Willard Hears God; Aids Dialogue, Part 2

Willard_review_08172015Dallas Willard.  2012.  Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.  Downers Drove:  IVP Book. (Goto Part 1)

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If God exists, the idea that God speaks to us is unremarkable.

In the back of our minds, however, as postmodern people is the critique of Marx and Freud. Marx called faith in God the “opiate of the masses” while Freud characterized it as an “illusion”. Today they might have suggested that believers were “on drugs” or engaging in “wishful thinking”. While neither critique rises above simple slander—no evidence is presented—such innuendo has weakened the faith of many Christians.

But the Bible itself says that we should expect that God speaks to us every day.  For example, King David writes:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3 ESV; 164-166)

Jesus said:

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50 ESV)

The first example is often referred to as “general revelation” (revealed to everyone) while the second is referred to as “special revelation” (revealed only to believers).

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard offers an interesting starting point for his work: “God has created us for intimate friendship with himself” (12)[1].  What kind of relationship would it be if only of the parties to this relationship did all the talking?  He then writes:

“My strategy has been to take as a model the highest and best type of communication that I know of from human affairs and then place this model in the even brighter light of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.” (12).

The most intimate form of communication is dialog which presumes a relationship of trust.  Willard writes:

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest roots in a failure to understand, accept, and grow into a conversational relationship with God”. (35)

While we may lie to ourselves, a practice known as denial, those that know us well see (and hopefully accept) the good and bad in our personalities and offer us feedback.  Our friends and family love us and want what is best for us. Such is also our relationship with God.  But what friend would spend their day telling us how to improve ourselves?  Willard writes:

“In such conversations [with God] we also talk about other things besides what God wants done today. We talk about what is happening, what is interesting, or what is sad. Most conversations between God and humans is to help us understand things.” (39).

Dialogue between us and God is an important part of our relationship. What exactly does that look like?

Willard offers voluminous advice on recognizing God’s voice in the context of a mature, Christian relationship. One of my favorites is his discussion of the Parable of the Talents.  In this parable, Jesus starts out:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matt. 25:14-18 ESV)

The question is, how does the master evaluate the work of his servants when he returns? In part, the answer depends on the relationship of each servant has with the master, not on his allocation or the outcome of his stewardship. Note, for example, that the master’s accounting does not include a return of the talents or the profits! Note also that the master rewards risk taking and considers hoarding as sloth. Which of us truly knows the mind of God and rejoices in it? God is generous as assuming by the faithful servants, not a harsh taskmaster as the lazy (or risk adverse) servant assumes. (40-41)

Willards instructs his reader on the spiritual discipline known as lectio divina (Latin for divine reading) which is used to experience scripture in new ways. Lectio divina consists of 4 parts:

  1. Lectio (read)—read the passage. The purpose here is not to analyze the passage, but simply read and sit with it.
  1. Mediatio (mediate)—read the passage again taking note of any words that stand out to you. Some people read and re-read the passage placing emphasis on a different word each time. What brought these words to your attention? What were you thinking about God?
  1. Oratio (pray)—After reading the passage again, take it to the Lord in prayer. Ask God what the Spirit may have said to you here.
  1. Contemplatio (contemplation)—Do as you are led. Sit with God and this passage. What does it invite you to do? (48-51)

Willard returns to lectio divina at least 6 times throughout the book[2] suggesting that he considers it is an important tool for developing a dialogue with God[3].

Much more could be said about Dallas Willard’s Hearing GodHearing God is likely to become a devotional classic.  It reads well and refreshes the soul.

 

 

[1] He cites among other things, Psalm 23 as evidence of this relationship.  What is the relationship between a shepherd and sheep if not to live together 24-7?

[2] See:  48, 103, 131, 164, 207, 247.

[3] The morning of the week I was to begin seminary, my morning devotional reading was:

“At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me! So he let him alone. It was then that she said, A bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision.” (Exod. 4:24-26 ESV)

Confused about the passage, I found that the commentaries linked it the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel who left him crippled the night before he met his brother (Genesis 32:22-31).  Later that day, I was squirming in my chair in the office and by the end of the day I was afflicted with back pain so grievous that I could only lie on my back on the floor and I missed 3 days of work as a consequence. The commentary noted that both Moses and Jacob had responded to God’s call to travel—Moses to Egypt and Jacob to return to his brother—but neither was ready for the task that God had given them. During my 3 days out of work, I could do nothing but read lying on my back so I spent the 3 days preparing for my biblical competency examination.  I passed the exam right on the cutoff point—the pass rate was just 13 percent. Just like Moses and Jacob, I had responded to God’s call, but I was not ready for it.  On that occasion God helped me focus and saved me a year of additional study.

