WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART IV – Witness, Response, and Lesson – John 4:27-34

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Luis Palau, a Latin-American evangelist, tells of the conversion of a woman in Peru whose life was radically transformed by the power of Christ.  Rosario was her name.  She was a terrorist, a brute of a woman who was an expert in the martial arts.  As a terrorist she had participated in the death of twelve policemen.  When Luis conducted a crusade in Lima, she learned of it.  Being incensed at the message of the Gospel, she made her way to the stadium with the intent to kill the preacher.  Inside the stadium, as she contemplated how to get to him, she began to listen to the message he was preaching.  She fell under conviction for her sins, and embraced Christ as her Savior.

Ten years later, Luis met this convert for the first time.  By this time she had assisted in the establishment of five churches.  She was a vibrant, active Christian witness and worker in the church, and had founded an orphanage that cared for over a thousand children.

Almost two thousand years before this amazing transformation, another notorious woman was converted through the words of the Savior Himself.  We don’t know her name, but in this sermon we will be studying the dramatic change in her life, and how the Lord used her testimony in a mighty way.  We will also learn the lesson that the Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples as the effects of this woman’s conversion are in the process of happening.

I.  THE DISCIPLES’ REACTION (verse 27)

The Lord Jesus has been talking to the woman at the well, offering her living water, revealing her “secret” sins, and then revealing Himself as the Messiah that she had been longing to see.  Here in verse 27 the scene changes. “And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why do you speak with her?’ “   It was not customary for Jewish men to speak to women in public, and it was forbidden to speak to Samaritan women.  That was the teaching of the Rabbi’s during that period of time.  If it had been one of their fellow-disciples engaged in that conversation, they might have said something like “You know that is forbidden!  What’s the matter with you?”  But no one questioned Jesus, or rebuked Him.  Their respect for Jesus was great, and they were beginning to realize that He didn’t share their prejudices.  He treated all people with respect and love, and they were learning from His example.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verses 28-29)

It’s obvious to me, from verse 27, that the passage of Scripture we are studying does not record every word of the conversation between the Lord Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  When the disciples return to the well, the two of them are still conversing with each other. What’s recorded here is what the Spirit of God revealed to the apostle John, and he recorded in his gospel.

Verses 28 and 29 focus on the woman’s reaction and response to the words and claims of Jesus.  “So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?’ ”  We can see from her words and her actions that this woman had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, was converted. and became a devoted follower of Him.  Like Rosario in my opening illustration, her life was completely changed, and in her case we get to see the immediate results.  She left her waterpot behind at the well when she left.  She was so filled up with the “Living Water” that both her spiritual and her physical thirsts were completely satisfied.  Besides, she was going to be coming back for it very soon. The city of Sychar was at least half a mile from the well, and I believe she ran the whole distance!  This woman immediately became the first woman-evangelist in the New Testament.  She even gave an invitation:  “Come and see”!  She said those words respectfully, wanting them to find out firsthand and come to their own conclusions.  Her last words are “This is not the Christ, is it?”  She believes it.  Jesus Christ has already changed her life; but she is saying those words to arouse their curiosity.  They are looking forward to Messiah’s coming also.  Enthusiasm can be contagious, and this woman certainly had enthusiasm that day!  She was starting her life all over again, and getting off to a running start!

This brings an illustration to mind.  A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just goes to prove you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  The manager replied, “Son, take my advice:  your job is not to make him drink.  Your job is to make him thirsty.”  (Preaching, Dec., 1985).  This woman, by her words, her attitude. and actions had created a thirst in the men of Sychar, and they were following her to the well in the hope of satisfying that thirst.

III.  INVITATION ACCEPTED (verse 30)

A miracle was about to occur in the city of Sychar.  Normally the men of that city would not dare to be seen in the presence of such an immoral woman, and would have refused to talk to her, but something had drastically changed about this woman, and they could see it in her face and hear it in their voice.  I imagine that she was breathless from running that distance, and there were tears of joy in her eyes and an expression of excitement on her face.  The Spirit of the Lord had also gone before her to prepare their hearts for what she was going to tell them.

Amazingly, the men of the city decided to accept her invitation and began to follow her to Jacob’s well.  They wanted to find out for themselves whether or not her words to them were true.  We’re not talking about a handful of men, or a company of men, or even a large group of men.  If “all” of the men in the city of Sychar followed her, there would have been hundreds of men, stretched across the countryside, coming to Jesus!

