The Well Documented Miracle

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

John 6:1-15

I believe the feeding of the five-thousand is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Partly, I assume, becasue all four authors understood how important it was. It shows Jesus’s power (SIX MONTHS WAGES WORTH OF FOOD!!!), has symbolic significance (especially the twelve remaining baskets for the twelve tribes of Israel), and marks a sort of turning point in Jesus’s ministry (the people figure out who He is). But also consider the fact that five thousand people saw this miracle. with so many witnesses, it’s no surprise it’s so well documented.

That being said, because I’ve read and written about this miracle three times already, I don’t really have anything new to say… Perhaps read what I wrote about in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. I just re-read them, and the posts about Matthew and Mark were surprisingly insightful. Actually, that was a better Bible study for me today that writing about John. I guess my brain just isn’t as focused today as it was then!

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Was Jesus who He said He was?

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

John 5:30-47

This is a very important piece of scripture to know and understand when talking to people who doubt Jesus was who He said He was. Jesus says “Don’t take my word for it, take God’s.” God proclaimed who Jesus was through John the Baptist, through the Spirit in our hearts, and through the Old Testament scriptures. The last one especially is a good one to become familiar with, because prophecies about the Messiah go back long before Jesus was born, as far as Moses.

CS Lewis wrote that you have to believe Jesus was either crazy, lying, or right about His identity. He existed, there is no question there. He is one of the most well-documented figures of ancient times. So was He crazy? There certainly is no way to prove He wasn’t. But if He was crazy, than John the Baptist must have been too, and Paul, and Peter, and the gospel writers, and John, and everyone else who ever wrote or testified of having an experience with Him. And the longer that list gets the harder it is to believe. Was He lying? Again, we can’t prove He wasn’t. But when you go back and read the prophecies like Isaiah, it’s hard to believe. Especially when you consider the fact that Jesus’s interpretation of those prophecies was radically different from anything else that had ever been said. Ever. Besides, as CS Lewis points out, it is unlikely that He would have been willing to make a martyr Himself for a lie. What’s the point in that? So…  was He telling to truth? I believe so. Facts aside, I take Jesus’s advice and listen to what God is telling me through the Spirit. And the Spirit in my heart screams a resounding YES.

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Surprising Details

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

John 5:19-29

Let’s keep in mind some context. In the last passage the Jews were plotting to kill Jesus, because by calling Himself God’s son He was putting Himself equal to God. Jesus’s response is simple. Any equality He has is because god gave it to Him because God loves Him. Therefore if you don’t honor Jesus, you don’t honor God.

However, there is one detail in this passage that surprised me. Often in modern Christian teachings God is depicted as the judge, and Jesus intercedes on our behalf. In John though, Jesus specifically states that He has been given the role of judge because He is both fully God and fully human. I don’t think that detail is particularly significant or impact in terms of theology, I just thought it was interesting. I guess it just goes to show, read  the Bible and think for yourself!

Another surprising detail that I may be (probably am) completely misunderstanding: First Jesus says that anyone who believes skips the judgement part and goes straight to eternal life. Then He says He will judge based on whether people have done good or done evil. So to me, this reads that non-Christians who have led good lives (people like Gandhi, for example) can still receive salvation. Which is, of course, NOT what those who know the Bible much better than me would say. Clearly even the Pope says the only way through salvation is by accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. Probably the good Jesus refers to are fruits of the spirit, which can only be obtained by receiving the spirit, and therefore accepting Jesus. Or perhaps the meaning doesn’t translate very well from Greek. I  don’t know. Sounds like a good question to ask a preacher!

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How To: Rest

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

John 5:1-18

This version of this parable is especially ridiculous because not only do they get mad at Jesus for healing on the sabbath, but they get mad at the invalid for carrying his mat. Imagine someone getting upset because you carried a small box full of personal items (photos, flowers, cards) to you car when you left the hospital for the first time in 38 years on a Sunday. The Jews took resting on the sabbath very seriously.

