Posts Tagged 'Miracles'

Do Miracles Happen?

miracles

Invariably, when you practice personal evangelism – when you actively and purposefully share your faith with the lost – you will encounter somebody who askes questions along these lines:

Do you really believe a whale swallowed Jonah?

How in the world could Jesus have fed all those people with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish? That’s just not possible.

People who don’t believe, and even many who do, have real problems with miracles. In our highly secularized age, there is no room for even the possibility of miracles. Our society has become not only a skeptical one, but also a cynical one. The fact that the Bible records miracles automatically delegitimizes it to many. You just can’t take the Bible seriously when it talks about crazy things, like seas that part and suns that don’t move, they say. And that’s really why miracles are so vehemently opposed these days. If an unbelieving society can get away with casting aspersions on the miraculous in Scripture, it won’t be long before it can do the same with the resurrection of our Lord. And , of course, that’s the really the ultimate goal of our modern liberal, secular society.

Before you go straining at a gnat, trying to explain how a blind man was healed in Mark’s Gospel, it’s important to understand that a person who obsesses over a miracle like that one probably has issues with the whole idea of the supernatural, not just that particular miracle. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a person who struggles with miracles struggles with the very idea of an all-powerful God. To them, God is either not real or weak. They likely have issues with prophecy or the inspiration of Scripture.

God and natural law

David Hume, Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, and diplomat was highly skeptical about miracles and the supernatural. Hume defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” I’m a big admirer of Hume, and of natural law, but he’s dead wrong on this point. God transgressing a law?  The much vaunted “natural law” isn’t God’s law and it’s the theology of a closed mind, truth be told. Christians believe in natural law, that is, the idea that things behave in a certain cause-and-effect way most of the time. But this doesn’t restrict the supernatural or God in any way because God exists outside of our natural law. Here is where faith comes into play: God has the right and power to intervene in our natural order of things when and how He chooses because He is not bound by our natural law.  Human beings came up with the notion of natural law, not God and He is not obligated to abide by it.  Natural law doesn’t cause anything, it is our way of describing something we observe. God, not natural law, causes things to happen.

What is a miracle?

This is an important question because, believe it or not, a lot of people get confused over what a miracle and what it isn’t. Our use of the word “miracle,” like so many other words in the English language, has changed over time. Today when you get out of church by 12:15, members call that a miracle. If you’re not handicapped but get a parking spot close to the entrance door at Wal-Mart, that’s a miracle. Today, a miracle is just about any good thing that happens unexpectedly or an unusual thing that happens for no reason. For most people, when those kinds of “miracles” happen, they don’t consider it God’s power at work.

But Biblical miracles are different. A Biblical miracle is an act of God breaking into, changing, or interrupting the ordinary course of things. (Paul Little) That’s a good working definition because it excludes things like what we would call “a bit of good luck.”

Different kinds of miracles

Another way to define a miracle is “an event that has no natural explanation.” To be fair to all the skeptics, the Bible does record miraculous events that in all probability have a natural explanation. For example, the famous parting of the Red Sea was made possible by some wildly crazy winds which literally moved the waters, allowing the Israelites to cross over. Something like that certainly could have happened without God’s intervention, but the miraculous bits are the timing; the winds came up at exactly the right time, and the fact that the sea floor was hard and that no Israelite sunk into the mud and mire up to his chest.

And then there’s Lazarus. It’s hard to come up with a natural explanation for the bringing back to life of a man who was known by everyone in town to be dead. When Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, He was working far outside the bounds of our natural law.

Again the skeptics often talk about psychosomatic illnesses. This type of physical problem is caused by the mind. When the ill person starts to think differently, their illness disappears. Skeptics claim this explains a lot of Jesus’ physical healings. Jesus wasn’t a divine faith healer, they say, He was more like a mentalist, using nothing more than mental tricks to “heal” a person. Upwards of 80% of illnesses today may be attributed to problems in the mind, not the body.

It’s entirely possible that some of Jesus’ healings were not so much physical in nature but mental. However, Jesus healed many lepers or people with highly contagious skin diseases. These types of illnesses could not have originated in the mind. Our Lord also healed a man born blind. Congenital blindness has nothing to do with mental illness or positive thinking.

