A Personal Invitation (John 1:43-51)

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At our congregation’s general meeting last November, we adopted the following Discipling Plan as our theme for 2018 and our strategic direction for the future:

Following Jesus and making disciples by connecting, growing, equipping and sending.

As we begin a new year of ministry and mission in Tea Tree Gully, I’m intending to listen to God’s Word through our Discipling Plan when I prepare my messages each week to learn what Jesus might be teaching us about connecting, growing, equipping and sending as his followers in the world.

This story from John 1:43-51 talks a lot about connecting with others in relationships. Jesus connects with Philip by calling him into a discipling relationship with him. Philip then uses an existing connection he has with Nathanael to tell him that he had found the person that Moses and the Old Testament prophets had promised, and that person was Jesus from Nazareth. Philip then invites Nathanael into a relationship with Jesus by asking him to come and see Jesus for himself. The surprise in the story is that, as Nathanael comes to Jesus, he states that he had already seen Nathanael under the fig tree, even before he came to him.

What stands out to me in this story is that Philip didn’t need to be trained or taught how to bring Nathanael to meet Jesus. Neither did he invite him to attend a program or an event, or ask him to join a roster or a committee. Philip didn’t even ask Nathanael to go to church. Philip’s invitation was simple and personal: come and see Jesus for yourself.

We need to hear this because sometimes it seems like the aim of many people in the church is often to try get people to come to church, and we think that once we’ve done that our work is done. We can assume that if people are coming to church regularly, or semi-regularly, or participating in the organization of the congregation by being on a roster or in a committee, then they are connected to Jesus. However, just because we come to church or are part of a church organization, it doesn’t mean that we know Jesus. Over my years of ministry, I have met people who have been very faithful in attending church or active in the organization of the congregation, but their words and actions have made me wonder whether they have actually met Jesus.

This becomes critical as we discuss ministry with our young people. At times I have conversations with parents whose children have disconnected from church and they ask me why their children don’t come to church anymore. Of course, this is a complicated questions and there are many, many reasons why people might stop attending worship. Over recent years, however, as I have reflected on my experiences in the church but also my own family, I have been wondering whether the main problem is that too many of our young people just haven’t met Jesus in our churches. We can be so immersed in the busyness and business of church that maybe our focus has drifted from Jesus and know him through faith.

Maybe we need to be asking more how we can follow Philip’s example by helping our young people and others meet Jesus.

This is largely what our Discipling Plan is about. It adopts a relational understanding of church and emphasises the importance of meeting Jesus and growing in our relationship with him through participation in our community of faith. Our Discipling Plan begins where Jesus begins: by connecting with him in a discipling relationship and connecting with others with Jesus at the centre of our relationships with each other, just like Philip and Nathanael.

When we see church as a community where we can meet Jesus and through which we can help others meet Jesus, a major shift happens in our thinking. We become more of the living, breathing body of Christ in the world where people encounter God’s love for them through our love for each other. When we are living Christ-like lives by preferring each other’s needs over our own, doing what’s good for others even if it comes at a personal cost to ourselves, and being willing to sacrifice for each other rather than just working for what benefits ourselves, then people meet Jesus in us. I regularly hear people in our congregation pray that the Holy Spirit would make us more and more like Jesus. This is a good and vital prayer because when the Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ, and this transformation is evident in our words and actions, in our relationships and how we treat each other, then people meet Jesus in us.

It is also important to see that at this stage of his journey as a follower of Jesus, Philip didn’t knock on someone’s door or approach a stranger to tell them about Jesus. Instead, he went to someone with whom he already had a relationship. In the same way, mission begins with the people we already know. God wants to work through the connections we already have to connect with others, including our families, friends, people we work with or with whom we spend our leisure time. When he met Jesus, Philip found us someone he had been waiting for. Then, he naturally wanted to share who he had found with someone he knew. When we find what our hearts are waiting for in Jesus, then inviting others to meet Jesus will be a natural thing to do.

