Monthly Archives: November 2017

Buried and Risen (John 19.38-20.18)

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John is not particularly aiming to emphasize it, but we cannot but shiver with horror at the callous brutality of crucifixion. We shudder as we read of the soldiers breaking the two thieves’ legs to hasten their death. But John’s point is rather to re-emphasize the fulfilment of prophecy. Jesus had already died and his bones were therefore not broken (Psalm 34.20).

Burial  

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Having demonstrated that Jesus’ death was entirely in accordance with God’s purposes as revealed prophetically in the Old Testament, John goes on to show that his death moves Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to open commitment as believers in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. He carefully notes that Joseph had been only a secret believer because of his fear of the Jewish leaders and that Nicodemus was the one who had come to Jesus secretly by night. But now they fearlessly and openly ask Pilate for Jesus’ body and bury him in the proper Jewish way with spices and wrapped in linen cloths (19.38-42).
In our teaching and preaching it is easy to omit mention of Jesus’ burial, but the Christian creeds rightly confess that Jesus was “crucified, dead and buried”. Some of us will have suffered bereavement with the death of someone we love and then have stood around the grave as the coffin has been lowered into the ground. The cold reality of the grave can bring a sense of utter desolation and lonely hopelessness. How amazing that Jesus, the King of kings, totally laid aside his glory and went even to the grave for us! He knows and understands. He has been there himself.

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Resurrection
Normally in the New Testament passive tenses are used with reference to the resurrection of Jesus. He did not rise again by his own divine power. He had indeed laid aside his glory and was truly dead. His burial underlines the reality that Jesus seemed absolutely cold and finished. There seemed to be no future for those who loved and believed in him. But then God the Father stepped into this picture of hopeless death and raised that cold body to new life. The glory of this defies mere words and sends a shiver of excitement down the spine!
If Jesus had raised himself, we would of course have worshipped him and gloried in him. But we might also have felt our own hopeless weakness, for we could never be like him and raise ourselves to new life. We know the frustration of trying to pull ourselves up by our own boot strings! But wonderfully our heavenly Father observed the cold body of Jesus and stepped into the situation – and Jesus was raised from the dead. So God can do it also for us despite our spiritual coldness and helplessness.

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Witnesses of the Resurrection
As soon as the end of Sabbath permitted it, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Finding it empty and the entry stone rolled away, she assumed that someone had removed the body. She ran to Peter and “the other disciple” (John himself?). Although John got to the tomb first, he was hesitant to go into it. On the other hand, Peter went straight in. John’s account fits their characters so well! Finally John also dares to go into the grave and he sees the linen cloths folded in place – but no body! In simple but impressive words he states, “and he saw and he believed” (20.8). His eyes were opened to the reality of the resurrection. Later when Thomas meets the risen Jesus and believes, Jesus says to him “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20.29). In God’s grace he has allowed us too the blessing of believing without necessarily having any visible experience to prove his resurrection.
The account of Mary meeting the risen Jesus is so moving! He simply calls her by name “Mary”. This very personal note makes her realise that the person before her is not just the gardener. It is the risen Jesus. John here uses the common word “says” – Jesus says to her “Mary” and she says to him “Rabboni/Teacher”. Very intimate and homely.
We may note that John feels the need to translate the Aramaic “Rabboni”, evidently assuming that at least some of his readers will not understand Aramaic. He is clearly not writing just with his fellow-Jews in mind, but also for a wider Gentile audience. Of course this fits the whole thrust of his Gospel. He is demonstrating that the good news of the resurrected Jesus is for all people, both Jew and Gentile.

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Jesus says to Mary that she should go to “my brothers” and say to them that he is returning “to my Father and your Father and my God and your God”. Overlooking the disciples’ abysmal failure at the time of his trial and crucifixion, Jesus still calls them “my brothers”. What grace! How wonderful too that Jesus calls us all his brothers/sisters! His Father is also our Father. His God is also our God. We are one with Jesus himself in these deeply intimate relationships.
In telling Mary to go and say that he is returning to his Father Jesus uses common words which have no special significance. But John goes on to say that Mary then “proclaimed” to the disciples her amazing experience: “I have seen the Lord” and he had said these things to her (20.18). In Matthew’s Gospel too Jesus instructs the two women who were the first to witness the resurrection that they should ‘go and proclaim’ (Matt.28.10). This contrasts with the fact that the angel had merely told them to “go quickly and tell” (Matt.28.7).  The verb “proclaim” has the same basic root as the word for “Gospel” and implies preaching. So Mary was the first preacher of the resurrection, the heart of the gospel. But even if women were the first Christians to preach the good news of Jesus, we hasten to add that it is still allowable that men may also preach!
Many of the verbs in John’s description of these resurrection events are in the dramatic present tense e.g. “she sees Jesus . . . and Jesus says to her” (John 20.14,15). John was writing many years later, but he was evidently re-living these amazing life-changing experiences. Now we today are reading his accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Let us also enter into John’s feelings of excitement – and believe!

