GOTCHA! – John 7:19-24

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INTRODUCTION:

“Gotcha” is an American slang term that literally means, “I’ve got you”.  It has been used in a number of ways.  Many of us have used that word in a conversation, and we had a specific purpose and meaning in mind.  It can mean “I understand what you are saying”, or “I’ll do what you’ve asked”.  The word is sometimes used in the sense of capturing or apprehending someone, taking someone by surprise, embarrassing or disgracing someone, exposing a person’s mistakes, or proving that the person is wrong.  That’s quite a range of meanings and uses for the word, and that’s not all of them.  Why would I be using the word “gotcha” to describe an event in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Does that choice seem strange to you?  As we study this passage of Scripture, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not this title is appropriate.

TRANSITION:

As we begin our study of John 7:19-22, let’s imagine the scene at that moment in Jesus’ life.  It’s the week-long Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles].  Jesus arrived unnoticed, went into the temple and began to teach.  A crowd of people has formed around Jesus to listen to Him.  The Jewish religious authorities have arrived, have made their way to the front of the crowd, and are standing in front of Him, making accusations about Him; and Jesus is once again defending His authority.  Meanwhile, the crowd is standing there, watching and listening.

I.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)

In verse 19, there is a change of direction.  Jesus takes the offensive position against them and assumes the control of the conversation.  “Turnabout is fair play”, as the saying goes.  It’s time for Him to examine their words and their actions, and offer His conclusions.  It’s time to bring them back to reality.  He begins His attack by saying, “Did not Moses give you the law”?  They are thinking in their minds, “Of course he did!”  They prided themselves on this, and believed that every violation of the law of Moses was deserving of death.  While they are gloating about their self-righteousness and their exalted position in the eyes of God, Jesus goes on to say yet not one of you carries out the law.” Those are stinging words to His questioners!  These leaders revere Moses and obey his every word – at least they try to give the impression that they do so!  Jesus is telling them, “You’re not carrying out the Law that God gave to Moses.  You’re carrying out your own version of it.  Those aren’t the Sabbath laws that God gave to Moses.  You’ve changed them and added to them to the point where they have become a despicable burden to the people.  It’s no surprise that you reject My teaching because you have rejected Moses’ teaching” (John 5:46-47).

At this point in Jesus’ discussion, it’s important to know the words that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.  Here are those words:

Then Moses commanded them saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of the remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”  [bold print added to emphasize key words]

We aren’t told whether or not this is the seventh year but, if not, Jesus may be alluding to that command to remind the Jewish leaders that, when the people hear the words of the Law being spoken, they will notice many of the differences between the Law of Moses and the teachings they have received from these rabbis.

II.  THE QUESTION (verse 19b)

As further proof of their disobedience to the law of Moses, Jesus asks them a question:  “Why do you seek to kill Me?”  He is saying, “Where does Moses say specifically that I should be killed for healing a person on the Sabbath day over a year ago?  What offenses deserve the death penalty in the law of Moses?  If My healing-miracle is not one of those offenses, then one of the commandments in the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not kill’.  So you’re the ones who are breaking the law of Moses by seeking to kill Me.”

III.  THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)

I can imagine that the leaders of the Jews were standing there dumbfounded.  Jesus’ reasoning was too solid.  They weren’t prepared for this, and didn’t know what to say.  The crowd, most of whom were from outlying areas and weren’t familiar with Jesus or with the things He was saying, come to the defense of their leaders.  In verse 20 we read, The multitude answered, “You have a demon!  Who seeks to kill You?”  They weren’t telling Jesus that He was demon possessed.  During that period of time, many Jews believed that all unusual or uncalled for behavior was prompted by the devil.  In this day and age, we might use the words “you’re out of your mind”, “you’re crazy”, or “you’re paranoid”.  They misunderstood Jesus’ words because they didn’t know the history behind them.

IV.  THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)

I’m sure the leaders were relieved that the crowd directed the attention of Jesus away from them, but it didn’t last for long.  Rather than become distracted by the crowd and direct His conversation toward them in defense of His sanity, Jesus ignores their remark and continues His conversation with the leaders of the Jews, answering His own question.  In verse 21, He says,  “I did one deed and you all marvel.”  The religious authorities were amazed when they learned that Jesus healed, in an instant, a man who had been lame for 38 years, just by saying the words.  It was a miracle that only God could perform.  Yet they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed that miracle on the Sabbath Day.

V.  THE APPLICATION TO CIRCUMCISION (verses 22-23)

In verse 22, we find that the Lord Jesus isn’t finished with His argument.  He is still building His case against them.  This time He applies their Sabbath laws to the rite of circumcision when He says, “On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.”  First, He corrects their misunderstanding about circumcision.  Moses was not the originator of circumcision.  Before God told Moses to put the command of circumcision into written form in Leviticus 12:3, it had been practiced by “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) over 700 years earlier.  In Genesis 17:10-12, God said to Abraham,“This is the covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . every male among you who is eight days old.”  Therefore, in obedience to that law, every man-child (male baby) is circumcised on the eighth day, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s” about it.  There are no exceptions to the rule.  It’s the law, and this ceremonial law even takes precedence over the Sabbath laws.  That was the teaching of the Jewish religious authorities of that day.  However, there were exceptions to that rule.  In the Talmud (the collection of the teachings of the rabbis), it states that, should the baby suffer from an illness, the circumcision is postponed seven days for the sake of the well-being of the infant.  Therefore, the baby’s health is more important than this rite of purification, and this is one of several exceptions in the Talmud.

With that information in mind, Jesus presents His next argument in verse 23, saying, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.”  Jesus is saying, “You make exceptions to circumcision on the Sabbath because the health of the child is more important than the strict observance of the Law, so why are you upset because I healed this man completely on the Sabbath?”  He’s telling them that they are contradicting themselves because they say one thing but do another.

There is another argument that isn’t spoken by Jesus, but it’s implied, and all the rabbi’s standing around Him know what that argument is.  As they add this final argument to the ones already stated by Jesus, they realize that they have lost their case and there is nothing to refute.  Are you wondering what that final argument is?  It has to do with one of the teachings of their most famous rabbi, Hillel the Great.  Hillel’s first great law of interpretation was, “The Major may be inferred from the Minor”.  What does that mean?  In this case, circumcision, which was considered to be the ceremonial law of the purification of newborn males) overrides the Sabbath, and health overrides circumcision.  So the Sabbath and circumcision are ‘Minor’ when compared with health.  Thus Jesus’ case against them might be put into these words:  “I did what’s considered ‘Major’ according to your laws and the teachings of your most famous rabbi, when I healed that man completely on the Sabbath, so why are you majoring in the ‘Minors’?”

What excellent arguments!  Case dismissed!  As I review Jesus’ arguments, a word comes back to mind.  The word is GOTCHA!  Does that word seem appropriate to you also?