 

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Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad ya está disponible!

Una Guia Cristian a la EspiritualidadSpanish Edition of A Christian Guide to Spirituality is Now Available!

Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad is now available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle EBook.

View the trailer in YouTube: https://youtu.be/tv0rgYH-2VQ.

For a discount on the paperback edition, go to https://www.createspace.com/5716951 and enter 83WZLNW4 to receive a 30 percent discount.

Para más información en español, véase: http://wp.me/p4iojd-8F.

Alternatively, visit my Amazon author page at:  Amazon.com/author/stephen_w_hiemstra.

Thanks for your patience!  This project has been a blessing, but also a long time in coming.

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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

 

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A Christian Guide to Spirituality Now Available!

1_Hagia_Sophia_book_cover_front_web_6x9_07282014A Christian Guide to Spirituality is now available (in the U.S.) on Amazon.com.  It is also available on CreateSpace’s eStore [1].

I would encourage you to visit the T2Pneuma Publishers LLC website (Link) where Leader and Media Guides are available.  You can also navigate there by selecting the Publisher menu above.

Below is a brief introduction.

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A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

Authored by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Foreword by Neal D. Presa, Edited by Reid Satterfield

List Price: $12.95

T2Pneuma Publishers LLC

ISBN-13: 978-0615971353 (Custom)
ISBN-10: 0615971350
BISAC: Religion / Spirituality

6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
230 pages

Spirituality is lived belief. When we pray, worship, or reach out to our neighbors, we live out our beliefs. Our beliefs structure our spirituality like skin stretched over the bones of our bodies.

These beliefs start with faith in God the Father through Jesus Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit in scripture, in the church, and in daily life. Our Trinitarian theology orders our beliefs. Without a coherent theology, we lose our identity in space and time having no map or compass to guide us on our way. In the end, we focus on ourselves, not God.

Christian spirituality starts with God, not with us.

A Christian Guide to Spirituality takes the form of 50 daily devotions. Each topic is treated with a scriptural reference, reflection, prayer, and questions for discussion. Occasionally, references are provided for further study. The first four chapters (Introduction, Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and Apostle’s Creed) cover 40 days making them suitable as a Lenten study. Ten additional days focus on the spiritual disciplines and a short conclusion. Fifty days of study allow an Easter study running through Pentecost.

Reading A Christian Guide to Spirituality will help readers understand Christian spirituality better and nurture their faith. There is no such thing as quality time with the Lord; there is only time. The living God speaks to us in many ways, but especially through scripture. These three sources cited (Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, and Apostle’s Creed) are commonly called the “rule of faith” (regula fidei) and were utilized for nearly two millennia as a means to apprentice the faith. These sources are the heart of the confessions of most Christian faith communities and denominations.

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, aspiring pastor, economist, and writer. He lives with his wife, Maryam, of thirty years in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children. The forward is written by Neal D. Presa, past moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

This book might be classified appropriately in spirituality, Christian living, devotion, faith, religion, and theology.

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What people are saying…

You have my blessing. It’s book that needed to be written. It will do a lot of good.
– Peter John Kreeft, Boston College

Stephen provides a helpful, accessible guide using the classic catechetical structure of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.
– David A. Currie, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

This is a book for those who want to understand how best to have a living faith and an ever deepening devotional and experiential knowledge of God.
– Stephen Macchia, Pierce Center for Disciple-Building

[1] www.CreateSpace.com/4669702.

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JOHN 17: Intercessory Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Albrecht Durer, 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (John 17:1,9,20 ESV).

Jesus is our role model for prayer.

The Gospel of Luke records the most verses in which Jesus prays.  The first incidence of prayer is during his baptism when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (3:21-22).  When crowds gathered following miracles of healing, Jesus retreated to a desolate place to pray (5:15).  When the Pharisee attacked him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus climbed a mountain and prayed all night—the following day he chose the twelve apostles (6:12).  Jesus, when praying alone among the disciples, posed the question:  “who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18). While praying with Peter, John, and James on a mountain top, Jesus is transfigured (9:28).  Jesus was praying when the disciples asked him:  “Lord, teach us to pray…” (11:1). On the night before his death, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41).

