No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)

No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)

In Jesus Christ

How can we know that we are safely “in him” (2.5)? How can God’s love be fully experienced and evident in our lives (2.5)?
How can we be sure that we really do “know him” in genuine personal relationship (2.3)?
John addresses his letter to people who claim to be believers in Jesus. And he is concerned that their lives should match their profession of faith. How vitally important it is that we too should demonstrate the reality of our faith in lives of true holiness! John states this quite baldly, “I am writing these things to you in order that you may not sin” (2.1).  He goes on to explain what he has in mind when he talks of “sin”. He means that we must obey the commands of God which come to us by means of God’s Word (2.3-5) – how vital it is therefore that we soak ourselves in the Bible, so that we can live our lives in accordance with his Word! Those who claim to “abide in him” should follow Jesus, modelling our lives on his life. Just as he is loving and holy, so we too are called to mirror his sinless perfection in our daily lives (2.6).
John even says that our Christian assurance rests on the fact of our obedience to God’s commands (2.3). We recognise that we “know” the Lord and so have come into a living relationship with him if we “obey his commands”. If we don’t obey his Word and his truth does not live in us (truth/truly comes four times in these few verses. In John’s Gospel too he strongly stresses truth), then we are liars when we claim to know the Lord (2.4). We may note again the tremendous importance of obedience to God’s commands in his Word.
But what if . . . ?
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Having boldly declared that we should not sin any more (2.1), John realises immediately that actually none of us live perfectly without sin. So he straight away gives us the remedy, “If anyone does sin . . . “. The glorious truth shines out to warm and comfort our hearts, “We have an advocate to approach (pros/towards) the Father” (2.1). Before his cross, resurrection and ascension Jesus had promised that he would not desert them or leave them without his presence. He assured them that he would send them “another advocate/paraclete” (John 14.16). Now John reminds his readers that, like the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself is our advocate to bring us into the very glory of the Father despite our sin. The word ‘paraclete’ was normally used for an ‘advocate’ in legal court cases, not just a ‘comforter’ or ‘counsellor’ as in some translations of John 14.16.  So, Jesus represents us and pleads for our acceptance on the basis of his sacrificial death on the cross. John then uses a technical term which refers back to the old sacrificial system and which NIV rightly translates as “the atoning sacrifice” (2.2). Likewise KJV translates it as ‘propitiation’ which correctly carries the idea of placating the righteous anger of our holy God against sin. Both these translations convey the true sense of this word. In this context John points out that Jesus is “the Righteous One”, the perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish.
The fundamental nature of Jesus’ work on our behalf lies in his revelation of the Father to us. And he not only reveals the Father, but also covers our sin with his righteousness and prays for us. As we think of Jesus interceding for us, we can be confident that Martha was right in her faith-filled word to Jesus, “God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11.22). In our sin we cannot hope to stand before the all-holy God, but in and through the all-righteous Jesus’ prayers on our behalf we gain acceptance into relationship with the ever gracious almighty Father.

“For the whole world” (2.2)

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As Christians we always face the danger of becoming very self-centred – our faith, our salvation, our discipleship, our filling with the Spirit, our eternal life. And as Christian churches we can easily become ethnically narrow and inward-looking. So it was also for the 1st century church which John was relating to. Throughout the Old Testament times Israel had been uniquely ‘God’s people’. Now Jesus the Messiah with his disciples and followers were all Jews. How easy therefore to feel that Jesus had come only for his own Jewish people! Was Jesus’ atoning death only for Jews?
By the time John wrote his letters large numbers of Gentiles had also come to faith in Jesus and been joined to the fundamentally Jewish church. But it was still a debatable issue whether Gentiles should be accepted as equal members of Jesus’ church. Should the church remain a Jewish institution with a few Gentile proselytes and God-fearers grudgingly accepted on the fringes? Or should the church become an international movement, although its roots should of course always remain firmly Jewish?
It is in the context of this sort of debate that John affirms that the sacrificial death of Jesus as an atonement for sin was valid not just for our sins as Jews, “but also for the sins of the whole world” (2.2). Today too we need to be reminded that the message of Jesus’ cross should be proclaimed to Jew and Gentile, to all people and all nations everywhere. What a call to world mission! Does this world vision lie at the heart of our Christian life and as the fundamental purpose of our church?
The old commandment
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Following on from 2.1-6, Jesus told his disciples that he was giving them a new commandment (John 13.34). Actually it had its roots in the very beginning of human existence (2.7). Adam and Eve already at the outset of human history seem to have lived together in mutual love and harmony. So John declares that the command he is giving his readers originated “since the beginning” (2.7). As fellow disciples of Jesus and thus as sisters and brothers of each other, we are commanded to love one another. This command for Christians to love one another follows naturally from John’s emphasis on joyful fellowship in 1.3/4. Of course righteousness in obedience to God’s commands must include much more than just our love and fellowship as Christians together. But such love forms the foundation and lies at the heart of our life as Christians in his church. Loving our fellow believers is at the heart of what it means to ‘walk in the light’ (2.9-11).
How encouraging that John confidently asserts that the old loveless darkness “is passing and the true light is already shining” (2.8). The fulfilment of the commandment to love our fellow believers has begun to be evident not only in the life of Jesus himself, but also in the inter-relationship of the Christians John is writing for, “in him and you” (2.8). Failure to obey this command to love our fellow believers shows that we are still walking in darkness with the inevitable consequence that we will “stumble”. Because we are then walking in the dark, we will not know where our lives are heading (2.10/11). How common this is today – people eat in order to work and work in order to eat. Life can become terribly aimless, living only for the occasional intermittent pleasure activities. As is commonly said in our world today, “there must be more to life than what we’ve got”.
May we and our church show in our lives and by our loving fellowship that the true light is indeed already shining!
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P.S. For further Bible study I hope many of you will get hold of my books “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish eyes” (available through Jews for Jesus in London) and “Any Complaints? Blame God: God’s Message for today – Habakkuk the Prophet Speaks” (Authentic Media).(click on pics to purchase for 1p!)
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Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4

