Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 1/19/03
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12, RSV).
I have been both a student and a teacher, and it has always seemed to me that a good question is an integral part of the search for truth. Last week, our question was, "Where is that man?" It led us to some interesting thoughts on discipleship, and the conclusion that disciples are called, not made. Our question today explores this idea further. In John, Chapter Eight, we read about Jesus' continuing conflicts with the Pharisees. To His statement, quoted above that He is the light of the world, they scoffed, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid" (Vs. 13). Logically, I would have to say that they did have a valid point, but Jesus was undeterred, and replied, "You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me" (John 8:15-18). They were not at all appeased by this mystical comment, and instead, demanded to know who His Father was. Knowing that He grew up in Nazareth, they most likely assumed that Joseph was his father.
I tend to think that those who adhere to the Law, then as now, were left brain cognitive types, who sought to figure spiritual things out with their minds. The law itself had 613 rules, which are represented by 613 fringes on the prayer shawl that a believing Jew wears when he prays. The rabbis debated and studied the Law, and eventually, the Mishna evolved (the entire body of Jewish religious law that was passed down), which covered every aspect of human life. Our Israeli friend Yossi told us that if five Jews were discussing a subject, there would be at least ten different ideas expressed, because everyone has several opinions about any topic.
These Pharisees who were baiting Jesus, however, all seemed to be singing on the same page. Their goal was to trap Him, because they had decided that He was too dangerous to ignore. To their question about who His Father was, "Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come" (John 8:19-20, NIV). His boldness to teach in the temple is awesome, because He knew what was coming, but it did not keep Him from His mission. The statement, "his time had not yet come," is pivotal to understanding Him, and also to understanding how God deals with each of us. Many of us have heard the drumbeat of God's plan of the ages, and believe that the hour is upon us when the sons of God will shortly be manifested, but until "His time has come," ours has not fully come either. Running ahead of the Lord always results in a head on collision with reality, and failing to move when He tells us, ends in failure and frustration. This is why the Apostle Paul said that Sons are led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14). Without the Spirit's leading, we can no more follow Christ's leading than the Pharisees could. Without Him, we are stumbling around blind; with Him, we "will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
His statements that He was "from above," and "not of this world," made no sense to them. I'm sure it infuriated them to hear, "I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins" (Vs. 24). Again, they asked, "Who are you?" This is a blockbuster question for us as well, one we need to ask anyone who comes to us in the name of the Lord. With the Spirit's discernment, we will know if the person comes from God or not. The Pharisees did not have the Spirit and could not understand Jesus' response to them. To the question, "Who are you?" He replied, "Just what I have been claiming all along.... "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world." They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father" (John 8:25-27, NIV). They could not possibly know either, that because of Jesus' comments, we understand and recognize the Pharisees of the world today. They are always the ones who do not see the Father, but focus only on the rules and regulations they feel must be kept.
In this interchange, Jesus made a statement that rings a bell for all His sons. He said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him" (Vs. 28-29). A servant obeys the rules set down by the master, but a Son speaks and does only what He sees and hears the Father speaking and doing.
Many put their faith in Him after hearing these comments, and to them He said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Vs. 31-32). This statement of Jesus' is oft quoted by religious people who want to make the point that Jesus is the way to freedom. Sadly, I've run across a number of them who then begin to bind their own rules upon the convert, describing them as "the truth which will set you free." Rules can never make us free. Only Jesus, who is Truth, sets us free. Like Him, we do and speak only what pleases the Father. This takes us out of the arena of religion, and into the realm of Spirit. And, yes, I will concede that babes in Christ need guidelines, rules of behavior, UNTIL they get to the place of being led by God. Unfortunately, churches who are good at leading people to Christ, are usually not good at letting them go when they are ready to be taught by God. Those whom God calls, end up leaving the nursery, usually bringing judgment and condemnation down on their heads from the church leaders. Others may be too intimidated to listen to God, fearing if they leave the safety of their denomination, they risk hell fire, and so they stay chained to the pews, decade after weary decade, trying to subsist on pabulum. To these, the Hebrew writer said,
"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."
He concludes, "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so" (Heb. 5:12-6:3). Did you notice that these elementary teachings, which we are to leave behind, are the bedrock of most church doctrine, the essence of what is taught week after week? Thankfully, there is no condemnation for staying on a diet of milk, for the writer added, "And God permitting, we will do so." Our spiritual growth is not up to us, dear ones. It is God who sets the pace by which we grow. Some of us were called out of the church systems we grew up in. Others in our family were not. This is God's sovereign election in this hour. All will come in, but each in his own order (I Cor. 15:23). We have received many e-mails from people who are laboring to bring themselves to maturity. That is NOT our job and actually, it is not even the church's job!
