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Such Faith! John 11.17-37

Such Faith! John 11.17-37

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Imagine the scene! The little village of Bethany is under two miles away from Jerusalem, an easy walk. So, when Lazarus died and was buried, crowds of people from Jerusalem came out to Bethany and crowded round his grieving sisters, Martha and Mary. It is into this situation of much wailing and tears that Jesus comes.
Having somehow heard that Jesus was coming (in the Greek it is a present tense – “Jesus is coming” – which may convey a sense of anticipation and excitement), Martha goes out of the village to meet him. She greets him with the words, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11.21), repeated by Mary when she meets Jesus (11.32). Had Martha and Mary been discussing with some criticism Jesus’ delay in coming? But any sense of criticism quickly gives way to an expression of Martha’s faith (11.22).
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Martha’s faith


1. “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (11.22). Martha has that assurance that Jesus in his oneness with the Father has immediate access. Such perfect love and unity of spirit exists between Jesus and his Father that he can ask his Father for whatever he wants and the Father so trusts him that he will certainly grant it. So Martha still has the faith to believe that even now Jesus can do something wonderful to help.
We too can have that same confidence. Still today Jesus is “at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8.34). In this passage Paul assures us that God will “graciously give us all things” (Romans 8.32). How amazing it is to know that Jesus brings our needs to his Father, prays to the Father for us and the Father will assuredly grant his requests! These brilliant words of Paul match the constant promises of God in John’s Gospel that whatever we ask in Jesus’ name will be granted to us (e.g. John 14.13/14) – of course our prayers must be “in Jesus’ name”, suited to his character and will.
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2. Jesus follows Martha’s words of faith by assuring her that “your brother will rise again” (11.23). Although in those days belief in the final resurrection was highly controversial, Martha boldly affirms her confidence that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day”.  In his wonderful response Jesus gives us the tremendous “I am” statement, “I am the resurrection and the life”. In the context we might have expected “I am the resurrection”, but once again (as so often in John’s Gospel) Jesus also affirms that he is “the life”. Jesus has  the fullness of life and also eternal life in himself. So he declares that all who “believe in him will live”. In the stark context of Lazarus’ death no wonder that Jesus feels the need to ask Martha whether she really believes this (11.26).
3. Martha’s reply challenges us too. What sure faith she had in Jesus! 11.27 almost sounds like a credal statement.
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a)  “I believe (the Greek perfect tense means a past action that is still on-going) that you are the Christ”. Throughout Israel’s history the promise of a coming liberator remained in the hearts of God’s people. Then in the days of suffering under the oppressive and pagan rule of Rome this hope rose to the surface with a strong political interpretation. False messiahs dogged the history of Israel at that time. But Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah comes in the context of him being the Resurrection and the Life. He is God’s anointed servant who brings his followers both into resurrection life here on earth and that eternal life in which “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11.26).
b) “The Son of God”. Already in the New Testament this title for Jesus was beginning to express the divine nature of Jesus as God incarnate. But in the Old Testament it had not yet developed this understanding. The expression “Son of God” did not yet express divinity. Thus Israel was known as God’s children, but there was no thought of Israel as somehow divine. So what did it imply? In those days it was expected that a son should be like the father and should bring honour to the father. Adam and Eve were created to be in the very image and likeness of God, but sadly their sin negated God’s purpose for them as his children. They no longer showed forth the likeness of their Father in heaven, nor did they bring honour to him. So God called Abraham and his children to fulfil that calling. Thus Israel as God’s children should reflect the perfect holy nature of the Creator and their national and family lives should bring him honour among the nations. Sadly Israel has failed, but Jesus as the perfect Israelite and perfect son of Abraham has fully lived as the perfect and only true son of God. In his life he reflects the very image of God, being perfectly like his Father in heaven. He also brings glory and honour to his Father. Jesus alone actually is truly and gloriously the Son of God, demonstrating this by perfectly fulfilling a son’s calling.
United with Jesus as his children we are now called to live the life of Jesus as the adopted children of God. Both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus are now called to be true children of God (John 1.12/13). Sadly the history of God’s church and our own personal lives move us to confession of our failure to live as God’s children, showing forth the very character of our Father in the holiness of our lives and so living that people around us honour and glorify our God.
A right understanding of the title “Son of . . . ” has become vitally important in our times because of our Muslim neighbours’ strong rejection of Jesus as the Son of God. It is perhaps helpful to them to explain that the title “Son of . . . ” does not necessarily signify literally a baby born physically. Thus in the Indonesian language the digit of a finger is literally “the son of a finger”, an arrow is “the son of a bow”, a key is “the son of a lock”, the crew of a ship or plane is literally “the son of a ship or plane”. No Indonesian would ever think of taking these words literally! Unfortunately, the only English equivalent is the old defamatory accusation “you son of a bitch!” Of course this was never meant literally! So we need to explain the background understanding of the title “Son of God” in the Christian faith.
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c) “who was to come into the world”. In John’s Gospel Jesus repeatedly underlines the fact that he had been with the Father, came down into the world and would return to the presence of his Father in glory. Martha has come to understand that Jesus fulfils the calling of the Christ/Messiah in coming into the world. From all eternity he was with the Father in glory, but now has condescended to come down to this world as a human being.
We may notice yet again the word “world” which is so characteristic of John’s Gospel. Already in John 1.9/10 it is repeated four times to underline its absolute central importance in the message of this Gospel.
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As we saw in our blog on the Prologue in John 1, the word “world” comes in the context of Jesus giving light to”all people” who believe, to “everybody”. He has come not only for his own Jewish people, but for “all” who receive him and believe in his name (John 1.12). Even in those early days, Martha’s faith has widened to include the fact that Jesus as the Messiah had come not only for her Jewish people, but also for “the world”. What a rebuke for those of us whose gaze is firmly fixed on our own country and people only!
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Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”

Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”