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The King in the centre (John 19)

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They crucified Jesus – and with him two others, ‘on the side and on the side’. But in the middle/centre Jesus(19.18). He is central. In his account of Jesus’ trial and death John shows no interest in others. In the story of Jesus we have come to “my hour”, “my glory”. Of course we cannot ignore the horrendous brutality and cruelty of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, his unspeakable agony, suffering and humiliation. But this is not John’s emphasis. He wants us to dwell on Jesus’ supremacy. He is indeed ‘in the centre’. As R.E.Brown says in his Anchor Commentary on John’s Gospel, John’s desire is “to continue the theme that Jesus went to his death as sole master of his destiny”. Jesus is central in the story of his trial and death. He is in control of everything. With quiet dignity he submits to all the evil horrors of this climax to his mission on earth. In it all he is indeed the King.

Never mind the others!
In John’s account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion all the other participants pale into insignificance. In his strength, dignity and authority Jesus stands alone.
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a) Pilate.  Pilate may think he has power and authority (19.10/11), but Jesus puts him down with the comment that Pilate is actually totally dependent. He has no power in himself or even in his office. His authority comes “from above” – Jesus uses the same word as in John 3.3 and 7. The new birth is indeed a birth ‘from above’. What Pilate does is under the controlling hand of the Father in heaven above. In Jesus’ trial Pilate shows himself to be terribly weak, unable to stand up for any sense of justice and truth that he might have had. Frightened of Caesar he surrenders in weakness to the threats of the Jewish authorities and crowds. He is shown to be just a little man under the over-arching  power of Rome, easily manipulated by those he claims to rule over.
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b) The High-priests.  While Pilate claimed political power, the high-priests strutted through Jerusalem with religious authority. But in Jesus’ trial their actual weakness is revealed. They have no power to condemn Jesus to death. Without Pilate’s agreement they cannot get rid of Jesus. Their frustration is clear. And in order to achieve their ends they shock us by disclaiming their faith in God as King and also their supposed expectation of a messianic King. “We have no king but Caesar”, they declared (19.15) – what a sadly negative credal statement! Just imagine a baptismal candidate confessing their faith in such terms! And yet these words come from the mouth of Israel’s leaders, the very high-priests themselves.
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c) Simon of Cyrene.  All the three other Gospels tell of Simon of Cyrene being dragooned into carrying the cross for Jesus. After the tortures of the previous days they show how Jesus no longer had the strength to carry the cross for himself. But John makes no mention of Simon at all. He wants to show the dignified strength of Jesus, not the agonies of his suffering or any weakness. So John says that Jesus carried the cross for himself (19.17). This was of course true for at least part of the way to Golgotha. But John doesn’t want to have anyone else competing for centre-stage.
d) Two others.  Just in passing John mentions that two others were also crucified with Jesus. However, he underlines the fact that they were ‘on the side and on the side, but Jesus in the centre’. The clear emphasis remains on Jesus himself. The two others were peripheral. John does not even mention that they were brigands and makes no mention of what they said while being crucified with Jesus. Jesus alone holds the limelight.

Jesus is the King.
Almost immediately at the outset of Jesus’ trial before Pilate the question of his kingship takes centre-stage. Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (18.33). From Jesus’ answer that his kingdom is not from this world Pilate then says, ‘You are a king then’ (18.37). Is this a somewhat cynical statement or a surprised question? Jesus carefully does not confirm that he is indeed King, but rather puts it back onto Pilate with the statement that ‘You say I am a king’.
Jesus’ claim to be king meets with cruel mockery by the Roman soldiers. They dressed him in mock regalia with a crown of thorns on his head. In our modern world too, violently cruel humiliation of others can provide a corrupted sense of ‘fun’. It is politically correct to think only of the fundamental good in human nature, but actually in reality there is also a deeply evil side to our human nature.
So Jesus is crucified on the basis of his kingship. Pilate therefore has it written on the cross ” Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. The chief-priests objected, but Pilate insisted (19.19-22). So this proclamation of Jesus as the King of Israel reached out to the multitudes. John points out that the crucifixion took place near the city, so it was read by crowds of people. And John underlines the fact that it was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. This will have enabled everyone to understand. So the Gospel of Jesus as King reached out to ordinary Jews, hellenistic Jews and Latin- or Greek-speaking Gentiles. Throughout his Gospel John has been showing how Jesus is God’s redeeming messiah not only for Jews, but also Gentiles of all ethnic backgrounds. Now even on the cross Jesus’ hour has come and his glory is clearly manifest to all people. He is the king of the Jews, the king of Israel, the king over all peoples, the King of kings. We are called to worship him as our king too.

 

The Crucifixion
There is a clear order in John’s account of the crucifixion (19.17-30). After the over-arching statement that Jesus is central, it begins with the emphasis that Jesus is king (19.19-22) and then proceeds to the soldiers dividing his clothes between them “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (19.23/24). We are then told how Jesus lovingly makes arrangements for his mother Mary to be joined to John as mother and son (19.25-27). Jesus’ kingship has loving care for others at its heart. This is followed by John again emphasizing the fulfilment of Scripture in Jesus’ call that he is thirsty. The huge importance of the biblical Scriptures is thus written in Bold – and the consequent challenge to us to let the Bible mould our life and thought.
Finally then Jesus bowed his head and “gave up his spirit”. With these words John shows that even in his death Jesus is in control. His spirit is not taken from him – he himself gives up his spirit. We can only bow before him and offer him our total allegiance as our king.

