HE KNOWS THE REAL THING – John 2:23-25

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Having been a boy scout for several years, I can still remember most of the Scout Law.  There are twelve character qualities given in the Scout Law:  A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  I wondered why it started with “trustworthy”.  I guessed that, in case you forgot all the others, you would still remember that one!  It worked because I did remember that one and most of the others as well!

“Trustworthy” – worthy of trust, dependable, believable, consistent, enduring.  Over the last several years I’ve experienced the untrustworthiness of people more than at any other time in my life.  It seems to me that the number of people who can be trusted is growing smaller, and that deceitfulness and hypocrisy are on the increase.  I hope this observation is only true in my case.  There has been the temptation to become paranoid and not trust anyone anymore.  But that wouldn’t be right either.  Greater care needs to be taken, and more research done on my part before trusting a person or making a decision.  More prayer needs to precede decisions   As the saying goes:  “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”  Have you had similar experiences?  Have there been times when you wished that you could read people’s minds and weigh their motives before you put your life, your health, your confidence, your money, your house, or your car in the hands of a doctor, lawyer, realtor, salesman, mechanic, “friend”, or relative, as the case may be.  It’s often a step of faith, isn’t it?

TRANSITION:

The Lord Jesus teaches us a lesson about faith and trust in these last three verses of chapter 2.  He had recently performed His first miracle when He changed the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.  People were beginning to notice Him and ask questions about Him, and say good things about Him.  Then He cleansed the Temple, and people are wondering, “Who gave Him the right to do that?”   People were beginning to take sides for or against Him, and many were saying evil things about Him.

I.  THE MIRACLES (verse 23)

It was the time to celebrate the Passover, the first Passover since beginning His public ministry.  Verse 23 begins with the words:  “Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast.”  The celebration lasted for eight days and Jesus may have arrived early.  Crowds of people were there from Judea, Galilee, and the surrounding areas in order to obey God’s command and remember God’s deliverance of His people Israel from their slavery in Egypt.  The next section of the verse tells us what the Lord Jesus was doing during that period of time.  “Many saw the miraculous signs He was doing.”   Obviously, Jesus was performing many miracles while He was there – probably healing miracles.  Now there was visual evidence and public testimonies of His power to heal.  Jesus was getting the attention of everyone.  

II.  THE RESULT (verse 23b)

Verse 23 ends with the words “and trusted in His name”.  These people were amazed at the miracles Jesus was performing, and having seen them up close, they came to the conclusion that He must be the Messiah or a prophet, because nobody else could do such things.  They were responding to His miracles in a positive way.  Was their faith a saving faith, a life-changing faith?  Is there any way that we can know for sure?  Do these “believers” meet all the criteria?  Remember that it is very early in the public ministry of Christ.  This may be the first time they had ever met Jesus, and they may know nothing else about Him other than the fact that He performs miracles.  Let’s see how Jesus responds to this news.

III.  THE RESPONSE OF JESUS (verse 24a)

Verse 24 begins with these words, “Jesus did not commit Himself to them”.
The word translated “commit” in this verse is the same Greek word that is translated “believe” in verse 23.  J. Oswald Sanders, in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, has these words to say about verse 24:  “Our Lord trusted no man; yet He was never suspicious, never bitter, never in despair about any man, because He put God first in His trust. . . . If I put trust in human beings first, I will end up despairing of everyone; I will become bitter, because I have insisted on man being what no man can ever be – absolutely right.  Never trust anything but the grace of God in yourself or in anyone else.”

IV.  THE REASONS (verses 24b-25)

The apostle John gives the following reasons for Jesus’ response to those who “believed in Him”:  “for He knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.”   Jesus was all-knowing.  This was another one of the evidences of His deity.  He knew what was in their hearts – the reasons and motives for their actions.  He knew human nature.  These people who had been reported to Him as having believed in Him were Jews who were attending the feast.  The Lord Jesus realized that many of these same people who believed in Him at the start of His public ministry would later turn from Him and turn against Him.  They were uncommitted and easily swayed by the Jewish leaders. 

