How important is it for us to search out truth? Appearances can be deceiving. As important as it is to listen to teachers, this does not mean that we should abdicate our responsibility to seek out truth for ourselves. In John 7, the people came to some false conclusions based on circumstances, appearances and prior teaching. First Jesus was teaching openly and the authorities did nothing to oppose him (verse 25-26). The people concluded that the authorities had concluded that Jesus was the Messiah. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The leaders were most definitely opposed to Jesus. Depending on appearances and circumstances to determine the truth can lead us to error and mistakes. While we can make observations from circumstances and appearances, we should stop short of drawing conclusions from them alone. The people also resorted to teaching that they had received that again led them to a false belief. They had been taught no one would know from where the Messiah would come, even though the prophets had declared that he would come from the city of David, Bethlehem, where in fact Jesus had been born and then raised in Nazareth of Galilee. Consequently the people doubted whether Jesus could be the Messiah because they knew where he was from. That conclusion was based on the errant teaching they had received which led them to a false conclusion. That example of well intentioned teachers convinced of what they believe could still lead us astray. Therefore how often do we depend upon what we’ve been taught without checking the sources for ourselves?
One of the great joys of life is learning to see how God watches over us on a daily basis. A couple of weeks ago I went outside to move my car so that Donelle could pull her car in ahead of mine, because I would be leaving early the next morning. Strangely I had difficulty starting the car. Eventually I got it started and we got our cars situated. The next morning I left for work quite early, before it was light. I was concerned about it starting; I prayed that it would start, because I was opening our department that morning. It started without a problem and drove to work and actually forgot that I had a problem with it the night before. However, when I was driving home all kinds of things started going wrong; nevertheless I made it home but again had trouble starting it to take it to our mechanic. Of course it operated perfectly for the mechanic, but he thought he knew what the problem might be. I gave him the go ahead to fix it. Since I was off the next day, I didn’t need my car. About noon the following day, the mechanic called and told me it was a good thing I had left it, because the car completely broke down while he was testing it. Fortunately, they made it back and it died again as they were pulling in and had to coast the car into the garage. He repaired the problem and I picked up the car that afternoon. The car could have failed and caused me to miss work, but it didn’t. It could have died on the freeway, but it didn’t. It could have died on the way to the mechanic’s shop, but it didn’t. I choose to conclude that my heavenly Father was watching over me. Yes, I had a car problem, but it was a minor inconvenience, rather than a major problem.
A few days after that, I walked out to my car again to go to work and immediately saw that the right rear tire was completely flat. I thought that odd, because I had driven home the night before and the tire pressure sensor on the car had not indicated that it was low. I needed to leave for work and didn’t have time to fix it. However our daughter was home that day and I asked her if I could borrow her car. She said that was fine. I made it to work and wasn’t even late. The following day, I was off of work, so I had time to take a look at the tire. It had a nail stuck right in the middle of the tread. I was able to pump the tire up and drive to the tire store and got the tire fixed. Again, a minor inconvenience, not a major problem. The tire didn’t go flat when I was at work, but parked in our driveway; it didn’t even inconvenience Donelle who had to leave earlier that morning and so was parked in back of my car. Sara didn’t need her car that day, so I could borrow it. It all worked out alright. Again, I choose to believe my heavenly Father is watching out for me. That is one thing I’ve had to learn over the years. That most problems are a temporary inconvenience, but eventually get worked out alright, so I should not let them provoke me to anger, frustration or anxiety. These situations also cause me to wonder how many situations I’m completely protected by my Heavenly Father without even being aware?
In John 6:52-71, Jesus taught some concepts that were and are hard to comprehend. However, Jesus always declares the truth even when it offends those who have chosen to associate with him. Therefore it is important for us to examine what or whom we follow. The disciples of Jesus (a group broader than the twelve) mentioned in John chapter 6 thought that they followed Jesus, but Jesus’ teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood offended their theology. Their reaction revealed that they didn’t follow Jesus, rather they followed the doctrines they had been taught about the Messiah. As soon as Jesus didn’t fit their understanding they left him. Jesus always spoke and speaks the truth, but we don’t always have a complete or even accurate view of the truth. Our doctrines and theology should always be considered theories more than dogma. We may believe that we follow what Scripture teaches, but in fact we may be following what we have been taught and interpreted Scripture to say. Jesus confronted Peter in Acts 10 about what he thought Scripture taught, but in fact Peter was mistaken. Jesus revealed to Peter that he was to eat that which he previously considered unclean. Peter was to be open to associating with and declaring the message of Jesus to the Gentiles, who were previously considered unclean by Peter. The fact that Peter accepted Jesus’ teaching is to his credit. When the opportunity arose, he went and declared God’s forgiveness through Jesus to the Gentile Cornelius, even though later he was criticized for it by other Christians.