VI.  THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)

While those teachers of the Law are standing there, looking at Jesus in wide-eyed amazement, experiencing the shame and agony of defeat, the Lord Jesus uses that moment to teach them a lesson in verse 24.  Here are Jesus’ words of instruction to these rulers of the Jews.  He says to them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  He’s telling them to repent of the way they have mistreated Him and do what’s right in the sight of God.  How easy and how tempting it is to make judgments about the actions and motives of others before all the facts are known, or in spite of the facts that are known.

A newspaper correspondent attended an auction where he saw, among other items, a pair of excellent crutches.  A poor, crippled boy was the first to bid on them.  A well-dressed elderly man was also interested in them and kept offering more money for them.  Some of the people frowned in disapproval, and one lady said, “Shame on you; let the boy have them!”  Whenever the boy called out a higher price, the man would always top it.  At last, the boy held up a five-dollar bill, all that he had, and made a final bid.  When more was offered, the young fellow turned away in tears.  The crowd muttered angrily.  Then, to everyone’s surprise, the gentleman presented the crutches to the boy, saying, “These are much too small for me, so I won’t have any use for them.  When I saw that you were crippled, my heart went out to you.  So I decided to buy the crutches and give them to you.”  The crowd began to applaud for they realized they had completely misjudged the man and the situation.  They looked at outward appearances only, and came to their own conclusions, when they should have given the situation time to allow the true motives to be revealed.  That same principle is reflected in our attitude toward God’s Word, the Bible.  Are we committed to what God’s Word actually says, or to what we want it to say?

One of the things that can cause us to make wrong judgments is peer pressure.  Em Griffin in his book, “The Mindchangers”, describes an experiment done by Solomon Asch with groups of 12 people.  They were brought into a room where four lines of unequal length were displayed.  They had to decide which two were the same length and publicly vote for their choice.  Person after person after person (11 in all) voted for the wrong line – because they had been told to do so ahead of time.  The one individual who was in the dark couldn’t imagine how in the world all these seemingly normal people could all choose the wrong line.  When it was his turn to vote, he had to decide, “Do I go with what I know my senses are telling me, or do I go with the crowd?”  One-third of those tested caved in to group pressure and changed their vote to agree with their peers.  Are you feeling the pull of peer pressure in your life?  Don’t let peer pressure keep you from repenting of your sin and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  He will give you a new life, a changed life manifested by a love for Him and desire to obey Him and depend upon Him for strength, guidance, and victory.

Fellow-believers, a decision needs to be made in our hearts to do what is right in God’s sight even when everyone around us, where we live or work or go to school, wants to go the wrong way.  Ask God for the desire and the strength to make the right choice and do the right thing, even if it means standing alone.  In actuality, we won’t be alone.  The Lord will be with us, and there are many Christians over the past 20 centuries who have chosen to live righteously.  Some of their testimonies are written down for us in the Scriptures and in the history books.  I’ll close by giving you one of those examples.  In the third century, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being.  After being exiled five times for his beliefs, he was summoned before emperor Theodosius who demanded that he cease his opposition to Arius.  The emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?”  Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”

May we have that kind of tenacity in our obedience to the truths of God’s Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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GOD’S HARVEST IN SAMARIA – John 4:35-42

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One evening a man who lived in the western part of the United States was walking home across an open field.  Looking up he saw his little son running through the tall grass to meet him.  Suddenly the boy disappeared.  The father thought he had just stumbled, but when he came nearer he heard a gurgling cry and found that the child had fallen into an open well.  He was almost too late, and was barely able to save him.  When the little fellow finally regained consciousness, he looked up and said, “Daddy, why didn’t you hurry?”  Those words, and the child’s gurgling cry for help, rang in the father’s ears for many days.

We’ve spent much time studying the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  At the end of that conversation she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, leaving her water pot behind, she hurried back to her town to tell the men about Jesus.  I think she jogged the half-mile or so to her town of Sychar and probably made it there in less than 10 minutes.  Verse 30 tells us that the men of the city listened to her, believed her words, and were following her out of their city and coming to meet Jesus.  Have you ever done any speed walking or power walking?  I don’t know how effectively you could walk in such a way on dirt roads, and wearing long robes and sandals, but she was doing her best to make haste.  Not only is this woman an evangelist to her people, she’s also their personal guide and pace-setter!  She wanted to get everyone there before Jesus and His disciples left the well and continued their journey.  I imagine that the pace slowed down a bit once Jesus and His disciples came into view.

I.  TIME TO HARVEST (verse 35)

Meanwhile the Lord Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples.  In verse 35, Jesus uses a popular saying:  “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest.’ ”  It may have been a saying that a farmer would use in order to let people know that his seed had been sown and the crop would be ready to be harvested in four months.  That’s the normal growing season for grain in that part of the country in those days.  The farmer may also be using it to spread the news, and have others spread the news, that he’s going to need help harvesting his crop in four months.  So those words “there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest”  would be passed along in people’s conversations.   Along with those words goes the promise that he will pay a day’s wages for a day’s work when harvest time comes.  You could say that this was a way of advertising and “spreading the good news”.  The Lord Jesus is saying these words to His disciples as both an illustration and a contrast to what is about to happen.  Once again Jesus is using physical realities in order to lead into and explain spiritual realities.

The Lord Jesus continues the conversation by giving them some startling and convicting news.  “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  He probably used the words “lift up your eyes” because the grain fields were on higher ground which slopped down toward them.  The term “white for harvest” means that the grain is already mature and dried out, ready for immediate harvesting.  He directed their gaze away from Himself by stretching out His hand and pointing in a sweeping motion in the direction of the city, to the grain fields along the way.  As they look, they begin to realize the difference between physical harvesting and spiritual harvesting. What do they see?  At first glance they see green fields of grain that are not mature because it is not yet that time of the year.  What they see next really startles them.  The fields are beginning to turn white as droves of Samaritans, dressed in their white tunics, are walking toward them down the hillside along the paths through the grain fields, and they are being led by the Samaritan woman.  What the Lord Jesus has just said to them is literally coming to pass:  the fields are “white” for a spiritual harvest!

II.  SOWING AND REAPING (verses 36-38)

While the Samaritans are still a short distance from the well, the Lord Jesus uses this opportunity to teach His disciples about sowing and reaping, and about the rewards that come as a result.  He says in verse 36, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.”  Usually it’s the reaper who gets the glory here on this earth.  But the sower works hard cultivating the ground, then planting the seed and watering it.  It’s a responsibility that requires patience, persistence, and faith.  There are prayers to God, often with tears, that God would provide favorable, growing conditions and rain at the proper time.  All this work is done without seeing any immediate results, and without the assurance that he will see any results for his efforts.  Harvesting is also hard work but the results are immediate and the joy is immediate.

