Strange Things

The end of the first Chapter of John. We’re in the last few verses, numbers 49-51.

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

 

What a strange verse. Actually, what a strange chapter altogether. Let’s list some of the strangest things we’ve seen. 

  1. Jesus being the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  2. The Holy Spirit descending from heaven like a Dove.
  3. The whole “word became flesh” thing. Actually, Jesus being the Word.
  4. Jesus being the Son of God.
  5. The Messiah. (What even is that?)

 

Okay, let’s acknowledge right away that this is a spiritual book, and it’s a completely different book than the modern absolutely non-spiritual texts that we read all the time. I mean, we live in the early 21st century. As it’s been said, we are modern, scientific people. We deal in observable, provable facts. We want scientific reasons to back up the things we believe. And now here we have a book, the Bible, full of fantastical, inexplicable, strange phrases and words, and they say, “You have to have faith to believe.”

So strange.

But let’s consider a few things. First of all, let’s acknowledge that we are spiritual beings. You know it. You know that there is a You that is more than your body, because you are not a purely physical creature. You know that there is more to you than just your mind, because you can still exist when your mind is injured or affected by a drug. You know you have experiences that are unexplained by physical reasons. Why literature makes you cry and music makes you dance and you want to hug your grandmother. These things are emotional and often irrational. But there is more to you than just emotions.

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There is more to everything, in fact. Those who want to deny that there is a God often want to postulate that the world is a purely physical thing. That nothing exists that cannot be seen.

This is such a pale, sad state of denial. There are things that cannot be seen, and still exist. Love. Hope. Adventure. Despair.

There is more.

If you want to think there is nothing more, I am very sorry for you. I agree that the physical world is beautiful and magnificent and beyond our understanding, and that if we studied for a billion years there would still be more things to learn about it. It’s enough, if it was all there was. I’m not complaining. I love the physical world. I love the galaxies and the deep sea and photons and microbes, I love algebra and geometry and classic sculpture. I am very appreciative of it. It’s wonderful. But the delectable treats in a French bakery do not mean anything for the existence of Thai cuisine. And the phenomenon of the physical reality does not preclude the existence of the spiritual.

 

There is a spiritual world. And what’s more, we live in it and we can know of it, and it is wonderful.  

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The physical is experienced simply, frankly, with our senses. The spiritual is experienced rarely by our senses, and more often in other ways. Here’s the thing. In Western society, we place a lot of value on what we can see and touch and prove. In many ways, we say they are the only real things. But the spiritual things… They’re real, too, only they’re not as tangible as the blocks we’re used to playing with. 

The things of the spirit are like a series of riddles. And unfortunately, in order to ease our discomfort, we Westerners just decide to write off these things. We say there is no spiritual side, or we discount it very much. Some people are so uncomfortable with intangible things that they even discount emotions… actually, any abstract things. Art, music, love, honor… these things get pushed back into closets and the television gets turned up, because they’re too strange to look at, let alone consider. Instead, we talk about the price of meat and the rain and the new tires on the car.

I think that other cultures do it better in some ways- they don’t shut out the spiritual experiences, they don’t hush up talk about dreams or ghosts or strange voices.

There are downsides, of course, to opening yourself widely to all spiritual experiences. There are evil things out there, you know. 

But they acknowledge that the spiritual exists, and what’s more, they acknowledge that it’s difficult to understand.

Maybe that’s the hurdle with us, we don’t want to look stupid.

 

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As we look through this spiritual book from God, you might feel stupid sometimes. Things get confusing and weird. There’s language about circumcision and sacrifice and blood and the spirit and the Bride of Christ and angels ascending and descending on the Son of God, there are all these weird things that don’t make sense and are completely out of the realm of the things you’re reading about on Facebook and the things in Target and the things that you hear at work. 

And that’s okay.

It is completely okay to pick up this book, this book from God, and have it be foreign and strange and weird, and to feel out of your element. To feel small. It’s okay. 

 The truth is, the more you read, the more you will understand why Jesus is the lamb of God, slain from the foundations of the world. The more you will get references, like inside jokes that are not jokes at all, but beautiful and solemn and sweet, and like honey to your soul.

The more you read, the more the Spirit of the Living God, who raised Christ from the dead, will whisper inside of your heart and help you to see with your spiritual eyes, and hear with your spiritual ears, until the spiritual is as real to you as the physical, until heaven is your home and earth is where you’re passing through.

This might sound exciting to you- or scary. But I want to tell you that if you believe, you will see great things. You will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of God, and you might even learn what that means.

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The book of John (1)This post is part of a series going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead pageand go at your own pace. Just click here

 

Like a Dove

 

Before we go any farther, I want you to know that this John, the Baptist, is not the same John that the book is named for. I know, it’s confusing. So many biblical names are hard to pronounce, or similar to other names. But the writer of the book of John is John, one of Jesus’ disciples, or followers. He’s going to come into the story in a little bit, but so far he’s been talking about a different John. The one we call John the Baptist. Let’s keep going, because John the Baptist has a little more to say about Jesus before the story shifts to Jesus himself for the rest of the time.

