Witnesses to Jesus

GOSPEL MEDITATION

The Gospel of John–John 5:30–47

Witnesses to Jesus

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture. Reread them. From memory, determine the central points.

  1. Following Jesus’ statement concerning His authority especially regarding His authority to judge, is a presentation of the witnesses that establish the truth of His claim.
  2. This witness is essential to meet the requirements of the Law of Moses as seen in Deuteronomy 19:15, the necessity of their being two or three witnesses.
  3. Jesus proceeds to explain His Father bore witness at His baptism when a heavenly voice declared, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” (see Mark 1:11)
  4. Also John the Baptist bore witness when he declared as he saw Jesus coming to be baptized: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (see John 1:29)
  5. A third witness is the miraculous signs Jesus does. Well known to the religious leaders is the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda. And there would be more, with the feeding of 5000 coming up and then finally, the resurrection of Lazarus.
  6. A fourth witness is the Scripture itself. Jesus refers to Moses, but likely includes the entirety of the Hebrew Bible, which includes the many prophecies of the Messiah in the Prophets, but also passages from the Psalms like Psalm 22. How is it, Jesus asserts, that if the religious leaders reject that witness, how will they believe in Him at all?

Jesus is Equal with God & The Authority of the Son

John 5:18-29

Jesus is Equal with God & The Authority of the Son

 

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture. Reread them. From memory, determine the central points.

 

  1. It is one thing to be a Sabbath breaker, it is quite another to claim equality with God. Indeed, the religious authorities understand what Jesus meant when He said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17).
  2. Jesus proceeds to explain what He meant as John recorded in verses 19 to 29.
  3. In statement after statement Jesus affirms that the God of Israel in His Father. You can imagine what might be going through the hearts and minds of those who are hearing Him.
  4. Indeed, the Son does what the Father does. We might understand this to mean that Jesus reveals both who the Father is and what the Father does.
  5. Jesus brings up the issue of judgment and states that the Father commits all judgment to the Son, meaning Himself.
  6. And even more, those who honor the Son are also honoring the Father. The religious authorities could not help but be upset and angry.
  7. There is yet more; Jesus asserts that those who both believe in Him and He who sent Him, meaning the Father, has eternal life. This person does not experience judgement but passes from death to life.
  8. Jesus now speaks more of the coming judgment. The dead will actually hear His voice and will live, have eternal life. The Son has life in Himself as only God has.
  9. Jesus Himself is the one who will judge and the result will be either the resurrection to life or the resurrection to judgment.

 

The Healing at the Pool on a Sabbath

John 5:1–17

The Healing at the Pool on a Sabbath

  1. Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions.
  2. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace.
  3. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer
  4. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself.
  5. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture.
  6. Reread them. From memory, determine the central points.
  7. This pool, called Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy” had 5 covered porches, the remains of which are still to be seen in Jerusalem, beneath a 5th century basilica.
  8. On a Sabbath day, a Saturday, during one of the feasts of Israel, Jesus approaches a man who had been disabled for 38 years. He was present at the pool hoping for a healing, and likely begging as well.
  9. Jesus initiates the encounter. He asks the man if he wanted to be healed. The man replies that he had no one to help get into the pool when the water was stirred up. (Omitted from modern editions of this passage is a fable about an angel stirring the waters and if entered then, healings took place.)
  10. Jesus tells the man to take up his bed and walk. He does so, and Jesus slips back into the crowd of people present.
  11. Religious authorities spy the now healed man carrying his bed and accost him, warning him that by carrying his bed he is breaking the Sabbath law against work of any kind.
  12. The man reports he does not know who it was who healed him. Later Jesus finds the man at the temple and tells him to sin no longer, which either means some sin had caused the illness or that he was still then deep into sin.
  13. The healed man goes immediately to the religious authorities and tells them the healer is Jesus. John then tells us that the healing on a Sabbath day was used to launch a persecution against Jesus. And to His accusers, Jesus speaks of God as His Father, thus making Him equal with God.