CONCLUSION:

As I have studied the Gospels, Jesus wasn’t calling people to believe in Him; He was calling them to follow Himthe full-sense of the Greek word for “believe” (pisteuo).  At the end of Jesus’ life there were very few who were called His “followers”.

In this present age of internet websites and social media, the words “follow” and “follower” have a very precise meaning and application.   If you like a particular site and would like to receive updates and notifications of new postings on that site, you simply click the button labelled “FOLLOW”.  When you do so, you instantly become a “follower”.  It’s as simple as that!  The fact that you are here at this site may indicate that you might have a site of your own and have followers as well.

In this computer-age, is it easy to become a follower of Christ?  Has our computer technology made it easier?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that there is easier access to Bible translations, Bible study materials, commentaries, sermons, etcetera.  No, in the sense that the decision itself is a costly one, and the price hasn’t changed.  A profession of faith is not enough.  A profession of faith and baptism is not enough.  I see no distinction being made in the Scriptures between a believer in Jesus Christ and a follower of Jesus Christ.  In Acts 8:13, Simon the magician believed and was baptized.  Later, in verses 18-19, Simon offers to pay money so that he also can lay hands on people and they could receive the Holy Spirit.  He thought it was a magic trick!  Peter says to Simon, in verse 21, “You have no part nor share in this ministry because your heart is not right with God . . . I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

So how does one become a follower of Jesus Christ?  The Lord Jesus answered that question Himself in Luke 9:23 when He said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”  Death to self and dedication to Christ on a daily basis.

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?  In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  The proof is in the following.  At this time of the year crowds of people are standing in lines all over the world, waiting to return gifts they received for Christmas, or exchanging them for another gift.  Why not begin this year with the crowds of people who have decided to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ by exchanging gifts with Him – your life in exchange for His?  It’s the best gift exchange you will ever make, and you’ll experience the real joy of this season when you choose to follow Him.  Now is the time.

If you are a genuine follower of Christ, why not set some spiritual goals for this year.  Organize your day around Him by setting aside a place and time for fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer.  Follow a one-year Bible reading program to read the Bible in a year (approximately 20 minutes a day), put together a prayer list of people you want to pray for daily or weekly; possibly pick a passage of Scripture that you want to memorize this year.  There are many potential goals that you can set.  Just make sure you write them down and put the list in a place where you will see it often.  It also helps to have another Christian that you can share accountability with, and be of mutual encouragement to each other.  May we be good stewards of what God has given us this year, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Truth.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to another work-in-progress.  Wishing you a happy New Year 2017.  I do have two New Year’s messages in my posts somewhere if you would like to search for it.   One is entitled “A New Year’s Commitment”, and was published in January of 2015.  The other message was for New Year’s 2014.  Let’s organize this day, this week, and this year around Him, and put it in writing so that we can see, and He can see, that we mean business.

 

ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

The scene opens.  Mary had just told the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . . May it be done to me as you have said” (NIV translation).  She has agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, and the angel Gabriel has just left her to return to the presence of God in heaven.  She is now alone, with her mind filled with thoughts and her heart filled with emotions.  “What do I do now?”  “Has the angel’s announcement already happened?”  “Am I already pregnant?”  “How will I know?”  “Who can I share all these amazing occurrences with?”

That’s where we begin our study of Luke 1:39-56.  The answers to those questions, and what happens next, are all found in this passage of Scripture.

I.  THE JOY OF ELIZABETH (verses 39-45)

Once Mary is able to gain some control over her thoughts and emotions, she remembers the angel’s words about Elizabeth.  “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”  From the response that follows, Mary may have thought, “Elizabeth is having a supernatural pregnancy also!  We have that in common!  She’s the only person I can talk to about these things that the angel told me.  I can’t tell Joseph since I’m not sure it has happened yet or when it will happen.  Her home will be a place of safety for me, and I can be of service to her.”  Are you getting the picture of Mary’s dilemma?

Verse 39 says, “Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah”.  Mary probably grabbed a few necessities for the trip, and may have left a note for her parents and for Joseph explaining that she had gone to Elizabeth to help her in the final trimester of her pregnancy.  Then she took off “in haste” to avoid any conversations and questions from family, friends, and neighbors.  The home of Zacharias and Elizabeth was 80 miles away, a journey of four to five days on foot.  In her haste to get there, Mary may have arrived in four days or even less.  She had plenty to think about along the way!  But all the travelling is going to be worth the effort on her part.  Her visit with Elizabeth and Zacharias is going to be beyond her highest expectations!  The Spirit of God is going to do some amazing things!