Back to those skeptics for a moment. Sometimes they like to point out that ancient man was gullible and highly superstitious. What they regarded as a miracle in their day may not be in ours. A classic example of this is the flashlight. To ancient man, light shining out of a tube would be miraculous, perhaps of either angelic or demonic in origin. To us, we know the light comes from a filaments in a glass bulb and a battery. We know there’s nothing miraculous about a flashlight, except when we find one during a power failure that actually works!

Now this idea may have some merit for some miracles in the Bible, but most Biblical miracles cannot be explained this way. The man born blind, for example, was well-known in his community; everybody knew he was blind his whole life. Same thing with Lazarus. The whole town knew he was dead to the point of decay. And our Lord’s resurrection, with subsequent eye witness accounts of Him doing things a man in a physical body like ours cannot do is not easily explained away as the superstitious twaddle of ignorant people.

We have deified science and technology today to such an extent that those who think anything can happen outside the realm of our natural law must be exaggerations, misinterpretations, or outright lies. Modern man is always seeking to find a “rational explanation” for supernatural, miraculous events. A single sentence written by J.N. Hawthorne in 1960 is very helpful to us today:

Miracles are unusual events caused by God. The laws of nature are generalizations about ordinary events caused by Him.

Yes, modern man sees the works of God all around him yet often refuses to give God credit for what he sees. Or, to put it another way:

You see, but you do not observe. (Sherlock Holmes)

Miracles everywhere?

Every “holy book” of every religion of every culture all over the world is full of miracles. But Biblical miracles are different. The so-called miracles we read about in pagan literature and myths were often very capricious in nature. Biblical miracles, however, were miraculous though not outrageous or fantastic; they served a purpose. In fact, Biblical miracles can be found during three periods of Biblical history: the Exodus, the times of the prophets who led Israel, and the time of Christ and the early church. The overriding purpose of all the miracles during these three epochs was to confirm faith by authenticating the message of God and the messenger from God or to demonstrate God’s love by relieving some kind of suffering.

Miracles in the Bible never had anything to do with money, personal gain or personal prestige. Jesus Himself was tempted by the Devil to perform miracles for all those reasons yet He steadfastly refused. Jesus’ miracles helped people in need, no doubt, but then there’s this:

I have already told you, and you don’t believe me,” Jesus replied. “The proof is in the miracles I do in the name of my Father.” (John 20:25 TLB)

As far as Jesus was concerned, His miracles served to prove who He was and Who had sent Him. In fact, in John 14:11, Jesus went so far as to say this:

Just believe it—that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or else believe it because of the mighty miracles you have seen me do. (John 14:11 TLB)

But are miracles enough for people to believe? Sometimes you’ll hear somebody say something like this: “If God would just [fill in the blank with a miracle], then I would believe!” Would a miracle convince that unbeliever? Maybe not.

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 14:31 TLB)

That was true in Jesus’ day and it’s true today. Some people will never believe.

The verdict is in

All courts count on reliable testimony in word or by writing. Bernard Ramm made this very pertinent observation:

If the arising of Lazarus was actually witnessed by John and recorded faithfully by him when still in soundness of faculties and memory, for purposes of evidence it is the same as if we were there and saw it.

There are five valid reasons to believe that the miracles we read of in the Bible were real and valid:

Many of the miracles in the Bible were done in public in front of many witnesses. They were not performed in secret, witnessed only by one or two people who later recounted with they saw. Often in the case of Jesus’ miracles, all kinds of people saw them and had ample opportunity to investigate them. Sometimes people even went so far as to attribute Jesus’ miracles to the work of the Devil, but they never denied that something supernatural had taken place.

A lot of non-believers witnessed our Lord’s miracles. They didn’t like what He did, but they never disputed what He did.

Jesus’ miracles took place over several years and were diverse. Some involved healing. Others involved workings of knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Still others involved the very elements of nature itself.

Then there were the people who were directly touched by Jesus’ miraculous power. They went around talking about how Jesus had healed them or cast demons out of them. Their testimony was heard by family members and whole communities.

And lastly, the miracles of Christianity occurred before the Christian faith was established or even founded. The miracles of Jesus served to authenticate His message and the miracles that occurred during the days of the early church served to authenticate the Word of God being preached and taught by the apostles and early church leaders.