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, part 2

The Gospel of John 

John 4:27-45

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, part 2

  1. Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions.
  2. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace.
  3. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer
  4. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself.
  5. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture.
  6. Reread them. From memory, determine the central points.
  7. The disciples are surprised to see Jesus speaking with a woman. This Samaritan then returns to her home and invites all to come with her and see a man who told her “all that she ever did.” She wonders if this could be the Christ.
  8. The disciples urge Jesus to eat only to hear Him say He has food to eat that they are not aware of.
  9. This “food,” they are told, is His doing the will of the one who sent Him, which is the “work” of bringing in a harvest.
  10. Indeed a harvest has begun among the Samaritans, starting with the woman and now more are on their way after they heard the woman’s testimony.
  11. There are sowers, and there are reapers. There had been sowers previously, apparently the words of the prophets as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. The sower and the reaper rejoice together.
  12. The reward of the “labor” of sower and reaper, their “wages,” is the actual gathering of the fruit—seeing people being drawn to the Messiah.
  13. John then reports that many of the Samaritans believed in Jesus, and not because of the woman’s testimony but by means of the words of Jesus Himself.
  14. These new believers suddenly recognize that Jesus is truly the Savior of the world, something that only the Holy Spirit can reveal.

 

Soul Confusion

SOUL CONFUSION

Larry King Live on 16 March 1999 featured five panelists: Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhism Studies at Columbia University; Marianne Williamson, New Age author and spokesperson for the spiritistically channeled Course in Miracles; Rabbi David Aaron, expert on and proponent of Kabbalism, an occult/mystical/gnostic interpretation of Judaism; Deepak Chopra, charismatic spokesperson for a popular version of Hindu monistic thought; and Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization and son of Billy Graham, the renowned American evangelist.

What is the soul?

Though these five differed on many points, they seemed to be able to reach a consensus when it came to an understanding of “soul”. In fact, Deepak Chopra voiced agreement with Graham’s understanding of the soul. We have long heard Billy Graham say words like the following; “You have a soul and it will go to heaven or hell when you die”. According to this idea, the soul is a mysterious, spiritual and immortal part of the human being that leaves the cold, dead body at death. Those on Larry King’s program who believed in some form of reincarnation, were able to agree together about the soul though, from their own traditions, they might have used other symbols to express the same thing. Due to a revival of Greek philosophy in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries AD, Greek dualism infiltrated the Christian church mainly through the work of Thomas Aquinas and his Summa Theologica, which became the fountainhead of Catholic theology throughout the Dark Ages. Greek dualistic thought posits the theory that the mind, spirit and soul are good, even divine, while on the other hand, the body, flesh and matter are bad, the depository of evil. So it was the soul that mattered, the soul that needed saving; the body was simply a temporary prison for the soul.

Soul and self

Confusion concerning the nature of the soul has a powerful influence among the people of Mill Valley where I minister at the Miller Avenue Baptist Church. Though the doctrine is not biblical, and is absent from the teaching of the early church, the idea that the soul is the focus of evangelistic efforts persists in many Christian traditions. Franklin Graham was concerned about the “soul”. He should have been concerned about the whole person, body, mind, soul and spirit. So many in my community believe in reincarnation, that Graham’s doctrine on the soul would not be troublesome for them. The soul? Well, they say, it needs purifying and experiences endless lifetimes anyway. These people do not like to think that they will be resurrected to stand before the judgment of God. “My soul” is one thing; “myself” is another.

Total resurrection

The biblical doctrine is one of bodily resurrection, not the floating away of an immortal soul. We are whole, integrated beings, though the Bible writers spoke variously of mind, heart, body, flesh, spirit and soul for the sake of emphasis. A person is all of these and more, a whole being responsible to God in the totality and indivisibility of his nature. What we are in total will be raised from the dead, either to eternal life or eternal death. We do not have immortality in and of ourselves. The truth of it is found in 1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”.

“Soul confusion” must be countered by the truth of the resurrection, even if it means parting from long established ways of thinking and preaching. Let us not give the unconverted comfort by implying that they only have some ethereal “soul” to be concerned about. They themselves may hear Jesus say, “I never knew YOU; depart from me, YE that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).

Kent Philpott

SOUL CONFUSION

Larry King Live on 16 March 1999 featured five panelists: Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhism Studies at Columbia University; Marianne Williamson, New Age author and spokesperson for the spiritistically channeled Course in Miracles; Rabbi David Aaron, expert on and proponent of Kabbalism, an occult/mystical/gnostic interpretation of Judaism; Deepak Chopra, charismatic spokesperson for a popular version of Hindu monistic thought; and Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization and son of Billy Graham, the renowned American evangelist.

What is the soul?

