Saturday, May 29

Escaping the Night

 

Concetta Antico is a rarity. She has a fourth type of cone in her eye which enables her to see some 99 million colors, where most of us see about a million,[1] An eagle can see a rabbit from about 2 miles away. Then again their vision is eight-times that of ours. Polar bears can track seals by smell for 20+ kilometers[2]. My dog, Missy, heard my dad’s truck turn onto our street which was about .2 of a mile. It gave her time to jump out of my dad’s chair, stretch, and leisurely greet him at the door. That’s because dogs hear higher frequencies than we do.

Right now, few, if any of us give a thought about the sheer numbers of things that are touching us and we have no control over it. Various electromagnet waves from TV, radio, Wi-Fi, light, sound, and all the rest of a reality we can’t understand because it is hard to learn all that needs to be understood. And when you start thinking about quantum mechanics things get even more complicated in my case.

Spiritual Reality

I am going to make a guess that most of us believe in the reality of a spiritual realm. Worship is the means God uses to tell us about His Kingdom and our responsibilities. There are those who ‘dabble’ in the spiritual realm. They don’t really believe but they spend time looking into crystals, unfocused meditation, and even witchcraft at one extreme.

I contend that the only way to experience a meaningful connection with the real ‘Spiritual’ realm is through the work of Jesus, God’s Son. And His work only makes sense after his glorification.

Grave Situations

The prophet is in a grave situation in chapter 6 because he finds himself smack dab, center stage, before the throne of God, Almighty. Seraphim hide their eyes as the Lord resides on His throne. Isaiah knew what happened to those who ‘saw’ God—they ceased to exist.  Moses escaped this because God Himself shielded him as God moved by him. Here, God is seen, and Isaiah knows his life is forfeit. He is a sinner, and everyone he knows, all of Israel are sinners as well.  There is no escape.

Then one of the seraphim brings a hot coal to Isaiah touching Isaiah’s lips says, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”. This act of God’s grace transforms this prophet from condemnation to being accepted in God’s presence. As Isaiah remains God’s voice that thunders and He asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” to which he says, “Send me.”

Nicodemus is also in a grave situation but, unlike Isaiah, he doesn’t realize it. There are no heavenly beings crying out “Holy, holy, holy” or smoke-filled temple. There is only nighttime in Israel with this big-name Pharisee Nicodemus comes to speak with this Jesus. Nicodemus just can’t figure out this Jesus.

The Gospel of John is a very ‘relational gospel’. Jesus has conversations with individuals in order to teach. Here it is “the teacher of Israel” and in chapter 4 a disgraced Samaritan woman. Keep this in mind as you read through the gospel.

It takes about three minutes or so to read these verses. Do you think they only chatted for three minutes? No. I imagine it lasted a few hours and this snippet is what the Holy Spirit lays on John to record.

Jesus begins by sidetracking Nicodemus and simply telling him what it takes to have eternal life. But Nicodemus seems to totally miss Jesus’ point. He isn’t the first or last to misunderstand what Jesus was saying.

The NPR show, Whad’ya Know began the same way, each week. Michael Feldman would ask the audience, “Whad’ya know?” and the audience would respond, “Not much, you?” I can imagine Nicodemus not knowing much as Jesus says ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And then afterward (v 7) “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ and follows up with “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus finds himself unable to deal with the strangeness of Jesus’ comments. Finally, he is forced to ask, “What does all this mean?” 

Empty Tombs

Isaiah is brought through his grave situation by the touch of the coal that cleanses him. Nicodemus seems to be left stranded, but Jesus demonstrates to him the reason why eternal life resides only in Jesus. He does this by making it clear that this rabbi knows a lot more than “the teacher of Israel”.

Verse 11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” This is the second Amen, amen statement of Jesus. The best explanation of the phrase “truly, truly” is “what I am going to say to you now is certainly true”[3] What Jesus knows is perfect and total. Nicodemus might recognize Jesus has a connection with God because of what Jesus has done, but he isn’t able to testify to Jesus’ Sonship.