In this case, Jesus is pointing out that the spiritual harvest of souls has followed closely behind the sowing of the seed pf the gospel message.  The woman believed and is bringing the men of the city to meet Jesus and to hear what He has said to her.  But even in this case, there were others who may have had a part in preparing the ground and sowing the seed.  The Old Testament prophets predicted His coming and gave information concerning the coming Messiah.  John the Baptist may have been baptizing nearby and many Samaritans may have observed him and listened to his words.

In verses 37-38, the Lord Jesus uses His explanation of what is happening before their eyes to teach them two principles about sowing and reaping a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.  “For in this case the saying is true, ‘one sows, and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Each step in the process of a spiritual harvest of souls is equally necessary and equally valuable in God’s sight.  It’s a team-effort, even though we may not know, and may not have met all of the members of the team.  The popular saying “one sows, and another reaps” gives us principle #1:  OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE FAITHFUL AND OBEDIENT WITNESSES FOR CHRIST.  THAT’S WHAT HE DESIRES OF US, AND THAT SHOULD BRING US JOY BECAUSE OUR LABORS WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.  GOD WILL BRING THE HARVEST AND WE WILL BE REWARDED FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”

In many eastern countries, professional weavers often are unable to complete the extensive tapestries assigned to them during their lifetime.  As one of them dies, however, another weaver picks up the threads and weaves on according to the original pattern until the masterpiece is completed for all to see and admire.  In a similar way, God wants Christians to be faithful witnesses for Him by their words, their prayers, and their example so that others may enter into their labors to continue the work.  Thus, even after we die, others will be reaping where we have sown and watered the seed of God’s word.

A second principle may be drawn from Jesus’ words in verse 38:  WHEN GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF HARVESTING SOULS, REMEMBER THAT OTHERS HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR US, AND THAT ONLY GOD DESERVES THE GLORY.  Speaking of the harvest of souls in the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6).  Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit of God, as He empowers the Word of God, there would be no salvation, and there would be no changed lives as a result.  Let’s give God the glory when He gives us the privilege of bringing others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and as we witness the changed lives that are a result of that commitment.  Remember, only God can make things grow; only God can change the heart of a person and impart spiritual life.

A Chinese National, Christiana Tsai, told of her ministry to her family after years of suffering pain through many illnesses.  One day, one of her brothers, who had rejected the gospel, assembled the members of the family without them knowing the purpose behind it.  He then said to them, “I have been to see Christiana many times and wondered how she could endure all this suffering.  Now I can see that she has been given some sustaining power and can only explain it as coming from God.  So, I have decided there must be a God after all.  I have read the Bible and realize that I am a sinner.  So here and now I want to tell you that I have accepted Christ as my Savior, asked Him to forgive my sins, and promised to follow Him.”

Christiana commented that “the brother who tore up my Bible and persecuted me in the early days at last confessed my Lord.  In all, fifty-five of my relatives have become God’s children and expressed their faith in Jesus.  I have never been to college, or theological seminary, and I am not a Bible teacher; I have only been God’s hunting dog.” (Christiana Tsai, Queen of the Dark Chamber, p. 184).  I like her description of herself.  As a “hunting dog” she has stayed close to her Master, obeyed His every command, and is always ready to retrieve what belongs to Him.  No advanced degrees or professional licenses are required – just a willingness to be of service and a deep love for the Master and for all whom the Master loves.

III.  MINISTRY TO THE SAMARITANS (verses 39-40)

By this time the crowd of Samaritan men from Sychar, who were seen coming toward them, had arrived at the well.  Verse 39 says, “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’.”  So many of these Samaritans had already believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, based on the testimony of the woman, before they even met Jesus.  Such is the effect of a personal testimony empowered by the Spirit of God.  An important principle can be learned from this verse of Scripture, and evangelist Billy Graham expresses it very clearly and powerfully.  He says, “As we look at history time and again, we are struck time after time by the fact that God has used the most unlikely and the most unworthy instruments to bring about spiritual awakening.”  First Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.”

Billy Graham continues by giving a challenge:  “If God could use such a woman two thousand years ago to bring a revival to the city of Sychar, how much more can He use you and me today, if we would put ourselves in His hand!  He can use us in our community, our town, our city, our country!” (Unto the Hills, pg. 166,167)

Verse 40 says, “So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.”  What a generous and enthusiastic response by the Samaritans!  They were treating Him like a King with His royal officials, and were eager to show their hospitality and learn more about Him!  Never had Jesus received such treatment before, and never would He receive it again during His three years of ministry; and it came from Samaritans, not Jews!  You might say that a revival was taking place in Sychar, Samaria, and Jesus gladly accepted their invitation.  He had already shown them that He was free from racial and social prejudices.  Those two days in Samaria included more than just holding meetings, sharing God’s Word, and answering questions.  Jesus and His disciples were getting to know the people of the city personally, on a first-name basis  – visiting their homes, meeting their families, eating their food with them, and sleeping in their beds.  What a learning experience this must have been for His disciples!  Many of the Jewish rules and traditions were being set aside because people are more important than traditions.

IV.  THEIR RESPONSE (verses 41-42)

What was the result of their time spent with the people of Sychar, Samaria?  Verse 41 says, “And many more believed because of His word.”  Not just “more”, but many more”!  You know how it is when something really unusual and exciting is going on – people from outlying areas come to the city to find out what’s happening.  Good news spreads fast, doesn’t it?  Especially when the good news is that the Messiah is here in Sychar – “Come and see”!  Notice that the Samaritans didn’t ask for any signs.  Jesus performed no miracles for them.  They didn’t need any miracles because they believed who Jesus was, and eagerly received the words He said to them.

After spending two days with Jesus, the men of the city said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”  This is the first time that the title, “the Savior of the world”, is used when referring to Jesus, and the title was given to him by the Samaritans.  Jesus had said to the woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews”.  By using that title (“the Savior of the world”) when referring to Jesus, the Samaritans were saying:  “We have found, not just salvation but a Savior, and not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of the world.”

CONCLUSION:

Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?  If not, why not?  Can you face that question honestly and be honest with yourself and with God?  You are in the process of sinking into the mire of your own sins by your own choice, and you’re the only one who can choose to be pulled out of it by the grace of God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in your place.  The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is true.  Delayed intentions are “non-intentions” in the sight of God.  He doesn’t accept “promissory notes” as proof of repentance and commitment.  The saying, “You’re playing with fire; you’re going to get burned” is also true.  Please, don’t put off until tomorrow what you will eternally regret if this turns out to be your last day on this earth.  If there was something that you really wanted to do, more than anything else on this earth, and there was nothing standing in your way, would you put it off?  I don’t think so.  If you say to yourself, “I’m working on it”, what’s left to be done that can’t be done right now?  Please don’t put off for another moment the joy of being a new person – a child of God, and the assurance of spending eternity with Him in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, are you concerned about those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?  If you saw a little child fall into a well, you would do everything in your power to save his physical life, wouldn’t you?  What are you and I going to do today, and every day, for those around us who are drowning spiritually and eternally?  Be sure to apply this lesson from the response of the Samaritan woman at the well:  IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO KNOW WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR THEM, LET THEM SEE AND HEAR WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR YOU.

