The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Heaven' ( is it all in our 'heads'? ) Reconciling John 14

Can we experience 'Heaven on earth'? Certain songs that we like to sing on Sundays seem to say that we can: 'Heaven came down and glory filled my soul', is one such line. A cat purring in one's lap could make make one feel that 'all is right with the world', or witnessing the natural majesty of God's good creation on a quiet morning just after sunrise when no one else is around, a quiet moment between just you and God. Sometimes; 'Heaven' can be experienced when spending good, quality time with grandkids, friends and family, or just walking through a big city on a beautiful Fall day and witnessing the kindness of strangers. Whether one thinks that 'our time is now', that 'Heaven' is the Presence of God ( John 14:23 ), or that 'Heaven' is an actual 'place' that we will inherit upon physical death, there is one thing that we all can agree on; 'Heaven' is ( or will be ) experiential!

'Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven's table land,
A higher plane than I have found;
"Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."

This familiar refrain from the hymn 'Higher Ground' speaks longingly of a 'plane' where we can live above the doubts and fears that often assail us in this 'world'. Although fairly obviously a 'futurist' hymn, looking forward to a final rest in 'Heaven', songs like this, along with ''Tis heaven below, my Redeemer to know' from 'He is So Precious to Me', remind us that we experience 'Heaven', not just as some 'place' ( John 14:2 ) that we may hope to inherit 'some day', in the knowledge of God, and of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

'I'm living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky.Praise God!
I'm drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry.
O yes! & I'm feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.

The refrain from 'Dwelling in Beulah Land' seems to tell us too, that 'Heaven' is something that we can experience within this physical existence, while living on this earth, again, amidst the doubts and fears of everyday life, which, songs like these remind us, we can rise above, because of His Holy Spirit, dwelling within, through our knowledge of, and relation to God.

'Livin' on Canaan's side, Egypt behind
Crossed over Jordan wide, gladness to find.
My soul is satisfied, no longer blind,
Livin' with Jesus up in Canaan right now.

This chorus, from the hymn 'I'm living in Canaan Now' is another song that reminds us that 'Heaven' is not ( just? ) something that we will experience someday, when this ( physical ) life is over, but rather, is a joy that we presently experience, in the knowledge and peace of our God and Savior, Jesus the Christ! Another famous hymn, 'It is Glory Just To walk With Him', although looking forward to the day when we will walk with Him 'on heaven's golden shore', serves to remind us, again, that through our knowledge of Him, and walking in His path, following His commands ( John 14:23 ) we have that glory now, as we live in His presence 'Day by Day'.

Many have rested on Jesus' words in John 14:2 as indicative of this place that Jesus has prepared, or is preparing for us. Although this passage seems to plainly indicate that 'My Father's house', in which are many dwellings, is a 'place' to which He will take us someday; in the very next sentence, or, at the end of the paragraph, Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving momentarily to prepare this place for them, but that He would return to take them to Himself, that 'where I am, there you may be also'.The question must be asked here; 'where is Jesus?' According to many popular hymns; He is in our 'hearts'! John 14:23, like verse 17 ( 'He dwells with you and will be in you' ), in reference to the Holy Spirit of God, tells us that 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.' As we saw in the hymns above, and these are but a few of such, many hymn-writers of old seemed to realize this fact, but they failed to 'see' that this present reality was what Jesus had in mind here, and not some 'pie-in-the-sky' hereafter.

'Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.' That, as several of the songwriters above realized, is 'Heaven'! The peace that we can have through His Spirit dwelling in us, is how we can walk through this world that is full of doubts and fears, with a smile on our face, and joy in our 'hearts'! I say 'can have', because I believe that we often fail to remember that 'all things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose' ( Romans 8:28 ) and that, if we 'seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'; we have everything we need, we have that 'peace of God which surpasses all understanding' ( Philippians 4:7 ( Isaiah 26:3 ).

Although many do not acknowledge, with others of us, that this 'place' that Jesus went to prepare for us was His own Presence, and that He has come again, in the 'form' of His Holy Spirit, to receive us unto Himself the fact remains that He has done so, just as He promised; as He promised, that 'where I am, there you may be also'. 'Where is Jesus?'; we are there also!

Glorying in this marvelous truth,
Charles Haddon Shank

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Lack of Communication ( a Life of Thanksgiving )

One doesn't equal the other, but the the idea here, is that the first naturally tends away from the other!

As in any marriage; ( and I'm sure we ( those of us who are married, anyway ) can all relate to this) 'communication is key'! If we fail to communicate with our spouse, then more often than not; things tend to go 'downhill' pretty quickly, and we begin to lose the 'joy' ( Proverbs 5:18 & 19 ) in our marriage very quickly: so, when we fail to communicate, whether through 'alone time', or fellowship with His Body, with our Father God, our 'heavenly', spiritual spouse; we also begin to lose 'sight' of our joy in relation with Him through His Body, the Church, and I believe that we also 'lose' a bit of the power, or incentive ( blessing ) that we have, if we choose to 'see' it.

When we think of 'communication', particularly in a marriage; we most often think of 'talking', and though that is certainly an important ( and integral )part of it, there are many other ( maybe even more important ) forms of communication that we often fail to take advantage of. In relation to our 'heavenly spouse'; while it is important that we keep up our personal time with Him, through prayer and meditation ( David's Psalms are good for this ), I believe it is equally important to communicate ( commune ) with His Body, the Church, wherever we might come in contact with them.As I've noted in a previous article; Paul's instruction ( correction ) to the church at Corinth regarding their observance ( some might say 'abuse' ) of the 'Lord's Supper', was not aimed, so much, at their failing to recognize the spiritual significance ( as orthodoxically viewed ), as at their failure to communicate with His Body, to recognize His Body for what it really was, His people, and to share ( communicate ) the blessings that they were beneficiaries of.

In much the same way today; we, as Christians, often fail to communicate, with our 'spouse', either by not living a life of thankfulness, or neglecting, for whatever reason, to communicate our thankfulness with His Body, not just by our words of prayer and praise, but with actions that betray a thankful attitude.

I had thought not to write anything special for this traditional holiday season, because I believe, as with other such celebrations, that the observance of a special day, or even a certain season tends to detract, somewhat from an everyday observance. As you can see, if you're reading this; Someone had other Plans. Either that,or I'm more of a traditionalist than I'd like to admit............

in thankful love,
Charles Haddon Shank

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Fruit (s ) of the Tree & the Beginning ( Genesis ) of Faith

Blessed [ are ] those who do His commandments,[g] that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. ( Revelation 22:14 )

'You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that [ is ] your neighbor’s'.  ( Exodus 20:13-17 )

Most people, I believe, would easily acknowledge that John is not talking about an actual city, with a physical address, although some have argued that he is, and that John's description in the previous chapter is meant to be taken very literally ( which it is; literal, anyway ), in a physical sense. The writer to the Hebrews told his first-century readers 'you have not come to the mountain that[c] may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness[d] and tempest' ( Hebrews 12:18 ), and, a little later, 'you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels' ( Hebrews 12:22 ), then clarifying ( describing ) that 'city' by telling them that they had come, not to an actual 'city', but 'to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [ who are ] registered in heaven', etc, etc. So too, these are not actual 'fruits' spoken of here, but, as we are very familiar with, from phrases like 'by their fruits you will know them' ( Matthew 7:15-20 ), of the actions of 'just men made perfect' ( Hebrews 12:23 ), by Jesus the Christ, 'the Mediator of the new covenant', and 'the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than [ that of ] Abel'.

