Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

John 7:33-34 Knowing in advance

Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” John‬ ‭7:33-34‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬

The coming crucifixion, resurrection, and departure of Christ did not take him by surprise. There were several times he spoke to his disciples, and now here to the crowd, that he knew the events of the days ahead. Yet even when he told them, men are so very focused on this flesh and present earthly life that it didn’t even cross their mind that he was referring to his life after his death. Even so, he was speaking from their perspective… “you will seek me.” In other words: you will hear that I’m alive. Those that should be grieving now seem strangely over it, exuberant and emboldened. People will be looking for me, but because I’m not physically on earth any longer, you will sense that I’m still here, yet you won’t find me. But I am here. I told my disciples I would return (John 14:18) and I did — in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

The way he said this makes me think of a child, a son, supremely confident in the words and pictures his father has shown him. There is absolutely no reason for Jesus to doubt what his Father had told him about the future. And he boldly tells those in Jerusalem the same — although not in the same detail he tells his disciples. He told the crowd “you will not find me, and where I am, you cannot come,” but he tells his disciples:

A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. John‬ ‭14:19‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

And not only will they see him, Jesus asks the Father that they may be there with him — without leaving the earth like he did!

But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. John‬ ‭17:13, 15, 24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

There is something deeply comforting about knowing that coming events, turbulent times, even unthinkable tragedy, could be known in advance. Maybe what appears as chaotic and random actually has causality that God already sees and knows, and He has plans and purpose within it. Jesus shared with his disciples that they too would receive the same understanding of coming events — the knowledge of the future, before it happens:

But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future]. ‭‭John‬ ‭16:13‬ ‭AMPC‬‬‬‬‬‬

He said this for a specific purpose:

And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. John‬ ‭14:29‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬

There are some things in life that shake us to the core. Almost unthinkable. Ask Job. Ask the disciples. Ask Mary. Ask Abraham. Ask David. God knows that if we know he knew beforehand, then we may be comforted in that knowledge. The crucifixion was no random accident. What happened did not take Him by surprise. When we are tuned in and listening, he tells us too so that unsettling events don’t take us by surprise. The foreknowledge is not merely a tool for coping and being comforted. As the Spirit shared the things to come with Jesus, we see him purposeful and intentional about how he shared it. The result? That we and others may believe.

John 7:37-39 Rivers of living water

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ‭‭John‬ ‭7:37-39‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

What an incredible promise delivered in such a compelling way! Jesus was not attention-seeking or purposefully dramatic, but this interaction is different. He stands and shouts at a climactic moment of the feast, compelling people to acknowledge their thirst and believe in him. It was not subtle. In exchange for believing, you will receive quenching, living water — which refers to the Holy Spirit’s inhabitation. This moment is contrasted with the backdrop of his reluctance to attend the feast with his brothers earlier in John 7, knowing the Jews were seeking to kill him. Then, as though he dismisses his own concern, boldly marches into the hornet’s nest and makes one of the most profound promises of his ministry. As I meditate on this, I wanted to understand more about the context and the moment.

The Feast

Each Jewish feast has a fulfillment in Christ. The most notable is the Passover which is prophetic of the lamb of God being offered for sins. Pentecost foretells the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is also the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Booths. The Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, occurred at the end of the agricultural season and is a celebration of the crops being brought in and the plentiful bounty of the year. During the feast, the people of God dwell in booths, or temporary shelters, reminding them of their their sojourning in the wilderness during their journey from Egypt to Canaan.

They could come [Jews from other nations] at this season of the year—not during the winter for the passover, nor yet quite so readily in summer’s heat for Pentecost. But now in the delicious cool of early autumn, when all harvest operations, the gathering in of luscious fruit and vintage were past, and the first streaks of gold were tinting the foliage, strangers from afar off, and countrymen from Judaea, Peraea, and Galilee, would mingle in the streets of Jerusalem… Booths must be erected everywhere—in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgement and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere, to remind of the wilderness-journey, and now of the goodly land. —Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The Celebration

The feast lasted for seven days, and on the last day there was a priestly ritual of pouring out water in the temple. It was a solemn and culminating moment reflecting great blessing. In John’s gospel, it was immediately after this when Jesus stood up and made this proclamation, “Come to me and drink, from your bellies will flow rivers…”

The ceremony of the outpouring of water, which was considered of such vital importance as to give to the whole festival the name of “House of Outpouring” was symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

We have here the only Old Testament type yet unfulfilled; the only Jewish festival which has no counterpart in the cycle of the Christian year, just because it points forward to that great, yet unfulfilled hope of the Church: the ingathering of earth’s nations to the Christ.