A similar situation and response occurred in Mainland China.  A Chinese farmer, after having cataracts removed from his eyes, made his way from the Christian compound to the far interior of China.  Only a few days later, however, the missionary doctor looked out his bamboo window and noticed this formerly blind man holding the front end of a long rope.  In single-file, and holding onto the rope behind him were several dozen blind Chinese whom the farmer had rounded up and led for miles to the doctor who had worked a “miracle” on his eyes.  His restored sight was cause enough for this man to share what had happened to him with those in like condition. (1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching).

IV.  MEANWHILE . . . BACK AT THE WELL (verses 31-34)

A.  DISCUSSION ABOUT FOOD (verses 31-33)

Verse 31 may not seem to be saying much of any consequence, but it is actually a pivotal verse that gives us much information about the disciples.  “In the meantime the disciples were requesting Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat’.”  Those two words, “Rabbi, eat”. speak volumes about their trip to Sychar to buy groceries.  Let me describe what I mean.  A group of twelve Jewish men show up at the market place in Sychar, Samaria that afternoon.  Do you  think anybody noticed?  I think every eye in the market place was on them, wondering what they were doing in their city.  I also think that the disciples could sense this, and felt uneasy about it.  Did the disciples make use of this opportunity to tell the people about Jesus and invite them to meet Him?  No.  Did they say anything to anybody at all?  If they did, it would only have been what was absolutely necessary in order to purchase the food.  How do I know that?  Because of those two words, “Rabbi, eat”, which indicate that their only concern was the enjoyment of the food they bought Add to that the fact that they “marveled” that Jesus was talking to this Samaritan woman.    If they had been witnesses of Christ to those people, they would have come back with hearts full of joy and love, and their first concern would have been to tell Jesus how God had used them.  In fact, the men of the city might have followed them back to the well to meet Jesus if they had been invited to do so.  Sadly, their prejudices and their concern for themselves got in the way, and the disciples were ineffectual for the Lord on that day.

In response to the entreaty of His disciples, Jesus says in verse 32, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  The Lord Jesus has a masterful way of generating curiosity in His listener or listeners.  He peaked the curiosity of Nicodemus and the woman at the well through His conversations with each of them, using physical realities as a transition into spiritual realities.  He does so once again with His disciples and gets a similar reaction.  They are whispering to one another in verse 33, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?”  They thought He was talking about physical food because they had never experienced the joy and excitement of bringing another person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Messiah, their Lord and King.

B.  DOING THE WILL OF THE FATHER (verse 34)

Jesus overhears their quiet conversation with one another so He gives them an explanation in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”  Doing His Father’s will was the essence of His life.  It brought Him complete satisfaction and renewed His spirit the way that food nourishes and renews the body.  In this case, doing the will of the Father meant sharing the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with the woman at the well.  It was the good news that her long-awaited Messiah had come and revealed Himself to her.

Have you ever been so happy and excited that you didn’t even feel like eating?  Did you just want to think about what happened and share it with everyone who would listen to you.  If you’ve had such an experience, then you know what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus speaks about doing the Father’s will several times during His life on earth, and He faithfully did so.  If we change one word in verse 34, we can apply it to our own lives as well.  “My food is to do the will of Him who SAVED me, and to accomplish His work.”  The Lord Jesus gave us a perfect example of what it means to do the will of the Father, even to the point of death on the cross for us.  In this particular instance, doing the will of the Father refers to the salvation of souls.  That was the food that nourished His spirit the way physical food nourishes and strengthens the body and delights the senses.

CONCLUSION:

Is something missing in your life?  Are there major questions that are still unanswered and issues that are still unresolved?  Does life seem to have no meaning or purpose beyond this present moment?  Have you been trying to fill that void with all kinds of earthly things to no avail.  You’re not alone.  One of the greatest and wealthiest men of all time had the same problem and tried to solve it “his way”.  His name is Solomon the king, the son of David, king of Israel.  He wrote a book of the Bible entitled “Ecclesiastes” describing his problem of not being able to find lasting joy and purpose in life.  He pursued human wisdom, pleasure, riches, fame, building projects, and other pursuits but could find no lasting satisfaction.  He said it was all “striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14,17).  The book of Ecclesiastes ends with these words:  “The conclusion, when all else has been heard, is fear (worship) God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).  Prior to this statement, Solomon said that the truly wise are like goads, irritating our consciences until we allow the Shepherd to nail down those truths forever as convictions in our lives through faith in Him.  Will you give your life over to the Shepherd today?  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).  There is no better place to be, and no greater One to follow.  Whose sheep are you? 