Jesus’ experiential knowledge of His identity and He can express this truth whenever it suits Him. His use of ‘we’ is not a reference to his disciples but is the royal ‘we’ as my mom called it. As in “We are not amused”.

Isaiah is undone in the presence of God. Nicodemus merely wonders at this rabbi. Unlike Nicodemus, who just enters into a conversation, Isaiah is horrified, his life is over as far as he is concerned, his sin is too great. But God provides that which atones for his sin. There is no such awe or recognition by Nicodemus.

Nicodemus had approached Jesus with a certain amount of respect (v. 2), but he had not even begun to appreciate who Jesus really was. At the bottom, Nicodemus’s failure was not a failure of intellect but a failure to believe Jesus’ witness.”[4]

Jesus refers to Numbers 21 in verse 14. The people complained against God and Moses and God sent snakes into their midst. Many died but God relented and had Moses create a shake and put it on a pole. When Moses held aloft the pole with the attached serpent those who had been bitten and looked at the pole lived.

The snake was a portent for the future when the plan of God for the redemption of His creation would come to fulfillment in His Son, Jesus. So too, the work of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is the only means whereby one can receive eternal life.

We hear of Nicodemus twice more. In 7:50 he asks an angry group of Jewish leaders if it is right to judge someone without a hearing. He is slapped down hard by his fellow Pharisees. In John 19:38 Nicodemus helps another secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus for burial. We do not know what shaped Nicodemus or moved him from a nighttime visit to joining with others to honor their crucified Lord. Let us pray.

Footnotes:

  1. Griffiths
  2. Le Gallou
  3. Newman and Nida
  4. Carson 199

Works Cited

Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Griffiths, Sarah. "Artist Sees 100 Times More Coulours." Daily Mail 2014. Web. 28 May 2021.

Le Gallou, Sam. "How Far Away Can Dogs Smell And Hear? | Faculty Of Sciences | University Of Adelaide." Sciences.adelaide.edu.au 2020. Web. 26 May 2021.

Newman, Barclay Moon, and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on the Gospel of John. New York: United Bible Societies, 1993. Print. UBS Handbook Series.

 

Works Consulted

Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon 1977 : Print.

Burge, Gary M. John. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Butterworth, I., 2015. The Gift. [online] Sermon Central. Available at: <https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-gift-isaac-butterworth-sermon-on-new-birth-194245> [Accessed 22 May 2021].

Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Fredrikson, Roger L., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. John. Vol. 27. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1985. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Galli, Mark. Jesus Mean And Wild. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2008. Print.

Garrity, Amanda. "How To Get Blood Out Of Clothes Fast." Good Housekeeping. 2021. Web. 26 May 2021.

Griffiths, Sarah. "Artist Sees 100 Times More Coulours." Daily Mail 2014. Web. 28 May 2021.

Hamilton, Stephen J. "Born Again": A Portrait And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Regeneration Within Evangelical Protestantism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017. Print.

Heschmeyer, Joe. "Leonard Cohen, The Christ-Haunted." First Things blog.  2016. Web. 26 May 2021.

Iceland Review. "Lost Woman Looks For Herself In Iceland’s Highlands." Iceland Review 2012. Web. 26 May 2021.

Kanagaraj, Jey J. John. Ed. Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener. Vol. 4. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013. Print. New Covenant Commentary Series 51.

Le Gallou, Sam. "How Far Away Can Dogs Smell And Hear? | Faculty Of Sciences | University Of Adelaide." Sciences.adelaide.edu.au 2020. Web. 26 May 2021.

Newman, Barclay Moon, and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on the Gospel of John. New York: United Bible Societies, 1993. Print. UBS Handbook Series.

Snyder, Benjamin J. “Clean and Unclean.” Ed. Douglas Mangum et al. Lexham Theological Wordbook 2014 : n. pag. Print. Lexham Bible Reference Series.

