Covid 19: Why did God create killer viruses?

I’m at that age now when a virus could kill me. Those dreaded words, “tested positive,” could well be my sentence of death. 

But there’s death all over God’s creation: the moose sucked to death by ticks, the spider eaten from the inside out by a wasp larva, millions of frogs being killed by a fungus. And who created the fungus, the larva and the tick? God did. 

Why? What possible benefit can there be in those awful things, or in Infectious diseases killing over 17 million people worldwide every year too? And why poisonous snakes and mosquitoes, both of which God also created?  

It was questions like these I chucked at my wife just before going to sleep one night, hoping perhaps they’d stir some kind of dream with an answer. And I did have a dream, a rather odd one about two men in identical light blue suits and white socks, one of whom had no life in him unless his feet were touching the bottom of the other one. And only then did he come to life. 

Weird, I know, and it woke me up at 2:00 am too, but I was thrilled because there was my answer. I rushed to the bathroom where I have notepaper and pen at the ready for wild thoughts during the night, and started scribbling.

My answer was this: that God created all this death from disease, insect bites, accidents, natural disasters and a thousand other ways of killing us, to get the point across that if we aren’t attached to him we have no life. We’re like the chap in the light blue suit and white socks lying lifeless on the ground. 

Or as Jesus said much more vividiy: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). I’m just a dead blue suit. 

So “‘hold on to me for dear life,’ says God” in Psalm 91, because there isn’t any “dear life” without him. 

It’s a hard pill to swallow, though, because we experience all sorts of dear life without being attached to him. We have the joys of childhood, friends, marriage, having children of our own, eating great food, hitting Mach 2 with my boys on a toboggan slope, and flying above the clouds in a plane for the first time. But all that “dear life” can also be snuffed out in a second by a brain aneurysm or a car accident. Or a killer virus. 

So, Psalm 91 continues, God still speaking, “if you’ll only get to know and trust me (you can) call me and I’ll answer (and) be at your side in bad times.” But that tells me God knew there’d be bad times, because that’s the world he created, where a world pandemic can start with just one bat, or a tornado forms in only a few minutes into a writhing killer. 

What better illustrations could God give, though, that death rules this planet in a thousand different guises, all of which he created? But Psalm 91 tells us why he created them. It’s so we cannot help but face the reality of the world we live in, which surely isn’t hard to do as we watch ourselves ageing and friends die from cancer. It’s all designed by God so at last we say, like the second verse in Psalm 91, “God, you’re my refuge, I trust in you and I’m safe,” because he can “shield us from deadly hazards.”

And of course he can shield us from deadly hazards because he’s the one who made the deadly hazards in the first place – and for just that purpose, to help us realize there’s no life in this world apart from him. It’s all one great sentence of death. One pandemic ends but another is just around the corner. What other choice did he give us, then, other than holding on to him for dear life? Or as Psalms 91 phrases it: “Fear nothing…not disease…not disaster…(because) He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go.”

So hang on to that for dear life, why not?    

Covid 19: Feeling furious at people not taking the virus seriously? 

I’m an old geezer now and in the vulnerable age group of this virus thingy, so I’m a lot more sensitive to idiots not taking the precautions seriously. 

Our main grocery store, for instance, has a huge sign in the entrance telling its customers to use the sanitizer supplied to wash their hands and the handles of their grocery carts before and after use. But most people walk right past the sign. It’s maddening. I wish I had an official security man’s outfit and a large gun with the power to stop them, and a pair of handcuffs to lock their hands behind their back, with a police car waiting outside to take them away. 

I can’t really blame these infuriating people, though, because they’ve been fed a constant diet by this world that the right to do what we please is the first rule of life. So even though they know they’re endangering the lives of other people, it doesn’t matter to them. The only thing that matters is their own need and destination. 

Maybe their childhood was in a home like that too, so I realize I cannot judge or condemn them for who they’ve become, but these people are now a threat to my life and to the life of my old geezer wife, which in turn ripples down to the lives of my children and grandchildren too. So I cannot excuse or ignore these people’s behaviour. They have become my enemy – and an enemy I haven’t the power to deal with too. I can’t accost them, or risk a shouting match that only increases the chance of spreading and picking up the virus. 

I’m grateful to David, therefore, for Psalm 37, which a few verses in says, “Bridle your anger, trash your wrath, cool your pipes – it only makes things worse” (from the Message translation). So David obviously came up against these idiots that made him mad too. And he too had learnt that there’s nothing you can do about them. They roam in their own world, oblivious to the needs of others, and challenging them only makes them angry and abusive. 