We can have little difficulty in determining at what part, of the services of ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast; Jesus stood and cried, ‘If any one thirst, let Him come unto Me and drink!’ It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the out-pouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118-given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their Lulabh towards the altar, thus praising with heart, and mouth, and hands; and then silence had fallen upon them-that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased. He interpreted, and He fulfilled them. —Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The feast of Tabernacles. The ingathering of the nations

Jesus purposefully connected his promise with something that was written, saying, “as the scripture says.” Yet, it has no direct word-for-word match in the Bible. So what was he referring to? As I dig deeper into the Old Testament, Jesus seems to be pointing to the reference in Ezekiel when the prophet saw the temple and the water flowing from it (Ezekiel 47). It too was speaking prophetically of a future time. The symbolism in Ezekiel is both vast and connecting, just like what was a taking place at that moment in the Feast. And almost poetically, Ezekiel’s penned his words when Israel was again dwelling in real booths. They were being held captive by the river Chebar in Babylon. It never ceases to amaze me how God weaves meaning and connects themes to reveal the plans in his heart. The captivity was a low point in the nation’s history. Ezekiel began by describing an incredible vision of heaven (Ezekiel 1) which was rich with symbolism which again points to the future. Many of these symbols are amended and expanded upon in the book of Revelation — which also was speaking of days to come. Starting in chapter 40 Ezekiel saw a vision of the temple. In a vision, an angel said to him,

Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever…” Ezekiel 43:7

The church now knows that the temple of God is within the hearts of men. His presence inhabits temples of flesh. Then later Ezekiel saw:

Water was flowing from under the threshold of the house…. Ezekiel 47:1

And he continues, observing where the water flowed:

When the man went out toward the east with a line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he led me through the water, water reaching the ankles. Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the knees. Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the loins. Again he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not ford, for the water had risen, enough water to swim in, a river that could not be forded. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this? “Then he brought me back to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭47:3-12‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Ezekiel’s temple spoke of a future day

The water flowed from under the temple. But now the real temple of God is our bodies. He dwells within believers. We come to him, believe in him, ask and he fills us with his Holy Spirit. Not only are we satisfied, but the river that erupts becomes a life-giving source. This is what it appears Christ was referencing when he said “as the scripture says.” But the picture is not complete with just me. From me comes one source. From you comes another. From other sons and daughters equally come the flow of his presence. Together, as the rivers join, they become a flow, a torrent, that changes the landscape.

Jesus said the water would come from our innermost being. The Greek, Koilos, means hollow. The belly, bowels, interior or midst of a thing. Can mean, the innermost part of a man, the soul, heart, as the seat of thought, feeling, choice. The source of the water would be from the Holy Spirit within the heart and soul of man. In symbol in Ezekiel, the water flowed from the door or threshold of the temple, the right side, or south of the altar. Before Christ, the Jewish temple was home to the presence of God. Yet Jesus was speaking of the moment just days ahead where the Holy Spirit that would dwell in a temple of flesh. In me. And He would flow from me. The Hebrew speaks of the water “trickling” out, which is a contrast to the waters that were uncrossable a few verses later. How could a trickle become a flood? From one person comes a trickle. From many comes a flood. The church, the people of God form the river. In John 14 Jesus said, in my Father’s house are many rooms, or dwelling places. When he left us, he went to make preparations so that the same Spirit that was in him, would now be in us. We are the many rooms. We are each a room. Together we are a temple. We are individually a trickle. Together, we are the river. What an incredible picture! The fulfillment of this today is hard to imagine with how fractured our relationships are. Yet, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, he believed it was possible, “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe that you sent us.”