If you are a Christian, or just became a Christian, did you know that surveys taken by the Billy Graham Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other Christian organizations have found that the number one reason why many Christians don’t share their faith is because of the fear of what others might think of them?  But if you are truly enthusiastic about your faith in Jesus, you won’t let anyone or anything get in your way.  That concern won’t even enter your mind because you’ll be thinking about the will of God and the person’s need, not about yourself.  Pastor and author, Stuart Briscoe gives a very concise definition of a witness:  “A witness is someone who, by explanation and demonstration, gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard, without being deterred by the consequences of his action” (S. Briscoe, “Getting Into God”, p. 76).  Let’s ask God to empower our witness as we strive to tell everyone we know about the life-changing message of the Gospel, and let them see how that message, and the Person of Jesus Christ, has changed our lives.

Thank you for visiting.  I hope that this study of God’s Word has been of encouragement to you today.  The next passage of Scripture that I will be studying is John 4:35-42.  There are also over one hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the grace and peace of the Lord be with you today and always.  May you delight in doing the will of God and sharing the Word of God with others.

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS, PART II – John 3:8-13

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND

Has the wind ever caught your attention?  Was it the sound of it, the suddenness of it, the power of it, the things being carried along by it, the refreshment it gave, or some other aspect that caused you to observe it’s workings and be fascinated by it?  Were there times when it caused fear and apprehension because of its power and unpredictability.  I have personally experienced a tornado and a typhoon.  The memories of those two experiences are still fresh in my mind, and come back into focus whenever the wind gives me another reminder.  In that little town in Iowa, no one could deny, the next morning, that there was a tornado in their town the night before.  It took weeks to clean up the mess and months to repair the damages.  On the island of Okinawa, Japan, no one could deny that a typhoon had struck the island.  We heard the winds, saw the water from the ocean coming across the island, and witnessed the damage that occurred in its wake.  Both experiences left unforgettable reminders on the landscape and in our minds.

The wind has often been the subject for poets, songwriters, movie producers, and photographers.  The wind has been used to express feelings of exhilaration (“the wind in my sails”, “the wind at my back”), of frustration and hopelessness (“try and catch the wind’), of sudden and irreversible loss (“gone with the wind”), or the experience of being drunk and out-of-control (“three sheets to the wind”).  In each case the wind is depicted as something that is outside our control and can have an effect upon us.

TRANSITION:

The Lord Jesus has been having a discussion with Nicodemus on the subject of being “born again” or “born from above”.  Nicodemus is not getting the picture, and it is not an easy concept to grasp.  So Jesus is about to give him an illustration that will use physical realities to help explain spiritual realities.  That’s where we left off in the previous sermon (John 3:1-7).  The Lord Jesus said to him in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.” 

I.  THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)

The Lord Jesus and Nicodemus may have been sitting in the courtyard talking, and an evening breeze may have been blowing.  This would make the illustration not only appropriate but timely.  Jesus says to him in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  He’s telling Nicodemus that being born again, “born of the Spirit”, is much like the wind.  One cannot control it.  Like the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it is invisible but powerful.  You can’t see it taking place but you can see and feel the effects and results.  The Greek word that the apostle John uses for both “wind” and “Spirit” is the word pneuma.  They are the same word and they work in the same way.  But Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus in Hebrew (Aramaic), and the word He used was ruach, which also means both wind and Spirit.  So there is nothing lost in translation!

II.  THE REPLY (verse 9)

In reply to Jesus, Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?”  He’s giving Jesus an abbreviated version of what he said before.  This time I think that Nicodemus is getting the message but he doesn’t want to put the pieces together.  Because of Jesus’ response to follow, I think that Old Testament Scriptures dealing with this subject are popping into the mind of Nicodemus and he’s trying to set them aside rather than deal with them.  Just as he is unwilling to admit that Jesus is the Messiah, addressing Him as a “Teacher from God”, so also he is not willing to consider those verses in his mind as being addressed to him personally and conclude that the Messiah is the One who is speaking to him right now.  What are those verses that have come to his mind?  For one,  Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “You do not know the path of the wind , , , so you don’t know the activity of God who makes all things.”  It’s almost as if Jesus was quoting from this passage of Scripture – the words of Jesus and Solomon are so closely-related.  Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  David expresses his need to become a new person with a new heart and spirit from God.

The words of the prophet Ezekiel should have immediately come to the mind of Nicodemus.  God tells Ezekiel in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them”.  By using the word “them”, God is addressing, not only the nation of Israel, but also the individual members of that nation.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 is probably the clearest Old Testament reference of them all.  It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”   This prophesy points out that before there can be a change on the outside, there must first be a new heart and spirit given by God to each person, and immediately the Spirit of God will indwell and empower His people.