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Thank you so much to all of you who prayed for us while I was in Singapore. I had felt a bit anxious about leaving Elizabeth for just over two weeks, but she did excellently and continues to regain health and strength. The consultant has even allowed her to apply to get her driving license back which is so encouraging. Wheels turn slowly with English bureaucracy, so patience is required.
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Singapore is an amazing city which makes London look a bit slow and dingy. The over 300 churches also flourish and grow apace. I was invited by the Bible Church where we served as new missionaries back in 1960 – and I stayed with a delightful couple, the wife having been in my Bible class in those early days. It was so good meeting again so many old friends. The Bible Church has a superb new building, but still has to have five Services each weekend to cater for their people. While in Singapore I also did some teaching in Covenant Evangelical Free Church, with which we have associated in more recent years. They have some 6,000 active members and a passion for overseas mission. All very exciting. It was most heart-warming to note the response to my teaching. And lots of people talked with me and took me out to superb Chinese meals. I took with me large numbers of our books, but they all sold during my first weekend!
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“Jesus loved them” – John 11.1-16

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What a build-up to the climactic miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead! In contrast with the previous verse (10.42) in which “many believed in Jesus there”, 11.1 states that “someone was ill, Lazarus from Bethany”; so his sisters sent to Jesus, saying “the one you love is ill” (11.3); Jesus responds that “this illness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” and so he “remained two days in the place where he was” (11.6). Then he says to his disciples, “let us go again to Judea”. The disciples knew only too well the dangers that awaited them in Judea (11.8). After a brief word about walking in the light, Jesus tells his disciples that “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going in order to wake him up” (11.11), but Jesus was really meaning that Lazarus was dead and he would bring him to a new resurrection life. Jesus’ purpose is “that they might believe” (11.14). And this passage concludes with Thomas’ bold words, “Let us go too, that we may die with him” (11.16). These words of Thomas have inspired and challenged Christians to sacrificial service of Jesus ever since.

Love (11.3, 5 and 11)


John’s Gospel underlines the wonder of love, revealing the most perfect of intimate relationships. The Father loves the Son and Jesus loves his Father. This divine love comes down to us in this world because “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (3.16). God’s love reaches out not only to the world, to all nations (3.16), but also personally and individually to his disciples (e.g. 21.7). This love then extends out to us as his followers today. As we richly enjoy his heart-warming love, we are commanded also to love the Lord, to rest in his love (15.10) and to love one another (15.12).
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In 11.3 and 11 (the word translated “friend” has the same stem as “love”) we observe Jesus’ close relationship of love with Lazarus. This love becomes doubly evident when Jesus joins in Mary’s grief and tears (11.33). His deep love comes across in the starkly brief verse, “Jesus wept”. Seeing Jesus’ tears people noted how much Jesus loved Lazarus (11.36). In John 11.5 John then uses an even stronger and more emotional word to denote Jesus’ love not only for Lazarus, but also for his two sisters. We too may revel in the warmth of Jesus’ perfect love for us. John also reminds his readers how Mary in return loved Jesus, poured costly perfume on him and wiped his feet with her hair (11.2).
It is noteworthy that in John’s Gospel the final resurrection appearance of Jesus stresses the central importance of love. Three times Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him. In the first two times Jesus uses the stronger word for ‘love’, while Peter with his sense of failure and shame replies with the weaker verb, “You know that I love you”. Finally Jesus adapts his question and uses the weaker verb for ‘love’, but now Peter uses a richer word for ‘you know’, although he still can only bring himself to use the weaker verb for ‘love’. So Peter comes to a greater humility before the Lord and, at the same time, a deeper sense of Jesus’ all-perceptive understanding of him.
Walk in the light (11.9/10)
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Knowing how the Jewish leaders had tried to stone him when he had been in Judea before, Jesus faces the pressing question of his disciples, “Will you go there again?” (11.8). In response Jesus intimates that he walks in the light and therefore he cannot fall from God’s perfect purposes for him. He states the general truth that there are twelve hours of daylight and those who walk in that daylight will not stumble. They (and he himself) will not stumble, “because he sees the light of this world” (11.9). Of course we think back to Jesus’  declaration that he himself is the light of the world (8.12), the one who gives light to everyone in the whole world (1.9).
This more Jesus-centred understanding of these words about walking in the light becomes acceptable when we read of those who walk by night that “the light is not in him” (11.10). Like Jesus as he faces the dangers of Judea, we too can walk in quiet confidence as we have Jesus, the light of the world, in us.

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Finally, let me now encourage you to look again at my blogs on John 11 in the “Archives” at the right of your screen! In the blogs of September and October 2016 you will find an exposition of Jesus’ words about God’s glory and the glory of Jesus through the death of Lazarus (11.4). You will also see an explanation of the word translated “clearly/plainly” in 11.14.

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Happy New Year!

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Please forgive me that I am not writing a blog on John this week, but would like to share more personally. And I fly to Singapore on the 10th for a fortnight’s teaching and preaching, so I won’t write blogs while I am away – so sorry! Meanwhile I hope you have all enjoyed a really good Christmas and celebrated the New Year, looking back over the past year of the Lord’s gracious care and goodness as well as looking ahead to this new year of his grace and fatherly provision.

Elizabeth
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To those of you who have been praying for Elizabeth, thank you so much. Having had a CT scan just before Christmas, Elizabeth saw the consultant on Jan. 4th. We came home afterwards with much praise in our hearts. The haematoma is entirely cleared up on the one side of her head and much reduced on the right side. The consultant expects that it will probably be absorbed on that side too before her next appointment in two months’ time. Elizabeth is steadily regaining strength physically and mentally, although she is still a bit limited and needs to rest quite a lot. Yesterday evening she went to her church home group for the first time since her accident in July and she survived it well. A further sign of real progress.