May God give you the desire and enabling to do what you know He wants you to do as a result of studying this passage of Scripture.

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part IV) – John 3:19-21

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever played Hide and Go Seek?  It was one of the after-supper games that the children in our neighborhood would play.  The way we played it, as kids, was with one “seeker” who was chosen for the first game, and the position rotated so that each of us had at least one turn.  The rest of the children were “hiders”.  The seeker would begin by closing his eyes, then counting to one hundred loudly, giving the hiders time to find a place to hide.  For those who couldn’t count that high, they could count to ten for each of their ten fingers.  When the seeker finished counting, he would say loudly, “Ready or not, here I come!”  Then the search began.  The winner was the last one found.  At first it was pretty easy to find the hiders, but as the evening wore on, it became darker, and finding one another became harder.  That was because the darkness became part of your hiding place, and you could sometimes even move to another hiding place without being seen (which was against the rules but nobody would know).  When our parents called us in to get ready for bed, it always seemed that it was at the time when the game was becoming the easiest for the hiders and the most challenging for the seekers.

The darkness had become our friend.  While the sun was out, it was our enemy, so to speak.  The sun made it harder for us to hide because there weren’t as many good hiding places.  We could too-easily be seen.  But the darker it became, the more we blended in with the darkness.  That’s why some of the kids wore dark clothing.  They were more obvious when the sun was out, but when the sun was going down they were better able to blend in with the darkness.  Our parents realized that the darkness could also be our enemy, causing us to stumble or bump into things and get hurt because we couldn’t see where we were going.  That’s why they called us to come inside, even when we didn’t have school the next morning.

I’ve just shared about physical light and darkness, and their affect on our game of Hide And Go Seek.  Jesus is concluding his conversation with Nicodemus by talking about spiritual light and darkness.  He’s going to tell Nicodemus why many people don’t want to be born anew by the Spirit of God, and why they do not want to admit their own sinfulness and hopelessness, and look to Him in faith.

I.  THE VERDICT (verse 19)

Verse 19 says:  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The Lord Jesus is calling Himself “the light who has come into the world”   People don’t want to be born again by the Spirit of God.  They don’t want to recognize their sinfulness and helplessness, and look in faith to His Son for forgiveness and healing.  They like their evil ways and don’t want to give them up

Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah was the best known, and his writings were the most-often read.  The reason for this was his focus on the coming Messiah.  His words were a source of hope, joy, and expectation.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had memorized many portions of Isaiah, and as Jesus talks to him about light and darkness, those Scriptures are coming to his mind, and Jesus knows that this is happening.  In the book of Isaiah, the Messiah is often referred as a “light in the darkness”.  For example, Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”  Another Messianic prophecy in Isaiah is Isaiah 60;2,3:  “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you.  And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  Jesus’ words and His judgment were not unfamiliar to Nicodemus.  He also remembered Scriptures referring to light and darkness in the psalms.

Through these illustrations, Jesus is saying that He didn’t come into this world to judge, but to save.  However, people are judging themselves when they refuse to turn from their darkness and respond to His light.  William Barclay shares an illustration that brings the point across.  A visitor was being shown round an art gallery by one of the attendants.  In that gallery were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius.  At the end of the tour the visitor said, “Well, I don’t think much of your old pictures.”  The attendant answered quietly, “Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are.”  That man’s reaction demonstrated his own blindness to beauty and talent.

II.  THE EXPLANATION (verse 20)

In verse 20, the Lord Jesus explains more fully what He said in verse 19.  Here are His words:  “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  The light that Jesus is referring to is Himself, “the light of the world”  He’s not using these words in a physical or intellectual sense, but from a moral and spiritual perspective.  He’s telling Nicodemus that, in spite of the fact that God loves the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for their sins so that they might have forgiveness and a new life, the vast majority of the people do not want to come to Him.  In their pride they are saying, “I like living in my sin.  Leave me alone!  Don’t expose me to the truth because I don’t want to hear it!”  The word “hate” is a very strong emotion and choice.  It’s directed not only toward it’s revealing effects, but also to its Source.  They don’t want to see themselves as they really are.  Therefore they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus.  It’s a self-imposed spiritual blindness and darkness.  In the Old Testament, darkness (in a spiritual sense) is a place where the light of God does not shine.  Jesus has given Nicodemus a description of those who will not come to the light, as well as the reasons for that choice.  The apostle Paul gives a description of such people when he speaks to Timothy about the last days.  “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:2-4).  That’s quite a description!

I found an illustration that fits that description to some degree.  The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong distain for “religious” things.  As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship.  October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever – the best in the entire county.  When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God.  Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”  The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite.  In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared.  It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.” (William F. Brown in Making Sense of Your Faith)

III.  THE ALTERNATIVE AND THE INVITATION (verse 21)

Verse 21 gives the last words recorded by John of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  The Lord Jesus says, “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  Nicodemus did “come to the light” (Jesus), even though it was under the cover of darkness.  This act shows a desire to want to know the truth about Jesus, but his understanding is unclear.  He hasn’t acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah because there has not been a response of worship, repentance and obedience.  There has been no evidence of change in his life and no commitment to follow Him.  I sense that an invitation is being given to Nicodemus by Jesus.  The next step in his life is to be born again by the power of the Spirit of God so that he can manifest the glory of God in his life.

The conversation ends abruptly there.  John records no parting remarks.  He leaves it there and moves on.  We aren’t told the affect this meeting has had on Nicodemus.  There don’t seem to be any immediate results.  Nicodemus goes back home and his life continues where it left off before this meeting.  He has much to think about and sort out in his mind.

In 1964, Billy Page wrote a song and his brother Gene arranged it.  The song was originally performed by Dobie Gray in 1965 and became a big hit here in the USA and in the UK.  The name of the song is “The In Crowd”.  Here are the words to the first stanza:

I’m in with the “in-crowd”; I go where the “in-crowd” goes.
I’m in with the “in-crowd”, and I know what the “in-crowd” knows.
Anytime of the year don’t you hear; dressing fine, making time.
We breeze up and down the street; we get respect from all the people we meet.
They make way day or night; they know the “in-crowd” is out-of-sight
.

Nicodemus is leaving the presence of Jesus to go back to the “in-crowd”.  As a Pharisee, and especially as a leader in the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus is in the “in-crowd” of Jewish society at that time and place.  The words of that song ring true for him.  But if any member of the “in-crowd” found out that Nicodemus had a personal meeting with Jesus, he would be out of the “in-crowd” in a hurry!  Make no mistake about that!