When you’ve heard or seen something amazing or startling, have you ever used the phrase, “That really blew me away”?  The Free Dictionary defines the phrase in these words:  “to affect someone intensely in mind and emotion.”  When I’ve used the phrase, it was my way of expressing a joyful amazement, a happy surprise and excitement about a new revelation.  Why wasn’t Nicodemus “blown away” as a result of the things he just learned?  Why isn’t he showing appreciation and asking questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and His teachings?

III.  JESUS’ REACTION AND RESPONSE (verses 10-13)

In response to the “ignorance” of Nicodemus, Jesus chides him with these words:  “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?”  Every teacher, every Jew was familiar with the words of Ezekiel 37:  The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.  Every Jew was looking forward to the fulfillment of that prophesy.  The wind, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, rebirth, the breath of God, and the kingdom of God are all included in this passage of Scripture.  “Ignorance was no excuse” for Nicodemus.  To rephrase His words, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, how can you not know these things?  There is no excuse!”

In verse 11, Jesus says “truly, truly, I say to you.”  The King James version uses the original Greek words:  “Amen, amen”.  That’s what it says in the Greek text.  He uses those words 25 times in John’s Gospel.  When we say an oath in court, we say “I swear to God” or “as God is my witness”.  By saying the words “Truly, truly, I say to you”, Jesus is swearing to them on His own authority.  Only Jesus could use those words to attest to the truth of what He was saying.  He didn’t have to swear to anyone higher than Himself because there was no one higher than Himself.  Therefore, every time He used those words, He was declaring Himself to be God.  The apostle John doesn’t tell us any reaction from Nicodemus when Jesus said those words.

I don’t mean to come down harshly on Nicodemus for his answers.  I think he wants to know the truth, but he’s trying to get an explanation for things that can’t be understood completely.  That’s why Jesus is using illustrations to give him a basis for comparison.  If Nicodemus did not want to know the truth, he would have left in anger after Jesus’s first statement.  The fact that Jesus is continuing to give illustrations says to me that He wants to continue to expose Nicodemus to truth for as long as he is willing to listen.  The Holy Spirit will bring clarity and conviction in His time.

After swearing an oath to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.”  Why does the Lord Jesus use plural pronouns and adjectives in this statement?  Is He referring to the Trinity, He and John the Baptist, He and His disciples, He and other teachers, He and the prophets, or He and all those born of the Spirit?  Is Jesus being rhetorical or generalizing?  Could there be a reason other than these?  That’s a lot to choose from!  It’s hard to say for certain.  Looking at the immediate context of His words, I personally think that Jesus is including Himself with the prophets who came before Him (including John the Baptist).  My second opinion is that He might be including His disciples.  Those are only opinions.  In any case the focus of Jesus is on the rejection of the witnesses and their testimony (Himself included).  We’ll find in verse 32 that the prophet John the Baptist echoes those words of Jesus when he says, “What He (Jesus) has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness.”   He is identifying his witness with that of Jesus.

In verse 12 Jesus gets to the point behind His illustration.  “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  Jesus is not rebuking Nicodemus here; He’s proving His point.  Jesus is saying, in essence,,  “I’ve shared with you the illustration of the wind, which you can see, hear and feel, but can’t explain.  If you have to accept the workings of the wind by faith, since you can’t explain its source or how it happens, but can experience the results, how much more is this true of spiritual realities.  You also have to accept them by faith in the promises of God’s Word, and by faith in the Person who is explaining them to you.”  I would also add the words, “Do you see what I’m saying?  Is that making more sense to you”?  Nicodemus knows that Jesus is being respectful, and is trying to help him realize the need for faith.  There are many things in this world that we cannot understand, but we accept them by faith because we cannot deny the results.

Jesus concludes His illustration of the wind in verse 13 by saying,
“And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.” 
  I wondered, “why does it say ascended into heaven first, and then descended from heaven?  Didn’t Jesus “descend from heaven” first, at his conception and birth, then “ascend into heaven” later, after His death and resurrection.  The literal Greek text will help us to understand the meaning.  The translation of the Greek text word-by-word says:  And no man has gone up into heaven except the (one) out of heaven having come down, the Son of man.”    It is true that no man (no human soul) had yet gone to heaven.  No human soul could go to heaven until the Lord Jesus satisfied the wrath of the Father by dying on the cross for sin, and then rising from the dead.  The Scriptures speak of a place of waiting for the righteous, sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom.  It was a place of contentment, but not yet the joy of being in the presence of God.

