Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus' Gifts to Us...Our Gifts to Him


Tim Smith shares this...in Jesus’ day, childhood education started at age five as young boys went to the synagogue school to learn Hebrew and memorize the Torah. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age 13, a typical Jewish young man had memorized all of the Old Testament.  Those who showed great promise were encouraged to continue their education and were further encouraged to extend their training by spending time (ages 17-20) with a rabbi in a multi-year experience.  The student would choose a rabbi and ask to become his student. Because of the great interpretive diversity amongst the rabbis, the decision to ask to be a rabbi’s disciple and receive religious training from him was not made lightly.  Some rabbis interpreted the Scriptures literally. Others focused on the spirit of the Torah, while still other rabbis had different areas of emphasis, like purity laws. These diverse approaches often led to very different interpretations and applications of Scripture pertaining to issues of daily life.  Since a rabbi’s interpretation of God’s Word was forever binding on his disciples, great care had to be taken by the disciple in choosing a rabbi and his teaching to make sure it was something he could identify with and live out for the rest of his life.  As this is what took place with first century rabbis…Jesus is no different, as a “rabbi” or “teacher”.  It was a matter of tradition for the culture of that time.  As Jesus teaches His disciples, it is a critically important matter…and in these last days that Jesus is with his disciples, He wants them to begin to grasp the true matters of spirituality that will shape them forever.

Jesus makes some important connections in John 14 (vv.12-31) that might otherwise seem like important, albeit separate, principles.  Here He talks about prayer, love, obedience, the Holy Spirit, peace, comfort.  If God is going to answer our prayers and give us peace in our hearts, there are certain conditions that we must meet…and these conditions bring blessings.  We say that we are “believers,” but we must also live like we “believe.”  This is the essence of faith, hope and love.  Love and obedience are a part of effective praying and believing.  Our prayers will not have the effect we hope for, if our lives are not characterized by faith and love.  We do not obey the Lord simply because we want our prayers answered…but we do obey because we love Him. And this is not burdensome, as we have made it at times.  Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will keep His commandments, and the thrust of Jesus life and mission are captured in this same overall context (14:21).  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this…that he lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13).  And going back a bit, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:34-35).  It is interesting to me that I have heard Jesus’ “commands” interpreted as many things over the years, but rarely what Jesus actually says they are…as seen in context.  We are to live out our obedience to our “Rabbi” according to His way.  This is not to say that there are no other matters of importance, but…that they are subservient to Jesus’ primary focus for His people.

What Jesus does understand is that none of this is going to be possible for them (or us) without the help of the Spirit of truth.  The Holy Spirit will guide them and help them to live what it is that they believe.  He is called the Comforter here, which means He literally is “called alongside to assist”…He is our Encourager.  And all of this does not mean that He works instead of us, rather that He works in and through us.  It is the Spirit of God who inspires the Word of God, but who also illuminates the Word of God in our spirits and lives so that we can understand it.  The Spirit of Truth uses the Word of truth to guide us into the will and the work of God (Ephesians 6:17).  If we want the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, then we must seek to glorify Christ, and not ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to believers (Acts 2:38-39, Romans 8:1ff, etc.).  We can be filled with Him if we are living like and for Jesus, but we can also quench His work in our lives, if we are living to please ourselves, the flesh.  The Spirit doesn’t directly tell us what to do, because the Lord did not make us robots…but, He does guide us indirectly if we are willing to listen to His “still, small voice.”  This will not necessarily happen easily…if we are too busy to slow down, and stop to listen to His leading, we may not “hear” Him.  The Spirit works out the will of the Father in our lives and we become more like our “Rabbi”, our “Teacher”, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And we will bear good, spiritual fruit for the Lord.  One of these fruit is “peace.”  We do not have to be concerned about the worries and cares of this world if we have the Spirit’s peace in our own spirits.  The opposite of peace is worry, strife, and discontentment.  It seems like many people, including many believers, seem to experience these characteristics in their lives much more so than “peace.”  But, if we truly strive to be living faithfully, productively as Jesus’ people…being ”faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10)…growing and producing fruit, then we will be blessed, and He will come again one day to take us home to be with Him (14:1ff, v.19).

Dr. Neil Anderson tells this story...a young pilot had just passed the point of no return when the weather changed for the worse. Visibility dropped to a matter of feet as fog descended to the earth. Putting total trust in the cockpit instruments was a new experience to him, for the ink was still wet on the certificate verifying that he was qualified for instrument flying.  The landing worried him the most. His destination was a crowded metropolitan airport he wasn't familiar with. In a few minutes he would be in radio contact with the tower. Until then, he was alone with his thoughts. His instructor had practically forced him to memorize the rule book. He didn't care for it at the time, but now he was thankful.  Finally he heard the voice of the air traffic controller. "I'm going to put you on a holding pattern," the controller radioed. Great! thought the pilot. However, he knew that his safe landing was in the hands of this person. He had to draw upon his previous instructions and training, and trust the voice of an air traffic controller he couldn't see. Aware that this was no time for pride, he informed the controller, "This is not a seasoned pro up here. I would appreciate any help you could give me."  "You've got it!" he heard back.  For the next 45 minutes, the controller gently guided the pilot through the blinding fog. As course and altitude corrections came periodically, the young pilot realized the controller was guiding him around obstacles and away from potential collisions. With the words of the rule book firmly placed in his mind, and with the gentle voice of the controller, he landed safely at last.  The Holy Spirit guides us through the maze of life much like that air traffic controller. The controller assumed that the young pilot understood the instructions of the flight manual. His guidance was based on that. Such is the case with the Holy Spirit: He can guide us if we have a knowledge of God's Word and His will established in our minds.

Our lives will have meaning and make sense if we are not only interpreting God’s message to us correctly, but also, if we are willing to live it according to His will and for His glory.  If we understand that the thrust of our lives and mission are concerning allowing God’s Spirit to guide us to be more like His Son and living out His will and fruit in our lives, we are going to gain and grow in our spiritual walk. 

Blessings, Don

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