The question that many people also have is this: Do miracles happen today? The short answer to this question is: Why not? Has God changed since the days of the Bible? Are you the one who wants to limit His power by saying He can’t work miracles today but He did thousands of years ago? God can do what He wants, to whomever He wants. Why bother praying if miracles aren’t possible today? For that matter, would you even know a miracle if it happened to you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV)

STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 5

Acts 3:1—10

An Amazing Miracle

In Acts 2, we are given a glimpse by Dr. Luke the historian into the routine of the early Christians.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42—47)

In chapter 3 we have a short story illustrating this. Luke picks one particular miracle to give the reader an idea of what life was like for the very early Church. He could have related any number of miracles, but he chose the healing of the lame man.

Also in this third chapter of Acts, we have a record of Peter’s second sermon. The theme of this second sermon is the theme of all the apostolic sermons in Acts: Jesus Christ. Specifically, Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified.

But the miracle cannot be separated from the sermon. Miracles were never performed by Jesus or His apostles to appease or amaze the people. These “signs and wonders” were performed to draw attention to the exposition of the Word of God.

1. The setting, 3:1

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.

Luke’s attention during these early days was focused primarily on Peter, the spokesman of the twelve apostles. Peter was accompanied by John, the son of Zebedee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter and John were part of our Lord’s “inner circle,” and were with Jesus at the time of His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and they were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). No doubt Peter and John worked well together, and the church in Jerusalem recognized them as leaders from the very beginning. They were often paired together, although Peter was the one who generally spoke while John listened.

That these two church leaders made a habit of going to the temple to pray regularly is suggested by the use of the phrase “were going up.” This phrase, in its Greek form, is in the “past progressive form,” which indicates that this “going up to the temple to pray” was a regular part of their daily routine. Not only was it the daily habit of Peter and John, but of all the early Christians, who considered themselves as Jews who worshiped the Messiah, and would have never given up traditional prayer times at the temple.

Herod’s Temple was still standing in Jerusalem, and it would remain for the next 40 or so years. Josephus wrote that even during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the priests continued to offer their sacrifices on the altar. The Jews and Jewish Christians both made full use of the temple and its grounds. At three o’clock in the afternoon, when Peter and John were heading into the temple, the evening sacrifice was being offered. These sacrifices, however, were now valueless to all who worshiped Jesus, for He fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Law. Nonetheless, these two men go into the temple, not to offer a sacrifice, but to pray, as was their custom.

Remember, this is the Church in its infancy. Initially, the Kingdom was to be offered only to the Jews, then it would be offered to the rest of the world. At this point, the Church is full of Jews; few if any Gentiles. So, it should make perfect sense that in these very early days the Jewish-Christians would remain faithful to both Christ and elements of the Law. Very shortly, however, the Gospel would break into the Gentile world.

2. The confrontation, 3:2, 3

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.

Like the two apostles, a man “lame from birth” made going to the temple part of his daily routine, but for very different reasons. Strangely enough, this man wasn’t brought to the temple to pray for healing or to worship God, but to beg for money. This was a very common practice in New Testament days. Handicapped people were not taught a trade but taught to become beggars. Close friends or relatives would bring the lame person to the temple and place them where the most people would walk by them and, hopefully, give them some money. The fact that almsgiving was seen as a very virtuous act by this time shows how far Judaism had fallen from God’s ideal. When the Law was given, God made it clear to the Israelites that there should be no poor people living among them.

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)

For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you. If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deuteronomy 14:6, 7)

The Jews, however, ignored God’s command and the result was, as Jesus observed, that “the poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7). Interestingly, the early church was determined to wipe poverty out from its ranks by making sure the truly needy had their basic needs met. And it seems that for a while, they were successful. How it must have grieved God, however, to see His House so misused. A minor, but powerful lesson for the Church of Jesus Christ today. Let’s make sure the Church does what Jesus Christ founded it to do and not what makes us feel good.

As they went into the temple through the Beautiful Gate, the beggar set his sights on Peter and John. He expected them to help him out financially. The beggar “asked them for money” is a phrase written in the imperfect present tense, which suggests the beggar asked Peter and John repeatedly for money; over and over again.