I also think that Jesus had another reason for saying those words in the order that He said them:  “ascended . . . descended”.  He’s referencing Proverbs 30:4, a proverb written by Agur, and one that, I’m sure, Nicodemus was familiar with.  After saying those words, Agur gives an awesome illustration about God, His Son, and the wind.  He says, “Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s nameSurely you know!   

“Gathered the wind in His fists” – that description really blows me away!  Try to imagine that!  We may not be able to catch the wind, but God can!  In fact, He doesn’t have to catch it because it has already been gathered in His fists!  What a description of God’s greatness, power and sovereignty!  If you want to put yourself in an attitude of worship and focus your thoughts on God, that’s a good verse to bring to mind.  Then Agur ends his proverb with the words “Surely you know!”.  You should know, Nicodemus; you’re sitting right next to Him!  The Son’s name is JESUS!

Jesus concludes this illustration of the wind by referring to Himself as the “Son of Man”, a title that was given to the Messiah by the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.  Every time Jesus uses that term to refer to Himself, He is declaring that He is the Messiah.

Bob Dillan wrote a song in 1962, which was released as a single in 1963.  Many singers have sung that song, and the Trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary made the song very popular.  In 1994 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  In 2004 it was ranked on Rollin’ Stone Magazine’s list of the top 500 songs of all time.  As you probably already know, the name of that song is “Blowin’ in the Wind’ If you would like to hear that song, type “blowin’ in the wind” on your web browser.  Many questions are asked and many social issues are faced and the conclusion given after each one is:  “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”  In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any answer.

With all due respect for the author and singers of that beautiful song, the answer isn’t “blowin’ in the wind”.  That’s the illustration.  The answer is “BEING BORN-AGAIN”.  If that’s the answer, then what’s the question?  Actually, there are many questions that are answered by those words of Jesus.  Here are just a few questions that can be answered by being “born again”, “born from above”:
How can I find peace of mind?  How can I be delivered from my fear of death?  Where can I find purpose and meaning to life?  How can I be delivered from my addictions?  Where can I find unconditional love?  What’s the solution to hatred and wars?  How can I escape from my fatalistic attitude toward life?  How can I be sure I’m going to heaven?  How can I keep from going to hell?  How can I break away from my conformity to this world?  How can I ever forgive myself for the things that I have done?  What can be done about this emptiness I feel inside?

If none of those questions relate to you, maybe there are other questions you might want to add to that list.  Whatever the case, the Lord Jesus wants to make things new for you.  He wants to change you into a new person if you will let Him do so.  The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus isn’t over.  There are other illustrations that He is going to use to make that decision clearer for Nicodemus and for you.  I hope you will come back to see the picture more clearly.  The best is yet to come.  There was a price that had to be paid in order to make that new birth possible, and Jesus will pay it all.

If you are a born-again Christian, as I am, let’s remind ourselves of what it was like in our lives before that wonderful day, and pray for others around us who are experiencing the emptiness and frustration with life that we once faced.  Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to make us more like Him – loving and caring for everyone who came His way, and communicating the truth in love.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites   I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, and other assorted messages here from the last four years of Bible study.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing with you.  Having this opportunity to share with you the results of my Bible study has encouraged me to study all the more, as I try to put the things I’ve learned into words that I hope everyone can understand and apply to their lives.  May the Lord be with you, and may His Spirit control and empower you like the wind at your back today!  May He fill your sails with a steady breeze as you sail through your day with joy under His control!

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “RECEIVE CHRIST”? – John 1:12-13

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Many different answers have been given to the question, “What does it mean to ‘receive Christ’.”  Many passages of Scripture have been used and many interpretations have been given.  Many illustrations have been used to try to visualize and explain what these two verses are saying.

As we begin our study of John 1:12-13, let’s lay aside previous building materials for now.  Let’s start anew by clearing the land and digging deep to lay a firm foundation based upon the Person of Jesus Christ and the words that the apostle John is saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s keep his purpose for writing in mind, as well as his reading-audience:  their culture, historical background, and belief-system.  By God’s grace let’s turn this plot of ground into a work of art that is straight and true, well-defined, attractive, and above all, glorifying to God.

I.  THE TRANSITION:

Verse 11 sounds like a sad ending to a story, doesn’t it.  “The world did not know Him” and “His own did not receive Him.”  John’s approach seems to be:  “First the bad news, then the good news.”  Verse 12 begins with the little word “but”.  John Phillips calls this little three-letter word a “hinge”.  The door to this conversation may seem like it’s shutting but that “hinge” keeps the door open to even greater truths, revealing the power and sovereignty of God.  What John said in verse 11 may have been true of “the majority”, but it was not true of “the totality”!  We are seeing a shift from the unbelievers to the believers.