So this story leaves me with two questions. The first is, how might our congregation be different if our main goal was to introduce people to Jesus? My personal hope and prayer is that by implementing our Discipling Plan, we might all meet Jesus as the real, living person that he is, that we might grow in our relationship with him, equipping us through the power of the Holy Spirit as he sends is into the world to participate in God’s mission of redeeming, restoring and renewing creation.

My second question is, where are you in this story? Do you identify with Philip as a follower of Jesus who has found in him what your heart has been waiting for? Then our Discipling Plan is about equipping you to invite others to meet Jesus. Or are you more like Nathanael, someone who is still waiting to meet Jesus? I hope and pray that through your connection with our congregation this year you might meet the crucified, risen and living Jesus, and grow in your relationship with him to find everything your heart is waiting for.

The good news is that whether you are more of a Philip or a Nathanael, Jesus already sees you, knows you, and is waiting for you.

More to think about:

  • Do you like meeting new people? Can you explain why you like or dislike it?
  • Why do you think Philip was so quick to tell Nathanael about meeting Jesus? What does that tell us about what meeting Jesus can do for us?
  • Do you feel like you have met Jesus in Christian community? What has helped you meet Jesus or has got in the way of you meeting Jesus?
  • Do you agree that we can help people meet Jesus when we love them in the same way that he loves us? Who could you introduce to Jesus today by loving them like Jesus loves you?
  • How might your Christian community or church be different if your main goal was to help people meet Jesus and grow in their relationship with him?
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Disciples Forgive (John 20:19-23)

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Six weeks ago, on the Sunday after Easter, we looked at this same story from the perspective that Jesus sends his disciples into the world. Discipleship is about Jesus preparing and equipping us to carry on his work in the world on his behalf by the power of his Spirit.

As we celebrate God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to his people at Pentecost, I want to look at this story again from the perspective of the work the Spirit empowers us to do.

I have had lots of conversations with Christians over the years about how the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer. One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work that doesn’t seem to get talked about a lot, however, is the Spirit’s work of forgiveness. Yet here, at the end of his gospel, when Jesus appeared to his disciples in the evening of his resurrection, John makes a strong connection between the gift of the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe one of the reasons we don’t talk about forgiveness a lot is because our culture doesn’t like talking about sin. We still suffer from the effects of sin, though, even if we want to try to deny its existence. So many people that I talk to describe how they feel guilty, or have regrets in life, or carry a sense of shame. The remedy for these afflictions rests in the gift Jesus gave to his disciples in this story: forgiveness.

Another reason talking about forgiveness can be difficult is that it doesn’t come naturally to us. We tend to find it hard to believe that we can be forgiven for the wrongs we have done or the guilt that we carry. We can also find it hard to forgive people who have wronged us. That is why the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important for us. The Spirit of God works in us what we can’t do for ourselves. The Spirit creates forgiving hearts within us by giving us the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross and the empty tomb. Then, having experienced forgiveness, we are more likely be forgiving people. That is why Jesus taught his disciples, including us, to love others like he loves us (John 13:34). To love someone means forgiving them and not keeping a record of their wrongs (see 1 Corinthians 13:5).

This isn’t a gift that is just given to pastors, priests, or whatever your name for the professional clergy might be. Just as one of the emphases of the festival of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is given to all of God’s people, so all of God’s people have the authority and the privilege to lift the burdens of guilt, shame and regret by forgiving others. We all pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ in the Lord’s Prayer. The sad reality is that some people never hear words of forgiveness outside of worship, so I consider it a high priority each week to tell people who live in a harsh, judging and condemning world that they are forgiven for Christ’s sake. It is my constant prayer that the Spirit of the living Christ will use these words to breathe life into people’s hearts so they can believe they really are forgiven children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (Mark 1:11 etc), and they can in turn extend God’s forgiveness to the people in their lives who need it.

Obviously, forgiveness isn’t all the Holy Spirit does in the life of a believer, but it is a vital and life-giving aspect of the Spirit’s work. As we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, it is good to remember firstly that Jesus’ disciples are forgiven people and to ask the Spirit of Christ to give us a bold faith to hang on to the forgiveness he gives to us. As Jesus’ forgiven disciples, then, we are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend that same forgiveness to everyone in our lives, especially those who deserve it the least but need it the most.

