It’s all Greek to me

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Lambano is not an Italian word, but you can be forgiven if you think it looks like one. In fact, it looks very much like something you’d order off a menu at your favorite Italian eatery. Lambano is actually a Greek word, and it’s a word that John used over 40 times in his Gospel. It’s a good, useful word that is usually translated as “took” or “receive.” When we ad the prefix para to lambano, it becomes paralambano, and the meaning changes considerably. Para means, “to come along side.” So paralambano means to “take” or “receive something to ones self.”  Using John’s Gospel as our jumping off point, let’s consider three different kinds of “taking.”

Rejection, John 1:11

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (TNIV)

This small verse tells of a big failure. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from Heaven to His very own people – not strangers – and His very own people did not receive Him. How big is this failure? Let’s glance back a couple of verses.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:9 TNIV)

Christ is the “true light,” not one of many fake lights that are floating our world. Or we could even say that Christ is the “ideal light”; He’s not John the Baptist or just another preacher. He is the “genuine” light. Isaiah the prophet, long before Jesus was born, wrote this:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. (Isaiah 60:1 TNIV)

Jesus Christ came into the world – described as “the light” because His presence permeates every dark corner of every aspect of our word. And He alone is able to illumine every man who hears the Gospel. In other words, He is able to help a sinner understand basic spiritual matters when that sinner hears the message of salvation. That doesn’t necessarily mean salvation will result. Many who hear the Word reject it – they reject it in favor of remaining in the darkness. But some take advantage of Christ’s illumination to choose eternal life.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:10, 11 TNIV)

Using incredibly simple language, John gives his readers the purpose and result of the Incarnation. The fact is this: Jesus Christ, the mighty Son of God, came to live in a world He Himself created. He came not only to the world He created, but He came specifically to His own people – to Israel. But the immediate result of the Incarnation was not good. His own people did not receive Him; they rejected Him out of hand. God’s purpose was to save His people, yet they would have no part of it. What’s truly pathetic about these first few verses of John is the description of just how horrible sin is and what it does to people. It’s not the natural world that refused to accept Jesus. It started with His own people; people who knew better. What a horrible tragedy: To do what Jesus did then find only bitter rejection. The very best commentary on this is probably found back in Isaiah:

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. ” (Isaiah 1:2, 3 TNIV)

And yet, no plan of God has ever failed, no matter how it appeared at first. Job found this out the hard way:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2 TNIV)

And so it was the Incarnation. It wasn’t a failure.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12, 13 TNIV)

Yes, the Jews rejected Jesus. Yes, most of the world rejected Jesus. But not everybody did. Not everybody does. God, through the mystery of the Incarnation, has made more than adequate provision for all men – all sinners – to have the absolute right to become God’s children. This singular right cannot be gained apart from God’s grace. It is given by God, only to those who receive, or those who have faith in, Jesus Christ. God’s self-disclosure – the light that is Jesus Christ – is universal; it is for all men to see. But man’s response is not universal; not all men have faith.

Crucifixion, John 19:16

And they took Jesus, and led him away. (John 19:16 KJV)

Yes they did. The Jews finally came around to wanting Jesus. But they wanted Him for the wrong reason. They wanted Him dead. He came to save them. They wanted to kill Him. Now, how did that happen? Let’s put this in context:

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him , away with him , crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. (John 19:14 – 16 KJV)

The story is a familiar one. Jesus was on the verge of being crucified. Pilate didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, but he didn’t have the guts to let Him go. So he brought Him out to stand in front of a crowd, and whether Pilate knew it or not, he shouted out the truth: Shall I crucify your King? Maybe he was mocking our Lord. Maybe in his heart of hearts he knew the truth.

The response of the religious leaders showed how far away from God they really were: We have no king by Caesar. Can you imagine? Here were men who knew the Scriptures inside and out. They knew the promises of God. They knew the Mosaic Law. They had a leg up on just about every sinner in the world. If any group of people should have known the truth, it was the Pharisees. But in a final, desperate attempt to shut Jesus up, they literally denied God’s sovereignty, rejecting Jesus Christ and His Kingdom in favor of the Roman government. Strachan’s words are piercing:

Israel had committed the final apostasy in thus rejecting the ancient theocratic conception.