And even in a life-threatening crisis they do not change. They’re the ones who scour the stores buying up essential goods in bulk and selling them at a massive profit. Caught in the act, or ironically they have someone else steal from them, they fume at the unfairness of it all, that someone dares to make their life miserable, because that’s all they can focus on. But it seems it’s always been this way, because David had to face the fury he felt too at what these people are like. 

But out of it came Psalm 37, and where the source of David’s comfort came from, which he passed on down to us. I hear him chuckling in the opening verse when he says, “Don’t bother with braggarts,” or “wish you could succeed like the wicked.” 

Don’t wish you could get away with what they get away with, in other words. And why not? Because “In no time,” David continues, “they’ll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun.” And we’ve got living proof of that in this latest virus crisis, because several of these sociopaths caught hoarding have ended up having to donate what they’ve hoarded to others. Their profits shrivelled like grass clippings. 

They think they’re getting away with their shenanigans, but they’re in constant danger of a backlash and losing all their gains. Or as David phrases it in Psalm 37: “Before long the crooks will be bankrupt.” 

It’s a comforting reminder from God that he set in motion consequences to our human actions. No hoarder or sneering critic of virus precautions gets away with anything in the long run. 

And the other comforting reminder in Psalm 37 is that “God keeps track of the decent folk,” and “In hard times they’ll hold their heads high” – and in a fitting analogy of what’s happening today, “when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full.” 

And that gives us reason not to be furious at those who ignore all decency and precautions in this present crisis, because we live in a dimension above it all, that enables us to be “full” and unphased, despite what’s going on. 

So as David began the Psalm, “Don’t bother your head with braggarts” not taking this virus seriously. But rather, as David also says in Psalm 37, “Turn your back on evil, work for the good and don’t quit. God loves this kind of thing, never turns away from his friends.” And hopefully that can soften the fury we feel.  

Covid 19: Will God protect me?

My appeal to God to protect me from this virus thingy has been embarrassing: I don’t want to die because of the mess my wife will be left with in my study room and clothes closet. And I didn’t update my Will and finalize my funeral arrangements before the virus hit either. Things I should have done long ago.  

I felt the need to up my appeal to God, then, to a higher level by saying, “What good can I do as a Christian if I’m dead?” I hoped that might carry a bit more weight with God, and give him a deeper and more logical reason to keep me alive. But is that just playing games with God, which again is embarrassing, because I know he can see right through me. 

On the other hand, I read in Psalms how others reasoned with God this way. David, for instance, in Psalm 51, appealed to God to not “throw me out with the trash,” and to “Commute (or alter) my death sentence,” by offering God reasons for keeping him alive – so that he, David, could “teach rebels your ways,” help “the lost to find their way home,” and “sing anthems to your life-giving ways” (all quoted from the Message translation).  

And David wasn’t playing games with God to bend God’s will either, because he knew God knew him “inside out.” David openly admitted in Psalm 51 to “the chaos of my life.” He knew God had “all the facts” of his embarrassing life laid out before him, and he confessed openly to being “out of step with you for a long time.” 

In all honesty, then, David knew he didn’t deserve to live, or deserve God’s protection. And I had to admit the same thing. Why should God protect me from this virus thingy when there was nothing in my life, past or present, that deserved his protection? And my reasons for God keeping me alive sounded pathetic. 

But David then takes an even more embarrassing step in Psalm 51. He faces head on the ghastly reality that “Going through the motions doesn’t please you.” It doesn’t? But most of my Christian life has been going through the motions. I’ve done what Christians do, pray, study, go to church, try to be a good husband and Dad, help out in the community where I can, and be a law-abiding citizen. Not perfectly, of course, but not too bad either.  

But now I find out from David that none of these things cut any ice with God either as reasons for keeping me alive.   

And if that isn’t bad enough, it gets worse, because David goes on to say, “a flawless performance is nothing to you.” Well, that does it: I’ve got nothing left to reason with God with, then, do i? I could be totally blameless in all my behaviour, and stand up in the court of God with a perfect record, and all I’d get in return is, “A fine performance, dear chap, but it’s not what we’re looking for in you.”

It isn’t? So what is? 