 Though these are not actual 'fruits', they do take 'form' ( Galatians 4:19 ) in the human beings that God has 're-birthed' ( again; not physically-John 3:1-21 ) 'from above' ( Isaiah 45:8 ( James 3:17 ). Paul describes some of these 'fruits' ( 'of the Spirit' ) in Galatians 5:22 & 23, as 'love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control', and in Ephesians 5:9, merely ( simply ) as 'in all goodness, righteousness, and truth'. James also, though not in so many words, also describes these 'fruits', or rather, those who exhibit them, as 'pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits ( actions ), without partiality and without hypocrisy.' ( James 3:17 ) In the famed 'love chapter', of I Corinthians 13; Paul revealed these 'fruits', although again, not in so many words. In this passage; Paul's main focus is true ( agape-'wide open' ) love, like James' 'wisdom', that 'from above'; he wrote, 'Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.'

When Jesus was asked by one called a 'lawyer', 'Teacher, which [ is ] the great commandment in the law?' ( Matthew 22:36 ); He replied, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind' Deuteronomy 6:5 ), and that a second, like it, was, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' ( Leviticus 19:18 ). On these two commandments, Jesus said, hang, or rest, the law and the prophets; in other words, these commandments, of which the uniting factor, the common denominator, is love, are the driving principle behind God's law, and indeed, God Himself, as revealed by the prophets! Soon to be betrayed into the hands of sinful men; Jesus told His disciples, 'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another' ( John 13:34 ). In his first epistle; John wrote concerning love, of knowing God, told his 'brethren', 'I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning' ( I John 2:7a ), and wrapping up his 'discourse' on love; Paul told his readers, 'And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these [ is ] love' ( I Corinthians 13:13 ). Love; apparently, is the point of it all; not the feeling, but the action as described above, by Jesus, John, James, and Paul. When we love; it is to be 'without hypocrisy', and 'without partiality', we are to be 'long-suffering' and 'kind', we are not to 'envy', but rather to have 'joy', to exhibit 'faithfulness, gentleness, self-control', 'in all goodness, righteousness, and truth', in other words, in God!

And he showed me a pure[a] river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, [ was ] the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each [ tree ] yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree [ were ] for the healing of the nations. ( Revelation 22:1 & 2 )

It is well-accepted, in most, if not all circles, that this 'tree of life', as in Genesis 2:9 and 3:22b, is symbolic of Jesus the Christ. Reading this passage as it is, without the added words, in italics, one might get a hint that, not only the 'leaves of the tree', but the 'fruits' of this 'tree of life', are referring to the Christian, those who have been made righteous in, and follow Jesus the Christ, who 'keep His commandments' ( John 14:23 ( I John 2:4 ). I have made much lately of the fact that we are these 'healing leaves', which are said to be for 'the healing of the nations', but it was not till recently that I really noticed ( rather it was revealed to me ) that, given the sentence structure here, and that we have a correct translation of these words, that we are also the 'fruits' each ( of us ) 'yielding its fruit every month'. One might ask, 'why did Jesus make a point to reveal to John that their were twelve ( different ) fruits, and that they ( each ) bore their fruit in its ( their own ) month? Truly; John is using very physical ( although somewhat confusing, maybe ) language, but to describe a greater spiritual truth, that we, as Christians, followers of Jesus the Christ, 'having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets' ( Ephesians 2:20  ( Hebrews 11:10 ( 12:22-24 ), are 'called' ( I Corinthians 1:9 ( Romans 8:28 ) to exhibit these 'fruits', as mentioned earlier, in Galatians 5, Ephesians 5, James 3, John 3, etc., to 'shine' ( II Corinthians 4:4-6 ( Genesis 1 ) our 'light' ( Matthew 5:16 ) in a darkening world, to share the love of Christ that God showed His people, and using those 'fruits' to 'awaken' ( Isaiah 50:44 ) those who 'sleep' ( I Corinthians 15:34 )!

Have you ever heard the phrase, 'love ain't easy'? Not only is it not easy; sometimes it seems well-nigh impossible to 'bear' this most wonder, delicate, and delicious of 'fruits'. We can only 'suffer' so long, keeping the 'green-eyed monster' at bay, while still exercising 'self-control'. Even the best of us often suffers selfish tings, and finds him ( or her ) self easily 'provoked', and we would all like to think that we can stamp the 'evil' out of our minds: of course we never would even think of rejoicing over any iniquitous thoughts, but find joy only in thinking good, pure, and truthful thoughts ( Philippians 4:8 & 9 ) When it comes to bearing, believing, doing, and enduring ALL thing....Well........

Impossible, no? NO! With God, and only with God, is it possible to do all these things. Does that mean if we don't exhibit ( 'bear' ) this kind of unselfish ( agape ) love at all times, that our love is not true love, that we are fooling nobody but ourselves? I do not believe so; it simply means that wee have chosen at one moment or another, to make the wrong choice, and be selfish, and more often than not, we behave rudely, saying some we shouldn't, often before the words leave our mouth. Some may say that by writing these hings; I'm excusing bad behavior: I'm not! We should always strive for perfection, doing the best that we can, but the sad truth is, more often than not, it seems; we fail. All we can do, is look back at past mistakes, and with heartfelt and humble prayer to God, make up our minds to do better next time.

In the love of Christ, and in His strength,
Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Everlasting, Purifying ( Consuming? ) Fire

The question has been in the thoughts of some, recently; 'is our God still 'a consuming fire' ( Hebrews 12:29 )! There can be no doubt that His is a purifying, cleansing presence, or that, to those who perished in the conflagration of AD70 ( the fall of Jerusalem & the temple ) He was a very literal 'consuming fire'. We've read of the famous 'burning bush', in Exodus 3:1-4, which, as Moses saw, '[ was ] not consumed'. In this case then, His Presence was apparently not a 'consuming' one. For the destruction ( consumption ) of Sodom & Gomorrah; Genesis 19 records that 'the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah' ( 'out of heaven' ), so, in this case; God used fire ( meteor shower, probably ) to accomplish His work of 'consummation'. During the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel; we have record of numerous times that 'fire of the LORD' consumed those ( things ) that did not please God ( Numbers 11:1-3, 16:35 ( Deuteronomy 5:25, 32:22 ) II Kings 1:10-14, Jeremiah 49:27, Ezekiel 22:21-31. Some of these are actual examples of a literal fire that would 'devour the adversaries' ( Hebrews 10:27 ( Leviticus 10:1-3 ( Numbers 26:10 ), and some are examples of 'the fire of His jealousy' ( Zephaniah 1:18 ) Lamentations 4:11, Ezekiel 23:25, Zephaniah 3:8 ( Revelation 20:9 ), which, I believe, is a metaphor for His righteous indignation, while, in a few others, He used ( and uses ) the natural consequences of their own foolishness ( Ezekiel 19:12-14 ) Ezekiel 28:18, Job 31:12, Psalm 78:63, Ecclesiastes 4:5 ) to 'consume' them.