I can imagine in the time of Christ it was difficult for those living with a real, physical temple to accept that it is just a symbol. The presence of God could truly be found in that building of stone. Yet now, that same presence of God is dwelling in people through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This helps me better understand God’s intent with Ezekiel’s words. The temple that John speaks of in the book of Revelation in all probability refers to even a further development of what the temple or dwelling place of God will look like. (Revelation 22:1-5)

But God is the God of the present. And in the temple that day Jesus connected this grand desire of God to his infilling of me with His presence. As I live with his Spirit saturating my life, it flows from me. I’m mindful that it has been over 2,000 years since he said this, and even longer since Ezekiel penned his prophecy, yet the torrent of his presence has not yet been seen on this planet. In fact, the divisions, rudeness, and disrespect I see today is at a level I could never have imagined. But based on Jesus’ prayer that we be one, Ezekiel’s vision of a river that is uncrossable, and the hope of fulfillment of the Feast of Booths in the church — the joyful ingathering of the nations (as crops) to celebrate the Feast of Booths — my heart tells me the time is very near.

Isaiah spoke of the future indwelling of the Holy Spirit:

And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭58:10-12‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

To the Samaritan woman at the well he said:

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John‬ ‭4:10‬, 13-14‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

John 7:24 Tinkering with the heart

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. John‬ ‭7:24‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Of the many topics addressed in this dialogue in John 7, the most notable is the Jews’ offense at Christ for healing a man by the pool of Bethsaida on the Sabbath (John 5). The offense was so severe in their mind it warranted death. Keeping the rules, all of them, had become such an obsession in Israel that they ceased considering the higher values of the kingdom. From God’s requirement to “rest” on the seventh day, flourished (in typical Jewish fashion) books of laws, rules, and traditions to define to the minutia what “rest” meant. (Grasping these rules could not have been an activity fit for the Sabbath!) One of those rules was about the load that they could lift and how heavy. When Jesus asked the man he healed to “take up his bed and walk” he crossed the line.

Today it seems utterly foolish that carrying a portable bed would be worthy of punishment, let alone death. Yet they had a grid from which they made their judgement. It was quick and easy: the Sabbath must be honored, carrying a bed dishonors. Jesus (and the man who did it) are guilty. Case closed.

When they confronted Christ, rather than sticking up a middle finger at them and walking away, Jesus made an appeal. He offered them an off-ramp from the freeway of their quick judgement — a road that that was not leading them where they needed to go. “What about circumcision?” It is work. It also is a law. When you have two laws that seem to conflict with each other, someone must make a distinction. The word “judge” from the Greek (krinō) and originally meant “separate.” Separating the grain from the chaff, thence, ‘to distinguish, to pick out, to be of opinion, to judge. The Jews distinguished the value of circumcision and weighed it with the competing value of rest on the Sabbath. The verdict? Circumcision does not violate the Sabbath. One value is not negated by another. Jesus’ appeal was clear: if circumcision didn’t violate the Sabbath, shouldn’t what I did in providing this man real rest be considered acceptable?

Without the cultural context of Israel in the time of Christ, today I instinctively value of health and well-being in the man Christ healed above arbitrary rules about work, particularly in light of the many years he had struggled with health. The healing was incredible! It was Spirit-directed. It was affirming. An expression of tender love and affection. And in every sense, it fulfilled the Sabbath. If the Sabbath was the avatar for rest, then health, as opposed to the constant struggle internally of dealing with a life-disabling disease, was more of a fulfillment of God’s intent than working to maintain the status quo of severe incapacitation. Mercy is better than judgment.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23:23‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I am programmed to make quick judgments. It’s not a bad thing. I see dog poop, without thinking I step over it. When I see mold on food, I throw it out. If I see a car coming while I drive on a one-way street I immediately understand that one of us is going the wrong direction. Yet there are things I’ve learned, judgments I’ve made that have found their way into the “auto response” system in my life — even though they are wrong. Everyone has them. But what are they? How do I know what they are? When it comes to the things of God, I have a lifelong exposure to perspectives that may not align with the kingdom. I grew up as a Catholic. I became and evangelical Pentecostal. I sat under Bible teachers that taught with conviction, yet years later struggled with the very things they taught. None of these experiences are necessarily “bad” or “good.” I value and embrace my history. The Holy Spirit is able to take me from where I am today and lead me in a perfect way, in exactly the right timing. He is so good to me. Whether I grow up in America, in Orthodox Israel, in Hindu India, in radical Afghanistan or the dark corners of Africa, my Heavenly Father has a road map for me. But it may mean tinkering with my immediate judgments and reconsidering certain values — similar to how Jesus challenged his challengers. I love the way the Father frames this up for Christ and David in the Old Testament:

And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear. ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭11:3‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ‭‭1 Samuel‬ ‭16:7‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When I consider the circumstances of the healing by the pool, the choice of the man (among the many that needed healing) and the timing (among the other six days of the week), and the method (not just “walk” but also, “pick up your bed”), I see that intentionality of the conflict the Holy Spirit precipitated. And then even with the prospect of death, Jesus marches directly into the middle of the lion’s den. What is this about? It’s about an opportunity. It’s like the Holy Spirit is saying “Stop!” Rethink the automatic judgments you have made. Listen to what you are saying! Consider the heart and love of God. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you have made a hasty judgment. Add righteousness to it. Open your heart. Allow a new perspective to invade your thinking. Laws are good and important for the time being, but something else is more important. Are you willing to break from the status quo? Are you willing to step sideways from what everyone else is thinking even if you become the object of their scorn?”

I personally don’t ever want to be too introspective about my bad thinking or snap judgements. But I know I have them. And I deeply trust that when Jesus flags the issue for me, that he will also provide the grace to adjust. He picks the time, place, and method. It may come in the form of a conflict or something that makes me angry — he knows how to get my attention. Yet, I endeavor to have a heart that listens. And when he speaks to me, I can almost be certain it is about an entrenched way of thinking, a snap judgment, or a value that is superseding love. When I consider making any judgment of another, I can understand why Christ asks me to consider a better way:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew‬ ‭7:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬

John 7:14-16 Our hidden teacher

But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and began to teach. The Jews then were astonished, saying, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” Jesus therefore answered them and said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” John‬ ‭7:14-16‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Learning is a transaction, a process, a choice. It’s deliberate. People recognized Christ as a teacher yet he didn’t have a formal education — the rabbinical training that Jewish leaders valued. So the obvious question is: how did he gain the knowledge, understanding and authority he taught with?

I am what I see. I mimic that which I value. My life is the sum of choices based on observing mentors and teachers and others who influence. I’m curious about the distinction I’ve seen between man and every other creature. Animals come coded with instincts to navigate life, some from the moment they are born. Yet for 15 to 20 long years man must observe, learn, and practice. The web that a spider spins did not come from Charlotte studying a textbook. My disposition toward knowledge and my awareness I need a teacher makes me the person I am.

In Proverbs, the Spirit of God in Solomon compels Christ and everyone who would be like him:

My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭2:1-6‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Early each morning Jesus awoke and opened himself to his Father. He listened. Learned. Saw. Observed. Even before Christ was born, Isaiah prophetically mirrored this disposition:

The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient Nor did I turn back. Isaiah‬ ‭50:4-5‬ ‭NASB ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus said in John 3:11 “We bear witness of that which we have seen…” He didn’t just have a vivid imagination that conjured up this new faith — he saw and experienced it in reality. Then shared it. Jesus knew his source and poignantly shared it with his disciples in his farewell supper.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John‬ ‭16:13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Paul revealed the unique training and influence offered to God’s kids by the Holy Spirit:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:10-13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I may know about God’s kingdom, His truth, abide in heaven’s reality even if I don’t attend school. Human education is helpful — I wouldn’t be typing these words without it—but as helpful as it is, if I don’t have a vigilant disposition of heart, human teachers (especially Bible teachers) can quickly sidetrack me, especially when they undermine my faith’s foundations. The snake is a crafty creature.

As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 1 John‬ ‭2:27‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

So what about me? Do I avoid College? Abandon all the traditional places from which learning comes from? Personally, I know I can be of more value to my fellow man when I am trained to be an expert in our society’s crafts. To understand the world, I learn from the world’s teachers. But to understand the kingdom, I must learn from the kingdom’s teacher. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is not one, or the other, but a mingling of both. I love the home my Father made for me in this body, but I understand it is only part of the picture. There is a spiritual reality not often taught in our universities. The point is, the heart is teachable, and craves truth. Solomon said “seek her as silver, search for her as a hidden treasure” because that’s what it is, hidden. But to those who seek, God delights in allowing me to find.

The Father placed upon Jesus the role — or mantle — of a disciple, and he too learned just like all sons and daughters of the kingdom. He also placed upon him the mantle of a teacher as he taught the things he saw and learned. When God calls me by a name or gives me a role, it doesn’t matter that it didn’t originate in the institutions of earth. It sounds silly to say, but God has the resources, depth and wisdom to train me in the economy, infrastructure, ethics, philosophy, math, and laws of the kingdom. Jesus walked daily with his Father in the courts of heaven, seeing, hearing, knowing, experiencing what exists in his kingdom, and what was possible on earth. He was truth and light, and his achievements have impacted our earth like no other:

Therefore it says, “ when he ascended on high. He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers… Ephesians‬ ‭4:8, 11‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Teachers are a gift! Yet, the Holy Spirit is the real teacher.