According to the Message translation what counts with God is what David says next: “I learned God-worship,” David writes, “when my pride was shattered.” So what really pleases God is a human being who simply admits he has nothing to offer. It knocks to pieces, then, the whole idea of trying to reason with God for protection from this virus thingy based on anything I come up with. It’s OK trying to reason with God, because David and other writers of Psalms did it, but bottom line is: God just loves a human who says to him – as David says in Psalm 51 – “whatever you decide about me is fair.“ In other words, I simply trust God that he knows best what to do with me and leave it at that. 

Or as David goes on say in Psalm 51, “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” I simply accept I’m a worried mess with this virus thingy and I’m utterly dependent on God’s love and nothing else. He loves me. He’ll do what is best. 

Covid 19: Wiil it be over by Christmas?

When World War broke out some said, “No worries, it’ll all be over by Christmas.” And that was the hope, that the war was just a temporary blip, and soon everything would be back to normal. And isn’t that the hope of this virus thingy, that it’ll all be over soon and we can all get back to normal? 

“Normal” being what, though? Will it be society’s normal or God’s normal?

Society’s normal is the freedom to do what we want, and have all our basic wants and needs met by our own strength and ingenuity, and by the skills and support of others. It’s having a job to supply the necessary income for food, housing and whatever else we need and enjoy. It’s having friends and family to enjoy life with. It’s learning and having things to do that keep our spirits up. It’s buying things we like, watching things we like, eating what we like, going places we like, meeting with people we like, and being able to care for those we feel responsible for, and giving pleasure to those we love. 

But things keep interrupting that normal, don’t they? A lost job, an accident, back pain, a cancer scare, a bully, a scam that steals our savings, scary weather, and now sudden pandemics that strike any time and anywhere. And when our normal is interrupted our natural human reactions are anger, fear, complain and blame. The fabric of our “norm” soon unravels to reveal a rather fragile and nasty side to us. And we can’t help it; it’s just who we are. 

I’m glad Psalms is in the Bible, then, because many of the Psalms are written by people whose “norms” have also been interrupted. But they talk of another “norm” they experienced too. They discovered it was quite normal for God to come to their aid when he was asked to. The “sons of Korah,” the writers of Psalm 46, for instance, had discovered that “God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him,” which had enabled them to “stand fearless at the cliff edge of doom,” as the Message translation phrases these first few verses. 

So, what if this Covid thingy isn’t over by Christmas, and the whole world is on “the cliff edge of doom” – or feels like it is – and there’s no “getting back to normal“ in sight? And people are really falling to pieces all over the place. 

Well, in Psalm 46 the sons of Korah have some advice from God, and it’s in quotation marks as if it’s God himself speaking. And God says, “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”

I like that: “Step out of the traffic.” Traffic is where everybody is headed, rushing headlong totally oblivious to anything but their own need and destination, like the first few days of the virus scare when people rushed Into stores to strip the shelves. Well, don’t you be like that, God says. Step aside from it all, and “Take a long, loving look at me.”  

I have to admit I haven’t taken a long, loving look at God for a long time. Who’s got time for that? I‘ve got work to do, people to meet, phone calls to make, exercise to do, cars to repair, house to clean, a yard to care for, TV to watch, news to keep up with, sermons to prepare, and when (and if) that lot is done I’m done too. I’m ready for bed. 

It’s the typical “traffic” we’re all caught up with in this world, isn’t it? There’s a brief “stepping out of the traffic” during a church service, which is nice and sometimes extremely relieving, but for how long? A couple of hours, maybe, and then whoosh, the week takes over and we’re off and running again.

But along comes a pandemic and all of a sudden – no traffic, or at least a whole lot less of it. I’ve actually got time on my hands. A chance to dive into Psalms where I can read about people just like me being brought to a halt too, and what they discovered when they had time to take a long, loving look at God.  

And God had them write down what they discovered too, and it’s quite shocking, because they had a relationship with God that lifted them into an entirely different dimension – “Above politics, above everything,” as it says in Psalm 46. 

That’s quite something, because whose life isn’t ruled by politics, whether it’s politicians and what they’re up to, or the politics at work and in families that throw our emotions into turmoil? 

Well, according to Psalm 46, I can actually find myself separated from it all, above it all, not swayed by it or afraid of it in the least little bit. It doesn’t affect my day or ruin my mood. And it’s not just the writers of Psalm 46 who say that; tons of Psalms do. They make it worth a long, loving look, because the writers of those Psalms are describing what actually happened to them, to people just like me.    

So, will this virus thingy be over before Christmas, so I can get back to normal? Well, maybe I’ll discover a new “norm” instead, the kind of norm the writers of Psalms discovered. And I’ve got the time now too, to take a long, loving look at what God provided for us in those Psalms.  