Fellowship and Joy – 1 John 1.1-4
John wrote his three letters later in the first century when he was an old man. He may well have felt that he was now one of the very few who had actually known Jesus in the flesh. He had lived with Jesus day by day, walking with him, eating with him, listening to him. So he emphasizes that he had seen Jesus “with our eyes” and “our hands have touched”. Amazing! What a tremendous privilege John had! 
With doubting Thomas Jesus had invited him to use his eyes to see the holes in his hands and to reach out his hand to touch the wound in his side. But then Jesus had told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20.29). John himself must have witnessed this exchange between Jesus and Thomas. Although therefore he marvels at his awesome privilege of having seen, heard, touched Jesus in the flesh, he knows well that God’s rich blessing fills all who relate intimately with Jesus by faith. We too rejoice in all that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ of Jesus. And John’s repetition of the reality of this personal experience of Jesus underlines its vital central importance in our life and witness as Christians. Our message is true!

Proclaim (1.2)
John not only repeats the fact that we have ‘seen’ and ‘heard’, but two other words stand out in this passage because they are repeated – “proclaim” and “in order that”.
As we have learned to expect from John, the primary emphasis in our witness is “concerning the word of life” (1.1). In John 1 God’s word is in fact Jesus himself and Jesus is also not only the source of life, but is actually himself “the life” (e.g. John 14.6). So John tells his readers that this life has appeared on earth and “we have seen it and testify to it” (1.2). Having declared that the heart of our witness lies in this life, he then proceeds to add that we proclaim theeternal life which we have in “what we have seen and heard”. And this eternal life was “pros/towards the Father”, using the same preposition that comes in the first verse of his Gospel. As Christians we have received new life in Jesus which transforms our life on earth; and we also enjoy his gift of eternal life with continual movement towards the Father. Even Jesus, who is one with the Father, moves eternally closer and closer to his Father. How much more do we need to relate ever more closely through Jesus with the Father!


Hina/In order that (1.3/4)
What then is the goal and purpose of our proclamation and witness? Whole books have been written to teach us the goal of Christian witness and mission. But John gives us an astonishing answer to our question. The goal of Christian witness, he says, is “so that you may have fellowship with us” and thus he says he is writing “in order that our/your joy may be filled”.
John implies that our Christian fellowship is so loving, rich and heart-warming that we long for others to come by faith into our fellowship to share the glory we so much enjoy. In our world today loneliness has become a heart-rending problem, so the reality of close Christian fellowship becomes specially attractive. As Christians we need to pay particular attention to developing ever more loving fellowship in our church and among us all as followers of Jesus. John then explains that our fellowship is quite different from the sort of bond that can develop between football supporters or in other secular contexts. He states that “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”. As we come closer to the Father and the Son, God’s love grows increasingly in our Christian fellowship.
As new people come to faith in Jesus and bring their gift of new and eternal life into our fellowship, this will of course enrich both them and us. It is hardly surprising then that we have here alternative textual readings. Is it “our joy” or “your joy” that will be completed? It is of course both! If they join us, then ‘we’ and ‘you’ are one together, so “our joy” is identical with “your joy”.
So, for John, the great goal of our witness and mission lies in the beauty of loving relationship. The Father and the Son; Christian believers with the Father and the Son; the children of God in loving fellowship together; new believers added to our fellowship; all of us together glorying in the joyful beauty of this fellowship. And thus our/your joy together is filled full.

Coffee or tea
It seems that the Holy Spirit has raised up coffee and tea as a key factor for our witness and the growth of the church! He uses our times of sharing coffee and tea to deepen our love and fellowship with each other. Coffee and tea after Sunday Services and other meetings; small mid-week or Saturday morning gatherings; visiting each other in our homes. How vitally important it is to spend time together and have the opportunity of really sharing together! 
Our little village church enjoys a Thursday morning totally informal coffee morning at a local garden centre. We have no agenda and never know from one week to the next who will be free to join us. These regular coffee mornings have played a significant part in fostering a deeper and more personal fellowship amongst us. The garden centre staff actually noticed us coming each week and thought we must be a family. I was able to tell them that they were quite right! We are a family – not by blood, but as God’s children and therefore as sisters and brothers together in the love of Christ.
Lonely people today will surely be attracted by the warmth of Christian fellowship. Such fellowship can also form the answer to the needs of a broken society.