Though these five differed on many points, they seemed to be able to reach a consensus when it came to an understanding of “soul”. In fact, Deepak Chopra voiced agreement with Graham’s understanding of the soul. We have long heard Billy Graham say words like the following; “You have a soul and it will go to heaven or hell when you die”. According to this idea, the soul is a mysterious, spiritual and immortal part of the human being that leaves the cold, dead body at death. Those on Larry King’s program who believed in some form of reincarnation, were able to agree together about the soul though, from their own traditions, they might have used other symbols to express the same thing. Due to a revival of Greek philosophy in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries AD, Greek dualism infiltrated the Christian church mainly through the work of Thomas Aquinas and his Summa Theologica, which became the fountainhead of Catholic theology throughout the Dark Ages. Greek dualistic thought posits the theory that the mind, spirit and soul are good, even divine, while on the other hand, the body, flesh and matter are bad, the depository of evil. So it was the soul that mattered, the soul that needed saving; the body was simply a temporary prison for the soul.

Soul and self

Confusion concerning the nature of the soul has a powerful influence among the people of Mill Valley where I minister at the Miller Avenue Baptist Church. Though the doctrine is not biblical, and is absent from the teaching of the early church, the idea that the soul is the focus of evangelistic efforts persists in many Christian traditions. Franklin Graham was concerned about the “soul”. He should have been concerned about the whole person, body, mind, soul and spirit. So many in my community believe in reincarnation, that Graham’s doctrine on the soul would not be troublesome for them. The soul? Well, they say, it needs purifying and experiences endless lifetimes anyway. These people do not like to think that they will be resurrected to stand before the judgment of God. “My soul” is one thing; “myself” is another.

Total resurrection

The biblical doctrine is one of bodily resurrection, not the floating away of an immortal soul. We are whole, integrated beings, though the Bible writers spoke variously of mind, heart, body, flesh, spirit and soul for the sake of emphasis. A person is all of these and more, a whole being responsible to God in the totality and indivisibility of his nature. What we are in total will be raised from the dead, either to eternal life or eternal death. We do not have immortality in and of ourselves. The truth of it is found in 1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”.

“Soul confusion” must be countered by the truth of the resurrection, even if it means parting from long established ways of thinking and preaching. Let us not give the unconverted comfort by implying that they only have some ethereal “soul” to be concerned about. They themselves may hear Jesus say, “I never knew YOU; depart from me, YE that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).

Kent Philpott

 

Jesus Heals an Official’s Son

The Gospel of John 

John 4:48–54

Jesus Heals an Official’s Son

  1. Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions.
  2. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace.
  3. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer
  4. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself.
  5. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture.
  6. Reread them. From memory, determine the central points.
  7. Jesus returns to Cana of Galilee, where His first “sign” occurred. At Capernaum, on the NW tip of the Sea of Galilee (or Sea of Tiberius), lived a man whose son was deathly ill. He had heard of Jesus and hoped He might heal his son.
  8. He was an “official,” whether Jew or Gentile is unknown.
  9. Jesus’ response is extremely noteworthy. “Unless you see signs and wonders…” This statement by Jesus could well be the focus of this particular episode.
  10. The official pleaded, and Jesus tells him his son will live. This the man believed and returned home to Capernaum.
  11. As the father was on his way home, his servants met him on the road and announced the son was recovering.
  12. When questioned as to when the son’s recovery began he learns it was at the same time that Jesus said the boy would live. At the seventh hour (either 1pm Jewish time or 7pm Roman time), a fever had left him.
  13. Upon the basis of the healing the official “believed” as well as all those in his household.
  14. John the Apostle asserts this healing was the “second sign that Jesus did.”
  15. Were all those who were healed during Jesus’ ministry born anew? Certainly not, is the obvious answer. Signs and wonders, especially healings are problematic, both then and now. See Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12.

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, part 1

John 4:1–26, part 1

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

  1. Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions.
  2. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace.
  3. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer.
  4. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself.
  5. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture.
  6. Reread it. From memory, determine the central points.
  7. Jesus, with His disciples, crosses through Samaria on their way to Galilee. About noon, they pause at the site of a well Jacob had left to his son Joseph. The Twelve go into Sychar, 0.7 miles away, for food. Jesus, wearied, stays to rest, sitting on the well (fountain in Greek), and is today about 100 feet deep.
  8. Samaria, the site of the “10 Lost Tribes” was overwhelmed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. Many were enslaved in other lands and other captives, non-Jews, were brought in to live in that area. They intermingled, NS were considered half-breeds. They built a rival temple and accepted only the books of Moses as inspired. Their religion was a composite of biblical and pagan worship. It was destroyed a. 120 BCE.
  9. A woman of Samaria came to draw water about noon. Jesus spoke to her, asking her to draw water for him, which shocked her as Jewish men simply did not speak to Samaritan women.
  10. Jesus then says to the woman that if asked, He would give her “living water.” It is obvious that Jesus intends to give witness to this woman, and utterly against all norms.
  11. Jesus tells her the water she would receive would quench her thirst forever. And she wants this living water.
  12. Jesus calls the woman’s attention to her immoral, sinful life. She then suddenly realizes Jesus is very different. After listening to Him, she speaks of a Messiah who is to come.
  13. Jesus announces that He is that Messiah.

