17 January 2021
Every so often a new sensation breaks out. Miracles are done, signs are seen and people flock for healing and to have something tangible to see to believe. Its interesting how quickly they fade . A few years ago a church in Wellington hit the headlines as it was attracting large numbers of people. They received healings, including among other things their teeth were completely restored, pictures of before and after were flashed across the TV. Others had their amalgam fillings turned to gold with little crosses on them, and people after they had shaken hands with the pastor found gold dust on their hands - a sign of blessing. I read in the small print that people gladly gave their money, often the whole weeks pay or benefit in gratitude. I was intrigued as to why God might wish to restore teeth. Crutches left piled up, backs fixed I could go with but teeth.
You must understand that I'm not ever questioning that the almighty can do such things but somehow to me peering at the fuzzy photos [notice how photos of miracle are always fuzzy] it looked more like an acrylic restorations and the amalgams had a copper tinge. And just maybe the pastor was benefiting, I noticed from the TV clips. drove an expensive car
That church was growing and I was horrified to find one of my colleagues so desparate to get quick results in his own church of increasing numbers, urging Auckland Presbytery to get someone from that series of churches to come and tell us what we were doing wrong and how to get our churches to grow. It was obvious that God was with those churches and It was implied "not really to the same spiritual degree in our own".
If the primary evidence of God in Jesus (or anywhere else) is miracles, then miracles will form the focus of faith and religious experience. Sometimes it will lead to a theology which finds God only in the extraordinary and does not find God in the ordinary. If miracles do not keep coming, people make them up or generate them within or look for alternative stimulants or surrender in depression . Often a sense of ethics and community suffers. Miracles of this nature can be used to prey on the credulous to produce a faith .
As a Christian minister I felt deeply sorry for that community and that pastor who were being sold short on what God could really do in their midst and very angry about the superficial acceptance as the work of God, of what was obviously fraudulant, by people who ought to have had far more wisdom. God always works in truth, God given Miracles do happen, probably far more often than we notice, but to say see a miracle at 10.am today is manipulating God and as Isaiah?s vision tells us that is not a wise thing to do.
In Jesus' time people were no different. Miracle workers and magicians wandered around and Jesus would have been looked on as one of these by many. We are told that Simon the magician was very keen to have some of the power of Jesus and his disciples.and the New Testament church had to address the issue, over and over to restore the focus back to Jesus and to God
This passage is direct.
V 23 Many Saw the signs Jesus was doing and believed in his name because they saw the signs/miracles . (2:23). But Jesus, himself, did not believe in (episteusen entrust himself to) them,
of these there was a person who came to Jesus, His name is Nicodemus
Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, because no one can do these miracles which you are doing unless God is with him?,/i> That sounds fine doesn't it?
But Jesus knows what is in his heart and Jesus challenges him sharply -He uses language of Birth, wind/Spirit, from above /again. You must be born from above? Nicodemus. Poor Nicodemus gets caught in one layer of thinking - born again rather than hearing born from above.. He needs to have a new perspective to see Jesus
Nicodemus is a stereotype of people who remain stuck with one level of thinking and can't see beyond it. He uses the language but he's not yet clicked what Jesus is on about .
What should Nicodemus (and other such believers) be seeing? He says it himself " Jesus is a teacher come from God? (3:2).
The main message of John?s gospel is that we are to find in Jesus the one who makes God known. He is Jesus the Son sent by the Father or who has come from the Father.
The miracles are OK, [Judiasm and Islam can believe in the Miracles] but unless you see beyond them, then Jesus remains just an interesting teacher who performs impressive stunts and deserves a following, a magic son of God and we have nothing to say that many other religions can say also.
If Nicodemus had meant that in the way that the beginning of John means it when we are told tells us that Jesus is the Son who makes the Father known, then he would begin to understand.
This spirit birth which is from Above, gives us a new way of seeing the relationship between God and the world, the relationship of love. . Paul emphasised that the fruit of the Spirit was love (Gal 5:22-23; 1 Cor 13), not sensation.
The famous John 3:16, like 3:17, is about what Jesus brings from God. God gave, because God Loves - When the love which brings God's life becomes the central theme then we see the miracles with new eyes. They are signs and symbols of who Jesus is and his significance, not an end in themselves.
He feeds 5000, fine but they'll get hungry again - but not if this points to that deeper reality: he is the bread of life. He heals a blind person; but the truth that matters is that he is the light. So he is also the life, the truth and the way.
More importantly at the centre of everything
The eyes of inadequate faith see the death as a disaster when Jesus was lifted onto a cross of shame, only to be compensated for by another miracle, the resurrection, so the show could go on.
The reflections of John's Gospel tells us that this points to the deeper truth that Jesus was being lifted to God and that as a result of his return to the Father bearing the world's pain, the Sprit would be sent to the world through the Spirit and the Spirit-bearing disciples who would succeed and serve him in love.
William Loader says that The kind of faith (in Jesus) which stops at the miracles is inadequate. Such people need to be born from above. Matthew?s gospel says the same thing 7:21-23 that as doorkeeper of the kingdom Jesus will not recognise who just use the language and claim his name who have even performed such miracles themselves in his name. Paul also had emphasised that the fruit of the Spirit was love not sensation. (1 Cor 13),
For John's gospel the focus is on God and our ongoing relationship is what matters most. That relationship is in Jesus through his relationship with God. A relationship of love flowing in all directions - including out into the world to all people.
It is not about a new mystical heights of experience but about a way of living out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in the market of miracle workers, but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community.
So, John, starts the church on the way towards how we talk about God as the Trinity, one God in three persons, the doctrine of the trinity by insisting on the fact that relating to the person of the Son is relating to the Father, and that living in that relationship is living by the Spirit. This earths our faith in a relationship and a person, rather than in momentous events or experiences, in places here or hereafter, It is the simple fact that we are loved and beloved of the one Holy God and we find that God, revealed in Jesus is present in all parts of our lives and living.
PRAYER [Brian Stoffregen]
Utterly powerless, Jesus hung on the cross. Strangely forgiving, he prayed for his torturers. Is this how God works? Or, is this just one of God?s strange prophets at work? If we don?t say "This is God, and this is how God works," we have nothing to say about God -- nothing that other religions can?t say just as well.
I believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the Christian confession of how God works. No one else bears this witness. The world will hear it from no one else,
Ref William Loader [ Exegetical notes]
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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