As Mary reaches the hill country of Judah and the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth is in sight, she has been rehearsing in her mind what she is going to say to Elizabeth and how she is going to say it.  There is probably some uneasiness about how this information is going to be received and the responses she might get.  However, when she enters their house and greets Elizabeth, the Spirit of God takes it from there and performs a miracle to her amazement.  Verse 41 says, “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not sure that Mary observed those two things happening to Elizabeth, but she certainly heard the results.  The Holy Spirit immediately informed Elizabeth that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and then the Spirit took control of her voice as she described what happened and why it happened.  Verse 42 says, “And she (Elizabeth) cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.”  Her voice was ecstatic and loud.  Notice that Elizabeth says “blessed among women”, not blessed above women.  It is a place of unmerited privilege, not a place of veneration or worship.  Her words were a confirmation to Mary that she was already pregnant.  “But how could she have known that information?”, Mary wonders.  “I haven’t told anyone that information and the news couldn’t have travelled that fast.  God must have told her.”

The answer comes in Elizabeth’s next statement in verse 43:  “And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth not only knows that Mary is pregnant, but also that she is pregnant with the Messiah.  This is a second confirmation of the angel Gabriel words to her.  In verse 44, Elizabeth describes to Mary what happened within her womb when she heard her voice.  “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

You mothers know what it looks like and feels like when your baby has moved around in your womb, especially when you are close to term.  Fathers and older brothers and sisters have watched wide-eyed. and with bursts of laughter, when the baby’s arm, elbow, or foot, protrudes in your belly.  It’s an amazing sight to watch and enjoy!

What Elizabeth described to Mary went well beyond the usual occurrence.  You might say that her experience was a miracle in itself.  It makes you wonder what it must have felt like when it happened!   I wonder whether the unborn John the Baptist was not only jumping for joy, but also assuming a position of worship before the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  Just a thought.

Finally, Elizabeth says in verse 45:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  The Holy Spirit had even given Elizabeth insight into Mary’s heart, and Mary’s faith in God’s promise.  Because Elizabeth is saying these things under the control of the Spirit, this commendation of Mary comes not only from Elizabeth but also from God Himself.

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

After hearing these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s heart is overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God.  She responds with one of the most beautiful and worshipful prayers or declarations of praise to God in the Scriptures.  It is often called the Magnificat.  The Latin Vulgate translation begins with the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:  “Some of the greatest works of Christian art have been produced around the Magnificat themes.  Artists, poets and musicians have celebrated its theme of joy at the salvation now graciously offered mankind through the gift of the Messiah.”

Mary’s words are similar to the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, where Hannah praises and thanks God for giving her a son (Samuel).  You might want to read that passage of Scripture and compare the two prayers.

This declaration of praise to God reveals much to us about Mary’s character, her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, her concept of God, and her trust in Him.  Let’s take a closer look at her words as she declares the greatness of God’s character, and His wonderful deeds.  Before we study the individual verses of Mary’s declaration of praises, let’s look at all ten verses of the Magnificat so that you can see the whole prayer at once.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble estate of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.  And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm.
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever”

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  With just a few modifications we could turn that into our own declaration of praise to God.  As we see, this young lady (Mary) must have spent a lot of time meditating on God’s Word.

Mary begins by expressing the source of her praise and joy.  In verse 46 she refers to God as Lord, and in verse 47 she calls Him my Savior.  She is echoing the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2, and the words of David in Psalm 35:9.  Like everyone else, Mary had to acknowledge Him as Lord, repent of her sins, and receive His salvation.

In verses 48 and 49, Mary rejoices in what God has done for her personally. Though she is the least of His servants, God has blessed her with the undeserved privilege of being the mother of the Messiah, who is now in her womb, and every generation will acknowledge this blessing of God upon her.  The focus of her attention is on God, and not on herself.  He is the one who has done these things.  As she says in verse 49:  “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”   I am impressed by Mary’s humility and her willing surrender to God’s will, as well as her concept of God’s power and holiness.