What does that mean? Here’s the “ancient theocratic conception” as explained in the Bible:

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. (Psalm 74:12 TNIV)

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. (Psalm 84:3 TNIV)
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:3 TNIV)

What these “religious leaders” were rejecting was the Kingdom of God! Just like Pilate, they wanted the status quo. But here was Jesus, rocking the boat, upsetting their apple carts. They didn’t like that. They liked their measure of authority; their control of the people. They didn’t want Jesus messing up their world.

In choosing human government over divine, the chief priests showed that they had something in common with the ancient Jews. Israel and Judah were both punished because of their constant idolatry. These priests worshiped their careers, their power, and the power structure of their world. They foolishly thought the Roman government could preserve the peace and their religion. Yet it was that very government that was ultimately responsible for their persecution.

What we have here are misplaced loyalties. We can be hard on these chief priests, but most of us aren’t much better. We like a little bit of Jesus, now and then, but we don’t like Him to rock our world too much. We like our questionable hobbies, our little idolatries, our sins. We like our dangerous friendships and associations. We like to have one foot in the Kingdom and the other in the world. We like to think we can use man’s ways to get God’s job done. But it never works out. It was shortly after the death and resurrection of our Lord that Rome had had enough to Jerusalem and those pesky Jews. There’s always a fee to pay when you dance with the Devil. When you don’t take Jesus to your side; when you’re not loyal to Him, the price is high.

Expectation, John 14:3

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3 TNIV)

It was a really bad day for the disciples. They had troubled hearts, and for good reasons! Jesus had told them that He was getting ready to leave them. He also informed them that there was a traitor among their number. And for Peter, it was particularly bad because Jesus said that he would betray Him before all was said and done. These men who had traveled so far with Jesus were upset and troubled, so our Lord took time to encourage them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1 – 4 TNIV)

Verse one is particularly strong, given what immediately preceded it. By the end of chapter three, Peter’s very strong affirmation of loyalty had been pretty much dashed to pieces by Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal and failure. So the promise of these verses, but in particular the admonition of the first verse, were desperately needed. Their hearts were troubled – deeply troubled, but our Lord knew all about that feeling. Just a couple of chapters back, He got the terrible news that His good friend Lazarus was on the verge of dying from some sickness. Later on this chapter, Jesus said these words heartbreaking words:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:12 TNIV)

So Jesus knows what it’s like to be troubled and anxious. He also knew that trusting in God is the one true remedy for an anxious heart. During Jesus’ time, there was pagan belief circulating around Palestine, and their teaching went like this:

Do not be disturbed, for the gods, if they exist at all, do not take notice of you.

Jesus, though, was telling His disciples the exact opposite! Their God does notice! He does see what’s happening to you. He does know what you are going through. No child of God ever needs to wonder if God is too busy to care. He does. And what follows is a measure of the care He has.

Trusting in God is much more than just a nebulous thing you do when times are tough; it’s much more than a positive thinking exercise. For those who trust in God to get them through their present circumstances, something is waiting for them: an eternal home prepared especially for them. The remedy for an anxious, troubled heart is trusting God, but then remembering that there is a life beyond this one; that there will be great reunion with their Lord. The idea Jesus is putting across here is the temporary nature of this life versus the permanent nature of the life He is preparing for those who trust in God. Life here fleeting at best. The circumstances we find ourselves in – good and bad – don’t last. Our good health won’t last. Our most cherished relationships will come to an end. But Jesus is going on ahead of us to get our final destinations ready for us.
And yet, as if that’s not enough, Jesus promises to come back to get us, to bring us to where we need to be. He told His people that He was going away, but just as certain as was His immanent departure, will be His return. He said: I will take you to myself. So wonderful and full is Jesus’ love for those who love Him that He is not just going to send us or even merely bring us to Heaven. He’s going to take us in an embrace. The idea is that of a “welcoming embrace.”

This is the God we serve. He is loving, caring, understanding, compassionate. He does almost everything for us. The one thing He won’t do is believe for us. Only we can do that. Jesus told His disciples this: You know the way to the place where I am going.

It was up to them, as it’s up to all of us, to know Jesus, to get to know Jesus, to understand His Word, and to have faith.

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