The Story of Human Life
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 21 July 2001
The big storm we had here yesterday reminded me of an art gallery in Italy where there are two paintings by different artists standing side by side. I don't know if they were arranged like that deliberately or not but the effect was impressive. The picture on the left represents a sea tossed by storms. Dark clouds hang over it, lightening bolts pierce sky, and the angry waves are seen crashing together in all their fury. And in the seething waters you see a dead human face.
The other painting on the right is similar. Like the one on the left, it depicts a storm-tossed sea. But in the middle of the angry waters is a rock, and in the rock there is a cleft with green grass and flowers. And in the midst of these is a white dove quietly sitting on her nest.
In these two pictures may be seen, I believe, the complete story of human life. The first is the story of life without Christ, unblessed by His presence and peace. There is storm everywhere, with no quiet shelter. The other picture paints the peace which Christ gives, and yet the storm is no less forceful than in the first painting. The waves roll as high. The sense of menace is as great. But there is peace. The rock represents Christ and it is in the cleft of the rock that peace is found.
Over a hundred years ago an Englishman called Dr. Thomas Hastings, went for a long walk with a broken heart because his little daughter had just died. At length he came across a huge rock with a cleft in it, and from that sight came the spiritual inspiration for one of the most beloved of Christian hymns:
Rock of Ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NKJV).
Life is a tempest-tossed sea. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, young or old, you will always face the stormy waters of life. You cannot avoid them. The choice is to either be thrown about and get spiritually bruised and battered, or to find your rest on the rock of Christ.
Every human being has within them a need to find security. We want safety, comfort and rest. When we are young, we find that security in our family - if we are blessed with a good family - but when we have grown up a time comes to leave home and settle elsewhere to make our own family.
Recently we've been watching the birds as they raise a new generation of young and have witnessed the dangers they face from predators in particular. A few weeks ago my eldest son drove away a woodpecker who was trying to kill some baby wagtails. The youngsters are content to stay safely in the nest to be fed by their parents who must often forage far and wide for food. But then the time to leave the nest comes and the parents, by instinct placed in them by the Creator, literally push the baby birds out of the nest and force them to fly.
Last Monday I nearly ran over a little bird that I suppose had fallen out of its nest. Some do. And because he could not yet fly it was obvious he would become prey to snakes and larger birds. When we are young we must be very careful not to stray from the protection of our parents but when we are older we must awaken to the call to become adults ourselves. There are times and seasons for everything.
The time that Yah'shua (Jesus) departed this earth was a soul-wrenching experience for the first disciples. After His death they were besides themselves with grief. It seemed to them as if the end of the world had come. Like children who suddenly find themselves orphans after some terrible calamity, the disciples felt helpless and lost. They didn't know what to do or where to turn.
And yet Yah'shua (Jesus) had warned them of this very time when He would no longer be among them. He actually prophesied their reaction when he said: "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy" (John 16:20, NKJV).
I am quite sure they did not understand what He meant at the time. For one thing, they did not seriously believe that their cosy lives in His physical shadow would last only a very short time. They never imagined for one minute that He would die, and even when He told them that death was His mission, they would not believe Him. Peter - foolish Peter - even tried to stop Him going to Jerusalem. But He said it would happen and that there was nothing they could do about it. Furthermore, that what they believed was a calamity would actually turn out to be a time of great joy for them.
He went on to explain to them that the experience would be very much like a woman in labour. She goes through hell for a few hours and then, suddenly, when the baby has arrived, all the earlier pain is forgotten and the mother can feel nothing but blissful joy for the little child in her arms. "Therefore", Yah'shua (Jesus) said, "you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you" (John 16:22-23, NKJV).
And so they did. After that terrible death, they saw the resurrected, immortal Christ standing before them many times and in the presence of many witnesses. They were able to physically touch Him and be assured that this was no phantom. Then the agony of the cross was all forgotten and the disciples could only rejoice at the good news.
"And your joy no one will take from you."
Once someone has met the resurrected Christ, there is nothing that heaven or hell can do to take away that event. Once it has happened, it has happened. I am sure the world can tell many stories of people believed to have died who have returned home, and the news of their return has been greeted with disbelief. And yet, when these doubters have seen with their own eyes the person they believed to be dead standing before them, they too have shared in the joy of those first witnesses and have come to believe themselves.
The reality of this life may be faced and seen in two ways - like the painting on the left with the face of a dead man in the stormy sea, or like the one on the right with the dove peacefully resting in her nest in a beautiful scene in the cleft of a rock in that selfsame stormy ocean. The world is similarly divided into two kinds of people - those who see only the storm and those who have discovered the Rock which is Christ, who have believed and obeyed, and been saved.
