“but I know you — I know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 5:42 MOUNCE-NT)

The short stories of Flannery O’Connor are filled with shocking characters who do shocking things.  In perhaps her most famous short story, an escaped convict shoots a grandmother three times in the chest and then says: “She would have been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Miss O’Connor had a definite purpose in her short stories, they were designed to open up the eyes of a blind world to grace.  She comments on her stories: “My audience are the people who think God is dead. . . . To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

I thought of Miss O’Connor when I read Jesus’ words above this morning.  He spoke them to Jewish leaders who thought that they were the most faithful examples of piety in all of Israel.  They followed the Mosaic Law faithfully,  and encouraged (perhaps demanded is a better word) others to follow it also. Yet, here we have Jesus saying you do not have the love of God in you.  How shocking this must have been to hear since these people would have set themselves up as the prime example of faithfulness to God and to God’s law of all of God’s people.

What to do when you face someone who is content in their own form of godliness and yet so far off the mark that they are the opposite of what they think they are.  You figuratively slap them in the face, like a Flannery O’Connor character.  These self-righteous people needed to be shocked out of their blindness; they needed to have their ears opened.  Jesus’ words here are an act of love, they are a mercy, but a severe mercy, because his hearers needed to be shocked out of their comfortable self-righteousness.

We need to be careful that we do not read quickly through this section of John and assume that it doesn’t apply to us.  Jesus was speaking to the religious conservatives of Israel, to the ones who took following God’s law the most seriously of all of the people.  The problem was that in following God’s law they had no place for God’s love.  We need to search our own hearts and ask ourselves: in my good desire to follow Jesus, am I neglecting to love others as he loved them?

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“So they went out of the town and made their way to Jesus.” (John 4:30 MOUNCE-NT)

I love the simplicity of this statement.  On the one hand it is a straightforward description, the woman at the well goes back into the village and tells the people to “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could this man be the Messiah?”  The reaction of the people? They made their way to Jesus.

And oh, what a reaction it is.  Little did they know that the short distance from the village to Jacob’s well, would work in them an eternal change that reverberates down through the ages, to our own time, to the time to come, to eternity itself.

Could there be any better description of a journey to faith than they made their way to Jesus?  Could there be a shorter journey with more profound consequences in all of history?  They left the village, sinners who were condemned by their sin and worthy only of judgment, they returned speaking these words: we have heard him for ourselves, and we know that this man truly is the Savior of the world.

They made their way to Jesus and they found life eternal.

Now many days had Israel been,—without the faithful God、 and without a teaching priest、 and without the law; But they turned、 in their distress、 unto Yahweh God of Israel,—and sought him、 and he was found of them.” (2 Chronicles 15:3–4, EMPH)

There are two “surprises” in this verse, which, when we understand the character of God, are not really surprises at all.  The first surprise is that God’s own people were for many days without a teaching priest and without the law.  This is amazing when one stops to think about it, because their whole manner of life rested upon their relationship with God and yet, they no longer had access of (or presumably knowledge about) the law of God.  It’s pretty difficult to follow God’s law if one doesn’t know or understand it.  The reason for all of this mess was that Israel was without the faithful God.  God had abandoned them.  They wanted to live life their own way, and God allowed them to do what they wanted.  It did not work out.

The second non-surprise surprise is that when Israel in their distress sought God, he was found of them.  God did not abandon his people completely and for all time.  He abandoned them for a season and handed them over to distress so that they would return to him.  The abandonment and distress was an act of grace! This is the nature of God and this is why allowing himself to be found by his people was not a surprise.  This is his character.  Even in judgment his mercy and grace come bubbling out every nook and cranny of his character.

As followers of God we do not want to experience distress because we have abandoned him; however, we know that if we do go through this, that God is there waiting for us to come back to him.  Indeed, he is working all the time for this to happen, whether we know it or see it or not.