 

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Tetelestai – it is complete (19.30).
This Greek verb signifies more than just that Jesus’ suffering on our behalf has come to an end. It means that the whole purpose of Jesus’ life and death is now complete. His life, his teachings, his miracles, his demonstrations of love, his model of personal relationships all were leading up to their climax in his sacrificial death for us and for our salvation. Now Jesus can declare triumphantly that it is all complete. Now we can be united with him by faith in his gift of new resurrection life which is ‘life abundant’. This life begins with Jesus in this world, it enters into new life here on earth in his resurrection and continues on into eternal life with him in his ascension back to the glorious presence of the Father. That is the good news according to John’s Gospel – life, indeed eternal life, in oneness with Jesus and through him with the Father in glory. So Jesus can bow his head and gloriously cry out “Tetelestai” – it is complete.
Now it is our job not only to worship the king for ourselves and rejoice in this glorious good news. We are now called to proclaim his kingship to all peoples everywhere – in Aramaic, Latin, Greek or any other language! Hindus, Muslims, Jews, nominal Christians, Buddhists, atheists and any other background – they all should hear our wonderful good news of Jesus. Let the brilliantly good news of Jesus be proclaimed throughout the world!

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Asian Tour

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A big thank-you to those of you who knew I was going to Asia for three weeks’ teaching and preaching. Be encouraged; the Lord answered your prayers abundantly – all very exciting.
Church Growth
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I was invited for this trip by Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore. Last time I had been with them and got their church statistics they had 5,000 church attendance. Now they have grown to 6,000! They believe they should have one pastor for every hundred members, but are planning on coming growth and are already wanting to appoint another pastor in readiness for the next hundred to be added to their church.
The heart of the church is very much geared to mission all over Asia. They particularly stress business as the means of international mission. Their recently retired missions secretary, Elder Tan Lian Seng, was my wonderful host and guide in this recent visit. His/their aim is to establish various business enterprises together with significant local business people in the various countries. These enterprises will give employment and money to local Christians and 10% of profits will be fed into the local church. On my recent trip it was a great privilege to meet and share with various key business people in Java and Sarawak. All sorts of plans are afoot which could benefit the local churches significantly.
Revival
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In 1973 a sweeping revival broke out in the highlands of Sarawak in a small town called Bario among the Kelabit people. Having touched everybody among the Kelabits and transformed them, it then spread throughout Sarawak and Sabah. Six months after the start of the revival I was invited to go and give some Bible teaching. What an experience with people, some of whom even walked for several days in order to get the teaching! There was a vital hunger for everything the Spirit could give them. Honesty became normal in society, so the law courts closed for four years because there was no crime and people suing each other became reconciled and the law cases were withdrawn. The local secondary school headmaster told me that now through the revival they no longer had any discipline problems, but could just  concentrate on actual teaching. And the local prayer meetings were wonderful and richly inspirational. What a joy now to meet up with some people I had met in the 1973 revival! Some even told me the content of my teaching sessions. One even remembered the detailed content of my messages point by point – after 43 years! It was so exciting to feel that revival spirit being renewed in me again too.
Cousins
The purpose of my teaching and preaching was to encourage local Christians and churches in outreach among Ms., our faith cousins. It was wonderful too to meet some converted cousins from Mal..sia. They told me of large groups of new Christians with 5-600 members in various places we had known when we lived in that country. In Java too quite a few are becoming believers although outreach among them has been minimal – pray that this may increase as a result of my ministry.
Language
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Before leaving England I had insisted that I must have an interpreter for my talks. I had frankly given up on the possibility of reviving my Indonesian language. It was 53 years since we left Indonesia! But God loves to surprise us with his miracles. And to my amazement I found myself ministering some times with an interpreter, but also some times direct in Indonesian – and it flowed wonderfully! What a God we have! Isn’t he amazing?!
Although they are all in English and none is in Indonesian, our books were in great demand. Pray that they may have an on-going ministry which underlines the content of my teaching and preaching.
The team
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Sadly Elizabeth was not able to travel with me, but I was together in Singapore, Java (Surabaya, Malang and Bandung – mainly in theological seminaries) and Sarawak (Miri – in the Bible School and in local churches) with the recently retired but still very active missions elder of Covenant EFC, Elder Tan Lian Seng (ex-All Nations – it was a joy to meet several ex-All Nations people), and his personal assistant Ada Chan. They were both so warm, spiritually minded, extremely efficient and delightful companions. We enjoyed lots of humour together, but with an underlying seriousness of mission purpose. I depend these days on Elizabeth for help in everyday living, but they stepped into her shoes amazingly. And Ada was brilliant as an intermediary in the to-and-fro of loving emails with Elizabeth – a task she seemed really to enjoy! Meanwhile our three children took it in turns to have Elizabeth staying with them and to care for her. She is doing very well indeed after her slight heart attack and feels something of a fraud in having to be somewhat careful of herself.
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