John now tells us who are invited to receive Christ.  He uses the Greek word, “hosoi”.  I personally like the translation “whoever”.  Every person, without exception and without distinction, is invited to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.  That includes both Jews and Gentiles.

I.  THE PROCESS (verse 12)

The word translated “receive” in verse 11 is a different word from the word translated “receive” here in verse 12, though the two words are similar.  Here in verse 12 the Greek word is “lambano”, whereas the word in verse 11 is “paralambano”.  The word ‘para” means “beside” or “alongside”.  We get our English word “parallel” from that word.  For example, parallel lines go alongside each other and do not intersect.  Why the use of this form of the word?  It reveals a major reason why the Jews at the time of Christ did not receive Him. The apostle John will be sharing more examples of this failure to receive Christ on the part of the religious leaders and their followers as we study his Gospel.  Literally, verse 11 is saying “His own (people) did not take Him alongside”,  That doesn’t make any sense unless we realize that, over the years before the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, the rabbis had been putting their studies of the Law of Moses, along with their interpretations and applications of that Law into written form.  They also added personal practices that became traditions.  These writings and traditions, such as the Talmud, had become more important than the Law of Moses .  They were often used to interpret the Law of Moses, and were sometimes used in place of it.  They could not “take Jesus alongside” these traditions because He intersected with them, and this led to a growing opposition to Christ.  I hope this explanation adds clarity rather than confusion.

Before we seek to determine what it means to personally receive Christ, let me present you with a situation which should be seen as a stark contrast.  I rented a private room and bath in a private residence for a couple of months and learned the meaning of an “owner-tenant relationship”.  The rules included paying the rent on time, keeping my goods in my assigned places in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet, staying in my own area and common areas, cleaning up after myself, and not playing the music too loud.  There were parts of the house that were understandably “off-limits”.  As I hope you realize, receiving Christ is not the beginning of an owner-Tenant relationship (notice where I put the capital letter).  Such a person has a misunderstanding of the meaning of these two verses, and Jesus Christ does not enter our lives under our terms and conditions.

In my quest to gain a better understanding of the word “receive” in verse 12, I’ve been refreshing my knowledge of Greek grammar.  I believe that a basic lesson in Greek grammar will benefit us all.  There are significant differences between Greek and English.  In the English language, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb usually refers to the time of the action of the verb (past, present, or future time).   In Greek, however, the primary consideration is the kind of action that the verb portrays.  For example, the aorist tense conveys a simple occurrence in the past.  It is like a snapshot because it captures an action at a specific point in time.  The imperfect tense denotes continuous, ongoing, or repeated action in the past, like a motion picture or video tape.  The perfect tense depicts a completed action in the past with results continuing into the present, somewhat like a snapshot which is followed by a video.

The word translated “receive” in verse 12 is the Greek word, elabon, the aorist tense of the word “lambano”.  Therefore it conveys a “one-time, individual, personal-decision”.

I’ve been working on an illustration to describe what it means to “receive Christ”, but I’m having some difficulty fitting all the pieces of the illustration together.  I just realized why I can’t describe it to you yet:  In order to understand what it means to “receive” Christ, we must first understand what it means to “believe in His name”.. As verse 12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).  The believing comes before the receiving, even though the wording of the text seems to imply that the two responses occur simultaneously.

Now I’ve come to a potential “bend in the road”, so to speak, in this construction project.  I’ve reached a point in my study of verse 12 where I’m asking myself questions about the term “receiving Christ”.  Is it Biblically correct to use the term “receive Christ” or “accept Christ” when sharing the gospel message?  What is the biblical justification for the use of those words?  Can the use of these words be misleading and give a wrong understanding of what it means to become a Christian?  Is praying a prayer and asking Christ to come into your life what the gospel message is all about?  I’ve used John 1:12 almost every time I’ve shared the gospel message, and it was a verse that was used when I became a Christian.  The reason I’m asking myself these questions, and sharing them with you, is that I’ve just come to the realization that the term “receive Him” is used only here in the New Testament.  The context of verse 12 is the nation of Israel.  The nation as a whole did not “receive Him”, that is, “welcome Him as their Messiah”, but there were exceptions among His own people who did welcome Him.  We don’t find those words used again in John’s gospel, the other gospels, or the epistles.  There is some question whether I John 5:11-12 or Revelation 3:20 might communicate that concept and I will be studying those passages also.  The Scripture puts the focus on “believing” (repentance, trust, and commitment to Christ as one’s Lord and Savior).  I invite you to consider these observations and questions also.  Let’s get to the heart of the gospel message and follow the scriptural guidelines for communicating it.  I do know that there are thousands of people who have “prayed a prayer to receive Christ” and their lives have not changed.  I believe the greatest danger in evangelism today is not over-stating the gospel message, but diluting it.  I also believe that in most cases it is being done unintentionally, but that is no excuse for continuing to dilute it.