It is clear then, that under the 'old' covenant ( Mosaic ) administration; God was surely a fiery Presence. We know that He does not change ( Hebrews 6:17 & 18 ( 13:8 ), and thus, it is ( more than ) safe to assert that He still is. Several brothers of mine have ruminated on the question ( the idea really ) of whether or not God was or is the Lake of Fire, and I do not wish to 'cast aspersions' on them. Definitely, without question, the context of Scripture tells us that He, at least, was the Fire ( Deuteronomy 5:22 ( Numbers 14:14, 9:15 ) Exodus 40:38 ) in their midst. Revelation 20:14 reads 'Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.' Again; without 'casting aspersions', or claiming that I am 'the end all..' ( some would say I AM a 'know-it-all' ); I would like to submit that this 'death of death', although, in a sense, physical, because many, many lost their lives ( 'he who loves his life will lose it' ( John 12:25 ), was not the end of physical death ( that's pretty obvious, isn't it? ), but was the end of 'sin-death', which itself is metaphorical for separation ( Isaiah 59:2 ) from God. The 'Death' which was thrown into the Lake of Fire ( metaphorically, and really ) was the 'death' that Adam had suffered ( Genesis 3:22-24 ), and brought upon all his 'children' ( through inheritance-Romans 5:12-21 ), by his disobedience to God's first command ( 'you shall not eat'-Genesis 2:17 ), and this Presence was restored in Christ ( John 14:23 ); no more death!

I have made the point before, I believe, that, while God was very surely the 'Fire' in ( or 'behind' ) the 'Lake of Fire'; it was questionable whether was actually 'the Lake of Fire' itself ( for one thing, that would make Him 'the second death', which really, in  the greatest sense, He was; He IS 'the beginning and the end' ), but looking back on it; I realized that I had fallen into the same trap that I often accused others of! Yes; one could easily say that the conflagration of AD70 was a literal ( actual ) 'Lake of Fire', but, as the Revelation to John was in a vision ( or visions ) one must admit that John was not talking about an actual 'lake' ( as we think of lakes ) of fire, but was seeing, describing metaphorically, not only God's judgment on this 'death' which the sin of Adam had unleashed, but was, in actuality, one that they had kindled themselves ( Ezekiel 19:14 ) by their foolish, idolatrous, and harlotrous actions.

Again we ask; 'is God still a consuming fire?' Yes and no. As we are under the 'new' ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ) covenant; I believe that, in a sense, the rules have changed, at least as far as we feeble humans are concerned. Now; before we get all kinds of people 'flying off the handle', and accusing me of teaching dispensationalism, or some such; let me point out, first of all, that Hebrews 7:14 DOES say that 'the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law' ( which, in reality, is simply talking about the fact that Jesus came from Judah, and not Levi; or was it? ), and also, that I clarified this statement with 'as far as we..humans are concerned'.

Have the 'rules' changed? Paul wrote of a major 'change' that was due to take place in the first century; 'the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed'. The writer to the Hebrews said that the first covenant failed because 'finding fault with them', He promised to make a NEW covenant with His people, one that He Himself, through His Son ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 ) would keep ( II Timothy 2:13 )! I believe that there is ONE covenant; that which God made with Himself, if you will ( there was no one else, after all ) before He created the 'worlds' ( I Peter 1:20 ), but God instituted, through Moses, a sort of 'tutor' ( Galatians 3:24 ) covenant '[to bring us ] to Christ'; a sort of 'test case', you might say.

I believe we must acknowledge, in any case, that God is still a 'consuming fire' ( He does not change, remember? ), but as far as we're concerned, as far as the covenants are concerned; I believe that He no longer works as such, as He did towards those under the 'old' covenant, except that He still consumes our 'dross' ( Proverbs 26:23 ), and we all, I believe, have a little 'dross' in our lives that needs to be 'purged' ( Isaiah 6:7 ); Amen!

In the love of Christ. Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Awakening of Man-John 11

This is a very familiar story & one that has been told many times before & although this too, is most undoubtedly ( unquestionably ) a true story; it also, as many, if not all of the events chronicled in Scripture, is  presented as allegory, revealing a deeper spiritual truth.

Our story begins with Jesus hearing that 'a certain [ man ] was sick'.  That this 'certain [ man ]' was named 'Lazarus' ( equivalent of Hebrew 'Eleazar'-Genesis 15:2 ) could be quite interesting, because, whether or not this is the same 'certain beggar' that Jesus spoke of in His parabolic story in Luke 16; it is not coincidental that the man in Jesus' parable had the same name as Martha and Mary's brother, nor is it a 'mere' coincidence that the Greek 'Lazarus' is equivalent to the Hebrew 'Eleazar', both meaning, basically, 'one that God helps'.

When His disciples told Him that 'he whom You love is sick'; Jesus replied, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it'. As we all know; several days later; Lazarus, 'one that God helps', DID physically expire ( die ); so why did Jesus say this; knowing that Lazarus was going to die? We'll get back to this later; but it's something to think about..............

After pointing out that Jesus 'loved Martha and her sister [ Mary } and Lazarus'; John recorded that 'He stayed two more days in the place where where He was'. We can speculate, and I'm sure that some have, that Jesus did this, not because He was not all that concerned, or because I just didn't fit into His plans at the time, but because He knew ( being God Himself ) that Lazarus MUST physically die, and be buried, for the glory of God, and the Son of God, to be revealed to those who 'attended'.

Bringing to mind, perhaps, Peter's 'chiding', in Matthew 16:22; when Jesus said 'Let is go to Judea again', his disciples immediately and worriedly ( selfishly ) replied, 'Rabbi; lately, the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?' Jesus had a purpose to fulfill ( John 12:27 ) and 'come hell or high water'; He would accomplish that purpose! Too often we, even as Christians, sometimes ( I speak to myself as well ) fail ( or refuse ) to 'be aroused' to the facts, in reality, because of all the physical danger surrounding this action, whether it be from the fear of losing our 'exalted' position, or from a more practical fear of losing the ability of providing for our family.

