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.
“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.
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.
‘Aseity.’ Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day of the week.
In fact, I’d bet most of you have never heard the word at all, let alone recently. And I suspect you would be in the vast majority of Christians if you don’t know the word or what it means.
And I also suspect that you’d be in the vast majority if you don’t care what it means either. Let’s face it, a word that rare and unused can’t be very important, can it?
What strange times we find ourselves in. Only two weeks or so ago, it was business as usual here in Australia, even as we heard reports of COVID19 spreading overseas.
One week ago, it was church as usual, albeit with great care taken to sanitise surfaces and avoid the usual hugs and handshakes.
This week, wow! The bombshell has hit, and the floodgates have been blasted wide open.
We had already made the decision to cancel all church gatherings as a matter of prudence and safety for our people. Many churches tried to continue to meet, albeit with significantly reduced congregation sizes.
But as I write this, I hear reports that all church gatherings will be banned. Sunday worship, Connect groups, corporate prayer – all stopped until further notice.
One of the most important aspects of Christian life is the regular gathering together of the saints. Not only does Scripture insist on it (see Heb 10:25, for example), it is part of our growth to health and maturity as believers (see Eph 4:11-16).
How can we possibly fulfill these requirements if we are forbidden to meet together? How are we to grow as Christians if we can’t worship and hear the Word as one body regularly?
How indeed? Has the devil finally found a way to destroy the Church?
You know what my answer to that will be, of course…
Jesus’ disciples were worried about the future. They wanted to know what to look for as a sign that He was on His way back.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” [see Matt 24:5-6].
Wars and rumours of wars… We don’t have to watch too much TV to see graphic footage of wars in the Middle East and Africa. Nor to hear rumours of wars between the US and Iran. Are they signs of the approaching end?
Well, Jesus said, “Not yet.” But that doesn’t stop apocalyptic cults and doomsday preppers from preparing as if the end was tomorrow. And it doesn’t stop many Christians from being fearful of the end.
But the truth is, these wars are far away from most of us. But there is a war much closer to home; one we tend not to give much thought to; one that should concern us much more than armed conflict in far-flung corners of the globe.