Covid 19: Feeling powerless, helpless and scared? Me too

Never in my life have I felt so utterly helpless. The whole world is in crisis due to a virus, and we have no weapons to fight it. It can strike anyone, anywhere, and at any time. And it’s not like war where you can see the enemy and have weapons to defend yourself. This virus thingy sneaks around unseen, and the only effective defence we have, it seems, is to cut off its supply line by staying behind closed doors. But stay behind closed doors for too long and the economy collapses and so do so many people’s lives. Their stories are heartbreaking. And I can’t even risk helping people either, because I’m a Senior in the most vulnerable category.

But I have felt helpless before. Not as helpless as right now in this world-wide virus crisis, but certainly overwhelmed by not having a clue what was happening to me at the time, or what to do about it. But it was during that worst time in my life that I discovered the book of Psalms in a tattered version of the New Testament a friend gave to me. Why Psalms was included with the New Testament I have no idea, but it was part of “The Message” translation, and it was written in a way I had never seen any book of Psalms written before. 

So I read every Psalm, highlighting the bits in each Psalm that jumped out at me with a yellow felt tip. And one Psalm in particular stood out – Psalm 116. It starts off with “I love God, because he listened to me.” And that got me thinking, because how did the author of that Psalm know God was listening to him?   

Did it have anything to do with what the psalmist asked for? He said he “begged for mercy.” But why mercy? Racham – the Hebrew word for mercy in Psalm 116 – means “to love or have compassion,” so the psalmist is begging God to come down to his level, see through his eyes, feel what he’s feeling. And somehow he knew that God was doing that. In fact, the psalmist continues, “He (God) listened so intently as I laid out my case before him.” 

Imagine that, having someone actually listen intently while you explain what you’re going through. No interruptions, no jumping in with advice, no “quick fix” solutions, no “church speak” pat answers, no pious, patronizing preaching, no missing the point of your concerns when it’s the turn of the other person to speak, or drifting off the subject. The person just listens in love and compassion. And the intensity of his listening is obvious too.

And in such company, what happens? Well, I’ve never forgotten the man who first did that for me. I loved him for what he did, because I felt great, just like the psalmist loved God for listening.    

But silly me, I’d never pictured God as listening intently while I laid out my case before him. I didn’t think he had time for that, so after talking to God, or what I thought was “talking to God” in those mind-numbing prayers I mumbled and drifted through, I never felt great. 

But faced with a worldwide crisis that’s wiped out my daughter’s source of income, and all the other frightening scenarios unfolding that could ruin my other kids’ lives, that could kill my wife and me, and create chaos in the streets with people looting stores and homes, I had some real worries on my mind I needed to talk to someone about, because I felt utterly powerless, helpless and scared. 

I need someone merciful enough to take the time out just for me. But everybody else is feeling powerless, helpless and scared too, because they’ve never been through anything like this before either, so no one can give me a definitive answer as to when all this will end, nor can they give me a decent reason for hope. 

For the first time in my life I realize I have no one but God to turn to. But I have no idea what to say to him, because what answers does he give in such a situation? Will he miraculously stop the virus? But he didn’t stop the Spanish Flu killing 50 million people at the end of World War 1, did he? Will he protect me from getting sick if I ask him? Will he prevent economic collapse? How does he work in such cases?

I really don’t know. So I admit, just like the psalmist, that “Up against it, I don’t know which way to turn.” So what did the psalmist do? He “called out to God for help: ‘Please God, save my life.’” And that was it.  

That was how he laid out his case before God, by simply admitting he needed help that only God could give. He didn’t need to say more to God, because God obviously knew already what the man was thinking. For days already the poor man had probably been doing nothing but rolling his situation over and over in his head and talking to himself endlessly about it. So God knew the details by heart by now.

And the psalmist obviously knew that God knew, because he didn’t waste any time explaining to God what he was so upset about. He just said: “Please God, save my life.” But he also based his request on knowing “God takes the side of the helpless.” And how did he know that? Because “when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.”

Some time in the past, then, the psalmist had come to that realization that God is merciful. He’d taken that to mean “God takes the side of the helpless,” and he’d believed it. So he’d laid out his case before God and God had “saved” him. 

So now he knew that God listened. But it took that first time of believing in God’s mercy enough to lay out his case before God. And that’s how he discovered God listened, because at the end of it he felt great. In his own words he said he was able to “relax and rest.”  

When he reached that same spot again, therefore, he knew he didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining his situation to God, because he knew God knew about it already. All he had to say was, “Please God, save me.” 