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Assurance of eternal life – 1 John 5.13

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The purpose of John’s letter
Whereas John wrote his Gospel ‘in order that you might believe’, his three letters relate to people who are already believing. His first letter is written with the aim that believers in Jesus might know with assurance that they have eternal life. We may notice immediately that John’s letters follow his Gospel in emphasizing life. The first verses in this first letter already underline the  centrality of “the word of life” and eternal life in John’s proclamation and teaching.
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In John 20.31 John affirms that he has written his Gospel in order that his readers might believe and thus have life en/in Jesus’ name. In his Gospel John  longs for them to have such faith in Jesus that they might live in Christ, in that glorious relationship with Jesus. Here John is thinking of their position in Christ. But we may also observe in John’s first letter (5.13/14) his use of the two significant prepositions eis/into and pros/towards. We noted the importance of these two prepositions of movement in John’s Gospel. In 1 John their position in Christ is already assured because they are already believers; but now he wants them to move increasingly eis/into the name, the personal character of the Son of God. In order to grow more and more like Jesus it is essential that they move ever closer to Jesus. So in 1 John 5.14 their confidence is found pros/towards the Lord. This reminds us of John 1.1 where it states that the Word was ‘pros/towards God’. Just as Jesus, the Word of God, expresses his love in constant movement towards the Father, so we as believers are called so to love Jesus that we are always coming closer and closer to him in an ever more intimate and confident personal relationship with him. And as the people of God, John’s first letter is calling us to demonstrate increasingly the nature and character of Jesus in our life together as his church.

Assurance and Boldness

How counter-cultural! Normally people say “I hope all will be o.k. when I die”, but they may feel assurance of salvation can only indicate spiritual pride. And this confidence cannot be found in any other religion. Other faiths and often even secular culture assume that our eternal future depends on our own good or bad deeds, so our future and God’s judgment are determined by what we are and what we do. With the background of that sort of understanding, assurance of eternal life would seem to be boasting of our worthiness and merit. In the biblical Christian faith, however, the cross of Jesus carries all the penalty of our sin and we are granted eternal life entirely by his grace, his totally undeserved love. Our part is merely to accept this free gift as we come to believe in him and enter into union with him in his cross, resurrection and ascension.
For many people dying and death are unmentionable subjects, for death remains the ultimate calamity. But for Christians with our certainty of belief, death opens the door to the fullness of life in the glorious presence of the Lord we love and who loves us. Heaven indeed! We shall relate to Jesus and our heavenly Father face to face in the perfection of love and worship. The biblical word ‘eternal’ not only means unending time, but it also implies a sense of heavenly glory as we partake of the life of God himself. Wow! How wonderful that we can know that as believers in Jesus we can know that we have eternal life!
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When talking about our assurance of eternal life, I often look back with repentance to an occasion when I preached on this subject in a small village church in Indonesia. Unknown to me, a leading young lady was excited to hear what was for her a totally new teaching. She went  back to her home and read the whole of the Bible without stopping to eat or sleep. She needed to check whether my sermon was indeed true. If she died, could she really be assured of being eternally with her beloved Jesus? Finding the Bible confirmed that for a believer death leads to true glory of life with Jesus, she took poison and committed suicide! She so longed to be with Jesus in glory. The poison took four hours to work and during that time she went round the whole community, telling everyone that she was on her way to heaven. “Three more hours and I shall be with Jesus face to face”; “Two more hours and I shall be in glory”; “One more hour and I shall be in heaven” – and then she died. As a result of her assured witness concerning eternal life, about a thousand people came to believe in Jesus and were baptised.

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When I heard what had happened after my visit to Seberaya, I had to repent – but also praise God for using my failure to bring multitudes to new and eternal life in Jesus. I realised that I had not adapted my European Christian approach to our Indonesian situation. In Europe people are generally not in a hurry to get to heaven and to be with Jesus eternally! So in Britain we can preach about the sure certainty of eternal life for believers without teaching that we all need to be patient and wait for God’s perfect time. In that sermon therefore I had failed to say that assurance of eternal life should not move us to commit suicide.
At the end of a Christian conference someone said to me, “I hope we may meet again. But if we don’t see each other again here on earth, we shall surely do so in heaven”. I replied, “Yes, we shall certainly meet again in glory – hasten the day!” He looked shocked as if he didn’t want the day to come quickly. Let us rejoice in the certainty of being with Jesus eternally in his glory – but without poison and suicide!

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John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)

John’s Goal and Purpose (John 20.31)

We come now to our final blog on John’s Gospel before moving on to look at his three letters. So it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of John’s great purpose in writing his Gospel. He himself makes it clear: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20.31). In his Gospel John is declaring the good news of Jesus so that people may believe in Jesus and receive life in his name. His Gospel is evangelistic in its purpose. As we shall see, John’s letters aim at the next stage where his readers/hearers already believe,  but need to gain true assurance that they have eternal life.

“That you may believe”

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Everything in the Christian faith depends on this one simple fact. We need to come to Jesus in faith, believing in him and trusting him with our whole being. John writes with the aim that we may understand just who Jesus is, so that we can believe in him and commit ourselves to him. As we believe in him, we can trust him entirely because he is utterly trustworthy and true. In order to encourage such committed faith, John has written his account of some of Jesus’ miraculous signs – although he points out that Jesus did many other such signs that he has not described (20.30). Jesus performed so many marvellous miracles of healing, exorcism, feeding of crowds, stilling storms, helping fishermen catch fish etc. that it would be impossible to describe all his miracles in one short book. But the signs John does include in his Gospel fully suffice to induce our faith.