Starting in verse 29, Chapter 1, in the book of John.

The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

 

Here John is talking to some of his followers. Back then, there were few books and no internet, and if you had the desire, and the time, and the resources to learn, you would find a person you considered wise, and go to them and ask to learn from them, or be their student. Like an apprentice. The word for this student was disciple. And the word for teacher was Rabbi. There’s a lot more to know about that, but that’s enough for now.

John the Baptist is with his disciples, and he teaches them these things about Christ. And the reason why we know what he taught is because John, the writer of this book, was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. So here he writes what was actually taught to him. John the Baptist taught that Jesus was before him, and ranks before him, and not because Jesus was born first, because he wasn’t. But because Jesus existed from the beginning, which John the Baptist knew because John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit of God.

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And here he talks more about this Spirit. How he saw the Spirit descend like dove onto Jesus, and remain on him. And also, how “He who sent me to baptize…” Who was this “He?” God, and probably through the Spirit.

 

So much here about the Spirit of God, the invisible, mysterious, confusing, beautiful person of the Trinity, who descends like a dove.

 

And even more- that Jesus will baptize with the Spirit. What does this even mean? How can you wash with the spirit? Or be immersed in the Spirit?

Who is this Spirit?

 

Let me tell you what I know of Him.

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The Spirit of God is the still, small voice that leads you to the Lord. Many people call it their conscience, but it is not only that. 

The Spirit of God is a distinct person from you. He has his own voice, His own knowledge, His own will.

Before you are a child of God, the Spirit does interact with you some. He leads you to God. And I have heard of people being protected and encouraged by the Spirit even before they knew who He was. 

But once you have turned to Christ, and submitted your heart to Him as Lord of it, the Spirit is so much more. The Bible tells us that one who has been washed from the sins and become a child of God is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, as a deposit. Every believer has the Holy Spirit. He is her constant companion, and He is the presence of the Lord to her, as well. He reveals the Lord and his will to us, just as he did for John. He told John to baptize- and He told John who the Christ was. He does the same thing for us.

 

In my own life, my relationship with the Spirit began with long walks in the woods. I remember thinking of bible stories where people heard from God, and asking Him if I could hear him, too. The voice I heard in response was not  booming voice from the clouds, but instead, I can only describe it as bubbling up responses to my questions, within my own thoughts, but that answered my thoughts. Sometimes, it would be a Scripture quotation, but other times I heard distinct, first person answers to things I asked of the Lord.

 

I asked my pastor at that time, if that was normal. If everyone could hear the Lord like this. He answered me very diplomatically, by saying that there must be some, for many love the old hymn, “In the Garden.”

 

“I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,

The Son of God discloses…

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known. “

 

Even the end of that hymn suggests the same question I had- Do others hear this voice? It is rarely spoken of. It’s such an intimate, personal thing, this conversation with God. I think we hesitate to speak of it because it seems prideful to suggest that we can personally hear the voice of the Lord. It also seems, from a worldly point of view, crazy. Like some split personality thing or something.

 

And so over the years I have shut out the voice in doubt or confusion, or I have cultivated it in times of distress and need. Sometimes people have encouraged me in it, and sometimes I have been taught that it is imaginary, or even evil.

 

For most of my life, I have been quiet about it except among those who I know also embrace it.

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But I am writing about it now because the Spirit himself has told me to. In the past, I have been afraid of rejection, especially from other believers that I think will condemn me as a heretic, or as a fool.

But I believe the Spirit wants to speak to His people, and I’m writing to you, now, beloved, to say that He wants you to hear Him. I know now what it sounds like, I know it to be true what it says in John 10, that…

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…”

I am learning it, anyway. I am learning to recognize it, and not shrink away.

Hearing the Voice of the Lord through the Spirit is the single most rewarding, beautiful part of Christianity to me, and I feel actual sorrow for the believers who reject this experience and blessing. I see so many believers who lovingly run to the fountain of salvation, but shy away from this intimate, powerful, actual experiential way of knowing the Lord. I believe that embracing the Spirit of the Lord is the only way to see true abundant life, as Jesus promised, and that by quenching the spirit, by holding your hands up in fear of this strange, mysterious spiritual experience, you deny yourself the inheritance that the Lord has promised you and live as though you had no living God at all, only a written history of what he used to do for other people. 

This is strong language, but I have been in so many groups of Christians- and I tell you, it breaks my heart to see people who say they are believers but they miss this most wonderful blessing that comes from believing.

 

And so I give you my testimony- that I love the voice of the Lord, and I wish for you to know it and be blessed by it, too. And if you have any doubts or hesitations, I ask you to consider this verse, and to take its advice.

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

 

I have much love and affection for you as you seek the Lord in this matter, and I know He will be faithful to answer you. 

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This post is part of a seriesThe book of John (1) going through the book of
John. If you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe or head to the lead page and go at your own pace. Just click here