Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Voice From Heaven

Life of Christ 150

          It is Tuesday. Jesus will die tomorrow. This day is so full and varied it almost belies the ability of the mind to contain it. The Gospels record what has to be almost every interaction and teaching by Christ today. Physically, between Tuesday and Wednesday there was no sleep for Christ. He will be awake, extremely busy, and under intense pressure from Tuesday morning until His death on Wednesday afternoon.
          The day opens with Jesus and the Apostles already in Jerusalem. Among the proselytes at Passover were several Greeks. These were not Jews living in Greece, but actually people of Greek ethnicity. (John 12.20-21) Having heard of Jesus, they come across one of His Apostles that morning in Jerusalem, and they ask to be taken to see Jesus.
          Philip here is faced with the same problem that would confront Peter on the tanner's rooftop in Joppa in Acts 10. He had to decide whether or not to interact with Gentiles. This very thing would become a huge issue in the amost exclusively Jewish early Church and would be dealt with at great length by Paul in his epistles. Philip does not know what to do so he takes the problem to Andrew. Together, they bring the problem to Jesus. (John 12.22)
          Jesus has the weight of His upcoming death uppermost on His mind on this Tuesday morning and it comes out in His response. He says, in essence, that the ethnicity of His followers does not matter; what matters is their response to Christ and to the Father. In other words, if they will believe on and follow the Father then the Father will accept it. (John 12.26) This is completely in keeping with the approach Christ took toward Gentiles His entire ministry and the approach the New Testament tells the Church to take.
          The conversation between Jesus and Andrew and Philip then morphs into a heartfelt prayer by Christ to the Father. I think it spun out of the incredible emotional pressure that Jesus was under. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. (John 12.27-28)
          In response, the Father audibly encourages the Son right in the middle of crowded Jerusalem. Those who were nearby thought it was an angel that spoke to Him and those that were further away thought it was thunder. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. (John 12.28)
          At this point, with a crowd now having gathered around, Jesus mentions again His soon coming death and says it will be beneficial to the people. The Jewish crowd around Him found this puzzling for they knew He claimed to be the messiah and they knew the messiah would not die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? (John 12.34)
          Jesus, of course, could have pointed them to His upcoming resurrection in response but He did not. Instead, He implored them to trust Him while they still had time to do so. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of light. (John 12.36)
          From this story I draw four lessons. First, there are no ethnicities in Christ. We have seen this repeatedly emphasized in His ministry. The first case was the healing of the centurion's servant (see Life of Christ 58) but He placed a similar emphasis on ministering to Gentiles again and again. We find it once again here just hours before His death.
          Second, the only way to produce fruit is to die. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12.24) Just like a kernel of wheat, in dying Jesus brought millions to eternal life. And, like Him, it is only in our death that we too can produce fruit. I do not mean our physical death rather I mean dying to self. There are two kinds of fruit mentioned in the New Testament: the fruit of the Spirit and the souls of men. Neither of those are produced in the life of a Christian who has not and is not crucifying the flesh. We cannot embrace and celebrate our own lives and accomplish anything for the cause of Christ.
          Third, the only way to genuinely live is to die. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12.25) I am thinking at the moment of two girls with whom I attended high school. Twenty five years later it is quite easy to see the arc of their life. Fern (not her real name) was a year younger than I and generally a rebel. She was raised in a Christian home, attended church frequently, and attended my Christian school. She had little interest, however, in following the Lord. She regularly broke the rules, on purpose, and belittled those who kept them. Rachelle (not her real name either) was a year ahead of me. She too went through a rebellious period but she eventually got her head and heart straightened out. For twenty five years Fern has lived selfishly and if you pull up her Facebook page you will find the only thing that gives meaning to her life is alcohol. For twenty five years Rachelle has given her life away, first for a number of years in China as a missionary, and now as a Christian school teacher in the South. Fern is well on her way to losing her life; Rachelle is well on her way to keeping it unto life eternal. I would much rather my daughter grow up to have Rachelle's life than to have Fern's life. I say again, the only way to genuinely live is to die.
       Fourth, the Father knows just exactly when we need encouragement. Everyone has a breaking point. When you reach yours go to the Lord in prayer and He will sustain you. (Psalm 55.22)
          The Boston Marathon this year was a very emotional experience for many people. In 2013, of course, two bombs went off at the finish line, and many people viewed finishing this year's marathon as their personal victory over terrorism. At mile twenty six, just shy of finishing, Dave Meyer of Grayslake, Illinois saw a man begin to go down in front of him. Knowing his own time was already far off his personal best Dave decided to help him. Running over to him he reached down and placed the man's arms over his shoulder and began walking him to the finish line. It was not, however, enough for the man (whose name the media never released) was at the end of his rope, and soon Dave felt like they were not going to make it. Jim Grove, of Texas, was in a similar situation with his time to Dave. As he saw Dave struggling to help this man finish he decided to help as well. He ran over and slung the man's other arm around his neck. Together, the three of them began to stumble toward the finish line. But the man's legs were totally used up, and in spite of his help he began to sink to the ground. Within moments, two other runners, Mike Johnson and Kathy Goodwin, came alongside. Together, the four of them literally carried the man to within inches of the finish line. They gently propped him back up on his feet, and let him step across the line under his own power.

          The Christian life has well and often been likened to a marathon. When you get to your breaking point you will find God waiting to meet you there. Twice on this Tuesday, the longest day of any man's life, Jesus will receive direct encouragement from the Father; once at the beginning and once at the end. I find it so precious. Keep running, beloved. Keep running. He is right beside you, and in Him you will find all the aid you require just when you need it most. 

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