The Apostle Paul makes some beautiful, though often misunderstood statements about the mystery of Christ's relationship to His bride, the church, which he compares to a human marriage. Probably no verse in the bible has been abused more than this one: "As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." (Eph. 5:24, RSV). Today's Pharisees use this verse to beat their wives into submission, having failed to understand that it comes AFTER Verse 21, where the Apostle exhorts, "Be subject to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ." My purpose is not to talk about marriage here, but to observe that the church is to be subject to Christ. In many cases, I fear this is just not practiced today. To illustrate that, let me ask a question: To whom is your loyalty? Is it to Christ or to your church or to the Southern Baptist Convention or to whatever other affiliation your church has? If there is a question as to whom you will follow, the organization or Christ, which one do you heed? I'm not trying to start trouble here. The trouble started centuries ago when the teachings of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit became codified and organized, and men began to look to other men rather than God for their marching orders.
Paul continues, "....Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27, RSV). Notice that Christ is the one who sanctifies, cleanses and washes the church, the ecclesia, the called out ones, you and me, in other words. He presents us to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that we might be holy and without blemish. This is VERY Good News, my friends. I delight in knowing it because it frees me from the rules which seem good to the flesh, but accomplish nothing in Spirit, or as Paul himself put it, "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23, RSV). If keeping rules could make us pure and cleanse us of our sins, Jesus could have stayed home. If Law could have saved us, redeemed us, and restored us to fellowship with our Father, God could have raised up even "better naggers" than the Old Testament prophets were, and we would have been OK.
I know that someone reading this is bound to question my statement that we need to listen to Christ, rather than our church leaders if there is a conflict. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins found in Matthew 25: 1-13, is a great illustration of this point. I think most of you are familiar with this story Jesus told to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like, but I'll include the high points. He said there were ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. This was a custom of the time, according to a Bible scholar, whose teachings on ancient Israel have blessed me. He said the groom would build a room onto His Father's house, and the wedding feast would take place when the room was ready for occupancy. The bride's friends would watch and wait as the time grew near, and be ready to celebrate when the bridegroom came to fetch her. It's a lovely story, depicting Christ and His bride, the church. It certainly reminds me of this passage: "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2, RSV). In this story, the bride's friends, other virgins, were waiting for the bridegroom to come so they could all go into the marriage feast together. The wise virgins took their lamps and extra oil as well. The foolish virgins, however, had only the oil that was in their lamps.
The bridegroom's arrival was delayed, and the women became drowsy and fell asleep (Vs. 5). When the cry rang out that he was there and the wedding was at hand, they arose and trimmed their lamps. "The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out" (Matt. 25:8).
The wise virgins gave an astounding answer to this request: "'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves'" (Matt. 25:9, NIV). In all my 61 years, I have NEVER heard a Christian flatly refuse to give something to another who asked him for it. It's just not done. Part of the "good Christian" mystique is that you are always to be there, to help whomever asks. I think this "rule" evolved from Jesus' admonition to go two miles with someone who compels you to go one, and if you are asked for your coat, give your cloak as well (Matt. 5:40-41). The saying, "He would give you the shirt off his back," probably comes from this passage, as well.
So which is it, you ask? Give whatever is asked, or send the supplicant to the seller of oil to get some for himself? This parable illustrates the fact that without the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the oil, we cannot ever hope to attend the wedding feast. I have heard this used to teach that if we are not prepared, we'll burn in hell forever. That is not what it means! My thanks go to our dear friend Jeri Fox, for pointing out to me some 30 years ago that the wise virgins had counseling and the foolish ones did not. You may take that literally OR spiritually, because another name for the Holy Spirit is Counselor.
This parable helped heal my codependent addiction to try to "fix" anyone who asked me for help. It gave me permission to say, "NO, if I give you what I have, there won't be enough for me. Go to the seller of oil and get your own." When someone is trying to suck the marrow out of our bones, attempting to extract relief for his or her problems, we MUST introduce them to the Counselor, who reveals Christ to us and in us. Hurting people need fresh oil, not second hand religious advice!
When the Pharisees asked Jesus our question of the day, "Who do you think you are?" (John 8:53), He replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me" (John 8:54). And dear ones, the prayer on my heart today is that you know that Jesus' Father, who is also our Father, is the one who will glorify us as well. Nothing we do or think or try to be will glorify us. All the trials, temptations, sorrows, frustrations, failures and bumbling around that we have all done in the course of our lives is for the purpose of revealing the Father to us. When we fall into a pigpen, He is there; if we find ourselves in hell, He is there also (Ps. 139:8). He never promised us a rose garden, but He did say He would never to leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Lord, help us to remember that we are Your children. Our inheritance is to be like You, for You are our all in all. Let us see it and hear it and feel it this day. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850, (Snail Mail)
"Where is that Man?"
The Glory Road,
We are always glad to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 1/16/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.