The outer circumstances in which humans beings find themselves are the same for believers and unbelievers alike, but the inner worlds are completely different. Last night at our Sabbath supper Sister Mjölsvik was looking at a painting on the wall opposite her with a caption which I translated into Norwegian. It is of a beautiful river winding through a forest and disappearing somewhere into the unknown. And the caption reads:
For what is seen will pass,
But what is unseen is eternal.
There are in this world literal stormy seas and sometimes sorrowful images of the past come back to haunt us, of things and people which seem to be irretrievably lost. Lost homes, lost loved ones, lost careers, lost romances, lost fortunes. These are all visible things which come and go.
But behind this world of visible things is also an invisible one, not only of unseen thoughts and feelings, but a whole world from which we came and to which one day we will return. And it is this world, the Bible assures us, that is the ultimate reality, and not the passing one on which we walk today.
Having promised His disciples that their sorrow would be turned into joy, Yah'shua(Jesus) made an astonishing promise to them. He said: "Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-24, NKJV).
This is one of that collection of what I call grossly misunderstood and badly translated passages of the Bible. It is also one of the most abused. People have misinterpreted it to mean that they can ask for whatever they want and believe that Christ will automatically give it to them like a vending machine.
Before I explain this otherwise seemingly enigmatic passage, which is to be found in John's Gospel and nowhere else, I need to explain some very important things to you which perhaps you did not know before.
I wonder if you've ever asked yourself these kinds of questions: Why are there four Gospels and not just one? Why do the writers recount certain events and sayings of Christ but not others? Why is the Gospel of John so different from the other three? Why do the four Gospels apparently contradict each other in places? Wouldn't it have been simpler to have just inspired one writer to write everything down for us?
And some people have actually taken the four Gospels and tried to make them into a single text. I have one or two such attempts and as scripture they are utterly useless. There is a reason we have four Gospels and I am going to briefly explain that to you now. It is not, as some believe, purely accidental that four men decided to write the story of Yah'shua (Jesus) and remembered different things or even collaborated with each other.
To cut a long, though fascinating, story short, the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah who is called "The Branch". There are five passages in Jeremiah, Zechariah and Isaiah containing these "Branch prophecies" (Jer.23:5; 33:15; Zec.3:8; 6:12; Is.4:2) which portray Christ in four different ways: (1) as a King; (2) as a Servant; (3) as a Man; and (4) as being of Yahweh.
These four words define the Messiah for us and all that He is. But before I explain what these are, let me remind you that each living person is defined by who he or she is and by what he or she does. There is an important distinction between a person and his work or function.
Christ the "Branch" is similarly defined by who He is and what He does or did. Two of these four terms refer to his person - SON and MAN, while the other two relate to His work - KING and SERVANT (see Table 1 above).
The word "Son" defines His rôle in His relationship to His Father, Yahweh. The word "Man" defines Him as being a member of the human race, one of us, which says a lot about who He is as a person. The word "King" describes His function in terms of His position and authority, and "Servant" describes His attitude toward the work that He does. And as you know, both kings and servants are defined by their function or work.
From these four words we learn an important distinction in the life of the Messiah - He is both humbled and exalted. This means that both suffering and glory characterise His life. Most people compromise the truth in their lives, but not this Man - He is either loved or hated, praised or reviled, just as He said His servants would be. Even before He was born the prophets accurately predicted what kind of a life He would lead.
So what have we learned? That there would be four sides to the life of Christ, and understanding this is vitally important to understanding why we have Four Gospels. Is it any wonder that he is called the "cornerstone" (Mk.12:10; Mt.21:42; Lk.20:17; Ac.4:11; 1 Pet.2:6-7)?
||Son of God (John)
You see, each of the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John views the person and work of Yah'shua (Jesus) from one of these four different perspectives: King, Servant, Man and Son (see Table 2 above). We see, for, example how this pattern is reflected in the different ways in which His genealogy is handled. Each genealogy supports the theme of the Gospel in which it appears in a way that speaks powerfully of Yahweh's inspiration to those with eyes to see.
Matthew presents Yah'shua (Jesus) as a king from the line of David. Mark, who portrays Christ as a servant, has no genealogy, because the servant's genealogy isn't relevant. Luke portrays Christ as a man and consequently has a genealogy that traces Yah'shua (Jesus) back to Adam, the first man. And John portrays Yah'shua (Jesus) as the Son of God and starts his Gospel by saying that God, in the beginning, had a plan (logos) that became flesh, telling us that the Son comes from the Father. The genealogy of John is very short: the Father had a Son, an only begotten Son. Thus we see that each genealogy fits the purpose of each Gospel.
