Monthly Archives: March 2018

Zeal for the Temple (John 2.12-25)

When did it happen?
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In the other three Gospels the cleansing of the temple is located just before the final betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus. Due to Jesus’ outrageous action, the Jewish leaders’ determination to have Jesus killed became even more vicious. But John tells the story already in Chapter 2 because it fits the context of the old yielding to the glorious new life – water made into wine, the temple yielding to the risen body of Jesus, new birth and life for Nicodemus. John therefore makes his typical introduction concerning time rather vague – “After this” (1.12). And, as in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he places it when it was “almost time for the Jewish Passover” and when “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (1.13).
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House of Prayer
The cleansing of the temple apparently took place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only area of the temple where Gentiles could come for prayer. Jesus was outraged therefore that it was being turned into a noisy, brash market-place. Jesus was deeply aware that God wanted his house to be “a house of prayer for all nations”, not just for the Jewish people. Once again we note the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus’ worldwide concern for all nations. The biblical basis for international mission is central to Scripture. Let all nations come to pray in the presence of the God of Israel!

Matthew 21.13, Mark 11.17 and Luke 19.46 clearly have Isaiah 56.7 in mind: “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”. Jesus is therefore indignant that people have turned God’s House into a “den of robbers”. The market-place skulduggery and rank corrupt dealing calls for the radical cleansing which Jesus gives it in the use of a whip to drive out the sheep and cattle (John 2.15). He scattered the money-changers’ coins, overturned their tables and ordered that the doves should also be removed – the NIV’s “How dare you” (2.16) is in the Greek just a plain “Do not make . . . “, but it conveys the right feeling. What a scene it was!
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My Father’s House
In John’s Gospel we note Jesus’ passion for his Father’s glory. This will come up again and again. And we too should have the Father’s glory as the ultimate goal of our life and ministry – may the heavenly Father be glorified! Jesus’ emphasis therefore centres on the horror of turning “my Father’s house into a market” (2.16). It is not the temple in itself which is important, but rather the fact that it was the Father’s house. In recounting this, Jesus and John are evidently having Psalm 69.9 in mind: “zeal for your house consumes me”. Jesus must also have been thinking of the future sufferings which he would have to endure because the verse continues: “the insults of those who insult you fall on me”. But his primary indignation is that people are insulting the Father with their zealous money-making in his house.
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The Resurrection
While the first three Gospels underline the fierce opposition of the Jewish leaders when Jesus drove out the market people, John merely says that the Jewish leaders ‘answered/responded’ (2.18) and asked him what sign (John’s usual word for Jesus’ miracles) he could show them to validate his right to cleanse the temple in this way. Then Jesus “answered them” (same word as in 2.18): “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (2.19). The temple as the place to meet God yields now to the more glorious temple of Jesus himself, the perfect sacrifice and access to the Father. In the resurrected Jesus we find salvation with new life and eternal life.
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Faith through Word and Sign
God reveals through words. His words are no mere empty verbiage! Both the written word in Scripture and the spoken word of Jesus later convinced the disciples of truth (2.22). The Bible as God’s written Word continues through the centuries to have authority, the means by which God makes himself known. Muslims rightly teach that Scripture reveals the will of God, but the Bible goes even further in asserting that God reveals himself and makes himself known through Scripture.
While the disciples “believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”, the crowds “saw the signs he was doing and believed in his name” (2.23). In John’s Gospel it is frequently underlined that word and sign belong together. The ultimate purpose both of sign and word is that we might believe in Jesus and thus glorify the Father.
But Jesus saw that the people’s sign-based faith was shallow and unreliable, so he “would not entrust himself to them” (2.24). He demonstrates the gift of discernment to perfection. He sees us all and knows us through and through. But although Jesus knows us perfectly and discerns our every thought, nevertheless his love for us remains steadfast and true. Hallelujah!
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The First Sign: Glory and Faith (John 2.1-11)