But Jesus says “My Father is still working.” The Jews traditionally rested on the sabbath because God rested on the seventh day after laboring for six days to create the world. That’s why as Christians we typically attend church on the seventh day of the week. But at no point does scripture say God continued to rest every seventh day. As far as we know, He never took a break again! Perhaps the “moral” we should glean from that story isn’t “rest every seventh day”, but “take the time when your labors are finished to enjoy their fruits.”

So rather than obsessing over whether we or others celebrate Sunday the “right” way, as I have seen many Christians do, we should take the time to make sure we are stopping to enjoy life. Whether it’s by  taking a well deserved vacation, spending a Sunday free from chores or work, or simply stopping to spend time with family when you get home from work, honor God by enjoying the many blessings he’s given you.

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Miracles Lead to Belief

When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee (for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

John 4:43-54

Jesus says “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” almost disdainfully. In the other gospels He made it no secret that believing without signs was a much stronger faith. However, that does not stop Jesus from performing the miracle. And, sure enough, the man and his entire house believed.

Now, maybe  we can’t heal simply with word or command the  way Jesus did, but we are capable of miracles of sorts. Surely when the hungry get food, that seems like a miracle to them. Or when a village gets a clean water well for the first time. Or when a family who lost their home in a tornado gets a new one built. And with very little extra effort on our parts, these miracles can also lead people to believe. Maybe some people think that is in bad taste, to give something to someone and then preach the Gospel. They would rather we just did the good deed and left. But I think Jesus would want us to use these little miracles to bring people to Him.

This also means we shouldn’t hold back from doing good things. We have to go out of our way to perform these little miracles. And not only for people who are like us. Everyone deserves a miracle.

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How To: Talk to Nonbelievers

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

John 4:1-42

I love this story. I love that Jesus takes His ministry to those the Jews hated. I love that He chooses to speak to a woman, and an adulterous woman at that. To me this story is one of the most powerful reminders of just how much Jesus loves us.

Jesus’s message to the woman is pretty straightforward, and I have talked about it in the other gospels. So instead I want to talk about His message to the disciples. “…look around you and see how the field is ripe for harvesting.” The Jews believed the Kingdom of God was only for them, God’s chosen people. But Jesus instructs the disciples to reap among the Samaritans, sinners. And look at how ready the Samaritans were to listen, especially compared to the Jews in Jerusalem! Jesus wants us to talk to people who might be the last ones we think would be interested in God’s message.

Notice also how Jesus talks to the woman. At no point does Jesus condemn her. He never tells her that her adulterous ways are shameful. In fact, the way I read it, He only even brings it up to show her He knows things He shouldn’t be able to know, so she can see He is a prophet. Instead of focusing on her sins, He focuses on offering her living water. And instead of worrying about their differences, He talks of how everyone will worship the same way with the Spirit. And instead of talking down to her, or over-simplifying His message, He comes right out and tells her who He is. What a powerful example for us!

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Too Much to Digest

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

John  3:22-36

John the Baptist is one of the Bible’s best examples of a humble man. Many prophets in the Old Testament were proud, perhaps not always to a fault, but enough to enjoy being a powerful prophet. (Notice I said many, not all!) But when Jesus came, John the Baptist rejoiced that he power must diminish, because it meant that he got to meet Jesus! No vague disappointment that people weren’t coming to him to be baptized anymore, or any of the stupid little regrets I’m sure I would have felt. I am in awe of John’s humility.

Then the author takes a break from the narrative to provide commentary. Oh, there are lots of goodies in verses 31-36. Jesus is above all. Jesus is both from Heaven and from earth. He tells us God’s word, and anyone who believes tells others (Maybe? I’m a bit confused by the certified part…) that God is true. Yet many do not believe. God loves Jesus and has given Him dominion over all the earth. Followers of Jesus will receive eternal life, but disobedient  people will be punished. How’s that for a summary of Christianity in six verses?!

Really there’s so much here that I don’t even know what to say. You could probably write an entire book over each verse. So instead I’ll say nothing and leave it to the experts.

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