On John 16:33

"33I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” 
John 16:33

I have a confession that of the entire Bible I have a single line that I can say is my favourite line and one I find myself repeating in my head daily. It comes from my favourite Gospel, the account of Saint John the Evangelist. In the brief line, Jesus tells his disciples plainly how and why they should have peace in the world despite facing struggles. It is through Christ that we find peace and it is because he has overcome the world that this peace is possible. This is a very powerful statement and I would like to take some time to explore its meaning and context within the wider teaching moment in which it was spoken by Jesus Christ.

The line itself comes as the understood finale of the Last Supper account according to John. His account is actually the longest of all of the gospel writers and the topics over the course of the evening range from the importance of serving one and another, the details of Christ’s looming Passion and death, the establishment of the New Commandment, an exhortation of Jesus as the true vine and a closing that emphasizes the shared pain and suffering that those who believe and follow Jesus will endure as well. This is a scene we can only view through a looking glass dimly because of our separation in time and space from Christ and his disciples but it is also a moment that is vivid and very real for any follower of Christ. Indeed, it is safe to say that this whole night that Jesus eats and shares with his followers is not just for the men and women around him that evening, rather they are words and lessons directly given to all faithful of all ages of past and those to come. His words are clear and universal and plain.

21 "When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." 
John 16:21-22

Jesus does not mince his words when he speaks about the sorrow, pain and suffering his followers will continue to endure in the world. But these important words from Christ do not come in isolation. They come at the heels of Jesus explaining clearly the details of his Passion and death. And he does not do this to be morbid or gain their respect, he does this to demonstrate how he is going to overcome the world and why this important. Then he goes on to explain how the disciples have to comport themselves around one another and around new followers that will join their ranks in the coming era of the church. Jesus washes their feet to demonstrate unequivocally that all must serve one another. This is a clear and powerful statement. Moments after his disciples confess to him that they believe he is the Messiah and their Lord, he humbles himself and washes their feet even against the protest of some. If the Son of Man has washed the feet of his followers, how greater than we must serve our peers around us. He then institutes the New Commandment to love another another as Christ has loved us. And he stresses that there is no love greater than for a man to lay down his life for a friend. And finally, he teaches them, without fancy language, why he is the true vine and the Messiah spoken of in the prophecies. All of this leads up to a final reminder that the same pain and suffering the disciples are soon to witness with Jesus is awaiting them in the world as well. And that pain and suffering awaits us too. These are the last words of a friend to his brothers and sisters. He is making sure they have everything they need to get through the world while he is not there. The true meaning of the night will only become clear once the tomb is found empty and the triumph of the Son of Man has been completed. But these are timeless words, words that are relevant and bear great fruit for us today.

And we are to be of good cheer. Because Christ has overcome the world. Amen.

Cover photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash.

Bearing the rebuke we all fear

In the Anglican Breviary, Major Doubles such as today’s Feast of the Guardian Angels, have psalms that are taken from the Sunday section of the psalter. The day Hours on Sundays are a chopping up of the largest chapter in the entire Bible, Psalm 119.

A particular line of that psalm stood out for me today during Terce.

39 Take away the rebuke I am afraid of; for thy judgements are good.

This is an incredibly powerful line from the psalms, which are never cliché and are always raw emotion directed toward God. There is also a lot to unpack in that little line.

Psalm 119 is almost universally about how great God commandments are, how great God’s wisdom is and how awesome it is to be a follower of God and to share in the wisdom of God. It is an amazing psalm and is one of my favourites in the whole psalter. But there is an underlying theme in this psalm that admits that although following God’s commandments is great because you are smarter than the older people and wiser than your teachers, it is also a burden because people rebuke and hate you because of it. And the psalmist even admits that the problem isn’t with God and the commandments themselves– they are perfect and wonderful because they are from God– but with us.

The psalmist sings, “…the rebuke I am afraid of…” because it is our own fears and our own shortcomings that cause us to bear the burden of rebuke and hatred from the world. But the sentiment is still never lost, following the commandments of God, following His word and conforming to His wisdom is not an easy path in this world. We will be hated and we will be rebuked.

We can pray for this rebuke and our fear to be removed from us. It does not mean that we will not struggle and will not feel the pain of the hate and sin in this world, but it will have been sanctified because it would have been given up to God. That is the purpose of this line in the psalm, to illuminated that idea for us and to provide us a vehicle for prayer to begin that process with God in our own relation with Him.

O God, Who in thine unspeakable Providence hast been pleased to give thine holy Angels charge over us, to keep us, mercifully grant unto our prayers, that we be both ever fenced by their wardship here, and everlastingly blessed by their fellowship hereafter. Amen.

Featured image by Cassidy Rowell on Unsplash.

Why Read the Greek NT

Just before COVID broke out in my province, I happened to find by chance a Greek copy of the New Testament. It was reasonably priced (which is often not the case with translated Bible texts simply because of the amount of scholarly work that goes into producing such a book) so I decided to pick it up. Although this is my first copy of a Greek New Testament, it is not the first time that I have fallen back to the Greek text to better understand the Bible and the Word of God. Thanks to the internet the text and translations are easily accessible, in fact with a tablet or smartphone you can actually load up a Koine Greek keyboard and translate on the fly.

But why read the Greek NT in the first place? Why bother slogging through a text that is literally Greek to one’s English mind?

When we study the Word of God something that we need to keep in mind is that the phrases and words used by the writers exist within a certain place and time and more often than not a full understanding of the texts rests on grappling writing norms and practices that were common to that time. It is really easy today to pick up an English translation of the Bible and read a word or phrase in the Bible in the context of how we use that word or phrase today and the danger is that the word or phrase actually means or is intended to mean something completely different than how we use it.

A great example of this, and something that I ended up writing a few comments on in All Along the Watchtower, is the opening verses of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

When we read this verse it is tempting to assume that since the English translation says that “the Word” was with God that he must mean the Word of God (i.e. the Bible). And later, because John says that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (in reference to the birth of Christ), that this Word of God must be Jesus. And from there we go off on a doctrinal tangent about the Word of God existing before the world, being equal with Jesus and thus God and thus being complete, infallible, perfect and unchanging. What a profound leap from a simple understanding of the phrase “the Word.”

But John doesn’t mean word like words or text. In fact, in Greek he writes λόγος which is Logos in English. It more accurately translates into logic, reason, wisdom and specifically through speech or human expression and communication. And with that in hand we can compare it to secular Greek writing and we see that λόγος is not an isolated concept, limited to John’s Gospel, but rather is a popular Greek idea that logic and reason are scattered throughout the world and are able to be “picked up” and learned by people. John is literally linking a secular idea popular in the then-known world to the Jewish concept of the Messiah and saying that Jesus is the physical embodiment of that reason and logic and knowledge that exists in the world. And furthermore, right in the opening verse, John says that the world was created through all of this reason and logic and knowledge which is why we have laws of physics and logic and mathematics in the first place which govern our physical existence in this world.

All things are created through Him, and He is the Logos, and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. And His authority is not limited to the prophesies and Holy Writings of the Jewish people but rather the entire world and all that exists within it because Christ, the Messiah is not just the King of the Jews but the Logos, the reason and logic and knowledge that the entire universe was made through and by. That is some large stuff from Saint John and we do not get there unless we understand the Greek words and phrases he is using.

So why read Greek? Because with one sentence in John’s Gospel read in Greek we come away with a completely different and much more illuminated idea of what the author is getting at and what how the meaning of the text really should be understood by the reader. That is why I slog through the Greek as much as possible and why I think you should give it try yourself…