3. A surprising response, 3:4—6

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Here is Peter the mouthpiece of the Church, while John remained silent. There are a couple of points that should be noted. First, we need to note what Peter did NOT do: he did not give the beggar any money. Obviously, Peter had resources. He had access to all the money from the people who sold lands and other valuables. What better use for the church’s money than to help out a poor, crippled man? That’s how modern Christians think, but that’s not the purpose for which the Church was founded. Those resources were to be used to help members of the Christian community, not people outside the Christian community. Does that mean that God, or Peter and John, were cold and heartless? Not at all!

Second, what Peter gave the beggar was what the beggar really needed. The beggar thought all he needed was money, but the beggar’s need ran deeper than the need for material things. Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ. Does this mean that the man needed to be healed? No, it means something more than that. The word “name” in Semitic thought is significant because it involves the whole revelation of the person mentioned. So when Peter says to the beggar “name of Jesus Christ,” Peter is referring to everything knowable about Jesus: His virgin birth, sinless life, His ministry and teaching, His suffering and atoning death, His resurrection and ascension. So what Peter offered the crippled man was not merely healing, but salvation.

4. The beggar’s response, 3:7, 8

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

The offer made by Peter called for faith on the part of the crippled man. He needed to put his faith in Jesus. To encourage his faith, Peter extended a hand to the man, who reached out in faith. Jesus did a very similar thing when He healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter’s own home:

So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:31)

This must have made an impression on Peter! He later used the exact same technique when he healed the lame man. In both instances, the one needing healing had to reach out first, before a miracle took place. In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, she took Jesus’ hand and then He helped her up. After the lame man took hold of Peter’s hand, “the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” There was a responsibility on the part of ones needing healing to do something, no matter how minor, to demonstrate their willingness to receive what was being offered them “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in his life, this once-crippled man was able to stand up. Now that was a miracle! But that was just the beginning. As soon as the man was able to stand up, a second miracle took place: he began to walk. This ability to walk is a learned skill; it normally takes time for a child to learn how to walk. But this man started walking right away. In fact, he didn’t just walk, he jumped and walked and praised God all at the same time. Think of the change. Just a few minutes ago, all this crippled man wanted was a few dollars to get him through another day. He had never walked. He had to be carried everywhere. Although he was at the temple every day, he had never gone inside; never praised God with his family or his friends. And what was the very first thing this man did after he was touched by Jesus? He ran inside the temple, praising God!

5. Other responses, 3:9, 10

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

There were many, many people in the temple for the afternoon hour of prayer and sacrifice; many Jews and many Jewish-Christians. This once-crippled man was well-known to all Temple-goers. We can imagine that he hit many of them up for an offering in the past. They now recognized this man who was now walking, jumping, and praising God as the man who had never walked in his life. They were completely surprised, amazed, and astonished at this miracle.

This may well be the most significant miracle in the whole Bible, not because it is any more amazing and astounding than other miracles, but because of what Isaiah wrote centuries before;

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:6)

When the Spirit fell during the Day of Pentecost, not only was the Church of Jesus Christ empowered to its work, but it would be last time the Kingdom of Heaven would be offered to the Israel. Time and time again, the children of God rejected the Kingdom. They ultimately rejected the King Himself, preferring to crucify Him than worship Him. But Jesus made it clear that after the Spirit fell, Israel had one last chance. The newly energized Church was not to take off running with Gospel to the four corners of the earth; that would happen later.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

It was to start in Jerusalem. This would be Jersualem’s final chance to accept what Jesus Christ was offering. Many who heard Peter preach believed; 3,000 the first time, 5,000 the second time. And here was one man who believed and immediately was able to “leap like a dear…and shout for joy.”

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

PSALM 114: We are God’s People

Psalms 113—118 form a special group of “liturgical psalms” known as Hallel Psalms, or “The Egyptian Hallel” psalms because they have reference to the the Exodus. These psalms served a very distinct purpose; they were used at the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and Dedication. This is the psalm that Jesus and the disciples would likely have sung before they entered the Garden of Gethsemane.

Psalm 114 is a clear call to praise the God of deliverance. In Psalm 113, He is the God who creates, sustains, and redeems. Here He is the one who delivers His people or sets His people free. Because God does this for His people, they are to praise Him. The theme of Psalm 114 is that God redeemed His people because He made a covenant with them and because He dwells with them.