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

The Gospel of John # 9

John 3:22-36

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

  1. Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions.
  2. Be comfortably alert, still and at peace.
  3. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer.
  4. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself.
  5. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture.
  6. Reread it. From memory, determine the central points.
  7. John the Baptist was considered a prophet like those of old. After the appearance of Jesus, John is still baptizing, but now in Samaria, the location of Aenon and Salim.
  8. We notice that John was baptizing there because “water was plentiful.”
  9. A discussion arose between some of John’s followers and an unnamed Jew over the concept of ritual purification and the fact that Jesus’ followers were growing.
  10. John, not envious, states that Jesus had been given much, more than he himself because this had been given by God.
  11. John is able now to summarize his calling and also making sure that people understand that he is not the Messiah. John is a friend of the bridegroom, meaning Jesus, and to Jesus are coming the bride, those who belong to God.
  12. John will decrease while Jesus will increase, and for this, John rejoices. These are John’s last words of testimony.
  13. Now, we have the words of John the Apostle again, who explains that the one who comes from above, meaning Jesus, is above all, including then John the Baptist.
  14. In verse 34 we see a primitive presentation of the Trinity: (he) meaning Jesus, (God) meaning God the Father; (Spirit) meaning the Holy Spirit.
  15. Jesus has the Holy Spirit without measure, while then, John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit with measure. And so, like John, will be all of us who become followers of Jesus.
  16. The issue is vital: either eternal life or eternal death.

 

The New Pagans, written in 2003 by Kent Philpott

THE NEW PAGANS

Pagans were the country folk (‘pagan’ means country dweller) who resisted organized religion and practiced ancient rituals and ceremonies. Their pre-Christian religion could be described as animism — the belief that everything is alive with natural or supernatural spirits. 

The ancient pagans used magical enchantments, honored a myriad of gods and goddesses, and lived close to ‘mother earth’, which they tended to deify. Due to their somewhat bizarre beliefs and practices, which sometimes included devil worship, they were easily dismissed. But this is beginning to change.

Pagan spirituality

Many of today’s pagans reject supernaturalism, tending toward a ‘natural’ spirituality without systematic theology or dogma.

Modern paganism (or ‘neo-paganism’) includes a variety of spiritual practices, but they almost all share a respect for (even worship of) mother earth.

Neo-pagans are an eclectic bunch. Since the 1950s they have multiplied so rapidly that they could be the fastest growing religious group in the world. They have no single organization or doctrines, and many people embrace a neo-paganistic worldview without realizing it.

A surprising number of people I know could be described as neo-pagan, though they would be astonished if I said so. Others, however, have no problem with the identification.

Caring and ethical

My experience is that they are caring and ethical people, who live well and do well. They believe that all nature is sacred and therefore to be cared for. They speak of gods and goddesses — of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Druids, for example — as though they were real, all the while knowing they are not.

Some neo-pagans are attracted to the ‘Great Spirit’ that many American Indian tribes believe in. Many practice ancient, naturalistic, healing methods. They may be vegetarians and frequent stores that sell organic, health food products.

Their political stance is often radical, sometimes highly so, and focuses on the environment.

Live and let live

Neo-pagans will not reject me because of my Christianity and hold some of the beliefs that I do. However, they are mostly relativistic, allowing me my truth and holding to their own without worrying about the contradictions.

They are rarely quarrelsome and are not readily attracted to theological debate, preferring to ‘live and let live’.

Neo-pagans’ commitment to the earth, however, borders on pantheism. The earth becomes Gaia, the earth goddess. Their goal is to take care of mother earth so that mother earth will take care of them.

For many neo-pagans, a chimpanzee, a primitive microbe, and a human being all have equal rank and value. Humans, therefore, have no transcendence and are not made in the image of God.

All life is here and now, passing quickly never to return. Humans are simply, and temporarily, at the top of the food chain.

