Isaiah 64:4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
There is always a tension between the active and the passive in faith it seems. Much of the Bible gives instructions for people to live out, like the Ten Commandments for example. God seems to want people to be active in pursuing such things. But the overall story of the Bible is about what God does for us, how God acts and we passively receive God’s goodness and kindness and grace. In the Old Testament the big stories are of the Exodus and, later, the return from captivity in Babylon. In these, God “acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” And then, when the time was just right, God acts by sending Jesus. In many ways we are in the current of history that is powered and channeled by God. We ride these currents in our world and also in our individual lives. Advent is a time to focus on what God is doing on both these levels this year based on what God did in the past. What is God creating, what is God moving, in and around you that indicates that he still “acts on behalf of those who wait for him?”
John 6:69 “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is part of Peter’s response to Jesus after some of his followers had left him and Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they wanted to leave too. It is interesting that he speaks of both believing and knowing. Is there a difference between what you believe and what you know? Do you believe in things that you know are not true? That would seem a bit psychotic. Maybe they are simply two sides of the same coin. The things we know we also believe are true and the things we say we believe are things we would say we know to be true. Maybe we are talking about two different ways of knowing. Some things you verify with an experiment, like the freezing point of water. Lower the temperature of water to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and it becomes ice 100 out of 100 times. But what about love? Can you run it through an experiment? Does that mean it isn’t real or true? Or what about hope? Peter was probably just emphasizing the point here that through their relationship with Jesus they understand things differently, see the world differently, and trust that all that is true and real. But what about you? What do you believe? What do you know?
John 6:27 ”Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Every now and then something will get pushed to the back of the refrigerator and be forgotten. When it is finally discovered it can be pretty disgusting. When you take it out to throw it away it can really stink! I hate letting food go bad. It seems like such a waste and it is. I paid good money for that food and someone put their effort into preparing it only to have it end up as just a big mess. Everything in this life is in a constant process of decay. Sometimes we feel it in our bodies after a certain age. As glorious as it all may be right now, everything can become decay and debris with time and neglect. But Jesus was saying here that it doesn’t have to be that way. If we eat the food we have at the proper time it can turn to bone and muscle and energy in our bodies. It can give life. Jesus will shortly call himself the bread of life, something that can nourish and satisfy, now and always. Has the spiritual core of your life gotten pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten? Have you put your heart and soul into things destined to rot with time and inattention? It doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus has something else to offer. Are you interested?
John 6:24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
People search for Jesus for lots of reasons. In the above passage, Jesus had just the day before miraculously fed the crowd and they wanted more. People search for Jesus when they want their needs met particularly when there is a crisis of health or finance in their lives. Some people search for Jesus to make their holidays merry and bright. Church has always been part of their Thanksgiving and/or Christmas celebration and they like reconnecting with those good feelings of past days. Some folks search for Jesus as a method of political influence. They want him and his teaching to support their ideas concerning the way the world should be run and hope they will lead others to feel the same way. People have a multitude of life situations and personal characteristics that may cause them to search for Jesus. They did in the first century and they do today. Are you searching for Jesus? Why are you searching for him?
John 6:15 Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself. (The Message Bible)
About 70 years after Jesus was crucified, a writer named Juvenal penned a piece called Satire X about the Roman Empire in which he references bread and circuses: “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” Wikipedia goes on to explain, “In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses)” (Both https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_circuses). Jesus had just finished giving the masses bread. His teaching and works of power were at the very least entertaining. If Juvenal was right, Jesus had the people just where a politician wanted them. But Jesus wanted something else. He wanted faith from his followers. He wanted trust and love and personal devotion. If you paid attention to the ads for the election this year you may have felt like folks were offering bread and circuses. What is Jesus offering you?