Singapore

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I have been invited to Singapore by the church (the Bible Church) which we served as new missionaries back in 1960(!). They have asked for some teaching sessions for their anniversary as well as weekend preaching – they now have three parallel Services to cater for all their people. I shall be staying with a lady who was in my Bible Class back in 1960; we have kept in touch ever since.

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While in Singapore I have also been invited to do some teaching in the large Evangelical Free church with which we have related in more recent years. Covenant EFC has some 6,000 active members and a real passion for overseas mission. They tithe all their income for mission overseas and aim (not yet achieved!) for the day when they will also tithe their membership for mission, sending 600 workers at any one time. Their recently retired missions secretary came to All Nations for study on biblical and cross-cultural mission, and they have adapted our 10-week En Route course for training their workers.
While I am away Elizabeth will have the first and last few days at home on her own, but will have a week or so in the middle staying with our son Andrew and family in Greenwich. They will look after her wonderfully and she looks forward to having more time with their three girls and being Granny.

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God’s Son – from the Father (John 10.32-42)

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What an appalling misunderstanding! When Jesus declared that he and the Father are one (10.30), the Jewish leaders wanted to stone him. Why? Pointing out that he had shown them many lovely works from the Father, Jesus asks them which work they wanted to stone him for (10.32). Failing to pick up Jesus’ consistent teaching that his works come from the Father, they accuse him of blasphemy. They assume wrongly that Jesus is just a mere human, but that he is seeking to make himself God – whereas in fact, he is God who became human. This upside-down misunderstanding and accusation remains common today, particularly from Muslims. In John’s Gospel Jesus constantly affirms that he was with the Father in heaven and was then sent by the Father from heaven into this world. God became a human being. It is a total misunderstanding to think that Jesus was a mere man trying to make himself divine. Jesus came from heaven and likewise his miraculous works come from the Father in heaven.
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Jesus calls his Father’s works ‘lovely’ (10.32 NIV ‘great’, KJV ‘good’, Greek ‘kalos’ = lovely/beautiful). And so they are! What beautiful works of love and grace he did in raising the dead, healing the sick, delivering the demon-possessed, feeding the Jewish and Gentile crowds, stilling the storm and the waves! No wonder he is called ‘the lovely (Greek ‘kalos’ again) shepherd’!
Judaism, as also Islam, is strictly based on the doctrine of monotheism, one indivisible God. The Hebrew word commonly used today for ‘one’ in reference to God, as also the Arabic Tawhid in Islam, deny any possibility that the oneness of God can have several constituent parts. This outlaws the Christian concept of Trinity, one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but still together one God. However, in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) the word for ‘one’ allows for plurality within the unity. So in God’s angelic appearances in the Old Testament a plurality is hinted at.
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Within the traditional Jewish belief in one God only, Jesus affirms that he is set apart as God’s very own and sent into the world (10.36). And he underlines that his works are also the Father’s (10.37). So he maintains that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10.38). Then, as the history of the church developed, Christians had to struggle to understand such clear claims to eternal divinity together with the Father. Maintaining the fundamentally vital truth that God is one, the wonderful reality of the Trinity emerged and became central to the Christian faith.
In John 10 was Jesus claiming to be a second God alongside Yhwh/Elohim? Or was he aiming to replace Yhwh/Elohim and be himself the one God? What were the Jewish leaders meaning when they accused him of claiming to be God?
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Jesus denies any such terrible suggestions by quoting Psalm 82.6 where the Psalmist calls all the people of Israel ‘gods’ and ‘sons of the Most High’ – and Jesus (slightly with tongue in cheek?) reminds the Jewish leaders that the Scriptures cannot be broken! To Jews of that time the expression ‘son of God’ may not have always carried any divine significance. A son of God will have the character and nature of his Father. He will also bear the responsibility of bringing honour to his Father, obeying him and doing his works. This was the call of Israel. God’s covenant with them demanded that they should be like him in all his holiness, obey his revealed Word and bring him glory and honour. Sadly Israel has consistently failed to fulfill this calling, but Jesus is sent by the Father to be the perfect Israelite and thus the uniquely perfect Son of God. He does the Father’s works and they are lovely indeed.
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Psalm 82 climaxes with the declaration that “all the nations are your inheritance”. John and also his readers will have known that. In their response to Jesus’ words they will have immediately noticed the connection with Jesus’ assertion that he was “sent into the world” (10.36), not just to Israel and his own people. Of course this universality is a key theme throughout John’s Gospel.
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So the challenge came to the Jewish leaders to believe in Jesus. If they could not believe just in him himself, at least they should believe his works and so come to believe that “the Father is in me and I in the Father” (10.38). This is indeed the fundamental purpose of John’s Gospel: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20.31).


Sadly in Jerusalem they still rejected Jesus and tried again to seize him. But when he escaped them and withdrew across the Jordan to where John the Baptist had prepared the way, “many people came to him” (10.41) because they recognised that John the Baptist’s words about Jesus were true – truth finally bears fruit.

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Christmas Greetings

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Dear friends,

Some of you will have already received our Christmas letter, but others will not have seen it. It comes to you all with our best wishes for a truly happy Christmas and the Father’s rich blessings throughout 2019.

My father died five months before I was born, so I have no background knowledge of a father. On the other hand, Elizabeth’s father was a wonderful person who Elizabeth loved and looked up to. This year we have both grown in our appreciation of God as our heavenly Father who loves us, cares for us, provides for us and protects us. And he is “our Father in heaven”, so he has the power to fulfil all a true father’s desires and purposes. At Christmas we remember again the coming of Jesus, sent by the Father to make the Father known to us. Through Jesus we can know and relate closely with our heavenly Father. What good news!

Elizabeth

Since July we have been specially grateful that we have God as our heavenly Father. Elizabeth took our daughter Margaret’s Labrador dog for a walk, it spotted a fox, darted after it and pulled Elizabeth over. As a result she developed sub-dural haematoma (blood in the skull) with the ever-present danger of a stroke as she has had to come off warfarin. She is getting stronger, the skull blood is reducing and we very much hope in the New Year that she will be back to normal. Meanwhile we rely very much on our Father in heaven, and are grateful for your prayers.