More to think about:

  • Why do you think some people find it hard to accept forgiveness? Why do you think some people find it hard to forgive others?
  • Do you find it easy to believe that you are a forgiven person? If you are living with guilt or shame or regret, where do you think these feelings come from?
  • Why do you think John connects Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples with the forgiveness of sins? (It might help to go back to Jesus promising the Paraclete [someone who stands beside us and speaks God’s truth to us] in John 14:16,17)
  • Who is someone that you find difficult to forgive? How might the gift of God’s Holy Spirit help you to forgive that person?
  • Who do you know that might need the gift of forgiveness? How might you be able to extend Jesus’ gift of forgiveness to them?

Jesus in You (John 14:15-21)

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Last week we heard Jesus say that we see the Father when we see him, and we get to know the Father when we get to know him, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus (vv1-14). From Jesus’ words we can think of discipleship as following him into a deeper and closer relationship with God the Father so we can participate with God in his work of redeeming, restoring and renewing the world.

But what about the Holy Spirit? As Christians who believe in and teach the Trinity, we believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. So what is the role of the Spirit of God in this new relationship we have with the Father through the Son?

In John 14, Jesus continues by promising that he will ask the Father who will give us the Paraclete (v16). This word means someone who stands beside us to speak for us and to speak to us, which is why it can be translated as Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Encourager or Counsellor. This is the Spirit of Truth (v17) which, Jesus promises, is with us and will be, or is already, in us (depending on how we read the verb).

We need to pause at this point because of our post-modern culture’s difficulty with the word ‘truth.’ Our society has a tendency to want to make all ‘truth’ relative so that there is no one, absolute truth. Instead, post-modernism argues, we live with many truths, yours being different than mine, with the end result that there is no one ‘truth’ we can rely on.

I understand and agree that we need to respect and value what people hold as ‘truth’ for themselves. However, we then need to ask, what is the ‘Truth’ that Jesus talks about, and is it possible for us to find a ‘Truth’ in him that we can trust enough to build a life on?

Earlier in chapter 14, Jesus said that he is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (v6). One way we can think of the ‘Spirit of Truth’ that Jesus promises to give us as not an idea, a concept, or even a doctrinal theology to be discussed, debated or even defended. Instead, if Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, it is possible to think of the ‘Truth’ as a person – Jesus himself. This would mean that the Spirit of Truth that he promises us is his own Spirit, which will be with us and even in us!

This is what Jesus seems to mean when he says, ‘When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you’ (v20 NLT). The role of the Spirit of Truth that Jesus is talking about here is to bring us into the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son by living in us so as we live in him, he lives in us, and together we are one with God in perfect relationship.

There are times in life when this can be hard to believe. Especially when life is difficult or challenging, when we suffer from physical or mental illness, grief or loss of any kind, we can start to wonder where God is and why he is letting us go through pain or emptiness. This is where we need the Spirit to lead us deeper into the Truth. We can find in Christ that, even in the darkest times of life, we are one with the Father through Jesus by the power of the Spirit, and nothing can separate us from his love for us as his children whom he loves and with whom he is well pleased (Romans 8:38,39; Matthew 3:17 etc). We can understand the work of the Paraclete, then, as speaking words of grace and truth to us when we need them the most, and leading us into a deeper relationship with the Truth of God who is made a human being in the person of Jesus, so that, as people who are in the Father through the Son, we can live the life Jesus came to give us (14:19; 10:10).

As disciples of Jesus, following Jesus can mean living each and every day in this Truth, no matter what our circumstances might be, no matter whether we feel it or not. Living in the Spirit of Truth can mean that whether life is good or bad, whether we are cruising or battling, even if we struggle to get out of bed in the morning or to put one foot in front of the other, the Spirit of the living Christ gives us the ability to trust that God is with us, for us and in us. As the Spirit of Truth lives in us we share in the life of Jesus, and nothing, not even death, can overcome it.