“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”

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In order to believe in Jesus and follow him, we all need to learn who Jesus really is. He is not just a great man, an outstanding teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet, a poet and a man of love and humility. He is God incarnate (John 1) and he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the one who would come from God to liberate and save his people. His very name ‘Jesus/Yeshua’ was God-given and signifies that through him ‘Yhwh/the Lord saves’. As Messiah Jesus follows on from God’s great act of liberation in Israel’s exodus from Egypt. God delivered his people from slavery and oppression, giving them a new Law and covenant, bringing them into the promised land of milk and honey. So Jesus has come to deliver us from slavery to evil and sin; he has revealed to us a new Law of love and introduced a new covenant with us through his cross and resurrection; and he offers us a new life with him which is abundant and eternal.
Jesus comes to us also as the very Son of God. In our notes we have seen how this title ‘Son of God’ signifies his calling to be like his Father in holiness and moral righteousness. It also means that he was called to bring honour to his Father, so that the people around him might come to believe in his Father and praise him. John also makes it abundantly clear through his Gospel that Jesus was actually himself God, living with the Father in glory from all eternity. He was sent by the Father to this world with the purpose of imparting life to his people. And he was raised from the dead and then he ascended back to the Father in glory. Having fulfilled his God-given task on earth, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be with his followers and lead them into all truth.
So Jesus really is more than worthy of our faith and believing trust!

“You may have life in his name”

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 Beginning already in John 1.4, we have noted how John’s Gospel strongly emphasizes ‘life’. Jesus came in order that those who believe in him may have life, life abundant and life eternal. His gift of the fullness of life both here in this world through his resurrection, and then also everlasting life in eternity, occupies a central place in John’s Gospel.
I believe that in this 21st century we shall be wise to adjust the content of our ‘gospel’ in our witness and evangelistic preaching. As we have suggested in previous blogs, Paul’s emphasis on sin and redemption will find its place after people have become believers and so begin to relate to the all-holy God. Then they will feel the fearful reality of their sin and their desperate need of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. As we move on to John’s letters, we shall see this change. Writing now for believers, John will begin to emphasize the message of the cross. But in his Gospel John is writing in order to generate belief in Jesus with the highly relevant ‘good news’ of new life. Until people come to faith the message of sin and redemption usually fails to scratch where they itch.

John underlines the fact that we can only have true life ‘in Jesus’ name’. True life and the gift of eternal life stem from the Father. We can only approach the glory and burning purity of the Father through Jesus as his Son. Jesus is the way to the Father (14.6) and no-one can come to the Father except through him. He reveals the Father to us and introduces us to the Father. As believers in Jesus we are joined in unity to Jesus and we come to the Father with his righteousness covering us. In ourselves we have no right to come into the presence of the Father, but in Jesus’ name we are wonderfully accepted.

In biblical thought people’s name was thought to reflect their character and nature. So Jesus’ ‘name’ means his total holiness, power, love and obedient meekness. Of course the Father knows us through and through, so he knows just how sinful we are, but he chooses to look on us only in the light of Jesus’ perfection. As Psalm 32.1 and Romans 4.7 point out, “Blessed are they . . .  whose sins are covered” – blessed indeed! In Jesus’ name our sin is covered and we can have life. Although John’s Gospel does not talk about our sin as a hindrance to gaining true life, as people who are already believing in Jesus we know something of what it means to have life “in his name”. And we rejoice!


Noting John’s aim in his Gospel that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”, we face the challenge that our witness and evangelism should follow in the footsteps outlined in John’s Gospel. Let us constantly check our message in the light of this wonderful Gospel!


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Truth – a vital need in the 21st century

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Who believes politicians’ promises today? Political ‘double-talk’ comes in everywhere for cynical criticism. Even Churchill eighty years ago said, “I have told many lies for my country and will tell many more” (A. Roberts Churchill P.483). And in today’s society untruth permeates so much of our ordinary everyday life too. Businesses assure us that our order should arrive any moment now because they put in our order several days ago – can we be confident that they are speaking truth? Scam phone calls and emails break through our firewalls all too frequently. Fake news abounds and cyber theft has become the scourge of society, costing millions of pounds. Rogue builders and tree surgeons come to our doors with their offers, but can they be trusted? Trustworthy truth has become a rare commodity in our 21st century societies, even in our homes and everyday relationships.

God is Truth

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In John’s Gospel we see that truth holds a central place in the Christian faith and therefore also in our message for the world. This is underlined by the frequent use of the words ‘true’, ‘truly’ and ‘truth’. We are not surprised therefore that truth lies at the heart of God’s fundamental nature.


a) God the Father.