Nicodemus is “out-of-sight” alright!  He makes a comment about following God’s Law when his associates are making accusations about Jesus in John 7:50-53, and then we don’t hear about him for over two years!  I believe that Nicodemus was there, together with the other rulers, watching Jesus die on that cross (Luke 23:35).  It would have been obvious to him that Jesus’ illustration of the serpent on the pole was being fulfilled before his eyes.   Did Nicodemus become a follower of Christ?  I’m convinced that he did.  He wouldn’t have gone along with Joseph of Arimathea to request the body of Christ from Pilate, and he would not have spent a fortune for aloes and spices in order to give Jesus a King’s burial if he wasn’t convinced that Jesus was his Messiah (John 19:38-40).  He was no longer a member of the “in-crowd”.  He had become a child of God and was now a member of God’s family:  the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION:

There is much that we can learn from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus.  For one, Jesus’ life was a major part of His witness.  Nicodemus was impressed with Jesus and with His method of teaching.  He wanted to meet Him and talk to Him personally.  By welcoming Nicodemus, showing respect and listening to him, Jesus was given the privilege of responding to him. and focusing on his deepest need.  Jesus let Nicodemus know that there was a cure for his deepest needs, even though Nicodemus didn’t express them.  Everyone needs a cure for sin and its effects on their lives, and Jesus pointed Him to the only cure.  Jesus kept His presentation simple, using physical illustrations that were familiar to Nicodemus in order to help him understand spiritual realities.  Most importantly, Jesus stressed the love of God for him.  God’s love for him and for the world was Jesus’ primary focus.  That’s why God provided a way to Himself through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is why Nicodemus would give up what he had and become a follower of Jesus Christ.  Let’s keep those principles, demonstrated by Jesus, in mind and follow His example in witnessing.

There are also lessons to be learned from Nicodemus.  What I’ve learned this week is that Nicodemus was an exception to the rule.  He was not the typical Pharisee and Ruler.  But every person has the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.  Look at the apostle Paul!  So don’t give up on people.  Love them, take an interest in them, befriend them, listen to them, and pray for them.  Remember that you also have the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.   



CONSTRUCTION SITE :

Welcome to this completed work site: John 3:19-21.  It’s time to move to the site next door as we keep working our way down the block.  John the Baptist designed the next building for us, and it’s time to follow his blueprint and enjoy seeing what it looks like with each working day.  Please come back again soon or visit other completed messages on this blog.  May God shed the light of His Word on your life and cause you to shine brightly for Him, as He lives and reigns in you.

 

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF HIMSELF – John 1:19-28

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If each of us were to make a list of some of the most prominent people in the New Testament, several people might come to our minds immediately.  Of course there is the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might think of Paul, and Peter, and John.  One person who may not make it near the top of our lists is John the Baptist.  Jesus, however, puts John the Baptist at the top of His list, and pays Him the highest tribute.

In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist“.  In the next three verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to him as the second Elijah, sent by God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy, and He quotes the following words from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5:  ” Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

The first eighteen verses of John’s gospel are called his “prologue”.  If you open a book, you will often find an introduction, preface, or forward.  It normally establishes the setting and gives some background information to prepare the readers for the rest of the story.  John ends his prologue at verse 18 and now he begins to share a biography of Jesus Christ from his perspective.  He is very detail-oriented, especially when it comes to times and places.

Beginning with verse 19 of John chapter 1, we will be looking into the events of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  From out of the wilderness came a man whose clothing, diet, lifestyle, and message made his hearers think of Elijah, and his message was stirring up the nation of Israel.  The apostle John tells us very little about the message of John the Baptist, and nothing about how he dressed and lived.  He takes it for granted that these facts, which were written down in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, are now general knowledge.  Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judah, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’.”  In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is described as wearing a “garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  Thousands of people came to hear him, and many were being baptized as a sign of their repentance.

I.  QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED (verses 19-22)

In John chapter 1, verses 19-22, John the Baptist fields questions concerning his identity.  He knew his calling very clearly, was pursuing it wholeheartedly, and was ready and willing to answer any questions.  A delegation of priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem in order to get some information from him.  There are two important reasons why this delegation consisted of priests and Levites.  Bible commentator William Barclay explains it very clearly, and these are his words:  “. . . John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.  In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. . . . If he was a descendent of Aaron nothing could stop him from being a priest.  Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.”

This delegation was to ask him the question, “Who are you?”  That’s an interesting question.  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?  It may not have become clear to him until just before he began his public ministry.  We don’t know.  But his parents knew his calling before he was even conceived (Luke 1:13-17).  The angel Gabriel told them, quoting the prophet Malachi’s prophesy.  I can imagine that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were watching and waiting for those words to be fulfilled.

The word translated “ask”, in John 1:19, is a word that was used to make a request of someone who was in a higher position than yourself, such as a person asking for something from God, a child from a parent, or a subject from a king.  It is a word that implies humility and courtesy.  The reason for the use of this word is found in the questions that they ask of him.  When they asked, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist answered the question behind their question by saying, “I am not the Christ”.  Verse 20 says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny” (his answer).  He is saying “I promise you, I assure you of the truth of that statement, and I will not back down from it”.  In our society we might say something like “I swear to God”, or “you have my word for it”.  He doesn’t want there to be any question about the truth of his answer.  In so doing, he passed up the opportunity to impress this delegation by boasting about himself.

But that answer didn’t satisfy the delegation.  They said to him, “What then?” (“ti oun” in Greek).  By using those two words, the delegation was expressing their impatience.  Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and then found yourself in a traffic jam?  As you’re waiting for the traffic to start moving again, have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:  “Come on, let’s get going!  I haven’t got all day!”  I think that’s what this delegation meant when they used the words “what then”.  So they fired some more questions at him.  “Are you Elijah?” 

The Malachi 4:5-6 the Old Testament prophet Malachi said, “Behold I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”  The Jewish leaders were looking forward to the return of Elijah.  They remembered that he did not die physically, but left this earth in a fiery chariot.  So they concluded that the identical person would reappear.  John the Baptist must have looked like Elijah because of the clothes he was wearing.  He must also have sounded like Elijah in his preaching on repentance.  But John the Baptist gives a simple answer:  “No, I am not.”  His answer to them was true.  John was not the Elijah who went up into heaven in a chariot of fire.

Their next question was:  “Are you the prophet”?  The prophet they were referring to was the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  His answer to that question is “no”.  Have you noticed that his answers have been getting shorter with each question?

Finally, in verse 22, the delegation stopped guessing and asked John the Baptist to give his own description of himself.   They needed to have some information to bring back in their report, so they decided to give up their interview-format and preconceived ideas, and allow John the Baptist to control the conversation.  They are no longer demanding information from him; they are pleading for it!

II.  JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF (verses 23-28)

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

What he gives as an answer may have created even more confusion in their minds, but I’m sure that his brief answer was written down word-for-word.  His answer should have been easy for them to remember because John the Baptist quoted Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 as his answer to them.  This quote made by John the Baptist can be found in all four of the gospels.  Here in verse 23 John says, “I AM A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’.”