Christ learned the letters from the Letter-giver. God intends for me to understand in the same way that Christ did. This is what he offered in the temple — a living example of learning from the Spirit and the promise that those who come to him would be just as satiated in mind and heart as he was. After the disciples learned from Christ, they then had an opportunity, just like Christ, to learn from the Spirit directly. Jesus said, “He abides with you (in Christ) and will be in you.” (John 14:17) After being filled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), these uneducated disciples too had a similar testimony.

And, looking at Peter’s boldness of speech, and John’s, and having discovered that they were unlettered and obscure men, they began to marvel, recognizing them also, that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (Rotherham)

The thing which impacts me is that Jesus offers me the same education he had, at the feet of the same teacher. Everyone who is willing is also able to pay the admission costs to this university. And even more impacting is that the training I receive and the resulting life I live may be my offering of worship, the respect and honor I offer to my God — just like Jesus.

John 7:17 Understanding unlocked!

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John‬ ‭7:17‬ ‭NASB ‬‬‬‬

These are incredible words: my understanding of the Kingdom of God and of his teaching is based on my personal willingness. It is a two-part equation: my will aligning with God’s will. But at the most basic level my grasp about Jesus, God, heaven, the Bible, and life begin with and depend on… me.

My will

My will is the first half of the equation. There are often times when my heart and mind explode with the light shining from his words. Understanding pours into my spirit. I sometimes wonder why others struggle to understand things that from my perspective make complete sense. Then I realize it’s personal. It’s what his Spirit is teaching me at the moment. It is what He is sharing as a friend and as a confidant. The more I press into His kingdom, the more He teaches, unfolds, and reveals Himself. He delights in me knowing all about Him. Asking tough questions, pursuing answers. None are too difficult for Him. As I open myself in vulnerability to Him, He opens Himself in vulnerability to me. Yet, I know He went first — for which I’m forever indebted and grateful.

In John’s description of Jesus’ interaction at the Feast of Tabernacles, people had ideas about his identity that were all over the map. Was he the messiah? a good man? or a deceiver? It’s easy to conclude that it’s impossible to know what is true when I approach a difficult topic with so many opinions. Sometimes the number of different views seems to give me permission to be lazy — throw up my arms and say, “How could anyone know?” Yet in the very confusion about a topic is God’s invitation to understand, to seek an answer. Jesus taught so that his disciples would know the secrets of the kingdom — while it was obscured from others.

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The reason there is a disconnect between people about what is true is because there is a God-created filter on our understanding — allowing only the willing to proceed—others are stopped abruptly.

As I read the Gospels, it’s clear that there is a qualification between those who believe and those who don’t. When speaking with the Pharisees who were challenging him, Jesus again showed how this kingdom filter worked.

Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. John‬ ‭8:42-43‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

You “cannot hear,” meaning, you won’t accept it. You are not willing to open your heart to the possibility it is true — and because of the impact it may have on your way of life, you reject it. In another situation a little later, a man was healed by Jesus who was born blind. Afterwards this man with fresh sight saw the true state of Israel’s leaders who were investigating what happened. They kept asking him the same question, getting the same answer. The man was exasperated and possibly a little amused that those who should see were really blind:

He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” John‬ ‭9:27‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes more about the filter:

(We) are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Our understanding of the kingdom is unlocked, the veil over our eyes are removed — in Christ. He is the way, truth and life. I may only know the Father as Jesus opens him to me.

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:27‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

It is simple to come to him and know the secrets of life, but we must walk through the gate — which is Christ.

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.‭‭ John‬ ‭10:9‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

God’s will

My willingness is not the only qualifier, but my willingness: to do His will. And this is the second half of the equation. Unpacking what it means “to do his will” is important.

In the Greek according to Strong, the sense of this word means: his choice or preference. By implication, his wish, with an idea of something in which he delights in. Every person has a wish or preference and something that is intrinsically delightful. When my wife takes time to know me, and me her, we enjoy deferring to each other’s preferences. This picture of God’s will then is not that of an over-controlling despot willing to subjugate others at any cost, but rather a father, a friend, hoping you value him enough to pay attention to what he values and considers meaningful.