In his teaching Jesus emphasizes that God, the Father who sent Jesus into the world, is true (e.g. 3.33; 7.28;8.26 etc.). Because he is in his very essence the true God, therefore he can be trusted as always truthful. His promises in his Word are 100% reliable. He will never break his word. So Jesus assures his disciples that God’s testimony is consistently true.
Since truth characterizes the very nature of God, it follows naturally that “his word is truth” (17.17). As we allow the Bible as God’s revealed Word to mould our characters and thinking, God’s truth will increasingly determine what we do and are. So Paul comes out with the deeply challenging assertion that “we have the mind of Christ”, we think with the thoughts of Christ (1 Cor. 2.2). I confess that I am often tempted to pray “Lord, please give me the mind of Christ”, lacking Paul’s confident assurance. May we so study and imbibe the biblical Word of God that our thinking may mirror the very mind of Christ!
b) God the Son

Knowing that the Father is in his nature utterly true, we are by no means surprised to read how his Son Jesus the Messiah is also perfect truth. Thus in John 14.6 Jesus declares that he is not only the unique way to the Father and has the fullness of life in himself. He is also the truth. In our union with him by faith we are also called to live a life of trustworthy truth. As followers of Jesus our word is to be entirely true and honest. People around us should sense that they can trust what we say. We are branches attached to Jesus, the “true vine” (15.1).
c) God the Holy Spirit

I have some times asked people in a meeting to fill in the missing word in the sentence “we rejoice in the – of the Spirit”. Generally the answer comes back that we rejoice in the power of the Spirit. How gloriously true! The Spirit is revealed in the Book of Acts as the power of God in action. His miracle-working power strengthens our faith and can also convince outsiders of the reality of Jesus. But in John’s Gospel he is particularly revealed as “the Spirit of truth” (14.17; 15.26;16.13) and of course his very title as the Holy Spirit underlines also his holiness. So John’s Gospel declares that Jesus sends us the Spirit, who is the very essence and source of truth. He reminds the disciples of all that Jesus taught, and convinces the world of sin, righteousness and judgement (16.8-11). So we can trust the Holy Spirit of truth to lead God’s people increasingly into all truth (16.13).

The consequences of truth

a) Truth – Light – God’s glory

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If we live in accordance with God’s truth, we shall come into God’s light and escape the darkness of the world around us (3.21). It will then become clear to those around us that what we do stems from the working of God in and through us. So Jesus exhorts his disciples  to let their light (which comes from God’s light) so shine before people, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt.5.16).
John gives us an amazing picture of the dynamic relationships within the Trinity. He shows us that the great purpose of the Spirit is to point away from himself and lead us to Jesus; Jesus’ longing is to reveal and glorify the Father rather than himself, being himself the way and bringing his followers to the Father; The Father then glorifies the Son, who finally lays everything at the feet of the Father’s throne. Following the model of the Trinity, living in accordance with God’s truth, means that we no longer seek praise for ourselves, but rather honour one another. We also seek to bring others to love and honour God. With the aim that people should praise the Father rather than praising us, we become more like the three persons of the Trinity.

b) What is yet to come

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As Christians we have no need of fortune-tellers! The Spirit of Truth “will tell you what is yet to come” (16.13). However, there remains a limit to what he will tell us. So in Acts 1.7 Jesus’ disciples want to know whether he is now going to restore the kingdom to Israel. In reply he tells them that “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set”. Were the disciples badly disappointed at this gentle snub?! The Spirit does indeed tell us what we really need to know about the future, but he does not merely stoop to satisfy our curiosity. Mysteries remain even in biblical prophecy, let alone in contemporary prophecy through human channels today. In receiving words of knowledge through the continuing gift of prophecy, humility and discernment are needed. Like with biblical prophecy, we may expect prophecy today to include condemnation of sin and warnings of future judgment if we don’t repent (not just that revival will start with US!).

c) Truth brings freedom


Discipline, duty and authority have become almost discredited concepts today. It is assumed that we all have the right to whatever pleases us – as long as it doesn’t hinder other people’s rights. In contrast, Jesus himself found perfect personal freedom while at the same time leading a life of entire obedience to the will of God. He did not seek his own pleasure and rights, but he gained fullness of life in doing the will of his Father. His obedience even included the horrendous suffering of the cross, the necessary and unavoidable route to the resurrection and ascension. But within the parameters of obedience to the Father he manifested perfect freedom.
Without the objective standard of God’s revealed truth our governments and society have no definite way of distinguishing good from evil. When John Major was Prime Minister in Britain he encouraged the nation with the call ‘back to basics’. More recently our government has pushed ‘British values’. But how do we determine what ‘basics’ or ‘British values’ consist of? Gender issues have particularly come to the fore in these debates. Only with God’s revealed truth can we find our way through the ethical mazes which confront our nation.
What a significant combination in 16.13 – the Spirit, truth and freedom! Through the working of the Spirit of truth we are liberated from the chains of selfishness, pride, greed and self-seeking ambition. With a true God-given freedom we can live at peace with all people even in situations of difficult relationships. As we honestly face the truth of what hurt us in past relationships and experiences, we can move towards healing and forgiveness. Even the binding consequences of childhood hurts can be broken by the Spirit’s gift of truth, pouring the balm of God’s love into our lives. Without the Spirit of truth such freedom is hard to come by.

d) The Spirit sanctifies
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In his great prayer recorded in John 17 Jesus asks the Father to ‘sanctify them (his followers) by the truth’ (17.17-19). Although we are called to remain in the world with all its evil, Jesus prays that we may be protected from the workings of ‘the evil one’ (17.15) and from all the sinful unbelieving culture which surrounds us. Jesus himself has given us the perfect model. He was fully identified with the culture and context of Jewish life in his day, but still wonderfully maintained his sinless perfection. Now in 17.19 he states that the goal of his own holy life was that his followers also might “be truly sanctified”. God’s great purpose for us as his disciples remains the same throughout history, namely that we should be like the Lord in his holiness (e.g.Lev. 11.44; 19.2; 1 Peter 1.15). We are called to be holy even as he is holy. As Christians we should stand out from the world around us as we shine with the truth and moral holiness of our lives and our relationships.