We need to read Isaiah chapter 40 and see John’s quote in the context of this amazing chapter on the greatness, the sovereignty, the power and the love of God.  We need to see these words of John in the context of God’s mercy, His faithfulness, and His wonderful plans for His people.  The Babylonian captivity is about to occur and Isaiah has been describing God’s condemnation of them for their sins, and the things they are going to experience in captivity.  The Jews at the time of John’s Gospel were under the “captivity” of Rome.  Without that context, we won’t see what John the Baptist wants the nation of Israel to see about their God and about the preparations that need to be made in anticipation of His coming.  The time has come.

As John the Baptist has already said, he is not the Messiah (the Word), but he has the God-given privilege and responsibility of being the “voice”, proclaiming the Word loud and clear.  He spoke in a loud, strong voice, filled with emotion and conviction, so that all would hear him (whether they wanted to or not)!  I was listening to one of Billy Graham’s first crusades at Madison Square Garden.  He was preaching his message at the top of his lungs!  Microphones and sound systems weren’t as powerful and as sophisticated in the mid-1950’s as they are today, and he wanted to make sure everybody heard every word he had to say to them!  His preaching at that crusade gave me a better impression of what John the Baptist must have sounded like.  And he didn’t have any microphones or speakers in his day!  God must have given him a powerful set of lungs and vocal chords!

The words “make straight the way” were a familiar expression in that day.  Before a king would visit a town in his realm, a messenger called a “forerunner” would be sent ahead of him to announce his coming.  This gave the townspeople some time to fix the road, removing any obstacles, and to make themselves presentable to him before his arrival.  John was saying, in effect, “The King of heaven and earth is coming.  Get your hearts cleaned up and your lives prepared to welcome His arrival!”

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

Verse 24 may not seem significant, but John’s wording tells us otherwise.  He says, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Would it come across more clearly if it were translated:  “Oh, by the way, those priests and Levites were sent by the Pharisees.”  Who gave the Pharisees the right to tell the priests and Levites what to do and what to say?  The Pharisees had no authority from God.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated” or “separatist”.  The movement started about 150 B.C., and by the time of Christ, this sect had become a very powerful and corrupt part of the Jewish religious hierarchy, even though they were neither priests nor Levites.

In verse 25 the delegation said to John the Baptist, “Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  They are saying, “Who gave you the authority to baptize?”  The Lord Jesus addressed that question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27.  The chief priests and elders asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”   In reply Jesus asks them a question about John the Baptist.  They were speechless.  Here is a portion of that conversation:  “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” . . . “We do not know”. . . . “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do things.”

When the delegation asked John the Baptist why he was baptizing, they really meant “why are you baptizing Jews?”  In their minds baptism was meant only for Gentiles who wanted to adopt the Jewish faith.  They were angered at the suggestion that they needed repentance and baptism.  In answer to their question, John gives another description of himself.  He describes himself as a lowly servant, not even worthy of such a humble service as untying his Master’s sandals.  That was considered to be one of the most demeaning jobs that a servant could be called upon to do for his master.  Once again John the Baptist turns the focus of the conversation away from himself and onto the Messiah.  He also tells them that the Messiah is already in their midst but they don’t know Him.

CONCLUSION:

If someone asked you the question, “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”, how would you respond?  John’s focus was on the Messiah, and he was a “voice”, preparing the way for the Lord.  His words were “repent and be baptized”.  Jesus’ words in Mark 1:13 were:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Any day now, any moment now, the Lord Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (I Thes. 4:16-17).  God has called Christians to be a “voice”, pointing people to Him.  The message is still the same:  “Repent” – turn from your sins and your control over your life, “believe” in Christ as your Lord and Savior, turning your life over to Him, and “be baptized”, make a public declaration of your faith to your family, friends, and community.  If you haven’t made that decision, there’s no better time than now.  Please, don’t put it off any longer.

Christians, whenever you are tempted to think that you are indispensable to the work of the Lord, remember John the Baptist.  The fact that God uses us is no excuse for pride.  Instead, it is a reminder of Christ’s worth and His glory, and the privilege of being a voice for Him and a light that reflects His glory.  The King is coming!  Let’s let the whole world know before He arrives!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

The blueprint of John 1:29-34 is on the drafting table, the Spirit of God is the Architect overseeing the project, and construction will begin soon.  Hope you will come back again.  God’s Word is a never-ending, construction project, and our lives are “concrete examples” of the effects of working hard on the project.  May we, as His workmen, grow wiser, stronger, and better equipped to serve Him with each working day.

 

 

PRAYING LIKE ELIJAH – A True Story in Africa in the 20th Century

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John C. Wengatz was a pioneer missionary to Africa for 42 years, serving in Liberia, Angola, and the Congo during the early to mid-1900’s.  In his book, Miracles in Black, Dr. Wengatz tells of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord’s work with a cannibal tribe.  It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming.  Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky.  Then came the time for the normal dry period.  By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation.  In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take “the white man’s God” with him.  The courageous Christian refused to go.  Then, flushed with anger, the chief sullenly warned, “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?  If it doesn’t rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!”  Recalling the biblical account of Elijah, Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with the same urgency as that ancient prophet.  Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the dawn when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast.  Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region!  As a result, the believer was able to continue his work for Christ.

GOD’S REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF I KINGS 17:42-45 IN ANSWER TO BELIEVING PRAYER.

God glorified Himself in answer to prayer and answered their challenge:  “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?”  Are you faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge in your life today?  God would like to hear from you about it.

As the prophet Jeremiah said to the Lord God, “Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?  Or can the heavens grant showers?  Is it not Thou, O Lord our God?  Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things.”  (Jeremiah 14:22)

THE POWER OF PRAYER – James 5:16b-18

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Have you ever made a statement and wanted a good example to back up your words?  You wanted an example that came from a person whom all your readers highly respected; and an example that could not be refuted.  James makes this statement in verse 16:  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (NASB)

“That’s quite a statement!”, his readers and listeners must have been thinking, “You had better be ready to back that up!”  Let’s examine that statement carefully first, and then we’ll see how he backs up his words.

I.  THE STATEMENT (verse 16b)

The word translated “prayer” is the Greek word deesis.  It usually refers to specific prayer of petition for specific needs, and this is the only time that James uses this word.  The “righteous man” is the person who is committed to God and desires to do His will.  This kind of petition has power because it is unwavering, trusting that God is more than equal to the task and will be honored and glorified through it.  The word “effective” literally means “energized”.  The context before this statement of James relates to praying for one another, but the example that follows seems to be referring to prayer for God to show Himself strong in situations where His existence and His power are being challenged by those who don’t believe in Him and make a mockery of Him.  So the statement may apply to both situations.

