Sunday 7th January 2018
Those of you who are here regularly will know that we were working through John’s gospel before Christmas and we had a break during December. We’re going to finish off the gospel in the run-up to Easter.
In this chapter Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and wipes his feet with her hair; then Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey, but Jesus immediately predicts his death; but John takes us back to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness when there was a plague of snakes and they had to look up to the bronze snake Moses made in order to be healed.
I don’t know if you have ever been in the position of spending a long time preparing something ready for a big reveal to waiting family and friends, only to find that they weren’t really that impressed. Suppose God had an audience when he created the earth. Earth and sea separate. Trees, flowers and plants: every colour imaginable. Then fish, birds and animals of every size and shape. Then, at the last, the human race, the crowning glory of creation. Male and female, to reflect God’s image in the world. God looked and said it was very good. But what if the audience was unimpressed? Supposing they simply went on with their conversations because it wasn’t quite what they had in mind, or wasn’t the way they would have done it.
John has been telling us the story of new creation. He has been building up the signs: water into wine in ch 2, healing the nobleman’s son in ch 4, healing a crippled man in ch 5, feeding the multitude in ch 6, healing a man born blind in ch 9, and lastly raising Lazarus from the dead in ch 11. He has hinted, and writes later, that Jesus did so many things he couldn’t write them all down, but John chose these things to make a point about who Jesus is, and about new creation, new dimensions to God’s work, new Exodus, new life, new light – but everyone went on with their conversations, unimpressed and uninterested.
John remembers the lack of interest in the remarkable things Jesus did and his mind goes back to two Old Testament themes. Moses in Egypt did a whole series of ‘signs’ for Pharaoh and his court, but they still didn’t believe. The conclusion was that their hearts had been hardened so that God’s liberation of his people would be all the more dramatic.
Isaiah faced Israelites who were in total rebellion against God, to the point where they were like Pharaoh – their eyes were shut and their hearts were hard. They were so caught up in sin that the only option was judgement – but even then Isaiah saw that an extraordinary new work of salvation would emerge through that judgement.
John then looks at the Judeans who saw Jesus’ signs but didn’t believe and links them with the earlier Israelites. Even those who had softer hearts, who did believe, didn’t speak because they were more worried about what other people would say about them than what God thought of them.
But John is clear, and we should be too. The new creation went ahead in Jesus. These signs were leading to another, when all these signs in the gospel would come rushing together and leave history stamped forever with the image of a man dying on a cross, lifted up for the world to see, opening blind eyes and softening hard hearts with the love of God.
One of the things we have to realise is that there will always be people who will not believe. I don’t know if you have ever witnessed a miracle – I know I have. I remember thinking that if only there could be more miracles then people would trust Jesus and the church would grow. This reading tells us that is not true. There were people then, and there are people now who will not believe even if the miracle affects them. Please don’t misunderstand me – that’s not a reason not to ask for miracles: we need God to do miracles, even it is to strengthen our faith.
There will also be people who will choose not to talk about Jesus because they are worried about what people will think of them. That’s not an excuse not to talk about Jesus – John says it’s the response of someone who loves to be liked by people, more than God.
So if all that is true, why are we here? Why do we talk about Jesus? Why do we run Alpha courses and Messy church? Why should we pray for God to pour out his Spirit on Prestwick? Because there are some people, like Matt Bird in the Times, whose lives are going to be transformed by an encounter with Jesus. There are people in our community who have never heard the true story and meaning of Christmas; they don’t get the significance of Easter; Jesus is unknown to them and the church is a mystery – yet, when they are presented with the story they will respond in faith.
If you love God, and you want this congregation to continue, then you need to share Jesus with the people you meet. The days of mass evangelistic campaigns are over. What works today is being friendly, giving time and having honest conversations with people. If you’re following Jesus it will make a difference in your life, and people will notice. You won’t need to be in their face – but you do need to speak.
Romans 10:14-16 How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15 And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news. 16 Yet not everyone has believed the message. For example, the prophet Isaiah asked, “Lord, has anyone believed what we said?”
Sometimes we end up asking ‘has anyone believed what we said?’
We are all called to speak.
Panic on your face! One phrase you really need to know, which you can use in any situation, and it is my gift to you – I don’t know!
5 people; pray for them by name; ask God to give you opportunities to speak to them; speak to them!