e) True worship
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The two-fold “true”/”truth” in John 4.23 reflects the vital importance of truth in our worship. The combination of a genuine relationship with and knowledge of the Lord, together with our worship being both in the Spirit and in truth, comes with striking relevance in our churches today. Sadly we have to confess that some people mirror Jesus’ accusation against the Samaritans that they ‘worship what they do not know’. Even today when traditional church-going has slipped out of fashion, still some follow a liturgy in which the Lord is unknown and even unknowable. Others may hold to forms which are very up-to-date culturally and musically, but the worship can become just a spiritual modern music concert with little or no emphasis on biblical truth. Still others may include brilliant biblical exposition with solid theological truth in their praying and singing, but this can easily become very cerebral and lack the vitality and dynamic of the Spirit. So Jesus firmly underlines that we are to worship the Father (not just Jesus! He is the way to the Father) “in spirit and in truth” (4.23/24). Only then can we experience true worship, worship in truth.

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Many today would echo Pilate’s tragic question, “What is truth?” (18.38). The whole concept and practice of truth has become sadly alien in our modern society. And we all suffer as a result because the lack of truth and therefore of trustworthiness leads inevitably to broken relationships and lack of trust in each other. So, Jesus’ and John’s emphasis on truth comes with striking relevance as ‘good news’ for today’s world.
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The World – John’s message for our inter-ethnic world

The World – John’s message for our inter-ethnic world

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At a consultation in a local hospital here in England  I enjoyed meeting doctors and nurses from a wide variety of different countries. They responded so warmly when they discovered that I had been in their countries. After a while a British nurse came to treat me. “You are the first British nurse I have met this morning”, I said to her. Quickly with a nice smile she responded, “Actually there are several of us in this hospital!”
A similar experience stimulates me whenever I venture up to London. What a medley of languages with people from all over the world! I so enjoy trying to distinguish which language is being spoken by the people around me. English spoken with an English accent almost sounds something exotic!
Even our little village of Stanstead Abbotts now has people from a wide variety of countries living here. So John’s emphasis on ‘the world’  (the word ‘world’ is used almost 70 times in John’s Gospel) relates significantly in our multi-ethnic globalized societies. Our faith needs to relate to this inter-cultural and inter-ethnic context. No longer should our understanding of the Bible, our theological formulations or our evangelistic and teaching message be entirely Gentile and western in its nature. So, much of our ministerial and leadership training, our commentaries and theological books, our vision of church history, our homiletics in preaching, teaching, worship and personal witness needs a radical change. I have therefore greatly appreciated my years at All Nations Christian College with its strongly cross-cultural approach.
With all this in our mind we now turn to John’s teaching on ‘the world’.

Jesus and his disciples were Jewish. The very early Christian church was also firmly grounded in its Jewish heritage. But John was writing later in the first century, by which time strong opposition had caused the Christian church to be increasingly separated from its Jewish roots. More and more Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus as Lord and the church began the trend of becoming a Gentile movement. Paul evangelised Gentiles in southern Europe, Mark travelled into Egypt, Thomas probably started the church in southern India and Nathanael up into Armenia. So John had to face the questions that must have arisen from this situation. Did Jesus really intend Gentiles to come into his church? Or was it all a big mistake? Was Christianity to be merely a Messianic movement within Judaism or was it to be international? And were the Jewish and Gentile believers to be joined together in unity and love despite issues of the law and kosher foods?
Already in John’s Prologue he stresses that the new life in the Word of God was in itself/himself the light of all humanity, not just for Israel as in the Old Testament (1.4). Indeed the light shines in the darkness beyond the borders of God’s covenant people (1.5) with the aim that “all people might believe”. So God’s light was coming not just into Israel for the Jewish people, but also for the world, for everyone. As a consequence, the door to becoming children of God was now open also for non-Jews who were not the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By faith therefore Jew and Gentile alike can see the glory of Jesus (1.14). As brothers and sisters in Christ who have equally seen his glory, we are joined together in love. From the fullness of his grace we have together received grace and truth, one blessing after another (1.16).
a) No tribalism

What can we deduce from John’s emphasis on ‘the world’ rather than just Israel? John was evidently standing against any Jewish separatism. Although we of course remain physically belonging to the race into which we were born, a new unity of love in Jesus the Messiah now determines our identity and our relationships. An individualistic failure to teach John’s emphasis on ‘the world’ can easily lead to jingoistic ethnic pride. As Christians we are challenged and rebuked by the example of Ruanda’s massacres, for Ruanda held a central place in the East African revival. How could committed Christians get involved in the inter-tribal Hutu-Tutsi slaughters? Had there been a lack of teaching on Jew-Gentile relationships in the New Testament? Personal salvation and relationship to the Lord without John’s teaching on ‘the world’ can have devastating consequences. The danger of tribalism, ethnic pride and racialism dogs us in every society all over the world. We need the challenge of John’s teaching on the ‘world’.
b) Environmentalism