 



[1] Griffiths

[2] Le Gallou

[3] Newman and Nida

[4] Carson 199

Saturday, February 6

Following Christ

 Tim Wu in his 2016 book “Attention Merchants” as a world in which “You don’t sell things to people, you sell people to advertisers (Wu in Harris).” Google, Microsoft, and Facebook didn’t invent the idea, they just took it to another level.  The start was in the 1830s with the birth of the New York Sun. They undersold their competition, charging a penny, and funded the production of their newspaper with advertising sales. What made them really unique was they went after news that appealed to the masses, “This meant stories about ‘melancholy’, suicides, and lewd murders. Anything to grab eyeballs (Harris).” According to Forbes, and other marketing journals, most of us saw 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. You may not even realize some were advertisements.

Last year was hard for many people. Even those like myself who were out in public found things to be strange and odd. Activities, events, vacations, parties, family gatherings, even funerals had the chance to explode into horrible centers of disease.  Our lives became subject to the whims of a new virus and the learning curve it took us through.

“Last year was a year of again. Each day in 2020 dawned and we got to work again, feed and homeschooled our children again, watched COVID-19 numbers rise again, wondered “When will this be over? “again (Kerhoulas).”

This was a piece in Christianity Today just a couple of weeks ago. About 2021, she notes, “[P]erhaps these unyielding months of the pandemic have…Our lives are full of monotony and repetition, and they always will be (ibid.).”

I believe our texts this morning demonstrate that God has a different pace about Himself. Incarnate, Jesus shows us a different discipline than we have and that the outcome of these two means that God’s blessings are different than we realize.

God’s Pace

I’ve told you about Bob Mumford’s example of patience and training a dog to fetch. The dog isn’t trained when he doesn’t run after the stick but strains forward, ready to go. Training is done when the stick is tossed, and the dog remains relaxed and unmoved until ordered to ‘fetch’.

One of the leaders of Open Doors ministry, which works for persecuted Christians met Pastor Wang Ming Dao who stood firm for Christ until his death in ’91. The Chinese pastor asked Ronald, “Young man, how do you walk with God (Boyd-McMillian 13)?” Reflecting on this he asked, “How can I talk about the Christian life as walking with God when I so often live it at a sprint (ibid.)?”

During Ming Dao’s 20-year imprisonment by the Chinese, the pastor commented that it had become a place of “unchosen, unhurried time… There was nothing to do but to be in God's presence (ibid.).” He summarized his learning from Wang Dao by writing,

"One of the keys to the faith of the suffering church: God does things slowly…We are too quick. We have so much to do—so much in fact we never really commune with God as he intended (Boyd-MacMillan)."

Ming Dao’s prison was our 2020 but his lasted 20-years. Will we learn from it.

God’s Discipline

The gospel of Mark has Jesus going to Peter’s home and healing Peter’s mother-in-law. After Sabbath, in the evening the news of the exorcism and Peter’s MIL caused others to gather at Peter’s home and Jesus healed many of them. Early the next morning Jesus leaves the rest of the household and goes out to a ‘desolate’ place and prays.

Why does Jesus do this? It’s not to regain His power. It’s not to meditate and empty Himself of all the stress. It is to talk with His Father about His next steps. Did you know that Satan wasn’t the only tempter Jesus faced? Right here, He is tempted by those who would be His disciples to return to Peter’s house. Come back Jesus, we have more people to heal. Pretty soon they’ll be coming from all over.

God’s word to His Son was to move into other towns and preach “for that is why I came out” v38. U2’s “Where the Streets have no Names” took over 40% of the time spent on their album The Joshua Tree. The producer, Brian Eno, was so disgusted with the amount of energy being expended he wanted the whole tape destroyed and start over. “There’s a part of Eno that likes instant gratification. He’d rather throw something difficult away and start something new (Songfacts).” Bono did not like the lyrics. He calls them a “sketch…I just wouldn’t have rhymed ‘hide’ with ‘inside’ (Daly).” Bono explains that the context of the song comes from Africa, specifically Ethiopia where he and his wife worked in an orphanage.