Obviously there is a lot more we could say about the work of the Spirit of Truth in the lives of God’s people. There is good teaching on the Holy Spirit, and there are some ideas about the Spirit’s work that I struggle with based on what the Bible teaches. In a lot of ways, however, our understanding of the Holy Spirit needs to be founded on what Jesus says to us in this passage. The gift of the Paraclete is to bring us into God’s Truth – that we are one with the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit. In this new relationship, we can find a God who loves us, that we can love in return, and we can live in ways that bring life to ourselves and to as we follow Jesus’ commands in faith, hope and love.

More to think about:

  • How do you picture the Holy Spirit? What do you think of the picture of the Spirit as Paraclete – someone who stands beside us to speak for us and to us? What do you like about it? What is difficult for you?
  • How do you understand the idea of ‘truth’? Do you believe there are absolute truths (always true, no matter what)? What might they be? Are some truths relative (different for different people at different times)? How do you work out what truths are absolute and which are relative?
  • Some years ago I came across the idea that the Spirit of Truth Jesus talks about is his Spirit because Jesus is God’s Truth. What do you think of this idea: that Truth from a biblical point of view is more about a person with whom we can have a relationship than an idea to be discussed and debated?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe that you are one with God the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit? What makes it a challenge? What helps you to believe it?
  • How might you live tomorrow differently if you were to go into it believing that you are one with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? How might that faith shape what you do & say to others?

Know the Son, Know the Father (John 14:1-14)

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If you were to draw a picture of God, what would it be? An old man with a long, white beard sitting among the clouds? A nature scene? A burst of light? Or something else…?

I think Philip, one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples, must have been a visual person, because asking Jesus to show him the Father (v8) could have come from a desire to have some sort of picture about what the Father looks like. Instead of drawing him a picture, though, Jesus points to himself as the visual representation of the invisible God.

This is consistent with other parts of the New Testament that points to Jesus as the visible face of the invisible God (for example see Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). What they are saying is that if we want to see God, the best place to look is at Jesus.

However, this is more than a picture of God. In Jesus we see the character and nature of God. Especially when we follow Jesus to the cross and empty tomb, we see the depth of God’s love for us and the power of his love which is stronger than death.

In seeing God in Jesus, we also get to know him (v7). Jesus says the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father (v10,11). The relationship between the Father and Son is so close that they exist in perfect relationship with each other. One way we can think of this relationship is like a mystical babushka (or matryoshka) doll. The mystery of the relationship between the Father and the Son is that not only is the inner doll nestled within the outer doll, but the larger outer doll also exists within the smaller inner doll. It defies logic and messes with my head, but this is basically what Jesus is saying – the relationship between himself and the Father is so close and intertwined that we cannot separate them from each other.

Jesus tells us this so that we can know the Father through the Son (v7). In our current culture, we usually think about ‘knowledge’ as an intellectual activity based on information. From a biblical perspective, however, knowing someone was a lot more than an intellectual exercise. Knowing someone meant having a relationship with that person. For example, there is a big difference between knowing about the Queen of England and knowing her well enough to drop into her palace for a cup of tea and scones with her and the corgis. Through Jesus, we can know the Father in a close and intimate relationship where we are participating with Jesus in God’s work of redeeming, reconciling and renewing the world (v12), and where Jesus promises that he will give us whatever we ask for to do his saving work and bring glory to the Father (vv13,14).

So, how is your relationship with God? One of the challenges we face in our time and place is that we can tend to over-intellectualise our faith. God want us to love him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27 etc), and so our intellect plays a part in our faith. However, the language of faith that Jesus uses in this passage is about relationship. As we follow Jesus, he leads us deeper into a relationship with the Father. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we also get to know the Father. And the more we get to know God who is the author and sustainer of all life, the more we get to know his life in us (see John 10:10).

