The emerging message – “He has gone ahead”

FRIDAY, MARCH 30
The emerging message

RECAP

Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah’s prophecy of death being swallowed up for ever. People of the Lord of a future generation will say, “We trusted in Him and He saved us”.

Mark 16:1-8

Mark recounts how the sudden realisation that the resurrection of Jesus was a reality was a shock, not least to the three women disciples who discovered of the miracle of the open, empty tomb.

Acts 10:34-43

A turning point as Peter enters Cornelius’ house and tells the Gentile audience that God does not show favouritism to His own nation of history but receives those of any race or culture who turn to Him: the Good News is for Gentile equally with Jew.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul’s mission has reached the Greek city of Corinth and he reminds the church he founded there that Jesus, crucified and buried as dead, is very much alive as hundreds could testify.

“He has gone ahead”

Between seven and eight centuries before Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, Isaiah prophesied of a Messiah to come – a light in the gloom, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a wonderful counsellor and prince of peace,  born of a virgin, a healer,  and light to the nations of the world. He would be One who would restore sight to the blind and set captives free – and on Mount Zion death would be swallowed up for ever, its power broken. Who could believe such an immense vision?

When the Messiah, Jesus, did start His ministry, Jews who had studied these and three dozen others which point to the Messiah to come were unable to recognise Him, even though he fulfilled the genealogy and all the criteria that had been prophesied. God had gone ahead while people who professed to know his ways struggled to catch up.

When Jesus had been nailed to the Cross to die amid earth tremors and eclipse of the sun and mocking onlookers, His men followers fled and the women watched from a distance. He had died; they were in the shock of bereavement. Visiting the  tomb cut in the rock given by Joseph of Arimathea with aloes and spices, as we would put flowers on the grave, the three women found the massive stone closure rolled back, an empty tomb – and an angelic messenger who said, “He has risen, and gone ahead… to Galilee.” The shock of bereavement became a stunned incredulity, a joy they would feel once numbed emotions began to recover.

Peter, with fighting his natural reserve as a Jew, accepted an invitation to visit a Roman officer’s house and talk to them about Jesus. Something had fallen into place for him, a revelation which shocked him to the core – God’s favour through Jesus was for Jews and Gentiles equally. God had gone ahead and once again done a new thing (Isaiah 43:19)

In more recent church history we can see how God has often ‘gone ahead” and done a new thing, to the consternation of those rooted in how it had been before.

Our ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ look different. There are various ‘people groups’ or tribes within the Christian church. We call them denominations, or sub-groups within denominations. Take evangelicals, for example, who have so faithfully defended the priority of Scripture and the centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus against modernist liberalism. Yet some have been uncomfortable (or worse) alongside those who found in that same personal relationship and same Bible a spiritual empowering and spiritual gifts for service and mission that God seems to be re-emphasising today. Pentecostals formed churches (for distinction they called them ‘assemblies’) in the early years of the last century found a freedom to worship and evangelise with great freedom and expressive joy. One of the very first was started by a Hereford outfitter during the First World War years. Fifty years later, believers in the C of E and other more formal churches began to be impacted by the same new awareness of the Person of the Holy Spirit and His empowering – and some old-time Pentecostals reacted by separating even more, suspicious of this new ‘departure’.

The problem is that human nature does show partiality and likes to protect its own – and God confronts this. We may have opportunity to pray with someone who professes no faith at all – and God is inclined to do something completely unexpected (and, we think, underserved), to shock them with His love and grace.

The house of Cornelius, for us, is discerning the kingdom of God over and above our little prejudices. It is also leaving our comfort zones and favourite seats in church or chapel, to willingly enter the territory of people who are absolutely NOT like us – and show them Jesus.

Jesus speaks of His impending death, and God’s audible voice is heard

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
John 12:20-33

As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him

20  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

20  “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 21  Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.
22  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23  Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 23  Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.
24  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 24  Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.
25  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 25  “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech

25  The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.

26  Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me. 26  Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)
27  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 27  We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.

28  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

28  This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.

For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.

29  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30  Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 30  Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.

31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

31  Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.

31  Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).

31  There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15. 

32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

32  John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32;  and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.

32  Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.

Application

The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16,  about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.

The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.

Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.

The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than  the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.

The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?