The Exodus from Egypt was the most significant event in the life of Israel; little wonder they sung this hymn every year! Each generation was to recall what God did for previous generations and praise Him! Even if that person had never experienced God’s deliverance, they were to praise Him because He did it for others. God’s mighty acts are so wondrous and so life-changing, that they transcend time! You can be transformed by hearing about what God has done for others. This is the power of the Word of God! It is also why sharing your faith with others is so important. As you tell other people about what Jesus has done for you, they will be touched by your testimony. Remember the words of Psalm 107:2—

Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story…

People who know the Lord will be encouraged when they hear your story, and that same story will cause unbelievers to think and consider:

[S]o is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

So, never be afraid to “tell your story” of deliverance! All Christians have been delivered from a fate worse than Egypt; we have been delivered from the power of death, hell and the grave, and that is the story we are to tell.

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. (psalm 89:1)

1. We are a covenant people, 114:1, 2

When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

This psalm begins like a bullet shout of a gun! The Exodus, the “birthday of Israel,” begins this Hallel psalm. God’s people were miraculously set free from “a people of foreign tongue” because God had made a covenant with them. Throughout the Old Testament, this single event is seen as the very foundation of Israel’s faith in the redemptive power of God. Just as God had redeemed or delivered His people out of Egypt, so He would continue to deliver them from all their enemies. You cannot help but notice how often that theme is repeated in the Old Testament. But redemption is also a theme that spans the Testaments, for Christ’s redemption of sinful man is the central tenet of Christianity and the essence of the Gospel. The great “scarlet cord of redemption” is what ties the Old and the New Testaments together! It’s why they can’t be separated.

The sequence of events in the life of Israel is fascinating to consider. When God first called Abraham into the Promised Land, Abraham was a stranger in the very land God had given him. In time, Abraham’s descendants had to temporarily leave that Land of Promise and go down to Egypt, where they would become a nation. Israel became a nation, not in their homeland, but in a foreign land—a land of bondage, anti-Semitism, and ungodly beliefs—where they suffered hardships and persecution. Eventually, God delivered them from Egypt in a most miraculous way on account of the covenant He made with Abraham. God never forgot that covenant; He never forgot His people even though it must have seemed like it to them. And it was after they left Egypt that He took up residence with them.

Israel became God’s “sanctuary.” In this Psalm, Israel and Judah simply denote all of God’s people, all 12 tribes. These were God’s special people, and He chose to live with them as He led them.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:5, 6)

Did you know that exact same promise was given to the Church? It’s not that God has forgotten Israel, or that He has thrown them over in favor of the Church; it’s that what God had done for Israel practically He has done spiritually for us!

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9, 10)

What a great blessing! But what a great responsibility: we are to “declare the praises of him who called us out of the darkness.” We are to tell our story.

2. What nature saw, 114:3—6

This group of verses is very poetic, and of course we don’t parts of it literally. What the psalmist is illustrating is that God’s election and deliverance of Israel had a powerful and lasting effect on the world at large. So great was what God did for His people, that even nature noticed.

The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs?

The children of Israel crossed both a sea and a river when God set them free; literally nothing could stop them when God was leading them. But it wasn’t Israel per se that caused nature to sit up and take notice, it was the awesome display of God’s power. It was the Lord who was victorious over the power of sea. Nature opened a wide path for God’s people because God was with them. As we read this series of rhetorical questions, we see that all nature responds to the power of God in two ways: fear and joy. This is how the world always reacts to God, incidentally. Either they gladly accept Him and His Word or reject Him in fear, and sometimes that fear in manifested as anger. As to why the world reacts to God’s presence as it does, the words of John might provide the answer:

[B]ut every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:3, 4)

The world can recognize a child of God because God’s presence is in you just as He was with the children of Israel.

3. God is with us, 114:7, 8

Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.

Verse 7 begins with the word “tremble,” but the Hebrew means literally, “be in pain.” The word is used to describe acute, sharp pain, like the pain of childbirth. This how the earth reacts at the presence of the Lord. Verse 8 references an incident in Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:8—11, where God miraculously provided water for His people.