With that in mind, let’s leave the word “receive” and study the word “believe” here in verse 12.  The word is a participle, “believing”, and it defines and explains the word “receive” which came before it in the sentence.  “Believing in His name” identifies the Object of faith.  “His name” is not referring to the name Jesus.  That was His earthly name.  His eternal name is Lord (Yahweh, Jehovah), the Lord of heaven and earth.  As the apostle John says near the end of his Gospel, “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The word “believe” is a word of complete trust and commitment to Him as Lord, because that is Who He is.

I think that the following two illustrations, when seen together, give us a picture of belief in the sense of trust and commitment.

During the terrible days of the Blitz (WW II), a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb.  In the front yard was a shell hole.  Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow.  Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”  The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you.  Jump!”  The boy jumped because he loved and trusted his father, and landed in his father’s arms.  (shared by Donner Atwood)

An evangelist was trying to help a woman understand John 1:12 and what it means to receive Christ.  “Your last name is Franklin, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Yes”, she said.  “How long has it been that?”  “Ever since my husband and I married 30 years ago”.  “Tell me”, he said, “How did you become Mrs. Franklin?’  She paused, and then the realization came.  “It was at the wedding.  The minister said, ‘Will you take this man to be your lawful, wedded husband . . . ?  And I said, ‘I will’.” (Our Daily Bread) 

I hope that these two illustrations, taken together, have given you a clearer understanding of the word “believe”, as the apostle John uses it in this passage of Scripture.  Of all the illustrations I read, these were the ones that communicated trust and commitment most clearly to me.

Here in the United States of America we need to have this concept of belief explained to us clearly because we usually don’t understand the cost of making that decision to commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ until later on.  We don’t comprehend the cost to Jesus’ disciples when they made the decision to follow Him.  In many other countries of our world, making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him is a very costly decision in terms of the personal sacrifices that are made.  When they choose to believe, they are counting the cost of the things they will probably lose:  their jobs, their families, even their own lives.

I became a Christian while stationed in Thailand in the Air Force.  While in Thailand I had the privilege of sharing my testimony at a Thai church.  I learned that these Thai Christians were disowned by their Buddhist families who had a funeral service for them and considered them dead.  Most of these Christians lost their jobs also.  But I was so amazed and impressed by their joy, their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for one another.  They shared that what they gained by believing in Christ was much greater than any of the things they lost.

II.  THE RESULT (verse 12)

The result of salvation, given here in verse 12, tells us more about what true belief encompasses.  When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord we are entering into a relationship where we become “children of God”.  The Greek word, tekna, refers to “little children”, children who are still totally dependent on their parents.  That is the relationship we are entering into when we become children of God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV)  As God’s little children, we will always be dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything, just as Jesus was totally dependent upon His Father while He was here on this earth.  True belief means a commitment to exchange your life of independence for a joyful life of complete trust and dependence upon God for everything.  I know that this biblical perspective has not been communicated very clearly in my presentation of the Gospel message.  How about you?  Is this your understanding of saving faith?

III.  THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE (verse 13)

In verse 12 the apostle John has given us a glimpse of the faith-process and its result.  He will be giving much more detail, and has recorded many examples of people who responded to Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Him.  Here in verse 13, John wants us to understand the new birth from God’s perspective.  The new birth through faith in Jesus Christ is a work of God from beginning to end.  He uses a series of negatives in order to emphasize his point.  Then he ends the verse with the only true source of the new birth in Christ.

not of blood” – the new birth is not based on human descent.  Just because my parents are God’s children does not make me one of God’s children.

not of the will of the flesh” – it’s not based on human desire.  No amount of wishful thinking can make me a child of God.  I might wish I were the child of a millionaire, but wishing doesn’t make me one.  I may even live in a fantasy world where I convince myself that I am a child of a millionaire, but it’s still a lie.

not of the will of man” – it’s not based on human methods.  My parents may have me baptized as a baby, but that does not make me a child of God.  I may try with all my might to live a good life and perform my religious duties, but those things, no matter how earnestly and fervently they are performed, will not impart new life.

but of God” – We must be “born of God”.  We must come to Jesus Christ on His terms, as He has told us here in His Word.  Genuine repentance, acknowledgement of Christ as our Lord, and placing our trust in Him and our lives in His hands are all spiritual miracles of God, and the resulting changes in our lives mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually are all evidences of those miracles (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:8-10; II Corinthians 5:17; and many other passages of Scripture).

