Crime shows on TV have a huge audience. How many versions of ‘CSI,’ or ‘NCIS,’ or ‘Law and Order’ can we watch? Our appetite seems insatiable for them.
There seems to be something about the challenge of piecing together evidence and finding witnesses to a crime that fascinates us.
Of course, it helps that we are watching mostly fictionalised events from the safety of our loungerooms. Everyone wants to see the bad guy get what he deserves.
Might be a bit different if we were the accused. We’d find it much less entertaining then, I suspect. It would be even less entertaining if we were truly guilty of the crime.
But to be accused without evidence, without witnesses, without a ‘body’ or ‘a smoking gun’ is just going to far.
But that’s what Jesus faced in John 5. The Pharisees held an impromptu ‘kangaroo court’ to judge Jesus for being a law-breaker after He healed the man by the Pool of Bethesda.
John’s gospel was written with a very specific purpose in mind: “… so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [John 20:31].
So, the selection of material that John reports seems to me to be an odd choice in achieving that purpose. We know from John’s own words – and from the other gospels – that Jesus was a miracle-worker without peer.
John himself wrote in the very last verse “… there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
So why would he choose to report only seven miracles? And why would the first two miracles that he reports be ones performed out of sight of all but a tiny handful of people?
Every culture has its celebrities – those who stand above the crowd for their abilities and success in their chosen field. They attract attention wherever they go, command respect, and often receive adoration bordering on worship.
In the movie world, there are any number of stars and directors who we would pay to see, and pay even more to have a photo taken with them. Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Quentin Tarantino, Clark Gable, Rose Byrne… the list goes on.
Music, Art, Business, Sport – you name it, there will be celebrities for us to follow and to hang off their every word as if they spoke as gods.
It’s nothing new. The adoration of celebrities seems to be built into our human nature.
Even Christian culture is not immune to a fascination with celebrities. There are plenty of Christian musicians who qualify as celebrities – at least, in Christian circles they do.
What’s your favourite food? If you were a prisoner on death row, what would you request for your final meal before execution?
Tough question. I have so many ‘favourites’ that it’s hard to decide which is #1. Corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and veg, maybe. That would have to be in the Top Ten – maybe even Top Five.
Pumpkin soup with fresh bread rolls to dunk – mmm! A winter wonder. Or Meatloaf with BBQ sauce. Or Spaghetti Bolognese. All simple foods, but all some of my favourites.
What about fried Fritz with homemade tomato sauce, mash and veg? I love that! Takes me back to my childhood. If you have to ask what Fritz is, you betray your lack of ‘South Australianness.’
I sometimes joke that Roast Lamb is God’s favourite food. He seemed to consume a lot of it in the Bible. In fact, He insisted on it whenever someone wanted to approach Him in the Temple. Good choice, God. Roast Lamb and roast veg is hard to go past.
What was Jesus’ favourite food? Lamb with bread and wine was certainly up there. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” [Luke 22:15].
But there was one food He desired even more…
“Stop the world! I want to get off!” This world is broken. And it gets more broken by the day. I sometimes wonder how any of us find the strength to carry on.
It’s almost enough for one to say, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!” That, according to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ is the inscription above the entrance to Hell. In this day and age, it might well be the inscription above the entrance into life on earth.
We all know who to blame for this brokenness, of course. We all know who is ‘Patient Zero’ in this tragedy.
When Jesus was walking the earth, going around doing good and performing signs and wonders, they said these miracles were not from God, and instead accused him of doing them by the power of the devil [see Matt 12:22-32].
I wonder if He wouldn’t have the opposite problem today; that signs and wonders are attributed to God that would seem more likely to be from the devil instead?
I raise this question because I have seen far too much go on in Christian worship services – and celebrated as evidence of the anointing of the Holy Spirit – that looks to me to be anything but Holy Spirit led.
Some would be quick to point the finger at me, warning that I am doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. I’ll admit, that is a possibility. So I approach this carefully.
True worshippers, that’s who the Father seeks, according to Jesus.
So, does that mean the ones with good voices, or musical talent, or the most ‘spiritual,’ whatever that means? Is He seeking those who know good songs to sing to Him?
And does that mean worship is reserved for church on Sunday morning (after all, it is called a ‘worship service) when we gather to sing for 30 or 40 minutes? Of course, the more spiritual among us might do it privately during the week too, but surely the Father doesn’t expect that of all of us?
The more I study the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, the more amazed I am at the way Jesus relates to, and connects with, people.
And the more obvious is the contrast between how He addresses the powerful and how He deals with the lowly.
For instance, in John 2 He enters the Temple and, outraged at the corruption and exploitation displayed, makes a whip, overturns the tables of the money changers, and drives the animals out of the Temple courts.
Another time, He was angry at the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion, and deliberately healed a man on the Sabbath in the synagogue, knowing full well that it would provoke them to plot His death [see Mk 3:1-6].
“You snakes, you brood of vipers,” He calls the scribes and Pharisees in Matt 23:33; “Snakes in the grass,” one translation puts it.
‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…’ Hmm, maybe not.
“I thirst,” Jesus cried out from the cross.
And so do we. We thirst – we all thirst – for something more, something beyond ourselves. But we can’t quite put a finger on what we are thirsty for. We just know it is something we don’t have at the moment.
So we begin to accumulate wealth and possessions, hoping that they may satisfy our thirst. Or we seek fame, or power, as if that could quench the dryness within.
Or maybe we gather friends. If we have enough friends, then surely we’ll need nothing more. And if that doesn’t help, then we explore religion and spirituality.
But none of it satisfies the thirst within. There must be something more.
And there is…
How do we measure successful Christian ministry? What are the indicators that God has blessed a preacher, a church, a ministry?
The most obvious sign is that they have lots of followers. John the Baptist certainly had lots of followers back in the day.
But then, so did Rev Jim Jones when he led nearly 1,000 of his followers to commit suicide in 1978. So sheer numbers may not be the best measure of success.
In fact, if we were to measure only numbers, then Jesus was an abject failure.
So, what is the best indicator of a successful ministry?