John 5:34 “But my purpose is not to get your vote, and not to appeal to mere human testimony. I’m speaking to you this way so that you will be saved.” (The Message Bible)
Do you hate campaign ads as much as I do? Being in a large TV market like the Delaware Valley, we get subjected to ads for races in which we will never get to vote! Often these ads are about the failings of the other candidate rather than the plans and vision of the one sponsoring the ad. Jesus is speaking in the verse above and the image of voting is the translator’s attempt to be 21st century. It is not a phrase that Jesus used. But we get the idea. Jesus spoke the hard truth sometimes and not a version of the truth designed to make certain groups or individuals approve of him. If you notice, though, throughout the gospels Jesus speaks these hard truths directly to people, not about them to others. Above he says “I’m speaking to you this way” talking to the religious leaders that were giving him a hard time. And why? “So that you will be saved.” When Jesus says difficult things concerning people, he says them to their face and does so because he wants the best for them. Is this something we could/should do also?
John 5:24 “It’s urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.” (The Message Bible)
Christianity is sometimes accused of being about “pie in the sky by and by when you die.” That is to say, the tantalizing appeal of a better world later to keep people under control in this present one. Certainly, Jesus and Christianity have a focus on life after death. The resurrection is the event that changes everything in the gospels. But there is something here and now that this passage and others like it claim about faith in Christ. People sometime speak of “heaven on earth.” That is usually a sentimental and unreal expression of how folks wish things to be but aren’t. Yet, as incomplete as life here is, faith in Jesus does open us to love and justice and beauty and goodness. They may be marred and tainted by the state of the world but they are a beginning of something grand and eternal, or so this passage leads us to believe. Turning to Christ in faith may be just a beginning but it is a real beginning of something beyond our imagination. All the essence of the tallest tree is already present in its seed. Where is the seed of faith in your life?
John 5:15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
The man didn’t know who had healed him but later Jesus met up with him again and set him straight. He lets the leaders know as they had been bugging him earlier. If you read on you will find that this becomes a point of contention. I’m guessing the man that was healed thought he was doing a good thing by telling the leaders. I mean, after all, he had been healed! That’s a good thing, isn’t it? The things we say don’t always have the effect we desire or intend. That can particularly be true when we talk about God. Some folks profess that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion because it just leads to argument. But if we don’t talk about the things that are most important, we get reduced to trivial chit chat. Yes, talking about God can lead to contention, but it doesn’t have to. Speak your truth about God and trust God to take care of where it goes.
John 4:49, 50 the court official wouldn’t be put off. “Come down! It’s life or death for my son.” Jesus simply replied, “Go home. Your son lives.” (The Message Bible)
We often feel like physical proximity is important. We go to cemeteries to feel close to a loved one that has passed yet we don’t really think they are confined to that place. We sit in waiting rooms at hospitals though we are separated by walls. In the pandemic we have learned to connect digitally across distance but it often doesn’t feel the same inside. This official seemed to believe Jesus had to be physically close to his son for healing to happen. We sometimes believe we must feel close to God for God’s Spirit to be working in us. But that is not necessarily so. God’s experience of time and space is, I think, much different than ours. God transcends years and millennia and inches and miles. We may wish to be closer to God but God is right here, whether we feel a certain way or not. God’s power was as close to the official as it was to the son miles away. The official could “go home” and still be within Jesus’ influence. Are you trying to anticipate how God will or must act? In some way are you limiting Jesus to your perceptions?
Leviticus 16:20-22 When Aaron finishes making atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar, he will bring up the live goat, lay both hands on the live goat’s head, and confess all the iniquities of the People of Israel, all their acts of rebellion, all their sins. He will put all the sins on the goat’s head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; the man will let him loose out there in the wilderness.
Sunday evening at sundown begins Yom Kippur for Jews around the world. The words mean Day of Atonement and the instructions concerning it come from the chapter of the above passage. From this we get the concept of the “scapegoat,” the one who takes the blame for something as opposed to the one who actually did the wrong deed. We all love to blame someone or something else for our faults and failings. The question passages like this raise is whether it is even possible for us to produce forgiveness for our sins from ourselves. If we are sorry enough will we be forgiven? If we change our ways going forward? If we give enough time, energy or money? It seems that forgiveness must be offered from the one who has been wronged rather than the one who has done the wrong. Atonement means that God offers that forgiveness as the wronged party. God provided this act with the goat so the people would know their sins had been carried away by divine approval. Christians believe that Jesus in his death and resurrection is the ultimate indication that God forgives. Are you trying to get forgiveness through your own efforts or are you open to God giving it to you?