Saturday, October 29, 2011


I received a letter from a seminary president about his summer journey to Greece and Turkey.  He and a group visited the ancient sites of Laodicea, Sardis, and Ephesus among others.  He wrote well about the temples, the statues, and the ancient cities of the Greeks.  He made the point eloquently that the Christian churches in those early centuries huddled quietly in the shadows of such grand architecture.  And yet the apostles made their appeal to the believers that 'their God is God.'
  It was a beautiful phrase by this writer to culminate his story.  Then he asked for money to build large buildings, increase budgets to exceptional levels, and enable professors to travel in style.
  The irony here caused me to think of what would be worthy in a seminary.  I attended a seminary for a year.  What I remember most of all was the spirituality of the faculty.  But I don't think their sacred spirituality came from the buildings and budgets.
  When I was a boy, the older generation of saints were the church staff members.  They had lived before World War II, coming through the depression and a war which came remarkably close to world destruction.  I loved their rich, deep, kind spirituality.  At the time I thought their spirituality came from wisdom; now I know it came from what they had suffered and risked for God.  Their richness was in their losses.
  So I thought, what would be the best for the seminary students today?  There is a saying attributed to the great English poet John Milton.  The saying is, Epic poets drink from a wooden cup, lyric poets drink from a silver cup.  The seminary president is asking me to buy his students a silver cup, and I won't do it.  But what would be best?
  I think growing in grace and the knowledge of God comes from long spaces of time, Biblical languages, and prayer to the max.  It takes time to hear God; it takes silence and darkness in a room and listening.  A day without the radio, a day without food, a day without driving a car or speaking to anyone or turning on the air conditioning.  A night alone haunched amid ruins, a night sleeping alongside the Jordan, a weekend in the desert.
  It takes Biblical languages to transport a student into the times and place in which New Testament letters were written.  These letters were not written to close down every problem, but to open up God.  Learning the nuances of thought--that Paul refuses to accomodate the Jews in one chapter of Acts but then does accommodate them in a later chapter--so much is hidden in so few words that only comes out by reading Greek and Hebrew through the years.
  It's helpful to know the difference between what some other writer has in him and what you have in you.  When I was in college my specialty was Milton.  So years later I tried to write as he did, having spent many years absorbing the style, the vocabulary, the scansion of the man.  What I wrote was not in 5 beats, it didn't have his grand noble style, his learning, the thrill of his thought.  I had none of those things.  God had put in my what He put in me and all the hours I could muster did not enhance that by one sentence.  No one will ever write, Of Man's disobedience with such pointed conviction.
  And growing in grace to the point of being able to teach and preach to someone else does not come by test time.  There are so many thoughts to go through before arriving home.  There is so much of our culture to shed, so much of God to walk through.  A bigger student lounge won't do this, more meals in the cafeteria won't do this, more salary, more perks, more books won't do this.  Columns are not a cross.  The Christian life is time with God, the submission of the heart, the reception of His presence.  It is the praise of His glory.
  I hope that seminary stays afloat, not so much for the seminary but of those who will walk there for a time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


John 6 is a loaded passage, toward which many roads lead.  In John 1 the Word has become flesh, Jesus of Nazareth.  In John 2 Jesus transforms water into wine.  In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again.  In John 4 Jesus tells a woman the water He gives is eternal, the water of the well she seeks is not.  In John 5 Jesus says the dead will hear His voice and be transformed from death to life.  So we come to John 6 with this buildup of transformation due to Jesus authority and power.
  Now John 6 is a long chapter, intensifying the idea of transformation and power.  First in John 6. 1-15 Jesus transforms bread to feed 5000 families.  Then in John 6.16-21 His authority is on display when He walks on water.  You'll notice that when Jesus does step into the boat, the disciples are amazed.  Jesus has to say--Do not be afraid.  The disciples get Him into the boat; John uses labein,which originally meant, to seize.  They jerk Jesus into the boat as if this walking on water stuff freaks them out--'Hey Jesus, get in here!  You can't go around walking on water--it just isn't done--this is unreal.'
  And it was.  Then in 6.21 they get to land, 'immediately.'  They're not going to have their leader doing this, they're getting right to the land they can feel.  John says it was the same land from which they left--home.  No more of this walking on water rigamaroll.
  Now that Jesus has done something only God would do, the rest of the chapter turns toward Jesus as God.  But not God hidden in the tabernacle, who could only be approached by Levites.  Now Jesus will show the disciples how they can receive God in their heart and soul.