To better understand the distinction Jesus is making between wills, I must travel back to the beginning. God made this world and everything in it so that I may revel in it. Learn about it. Play in it. Joy in the minutia. In the process I learn about God, the artist who created it. He made it for my pleasure. And in this discovery my God enjoys the fellowship of the experience, just like a parent enjoys the child’s first encounter with snow, or a bug. Then came the fateful day when man stepped sideways and did the one thing he was told he shouldn’t: he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The adversary was fishing with doubt and mistrust on his line, and Eve bit. Then Adam. Satan generated enough mistrust that they questioned the very goodness and intent of God. The enlightenment they sought, through this act, became hidden. God would have offered them this knowledge—when they could have handled it—just like a parent waits to explain details of love and babies when the young adult is ready for it. Could you imagine a child pulling a gun on mom and dad and demanding it at age eight?

Is it any wonder that the first and most important commandment that God gave to Moses was to “love God first, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?” Another lover had caught man’s eye. So many loves tug on my heart every day. But the love God wants is singular, jealous. Why? Because there is a snake in the weeds, and without absolute devotion to him first—and to the exclusion of others—man will continue to be beguiled. Just like my eye may only focus on one thing even though I see many, my heart only has capacity to offer unfettered devotion to one, even though I love many. As I love him and follow my gentle shepherd, he turns me around and leads me away from the path I have travelled where my flesh and desire have run me ragged. There is a curse on my life and the only way to escape it is through death. Denying myself. Picking up my cross daily to follow him. Killing every competing love. The symbolism of baptism releases something very powerful in our lives. It marks a new beginning. Only when this death occurs in my heart am I able to hear, know, and follow the voice of my loving Father.

When contrasting God’s will with mine, it is important to know God is not a megalomaniac — He is not pulling my strings as though I am a puppet in order to accomplish a mysterious “will.” He is not mindlessly using me as though I am simply a body available to fulfill a calling which he pulls out of a bag when I sign up. On the contrary, he wants me to be redeemed and fully restored. Only when I am again whole, may I know the richness of life in him and his kingdom and the choices he freely gives to me to make. I’ve been born with God-given gifts and abilities. His plan and “will” is to see me fully living them out, integrated as part of the whole body of Christ, and contributing my unique and important part. When I do, I am allowing the light of God to shine through me and radiate his person in only the way I can. I am a piece of God. Not a puppet.

This Christian walk is similar to children growing up. We all start as babies, but in time we mature. We are transformed from one place to another. The do’s and don’ts given to children make way for more choices as teenagers, then independence as adults. A child’s relationship with their parent is nothing like a lover’s relationship with their spouse. But one precedes the other. And in his kingdom, it is no different.

Knowing his will is personal. And just as Jesus indicated in this verse, our understanding is based on personal willingness to follow it. No matter how many well-meaning people tell me what God wants for my life, I am the gatekeeper of what that is. No one knows or is responsible for my life but me. In my many years in fellowship with the church, I have seen individuals who have been impacted by their personal calling. Yet, in their enthusiasm, they loudly encourage everyone to follow the same path. Not everyone is called to be God’s salesman—the evangelist. Nor is everyone called to be God’s teacher—the preacher. And for those who are insecure about hearing God’s voice, it’s easy to accept another’s calling instead of hearing what God is speaking to them. There is one voice, and it is personal, and it is directed perfectly to my heart—if I’m willing to hear it. A quick scan of the New Testament and we see that God has given many gifts and ministries. Paul uses the analogy of the church being a body with many parts, with vastly different functions. How we fit in, what we do, is highly individual and based on one thing: his word spoken to me, personally.

They were asking Jesus, “How do we know that what you are teaching is from God? How do we know that you are the Messiah? Can we really believe in you?” And Jesus answered, “Yes, you may believe and know if you are willing to accept the truth and will take the needed actions.” There are many examples of those who knew exactly who Jesus was without lots of debate: when he was dedicated in the Temple at eight days old. Who told Simeon (Luke 2:25) or Anna (Luke 2:38) that he was the Messiah? When Jesus called his first disciples, how did they know he was the Messiah (Matthew 4:20-21)? They clearly were willing to follow. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to be baptized and said, “Here is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:35-37) how did he know? They knew when they were full of the Holy Spirit.