The “Message” (The Bible in Contemporary Language), says it this way:  “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

II.  THE EXAMPLE (verses 17-18)

His readers and listeners are wondering who James is going to use as an example to back up his statement:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. (NIV)  He chooses the prophet Elijah, and immediately his statement gains credibility in the minds of his audience.  Elijah is the Old Testament prophet of God who is mentioned in the New Testament more times than any other Old Testament prophet.  He and Moses were beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Hebrew people considered Elijah to be one of their greatest “super-heroes”.  He was remembered as one who wore unusual clothing and did powerful deeds.   His fearless words and awesome feats brought fear to the hearts of kings and Baal -worshippers.  Even the Hebrew Christians addressed in this letter had a tendency to put their focus on the man, Elijah, rather than on the God who inspired him and empowered him.  That’s why James begins verse 17 with the following words:  “Elijah was a man with a like nature as ours” (NASB).  He was a human being also, with all the weaknesses and struggles that we possess, and faced with the same kinds of temptations.  So why aren’t we all like him?  I think that British evangelist Leonard Ravenhill captured the difference when he said, “Elijah was a man of like passions as we are, but alas, we are not men of like prayer as he was!”  Leonard is the author of the book, “Why Revival Tarries”, and is also quoted as saying, “A man who is intimate with God is not intimidated by man”, and “No man is greater than his prayer life.”

It’s interesting that I Kings 17 does not say that Elijah prayed before he made the following statement to King Ahab:  “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years (three and a half years), except by my word.”  The Spirit of God must have given James that insight.  However, after God gave Elijah that prophesy, which could mean instant death for him, there must have been a prayer in his heart as the prophesy was spoken by his lips!  Wouldn’t you agree?  And he said those words with conviction.  There was no doubt in his mind that God would fulfill His promise.

But the Scriptures also give us a record of Elijah’s “humanness”.  When Jezebel said that she was going to take his life,”   Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and sat down under a juniper tree”  (I Kings 19:3).  However, verse 4 tells us that he prays to God and repents of his actions.  He asks the Lord that he might die, and says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”  God lovingly responds by giving him rest, food, and strength for the journey and ministry ahead.

If you examine Elijah’s public prayers during his ministry, you will find those prayers to be short and to the point, giving glory to God.  He wasn’t trying to impress God or others by his prayers.

James was also a man of prayer, as was Elijah.  Tradition tells that he was nicknamed “camel knees” because of the callouses on his knees from spending many hours on his knees in prayer.  Did you know that the epistle of James, for its size, has more to say about prayer than any other book?  At least 14 verses are devoted to prayer or principles of prayer.  That’s about 15% of the book!

Let’s continue to take a good look at our God as He describes Himself in His Word. May our prayers reflect His sufficiency and our total dependence on Him.

 

 

 

 

 

ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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REASONING WITH THE JUDGMENTAL – “Give Your Brethren a Break” – James 4:11-12

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I.  INTRODUCTION

James returns to his fatherly admonitions to the churhes.  He re-introduces  the topic of judging others, but this time in a gentler, reasoning tone.  Instead of chiding them, he begins to urge them and entreat them.  To those who won’t respond to his reprimands, maybe they will respond to his entreaties.

By using the word “brothers”, James is reminding them that they are family.  Not only that, they are “immediate family”, children of the same Heavenly Father through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  James uses the Greek word “katalaleite”, which literally means “to speak against”.  It can also mean “to slander”, “to revile”, “to gossip”.  “It is not only an expression of arrogance and disregard for one’s brother, it is also a slight to God’s law, and God is the Lawgiver”.  (Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words).

As a child, can you remember hearing the words, “Wait until your father gets home!”  If you can remember hearing those words, you knew what it meant, didn’t you?  It meant that this act of disobedience was serious enough that the chastening was not over yet.  You were going to hear some more about it later from your father, and the punishment might be even more severe!  In a similar way, James is saying, in effect,  “You had better take my advice and make things right so that you might not have to reckon with our Heavenly FATHER about this issue!

The second Greek word, which is found in verses 11 and 12, is “krinon”.  It means to judge others in the sense of condemning them.  A person with such a critical attitude can always find something or someone to criticize, whether their criticism is grounded or not.  What an expression of defiance against God and His Word!  It would be like standing in a courtroom in front of the judge and trying to pass judgment on another person.  The gavel would come down in a hurry.  BAM!!!!!!  “OUT OF ORDER!  I MAKE THE JUDGMENTS IN THIS COURTROOM!”  Do you get the point I am trying to make?  God is our Judge, and we are always in His presence.  When we pass judgment on another believer, we are always “OUT OF ORDER”!  I found the following caption at the bottom of a Daily Bread devotion on the topic of judging others:  “If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, that’s probably not our mission either.” 

Do you sometimes have a tendency to criticize others and make judgments about others?  Have you come up with reasons to justify your critical attitude and behavior?  An Our Daily Bread Devotional uses a popular comic strip, “Peanuts”, by Charles Schulz, to illustrate our tendency to justify our criticism of others.

Linus had his security blanket in place and his thumb resting safely in his mouth, but he was troubled.  Turning to Lucy, who was sitting next to him, he asked, “Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?  Her response was typical:  “I just think I have a knack for seeing other people’s faults.”  Exasperated, Linus threw his hands up and asked, “What about your own faults?”  Without hesitation, Lucy explained, “I have a knack for overlooking them.”

We smile, but do we sometimes think that it’s our God-ordained responsibility to dish out negative criticism?  Do we see it as a knack or a “spiritual gift”?  And are we short-sighted when it comes to our own faults?  There are many passages of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, that speak against this attitude.  I memorized two passages of Scripture on stewardship of speach to convict me and redirect me when I fall into this attitude and behavior.  They are Proverbs 25:11,12 and Ephesians 4:29.  You may want to look them up if you are not familiar with them.

Slander and negative criticism don’t just affect those we are talking to, or talking about.  There are much more far-reaching consequences.  For example, there may be children or younger Christians who may look up to us as a role model, and who are mimicking our words and actions.  And, of course, there may be non-Christians observing us who might  become turned off to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of our attitude, words, and actions.  Please consider all these consequences and ask God to change your attitude and enable you confess your sins to one another and become a lover of the brethren in Christ. You will be happier, they will be happier, God will be happier, and unbelievers will be saying, “See how they love one another!”.

Love is a fruit of the Spirit, and a result of being controlled by the Spirit of God.  Are you ready to turn the control of your life over to God, and let Him have His way in your life?  You’ll be glad you did; and so will everybody you know!

 

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT HYPOCRISY – James 3:17 (continued)

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I’ve spent a lot of time studying and pondering this next attribute of heavenly wisdom.  It has been a very eye-opening and convicting study for me.  I hope and pray it will have the same effect on you also as you read and consider it.  The apostle James, here in verse 17, states that wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy”.  In order to understand this description we must first have a clear concept of what a hypocrite is.

“Hypocrite” is a Greek word which literally means “under a mask”.  It was used in the Greek culture to describe an actor on a stage.  In the ancient theaters each actor played several parts.  To change identities he would simply wear a different mask.  This was the word that Jesus used to describe the Jewish leaders.  Over and over again in the Gospels, especially Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called them hypocrites.  No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides”, “white washed tombs”, and “vipers”.  He used the strongest possible language of condemnation.