And since this is what happened to him, it gives me hope that it can happen to me too. All I need do is honestly admit to God I feel utterly powerless, helpless and scared, and I have no one to turn to but him. I can also admit I have no idea what to actually say to him, or how to pray. And in some way or other I will feel great because of it. And that will tell me God listened intently.  

Feeling utterly helpless, then, is just what I need to turn to God as the helper of the helpless, and let him take it from there. In just laying out my case to a merciful God he will prove to me he listens intently. And right now is my opportunity to prove it, so that whenever I’m overwhelmed in future I can say with confidence, “Please God, save me.” And if that’s all we can think of saying, it’s enough, because God knows what’s been rolling over and over in our heads already, the proof of which will be God bringing us to the point we relax and rest. 

No wonder the psalmist loved God, having experienced that himself too. 

How am I a witness to Jesus?

In John 9:1 Jesus sees a man blind from birth. In verse 2, “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus replies in verse 3, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” So a man was born blind to be a witness to the work of God. Or as Jesus explains in verse 5, “While I (Jesus) am in the world, I am the light of the world,” so this incident is really about the blind man being a witness to Jesus. 

But how was the blind man a witness to Jesus? The blind man answers that himself, when he says in verse 25, “One thing I do know. I was blind and now I see.” This was his simple and rather blunt answer to the Pharisees who refused to accept that Jesus had healed him of his blindness. 

What clearer witness to Jesus could there be than that? One minute the man is blind, the next minute he isn’t. And the reason it happened is because Jesus stopped by, spat in the dust, placed the mud he formed over the man’s eyes and told him to wash his face in a nearby pool. So the blind man did exactly what Jesus said. He headed straight for the pool and as he washed the mud off his eyes his blindness totally disappeared. For the first time in his life he could see. 

To some of the Pharisees, however, all this spitting and making mud and healing people was a blatant breaking of their Sabbath rules, and anyone breaking the Sabbath could not be a man of God (verse 16). And when other Pharisees asked, “But how can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” – which seems like an obvious question – no answer is given.

Faced with an obvious miracle, those claiming to be religious leaders turned out to be the ones who were blind, but by choice rather than by being born blind. They even told the man to “Give glory to God” in verse 24, as though they were the ones truly witnessing to God by telling the man, “We know this man is a sinner.” Forget the obvious miracle. Forget that a man blind from birth had been healed. It was all just make believe in their minds because men who are sinners don’t perform miracles. 

The man’s reply to the Pharisees is priceless, when he says in verse 25, “Whether this fellow is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind and now I see.” In other words, “You can say what you like about the man who healed me, but there’s no denying that when he turned up and did what he did, I’m no longer blind.” 

The Pharisees come up with a lame excuse in verse 29, that “as for this fellow we don’t even know where he comes from,” but how does that answer the obvious question as to how a man can do such miracles if he isn’t a man of God?

No wonder Jesus tells the healed man later, in verse 39, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” The first great witness that Jesus is real and he came from God is blind people being able to see. People miraculously have their eyes opened to who Jesus is – that he truly is the man God sent to heal us. They can clearly see it, when at one time they couldn’t. It happened to the blind man. Not only was his eyesight restored, he also recognized who Jesus was and he believed it (verses 35-38).  

The second great witness to Jesus being real and sent by God is the amazing blindness in those who claim to know about God and what truth is but can’t see it when it’s staring them in the face. They refuse to accept the obvious facts. And nothing gets through to them, either, despite their intelligence. And the reason Jesus gives for that happening is that he has blinded them.

So blind people who simply couldn’t see, do see because of Jesus, and people who could see, don’t see because of Jesus. Both are witness to Jesus being real and the “Son of Man” that God is working through (verses 35-38). 

So which one of those two types of witness am I? Can I say, “Well, of course Jesus is real because I admit to being totally blind to who he is, but now I see?” Or do I come up with some lame excuse for not believing Jesus is a man sent by God, despite clear evidence that he is? 

Well, I admit to being totally blind, and still totally blind at times to who Jesus is and how much I can trust him to heal me. But it’s those occasions when suddenly I do see, that tell me Jesus is now doing through me too what he did for the blind man, “so that,” verse 3, “the work of God might be displayed” in my life too. Or even better put – so that I can be a witness to Jesus. 

Worshiping the Father in spirit and truth

In John 4 Jesus meets up with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. But for what purpose, exactly? God obviously orchestrated this meeting for a reason, but what? And how would it apply in any age, including ours? 