We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between the Father and the Son, but I’m guessing there will be people who will be pointing out that a Christian understanding of God is Trinitarian, and so we need to include the Holy Spirit in this relationship as well. Jesus goes on to talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in the next few verses, which we’ll look at next week…

More to think about:

  • How do you picture God? Spend some time drawing how you visualise God…
  • How does your picture of God compare with Jesus, given that he says that those who see him also see God (v9)? In what ways is your picture similar to Jesus? In what ways is it different?
  • This isn’t just about the way God looks, but his character and nature which we encounter in Jesus, especially when we follow Jesus to his cross & empty tomb. What does Jesus’ cross & empty tomb say to you about the character & nature of God?
  • Do you tend to think of faith is more an intellectual activity or a relationship? What might it look like to have ‘a personal relationship’ with Jesus? (think about other significant relationships you have in your life; what keeps those relationships strong? how can you do those things with Jesus to keep your relationship strong with him?)
  • What do you think about the idea that discipleship is following Jesus into a closer & deeper relationship with the Father? What do you like about this idea? What might be challenging or uncomfortable about it for you?

Leading to Life (John 10:1-10)

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Many churches around the world last Sunday observed what is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday.’ Some Christians don’t like identifying with sheep because they don’t want to be identified as stupid animals who mindlessly go along with the crowd. However, the purpose of Good Shepherd Sunday is to focus on one of the more common images for God in the Bible, and especially of Jesus in the New Testament, as the shepherd of his people.

The picture of Jesus as our shepherd helps us as we continue to explore discipleship. In John 10:1-10 we hear discipling language: the shepherd calls his flock by name, leads them, and they follow him (vv3,4). By reading this passage from a discipling perspective, we can hear the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him in order to lead us into a new life (v10).

The life that Jesus describes in v10 is understood in a variety of ways. The New Living Translation calls it ‘a rich and satisfying life.’ The New International Version translates the end of v10 as ‘life … the full.’ The Message describes it as ‘real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’ The English Standard Version has Jesus saying that he ‘came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ I’m left wondering what this life that Jesus promises to lead us into look like?

This text is often misused by people who promote a prosperity theology and teach that the more we give to their organization, the more Jesus will give them in return. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make everything sunshine and rainbows, and you can’t deal with God for a more comfortable life. The Bible is clear about the reality of suffering, especially for followers of Jesus (for example see Matthew 5:11,12; Luke 21:12ff). However, Jesus is still promising to lead us into a life that is ‘abundant,’ ‘rich and satisfying’ or ‘to the full.’ The Greek word used here can give the implication that something is so full that it is overflowing. So what is this life that Jesus promises so full of that it overflows?

Maybe our discipling journey is actually about exploring this overflowing life that Jesus leads us into. To offer a definitive answer to what this life looks like would, therefore, kind of defeat the purpose. However, Jesus does give us some hints about the nature of this life in the previous verses.

This is a life where we are known, because he calls us by name (v3b). In the ancient world, if you knew someone’s name, you had a connection or a relationship with them. Because our Good Shepherd calls us by name, he knows us, so we can find who we are in relationship with him.

This is a life where we find salvation (v9a). This is more than going to heaven when we die. If we think about the image of a shepherd watching over his flock, then being ‘saved’ is more about being protected, rescued, and kept from harm. We can begin to experience this ‘salvation’ in this life through faith in our Good Shepherd.

This is a life where we find good pastures (v9b). The Good Shepherd provides for his flock because he cares about them. In the same way, this overflowing life Jesus promises is one where we can trust that he will provide for all of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Imagine what this kind of life could be like: where Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows us, protects us and provides for all our needs. When Jesus promises to lead us into an overflowing life, he is asking us to believe that by following him in faith and love our lives can be better than they are today. This won’t necessarily remove our suffering, hardships or difficulties. However, as we follow Jesus into the overflowing life, we can find the hope of a better tomorrow in relationship with our Good Shepherd whose life is stronger than death. Whatever our circumstances might be, as Jesus calls us by name and leads us into his life, we can find hope, peace and even joy that overflows into the lives of the people around us.

This makes discipleship about much more than following a new set of rules or a moral guide for us. Discipleship becomes about Jesus calling us to follow him as he leads us into a new kind of life, a life that overflows with God’s goodness. This doesn’t happen immediately. It will take time because it is a journey. However, it is a journey that our Good Shepherd has already walked before us, and into which he calls us as he knows us, protects us and provides for all our needs. It is a life in which we encounter the overflowing goodness of God in Jesus, as it grows in us and spills out into the lives of the people around us.