Speaking and preaching

Our Father knew in advance that with Elizabeth’s situation I should not be away too much. So the diary until July was pleasantly full with a good range of engagements in different churches, retreats and conferences. But since July the diary has been very light. In March Interserve had a special weekend conference for their staff and workers at which they asked me to be the speaker.

The theme allowed me to share my current hobby-horse that our evangelical ‘Gospel’ has been too Pauline and related to salvation from sin (few people today have a sense of sin). I feel strongly that John’s message of life, life abundant and eternal life relates better for our contemporary society. When people learn to worship the all-holy God, then they will appreciate better Paul’s message of redemption and justification.

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Two visits to Scotland also stand out specially. Dornoch in the north (near Inverness) and Banchory (near Aberdeen) both gave us a warm welcome and we much enjoyed ministry in churches there. In Dornoch Elizabeth had the joy of meeting an old school friend who she had not seen for 65 years! In Banchory we were hosted and treated royally by the Brodies, warm-hearted ex-All Nations friends (a big thank-you to them).

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We very much appreciated a week in Chichester in February for Chichester Baptist Church. It was encouraging to see this large church flourishing and growing. While there we also taught one day at Moorlands Bible College and another day with Friends International. How good too to meet up with Sir Richard Jolly who had been with Elizabeth back in 1957 when her brother John led an exploratory trip to determine which route Hannibal took over the Alps. Thank-you to our good friends, Mike and Celia Askwith (also ex-All Nations), for arranging that fascinating day at their home by the sea together with a nice swim. Mike’s father was the officer in charge of the inter-service Russian course where I trained as a naval interpreter in Russian.

Overseas travel

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This year there have only been two overseas trips. The first was a lovely week’s holiday in Teneriffe. The second was my usual annual trip to Norway. I started in Trondheim at the Ga Ut Senteret, a mission training school that was much influenced by the All Nations model at first. I have taught at this school every year since it started some 35 years ago and always enjoy being there. This visit I had just two days teaching, giving eight lectures plus having times with the students. Then I flew down to Oslo for two days’ lecturing at the Fjellhaug theological college. After the second day’s lecturing our very good friend Nora Gimse picked me up and we had a delightful dinner together with two of her sons and their wives plus one baby grandchild. It was such a joy to be back together with them. Nora then drove me back to her home in Porsgrunn where she is the Free Lutheran minister. It was, as always, a special joy to be with Nora and her husband Per (who bravely copes with advanced MS) as well as her parents who live two minutes’ walk away. It has been with Nora and her father that Elizabeth and I have had our China visits.

While I was away in Norway, Elizabeth stayed with our son Andrew and his family. They welcomed her so lovingly and cared for her, so I felt very much at ease leaving her.

Other ministries

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1)    All Nations  Living so close to the college, it is a privilege still to have close relations with All Nations although it is now 24 years since we left the full-time staff. But they still call us ‘Associate Lecturers’ and we much enjoy teaching a couple of mornings each term on their 10-week En Route course. This is such a brilliant course and I would recommend it warmly to anyone wanting to be involved in anything cross-cultural.

We much enjoy welcoming students coming down to our house for coffee and chat. This also helps keep us more up-to-date on other countries – just recently we have had visits from Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Norway.

Approximately once a month a small group of former All Nations lecturers gathers together to pray for the college and for each other. We also always take some relevant subject to discuss together. These are such good times of friendship and fellowship.

 

2)    Local Church  We continue to be very much involved with our village parish  church. Normally Elizabeth leads Services and preaches regularly, but of course just at present that has to be on hold. I am allowed to preach four times a year. Elizabeth is responsible for preparing young couples who want their children ‘welcomed’ or baptised – a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with them. On Thursday mornings we much appreciate an informal coffee morning with no fixed agenda in our local garden centre. This plays a significant part in helping some of us to get to know each other so much more closely.

Sadly the church has declined considerably, but Elizabeth and I very much enjoy the friendship and fellowship of the other church members.

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3)    Blogs  Feeling that the message of John’s Gospel is more relevant to contemporary society than the traditional Pauline ‘Gospel’, I wanted to do a fresh study of John. Of course I had read and studied this Gospel so often before. It seemed good therefore  just to use the Greek and only refer to English translations and commentaries just before writing my blogs. My aim is to avoid my previously rather traditionally western and Gentile view of John’s Gospel. In this way God’s Word has come to me with an exciting freshness and I have become more than ever convinced that we need today to reemphasize John in our understanding and communication of ‘the Gospel/good news’.

I owe a real debt to Richard Harvey, a good friend and leading Jewish scholar, who persuaded me to write these weekly blogs on John (martingoldsmith.wordpress.com) and who now adds the illustrations and posts them for me. It is such a joy to get emails and other feedback from various countries and to know that some 350 people follow them each week as well as all those who just ‘access’ them. May the Holy Spirit use these blogs for his glory and to encourage, stimulate and challenge many who read them!

Family

As we get older, we appreciate even more the enormous privilege of having such a loving family. And with Elizabeth’s illness they have all been tremendous in loving care and concern. Andrew continues his work in the City and his three girls are growing up so attractively and doing very well at school. Margaret now works more and more with Aberkyn, teaching on leadership and relations with top business leaders. Wonderfully, Chloe can now work three days a week, and progress after her major brain tumour operation two years ago is steady but slow. We are deeply grateful to God for the amazing recovery she has experienced. James has completed his studies and now has a good job. Our younger daughter Ruth is now in leadership with Tear Fund and travels widely, speaking at various conferences all over Britain and overseas. Her Mali has just finished school and is now beginning her gap year before starting at university. Jemba continues at school and is developing into a lovely young lady.

We much look forward to hearing from so many of you over Christmas.

