The heart of our post-modern society lies in relationships. Relationships form the cement of society, the work place, families and the personal well-being of each one of us. Partly for this reason I have started a more detailed study of John’s Gospel, for John in his writings stresses the Father’s perfect loving relationship with his Son, Jesus the Messiah. The Father and the Son are indeed one. As Jesus’ followers we too are called into a parallel relationship with Jesus and then also between ourselves as brothers and sisters.
In studying John 1, I have been touched again by the idea of such relationships being characterised by movement towards each other. To be with someone means that we shall move towards them. So already in John 1.1 the Word was with God. The Greek word translated “with” can be so translated, but it has the fundamental sense of ‘moving towards’. In being with the Father, Jesus Christ was eternally in movement towards the Father. And again in John 1.18 the NIV’s “at the Father’s side” is literally ‘into the bosom of the Father’. As the Father’s beloved son, Jesus Christ is eternally moving into the bosom of the Father. We may picture a small child nestling into the chest of a Father or into the mother’s breasts – such deep security, peace and love. Raymond Brown in his Anchor Bible commentary rightly characterises this as an intimate relationship. And so it is!
In the Gospels the call to discipleship is to “come” to Jesus, to “follow” him. Verbs of motion. As Christians we want to ‘come’ and come again and again to Jesus, drawing ever closer to him in intimate relationship. And as we draw close to Jesus, we shall through and in him come close to the Father in an intimate relationship of love. This will in turn overflow into loving relationships between us as Christians.
Such movement towards each other may be seen in every culture. When two people meet, they will move closer to each other if they have a good relationship. But if they dislike each other, they will gradually draw back an inch or two. TV dramas also demonstrate the reality of this relational movement towards one another. The scene is set with crowds of people drinking and chatting together in a hall. Through the door at one end of the room a beautiful young lady enters. At the other end of the room a handsome young man comes in. Immediately their eyes meet. Gradually they filter through the crowds towards each other until they actually meet. The conclusion to this ‘movement towards’ is perhaps unsuitable for this blog! But again we note that loving relationship involves steady movement towards the object of our love.
God has moved towards us in coming from heaven into the world in order to bring us into a loving relationship through him with God the Father. His purpose for his people is that we should move towards each other to deepen our love within his church and then to our neighbour. So the heart of the Gospel is the good news of intimate, loving relationships which grow and deepen. Our alienated world certainly needs and cries out for John’s good news that they too can enter into and enjoy new relationships of grace and love as they move by faith into discipleship of Jesus Christ. Let us therefore share this gospel with confident joy!
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Normally in the Book of Acts Paul is preaching to fellow-Jews, but twice he reaches out with sermons to Gentiles – the Lycaonians in Acts 14 and the Athenians in Acts 17. In both cases his message is badly misunderstood. Evidently he had problems in cross-cultural communication. But with amazing grace God used Paul’s witness in both cases, and churches evolved. How encouraging this is to us in our witness in these multi-cultural days! God works despite our weaknesses.
In Acts 17.18 the Athenians thought Paul was advocating two new gods, Jesus and Resurrection. Evidently the heart of Paul’s message must have been Jesus himself and his resurrection – surprisingly, not the cross! And what a glorious message! Through the resurrection God demonstrated that Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins has been accepted; death has lost its sting; and we also have a new resurrection life through Jesus. So many people today are disillusioned with their current lives and would love to be able to receive a new life with new meaning and renewed relationships. Is this the heart of the gospel/good news for people today?
The New Testament commonly uses a passive with reference to the resurrection. If Jesus had raised himself from the tomb by his own divine power, we would of course worship him. But we would also be frustratingly aware that we cannot follow in his footsteps and raise ourselves from our spiritual tombs like he did.
But the witness of the New Testament is that Jesus laid aside his glory and went even to death on the cross. Then our creeds emphasise that he was not only crucified and dead, but also buried. Those of us who have lost a loved one will be very aware that there is nothing more desolate, cold and hopeless than the tomb. Jesus was buried. He seemed to have come to a hopeless cold end. But then the Father stepped in and gloriously raised the cold body of Jesus and brought him into new life. Jesus was raised to new life by the Father. And if the Father can do this for the hopelessly dead Jesus, he can surely do it for us too. We may feel spiritually and emotionally dead and buried without hope for the future, but the powerful and grace-filled love of the Father can raise us too into his resurrection new life. Old things have passed away and all things have become new in the resurrection of Jesus.
In the Resurrection, the Easter message, we really do have Good News for ourselves and for the world!