  In John 6.26 Jesus tells the crowd they only follow Him so they might eat and be filled.  He tells them not to work for the food which perishes, meaning the bread they can hold in their hand; work for the bread which sustains them into eternal life.  Jesus speaks from a literal use to a spiritual one.  In 6.26 John uses the word for chewing--ephagete--and the word for bread--artwn.  This is the bread which passes away, it is used by the body and then eliminated; it lasts a day and then gone.  But in 6.27 He uses the world for food which sustains--brwsin.  This word has been used metaphorically as that which sustains, or even to raise a child in the sense of providing for that child.  While artwn is the bread from grain we buy at the store, brwsin is that which enables us to live and go on.
   The disciples say in 6.34--Lord, give us all this bread--meaning the bread which sustains to eternal life.  He says--I am the bread of life; the one coming to Me will never hunger and the one believing in Me will never thirst again.  John uses artwn for bread in this verse but ends the sentence with--eternal life.  John is associating the literal meaning with the spiritual meaning of eternal life.  Now Jesus will expand on that, by taking us from the literal to the spiritual.
  In John 6.41 Jesus says He is the bread--which came down from heaven--reminding the Jews of what they could believe, the manna in the wilderness of Exodus, Deuteronomy 8.3.  He is putting together at once the literal with Himself as the spiritual meaning.  The crowd doesn't like this.  So Jesus tells them in 6.47--the one who believes has eternal life.  His point is to bring the crowd from their own natural seeking of only a loaf to seeking eternal life through Him.
  Jesus had said in 6.35--I am the bread of life.  Now He will reveal what He means.  Up till now Jesus had used phagwn for eating--meaning chewing--and artwn for bread.  The Jews could understand this easily, as they had been given bread in their hand when Jesus transformed a few loaves into many, 6.1-15.  Now Jesus says He is the bread out of heaven, so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life, John 6.51.  The expression--out of heaven--is the link between the manna of Exodus and Jesus as the bread who gives eternal life.
  How is this so?  In 6.53 Jesus begins with the literal meaning, stretching it forthe first time. He says--if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.  The word for eating is phagnte,which we know is the chewing, the word we expect.  But now He has substituted for bread His flesh, sarka.  And He has substituted for 'himself,' the 'Son of Man.'  What this means is that Jesus intends for His disciples to take the eating His flesh and drinking His blood as meaning more than just the act of chewing and swallowing.  He means to associate His flesh and blood with believing unto eternal life.  This is the new covenant which He has given us.
  Now in 6.54 Jesus moves the meaning again.  John will not use phagwn for chewing,but trwgwn.  This word comes from trwphw, which means to be filled, to fatten or to keep animals or people alive, Luke 4.16, Matt. 6.26, James 5.5.  It has been used metaphorically, to represent ideas greater than mere eating food.  Jesus then associates His flesh and blood with life, 6.53--if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you do not have life within yourselves.  Then in 6.54 Jesus stretches it from life to eternal life--The one eating My flesh and drinking My blood has eternal life.  Then in 6.55 Jesus stretches the meaning again.  He says His flesh is true flesh (brwsis) and His blood is true drink: this means that He will abide with the one who eats His flesh and drinks His blood.  The word for 'true,' is aletheia, which means to reveal; it also means what is revealed is true, without lie.  It is the word in Rev. 19.9--these are true words of God.  In other words,the culmination of the flesh and blood is abiding.
  In the 17th century Richard Hooker said the bread and wine of communion were a means to the end of union with Christ.  Now that Jesus calls His words true in the sense that He will reveal Himself through them,He says it plainly in 6.57--As the living Father sent Me,and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he will also live because of Me.  We will be in the Son as the Son is in the Father.  Jesus links this being in the Father to the bread of 6.58--This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread shall live forever.
  All of this is spiritually rare.  So John adds in 6.59 a touch of reality to remind his readers this really happened.  He says Jesus said all this in Capernaum, in the synogogue.  We should preach like this in the church.
  This is also spiritually intense.  The moment passes, the disciples confess they cant' stand the sense of eating a living man's flesh and drinking his blood.  They call His words a scandal, taking His word ona realistic level.  Jesus then says the Spirit is life, the flesh profits nothing.  The words He has spokenare life and spirit.  He is taking them them through their literal understanding to His spiritual presence.  Finally Jesus challenges them by asking if they will go away as the other disciples have.
  Peter says Jesus has the words of life--You are the Holy One of God.  The entire exchange was meang to bring the disciples to see Jesus is the Holy One of God.