William Barclay asked the question:  “What were the things which incurred the anger of Jesus?”  The first thing he mentions is:  “Jesus was angry with anyone who was a hypocrite.”  The following are some further exerpts from William Barclay’s comments.  “A hypocrite is a man who says one thing with his lips, and quite another in his heart , , , . The man who is one thing to your face and quite another behind your back, the man who is ostensibly pious on Sunday and completely worldly on Monday, the man who professes a religion of love and of service, and who lives a life of bitterness and selfishness – that is the man who incurred the anger of Jesus (Day by Day with William  Barclay).

Let’s not forget that the first hypocrite described in the Bible was Satan.  He disguised himself as a serpent when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.  When we act like a hypocrite we are acting like him, following his example.  II Corinthians 11:14 says that he “disguishes himself as an angel of light”, when he’s really the prince of darkness.

Do we sometimes put on a performance in order to win the applause or approval of others?  Most of us like to “look good”, don’t we?  We like to look good on the outside, and we like to give the impression that we “look good” on the inside.  A seminary professor once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming!  Look Busy!”  He later warned his students about the dangers of “faking it” – pretending to be something we are not.

One way Christians wear a mask is by not sharing their weaknesses, thereby giving the impression that they don’t have any weaknesses.  A close look at their lives will soon show that to be untrue.  And even if people don’t see it, God sees it.  We can’t fool Him!

We sometimes give in to the temptation that we have it all together, don’t we? But a person with wisdom from above recognizes that he has imperfections, struggles, fears, and temptations, and is honest before God and before others.  Such people are sincere, transparent, authentic, genuine, open, and reliable.  As the saying goes, “What you see is what you get.”  There are no “unpleasant surprises”.  They can be trusted because they are not motivated by pride but by obedience to God and love for others.  They are more concerned about pleasing God than impressing people.

Are you happy with the way you look on the outside?  What about the inside? Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6:16, “Don’t be like the hypocrites”!

Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class Ministries says:  “The biggest hypocrite of all, however, is the man or woman who refuses to come to Christ because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  Such a person is being inconsistent.  Business is full of hypocrites, but that does not stop him from doing business.  Society is full of them, but he does not decide to become a hermit.  Hell is full of hypocrites, so if a person doesn”t like hypocrites he had better make sure he’s not going there.”  There’s no bigger hypocrite than the person who pretends that he doesn’t need Jesus.

Our lives are on display, like the ads in the newspaper.  Who is being advertized in your life?  Is the Lord Jesus Christ being advertized on the front page and on every other page of your life?  Jesus wants “top billing”, not  “honorable mention”.

The Coca-cola company used the following slogan in a song about the quality of their product:  “What the world wants today is the real thing.”  I hope that’s true of our world today – that more and more people are seeking the real thing.  If so, let’s be the “real thing” ourselves, not cheap imitations.  Let’s reflect the character and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to our world today.  That’s what the Spirit of God will do in and through us if we’ll get out of His way and allow Him to take control.  Are you ready and willing?

 

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS – James 3:17 (Continued)

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Reporters and city officials gathered at a Chicago railroad station one afternoon in 1953.  The person they were meeting was the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner.  A few minutes after the train came to a stop, a giant of a man, six feet four inches tall, with bushy hair and a large moustache stepped from the train.  Cameras flashed.  City officials approached him with hands outstretched.  Various ones began telling him how honored they were to meet him.

The man politely thanked them and then, looking over their heads, he asked if he could be excused for a moment.  He quickly walked through the crowd until he reached the side of an elderly black woman who was struggling with two large suitcases.  He picked up the bags and with a smile, escorted the woman to a bus.  After helping her aboard, he wished her a safe journey. Returning to the greeting party he apologized, “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”

The man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the famous missionary doctor who had spent his life helping the poor in Africa.  In response to Schweitzer’s action, one member of the reception committee said with great admiration to the reporter standing next to him, “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.”

That was an act of mercy.  Dr Schweitzer saw a need.  He had compassion, and he met the need.  The title of this story was:  “Forget yourself for others and others will not forget you!  The Scripture reference was Matthew 7:12 where Jesus said, “Therefore, however you want others to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  (Story taken from “God’s Little Devotional Book”)

By contrast, worldly wisdom tends to be self-centered and ego-centered, envying people above them, and treating people beneath them with harshness and disdain.  Having worked in a large company for several years, I noted that some people in positions higher than mine would not talk to me, respond to a greeting, or even look at me..  They treated me as if I didn’t exist. The Lord Jesus directed His attention to this kind of behavior in one of His parables.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:30-37, is one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables.  In it, the priest and levite see the injured man at a distance and cross over to the other side of the road as they pass him.  Rather than taking responsibility and showing mercy for a fellow-Jew, they cross over to the other side of the road and treat the person as if he didn’t exist.  However, the Samaritan, who was hated by the Jews, felt compassion and made sure that the man was taken care of at his own expense.  He had nothing to gain from this other than the satisfaction that he was pleasing God. That was truly an act of mercy on his part.

The apostle James, here in verse 17, describes this fifth evidence of wisdom from above. It is “full of mercy and good fruits” or “controlled by mercy and good fruits”. This word “mercy” is found 78 times in the New Testament Scriptures, and many of those occurrences are associated with the miracles of Jesus Christ. Mercy and good fruits are linked together here. Mercy, or compassion, is an attitude and motivation that is evidenced by “good fruits” or the outward acts of mercy. James expressed that concept earlier, in chapter 2, verses 14-17, when he said, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works. Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? James is saying that genuine faith is evidenced by genuine works, and he is also saying that genuine wisdom is evidenced by outward acts of mercy.

We find in Scripture that mercy is closely associated with several other character qualities and behaviors. For example, mercy and love are often found together. Ephesians 2:4 says, “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love, which He had for us.”  Mercy and forgiveness belong together also.  Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord belong compassion and forgiveness.”

In his book, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, A. Leonard Griffith tells the story of a young Korean exchange student, a leader in Christian circles at the University of Pennsylvania, who left his apartment on the evening of April 25, 1958, to mail a letter to his parents.  As he turned from the mailbox, he was met by eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys.  Without a word, they beat him with a blackjack, a lead pipe, and their shoes and fists – and left him lying dead in the gutter.

All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance.  The district attorney planned to seek the death penalty for the arrested youths.  And then, this letter arrived, signed by the boy’s parents and twenty other relatives in Korea:  “Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action. . . . In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational, and social guidance of the boys when they are released. . . . We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.”

What a testimony of mercy, finding expression in forgiveness!  A hymn comes to mind that is a reminder and encouragement to be a vessel of mercy to others.  Here is the last stanza and chorus:

Give as ’twas given to you in your need, Love as the Master loved you;

Be to the helpless a helper indeed, Unto your mission be true.

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Out of my life may Jesus shine;

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Make me a blessing to someone today.