Happy Christmas and our best wishes for the Father’s rich gift of abundant life in 2019,

Martin and Elizabeth

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In my Father’s name (John 10.22-30)

In my Father’s name (John 10.22-30)

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I started writing these blogs when my study of John’s Gospel had already reached John Chapter 10. So you may find it helpful to refer to earlier blogs while also using the current ones. Thus in August 2016 I wrote a blog about John 10 which you will find in the ‘Archive’ list on the right-hand side of the screen.
Jews have just finished celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication and of Lights. Happy Hanukkah! Two thousand years ago Jesus came to Jerusalem at Hanukkah (10.22) and walked about in the temple. The Greek word used for ‘Hanukkah’/’Dedication’ literally means ‘renewal’. How significant! This chapter of teaching comes between Jesus giving sight to the blind in Chapter 9 and his raising the dead Lazarus to new life in Chapter 11! In this Hanukkah season let us dedicate our lives anew to the Messiah!
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Are you the Messiah? (10.24)
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“If you are the Messiah, tell us boldly” (10.24), the Jews demand. For the meaning of the word ‘boldly’ please refer to our previous blog on John 7 which is dated September 2018. Are the Jews questioning whether Jesus is so convinced of his call as Messiah that he will have the courage/boldness to declare it?
In John 10.24 an unusual expression is used for ‘keep in suspense’; literally it means ‘take away our life’. Was John’s use of this expression hinting at the sad fact that they didn’t believe and therefore they would suffer judgment and fail to attain life? What a contrast with the life-giving work of Jesus!
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Jesus’ sheep (10.27-29)
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In answer to the Jewish leaders’ demand, Jesus points out that he had told them, but they didn’t believe (10.25/26). Perhaps he had not told them verbally, but his works made it abundantly clear that he was indeed the Messiah. He then returns to his previous theme of the good shepherd, declaring that their lack of faith stems from the fact that they are not from among his sheep. In 10.27-29 Jesus follows this with a glorious sequence – his sheep hear his voice, he knows and relates to them, they follow him, he gives them eternal life, they will never perish even into eternity, no-one shall snatch them from his hand. Each phrase should elicit tremendous rejoicing and deserves our  careful meditation. The list contains six phrases; it might be good to concentrate on one each day during the next week.
Much debate has arisen from the assurance of the final phrase. ‘Once saved, always saved’ became a slogan among more traditional Reformed Christians who used these words to support a strong doctrine of predestination. In verse 29 Jesus reminds his hearers that our Father is greater than all other forces, so we can trust him not to allow Satan or his agents to plunder us out of his hand. His hold on us is so strong.
Our Reformed friends some times fail to notice that the previous verse has the verb translated ‘perish’ in a more reflexive form which literally means ‘release/dismiss themselves’. Even into eternity Jesus’ sheep will not release themselves from his gift of eternal life. The threat to our continuing salvation lies not only with external powers, but also within ourselves. Neither by our own sinful neglect or rejection of Jesus, nor by the demonic power of Satan and his agents can Jesus’ sheep be separated from Jesus and his Father. Hallelujah!
Somehow, however, this heart-warming assurance has to be brought together with the so-called ‘warning passages’ in Hebrews (e.g. Hebrews 6.4-6). While the spiritually unsure will rejoice and be strengthened by the promises of John 10, those who are in danger of undue self-confidence may need the threat of the warning passages.
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The Messiah and the Father (10.25, 30)
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Is Jesus the Messiah? Does he have the right to see himself as the lovely (see the August 2016 blog) shepherd? In answer, Jesus testifies that all his miraculous and loving works of healing are done in the Father’s name. He does not act alone or glorify himself. He does the works of the Father in the Father’s name. All he does reflects the nature of the Father and fulfills the Father’s will and purpose. As a result, Jesus just assumes that his sheep don’t only live in secure relationship with him, but are also in the Father’s hand. And no-one can prise open the strong hand of the Father, so Jesus’ sheep can go in and out of his sheepfold with security.
As the climax to all this teaching, these thoughts lead on to the vital statement, “I and the Father are one”. The word ‘one’ is in the neuter = ‘one thing’. Is Jesus basically thinking of his own works and miracles being really also the Father’s? All he does is the Father in action. Jesus’ wonderful doings are a manifestation of the Father. While the words “the Father and I are one” particularly relate to Jesus’ works, they would seem also to indicate a unity of nature and being. The Father and the Son together form a total oneness of relationship and essential being. In knowing Jesus, we know the Father; in worshiping Jesus, we worship the Father; in trusting and believing in Jesus, we come to the Father. Jesus is therefore the unique and perfect way to the Father.
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Life Abundant (John 10.10)

Life Abundant (John 10.10)
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Right at the heart of the passage for last week’s blog comes Jesus’ vital promise that a main purpose of Jesus’ coming is that his people might have life and have it abundantly (10.10). As we have already noted again and again, John’s Gospel frequently asserts that Jesus is in himself the resurrection and the life. He is not only the way and the truth, but also the life (14.6). Already in the Prologue John states that ‘In him was life and that life was for all humanity’ (1.4). Now John goes one step further and declares that we should possess and enjoy that life of Jesus ‘more abundantly’.

盜賊來,無非要偷竊、殺害、毀壞;我來了,是要叫羊得生命,並且得的更豐盛。

Due to our various cultural backgrounds and our own personal failure, we all fail to experience and live out the fullness of this perfect ‘abundant life’. For example, traditional British culture pushes many of us into a fundamental negativity. The weather is always too wet or too hot! Refectory food is always disgusting! The inadequacies of the church and its leadership take precedence in our thought over their good qualities. When asked how we are, the traditional answer has been at best “o.k., thanks”, if we are doing well. Happily, more modern English has moved and now we reply, “Good, thanks”. ‘Good’ is definitely more positive than just “o.k.” In the Bible ‘good’ describes the very nature of God himself – “God is good”. When God looked therefore at his creation, he pronounced that it was ‘good’. So, although people may not be aware of its significance, when we say that we are ‘good’, we are actually declaring that our lives are reflecting the abundant resurrection life of God himself!

ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ· ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν.

When the Father raised the dead body of Jesus to new resurrection life on earth, Jesus came into all the joys and glories of what we as human beings were originally created for. God created us in his own image. Amazingly, John’s Gospel declares that we have (present tense) this life of Christ, but of course we very much need to grow in it and we shall only attain it fully in eternity. Through faith and trust in Jesus, therefore, we are joined with Jesus and are now called to share the wonder of his perfect life. ‘Life abundant’ is very much an under-statement! How glorious to start on that life which knows no sin or blemishes! And we delight in that growing intimacy of loving relationship with Jesus and his Father. Such union with God results also in a loving fellowship between us as Christians, for we are now sisters and brothers together in God’s beautiful family. So Jesus brings us into the palace of his sheepfold and he goes before us as our guide and companion as we follow him out into the world to graze and to engage in mission. All this ‘life abundant’ is made available to us because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Wonderful! Hallelujah!
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“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters”(Psalm 23.1/2).
Jesus announces, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full ” (John 10.10).
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“I am the gate; I am the good shepherd” (John 10.1-21)

“I am the gate; I am the good shepherd” (John 10.1-21)
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As we move from John 9 with its emphasis on the blind seeing, Jesus changes the metaphor. With an everyday agricultural picture he contrasts a true shepherd with a mere hireling. At first he just paints the picture without applying it spiritually at all. But his listeners failed totally to understand what he was telling them (10.6).
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The false shepherd (10.1, 5, 12/13)

Jesus underlines three points in his description of the thief and the hireling who is looking after sheep which are not his own.
a) The true shepherd will always enter the sheepfold openly through the gate. But anyone who climbs in over the wall will be not only a common thief, but also a ‘robber’ (10.1). The word used here for ‘robber’ conveys a sense of violence, describing men such as Barabbas (18.40), the bandits in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and the two men who were crucified with Jesus (Matthew 27.38). Beware people who will not use the proper entry gate! In John 10.7 Jesus describes himself as “the gate for the sheep”, so be very careful of anyone who refuses Jesus as the way into the sheepfold!
b) However much the thief may pretend to be a shepherd, the sheep will not accept him (10.5). They know their true shepherd and will refuse the call of the thief. They will not ‘follow’ him. In the Gospels ‘follow’ signifies true faith and commitment to Jesus. His original call to his disciples was “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4.19). In following Jesus, we come to believe and trust in him. This will lead to committed obedience, following his commands and example. However much the thief may call them to follow him, the sheep will not recognise his voice and will run away from him when he approaches them.
c) As the hireling does not own the sheep himself, he will not be willing to face danger in order to protect them. He suffers no loss if some of them are killed by a wolf. Faced with the danger of attack by a wolf, he will just run away and abandon the sheep. Unlike the true disciple, the hireling avoids all danger and suffering in service of his master and on behalf of the sheep and their welfare.
What a picture these three points give of Jesus as the door and as the good shepherd! What a contrast with false shepherds too!
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The sheepfold

In John 10 John does not use the common Greek word for a sheepfold which appears several times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Obviously meaning the sheepfold, Jesus refers to it with the word commonly translated ‘palace’. For the sheep their pen represents safety, comfort and general well-being. For them it is indeed like a palace. Evidently too they do not want to leave it and face the dangers outside where wild animals represent a very real threat. So Jesus says that the true shepherd leads the sheep out (10.3) and ‘when he has led them out, he walks before them’ (10.4). Literally in 10.4 Jesus ‘throws out’ his sheep and then reassuringly walks ahead of them. This rather violent word for ‘lead/throw out’ in 10.4 is used also of God sending/throwing out labourers into his harvest field (Matthew 9.38). Just as the sheep may not want to leave the palace of their pen, so also Christians may prove reluctant to leave their comfort zones and venture out into the harvest fields of mission. So God’s Spirit has to flex his olympian muscles and throw them out! In secular speech this same strong verb was used of throwing smelly rubbish as far as possible from your house – no public works men collected rubbish in those days! I am of course not suggesting that Christian workers can in any way be paralleled to smelly rubbish!
In the sheepfold it may feel like a palace to the sheep, but actually they needed to go outside for pasture. Likewise for Christians we need to leave our Christian bubbles and our comfort zones if we are to develop our spiritual muscles and grow. Jesus also declares that he has “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (10.16). In the vitally significant context of Jesus laying down his life in sacrifice and then resuming life through his resurrection, we are here reminded of Jesus’ purpose that reaches out not only to his own Jewish ‘sheep’, but also to others. As Jesus’ followers we inherit his longing to gather in the multitudes of all peoples everywhere that they may join us as ‘one flock with one shepherd’ (10.16). Jewish and Gentile sheep, Christians of every nation and people, share the same one shepherd and form together the one church of God.
The Door and the Good Shepherd
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a) The door (10.7)
Only through Jesus should we seek to enter into life. Those who try, without Jesus, to gain entrance into God’s people and his church  turn out to be false in their life and ministry. On the other hand, Jesus assures us that those who come through him “will be saved” (10.9). Through Jesus and him alone God gives us true light and life. He alone saves us from every evil and delivers us from the baleful influence of the world around us. Even with ferociously hungry wild animals threatening us, we can know the shepherd’s safe-keeping. Only through Jesus can we truly enter the loving fellowship, life and teaching of the church sheepfold. And it is with him going before us that we can dare to move out into the mountainous and dangerous world.
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b) The good shepherd ((10.11/14)
Let us remind ourselves of what we have already noted. As the good shepherd Jesus confronts the dangers on our behalf, laying down his life for our salvation and then taking it up again in life-giving resurrection. In his position as our shepherd he knows us each one by name in a wonderfully intimate personal relationship. He graciously brings us into the glorious palace of his church and sheepfold, also leading us from in front when he drives us out of our comfort zones into the dangers of life in the world. He constantly speaks to us and we therefore know and recognise his voice. How important it is to have such a relationship with him that we can distinguish between his voice and the tempting voice of the Devil, that of our own desires or any false prophecies which may be shared with us. As we walk through life, Jesus goes before us to lead us into green pastures to graze and feed.
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Reactions