Jesus’ words and warning in John 6 along with Peter’s example in Acts 10 teaches us that we should not consider our current understanding of Jesus to be complete or even completely accurate. We must always be open to correction and further growth. Our study of Scripture is not for the purpose of proving what we currently believe is right, but rather to understand what God wants and to evaluate where we still need better understanding and growth.
What did Jesus mean when he referred to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear? When Jesus was about to feed the 5000 in John 6, Andrew brought a child with a lunch of five barley loaves and two fish. Then he commented that this would be little among so many. Jesus was not dismayed; he didn’t have the same perspective. He simply took what he had, thanked God for it and fed the crowd. Andrew had made a logical conclusion. Experience told him that five loaves and two fish would feed very few people. It doesn’t take many years of life to understand that concept. However, Jesus says that we must be like children. Children have not yet learned how many could be fed from five loaves and two fish. From a child’s perspective, why couldn’t five loaves and two fish feed 5000? Andrew looked at the situation through the world’s lens, but Jesus looked at it through heaven’s lens. Jesus had heaven’s eyes and ears and saw that five loaves and two fish would be enough to feed the crowd. Jesus urges us to see every situation through the lens of what we see in heaven and what we hear from heaven and apply it to our situation on earth. Having this perspective does not seem to be something that can normally be done overnight. The disciples lived with Jesus and saw him work for three years, yet still had trouble grasping the ways of heaven. For us their example implies that we must practice learning to view life from heaven’s perspective and training ourselves to hear what heaven is saying so that first we recognize and then understand. Like children learning to understand language, first they hear sounds, but it is not until later that they understand that those sounds have meaning that they can understand. In other words, so that we learn to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Could it be that challenges in the life of the child of God are more opportunities to see God’s power, rather than problems ? In John 6, Jesus posed an intriguing question to Philip. “Where shall we purchase bread to feed the crowds coming to them?” John explained that Jesus asked Philip this question to test him, because Jesus already knew what he was about to do. Philip responded in a typical and practical way. After doing a quick mental calculation, he told Jesus how much money would be required, which was understood that they didn’t have. Jesus knew that he would provide food for the people and he knew how he would do it. His question for Philip was to challenge him to adjust his thinking from a merely human practical way of thinking to thinking more along the Kingdom of God.
Jesus doesn’t bring or allow challenges into our life in order to defeat us, but to build us up in our trust in him, so that we would trust in him and not our possessions or abilities. In Romans 12, Paul wrote that the Romans should continually renew their minds. It is possible that he meant that they should adjust their thinking from a human perspective, based on the resources they can see to thinking about what Jesus wants to accomplish in their life and situation. A life challenge can then become an opportunity to Jesus’ power in and through us, rather than something that produces anxiety in us.
Jesus said something insightful and powerful to the religious leaders. He told them that he didn’t seek the glory of man (John 5:41). At first that statement doesn’t seem all that powerful, until we reflect that if we do not seek the praise of other men, then we are completely free from their control. The giving of praise can be a subtle way of controlling another person. On the other hand, seeking it can cause us to be controlled by the opinions of others. Negatively, we call it flattery; Jesus was completely immune from flattery. He only cared about what God, his Father, did and thought. The religious leaders to whom he spoke these words were quite different. While they pretended to care about God, they really sought to receive praise from one another. Their desire for each other’s praise rendered them blind to what had been written in the Scriptures. They claimed to be followers of Moses, but they were blind to what Moses had written about the Messiah (John 5:45-47).
This brings us to the question, why do we praise to others? As we give praise how much desire is there for us to receive something back from that person? To the extent that we really want something from that person, even for that person to like us, we are treading very closely to flattery. Normally we don’t think twice about praising someone, but how often do we run our desire to praise someone else by the Holy Spirit to examine our own motives and ask if our praise will really be beneficial to the person we are praising? Our desire to give and receive praise could lead us to the same blindness that the religious leaders had. Rather Jesus found that by keeping his focus on God, his Father, protected him, even though at times he offended other men.