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In Chapter 2 John sets out on the great central block of his Gospel in chapters 2-11. This section is some times called “The Book of Signs” because of its structure of various signs followed by related passages of teaching. But strangely this first sign of turning water into wine has no such teaching after it. Did John think in terms of chapters 2 and 3 belonging together? Water changed into wine; the temple cleansed and finding its climax in Jesus; Jesus’ call to new birth. In this way Jesus’ word concerning the need to be born again forms the teaching after the sign in John 2. Israel’s life and faith is transformed, cleansed and renewed in Jesus. Thus Jesus is glorified and his followers believe in him.
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Authority and Grace
Jesus enters into everyday life, attending a wedding feast in Cana. Cana was very close to Bethsaida, the home town of Philip, Andrew and Peter (1.44). Jesus’ mother was there and he himself was invited together with his disciples. Interestingly, the verb “invited” is in the singular – was this a group invitation to the family? Or was it already assumed that wherever Jesus was invited, his disciples would always accompany him? Were Jesus and his disciples already such a close-knit fellowship?
Evidently Jesus’ mother must have been a key person at the wedding, for she takes the lead in her concern with the wine running out. When Mary tells Jesus “They have no more wine”, he replies with enigmatic words: “What is that to me and you, woman? My hour has not yet come.”
But Mary persists with her assurance that he will do something to help, so she instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Miraculously Jesus then turns the water into wine. John emphasizes the ample abundance of the new wine and also its top quality as “choice wine”, “the best”. So likewise in 2.12-22 the function of the Temple as God’s dwelling-place on earth and as the place of sacrifice for sin is wonderfully perfected in Jesus. He is Immanuel/God with us and the final perfect atoning sacrifice. Then also in chapter 3 it is in the new birth that we can know the wonder of the new resurrection life. In Jesus we do indeed have the choice wine!
Through this miraculous sign we may observe Jesus’ powerful authority. When he speaks, miracles happen (1.7/8). In and through his word he has total authority. And his power is used for the welfare of others. He graciously meets their needs and so demonstrates his loving concern.
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Glory and Faith
“We have seen his glory” (1.14) and “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (1.15). John summarizes his description of this first sign with the words, “And he manifested his glory” (2.11) and as a consequence “his disciples believed in him”. Jesus’ exercise of his wonder-working authority and his gracious kindness convinced his disciples and moved them to faith in him. They saw his supernatural power and his divine love and so committed themselves to follow him. Of course they had already begun to believe in Jesus when he first called them to follow him, but trusting belief in Jesus requires an on-going growth in faith. As we have already seen in our previous blogs, Jesus calls us to come and come and come to him. He calls us to follow him ever more closely and to go on growing in our love and faith. Like those early disciples at the wedding feast, we too are to observe Jesus’ glory and believe in him with ever-greater commitment and trust.

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John the Baptist’s Witness (John 1.19-36)

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The key frequently-repeated word in relation to John the Baptist is that he witnessesAs soon as he is introduced in 1.7 it is observed that he (literally) ‘came into witness’ – his coming moved naturally into his supreme purpose of witnessing to Jesus. He came ‘in order to witness to the light in order that all might believe through him’. Again in 1.15 when John is further introduced, John ‘witnessed concerning him’ (Jesus). Quoting Isaiah 40 John sees himself as a mere voice in the desert which calls people to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, the Lord.
What then lay at the heart of John’s witness? The leaders of Israel sent priests and Levites to find out, but they were asking the wrong question. They wanted to know who John really was, but John was markedly not promoting himself. In contrast with Jesus’ ‘I am’ statements John firmly testifies that ‘I am not’. He is not the Messiah/Christ, Elijah or the expected prophet to come. He merely baptises in water, but his aim is to point to Jesus who is already among them without being recognised. John testifies/witnesses that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Although the human Jesus was younger than John, he has supremacy because he was eternally existent in his pre-incarnate nature. His superior nature can also be seen in the fact that he baptises with the Holy Spirit (1.33) – far superior to mere water baptism. Let us also honour Jesus, witness to him and come to him for his gift of the Holy Spirit!
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In John’s witness (1.32-34) we hear his account of what he had seen in a vision. John had been told how he would recognise Jesus in the midst of the crowds who came to be baptised. When he would see the Spirit descending on someone and remaining on him, then he would know that this was the one who was coming to baptise in the Holy Spirit. Now John declares that he has seen and therefore testifies that this is the Son of God (1.34). The title ‘Son of God’ is stridently rejected by Muslims, but in most Islam-influenced languages various things are described as ‘the son of’ something – e.g. in Indonesian and Malay a key is literally called ‘the son of a lock’, an arrow is ‘the son of a bow’, a finger’s digit is ‘the son of the finger’, the crew of a ship or plane is the son(s) of that ship or plane. So Muslims shouldn’t really be scandalised by this title. What then does it really signify? In human cultures we always hope that our sons and daughters will bring us honour and will also be like us, ‘chips off the old block’. Jesus was indeed entirely like his Father in heaven, so is described as ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1.3); when we see him, we see the Father. He also brings glory to the Father, revealing him beautifully and perfectly. He is indeed the perfect and unique Son of God.
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In baptising people with water John’s aim was that Jesus might be revealed to Israel (John 1.31). In the New Testament, witness to Jews remains central in mission. We need to pray and work to encourage our churches and fellow believers to include Jewish mission in their prayers, financial giving and witness.
In John’s Gospel there is not much mention of sin or salvation from sin. John is generally more interested in Jesus’ gift of new life as we come by faith to a personal knowledge of God through and in Jesus. For John the life-giving resurrection of Jesus stands at the heart of the Gospel, the good news. But 1.29 stands as an exception to this general rule. In Jesus we have the final and supreme sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away all the sin of the world – not just of Israel, but indeed of all the world. As John again uses the word ‘world’ we are reminded of John’s bold, italics and underlined four-fold repetition of ‘world’ in 1.9/10. By his atoning death on the cross Jesus has borne the sin of all the world. He has paid the price and won for us all total cleansing of our sin. The resurrection gift of new life is indeed preceded by redemption from sin by his death on the cross. Good news indeed!
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So let us follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist, testifying to the supreme greatness of Jesus and witnessing to Jews and to all the world.
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P.S. Elizabeth and I have just returned home from a great weekend with the Interserve Board, staff and workers in Britain. Elizabeth spoke twice and I did the five main talks. The conference was held in the context of Interserve’s determination to renew the forms of mission in the light of our changing and changed world. Thank you so much if you were praying for us all over the weekend. God answered prayer and we had a truly good time.
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