There are a couple of powerful lessons to be learned from these two verses. First, notice the repetition of “at the presence of the Lord.” It’s important for the Bible reader to take special note of repetition, especially in the Psalms. If something is repeated, it is for emphasis. In this case, the phrase is repeated because it is the climax to the entire psalm and it is the only answer to the questions the psalmist raised in verses 5 and 6:

Q: Why did the sea stop and flee?
A: Because of the presence of the Lord.
Q: Why did the Jordan turn back?
A: Because of the presence of the Lord.
Q: Why did the mountains leap like rams and the hills like lambs?
A: Because of the presence of the Lord.

Passages like this demonstrate forcefully that the Lord is truly master over all! He is the Sovereign Lord of all the universe; He is the master over all nature. And this all powerful God has chosen to freely associate with His people.

Secondly, verse 8 not only shows God’s mastery over nature, but it shows that the wonders of God never cease. The God who was able to make water flow from a rock to quench the thirst of His people still draws from nature all the blessings His children still need. There is no situation that is so hard and so inauspicious that God cannot pull a blessing out of it for a faithful believer.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

“All things” means “all things!” Not only the good things, but “all things” can be turned into a blessing for the one who faithfully serves God. The key is to remember that God is with you no matter what, and instead of seeing only the “all things,” you need to focus on the reality that God’s presence is a force to be reckoned with in your life. He, not you, has the power to give you victory in any and every situation. Sometimes, all it takes a the right perspective to make a confession of faith like Joseph did:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

Nature knows what God can do. Do you?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

JOHN, Part 17

LOOKING FOR A FREE MEAL

John 6:22—70

The incident of Jesus walking on the water (verses 16—21) is a kind of pause in the major theme of chapter 6—Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life.  Why would John break the flow of such a major theme?   There are likely three main reasons for recounting the fascinating walking-on-water story:

  • It accounts for the change in scenery from Bethsaida, where the large crowd was fed, to Capernaum, where Jesus would give His monumental teaching on the Bread of Life.
  • It shows man’s total inadequacy in the face of adversity when left to his own resources.
  • The disciples learned a valuable lesson during the storm:  God’s presence comes to man, not only when he is engaged in worship, but sometimes at the most unexpected time and at the moment of his greatest need.

1.  Looking for Jesus, verses 22—24

The great crowd of people who had been following Jesus around and who been fed miraculously by our Lord, did not easily give up; they were determined not to lose contact with Jesus, the amazing Miracle Worker.   Since it was the next day, they were likely hungry for food again.  The people made it appear like they had followed Jesus across the lake because of who He was, but it will become apparent in the next few verses that they hoped they would get something from Him.

2.  Three questions, verses 25—34

(a)  First question:

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”  (verse 25)

It seems like the people were genuinely surprised to find Jesus on the other side of the lake, which suggests they knew nothing of the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.  This special, very private miracle was probably just for the disciple’s benefit.

Jesus’ answer to their first question was really a non-answer—

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (verse 26)

Jesus was not being rude by side-stepping their question; He could see into their hearts and knew what they really wanted.  If this brief exchange teaches us one thing it is that regardless of what we say with our mouths, the Lord knows what we really mean!   We might as well be totally honest before the Lord when we pray since He knows our real motives anyway.  Jesus knew the motive for their search for Him was completely wrong and He would have no part of it.  This is interesting because many times in the past, in both Testaments, we see God literally condescending to meet man even when doing so was not what God originally intended.  For example, God allowed Israel to have a king, even though that was not what He wanted for them.

This time, however, Jesus’ answer is really a sharp reprimand for their worldly attitude and for completely missing the purpose of His miracle.  They were materialistic and Jesus confronted that attitude unapologetically.  The word translated “loaves” really means “fodder.”  These people had stuffed themselves yesterday and today they want to be fed again.

Verse 27 is really a brief mashal—

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

This verse has four meanings essential for living a healthy spiritual life:

  • “Do not work for food that spoils” = Stop desiring food (bread cakes) as if physical food will meet your every need.  Food satisfies only temporarily.
  • “Work for food that endures to eternal life” = Strive for spiritual food, which is found in the Words of the Son of God.
  • “This food comes from the Son of Man” = Literally, Jesus is hinting that He will give His life for those who would believe in Him.
  • “God has set His seal of approval on the Him” = By means of the signs and wonders, the testimony of John the Baptist, the Scriptures,  and the testimony of God Himself from Heaven, Jehovah has literally “certified” that Jesus Christ really is the long-sought after Messiah.