In the next section of her song, Mary includes those who are in the same socio-economic condition as herself (poor, humble and despised followers of Him).  Quoting from Psalms 103, 98, and 118, she praises God for His faithful mercies as He scatters the proud, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed.  Quoting from Job 5, Mary declares how God has exalted the humble and brought down rulers from their thrones.  Mary knows the Word of God, and her praise and confidence in Him is based upon God’s faithfulness to keep His Word.

Lastly, Mary gives praise to God for the things He has done for His people Israel.  In her prayer of praise she recalls to her mind Genesis 17:7 and 17:19, declaring God’s forever-promises to Abraham and his descendants: the land, the seed, and the blessing to all nations.  Many other passages in the book of Genesis are included in these promises.

After Mary finishes her hymn of praise, the Gospel writer Luke writes these words:  “And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (verse 56).  “Three months” – so for three months Mary and Elizabeth were praising God together for what God was doing in their lives.  Zacharias was praising God also.  We just don’t have any word from him.  He was speechless until after his son was born.

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

I think my favorite definition of worship is the one written by William Temple.  He was an Anglican minister, an advocate for social reform, and served as an archbishop for many years.  We have a William Temple House and a William Temple Thrift Store here in Portland, Oregon.   He says:  “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  As I look at Mary’s prayer again, I find that she employed all of those characteristics of worship.  Mary declares God’s holiness and quotes from God’s Word several times.  She focuses on God’s character (His mercy, power, sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness).  As she expresses these words you can tell that her heart is filled with love for Him, and she counts it a privilege to serve Him.

Beloved, do you find it hard at times, as I do, to express praise and worship to God?  Do frustrations and distractions put you out-of-focus sometimes and rob you of joy and thankfulness to God?  What has often helped to restore my focus on God and an attitude of worship and praise has been to read one or more of the Psalms and reflect upon the character of God and His concern for us.  As a result of this study, I’m also adding the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Hannah to my list of Scripture passages to read in order to prepare my heart for worship.   Many recording artists have recorded renditions of the psalms and other passages on YouTube.  Esther Mui, for example sings beautifully many of the psalms as well as other worshipful passages of Scripture.  You can read the lyrics as she sings and the photos are awesome.  She is one of many artists who have placed their songs on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.

I hope that you have found reasons to rejoice and worship God.  If not, let’s start finding resources today.  I’ve given you a place to start.  I hope you will carry your quest for an attitude of worship and praise beyond my suggestions, and give some suggestions to me as well.

An illustration I just read caused me to realize that we will know when we are truly worshipping and praising God in our hearts because we will feel the nearness of His presence and experience the joy of His presence.    Here is the illustration:  After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today – – but I wish you had been there!”

May you experience the nearness of God’s presence and the joy of His presence today as you take time to praise and worship Him.

 

NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”?  If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean.  Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season.  If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.  I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth.  Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

The story begins in Luke chapter 1.  Verses 26 and 27 say:  “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke states that it is the “sixth month”.  He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth.  They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph.  They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor.  This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.

Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph.  Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship.  It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated.  It must have been near the end of that espousal period.  I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens.  God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary.  Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing.  His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.

There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time.  Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today.  There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them.  The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born.  If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year.  You will really enjoy it!

The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17).  There are too many of them to count.  Yet only two angels are named in the Bible:  Gabriel and Michael.  It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them.  I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face.  We will know some day!  Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary.  Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you’.”  Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area.  Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him.  Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege.  He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women   He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation.  It is an unmerited favor from God.  She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it.  Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.

In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting:  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”.  “Why would he be saying those words to me?”  “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name.  Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah.  The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).

As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth?  Yes.  Was it her fault that she didn’t know this?  No.  This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel.  There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah.  The first is Genesis 3:15.  After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  This verse is speaking of the Messiah.  God says “her seed”.  A woman doesn’t have a seed.  She has eggs.  The man has the seed.  If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right?  If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God.  Isaiah 7:14 confirms this.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.”  The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.