It starts with Jesus asking the woman to give him a drink. It’s noon time, it’s hot and Jesus is tired, but he hasn’t got a bucket to lower into the well to get himself a drink – or any cup to drink from either. This woman then turns up with a bucket, but she’s a Samaritan and Jesus is a Jew and in brackets it says “Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans,” which would include not drinking from a cup owned by the other. 

So Jesus doesn’t get his drink of water, but that’s no problem because this meeting wasn’t arranged by God to deal with Jesus’ thirst. Instead, it was arranged to deal with the woman’s thirst, and by extension the thirst we all have as humans in any age we live in. 

And Jesus makes that clear in what he says next. He turns the conversation around to her need, not his. If she’d known the gift God had provided in him she’d be asking him for a drink, because he would have given her “living water” that would have satisfied her thirst forever. And that gets her attention: no more traipsing out to the well every day, no more lowering buckets deep into the well, and no more lugging the heavy buckets back home either.

But Jesus goes one step further in getting her attention. He really surprises her in knowing how many husbands she’s had, and her first thought is, “Wow this chap is a prophet.” The conversation, therefore, has now swung totally away from satisfying normal, ordinary, everyday physical needs – like thirst and needing water to drink – to a much higher level, and she immediately takes the bait. If this man is truly a prophet then he can answer some of the deeper concerns she’s got. Now her real thirst begins to show. 

To meet this much deeper thirst she’s depended on religion, and what her ancestors believed, but Jesus twice says the real solution to her thirst is “worshiping the Father in spirit and truth.” She has no idea what he’s talking about, but that’s not a problem for her because one day she believes the Messiah will come with all the answers. When Jesus then reveals he is that Messiah she runs back to her village to see if they think he’s the Messiah too, based on him knowing about her five husbands. So they all traipse out to see him, and after hearing Jesus speak for two days, they are convinced he’s the Messiah too.

So from Jesus asking her for a drink it’s now led to this, a whole village believing he’s the Messiah who can satisfy their deepest needs. Which is exactly what the Father sent his Son for, and when people realize that and turn to Jesus in trust that he will provide for their deepest needs, they are now “worshiping the Father in spirit and truth.” It simply means looking to Jesus as the solution to their real thirst. They don’t need religion or religious buildings or sacred mountains, or any of the typical sources of help supplied by the world. All they need is trust in the one the Father sent. And that applies to all us humans in any age we live in.

And we’ve got this conversation between Jesus and the woman because we too start off with no idea this is what the Father sent Jesus for, but God orchestrates circumstances in our lives so we come to realize and believe it, just as he did for her. And it starts off with us, just as it started off with her, in realizing Jesus knows us well, through circumstances very personal to us, which gets our attention – enough for us to want to know him well. And what then follows is a lifetime of experiencing him meeting our deepest needs, and us trusting him more and more, which is just what the Father wanted, so in trusting Jesus we are truly now worshipping the Father in spirit and truth too. The “truth” is Jesus being the provider of all our needs and the solution to our deepest thirst, and “in spirit” means trusting him and not in anything physical or man-made, like religious buildings or religious rituals. That’s the Father’s wish for us, that we trust his Son.

Conversations with Jesus

I wonder what Jesus would have said to me if I’d been Nicodemus who’d gone to see Jesus at night in John 3, or I’d been the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well in John 4, or the man who’d been crippled for thirty-eight years in John 5. 

With each person in those three chapters Jesus entered into a fairly lengthy conversation that challenged their thinking. They didn’t come out of their conversation with him quite the same people they were. Something remarkable happened to Nicodemus, for instance, because fourteen chapters later – in John 19:38-41 – the same Nicodemus is helping Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ crucified body for burial, at great risk to his reputation and position as a well-respected Jewish leader.  

Nicodemus was a changed man. He’d changed from sneaking under cover of darkness to talk to Jesus and seeing Jesus only as “a teacher who has come from God” in John 3:2, to openly and fearlessly wrapping Jesus’ body with linen (infused with seventy pounds of spices, John 19:39-40) and seeing Jesus as the one sent by God “to save the world,” just as Jesus said back in John 3:17.

The same thing happened to the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well. To begin with she only saw Jesus as less “than our father Jacob” in John 4:12. But a dramatic change happened in her thinking, because in verse 29 she began to realize that Jesus really was who he said he was, Christ the Messiah, and she raced back to her hometown and fearlessly convinced her neighbours that Jesus was “Saviour of the world” too, in verse 42.  