John starts his Gospel with the words “In the beginning” which he then repeats for emphasis in 1.2, a reminder of the Genesis teaching of God’s creation of the world. He goes straight on to underline that “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”. So John shows God’s concern not only for all people, but also all things. All creation comes from him, belongs to him and therefore needs to be treasured and cared for by us.
In this we may note a clear parallel with the teaching of Paul. Paul not only demonstrates God’s concern for all people and all peoples, Jew and Gentile. He also declares God’s purpose “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph.1.10). Likewise in his great Christological passage in Col.1.15-20 Paul shows God’s concern for “all things”. In our world today we desperately need this emphasis on valuing God’s creation, the ‘world’.
c) What a world!
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John unhesitatingly points to the sadly fallen nature of ‘the world’. Jesus testifies that what the world does is evil (7.7). As a result he is deeply aware that the world hates him. So he assumes that it stands under the satanic power of “the prince of this world” (12.31, 14.30; 16.11). It is into this fallen world that the all-righteous Lord comes down, leaving the glory of the all-righteous Father in heaven. And  Jesus sends his disciples, and now us as his followers, into the world with all its temptations and evil (17.18). Although he sends them and us to serve “in the world”, we need firmly to avoid becoming “of the world” (17.14-16). Therefore Jesus prays urgently that they and we may be truly sanctified by that truth which is found in God’s Word (17.17). As Christians we are required constantly to check that we have not been moulded by the beliefs and common behaviour of the world around us. Let us stick firmly to the moral standards of God as revealed to us in the Bible, undismayed by the inevitable opposition the world will fling at us. As the world hated Jesus so also we cannot escape suffering the severe opposition of the world (e.g. 17.14).
In its emphasis on ‘the world’ John’s Gospel gives us a life-giving message to proclaim. So we go into the world as servants of the Lord. God has come into the world in the person of Jesus the Messiah. He loves the world so much that he has come to take away its sin and bring his abundant and eternal life. Although Jesus highlights God’s judgment of this world, he himself has not come to judge the world (12.47). On the contrary, he has come to save the world. What grace and love! We cannot but stand back in reverent wonder at such grace when one considers the fearful evil and sin of the world.
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LIFE – John’s message for the 21st Century

LIFE – John’s message for the 21st Century

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In our last blog we saw that Paul’s message of redemption from sin rarely relates to people outside the church in the 21st century, but John’s message of life speaks powerfully into our contemporary society. The effects of godlessness in our society are seen particularly among our young people. In Britain today it is said that 40,000 children are on regular anti-depressants and 8.3% of all 5-15 year olds have a mental health disorder. The thirst for excitement and the openness to drugs, as also the dangers of social media, demonstrates how unsatisfying our young people are finding life. Among adults too we hear the murmured longing that “there must be more to life than what we’ve got”.
Into this context John’s message of LIFE can speak with dynamic attractiveness. Already in John’s Gospel’s opening Prologue this major theme of life is introduced – “in him was life, and the life was the light of humankind” (John 1.4). John will go on to emphasise how Jesus brings the fullness of life here on earth and then eternal life to all who believe in him.
Indeed in 20.31 John declares that his purpose in writing his Gospel is that people might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that those who are believing may have life in his name.” Although there is the necessary precondition of faith in Jesus, the gift of true, abundant and eternal life lies at the very heart of John’s message in his Gospel.
John’s first letter may be seen as the natural sequel to his Gospel. While the Gospel introduces people to faith in Jesus as God’s son who brings life and light to those who believe in him, John’s first epistle seeks to encourage believers in their life of discipleship. John observes that he “has written these things to you in order that you, believing in the name of the son of God, may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5.13). So, in his Gospel John is writing with the longing that his readers might believe in Jesus and thus receive his gift of life; then in his Epistle John is writing to believers to assure them that they can know with real assurance that they definitely have eternal life. The life Jesus gives is filled with the love and joy of God. We begin this relationship with God here and now; and it climaxes when we enter the presence of the Father himself.
What a fantastic message for the 21st century! As we come to faith in Jesus, we receive his gift of a radically changed life. And then also we have the assurance of eternal life, so death loses its sting. I remember so well the tremendous change in my life when I became a believer in Jesus. Big moral changes ensued; a new personal assurance overcame my fearful lack of self-confidence; warmth of relationships banished the deep loneliness I felt before. Jesus’ promise of abundant life is good news indeed and is just what people need today. And now I am getting old and know that death could come at any time, so Jesus’ gracious promise of eternal life becomes even more wonderfully relevant. In Britain and many countries around the world more and more people are over 65, so the promise of eternal life becomes increasingly ‘good news’.
The Resurrection
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The gift of abundant life here on earth and eternal life is based on Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25), thus linking the gift of life to the fact of the resurrection. And both stem from Jesus who in his fundamental nature actually is the resurrection and the life. We may say of the Lord, ‘what he is, he does’. He is love (1 John 4.8), so he loves us and gives eternal life to us (John 3.16). He is the resurrection and the life, so he raises us up to new and eternal life. Already in the New Testament the resurrection begins to relate to the after life, but for Jesus that came with the ascension. His resurrection meant the fullness of life here on earth during the forty days between his death and his ascension. So also for us in our union with Jesus we already can know something of the reality of resurrection life here on earth. What amazing ‘good news’ for those who say, “there must be more to life than what we’ve got”. There certainly is! We rejoice in the resurrection life.
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Does the gift of abundant life mean health, wealth and unhindered prosperity and success? I remember being driven through Oslo in rush hour with two girls in the back seat. They held that sort of prosperity belief and constantly claimed from the Lord that he would turn the traffic lights green for us and remove all traffic which was holding us up! After a while they exclaimed that Satan was opposing the will of God for us and we needed to cast him out!
In contrast, in traditional Jewish thought suffering is the necessary introduction to the kingdom of God. Suffering as slaves in Egypt forms the prelude to the glory of the Passover and the giving of the Law. So too Jesus only began to preach the kingdom of God when he heard that the man of God, John the Baptist, had been put in prison (Matthew 4.12, 17). Likewise in Matthew 14 the kingdom sign of Jesus feeding the five thousand follows from Jesus hearing that John had been killed. In John 6 also the feeding of the crowd follows from reference to John the Baptist’s ministry and opposition also to Jesus himself (John 5.32-36, 45-47). In John’s Gospel, as indeed also in the other Gospels, the glorious climax comes in the resurrection of Jesus. But the cross of Jesus must never be left out as the introduction to the resurrection. There can be no resurrection without the cross. Jesus’ gift of new life through his resurrection will always go together with experience of the cross in our lives. Jesus’ cross is for our redemption, our cross is to bring that redemption to a needy world and to form the likeness of Christ in us. Here is glorious good news: beyond the present suffering there shines the joy of life abundant and also eternal life.
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Why John more than Paul for 2019?


