Monthly Archives: December 2016
Who was Immanuel? In Isaiah 7 the name Immanuel (meaning in Hebrew ‘El/God with us’) is revealed in the context of King Ahaz refusing God’s command to him that he should ask for a sign. In reaction to Ahaz’ disobedience some seven hundred years before the coming of Jesus God declares that a virgin will give birth to a baby who shall be called Immanuel. The immediate presence of the all-holy God is a threat to those who in unbelief disobey the Lord. His presence is uncomfortable and brings condemnation and judgement to those who refuse to follow the Lord.
(For a more extended account of the biblical adoption and adaptation of such non-biblical creators see my book “What about other Faiths?”)
The lead-in to the death and resurrection of Jesus is hotting up. Mary’s anointing of Jesus leads to Judas, one of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples, objecting to the apparent waste of the precious perfume. So John prepares his readers for Judas’ final betrayal of Jesus. What a heart-breaking grief this must have been to Jesus who loved his disciples so deeply! And still today Jesus must be weeping when Christians lose their love and faith in him.
These verses end with the contrast of faith and murderous opposition. Wonderfully we read that “many of the Jews were going over to him and putting their faith in him”, but at the same time the chief priests made plots to kill Jesus and also Lazareth (12.9-11).
The other gospels give us some additional insights. In Luke’s Gospel the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet (Luke 7.36ff.) is used to demonstrate the depth of love when a sinner is forgiven. The greater one’s sin, the more one will love Jesus with eternal gratitude when cleansed from one’s sin. The forgiven sinner can indeed “go in peace” (Luke 7.50) – how glorious this is!
Matthew and Mark join John in emphasizing that Jesus’ anointing foreshadows his coming death and burial. It is noteworthy that the very Jewish Matthew also strongly emphasizes the Gentiles. Whereas John does not mention it at all, in Matthew and Mark the climax of the story comes with Jesus’ words that “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26.13). So Mark also foresees Jesus’ burial and concludes his account of the event with the same words that the story of the woman’s great love would be told throughout the coming history and wherever the gospel is preached (Mark 14.9).
In our blogs on John we now move on to Chapter 12, the final preparation for the great climax of the Gospel, Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Of course the previous chapters have already introduced the fact that Jesus evokes a response of living faith in some, but growing rejection and opposition in many. When I asked an old Russian grandmother how people reacted to her open witness in the bad days of persecution under Stalin, Beria, Brezhnev etc, she was surprised. “You have read your Bible, you know how people react to evangelistic witness”, she said, “Some believe and some don’t!”. So let us witness boldly, expecting some to believe even if some reject our message fiercely.
Already in John 8 Jesus’ teaching meant that “many put their faith in him” (8.30), but the leaders of Israel accused him of being demon-possessed (8.48) and “they picked up stones to stone him” (8.59).
So also in John 9 Jesus healed a blind man, thus revealing himself as “the light of the world” (9.5). As a result the people were divided, some believing and others firmly opposed (9.16). The final verses of the chapter have the blind man declaring “Lord, I believe” , while the Pharisees think that they see but in fact they are blind. The challenge to see and believe in Jesus rings out loud and clear right through even to us in our day.
In John 10 too Jesus’ teaching elicits the dual response of faith and fierce opposition. So “many people came to him” and “many believed in Jesus” (10.41/42). But the leaders of Israel “tried to seize him” (10.39). Jesus had revealed himself as “the good shepherd” (10.11). We saw in a previous blog that the adjective used can better be translated as ‘ beautiful’. Jesus is the beautiful shepherd. This adjective relates also to a concept of honesty, faithfulness and trustworthiness. Beauty is not just external, but relates to the inner reality of a person. The truly ‘good’ shepherd fulfils his calling whatever the danger or cost. He is not like the hireling who abandons his sheep and runs away from his calling when faced with danger or opposition. He may ask his Father to spare him the cross, but ultimately he faces the danger and declares “not my will, but yours be done”. In his ‘beauty’ the shepherd relates intimately with his sheep. He knows them individually and they know him in that deep relationship of love and trust. And his flock includes not only good Jewish sheep, but also an all-inclusive crowd of “other sheep” (10.16) from every nation, people, tribe and tongue. What a wonderful multi-national unity we find in Jesus’ “one flock” (10.14-16)!
In John 11 Jesus reveals himself through the raising of Lazarus. He is “the resurrection and the life” (11.25). Lazarus with his sisters Martha and Mary strongly believe. Also “many of the Jews … put their faith in him” (11.45). But the Sanhedrin “plotted to take his life” and wanted to “arrest him”.
So the stage is set for Chapter 12 with its three great events which open the door for the final cross and resurrection of Jesus. In Chapter 12 we read about Mary anointing Jesus with precious perfume (12.1-11), Jesus’ so-called “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (12.12-19) and conclusively the coming of the Greeks to Jesus (12.20ff.). In our next blogs on John’s Gospel we shall look more closely at these three sections.