Now I could spend several sermons explaining how the four Gospels deal with different aspects of Yah'shua's (Jesus') Person and Work, but this one example is enough. You will see that nothing is accidental and that there is a cosmic genius in the Bible that has been given to us.
Bearing in mind, then, that the Gospel of John is about Yah'shua's (Jesus') Sonship, what did He mean when He said that we could ask for whatever we wanted to and it would be granted to us? Is Christ telling us that the universe is at our command? May I ask him for twenty Mercedes-Benzes, a free subscription to every pornographic magazine in the world, fame as a world class tennis player, or the presidency of the United States? Common sense tells us that this cannot be so for such contradicts practically everything else that Yah'shua (Jesus) said about prayer and what we can, and cannot, petition Him for. So what did Christ mean?
How careless people are when they quote scripture! They rip it out of context and pay no attention to what is said around their pet passages. Does anyone remember what Yah'shua (Jesus) said immediately before His promise about answering prayers? This is what He said:
"And in that day you will ask Me nothing" (John 16:22-23, NKJV).
Or literally translated: "In that day you will ask Me no questions". In other words, in the day you ask me for whatever you want and it is granted to you is the day when you will ask me no questions! The day you stop asking God questions is the day you will get whatever you ask for!
Now, there's a riddle for you to solve. What could Yah'shua (Jesus) have meant?? Isn't that contradictory? What the Saviour meant by these words is that in that blessed afar off day you shall have such a clear knowledge of the Gospel mysteries that you will not need to enquire any more.
This is actually a quotation from Jeremiah which is found in Hebrews where it states:
"None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD [Yahweh],' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Heb.8:11, NKJV).
This is a reference to the famous prophecy which states that in the Kingdom of Heaven everyone will know the truth and will not need instruction or to even prayer because they will have received all that the Father has to give to them. Up until this time the apostles had been asking Yah'shua (Jesus) all sorts of stupid questions such as who would be the greatest amongst them. Some of their questions were downright impertinent (e.g. Jn.21:21).
The Gospel of John is for advanced students of the Bible - it is what we call a "firstborn text". For those not spiritually endowed it remains a riddle. Consider: Yah'shua (Jesus) first says: "And in that [future] day you will ask Me nothing" (v.23a) and then says that up until now - in spite of their stupid questions - they haven't asked Him anything either (v.24). And in-between these two enigmatic statements He inserts: "whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (v.23b).
People think that so long as they ask Yahweh in the Name of Yah'shua or Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua (whatever the right pronunciation is) that they will get whatever they want. But this is foolishness - as foolish as all the other stupid questions the apostles had asked earlier. Why didn't Yah'shua (Jesus) just say plainly: "whatever you ask the Father using the word Yah'shua (Jesus) He will give to you"?
And the answer is that the Name of Deity isn't just a "word" like "Amen" or "John". To ask in the Name of Deity is to ask in the spirit of what that Name stands for. And what does the Name "Yah'shua" ("Jesus") stand for? It stands for "Yah saves" or "Yahweh saves". And what does "Yah" stand for? It is an abbreviation of "Yahweh" which means "The Eternally Present One". To ask God for something in the Name of the Son is to ask whilst standing in the spiritual presence of Yah, the Father! It means that when you are filled with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) that you will be guided by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). And what does Yah'shua (Jesus) say a little earlier?:
"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13, NKJV)
When you have the Spirit you will be guided - led - what to say and ask for. It is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) who tells you what to pray for. And if the Spirit tells you what to pray for, then obviously the Father will answer your prayer and grant your request because it will in line with His will.
But what if a person asks for something but does not possess the Holy Spirit? Then the prayer will not be answered because he won't have asked in the Name of the Son, even if he should repeat the word "Yah'shua" or "Jesus" a thousand times!
The Gospel of John is not about the human dimension but about the Divine. Human logic doesn't work there. Indeed, the Gospel of John is one of the most misunderstood Gospels of all for this very reason. Without the baptism of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) it is a closed book. And in vain will you ask for things that are not in line with Yahweh's will.
We end back in the picture of that rock in the midst of the stormy sea. In vain do people cry to be rescued who trust in their own lusts instead of the will of God. You cannot dictate to God. He dictates to you. And when you obey Him you have the absolute assurance and promise that you will dwell in a cleft which is a garden of peace and joy. And there you will find that white dove, the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) who will lead you into all truth. Amen.
Graeser, Lynn & Schoenheit, One God and One Lord, CES, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2000, pp.141-146
This page was created on 18 October 2001
Last updated on 18 October 2001
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