Our weekly blogs on John’s Gospel have now caught up with the blogs I wrote a couple of years ago. If you want to continue with John Chs. 12-21, please refer to the “Archives” section on the right of your screen.  Here you will find that, having looked at Thomas in John 11.16 and shared our Christmas letter in the November 2016 blog, John Chs. 12-21 starts with the “Archive” December 2016 blog.
What I plan now in these next few blogs is to look at why I strongly feel that John’s Gospel should form the fundamental content of our ‘Gospel’ teaching and preaching for 2019. Then it is my aim to begin blogs on John’s three letters in order to look further at the message of John for today.
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For several centuries biblical Christians have tended to base their understanding of the fundamental ‘Gospel’ on the writings of Paul. For several reasons which will become apparent as we proceed, I believe that Paul’s approach and message do not relate as easily as John’s to most non-Christians today. But Paul will become highly relevant as people come to faith in Jesus the Messiah and begin to worship the all-holy God.
To demonstrate their truly biblical faith, many Christian writers and preachers assert that ‘of course the Gospel never changes’. But is this true? Clearly, the word ‘Gospel’ is just an old English word meaning ‘good news’. What may be excitingly good news to one generation may not particularly concern a later generation. In reminding ourselves of this basic fact, we inevitably begin to face a question which I was asked to speak on in a Malaysian Chinese church. The church was sensing a call from God to help the British church in its mission in the hard context of post-Christian Britain. In one meeting they asked me to teach on “What makes Jesus good news to contemporary British”? So, is the message of Paul felt to be ‘good news’ when declared in Britain today? Or is the message of John more likely to meet people’s felt needs and thus prove more obviously ‘good’ news?
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Salvation from Sin

It has been said that “Evangelicals love sin”! We tend to stress the Fall in Genesis 3 more than our creation in the image and likeness of God in Genesis 1 and 2. So often our fundamental message is built upon the foundation of a profound sense of sin. This stems from the Reformation and the letters of Paul, with their emphasis on the saving work of Jesus in redemption from sin and the consequent justification which is granted to all who believe in Jesus.
Many people today suffer from a nagging sense of guilt, but few seem to have a genuine awareness of our inherently sinful nature. Despite all the contemporary evidence to the contrary, it is still commonly believed that humanity remains basically good and also that public opinion will have right on its side. If most people remain unaware of their sin, then our message of salvation from sin will hardly come across as good news, as ‘Gospel’.
Of course there are exceptions to this general rule. The occasional person does suffer from a deep burden of sin which dogs their conscience and casts a shadow over their whole life. For such people Paul’s message of redemption from sin comes as a wonderful relief and in our churches we love to hear that sort of testimony. But let us not forget that such testimonies remain the exception. They may not apply relevantly to most people.
But when we come to faith in Jesus and begin to worship the all-holy Lord, then we shall become heart-breakingly conscious of our sin. As Paul declares, we all fall short of the glory of God. In prayer and worship we cannot but see how unworthily sinful we are. Then, as believing Christians, the message of Paul becomes essential for our spiritual life and growth. How wonderful that the death of Jesus has bought total cleansing and forgiveness from all sin! Through Jesus’ sacrificial death our sin is removed and we become in the Father’s eyes entirely righteous with the perfect righteousness of Jesus himself. “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are they whose sin in the Lord does not count against them” (Psalm 32.1/2). Paul also delights in these words and notes that they apply universally through faith not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles (Romans 4.7-9).
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In contrast to Paul, John in his Gospel shows little interest in questions related to sin and atonement. He does just note John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29), but otherwise barely mentions this aspect of the biblical message. He is more concerned with the glorious 21st century message of LIFE for all who believe in Jesus.
So we shall look more in our next few blogs at the message of John and how this may form ‘good news/Gospel’ in our contemporary society.
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Such Faith! John 11.17-37

Such Faith! John 11.17-37


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.
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.
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).
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.


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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