"In the desert, we meet God. In parched times, in fire and flood, we discover who we are. That’s my prayer, by the way…Do you want to go to that other place… where the streets have no name (Wenner).”

Bono’s musical invitation is that alone time that he learned from other believers in his life. It is the invitation Jesus offers to Andrew and John when they ask about where Jesus is saying, “Come and see”. It is found in Christ’s offer to the fishermen, “I will make you fishers of men”.

If you an introvert you may be saying, Yes!!! Don’t confuse God’s invitation to a desolate place and prayer as being by yourself, eating food deliveries, and only video chatting. When Jesus is done with this desolate place He goes out into the world. Verse 39 says, “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” There is a call to being apart, but it is a call that leads us into involvement. We can’t have one without the other.

God’s Blessing

Isaiah shows us some of the blessings of God when we walk at His pace and practice His disciplines. In the midst of the difficulties of life “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” We have heard this verse dozens of times. What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? Does it mean going to a conference, prayer retreats, giving alms, or something else?

We wait upon God’s timing. As we wait, we remember that time doesn’t exist for God. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is not above time; He is outside of time. He is its very creator in all it’s mysteries. He knows it all. Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Altogether means God knows the very intentions of everything we say. Not just the ones we admit to ourselves but the responses and reactions that flow from dark, deep places in our souls. He knows it ALL!

It never gets old for God. Come to God with the same a dozen times a day and God doesn’t tire of forgiving us. God doesn’t tire of loving us. God doesn’t tire, or regret sending His Son to die for us.

Let me take us back to the beginning of this message where I talked about our last year being a ‘year of again’, one of monotony. G. K. Chesterton pointed out that God understands and celebrates those who are like a child. The child who wants the same book read repeatedly. Or who loves being tossed up in the air and caught “Do it again” they squeal. To the parents, grandparents, and stuffy adults who won’t repeat their desire Chesterton writes:

"For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them (Chesterton)."

Praise God for Jesus’ love; God’s love; the love from the Holy Spirit who lives within us repeatedly forgives, sustains, nurtures, and covers us day-after-day. Let us pray and prepare to come to the Lord’s Table.

Works Cited

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith That Endures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 2006. Print. 13-14.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Serenity Publishers, 2008. Print.

Daly, Rhian. "Bono Says, 'Where The Streets Have No Name' Is 'Unfinished'." Music, Film, TV, Gaming & Pop Culture News. 2017. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Harris, Michael. "Review: Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants Charts The Battle For Our Mental Landscape." The Globe and Mail. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Kerhoulas, Anne. "What Another Year of Routine Teaches us About God." Christianity Today 2021: Print.

Wenner, Jann S. "Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview." RollingStone 2005. Web. 6 Feb. 2021.

"Where The Streets Have No Name By U2 - Songfacts." Songfacts.com. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Wu, Tim. Attention Merchants. Atlantic Books, 2017. Print.

Work’s Consulted

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith That Endures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 2006. Print. 13-14.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Serenity Publishers, 2008. Print.

Daly, Rhian. "Bono Says, 'Where The Streets Have No Name' Is 'Unfinished'." Music, Film, TV, Gaming & Pop Culture News. 2017. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Gibbs, Alexandra. "MEDIA New TV Binge-Watching World Record Set at 94 Hours." CNBC.com. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. Little Brown and Company, 2000. Print.

Harris, Michael. "Review: Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants Charts The Battle For Our Mental Landscape." The Globe and Mail. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Kerhoulas, Anne. "What Another Year of Routine Teaches us About God." Christianity Today 2021: Print.

Merida, Kevin. "Gut Instinct." The Washington Post 2002: 10. Print.

Scifres, Mary, and B. J. Beu. The Abingdon Worship Annual 2021: Worship Planning Resources for Every Sunday of the Year. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020. Print.

Wenner, Jann S. "Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview." RollingStone 2005. Web. 6 Feb. 2021.

"Where The Streets Have No Name By U2 - Songfacts." Songfacts.com. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Wu, Tim. Attention Merchants. Atlantic Books, 2017. Print.