To these useless fears; Jesus replied, 'Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world'. In the historical context of Jesus' words here, but also covenantally; He reminded His disciples, and reminds us, that, although the 'night'  ( I Thessalonians 5:5 ) was 'at hand' (  John 9:4 ), and that this 'night' referred to the 'darkness' ( Ezekiel 32:6-8 ( Isaiah 29:10 ) of the 'old' or 'first covenant' ( Isaiah 9:2 ( 42:7), Ephesians 5:8, I Peter 2:9 ( Hebrews 8:7 & 8 ) & although that 'night' is long & forever, past, some still 'slumber', as though still in 'darkness', but as long as one 'walks in the day', in His 'light' ( 'I am the Light of the world' ( John 8:12 ( Matthew 5:14 ); he 'does not stumble' because his eyes have been opened to the Truth, no longer does he 'sleep', as Lazarus did, because he has been awakened to the 'Light' of Day!

Harking back to the 'days' just prior to the Exodus ( Exodus 10:23 ), Jesus went on to tell them 'if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him'. Looking back ( because we can read ahead ); we read in John 14:23, that Jesus promised that 'if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him'.  Paul wrote later that ' you [ we ] are the temple of the living God' ( II Corinthians 6:16 ( I Corinthians 6:19 ) & quoting from the Septuagint ( Greek 'Old Testament' ), reminded them that God had promised, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; I will be their God, and they shall be My people'. ( Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:28, Ezekiel 37:27 ( Genesis 3:8, Ezekiel 36:27 ) Covenantally then; as the 'dwelling place of God in the Spirit' ( Ephesians 2:22 ( I Corinthians 3:16 ), we have that 'light', but do not always 'walk' accordingly, often hearkening rather to those 'doctrines of men' ( Matthew 15:9, Colossians 2:22 ( I Timothy 4:1 ), and 'walking' according to the traditions that have been handed down by our 'fathers'.

Because His disciples still were not 'getting it' ( as we often fail to do ); Jesus returned to the 'subject at hand', the subject they were obviously focused on, and said, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up'. This was Jesus' purpose for returning to Jerusalem ( Bethany, actually ) at that particular moment in time; He went to 'wake' him who 'slept'. God has done the same, and continues to do the same, for His people today: not only does He restore their 'sight', that they might 'see and perceive', and give strength to their 'legs', that they might 'stand on their own two feet' again. But He also 'wakes' them from their 'sleep, whether it be from the slumber of innocence, or the slumber of purposeful ignorance.

Because His disciples were even more confused ( 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well!' ); Jesus plainly told them, 'Lazarus is dead'. 'And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.' We often think, 'why did this person, or that person have to die?' We can always take comfort in knowing that when something 'bad' happens, it is always for a better purpose, God's purpose, that those who sleep may be wakened ( Jesus told them 'that you may believe' ). You may imagine, here, the disciples thinking, 'Why didn't we go before he died; he might not have died if we had?' You might even be able to see a kernel of doubt growing in their minds as to whether He really was the Son of God, since He had said previously, 'This sickness is not unto death'. Did it escape Him that Lazarus would die? Did Lazarus 'really' die? What 'death' did Jesus have in mind, here?

As always; it was right back to the disciple's selfish, and unwarranted concern for the safety of their 'Lord' ) 'Rabbi' ): the disciple who later earned the infamy of being called 'Doubting Thomas' ( you can almost see the 'shrug' of his shoulders, and hear his sigh of resignation ), said, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him'! They were so certain that He was going to die ( which He later did, but that's another story ), but, to their account, they didn't try any further to dissuade Him, but, in word anyway, were ready to die with Him ( Matthew 26:35 ) If necessary, for the promulgation of the truth; would we be willing to 'die with Him', to give up our exalted positions, 'live it up' a bit less, risk having to look for a different 'means' to provide for our family? In most cases; the answer sadly, would be 'no'!

'So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.'

Martha, being the practical one ( Luke 10:38-42 ), hearing that Jesus had finally come; rushed out to meet Him, leaving her more emotional sister sitting at the house, most likely surrounded by a bunch of other  mourners: apparently they & Lazarus, were well liked! Martha's first words to her 'Lord' could almost be taken as a bit of an accusation; 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. But she too, seemed to have a grain a faith, for she quickly added, 'But even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, He will give You'. It sounds to me like Martha, not so easily convinced as some, had not quite accepted this Man as God Himself; but as a prophet, maybe even the Prophet that Moses had promised, so long ago ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ). When Jesus comforted her with 'Your brother will rise again', she replied, being somewhat knowledgeable of these things, anyway, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. Jesus quick reply to her 'focus on the physical' was, contrary to her expectations, but which I'm sure gave her a 'start', was 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though He may die; he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' Although Martha replied in the affirmative here, saying 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world'; she seemed almost too hasty ( and maybe a little frightened?), because 'when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, 'The Teacher has come and is calling for you.' When things get a little 'hot' ( or pointed ) for us, sometimes; don't we often find some excuse to turn the attention elsewhere? Facing the Truth sometimes makes us uncomfortable, just as we often aren't ready to be wakened from our slumber. ( Some people just aren't 'morning people'! )

Immediately, upon hearing that Jesus was calling ( ? ) for her presence; Mary rushed out of the house to find Him, and met Him in the same place and manner in which her sister had accosted Him: 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'. In this, Mary showed her faith and belief, but she, like her sister and His disciples, also proved her doubts and mis-understanding of the Power and Presence of God, in thinking that He must be physically present in order to do His work, not unlike the nobleman of Capernaum, in John 4:46-54.

The mourners ( Jews ) who had gathered to minister to Martha and Mary; when they saw Mary rush out of the house so quickly, followed after her, thinking 'she is going to the tomb to weep there'. Many Christians today still have this same 'problem' with a 'focus on the physical'; they rush to the grave-side of someone who has 'passed away', as if he ( or she ) is still somehow there, still attached to their physical body, which 'returns to the dust' ( Ecclesiastes 12:7 ). As we saw though; Mary left the comfort of her house, and her ministers, not to mourn at her brothers grave, but to meet her 'Lord', who, as she had suspected and believed ( trusted ) was 'the resurrection and the life', although probably not in the 'sense' that she thought, and as her sister had acclaimed ).

'Jesus wept.'

As a Man, I'm sure that He felt much the same emotional attachment to Lazarus and his sisters, as any normal ( though He was not 'normal' ) human being would ( or did He? ); but I believe that the reason that He 'wept' was, not so much over the death of Lazarus, not because of his sister's sorrow, but because of their unbelief ( Mark 9:24 ), because the 'focus' was on the physical aspects of 'this life', rather than on the spirituality of 'life in Christ'. Many Christians today have much the same problem today, not fully understanding ( not that I do either ) Jesus' words to Martha, 'whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die': sure, we understand that Jesus was not talking here of physical life ( that's obvious, because Christians still 'die' ( expire ) physically ), but I believe that as many are still 'asleep' when it comes to the realization that this was the death that Jesus came to 'save' His people ( Matthew 1:21 ) from, and not from physical death. We saw earlier, that Jesus told His disciples, 'This sickness is not unto death', and later, that 'Lazarus is dead': was He mistaken the first time, or was He purposefully confusing His disciples? I don't believe that He was [ doing ] either, but was simply setting the 'record straight'; first, that He was God, and that His ways are not our ways ( Isaiah 55:8 & 9 ), and second, that Lazarus' 'death' was not 'really' death at all ( since he only 'sleeps' ), but that he only needed to be 'woken up' to & for the glory of God, that those present might see and believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

'Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!' And some of them said, 'Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?'