THE APPLICATION TODAY:

As was the case with many of the Jews during the lifetime of Christ on this earth, many people in the world today do not want to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and follow Him.  They are either in love with their sins and don’t want to change, or, in their pride, they think they are good enough to go to heaven and don’t want anyone to tell them otherwise.  But there are people today whom the Spirit of God has convinced of their sinfulness and need for a Savior.  Maybe you are one of those people.  Don’t put it off!  Admit your sin and your helplessness to God.  Decide to turn from your sinful ways.  Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the God-man, the Lord of Heaven and earth, trust Him with a child-like faith and let Him take control of your life and change your life more and more into His image and likeness.  Only then will you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of being a new person and having a new life.  Only then will you experience what it’s like to be a true child of God.

If you are a Christian, please don’t give up on people.  Even if others criticize or make fun of you because of your faith in Christ, continue to pray for them and let the light of Christ shine out unhindered by you.  When you have the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with others, make sure you clearly explain from the Scriptures what it means to “believe”, and let the terms “accepting Christ” or “receiving Christ” be dependent upon genuine belief and be the result of belief (John 3:14-15; 11:25-27; I John 5:13).

Let’s reflect upon the words of the apostle John in I John 3:1, and be amazed and forever grateful:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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GOD BECAME A MAN. Major Ian Thomas, in a message given at a Moody Bible Institute Conference, described Jesus’ coming as a man with these words: “Jesus had to come as He came (born of a virgin) in order to be what He was (a perfect man inhabited by God). He had to be what He was in order to do what He did (die to redeem us). He had to do what He did so that we might have what He has (His life; all that we lost when Adam sinned). We have to have what He has in order to be what He was (a person inhabited by God).”

In John 1:14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by Luke. He “dwelt among us”. The Greek word for “dwelt” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”. “He tabernacled among us” is another way to say it. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen. The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside. There was no beauty in its outward appearance. So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus was a hidden glory. When He came to pitch His tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil his glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place. It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness, and until the temple of Solomon was built. It’s’ interesting that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

The apostle John then says, “we beheld His glory”. Our thoughts may go back to the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness when the pillar of cloud, which guided them by day, came to rest over the tabernacle and then filled the inside of the tabernacle with the glory of God. It was this inner glory that John, the one who knew the Lord so intimately, saw in Jesus Christ. He describes Jesus as being “full of grace and truth”. “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The God who “tabernacled” with the people of Israel for about 35 years, as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who “tabernacled” among us in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth for about 35 years, wants to “tabernacle” in each of us for the rest of our lives, and then face to face for eternity if we have repented of our sins and invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come in and reign as Lord in our Lives. Once again He wants to display His glory to us and to others around us through our actions, words, and attitude. Will you invite Him to do so this Christmas season?

GOD BECAME A MAN. Those words brought a song to my mind that is very appropriate for the Christmas season. Think with me about these lyrics:

Love was when God became a man, locked in time and space without rank or place.
Love was God born of Jewish kin, just a carpenter with some fishermen.
Love was when Jesus walked in history. Lovingly He brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God nailed to bleed and die to reach and love one such as I.

Love was when God became a man, down where I could see; love that reached to me.
Love was God dying for my sin, and so trapped was I, my whole world caved in.
Love was when Jesus rose to walk with me. Lovingly he brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God, only He would try to reach and love one such as I.
(John E. Walvoord/Don Wyrtzen)

For those of you who have never heard this song before, or for those who would like to hear it sung again, you can click this web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK96FOXOclU, or type: John and Trini Pendleton sing “Love Was When” in your web browser. Trini sings and John accompanies her on the guitar. I think it’s a beautiful rendition.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, please remember that Christmas is just the introduction to His story. There are many chapters which follow, covering His life, death, resurrection, appearances, and ascension into heaven. And His story isn’t over yet. Any moment now He will be coming in the clouds to suddenly snatch His children out of this world in an instant. Then, after the seven years of tribulation, Christ will establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. Finally, the Lord Jesus will return to heaven and all believers will enjoy His presence forever. I love happy endings!

That’s a lot to remember this Christmas season! May those memories bring you joy and expectation, and may you know and experience the real joy of Christmas!

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).