And then in John 5, when Jesus told the cripple, “Pick up your mat and walk,” the man didn’t hesitate for a second in doing what Jesus said, despite carrying one’s mat being a blatant breach of the Jewish Sabbath law (verse 10). Suddenly, this pathetic invalid, incapable of doing anything but moaning about his lot in life in verse 7, is transformed into a fearless man who wasn’t intimidated one bit by the Jewish authorities who wanted to take him to task for disobeying their law. Jesus “had made him well,” and that’s all that mattered, verse 15.  

In the lives and minds of all three of these people, dramatic changes happened after conversations with Jesus. How come?

Because Jesus pierced through their guard and ignorance with a clear demonstration of his authority. Here was a man to be listened to and trusted. And when they listened to him and trusted him an entirely new way of thinking they’d never experienced before began to enter their minds. And this is what Jesus meant by being “born again,” in John 3:3, or “born from above” as some translations phrase it.

It means a total change of mind that comes from hearing and trusting what Jesus says. “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” Jesus said in John 3:8. A birth by the Spirit leads to a belief in Jesus’ obvious authority, as one to be looked up to, above all else.

Jesus actually illustrates this very point in John 3:14-15, when he said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 

The “snake in the desert” refers back to the time in Numbers 21:4-9 when the Israelites “spoke against God” (verse 7) for dragging them out into the desert after they left Egypt to die from starvation, and God only providing them with miserable manna to eat (verse 5). So God hits these ungrateful, untrusting Israelites with “fiery serpents,” killing many who are bitten (verse 6). When the Israelites admit they’ve sinned (verse 7) Moses seeks God’s intervention, to which God replies in verse 8, “Make a fiery serpent and set it (or lift it up) on a standard (or pole),” and if anyone is bitten by a snake he can “look up to the bronze serpent and he shall live.” 

To “look up” means they are to fix their full attention on that snake, believing that God’s way of saving their lives will work. Jesus then uses the “lifting up” of the snake on the pole to refer to himself being lifted up (John 3:14), which in John 12:32-33 points to his crucifixion as the means by which we are saved from our sins and “we shall live” as well. 

And this is the conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus, but by extension to the rest of us humans too, because Jesus immediately continues in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  

Jesus includes us all in this conversation. So do I believe it? It’s certainly worth my belief because Nicodemus obviously believed it and look what happened to him. He experienced an entirely new way of thinking in his head that gave him the courage and confidence to obey and trust Jesus in this life, no matter what, which in turn gave him total freedom from sneaking around in the dark and worrying about his reputation. And that then enabled him to “look up” and see in Jesus’ crucifixion the doors opening up to eternal life as well. 

Just one conversation with Jesus and believing what he said, and this is what happened. And since that conversation was for all of us, I don’t have to wonder what Jesus might say to me, because he’s already said it.  

Why did Jesus fast for forty days?

Jesus wasn’t the first man in the Bible to fast forty days. Moses fasted forty days too – twice. The first time for Moses was in Exodus 34:27-28 when he “stayed there (on Mount Sinai) with the LORD for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water, and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” Moses mentioned this again in Deuteronomy 9:9. 

The second time Moses fasted forty days was in Deuteronomy 9 again, this time in verse 18, when “once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights. I ate no bread and drank no water” after discovering on his trip down Mount Sinai with the ten commandments that the Israelites had made a cow-like idol out of gold (verse 12).

In the first instance, when Moses fasted, he had no choice in the matter. God told him to go up the mountain in Exodus 34:2 and God had him stay there for forty days without food and water until the commandments had been written on the two tablets of stone. And Jesus had no choice in the matter either, when he fasted for forty days too. We see that in Matthew 4:1, that says “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil,” and the Spirit had him stay there for forty days without food and water until the devil turned up. 

So this was all God’s doing. He was the one who had Moses and Jesus taken to the brink of dying from starvation. He did the same thing with Elijah too: In 1 Kings 19:8-9 God had Elijah journey for forty days and nights without food and water, just to give him a message in a cave at Mount Horeb. 

But in the history of Israel, these three men were the big three – Moses, Elijah and Jesus, all three of whom appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-3, because it was through these three men that God’s plan of salvation through Israel would be kickstarted, preserved, and fulfilled. 