The Jews, in their unbelief, took the same 'tack' as the disciples, Martha, and Mary had taken, but I believe that it was only a fore-shadow of what was to come later; while Jesus Himself hung on the cross, at 'death's door' ( Mark 15:32, Luke 23:35 ). As many of the Jews later refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, because He was not the 'physical' Savior that they were looking for ( 'we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel'- Luke 24:21 ), so many Christians today vainly hope that Christ will one day return to 'heal' all of our physical ailments, and usher in a new 'age' ( Luke 20:34-36 ) of physical perfection and glory.

Hearing these remarks, and 'groaning in Himself' ( no doubt, again, because of their unbelief ); Jesus came to the pace where Lazarus had been entombed. Finding that it was a cave with a rock laid across the entrance; He said 'Take away the stone'. When He said that; strait-laced Martha, practical as always, reminded Him that 'by this time there is a stench, for he has been [ dead ] four days'. Aren't we, like Martha, quicker, often, to give excuses why we can't or shouldn't do something,  when what we should be doing is waiting, as Jesus replied to her, to 'see the glory of God'. There is a time to be practical, and to realize that we do have limits, and where those limits are; but we must realize that He has no such limitations, 'stench' will not 'keep Him from His appointed rounds', and neither should it us!

When the 'stone' had been removed, Jesus lifted His eyes toward 'Heaven', and prayed, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said [ this ], that they may believe that You sent Me'. Thanking His Father for what He had already done ( and this should remind us that 'your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him' ( Matthew 6:8 ); Jesus, more to let His hearers know that He had been sent by God ( the Father ), I believe; then said, in a louder voice ( 'loud enough to wake the dead'?), 'Lazarus, come forth!'

'The Sleeper Awakes'

At His voice ( John 5:28 ), an amazing thing happened; Lazarus, who had been physically 'dead', 'came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth'. After Jesus had told them 'Loose him, and let him go'; John records that 'many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did'. Hearing of this miraculous wonder, among others, no doubt, that Jesus had performed the Pharisees were horrified, saying, not unlike many Christians today, as I have described above, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation'. Although this could easily have been a well-founded fear, I believe that it was unwarranted, because, as far as I can tell, the Romans felt no threat from the religious teachings of Jesus. The Pharisees, like most, if not all, Jews, thought that Jesus was going to be an earthly King, who would remove all opposition to His Kingdom, including their's, and that of the Roman Empire ( the 'fourth kingdom'-Daniel 2:31-45 ). As an earthly King; Jesus posed the greatest threat to their own 'power' and rule; so maybe what they feared, is that if this 'upstart' tried to 'wrest' their 'lofty' position, it would cause an uprising' ( which it did ), and bring the Romans down upon their own 'heads', and they would lose what little ( political ) control they had. In many 'churches' today, I believe, we have much the same situation; leaders are afraid, sometimes, to 'dig too deep' and possibly raise the ire, whether it be of members of their congregation, or of a church council, by uncovering certain truths which would set them free, both spiritually, and more importantly ( to them ) from their 'comfort zone', from the ( sometimes lavish ) lifestyles that they have become accustomed to.

Without knowing what he really said, the high priest spoke these highly significant and prophetic words; 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish'. He was thinking physically, being focused on the fears that I outlined above, not realizing, not 'perceiving', that Jesus had appeared for that purpose, to die for the sins of His people, and to set them free from 'the law of sin and death' ( Romans 8:2 ), as John wrote; 'Now this he did not say on his own [ authority ]; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad'.

'The End is Near'!

As John wrote next; 'from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death': Jesus fate was 'sealed', the words of the high priest had convinced the council to decree that Jesus needed to die 'for the greater good'. Although in the past, I believe, good men have been put to death ( see 'Foxes Book of Martyrs' ) for uncovering, bringing to light, these greater ( but uncomfortable ) spiritual truths; today, at least in this country, it has not come to that point, or rather, in God's good providence, the 'church' has progressed beyond that point, to where men who dare to defy tradition have committed political 'suicide', and have been booted from their position as the leader of a congregation, and excommunicated from the fellowship of the ( orthodox ) 'body of Christ'. In some cases, actions like this have only served to 'harden' those who have been ostracized, but in as many, or more, cases, these, having been freed from the 'bondage' of 'organized religion', have gone on to even greater heights, discovering even greater spiritual truths, doing even greater things than they were able, as leaders of the 'institutional church', to accomplish!

Because of the decree of the council ( the Sanhedrin ) 'that if anyone knew where He was, he should report [ it ], that they might seize Him', John recorded that 'Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples'. We know the 'rest of the story', how Jesus was eventually betrayed ( by one of His own ( Psalm 41:9 ), captured, and put to death. May we all, especially those to who God has revealed these truths, not be afraid, as in times past, to 'go against the grain' ( where necessary ), and be prepared to go to great lengths to reveal these truths, all the while keeping in mind His command to 'love one another; as I have loved you' ( John 13:34 )!

In the love of Christ,
Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Lameness of Man-John 5

In this actual, historical event; we 'see' yet another allegory, not unlike the allegory in John 9. As Jesus seemed to do quite a bit; He 'healed' the 'lame man' on the Sabbath, again, to purvey to the Pharisees, and all of His audience, that 'the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath', that it is more important to meet any given need, than to strictly observe the 'letter of the Law', which Paul said, brought only death ( Romans 7:6-10 ).

    'The invalid at the Pool of Bethesda does what almost all of us are wont to do; for he limits the assistance of God according to his own thought........In this we have a mirror of that forbearance of which every one of us has daily experience, when, on the on hand, we keep our attention fixed on the means which are within our reach, and when, on the other hand, contrary to expectation, { H ] e displays { H ] is hand from hidden places, and thus shows how far [ H ] is goodness goes beyond the narrow limits of our faith. Besides this, this example ought to teach us patience. Thirty eight years was a long period, during which God had delayed to render to this poor man the favor which, from the beginning, [ H ] e had determined to confer upon him. However long, therefore, we may be held in suspense, though we groan under our distresses, let us never be discouraged by the tediousness of the lengthened period; for, when our afflictions are long continued, though we discover no termination of them, still, we ought always to believe that God is a wonderful deliver who, by [ H ] is power, easily removes every obstacle out of the way. -John Calvin

Say what you will about the man John Calvin; in this, he was quite right: too often, we are tempted to look at the circumstances surrounding us when we ought to look to God for deliverance! We; through our 'traditions of men', have unwittingly tried to 'place God in box', by our interpretation of Scripture ( for instance ) much as the Pharisees ( and many other Jews ) had done in Jesus' day, and earlier, throughout their history.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep [ Gate ] a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.