More to think about:

  • What do you think of when you hear Jesus describe himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’? What images or ideas come to mind?
  • How have you heard the ‘abundant life’ or ‘life to the full’ that Jesus talks about in v10 explained? What are your thoughts in the ways different people explain it?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us ‘a rich and satisfying life’ (NLT)? What do you think this kind of life looks like?
  • Is this the life you are living now? In what ways are you experiencing God’s abundance now? In what ways do you need Jesus to lead you into the life he promises?
  • One way we can think of this life is that God’s goodness overflows from us into the lives of the people around us (see John 4:14). Do you think that following Jesus more closely can help you in your relationships with other people? Explain why or why not…

Disciples are Sent (John 20:19-31)

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I often hear Christians talk about what we have to do to get people into our churches. The discussion might be about evangelism, outreach, mission, fellowship, programs or any one of a large number of topics. The general focus, however, usually centres around what do we have to do to get people who are ‘out there’ so they can be ‘in here’ with us.

Jesus had a very different focus. As we hear in this reading from John 20, when he appeared to his disciples on the evening of his resurrection, Jesus did not give them instructions on how to move people from ‘out there’ to ‘in here.’ Instead, listen to what Jesus said to his followers in verses 21 and 22. Jesus sent his disciples ‘out there’ in the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.

As we talk about simplifying the work of our congregation by developing an intentional discipling process and aligning what we do with that process, we need to listen what Jesus is telling us. As Jesus’ disciples, he is calling us to participate in God’s mission in the world by sending us out into the world. This continues the same movement our Father in heaven began when he sent Jesus into the world to redeem the world. The Father sent Jesus, and Jesus sends us on the same mission.

This gives us a totally different way of thinking about the work of our congregation. Instead of running events, programs or courses to try to get people from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’, if Jesus wants us to be sending people into the world to continue Jesus’ work in the world, then, as a congregation, we need to be preparing, growing, and equipping each other for this work. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11 & 12 that God gifts his leaders as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers ‘to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ’ (NLT). Paul recognises that if Jesus sends his followers into the world to participate in God’s mission to the world, then we need to be equipping each other for that work.

What might our congregation look like if we started re-thinking who we are and what we do from this perspective? How might things be different if we thought less about how to get people into our church, and instead thought more about how we can send you out to be part of God’s mission in the world in your families, among your friends, in your workplaces, schools or universities, or wherever God leads you during the week? This is really the key to our Simple Church conversation. If, as Jesus’ disciples, his intention is to send us into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit in the same way that our Father in heaven sent him, how do we prepare and equip you for that mission?

As we continue our conversation about simplifying our congregation’s activity with a strong discipling focus, this text becomes critical to that conversation. As the risen Christ meets us, breathes the Holy Spirit into us and gives us authority to be forgiving people, he sends us out as his representatives to participate in the mission of God. Disciples of Jesus follow him to participate with him in God’s mission of redeeming the world.

How do we as a congregation prepare and equip you for this mission? It starts with a change in thinking from trying to get people ‘out there’ to join us ‘in here’, to Jesus sending us out just as the Father sent him.

More to think about:

  • Has your experience of conversations in the church been more about getting people from ‘out there’ into the church, or sending God’s people into the world? Why do you think that is?
  • What is your reaction to the idea that Jesus sends you out to be part of God’s mission in the world? What is challenging, exciting, scary about it?
  • Sometimes people understand Jesus’ words about sending us as a call to overseas mission or church planting, but we can also think about Jesus sending us into our everyday lives as his followers to make a difference where we are right now. How might you view your home, work, school/uni, sporting club differently if you saw it as the place Jesus is sending you in the power of his Spirit to be a forgiving person?
  • When Paul says that ‘Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:11,12a NIV), what do you think these ‘works of service/ministry’ might be? How might our activity as a church be different if we thought of ‘ministry’ as what happens outside of our congregations (in our homes, paid & unpaid work, schools/unis, community, etc) rather than inside?
  • What do you need to be prepared & equipped to be sent into the world as Jesus’ followers to participate in God’s mission? How can we as the church give you what you need?

Sight for the Blind (John 9:1-41)

John 9v25

I have really struggled with this text this week.