 

Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 13:18, ESV)

The Emphasized Bible translates the words “they relied on” as “they leaned on” and that is a pretty good translation of the Hebrew word that is used here.  Here is one good definition of the word translated “they leaned on”:  “rely on, rest in, depend, i.e., have trust and belief in an object to the point of being in jeopardy if the object of trust fails.” [Dictionary of Biblical Languages Hebrew]

We can understand the word if we think of it this way.  Imagine that you visit the Grand Canyon and go to the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This is a glass walkway that extends out over the rim of the Grand Canyon, so if it breaks while you are on it, you will plummet to your death.  When you walk out on that glass, you are relying on the fact that the engineers who designed the thing knew what they were doing, and that the glass won’t fail.  If the glass fails, your life is in danger.

When the men of Judah (sadly) battled their own brothers, they were at risk of losing that battle and the men of Israel prevailing over them.  However, the writer of Chronicles is careful (as he usually is) of assigning the first cause of the victory of Judah.  They relied on, they leaned on, the Lord the God of their fathers.

And they prevailed.

We do not battle in a literal army on behalf of the Lord in our day.  We are, however, called to rest upon him, to rely upon him, to trust in him for all matters great and small.  Indeed, this seems to be the whole essence of living the Christian life, learning to trust God even when we do not see or understand what he is up to.

Plumb puts the issue this way in her song God Help Me:

What will you ask of me?

Will I listen to your voice, when you speak?

Help me to move

Help me to see

Help me to do whatever you would ask of me

Or you can just listen to her yourself:

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, ESV)

John, near the end of the great prologue to his gospel, points out that there is something different between Moses and Jesus Christ, and this is a crucial truth.

The law was given through Moses, John writes. Jesus, however, did not come to give us the law, he came to give us something different, something that the law itself could not provide, he came to bring us grace and truth.

We might explain this by saying that Jesus Christ personified grace and truth.  What I mean by that is, if we want to understand grace and truth, if we want to see it in action, if we want to know what grace and truth are like, then we look to Jesus because he is the absolute, pure, perfect embodiment of grace and truth.

The law served its purpose, but Jesus came to live out the law perfectly, so that we who could not live the law perfectly might be declared perfect through Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law and therefore made it obsolete.  We live under a New Covenant now, one that is sealed by Jesus’ shed blood at the cross and obtained by faith in him.

Jesus explains it this way, when he takes Passover with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed:

“In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20 HCSB)

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and going inside they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Luke 24:2–3 MOUNCE-NT)

I love Luke’s spare use of words here to describe the indescribable: they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

The women who first went to the tomb expected to find Jesus’ body and to minister to him in death by anointing his body. They were going to serve him, even though he could no longer serve them.  They were surprised, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

What these faithful ladies had not figured out yet, but would figure out very quickly, was that rather than serving Jesus themselves, he was serving them; he rose from the dead so that they would no longer be subject to death.  Their anointing oil was not necessary, and would never again be necessary.  They came to anoint a dead body, they were the first to discover, even though they didn’t realize it yet, that they were dealing with a risen body.

Can words even plumb the depths of events here?  This incident, recorded in such a short scene, is the pivotal event of history.  The world would not be the same because of it; all those who follow Jesus by faith have hope because of it; and without it, we are all hopeless.

They did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Thank the Lord that they did not.

“He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he handed over Jesus to their will.” (Luke 23:25, Mounce NT)

Luke writes accurately here, Pilate really did hand over Jesus to the will of the mob that wanted to crucify an innocent man; however, that of course is not the end of the story.  Luke tells us the immediate cause of Jesus being crucified, Peter tells us the real cause:

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, at the hands of those outside the law, executed by nailing him to a cross;” (Acts 2:23, Mounce NT)

and the gathered church prays:

“For truly there were gathered together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predetermined to be.” (Acts 4:27–28 MOUNCE-NT)

The crowd thought, and Pilate thought, that he was handing Jesus over to their will.  In reality God was working out his predetermined plan to save, not only the very people who were insistent on killing Jesus, but to save all those who give their sins to Jesus to be nailed to the cross. The crowd’s will, turned out to be God’s will; how this works I cannot explain, I can only bear witness.