A natural spirituality

Neo-pagans are attracted to ritual and ceremony, observing the onset of the four seasons and special days like May Day. This ‘worship’ takes many forms, but a common goal is to escape from the normal state of consciousness.

Mind altering drugs, ceremonies and rituals may be used to achieve alternative states of consciousness, allowing them to access ‘higher spiritual planes’.

Neo-pagan spiritual leaders are not teachers as much as facilitators — of experiences that harmonize devotees with the flow of nature. It is a peaceful, meditative, simplistic religion with little dogma and no centralized authority.

It is just what many, fleeing the frenzy of modern life, are looking for.

The real Church?

From its establishment in the Fourth Century down to even this very day, the organized church has sought to crush paganism. Possibly millions of ‘witches’ were killed, many burned at the stake, and practitioners of the old ways went underground.

But today, in a technological age when people are out of touch with nature and themselves, neo-pagans are gaining a hearing. And there is some validity in what they say. I can see why many young adults spurn the church altogether.

However, for the most part they have little understanding of real Christianity. They could not so easily ignore it if they understood its true nature.

The God of the Bible

The God of the Bible is Creator of all that exists, yet he stands above the creation. Nevertheless, as the sustainer of all things, He is intimately involved with the material world in which we live.

God told the first humans that they were to care for the world and have dominion over it (Genesis 1:26). Of course, ‘dominion’ can be misinterpreted as freedom to exploit and ravage the environment, but this is not what it means.

God’s care and involvement were demonstrated most clearly when he took flesh and fellowshipped with humans in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus cared for those in need and in pain. He healed, fed, and freed needy people. And he suffered and died for sinners like us. His was and is the highest ethic.

Responsibilities

Mankind was given the right to live off the land but not to abuse it. As the only creatures made in the image of God, humans are responsible for the care of the earth. But making earth a goddess is idolatry.

The earth is not our mother. It is simply where we ‘live and move and have our being’.

Paul’s words to the Athenians in Acts 17 speak pointedly to the neopagan viewpoint and experience:

‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed … I found also an altar with this inscription, “To an unknown god”. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

‘The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.

‘And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, and in the hope that they might feel after him and find him.

‘Yet he is not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”.’

A temporary abode

The earth is our home, made that way by God. And He remains deeply involved with his creation. God is personal, loving, and caring and, says Paul, intends us to seek after him — for this true and spiritual God of the Bible is knowable.

But the earth is temporary. Science is pretty much agreed that the universe will eventually either burn up or freeze out. The Bible is more specific:

‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up’ (2 Peter 3:10).

The ‘day of the Lord’ will usher in a new history and a new home — the paradise of God. The earth we know is filled with corruption and disease, but new heavens and a new earth await those who trust in Christ.

Duped

Neo-paganism can be dangerous. Seeking ‘higher levels of consciousness’ may instead bring devotees face to face with evil spirits through occult practices.

I have often wondered if it dawns on neo-pagans why they are so dependent on rituals and ceremonies — from spells to drumming, chanting and dancing. Is it not to induce altered states of consciousness? Are our minds so numbed by life that we have to manipulate and be manipulated?

Some neo-pagans recognize that they are connecting with spiritual entities — which they break down into good, neutral, and evil spirits.

The Bible, however, tells us there is only one Holy Spirit and the rest are neither good nor neutral. Neo-paganism is serious stuff — much more serious and even dangerous than most people realize.

Satisfying and peaceful

It is not difficult for me to understand the appeal of neo-paganism. Jesus talked about the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choking the Word of God (Mark 4:19), while Paul warns against being ‘conformed to this world’ (Romans 12:2). Christianity has a rich history of simple living, including appreciation of the created order and harmony with it.

But in rejecting ‘the world’ and seeking tranquility, an undiscerning Christian can fall into the trap of deifying nature, just like the neopagan. Christian tranquility is found, not in communing with nature or in altered states of consciousness, but in knowing Jesus Christ.

Christians are free to live in the hubbub of the modern world or to retreat from it. But, either way, they are called to live first and foremost for the praise, worship, and service of Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth.

Neo-paganism misses the mark. It boils down to worshipping the creation and rejecting the Creator — and that is a big mistake.

It may sweep up many who feel their environment is toxic and out of balance, but it is powerless to deliver what it promises — a satisfying and peaceful life lived in harmony with nature.

Only in Christ can we find both joy and peace and a proper relationship with this impermanent earth. The earth is our home for a while, but those who trust in Christ’s salvation have another home, eternal in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God.

Kent Philpott

December 2003