On the surface, John 9 tells a simple story about Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. The religious leaders want to know who did it because the healing happened on a Sabbath, and so investigate the circumstances of the healing in a way that almost becomes comical. Eventually, they expel the healed man from the community of the synagogue for saying that his healing shows that Jesus must have come from God. Jesus catches up with him and then gives one of his paradoxical statements about the blind being able to see and those who can see being the ones who are actually blind (v39).

It is this statement of Jesus that has sat in the back of my mind all week, making me wonder if I really see what this story is about, or whether I’m blind to what Jesus is trying to teach us.

I know I’m reflecting my post-modern culture, but we all come to Scripture with our assumptions about the message of the Bible and what God is trying to tell us through the Bible. That makes us no different from the Pharisees whose assumption was that the Law of Moses gave them their best understanding of who God is and how God is at work in the world. One of the reasons they rejected Jesus was because he worked this miracle on the Sabbath. He broke the Law of Moses and so, the Pharisees concluded, he couldn’t be from God. The assumptions the Pharisees worked with prevented them from seeing Jesus as the one through whom God was working in the world.

The key to seeing what this story is about seems to lie in verse 3b when Jesus says that this man was born blind ‘so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (NIV). What Jesus seems to be saying is that the man born blind encountered God working in the world through Jesus because of his disability. The Pharisees didn’t see it because they didn’t recognize their need for God’s grace or healing. The blind man needed it because he couldn’t see, and it’s because of his lack of physical sight that he gained spiritual insight into Jesus doing God’s work in his life and in the world.

Maybe that’s the point of the story – seeing Jesus as the One who does God’s work in the world to bring us grace which makes us whole.

I’m always cautious about drawing parallels between us and the Pharisees because, let’s face it, none of us like to be called a Pharisee. However, like them, we can look for God to be working in lots of different ways in the world – for example, through nature, or a personal experience of some kind, or a miraculous revelation, or doing good things, or even a set of rules or religious tradition. I know that we can encounter God in ways such as these, and I don’t want to discount them. What this story seems to be saying, though, is that the one place we can see most clearly the way that God is working in the world is through Jesus.

This can become a real challenge for us because Jesus doesn’t fit in with the way we expect God to work. When we look at Jesus, we see God at work in humility, in weakness, in suffering and in the cross. We can look at the man born blind and see God working in his life through Jesus who meets him in his disability. In the same way, when we are being humiliated or shamed, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our humility or shame to give us honour and dignity, like we saw in last week’s story of the Samaritan woman at the well. When we are weak, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our weakness to make us strong in faith. When we are suffering for any reason, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our suffering to give us the hope that he is with us, will give us a better tomorrow, and somehow even use our suffering for good (see Romans 28). In the cross, we see God meeting us in the worst circumstances of life to pour his self-giving, grace-filled love into us which makes us whole and gives us what we need to live in peace and joy now and forever.

I don’t see a God who works like this anywhere else but in Jesus. That’s why, first and foremost,

Discipleship is … Jesus opening our eyes to see God at work in him.

We are all like the blind man in one way or another. We all need to have our eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to see God at work in the person of Jesus, meeting us in our need, showing us grace, carrying our brokenness, and raising us to new life through faith in him. Only then are we able to live as God’s people and glorify him in what we say and do like the man born blind in the story did.

It’s worth asking: where do we look for God? What kind of God do we meet there? And how is that God similar or different to the God we meet in Jesus? We will all come to the Bible with our different assumptions, and they will shape our understanding of God and how God is at work in our lives and in the world. When we think we can see things clearly, maybe that’s when we are actually blind to God’s truth. When we admit we can’t see him, but need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, maybe that’s when we start to see God at work in Jesus.

More to think about:

  • Where do you look for God at work in the world? In your life?
  • What does that say to you about who God is? What might be some problems with looking for God there?
  • What do you think about looking for God at work in Jesus? What might be helpful in doing that? What might be some challenges about it?
  • When you look at the way God was at work through Jesus in the life of the man born blind from John 9, what does it tell you about God?
  • How might it help you in your life if you could see God at work in humility, weakness, suffering or the cross?