The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is not found in the Gospel of John.  Instead, in the same time slot in the passion narrative records the prayer in John 17 which is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  Although Jesus is best known for the Lord’s Prayer[1], chapter 17 records Jesus’ longest prayer—true intercessory prayers tend to be long.  In the Luke passage, Jesus prays his passion:  Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Luke 22:42 ESV) which is paraphrased in Mark 14 and Mathew 26.  The focus in John’s prayer is on Jesus’ ministry[2].

The prayer in John 17 has three main sections:  an introduction (vv 1-8), prayer for the disciples (vv 10-19), and prayer for the rest of us (vv 20-26).

Introduction.  Verse one begins the prayer with these words:  he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father (v 1). This phrasing reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer which begins:  Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  Interestingly, the introduction begins with Jesus speaking about himself in the third person and then moves into the first person.  For example in verse 1 it reads—glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you—while verse 4 reads:  I glorified you on earth (v 4).  The two statements both underscore the close relationship between God the Father and God the Son—they glorify each other.  Verse 3 reminds us that eternal life consists in knowing the Father and the Son.

Prayer for the Disciples.  This section of the prayer reads like an ordination service.  Who are the disciples; what is their mission; and how they need protection in the world are all topics addressed.  Interestingly, their sanctification consisted of receiving the word—in other words, scripture! (v 17)

Prayer for the rest of us.  We are identified with these words:  those who will believe in me through their word (v 20).  Our appearance in this prayer is likewise a function of scripture—the word of God written down by the Apostles.

Two themes in Jesus’ prayer are praise (note the repeated use of the word glorify) and focus on the role of scripture.

What themes are found in your prayers?


[1]Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.

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JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

Michael Card, A Sacred SorrowMichael Card.  2005.  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament.  [Also:  Experience Guide].  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Grief is a postmodern embarrassment.  American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping.  As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions.  Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.

In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7).  Songs to sing?  When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation.  Lamentation is a song of grief.

Introduction

In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation.  He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.  A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.

Biblical Walk

In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God.  In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God.  Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death.  Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously.  In turn, God honors our anger.  Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God.  Here lies the path of our salvation:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).

Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie.  When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.

Assessment

A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God.  In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible.  Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.

Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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JOHN 14: Jesus’ Farewell Consolation

Dead_flowers_102302013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV).

One of the simplest and most profound lessons that I learned in seminary was called a ministry of presence. It is a humble, silent ministry:  be there.

When my sister, Diane, passed away, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral at her home church.  Other than family, I knew almost no one. Yet, I remember the comfort of being with a crowd of some 350 perfect strangers. Their gift to me was a ministry of presence.  Words still cannot express my appreciation.

Jesus promises to never leave us orphans (v 18).  In this context, an orphan is a disciple whose teacher has died[1]. Jesus’ comment–But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (paraclete), whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v 26)—speaks directly to his presence with us.  Paraclete actually means:  one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG 5591).

When Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he is actually modeling the role assumed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:14-35).  The paraclete is a powerful helper (v 27) who teaches us (v 26) and who grants us effective prayer (v 13) and peace (v 27)1. Other than Job 16:2, John is the only biblical author who speaks of the Holy Spirit using this word.

So Jesus says that we will not be alone, but he also says that our ultimate home is in heaven (vv 2-3).  The word, house, has several nuances.  It can mean a physical dwelling, a temple, a family, or a dynasty.  In 2 Samuel 7:7-16, a play on the word, house, is used by the Prophet Nathan to describe God’s covenant with King David.  When the Apostle Paul says that our—citizenship is in heaven—he is building on this same idea (Philippians 3:20).  Ours is a heavenly house, a heavenly family, and a heavenly destination.

Jesus [also] said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (v 6).  This statement reminds us of Deuteronomy 31:8 where God’s Shekinah cloud is pictured going before us. The word, truth, used here is interesting.  Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit (v 17) are described with this same word.  In Hebrew, the word truth (אֱמֶת) is spelled with three letters (alef, mem, tav)—the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet1.

What greater comfort could we have than to know that our savior is divine, is the alpha and the omega (all truth), and has final authority over life and death?


[1]Gary M. Burge. 2000.  The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, pages 390-413.

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JOHN 13: Foot Washing

By Stephen W. HiemstraOld_shoes_10192013

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 ESV).

What does it mean to be a disciple?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a sign and then explains it.  Here the sign is dramatic—Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of the disciples.  He then gives them a commandment:  love one another (v 34).  Both the sign and the commandment are equally dramatic.