(b)  Second question

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  (verse 28)

This question is not as innocent as it appears on the surface, for lurking beneath their words the people were clearly asserting an attitude of self-sufficiency, as if human beings had the capability to do anything God desires!   In this context, the “works God requires” seems to mean doing what pleases God.   To Jews, gaining eternal life consisted of find the right “formula” for performing the works—good deeds and obeying the Law—in order to make God happy.

Jesus’ very enigmatic reply was simply—

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  (verse 29)

In other words, the only way to please God is to have faith in the One He had sent.  The present tense of the verb “believe” is important because Jesus is telling His questioners that they must have faith continually; they must live a life of faith.

(c)  Third question

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.]”  (verses 30, 31)

These verses surely reveal the hardness of the human heart in all its glory!  This is the same crowd that had been stuffed the day before when our Lord graciously fed them; today, though they have no interest in “believing” in Jesus as the Messiah, they wanted a sign.  Specifically, they want yet another sign in the form of more free food!  How many signs—how much free food do people need before they will believe and have faith in Jesus as the Son of God?  Wasn’t one big meal enough?  Will it take another?  And another?  At what point does Jesus stop giving out free food and performing signs?

His answer strikes at the heart of their problem—

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  (verses 32, 33)

The people had not only been materialistic, but also arrogant and insulting to Jesus.  They had wanted another free meal and actually compared Jesus to Moses, a man they greatly esteemed, and they concluded that Moses did a lot more than Jesus did because Moses provided free food every day, while Jesus just gave them one free meal.  At this point, Jesus set the record straight.  The so-called bread that Moses gave the Israelites did not come from Moses at all but from God.

And even that free gift of manna—bread from heaven—like the Law, was intended to foreshadow the true Bread which was to come.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  (Hebrews 10:1)

Reading this exchange, we are reminded of the Samaritan’s woman’s exchange with Jesus back in chapter 4.  She needed water because she was thirsty and Jesus told her about the “living water” only He could provide.  To that, the woman said this—

“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”  (John 4:15)

Upon hearing about this bread from heaven, like the woman at the well, the response of the people in crowd showed they were totally deaf to what Jesus had said.

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”  (verse 34)

3.  An explanation, verses 35—40

Since His audience was clueless as to what Jesus meant, He goes on to explain His mysterious saying.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (verse 35)

Continuing to use the bread metaphor, Jesus told His audience that He was the Bread to which He was referring; just as manna came down from Heaven, so also did He.  Just as manna was God’s special gift to the Israelites, so also was He.  It is noteworthy that it was God who gave the Israelites the “bread of life” and it is God who has given the same people His Son.  Those to whom the Father gave Jesus should, just as their forefathers gathered the manna, come to Jesus in faith.

The people must have been startled.  Jesus had just told the people that it wasn’t Moses who fed the Israelites in the wilderness it was God, and now He told them that He was the Bread from Heaven.  The power of this verse should not be glossed over:  only Jesus can satisfy all the needs of every human being.  “Hunger” and “thirst” are the most basic, most intrinsic of all human needs.  If Jesus can meet and satisfy those needs, are there needs He cannot meet?  Of course not!

In the Greek, Jesus’ assertion looks like this:  “I am the bread of the life.”  The definite article, missing in our English translations, is restrictive:  the life is eternal life; it is the only life that really counts.

Human beings haven’t really changed much in the last 2,000 years.  We place such a premium on this life; our temporal lives.  Most of us are very concerned about out temporal needs (and often wants) being met, rarely giving much thought to our spiritual lives.  Yet here Jesus makes it abundantly clear that His main concern is for the spiritual health of people.  Of course, He is able to meet our temporal needs and does meet them, but unlike human beings, His priority is on our eternal lives.  Perhaps if we adjusted our priorities to match His, we’d find our prayers being answered with much more regularity.

Another important feature of this verse is the present tense of the verbs “comes” and “believes,” which indicates a continued and persistent action.  The implication of this is often missed:  if we stop coming to Jesus or stop having faith in Him then our sense of need and dissatisfaction with our lives will re-surface.