Once again the people are uncertain how to react to Jesus. Some accused him of being demon-possessed because his teaching seemed unacceptably radical. Others remembered how he had given sight to the man born blind. They observed that a demon could never open blind eyes (10.19-21). Teaching and preaching about Jesus stirs up opposite responses. In the fearful days of the Soviet Union I once asked an old lady how people reacted when she preached openly in the crowded buses. “But you know how people react! You know your Bible”, she replied. “What a stupid question! It is always the same – some believe and some don’t”. How true! So let us not be too worried if some reject our witness to Jesus, but rejoice in those who do come into faith and new life!
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With Jesus the blind shall see (John 9.13-41)

With Jesus the blind shall see (John 9.13-41)

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Thus far John 9 has concentrated on the actual miracle of Jesus giving sight to the blind man, and ordinary people’s response. John shows how some accepted the miracle while others doubted the veracity of it (9.8/9). So now they seek to settle the matter by bringing the blind man to the religious authorities, the Pharisees (9.13). With all their training in rabbinic studies and their knowledge of the Bible the Pharisees would surely know the truth!
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The Pharisees

Before the introduction of the Pharisees into the story no mention had been made that Jesus had worked his miraculous sign on the Sabbath. But with the Pharisees this immediately becomes the central issue (9.14). They did ask the formerly blind man how he had regained his sight, but then quickly came back to what was for them the key question, the Sabbath. They were not at all interested in the amazing life-giving and enlightening ministry of Jesus. They also failed to rejoice with the man born blind. What a life-transforming thrill that suddenly he could see!
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Of course they were absolutely right to teach and observe the Sabbath. Throughout Israel’s history the Sabbath had been the touch-stone of obedience to the revealed Word of the Lord and his commandments. True faith and holiness went together with observation of Sabbath. With the Oral Torah the Pharisees had however added various legalistic out-workings to the biblical command.
They were also entirely correct to live as Moses’ disciples (9.28/29), but sadly for them this went together with rejection of Jesus. They wanted to follow the Torah/Law as given through Moses, but did not believe in Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Moses to send another prophet like Moses with ‘God’s words in his mouth’ (Deuteronomy 18.15-19). They therefore failed to follow God’s command, “You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18.15).
So the Pharisees had a good foundation, but remained blind to anything beyond it. They were like someone who has learned their tables, but fails to see that mathematics has anything more to learn. They possessed a true and good foundation, but were blind to any possibility of building further on it.
Actually, like the ordinary people in 9.8/9, division ruled the day. Some reacted positively to Jesus’ miraculous sign, while others rejected it. Likewise some of the Pharisees rejected Jesus because he did the miracle on the Sabbath, while others saw that someone doing such miraculous signs could not possibly be just a sinner (9.16). The good news of Jesus as Lord demands a choice either of commitment to him or rejection.
The parents
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For further evidence concerning whether the man had really been born blind they now call his parents (9.18). With the parents a new element comes into the story – fear! The parents evidently understood the danger. Should they publicly declared that their son had indeed been born blind and had been  given sight by Jesus?  Is he therefore at least a prophet or even the long-awaited Messiah? Such a confession of faith in Jesus would lead to excommunication with all its fearful social and economic consequences. To save their own skin, they stuck to the basic facts and refused to say anything about their own reactions. Yes, they say, ‘this is our son, he was born blind and he can now see’. But they carefully hide any knowledge they may have gained about how their son could now see and who opened his eyes (9.20/21). Their son already stands in the firing line, so they pass the buck – “he is of age; he will speak for himself”. They were wise in the face of the danger of persecution, but they failed miserably to confess faith in Jesus. Those of us who live comfortably in countries with religious freedom must ask ourselves how we would react if faced with suffering for our faith. Even in Britain today we face the challenge of cynical hostility if we stand openly for commitment to Jesus and biblical truth. Are we willing for such rejection or do we follow the example of the blind man’s parents?
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The blind man

From time to time in these blogs John’s emphasis on gradual growth into faith and discipleship comes clearly into view. For example, Nicodemus moves from coming to Jesus secretly at night (3.2) to a somewhat hesitant questioning of the Pharisees’ hatred of Jesus (7.50/51). Then finally Nicodemus comes out definitely for Jesus as he publicly accompanies Joseph of Aramathea in Jesus’ burial (19.38-40). So likewise the blind man comes step by step into faith in Jesus. At first he knows he has been given sight, but he seems to know nothing about who it was who worked the miracle for him. John 9.1-12 concludes with the devastating words, “I don’t know”. Later he confesses that Jesus is a prophet (9.17) and opposes the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus is a sinner. He bravely adds that Jesus has been sent by God (9.30-33). Finally his eyes are opened to Jesus’ messianic claims and he declares, “Lord, I believe” and he fell on his knees before Jesus (9.35-38). In the process of his coming to definite faith, the formerly blind man suffers the Pharisees’ declaration of excommunication, but this does not deter him from confessing Jesus and worshiping him.
The blind and the seeing (9.40/41)