First, it was Moses, through whom God instituted the laws that would govern and bless the lives of the Israelites, to attract other nations through Israel to him. Through Elijah he then kept Israel from falling victim to the cunning and influence of evil people like Jezebel, who wanted to destroy Israel entirely. And through Jesus he did what the Israelites could never do, and that was resist and defeat the power of the devil. And by having all three men fast to the point of near death, God made it clear it was by his power and not theirs that his plan of salvation through Israel was being fulfilled. 

God emptied these three great leaders of Israel of all their human strength and power, because it was his leadership they needed to obey and trust. And Jesus made that clear to the devil in Matthew 4:4,7 and 10, when three times he parried the devil’s temptations with his total obedience to, and trust in, God and his word. 

Their fasting, therefore, had nothing to do with voluntary self-denial to get them closer to God. Even when Moses fasted for forty days the second time by his own choice, it was purely for the preservation of Israel, Deuteronomy 9:18-19. God’s plan of salvation through Israel was at the heart of their fasting. And that’s because the whole plan of God through Israel is the story of God’s faithfulness and God’s power making salvation possible.

By God having Jesus fast for forty days, therefore, emptying even his own Son of all his human power and strength, it was clear proof yet again that the story of our salvation is all God’s doing, and not our own.

What does it take for people to believe who Jesus is? 

In Matthew 17:2 Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”  

To Peter, James and John, the three disciples who witnessed this amazing transformation in Jesus, it was proof there was more going on in Jesus than just wise teacher and powerful healer. At the press of a switch he could blaze like the sun itself. It was made clear who had pressed that switch too, because in verse 5 “a bright cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.’”

It was the Father who had flicked the switch on, just briefly, but enough to imprint an image of Jesus in the eyeballs and minds of these three disciples that this Son of his was the one he’d sent to fulfill everything written in the Old Testament (pictured by Elijah and Moses), so get listening to him now. 

Well, if that was the Father’s point here, then why didn’t he flick the switch and make Jesus shine like the sun for everyone else who met him, rather than to only three disciples at one time, and only briefly and out of sight? 

Jesus explained why in verse 9, when he told Peter, James and John they shouldn’t tell anyone what they’d seen “until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.” What I get from that is this: that only after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead would people really start to grasp who he was. It didn’t matter what spectacular miracles Jesus did before that time, therefore – including him shining like the sun – because the reaction in most people would be, “So what?” – or just a blank look of disinterest. 

Jesus backed that explanation up when he was asked by his disciples in verse 10, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” It seems like an odd question right after seeing Jesus shine like the sun, but it was just the question that needed to be asked, because in Jesus’ reply we see how naturally blind to, and how hopelessly disinterested we are in, who Jesus is. 

Jesus replies in verse 11, “To be sure, Elijah has already come, and they (the teachers of the law) did not recognize him.” These same teachers of the law would then cause Jesus later on to “to suffer at their hands” too, verse 12. In other words, the teachers. of the law, the one group of people in all Israel who should have recognized who Jesus was, didn’t have a clue.  They even wanted to snuff hm out.

There was no point in the disciples broadcasting that Jesus had shone like the sun, therefore, because it wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever in people recognizing who Jesus was. And Jesus illustrated that point in verse 12 when he said, “Elijah has already come,” because the beginning of the restoration of all things had already begun with the arrival of John the Baptist (verse 13). John the Baptist was the prophesied Elijah, heralding the promise of restoration of all things at last, but the teachers of the law had totally missed that too.

What we’ve got in this story of Jesus shining like the sun, then, is what it takes to believe who Jesus is. it takes the Father flicking a switch on. And we see that illustrated again when Jesus asked his disciples in the previous chapter, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” because Jesus replies back that “this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” Matthew 16:15-17.  

Jesus had already said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” John 6:44, so there it is again. It has to be revealed by the Father. And Paul understood it that way too, when he said in Galatians 1:15-16 it was God who “was pleased to reveal his Son in me.” 

It doesn’t make other people inferior if they don’t grasp who Jesus is. It simply illustrates that it takes the Father to flick the necessary switch for “the lights to come on” about Jesus in people’s minds. That’s when all those prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament suddenly “come to light,” just as they did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31.

So if people “don’t get it yet” about who Jesus is, it’s only because the Father hasn’t  flicked the switch in their minds yet. But Jesus did hint to his disciples back in Matthew 17:9 that it would happen after he was resurrected, so expect it to happen to people any time. And that’s very encouraging, because it could happen any time to those we’d just love to get the picture about Jesus.

Up to that time, here’s hoping we shine a light on Jesus too, so that when their turn comes they recognize Jesus easily and readily, because of the light that shone from us as well.