We can see that this story takes place, at least, in an identifiable place, giving us greater assurance that this event actually took place. It is interesting to note here, that this story takes place near the Sheep Gate, considering John's recollection of Jesus 'pet' ( II Kings 12:3 ) name for His people, particularly in chapter 10 of his Gospel. What follows, in brackets, is not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts, according to the notes in my NKJV bible. It is certainly possible that the following is true, but it sounds to me like some of the mysticism ( apocryphal book of Tobit, for example ) that had crept into Jewish literature, especially during the inter-testamental period.

[ For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.[b] ]

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been [ in that condition ] a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

Like John Calvin said above, as I quoted him, 'Thirty eight years was a long period'! Especially after such a long period, as Calvin wrote; we do tend ( naturally ) to get discouraged, and even to feel that God has forsaken us, and forgotten His promise. As Peter wrote though, in relation to His Parousia, 'the Lord is not slack concerning [ His ] promise' ( I Peter 3:9 ). We can take comfort in the fact that when God makes a promise, whether concerning His Presence ( John 14:23 ), or 'healing' ( Isaiah 25:6-8 ); it will happen EXACTLY how & when He said it would ( Genesis 15:4, 18:14 )! We may also take great comfort in the fact that, by delivering His people ( Matthew 1:21 ) from the ravages of sin & death; He has made it possible to use our feeble human bodies to do His will, to be 'the leaves of the tree' ( Revelation 22:2 ), that were 'for the healing of the nations' ( John 14:12 ), even if we have a physical 'disability', and usually because of, and through, our physical ailments!

And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed. He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’? But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in [ that ] place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Jesus did this quite a bit, doing His Father's 'work' on the Sabbath, and as usual; the Pharisees were NOT pleased, but, as Jesus was nowhere in sight, the formerly 'lame' man 'got it' first! Not really knowing what had transpired, and why this man would be carrying his bed ( roll ) on a Sabbath; they 'naturally' felt the need to set this man straight, reminding him ( probably quite haughtily ) that 'It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed', which, in a sense, was true enough; their law, which God had prescribed through Moses, & later through prophets like Jeremiah, DID say 'Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring [ it ] in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day' ( Jeremiah 17:21 & 22a ( Exodus 35:2 ), but they seemed to have forgotten that God desired 'mercy and not sacrifice' ( Hosea 6:6 ), as Luke recorded in his Gospel ( 13:15, 14:1-6 ), facing a very similar situation; Jesus replied 'Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead [ it ] away to water it?' To emphasize, once again, that 'the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath'; Jesus showed that it is more important to do what is needful ( Matthew 23:33, Luke 11:42 ), whether it was a 'holy day', or not.

Whether just because the crowd was to big, as the text seems to say, or because Jesus knew that the Pharisees would 'get after' Him because of what He had done, He was nowhere to be found when they heard of this infamy that had been perpetrated; 'Healing: on a Sabbath?' 'Blasphemy!', they must have thought, 'there are six days...........' The poor man who had been healed, probably for somewhat the reason that Calvin outlined in my quotation of him, did not even know who it was that told him to 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'. According to the faith ( Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34 ( Ephesians 2:7 & 8 ) of the 'lame' man, he had been given the power to 'stand on his own two feet', pick up his bed, and immediately to walk! Too often; we find ourselves just sitting in the pews on Sunday, taking as 'gospel' what the preacher says, and maybe even during the week, 'walking' accordingly, when we should be seeking the truth on our own, not waiting for a 'man to put me into the pool' ( hmmmmmmmmmmmm..........) & with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course, learning to stand on our own two feet, take up our pew & follow Him ( Mark 10:21 )!

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him,[c] because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 
Jesus was surely in trouble now, but He didn't stop there; they, in their self-righteousness, had gotten His righteous 'dander' up! 'Sticking His foot in it' even further; He went so far as to tell them He was One and the same with God Himself, reminding them that 'My Father has been working until now, and I have been working', although I think they kinda missed His point, that God didn't observe the Sabbath, per se , because He was always working, but they were really irate now, because, 'how could a 'mere' Man be God?' ( though if they'd 'really' studied the Scriptures, they would have known ). Ignoring their obviously growing ire, actually, downright hatred; Jesus continued to 'dig'; 
'Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.'

So far; Jesus is just further 'digging a hole', continuing to avow His Son-ship, saying that He's only doing what He's seen His Father do. He begins to reveal though, that He will begin to do even greater things than had been seen so far;
For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to [ them, ] even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

Okay; now He'd done it! Sure; they knew the Scriptures: they knew that God had raised the dead before, their histories told them of people like Elijah who had raised the widow's son ( think Luke 7:11-17 ) , recorded in I Kings 17:8-24, but this Man claimed that He would do the same ( actually, Jesus said 'the Son gives life' ), further claiming that the Father had sent Him to mete out judgment to whom He would. This must have really stung, because Jesus then tells them that if they did not honor ( accept ) Him, and what He was doing; they didn't really honor God either, which they claimed to do above all!
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 
Continuing His 'sermon'; Jesus told them that it was not only they that believed in God that would be raised from the dead ( 'at the last day' ( Daniel 12:2 ( John 6:40 ), but that they must also believe that Jesus was who he said He was, the Christ, their 'Messiah'! Again; too much: 'how could a 'mere' Man be God?' 'Blasphemy!' ( Although they claimed later, that 'we do not know where He is from' ( John 9:29 ), they knew exactly where He was from, no doubt knew all about his highly questionable birth, or conception ) They 'knew' that this Man was just a sinner, so His claim, not only to be their Messiah ( the Christ ), but to be One with God; that was just unconscionable!

Now for the historical and covenantal contexts; Jesus said that 'the hour is coming, and now is'; revealing that the promised resurrection, which they 'knew' all about, was upon them ( Judges 16:6-20 ) when those who heard the words of the Messiah, and accepted them as they were, the very words of God, would truly live, for, as He said before, 'He has granted the Son to have life in Himself'. This is true still & is happening still, today. Jesus then said, in fulfillment of Daniel 12:2, and all of the 'old' Covenant promises of a resurrection ( Isaiah 26:19, Ezekiel 37, etc ), 'for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth', and, as prophesied in Daniel, 'this' resurrection would mean the eternal life that some were receiving even now, but for others ( and they 'knew' who those others would be ), it would mean 'shame' and a lasting 'condemnation'!

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

Jesus again repeated what He had told them before, that 'the Son can do nothing of Himself'; not only as He has heard from His Father, but as He knows for Himself ( Matthew 9:4 ), having witnessed their evil thoughts ( and actions ) Himself. Probably conjuring up bad memories; Jesus reminded them then, that they had even gotten a 'credible' witness from one of their own ( 'and 'this' guy didn't claim to be God, either ), and that, although Jesus did not need testimony from another man, because the Scriptures, even Moses, in whom they 'professed' to trust, had already testified of Him ( Luke 16:29-31 ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ), John had testified to the Truth ( Matthew 3:11 & 12, John 1:19-34 ).