Today, regardless of the issue with which I am confronted or how complicated the choices which perplex me, I may know God’s heart, mind, and direction. They are my invitation to know. We know, because we hear. And if I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m unwilling to hear. Which brings me to the key to the secrets of the kingdom: I must start at the most basic point of humility, lowliness, picking up my cross with a willingness to love and follow him. No matter how obscure my way forward, he directs my steps. Hears my requests and is willing to answer.

John 7:12-13 Red and blue Jews

Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people. But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. John‬ ‭7:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬

Even at the time of Christ there were red and blue opinions — wide gaps between people’s perspectives. Is he good or not? How can two opposite perspectives both have validity—or both be wrong?

From a natural perspective, those that thought he was good may have affirmed: He healed he sick. Taught with authority. Loved the children. He hasn’t spoken badly of anyone. He has respected the law and our nation. There is something unique in his lack of self-promotion. He seems genuinely humble. Even if he does not yet smite the wretched Romans ruling our country, he seems like a good man.

Those who objected could have contended: He deceives the people! All the good things you listed may be true but underneath is something more sinister. People’s allegiance is swinging to him and yet he is not one of our leaders. We must have a united front against the outsiders and he threatens to divide. In fact, he wants us to love our enemies and do good to our neighbors! Not only is he soft, he’s taking down our walls. I even heard he spent time with those half-breeds, those mixed-up infidels the Samaritans. The more he wins people’s hearts with his ‘goodness’ the more he leads them astray.

Today’s political spirit would want us to be white or black, right or wrong, good or bad. The way we express our view on an issue is how we disclose our values — something of worth that is neither right nor wrong. My values are personal and private and as a result may be obscure. At times they can be a mixed bag — I value freedom of expression, unless yours differs from mine. And sometimes I’m a poor communicator which requires time and patience to understand each other as we slog through supercharged words that may mean entirely different things to each of us. I may call myself a Christian, but if I ask my friend the atheist what “Christian” means, he has a different definition. But there is a way to get to the heart of the matter: fire exposes that which will endure.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke‬ ‭12:49-53‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

As I have read about the American Civil War, I’m impacted by the deep the divide between people — to the extent that brother would fight against brother. The rancor and vitriol expressed on the political stage feels very similar to the public debate I hear today in America. At that time the fire of war, death, and destruction came upon our country — separating. When the storm clouds cleared, all agreed: hating each other was not the answer. From the soil plowed with destruction emerged tender green shoots of humility. Fire is not fun for the flesh, but it did its job.

But if I dig deeper in the heart’s soil I find the values that create such differences. How can these two competing views at the Feast of Tabernacles come up with wildly different versions of who Jesus is? What people want from life, from relationships, spouses, employers, and those who govern make up our values. If our heart is set on physical peace, personal prosperity, predictability, on a life we have built for ourselves — then Jesus is a threat. He instructs us to lay up our treasure in heaven and hold lightly to earth’s goods. He puts that very desire at risk, let alone the political consequences of diluting Israel’s hard line. On the other hand, if our heart is set on the peace that comes from a relationship with the Prince of Peace, his forgiveness, and the hope of a life beyond this broken world, then Jesus is speaking my language. In fact, I feel a strangely compelled in my spirit to listen, follow, emulate and love him. What if he is the messiah?

It’s no surprise that our values and views differ from each other and create lively debate. And the debate is good, especially when mixed with a heart to love truth. Is it possible to know which position is right? To know what is true? Jesus says it is. A little later in verse 17 he says:

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John‬ ‭7:17‬ ‭NASB‬‬

The ability to know truth is connected to the will. The will is connected to what I value. I endeavor to value God and his people above everything else. Whether by choice, or by fire, the substance of my values will eventually emerge.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭133:1-3‬ ‭NIV

John 7:5 Seeing the unbelievable

For even his own brothers did not believe in him. John‬ ‭7:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Imagine those closest to Jesus — his mom, dad, and brothers. Although they initially did not choose to follow him like the disciples, they had a unique front-row seat to observe Israel’s messiah. Jesus’ public ministry to Israel began when he was about 30 years old. But the presence of God was dwelling in him since his birth. Israel had the Ark of the Covenant in the temple. Mary and Joseph’s family had the real Ark in their living room. They observed the presence and goodness of God every day in the innocence, vulnerability, and authenticity of a family member who had not experienced sin or personal shame.