IV.  THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)

Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it.  As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born.  Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said.  She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true.  She is just curious as to the  “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin.  So she asks the question:  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God).  This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.

So, just how did this all come about?  Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception!  Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”.  (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures).  When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others.  In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do.  This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God.  As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary.  She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother!  What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed!  In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God!  Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement:  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  The Message puts it this way:  “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as you say.”  Then the angel left.  As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her.  She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.

VI.  THE LESSONS

Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience:  “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them?  Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off.  You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.”  Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back.  “Better never late, but better late than never.”

Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love?  Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day.  Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today.  Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day?  If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day.  We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”!  After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  I call this particular construction project:  “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”.  I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17).  As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder.  I hope this has been your experience also.  May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.

P.S.  I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38.  There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”.  Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own!  See you in the next construction site!  Hopefully I’ll have it completed before Christmas also.

JESUS DEFENDS HIS AUTHORITY – John 2:18-22

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Are guarantees important to you?  When you shop for an item to purchase, do you read the fine print in the contract and the guarantee forms?  Maybe you can recall a time when you didn’t read all the fine print and wish you had.  We all desire proof, not only that things live up to their claims, but also that people live up to the claims they make.  The most fantastic claim that any person could possibly make would be the claim to be God.  Jesus Christ wasn’t the first Person to make that claim, and there have been many others who have claimed it since then.

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple.  While doing so He declared:  “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house  of merchandise.”  By His actions and His words, the Lord Jesus was fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy and declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now we see their response.

I.  THE REACTION OF THE JEWISH LEADERS (verses 18)

In verse 18 the leaders of the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things.”  They used that same expression at the end of Jesus’ ministry, in Matthew 21:23.  They were angry, and probably shouted those words at Him.  It may have sounded something like this:  “Who do You think You are!  Who gave You the right to do the things You just did.”  They ask Him for a sign.  I guess they felt they had the right to put Jesus to the test.  After all, they considered themselves to be the guardians of the Jewish faith.  I wonder whether or not they were trying to (incorrectly) apply God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-3.  “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes true concerning which he spoke to you saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  But Jesus was not a prophet or a dreamer, He was God Himself!

The problem was that the Jewish people were always looking for signs and miracles.  What Jesus says to them in reply is the greatest of all signs or miracles.

II.  THE PREDICTION BY JESUS (verse 19)

Jesus’ answer to the Jews who were questioning Him was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  It was a statement they misunderstood, but they would never forget it.  Three years later they quoted it at Jesus’ trial, and even used it to mock Him while He was on the cross.  The word translated “destroy” is a permissive imperative in the Greek.  His listeners didn’t realize it, but Jesus was giving them permission to kill Him in order that He might pay the price for the sins of the world.  This was a new insight for me.

There are two Greek words that were used when referring to the temple.  The Lord Jesus chose to use the word “naos”, a word that could also be used to refer to the human body.  Speaking of the temple, Jesus said “I will raise it up”.  The Greek word used here, “egeiro”, literally means “to rouse from sleep” It occurs 141 times in the New Testament, and 70 of those usages refer to the resurrection.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t point to Himself or make any other kind of gesture to indicate clearly to them that He was referring to His body.  I don’t think that Jesus wanted them to understand what He was saying.  Even His own disciples didn’t understand the meaning of His statement until after His death and resurrection.  Can you ever remember receiving the following response when you asked someone a question:  “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it!”?  I think those words also apply to this situation.

Often during Jesus’ public ministry, the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign.  But He refused to do so, except for the sign of Jonah, which depicts death, burial, and resurrection.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, or the Lord.  Watchman Nee also expresses this argument clearly in his book, Normal Christian Faith:
“A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:  First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.  Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie. Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.  You can only choose one of these
possibilities.”

III.  THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING (verses 20-21) 

Judging from their response to Jesus’ remark, the Jewish leaders must have thought that Jesus was a lunatic. Their answer to Jesus is:  “It took forty years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  They thought He was talking about the temple in Jerusalem.  Josephus, the Roman historian, said that about 18,000 workmen were employed in that task, and that the temple wasn’t finished until 64 A.D.  They are saying to Jesus, “You’ve got to be crazy if you think you can rebuild that massive, ornate structure in just three days!”  Little did they realize that Jesus was going to do something even more astounding.  He was going to bring His own dead body back to life after three days in a tomb!