There are two main themes in verses 37—40.  First, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is available to all people, even those who may refuse to believe at the moment.   The crowd was stubbornly refusing to believe in what Jesus was saying, but He makes it clear that if they changed their minds and came to Him, He would accept them.  Second, eternal life is the gift of God to man and it is God’s will for men to come to Him.  This does not mean that all men will be saved; there is a strong caveat—

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.  (verse 40)

4.  Further explanation, verses 41—51

The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had a problem reconciling the fact that obviously this man was human—they knew His parents!— yet at the same time He had claimed to be Bread from Heaven!  This they could not wrap their minds around.

How could our Lord meet such an objection?  First, He pointed out that it was God, not them, who took the initiative to save sinners—

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.  (verse 44)

Second, while God does the drawing, it is the responsibility of the one being drawn to look in faith on Jesus Christ, believing in His claims.  God cannot make anybody believe!  It takes an act of the will on the part of a sinner to do that.  But the reward of stepping out in faith and believing in the “impossible” is eternal life—

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  (verse 51)

The Jews must have been appalled at that.  Jesus was not advocating cannibalism, He was simply carrying on the bread/manna metaphor.   We may wonder why Jesus was speaking in metaphors like this, for how could He expect these people to understand?  The fact is, they should have seen that Jesus was God’s full revelation to them—

It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.  (verse 45)

What was Jesus doing if not teaching them?

5.  The inadequacy of faith apart from Jesus, verses 53—59

Jesus made Himself perfectly clear, repeating the phrase “I tell you the truth.”  Having made a statement that sounded like cannibalism, He further repulsed the Jews by telling them they would have to “drink His blood” in order to gain eternal life (verses 53—56).   This sounds more than repulsive on the surface, but to the Jews who knew the Law of Moses, Jesus’ teaching had degenerated into heresy!  The Law specifically forbade the drinking of blood on penalty of being ostracized from the community (Leviticus 17:10—14).    Three times during His conversation with the crowd Jesus referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  He was certainly not making having faith in Him easy for His listeners!  His teachings, which sounded so beautiful up till now, suddenly took a decidedly bizarre turn, forcing these Jews to confront their old religious beliefs and prejudices.  Had there been any Saducees in the group, as there could well have been, they would have accused Jesus of being an absolute lunatic, since He was now teaching on the resurrection of the body, something they staunchly denied.

Jesus’ progression of thought is noteworthy.  He had come into the world of human beings from the Father above to meet their spiritual needs just as the manna of the Old Testament met their physical needs.  As the people partook of the manna literally, their hunger was satisfied.  As the Bread from Heaven, Jesus could meet man’s spiritual needs only if man figuratively partook of His body.  But, here is the big difference:  the people needed the manna every day; it satisfied them only temporarily.  By partaking of Jesus’ Body, a person’s deepest and truest needs would be satisfied forever.

6.  Too much to take, verse 60—70

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Indeed, from this point onward, the crowds the followed Jesus thinned out considerably.  It wasn’t that Jesus’ teaching was hard to understand, it was that it demanded so much of those who heard it; it carried the demands of the Cross.  Westcott observed,

It made claims on the complete submission, self-devotion, self-surrender of the disciples.

When His teachings began to demand something from His listeners many, went back—

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  (verse 66)

As was stated earlier, human beings haven’t changed a bit in 2,000 years.  When a person is confronted with the true teachings of Christ, they are forced to make a choice, just like many in the crowd were:

  • Clearly, some of Jesus’ followers were more interested in material gain—free food—than in turning control of their lives over to Jesus (verses 26, 27);
  • Some were totally happy and content with a “comfortable” religion that demanded little of them (verses 30, 31);
  • Some, namely Judas, saw the real cost of discipleship and holiness (verses 53, 70, 71).

The demands of Jesus are the same today as they were in the days He made them.  Following Jesus is not meant to be easy; it is the hardest thing a human being can do because it means surrendering our wills to His will for us; it means being uncomfortable as we learn to exercise our faith in Him.  A lot of people flirt with Jesus; they love the free food and the fellowship they experience with God’s people, but few make it past those things into the inner chambers of true consecration, devotion, and eternal life.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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