In our multi-cultural and multi-faith society Jesus’ words can easily be misunderstood. He is not attacking people who have a sure faith in him as the Son of God and Messiah, for he readily accepts the faith confession of the formerly blind man (9.38). His purpose in coming into this world is that the blind may begin to see (9.39). Jesus continually encourages people to believe in him with a sure faith. But as believers in Jesus we should never allow ourselves to sink into the stagnant rut where we proudly think we see and therefore no longer grow in our faith. The all-glorious God is far greater than anything we may already have apprehended. And the Word of God in the Scriptures contains riches and depths we have not yet fathomed. Our understanding of the Lord must always lack perfection, for as human-beings we inherit the corruption and inadequacies of all humanity. We also see the truth of the Lord through the eyes of our particular ethnic background and culture – and even British culture might just contain a modicum of sin and corruption!
Nevertheless we rejoice in the truth of what the Lord has revealed to us, while we still acknowledge our blindness. We desperately need Jesus’ Holy Spirit to grant true sight to our blind eyes, to correct us in our faith and to lead us forward in spiritual growth. So Jesus states that, “if you say that ‘we are seeing’, your sin remains.” But in contrast, Jesus says, ‘if you were blind, you would not have sin’.” What then should be our attitude in our multi-faith context? We should be characterised by assurance of truth, openness to correction and hunger for growth in faith and understanding.
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P.S. Christmas is coming! How about giving some of our books as presents this year? Do get hold of Elizabeth’s life story “God can be Trusted” and my most recent book “Storytelling”.

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Who sinned? (John 9.1-12)

The light of the world

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In Jesus’ verbal teaching in 8.12ff. he began with the key affirmation that he is “the light of the world” (8.12). Now in chapter 9 this verbal teaching is followed by visible teaching through the miracle of giving sight to the man born blind. This visible teaching also starts with the declaration that Jesus is the light of the world (9.5). Through our sin we are all blinded to the glorious hope of abundant and eternal life through Jesus. We all therefore need this same miracle whereby Jesus illuminates our minds and hearts. Indeed, our whole society struggles with rampant evils to which they have no adequate answers. How we long therefore that people in their multitudes would turn to Jesus in faith and trust him to bring light into our darkness! The call to evangelistic witness presses upon us.
The works of God (9.3-5)
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The word ‘must’ (9.4) underlines that in God’s work we are not presented with some voluntary option which we may chose to observe or ignore. The call of Almighty God and the desperate needs of people around us make God’s work absolutely compulsory. Like Jesus himself when he was sent to share God’s life and light with the Samaritan woman, we ‘must’ be able to say that our “food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (4.34). Doing his work is our ‘meat and drink’. Using the picture of day and night, Jesus foresees the time when the world will become so dark that any light-giving witness will become impossible. Already the writing is on the wall. Fierce persecution was already building up (e.g. 8.58, 9.22). So he urges his disciples that he and they together (note his use of “we” in 9.4) must bring his light to the world as long as day-light continues (9.4). Typically, Jesus desires to work with and through his disciples, rather than doing the work of God on his own.
Jesus gives sight to the blind (9.6-11)
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Speculation abounds as to why Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and anointed the blind man’s eyes. Was it to underline the spectacular nature of the miracle? Did it help the blind man believe that Jesus could actually heal him, although he had been blind from birth? We have to confess that we don’t know what was in Jesus’ mind.
While the mud and saliva came entirely from Jesus with no active participation from the blind man, washing in the pool of Siloam required the blind man’s obedience and faith. This reminds us of Elisha healing Naaman of his leprosy in 2 Kings 5. Naaman too was told to wash seven times in the River Jordan as the condition and means of his healing. Of course both Elisha and Jesus could have brought healing without Naaman or the blind man doing anything themselves, but they were very aware of the benefit that comes from our playing a small part in our healing. Our act of faith complements God’s supreme love and grace.
Why? Who sinned? (9.1-5)
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Even after already having walked with Jesus now for some time, the disciples’ theology remained sadly deficient. They assumed that suffering always has sin as its cause – and perhaps also that prosperity stems from faith and obedience.  Some times in the Old Testament history of Israel and throughout history God’s judgment may bring terrible suffering and God may honour his people’s faith and obedience with prosperity. But Jesus does not accept the simple formula:  suffering = sin, prosperity = faith. So, when the disciples ask Jesus whose sin lay behind the man’s blindness, Jesus strongly rejects any such theological belief system. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (9.3).

What then does lie behind the man’s blindness? With a stark “But” ((9.3) Jesus contrasts the disciples’ wrong understanding with God’s actual purpose. Jesus’ “so that” (9.3) shows that there is a divine purpose behind the man’s disability. It is “so that the works (plural) of God might be manifested (singular) in him”. Evidently the ‘works of God’ have a composite nature, all belonging together to one singular entity in the mind and will of God. In the context of John 8 and 9 all the works of God relate to Jesus’ function as the light of the world, bringing true enlightenment to the whole world.

Whereas in 8.12 we find a typical Johannine “I am” statement in the words “I am the light of the world”, here in 9.5 it comes within an ordinary sentence. Strangely, and in marked contrast, the blind man, faced with people’s uncertainty whether he is indeed the man who had been born blind, strikingly declares, “I am” (9.9). Normally in John’s Gospel the bold declaration “I am” is only found on Jesus’ lips. What then are we to understand by the blind man’s use of this divine title? Raymond Brown in his Anchor Bible commentary states unequivocally that “this is an instance of a purely secular use of the phrase”. D.A.Carson just translates the bald statement “I am” as “I am the man” and ignores the problem of its apparent divine claim. Quite possibly Brown and Carson are right not even to think of or consider any suggestion that the man born blind now adopts Jesus’ divine title because he is now healed and by faith united with Jesus, the perfect “I am”. But, in any case, the striking likeness to Jesus’ “I am” statements compels us to think seriously about it.

Conclusion
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When suffering afflicts us, we should firmly reject the ‘blame game’ which has become so common in our time. But the question “why?” springs easily into our minds and needs to be answered. In the case of this man born blind Jesus declares that his disability had the aim of manifesting the work of God. In our pain we need to ask ourselves how we can show forth the love, grace and enlightening glory of God through our attitudes and life. In the will of God our suffering never lacks purpose, however unjust and senseless it may appear to us.
“I am the light of the world” (John 8.12 and 9.5) – “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.14).
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