The originator of a new religion came to the great French diplomat, Talleyrand and complained that he could not make any converts.  “What would you suggest I do?” he asked.  “I should recommend”, said Talleyrand, “that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day.”  I don’t think he took that advice!  Talleyrand must have recognized that it is the resurrected, living Christ that holds Christianity together and draws people to it.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:14 and 17, “And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” 

IV.  THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE (verse 22)

In verse 21, the apostle John affirms that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.  But John did not know that at the time.  He says in verse 22, “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this (over three years earlier); and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  They didn’t understand until they saw Him in His resurrected body three years later.

What is the “Scripture” that they believed?   It must have been Psalm 16:10 because the apostle Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31), and the apostle Paul quoted it at Antioch;  (Acts 13:35).  Psalm 16:10 says, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”  That “mysterious” verse had been solved and fulfilled.

A little boy once taught his Sunday School class a lesson about the resurrection of Christ that they understood immediately and would never forget.  Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several other eight-year-old boys and girls.  Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine.  But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.

The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs.  Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container.  Back in the classroom they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion.  After running through the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one.  After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.

Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside.  The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid!”   “That’s not fair!”  “Somebody didn’t do their assignment!”

Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”

“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted.  “There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip insisted.  “I did do it.  It’s empty, the tomb is empty!”

Silence followed.  From then on Philip became a full member of the class.  He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off.  At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar, not with flowers but with their Sunday School teacher, each to lay on his casket an empty pantyhose egg.

Like the empty pantyhose egg, the Lord Jesus used the picture of the temple (His body) to describe His violent death that would be followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead (the empty tomb).  This is the second picture that John records in his Gospel.  The first picture was that of the Lamb of God, the unblemished substitute who would be sacrificed to pay the price for our sins.  There is also a third picture which John gives in chapter 3 of his Gospel.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

The Lord Jesus’ description of Himself as a “temple” brings to mind several images from the Old Testament.  The tabernacle in the wilderness was just a tent until it was consecrated and the Spirit of God came and filled it.  Then it became the Tabernacle of the Lord, and the Shekinah glory shone out from within.  The people saw it and worshipped God who now dwelt there.  The temple of Solomon was just a beautiful building until it was consecrated, and the Spirit of God filled it.  Then it became a temple where people were drawn together to worship the Lord.

Just as Jesus described His body as a temple, our bodies are temples also.  Who, or what. is being worshipped in your “temple” (your body, your life)?  Who is being glorified in your body?  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins.  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God incarnate.  Those things are important to believe, but believing those things to be true is not the formula for becoming a child of God.  There is also the need for consecration:  repenting of our sins and devoting our lives to Him.  Is your body (your life) an outward testimony of forgiveness and joy because of the death of Christ for you?  Is your body (life) an outward evidence of victory because of the risen Christ who reigns in you, and the Spirit of God who fills and controls you?  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  Becoming a Christian is not a rental agreement or a lease.  It is a permanent transfer of ownership of our lives to God our Creator.  You couldn’t be in better hands, and the enjoyment never ends!  I hope this is your experience.  If not, I hope that you will make that choice and experience the wonderful, life-changing results very soon.  You will be eternally glad if you do, or eternally sorry if you don’t.  God wants you to be His, and the Lord Jesus paid the price to make that possible.  If it is still unclear in your mind, please go to my “About page” where the Scriptures are given, or leave me a comment so that we can talk about this decision, and so that any questions might be answered.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this finished work-in-progress, John 2:18-22.  Please come back soon.  I am temporarily leaving my study in John’s Gospel to study and prepare a message for Christmas.  I have in mind an unusual message, but one which is very appropriate for this time of celebration.  After I gather the Scriptures pertaining to these events and develop an outline, I’ll start putting this sermon online a bit at a time as the work progresses.  Thank you for visiting.  Please also visit other completed sermons on this blog-site if you are interested.  May we be receptive and eager as Christ reveals Himself more fully to us.