It can happen that what we consider truth may actually hinder us from growth in our understanding. Jesus revealed an ironic truth to the religious leaders during his conversation with them after he healed the man by the pool on the Sabbath. They rejected Jesus for two reasons; he healed on the Sabbath and he called God his Father. Both of which violated their mistaken understanding of the Scriptures; so they rejected Jesus. Jesus warned them saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39-40 ESV) The leaders were convinced that they possessed complete truth from God, that their understanding of the Scriptures was completely accurate. They had reached a point which prevented them from further growth. Their conviction that their interpretation of the Scriptures was the only correct one rendered them blind to what the Scriptures actually said about Jesus and prevented them from enjoying eternal life, that comes through Jesus, not through the study and practice of the Scriptures.
Jesus’ words to the religious leaders instruct us that what offends us may possibly be pointing us to a growth opportunity. Peter was offended by Jesus saying that Jesus would be killed, but Jesus corrected him. Later, Peter was offended at the thought of eating what he considered unclean food, but again Jesus corrected him. Unlike the religious leaders, Peter allowed Jesus to overcome the offense in his life. His example instructs us to consider what Jesus says about what offends us. What does the Holy Spirit say? Is this an opportunity for me to grow? An offense should cause us to pause long enough to consider that our understanding of truth may not be complete or perfectly accurate and actually be an opportunity for growth in disguise.
When reading through the Gospel of John I’m always surprised at how Jesus addressed his mother. He never addressed her as “mother”, or “mom”. But always as “woman”. With Mary he did so when she mentioned that the hosts had run out of wine at the wedding of Cana (John 2:4). He did so again from the cross, when he entrusted her to John the disciple’s care (John 19:26). It has always struck me as surprising that Jesus would address his own mother in such a manner. It couldn’t mean that he did not care for Mary, because he demonstrated that when he entrusted her to John. Recently I noticed that Jesus used the same manner of address with other women in John’s gospel. In John 4:21, he referred to the Samaritan woman with the exact same term. Then in John 8:10, he addressed the woman caught in adultery using the same word. Finally, after his resurrection when he saw Mary Magdalene, in John 20:15, again Jesus used the same term. It seems so curious that Jesus would used the exact same term to address with each of these women, including his own mother! The question of why remained. Several moths ago, I heard a sermon in which the speaker mentioned that Jesus, when he had been told his mother and brothers were there, asked who were his mother and brothers. He answered his own question by saying that each one who followed him was his mother and brother. It struck me that it was not that Jesus loved his mother less by referring to her as “woman”, but that he loves the rest of us in the same manner as he did his own mother. Jesus has the same affection for all of us who seek to follow him as he did for his mother Mary. I find that awesome to ponder.
There are almost four hundred references to “glory” in the Bible; it might surprise you to learn that many of those references liken us to God’s glory. We were created with a purpose and a destiny to rule, crowned with God’s glory (Psalm 8:5-8; Isaiah 60:2-3; 62:2-3). A ruler’s crown sets him or her apart from all others. It is a symbol of authority. God’s glory is our crown and authority to rule over all of creation. David said that all things have been placed under man’s feet. Jesus expanded our authority to all authority in heaven and on earth which has been given to him and now delegated to us (Matthew 28:18). Isaiah noted that this glory with which we are crowned will one day draw all nations as sons and daughters of God (Isaiah 60:2-3). However, if Paul wrote about men being the glory of God, then perhaps falling short of glory is not about performance, but rather living below who we truly are. We do this because we do not really understand who we are; if we did, perhaps we would not fall short of the glory given to us.
Several years ago I was watching an episode of “Bones”. Bones and Booth were driving; they were discussing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Booth told Bones how he could never do what Abraham did and be willing to offer his son as a sacrifice. There conversation provoked me to further reflection on that story found in Genesis 22. God told Abraham to take his son Isaac, whom he loved, and sacrifice him (Genesis 22:1). Abraham was willing to do so and proved that his love for God surpassed even his own love for Isaac. John says that God loved the world so much, he gave his only begotten son for the world (John 3:16). Isn’t it odd that people struggle to understand how Abraham could be willing to sacrifice Isaac, but rarely question how God could sacrifice Jesus for us? Why is that? Do we not think that Father experienced grief and horror at seeing Jesus suffer on the cross and then turn his back on him, something that Abraham never had to experience? Abraham never experienced loss of Isaac, because God stopped him and told him to sacrifice a ram. The ram is understood as an illustration of what Jesus would do for us. However, there was not anyone to stop God from sacrificing Jesus for us. There was no substitute sacrifice for Jesus. While Abraham demonstrated that his love for God even surpassed his love for Isaac, God also demonstrated to us that his love for us surpasses even his love for Jesus. Why did Jesus have to die? It was the only way for God our Father to reveal how much he loves us. If he sacrificed his own son on our behalf then he loves us even more. The more that we grasp the magnitude of our heavenly Father’s love for us the more our lives are transformed.