Paul, a former Pharisee, actually wrote that 'the commandment, which [ was ] to [ bring ] life, I found to [ bring ] death.' Many, I believe, have taken this to be saying that the law was meant to bring life and the Scriptures actually do say, concerning the commandment, that 'if a man does, he shall live by them' ( Leviticus 18:5 ( Romans 10:5 ), but, as he wrote later, to the Galatians, 'the law was our tutor [ to bring us ] to Christ'. True life, as we know, only comes through Christ, as His next words, and the end, for now, of His 'sermon' ( to the Pharisees ) will show. The life promised in the 'old' covenant Scriptures was true life, but it was always and only to be fulfilled in the Christ, who is 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life' ( John 14:6 )!

But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

It seems like many are quicker to turn to the 'Church Fathers' than to the Word of God, to trust to 'the traditions of men', than sometimes, to the 'plain truth'. Jesus was right there in front of them, but they were so 'blinded' ( II Corinthians 3:14-16 ) by their traditions ( Mark 7:13 ), that they could not 'see' ( Isaiah 6:9 ) that He was the one that Moses, and all the other prophets had written of! Not only had they been 'blinded', they had become so 'lame', by their traditions, that they could not even 'stand on their own two feet' & seeing past their 'bed ( roll-traditions of their 'fathers' )'; acknowledge ( accept ) what was as ( literally ) plain as 'the nose on their face'! In the historical context of Jesus words, as He was about to ( Greek-mello ) pass judgment, adversely at that, Jesus reminded them that it was not He, but Moses, in whom they trusted, and whose disciples they claimed to be ( John 9:28 ) who accused ( condemned ) them. Many today still seek honor from other men, whether through their preaching, writing, or both, sticking to the 'letter of the law', going at it 'by the book', some merely out of ignorance, but most, I believe, out of a misplaced wish to not 'rock the boat', because they have become accustomed to the lifestyle that their 'lameness' has afforded them ( I can literally 'take a lesson' from this as well, as anyone who knows me can attest to! )!

Alluding, once again, to His parable of 'the rich man & Lazarus', in Luke 16; Jesus reminded them & yet reminds His people today that it is not enough to be familiar with the 'traditions of the fathers' ( lest we begin to trust in them-Numbers 21:8- this later became an idol, according to tradition ), but we must get up out of the pews, and seek for ourselves ( again, 'through the Holy Spirit of God' ) the Truth that many have failed to see aright, because of a false reliance on tradition. Let me end on a positive note here; there is not ( necessarily ) anything wrong with 'traditions' themselves, sometimes they can be a good thing, but too often, we begin to trust in those traditions, and forget that our Faith is a Living One, a practicing one, a learning one, and when we 'rest' upon tradition; I believe that, more often than not, our 'muscles' begin to atrophy, and, almost too late, it seems sometimes, we find that we cannot 'stand on our own two feet', much less 'take up our bed, and walk'!

Not forgetting, or forsaking the traditions of our 'fathers' ( unless they warrant it ); let us move on ( Hebrews 6:1-3 ) beyond those traditions, trusting in 'our Father's wise bestowment', 'seeing' and 'walking' on our own!

Humbly. Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Blindness of Man-John 9 ( dedicated to my brother Jacob )

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him'.

This story, as recorded in the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John, is undoubtedly a true one & based on actual events, but as God has revealed to me recently, through a friend; it is also an allegory, which is as true today as it was back then. In this sense, then; we are all 'born blind' ( the animal 'kingdom' is a good example of this ), and it is not till God shines the Light of His Spirit on us ( this could be another way to explain 'baptism of the Spirit' ) that we are able to see things as they truly are, but even then, it seems to be more of a gradual 'awakening' ( this is probably because God knows what we can 'handle' at any given time ). Those who remain 'blind' to certain truths that God has revealed to others, are so, only because, for whatever reason, God has not chosen to reveal it to them at this particular point in time.

'I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work'. 'As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world'.

Here is where the historical and covenantal context really helps us to understand Jesus' words. The historical setting in which Jesus spoke these words was 'these last days' that the writer to the Hebrews spoke about, the period where Jesus, as the embodiment of the 'new' ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ) covenant and 'the light [ that ] shines in the darkness' ( John 1:5 ( Isaiah 9:2 ), was introducing a new era, one where God Himself would be our Teacher ( John 6:45 ( Isaiah 54:13 ); Himself revealing to His people, through His Spirit, the truths that He, as an all-knowing and gracious Father, knows that we are ready for. Covenantally; Jesus tells His people, 'You are the light of the world' ( Matthew 5:14 ), and as 'sons of light' ( Luke 16:8, John 8:12, 9:5, 11:9 & 12:46 ) we are to shine ( by reflection ) into every 'nook & cranny' ( Luke 15:8-10 ) till 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea' ( Isaiah 11:9 ( II Corinthians 4:6 ).

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, 'Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is translated, Sent)'. So he went and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, 'Is not this he who sat and begged?' Some said, 'This is he'. Others, 'He is like him'. He said, 'I am he'. Therefore they said to him, 'How were your eyes opened?' He answered and said, 'A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam and wash'. 'So I went and washed, and I received sight'. Then they said to him, 'Where is He?' He said, 'I do not know'. They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees.

First; Jesus told this man, in the same manner that He spoke to Martha in chapter 11, verses 25 & 26, 'I am the light'. Although the man didn't seem to 'get it', much as we today just don't 'see' it sometimes, until it 'dawns' ( II Peter 1:19 ) on us, this man needed a physical assurance, a sign from God; so Jesus told him to go and 'baptize' his eyes, much as Elijah commanded Naaman, in II Kings 5 & when the man 'who was blind from birth' obeyed, he was delivered ( 'saved' ) from his affliction.

Many people today, often, when faced with situations like this, can't just believe it because the truth is right there, 'as plain as the nose on your face'; 'this is not normal, things like this just don't happen': a 'blind' person all of the sudden ( not even gradually, or after 'surgery' ) 'seeing', 'I don't believe it!'
Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, 'He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see'. Therefore some of the Pharisees said, 'This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath'. Others said, 'How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?' And there was a division among them. They said to the blind man again, 'What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?' He said, 'He is a prophet'. But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, 'Is this your son, who you say was born blind?' 'How then does he now see?' His parents answered them and said, 'We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know'. 'He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself'.

Jesus seemed to do this quite a bit, and whether because He just 'happened' to be in the 'right place at the right time', or He wanted to show that 'the Sabbath was made for man' ( Mark 2:27 ); Jesus, I believe, rather enjoyed 'thumbing His nose in their faces' ( although I'm sure it must have saddened Him, as well ), because they had missed the whole point of the Sabbath, and that He Himself, as the Savior of mankind, was the 'Rest' that the 'seventh-day rest' had pointed to, as the great Anti-type!