There are so many things I could imagine about his childhood years. Family life for Jesus must have been unique in a few ways. His brothers were younger than he was and played with friends the same age in their neighborhood. Jesus’ potential playmates had been murdered by Herod. I’m curious how his siblings processed the stories their family and friends told of this slaughter—how they made sense of it, and why Jesus was one of the few survivors? And from another perspective, what did Jesus do with it? He was perfect in empathy — did he grieve over how many lives were lost because of him? Even in these odd circumstances, the family stories, the honesty, kindness, and goodness seen in him, it was still a leap for them to consider him the messiah.

The gospels do not say much about Jesus’ childhood other than at twelve years old he unexpectedly stayed in the temple in Jerusalem as his parents journeyed home. Luke adds: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” But the one thing that stands out to me is that he was normal enough, looked enough like everyone else that they were not convinced enough that he was the messiah.

His brothers lived and breathed around the living Word—they were physically the closest—yet they still missed seeing him! If they were not persuaded, what should we expect of others? There is something about familiarity that inhibits faith. Even Jesus acknowledged it. After recounting a parade of miracles to John’s disciples, Jesus said:

And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling (or taking offense) at me.
Matthew 11:6 NASB

Yet, many were still stumbled. In John 6 after the miraculous sign of food being multiplied, others said:

Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:41-42‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When he returned to the town in which he grew up and spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth:

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” …and He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:22‬, 24 ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The crowds then promptly took him to the edge of a cliff to throw him off!

There are many things which color my personal view of Jesus today — most notably my self-appointment as a connoisseur of all things Christian. (Does such a position even exist?! — Not really, but it’s easy to set myself up as judge of the good and the bad in the church.) If I were to travel back in time to Palestine, I’d surely be able to identify Jesus and see him for who he is, right? The challenge I have every day is to cease projecting my view of Christ into all that I read and encounter and instead allow the Holy Spirit, the family of God, real-life experiences, and fellowship with the living Son to inform me. Although my new Spirit DNA compels me into his image, sometimes I get this backwards and fashion him into mine.

The Jews’ view of the Messiah fell into this same trap. Here was the actual Messiah, yet few could recognize him. Why? They wanted him fashioned into their image and to meet their lofty expectations.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Or as someone famous once said: A prophet does not receive honor in his own town or country. Today, the same is true.

What if in reality I am touching, tasting, encountering the divine every day? What if I am experiencing the supernatural, the signs of God, the proof of his existence, the promise of my future, today — but miss it because — it looks so familiar? At my core, I consider myself ordinary. Oh, maybe I’m slightly more achieving and capable in some things, and much less in others, but the degrees are really inconsequential. And in the old man’s ongoing quest to cast everyone and everything into my image, I come to the conclusion that that which I am encountering could not be any more significant than plain old ordinary me. What if instead, every morning I wake up and hit the reset button and I see the sunrise as a miracle? My body and its marvel of organization and complexity as a wonder as I take every breath? The planets, seasons, ecosystems, depth of emotions and joy that I feel as traits which reveal my Father? When I look at my wife, I see in her the love and tenderness that my good God has given as a gift to me every day. Holding hands as we fall asleep, I feel the presence of God close in this woman. We reflect the image of God as the body of Christ. So many ordinary yet extraordinary things. I heard a preacher once say, “When you eat a chicken dinner, don’t swallow the bones.” In other words, there is good, and nourishment aplenty, the breadcrumbs of his presence everywhere, but don’t be stumbled if you have to distinguish between what nourishes and what doesn’t. Just remove the bones. Don’t disqualify Christ because he must use the restroom like the everyone else. Or if he sneezes and you are annoyed at the way it sounds. Or dislike his hair because it isn’t groomed very well.

With spirit eyes I may see the amazing. And rather than mold what I see into a perspective that is purely mine (my box seems like a very nice box) allow the Holy Spirit to unfold what my vision by itself is unable to. When John was baptizing and saw Jesus approach, his spirit eyes saw, “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” But later in prison, he sent his disciples to ask, “Are You the One?” Jesus still called him the greatest born among woman. If John suffered lapses in his vision, then I should expect that I will as well.

The reality is that I am unable to see clearly until the Holy Spirit clears up my vision. Just like Jesus’ brothers could not see what Peter saw (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Matthew 16:16) I cannot see unless my Father opens my eyes. The good news is:

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. John‬ ‭16:13-15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