John uses the word commandment four times in his Gospel.  In the first two uses, Jesus responds commands from and to God the Father:  but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life (John 12:49-50).  The third and fourth commandments are the same: love one another (v 34 and John 15:12).   Washing feet—an attitude of service—is the sign that goes with the love commandment.  Love is the only commandment in John’s Gospel.

The idea that Jesus commanded us to love one another is not in dispute.  In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbor.  On these two statements of love hang the law and the prophets.  In other words, the double love command summarizes the entire Old Testament.  Similar statements can be found in the writings of Paul, James, and Peter.

Still, the foot washing sign raises some interesting comparisons.  For example, Jesus is not the first foot-washer that we meet in John Gospel—that honor goes to Mary in chapter 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.  In chapter 12 Judas objects to Mary’s foot washing; in chapter 13 Peter objects.  Was Jesus so impressed with Mary’s service that he required it of his disciples?  Were the disciples so unhappy with the idea of radical servanthood that they betrayed Jesus?

The other interesting comparison is between foot washing and communion.  John’s Gospel is the only Gospel account to discuss foot washing at the last supper and he neglects to mention communion which is the focus of other accounts (Luke 22:13-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).  By contrast, John’s miracle of the feeding of five thousand where Jesus says–I am the bread of life (John 6:35 ESV)—has the sacramental feeling of communion.

Here John appears to have provided us a radical model of discipleship which substitutes a model of discipleship focused on service both in intimate moments (the last supper) and in public moments (the feeding of the five thousand).  This reading suggests that John’s communion is an outsider’s communion (the feeding of the five thousand) rather than an insider’s communion (disciples only) because it fits his model of discipleship better.

One further comparison is worth mentioning.  The foot washing incident in Luke 7:36-50 involves an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment.  In that incident, it is Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, who objects to the foot washing.

Jesus’ lesson on foot washing is a hard teaching–a disciple is one who serves; one who loves.  Left to myself, I object.  Do you?

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JOHN 12: Jesus Messiah

By Stephen W. HiemstraCandle_perfume_rose_10172013

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).

What kind of Messiah is Jesus?

Messiah is a Hebrew word that means anointed one.  John is the only New Testament author to use it and he equates it with the Greek word, Christ (John 1:41; 4:25).  Three offices were anointed:  prophets, priests, and kings.  Two events in John 12 point specifically to the interpretation that Jesus is a Messianic king:  his anointing by Mary (vv 1-8) and his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (vv 12-19).  Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and Jesus’ choice of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem both point to humility—Jesus is a king coming in peace.

It is interesting that both events—the anointing and the entry into Jerusalem—appear in all four Gospel accounts.  But the Gospels disagree on  details of the anointing. John’s account, for example, is the only one to place Lazarus at the event and to name, Mary, as the woman anointing Jesus.  Mark and Matthew have Jesus anointed on the head; Luke and John have Jesus’ feet anointed.

All four Gospels have Jesus anointed by a woman—this is a shocking event for a Jewish king. The expectation is that a king is anointed by a prophet.  For example,  the Prophet Samuel anoints both King Saul and King David (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13).

John 12 marks a transition from Jesus’ ministry into his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The ESV translation suggests these divisions:  Mary anoints Jesus at Bethany (vv 1-8), the plot to kill Lazarus (vv 9-10), the triumphal entry (vv 12-19), some Greeks seek Jesus (vv 20-26), the Son of Man must be lifted up (vv 27-36), the unbelief of the people (vv 37-43), and Jesus came to save the world (vv 44-50).

The nature of Jesus’ messianic role clearly divides people in John 12.  Judas Iscariot disagrees with Jesus about the perfume used to anoint Jesus supposedly because of the cost.  But female anointment must also have weighed on his mind (vv 4-8)—Jews had trouble seeing Jesus as messiah.  The crowd that gathered at Bethany is clearly interested as much in Lazarus as in Jesus (v 9).  Lazarus must have  reminded them of 1 Kings 17:23 when Elijah raised a young man from the dead—a comparison suggesting a prophetic messiah.  By contrast, the crowd that gathered the morning waved palm branches and chanted words from Psalm 118:25 (hosanna means save us in Hebrew) suggesting that they expected a kingly messiah (v 13).

The appearance of gentiles (Greeks) in verses 20-26 curiously moves Jesus to remark:  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v 23).  Jesus frequently mentions sheep in John’s Gospel, but in Matthew’s Gospel he twice says that:  I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24 also 10:6).  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, his mission to the lost sheep of Israel is drawing to a close.

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