Because of this 'focus on the physical' aspect of the commandment, or as Paul put it, 'the oldness of the letter' ( Romans 7:6 ), the religious leaders of that day ( first century ) needed to 'wrap their brains around' this phenomena, to analyze for themselves how something like this could happen ( on their 'watch', no less )! Even though this man told them what Jesus had done, even 'spelling it out' for them,; their first ( almost automatic ) response, was according to what they had been ( traditionally ) taught: 'This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath' ( Exodus 20 said nothing about doing good on the Sabbath, in fact, much the opposite in the last 6 commandments! ) Today; one might hear the 'moral majority' say something like, 'That man was a terrible sinner; how can we believe anything he says?'

As in Jesus' day; there is much 'division' among the people of God ( both real and imagined ) because of scenarios like we've just read about; those who have seen 'the light' are at least willing, like good Bereans, to examine the facts, while others put it down as heresy because it doesn't 'fit' with what they've been taught for the last '2,000 years'.

Not being satisfied ( or happy ) with his answer ( 'He is a prophet' ) about the identity of the Man who had 'healed' him and 'opened' his 'eyes'; the Pharisees turned to the 'tack' that his friends and neighbors had taken; 'are you absolutely sure that this is the man who was born blind?' They just couldn't, wouldn't believe that this man could just all of the sudden 'see'; this was unheard of!

Turning to his 'parents' ( think 'church fathers' ) now; the religious leaders questioned them about whether this was truly their son and if he had really been born 'blind'. While his 'parents' were still willing to claim him as their son, and to verify that he had indeed been born blind; they were unwilling, out of a fearful 'focus on the physical,' and, I'm sure that they were fairly orthodox as well, to stand behind their child and witness to this divisive miracle, telling them 'He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself'! This happens today, even in many families, because God reveals certain things to one member, which goes 'against the grain' of what that family has taught, and been taught, for years.

( Fore ) Shadows of the Inquisition ( 'one last chance!' )

His parents said these because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed He Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, 'He is of age; ask him'. So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, 'Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner'. He answered and said, 'Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.' Then they said to him again, 'What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?' He answered them, 'I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?' Then they reviled him and said, 'You are His disciple, but we are Moses disciples'. 'We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from'. The man answered and said to them, 'Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes!' 'Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.' 'Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind'. 'If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing'. They answered and said to him, 'You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?' And they cast him out.

Many today, as the former 'blind man's' 'parents', are afraid to associate too closely, even if they themselves have been 'enlightened', with those who have been 'taught by God' to swim against the current, and who are not afraid to challenge, or even to teach against the 'status quo'!

Again the Pharisees asked the man, whether out of the kindness of their 'hearts', or just to let him further incriminate himself, what Jesus had done to him. The man who had been 'blind', but said 'now I see' only 'dug a deeper hole' for himself when he ( almost condescendingly ) explained to them again why they should believe his story, and why it must needs be the truth. 'The nerve of him,' they must have thought, 'to challenge our authority! We have been brought up on these teachings ( 'they were good enough for our 'fathers', and they're good enough for me' ), and he is just a lowly layman, a sinner, no less!' 'How dare he?!'

After such an 'affront' to their comfortableness; they 'naturally' excommunicated him!

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, 'Do you believe in the Son of God?' He answered and said, 'Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?' And Jesus said to him, 'You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you'. Then he said, 'Lord, I believe!' And he worshiped Him.

Hearing that He had been 'cast out'; Jesus came to the 'heretic', and comforted him with the knowledge that he was 'on the right track',and had deduced correctly that this man WAS from God, and in fact was 'the Lord’s Christ, God Himself! When the former 'blind man' received this further knowledge; he fell to his knees in an attitude of worship! Much the same today, when we receive further revelation ( not that it is 'new', for as Solomon wrote, '[ there is ] nothing new under the sun' ( Ecclesiastes 1:9 ); we should immediately 'fall to our knees' ( really or actually ) and humbly thank God for revealing this to us!

And Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind'. Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, 'Are we blind also?' Jesus said to them, 'If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see'. Therefore your sin remains'.

Returning again to the historical context ( and His attention to the Pharisees ); Jesus reminded His listeners why He had come into their 'world'; 'I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them'. ( Isaiah 42:16 ) When Jesus told them He had come 'hat those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind' they must have remembered what God had said concerning their 'fathers', earlier in the book of Isaiah ( 9:6 ), 'Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive', and you can bet that it 'galled' them to no end, and finally 'burnt them up' beyond all recognition!

Charles Haddon Shank
( for Jacob & Luther )

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The ( Com ) Passion of the Christ

I've got a problem; I don't act very Christ-like, most of the time!:(

Why would I admit that, you might ask? That's a good question; 'why?' Aren't we supposed to automatically make the right choices and do the right things, since we asked Christ into our 'hearts'? Well, of course we are, but the sad truth is, we don't always do the right things or make the right choices!

Probably one of the most Christ-like qualities, that we can exhibit, is compassion: the Scriptures ( Gospels ) are full of examples of Jesus' compassion; for instance, in the beginning of the 9th chapter of Mathew, we read of a paralytic that Jesus took compassion on, and later on in chapter 9, and in chapters 14 and 15, of His compassion on the multitudes ( Matthew 14 & 15 record the miraculous feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000 ( see also Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10 ). The latter part of Mark, chapter 1 records how Jesus had compassion on a leper and healed his body. The next chapter records a number of examples of this compassion for us, and Luke 7:36-50, records Jesus compassion on, and forgiveness of 'a woman in the city who was a sinner', while Jesus' parables in chapters 10 and 15 are good examples of our Father's compassion for us, His children.

According to Webster's; the word 'compassion' means 'sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it': much of the time, we as Christians ( and it's not just Christians, thank God; some unbelievers practice their compassion better than some Christians ) do feel a desire to alleviate someone's distress, and in many cases, we do, to the best of our ability, but Christ, as God Himself, not only felt that desire, but ALWAYS, without fail, completed His purpose in that desire!

If you'll notice; in most, if not all, of the Scriptural examples of Jesus' compassion ( I've named but a few ), He forgave/healed those that came to Him, looking or asking ( begging-Mathew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30 ) for His compassion, and in much the same way, we, when we see a need, should feel compassion for that person, and, at the leading of God, the Holy Spirit, do what we can to meet, or alleviate, that need. I say 'should', because that, in an ideal 'world', in ideal circumstances, is what 'should' happen ( at least, that's what we would like to think ). Yes; sometimes people ( because it's not an ideal 'world' ) don't want, or feel threatened by, our 'compassion', and oft-times our circumstances, whatever they may be seem to put a 'damper' on our compassion! Sometimes, we get to the point, either from people not accepting our compassion, or else, taking undue advantage of that compassion, are ready to throw our hands up and say 'I don't care anymore; I can't care anymore!', but although this sometimes happens, we, like it or not, especially as Christians, still have compassion, and are compelled, by the Spirit within us, to act on that desire.

In the love of Christ,
Charles Haddon Shank