressures of this life and into eternity with God. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and we enter into His salvation only through Christ.

Finally, the Door of the Sheep leads us out to pasture. Going back to the image Jesus paints, you have a number of sheep in an enclosure. The sheep cannot survive solely within the pen. They must be lead beyond the boundary to find food.

Through Jesus, we are not only directed into the enclosure and safe communion with the saints; Jesus leads us out into the world.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. – Acts 1:8

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. – 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

The Door of the Sheep shows us not only how to find salvation, but how to go out into the world as the flock of God. Our faith is not simply concerned with life within the enclosure, in the Christian bubble, but also promises pasture. He provides pasture out in the world, that our needs may be met.

The Door of the Sheep ensures that we are not lead away, assures us of safety, and provides for us outside the walls of the enclosure. In Christ, we are kept secure as the flock of God. Let us keep our eye on the Door. Let us rejoice when it is shut against intruders and dangers. And when it is open to opportunity and blessing, let us go through it with boldness, trusting that God will keep His flock.

I AM: The Light of The World

The I AM series on this blog has one objective: to place the spotlight on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. There is so much one can write about Christianity in the 21st century, but it all falls apart if not grounded in the live, death, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus. He lived and in His life taught about God and humanity. I want to take this space to examine what He said about Himself and what that means for me and you.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Light illuminates by its very nature; It is the antithesis of darkness. So Jesus here is saying that His presence allows us to see something we would not otherwise be able to. And to understand what that is, I’d like to observe the context of this claim.

Just before this passage, John recounts a story that’s become quite popular. The religious leaders, looking to trap Jesus in a conundrum, bring before Him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This slick trap was intended to pit Jesus’ compassion against the law of Moses. If Jesus affirmed the law, He showed Himself to be as just cold as the Pharisees He frequently rebuked. If He advocated anything less than the law required, they could accuse Him of disregarding the law and therefore not an emissary of God.

He stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”… But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8:7-11

Then in the next verse, Jesus makes the claim we’re investigating here. I am the Light of the World. Whether these events followed each other chronologically is not important. John is obviously making a connection between the two. So what does Jesus expose in the preceding story?

Sin.

The crowd comes to Jesus in shock and outrage. This woman broke the law and deserves death. The case was open-and-shut. The law was clear. The evidence was undeniable: somebody walked in on her having sexual relations with a man who wasn’t her husband. The jury had deliberated and the verdict was in. All that remained was for Jesus to pronounce the sentence. Justice must be done, Jesus. Are you up to the task?

Jesus’ reply put a simple challenge before the crowd, namely this: Would you be so eager to see justice done if you were the one on trial? His reply got them thinking about what aspects of their lives they would hate to see publicized.

To this day, Jesus continues to shine a light on the hidden corners of our lives. He makes us confront our sin, and it’s a painful process. In the story of the woman, Jesus’ words forced the crowd to concede the high ground. Where they would have gone home proud of themselves for doing justice, instead they were left the bitter taste of their own faults.

I am the Light of the World. Jesus shows us our sin, and often we don’t want to see it.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. – John 8:39-41,44

Jesus’ words were hard to take, and His message remains difficult today. We want to believe that we are good, that our sins are aberrations and not indicative of our true nature. This is the entire premise behind reality TV shows. I may be a bit selfish, but at least I’m not ‘Jersey Shore’ bad. We want to excuse ourselves by looking on the ‘greater’ sins of others, but Jesus comes as the sinless man. Next to Him, we all fall short.

But the Light of the World doesn’t come to bring shame, but restoration.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him… But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:16-17,21

In him was life, and the life was the light of men… He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:4,11-13

Jesus shows us our sin so it can be dealt with. The crowd around the adulterous women revelled in her shame; Jesus comes to remove our shame. One popular image of God’s love in the bible is a bath (Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:7, Ezekiel 36:25, Ephesians 5:26-27). Addiction workers say, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” The Light of the World shows us our sin so we can be purified. And even after conversion, the Light of the World remains a sanctifying light. Our roles is simply to keep looking into the light.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

I AM: The Bread of Life

Christ is at the center of Christianity. Often we prioritize other theological and social issues, but without Jesus, it  all falls apart. For me, Easter was a great time to remember this. If He had not come, lived, died, and rose again, there would be no faith for me to confess, to write about, and to cling to in tough times.

So in this month of April, I want to take on a writing project that centers on Christ. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes seven “I AM” statements. These are seven statements in which Jesus uses metaphor to reveal who He is and what He means for us. Over the next 21 days, I plan to reflect on each of these statements in this space. I invite you to join me on this journey and together, may our hearts become centered again on Christ above all else.

I AM: The Bread of Life (John 6:35)

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this chapter. In the last post, I used it to show What’s Wrong With the Prosperity Gospel.  The manner in which Jesus deals with the crowd illustrates the nature of His kingship. He will not be used as a tool to meet our needs; He Himself is our deepest need.

Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:27,35, 54-55

What is the bread of life, this true food to which Jesus refers? Like many (likely all) of you, I eat food on a daily basis. Multiple times a day even. I do this partially because I enjoy the experience of eating- sometimes glutinously- but mostly I eat because I must. And no matter how enjoyable a meal, the satisfaction it brings is temporary. There is always a next meal.

The insatiable nature of appetite goes beyond food and into every aspect of life. Every milestone reached simply yields to a new goal. I had the chance to speak with an Olympic athlete and staff member with Athletes in Action. She told me that the loneliest moments for an athlete often come after winning a medal. Every thought and action for four years pointed towards this singular moment, and amidst the elation comes a scary realization: Now what?

We tend to define life by our appetites, our goals. I know the feeling. Life is good and meaningful as long as we are making progress towards attaining some ideal. But a life defined in this way will be full of disappointment- no more so than when we get what we thought would satisfy us. And it is in light of this that the Bread of Life is offered.

Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. Don’t live your life in pursuit of fleeting pleasures, but go after a joy that lasts. To know God through Christ is the definition of eternal life (John 17:3).

In Christ, God gives us purpose and meaning that cannot be exhausted. The Bread of Life is sustenance that isn’t consumed, but one that generates; It grows the more we eat of it. That’s why it’s linked to the miracle of feeding 5000 with five loaves and two fishes with twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus is making a point about the kind of life He offers.

By God’s grace, I have experienced this eternal life in Christ. I have in my life purpose that goes deeper than my daily experience. Through failure and success, I have a true anchor for my soul. This is the experiential beauty of the gospel. I can’t always explain and I don’t always feel it, but I know it.

All this is the gift of God, as Jesus makes very clear.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:44,45,63-64

Not everyone will eat of the Bread of Life. The crowd in Jesus’ time walked away from this teaching. It takes great faith to surrender our various appetites to the pursuit of God. The Bread of Life is given for the world, but only those enabled by the Father will eat of it.

So how do we respond, who have eaten of the Bread of Life? We thank God for this gift, which He has so graciously bestowed on us. We cling closely to our risen Saviour who is our Life. And with Peter, we proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).”

Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:2-6