NOTHING TO FEAR – John 6:16-21

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Have you ever been frightened by the forces unleased in nature?  Can you remember hearing lightning cracking overhead, and then “KA-BOOM!”, the thunder was deafening and the ground vibrated under your feet”?  Did you shake for a moment also?  When Mt. St. Helens exploded and those tons of ash were billowing up into the sky, did you feel a twinge of fear as you watched it from a distance or on your television sets?  I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest when that event occurred, but I have experienced an earthquake in Southern California, a tornado while going to school in Iowa, and a typhoon while stationed at an Air Force base on Okinawa, and I trembled with fear on all three occasions!  I can imagine that you have some stories that you could tell about instances in your life when the forces of nature caused fear in you also.

In John 6:16-21, the apostles also experienced the forces of nature, but that wasn’t their only source of fear.  Let’s examine the experiences of the disciples that evening, and their responses, in the light of what preceded it.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 16-17)

Jesus had just finished feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children, with five barley cakes (“tortillas”) and two fish (“dried sardines”), and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers (one basket apiece).  They saw the power and the provision that only God could provide in such a miraculous way, and were reminded of God’s faithful provision of the manna to their ancestors in the wilderness for forty years.  Another lesson was taught them by Jesus, and now it was time for another examination to determine whether the lesson was learned and would be put into application.

You might call this a “stress test” or a “distress test”.  I like to think of it as a “practicum” – putting into practice the things they had learned.  Immediately after the disciples came back with the baskets of fragments from the meal, John writes, in verses 14 and 15, that the people were saying that Jesus must be the Messiah.  Jesus realized their intent to take Him by force and make Him king, so He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”   Mark’s gospel fills in a few details that are missing.  Mark 6:45-46 says, “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And  after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.”  The Lord Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and leave immediately because He didn’t want His disciples to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd to make Him king.  It still wasn’t clear in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus’ purpose for going up on the mountain was to pray.  Jesus was truly a man of prayer.  As you read through the Gospels you will find that He often spent time communicating with the Father in prayer, sometimes spending the whole night in prayer.  His disciples recognized this and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Going back to John’s gospel, verses 16 and 17 tell us, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.  And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  During the time of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, sunset was at about 7:00 p.m.  So the stage is set:  Jesus is on the mountain, they are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and it’s dark.

II.  THE STORM (verses 18-19a)

Verse 18 says, “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.”  The Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level in a bowl in the hills.  Winds can travel up the valley of the Jordan River at great speeds.  Not only that, but I’ve read that cold air can suddenly come rushing down from the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee and collide with the warm, moist air rising from the surface of the water.  The Sea of Galilee is also relatively shallow, so the waters can become stirred up very quickly.  Add up all those factors and you have “Trouble with a capital T!”  This storm must have taken the disciples by surprise.  Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  Not at all!  Sending them into the storm was their exam.  He was testing their faith to see if they learned the lessons He was teaching them, and had come to a true understanding of Who He was.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were expert sailors and they knew that they had better get the boat to the other side of the lake as soon as possible.  They had been in a similar situation recently, but on that occasion Jesus was with them in the boat, sleeping.  This time He’s on the mountain.  What were they going to do?

Rather than calling upon God and trusting in Him to provide for their need, they keep on rowing.  They’re going to get themselves out of this situation on their own!  This wind and these waves aren’t going to get the best of them!  They are failing the test but they’re not ready to give up yet!  Does Jesus know that there is a storm on the Sea of Galilee?  Yes, He certainly does.  Mark 6:48 begins with the words, “and seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”.  How can Jesus see them if it’s dark and stormy, and they are in the middle of the lake?  Good question!  It’s the Passover celebration.  The Passover is also called the new moon celebration.  When God sent Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt, He provided a full-moon to light the way for them.  From His vantage point on the top of the mountain, Jesus could see them by the light of a full-moon.  Then, why doesn’t He do something about it?  He is:  He’s praying for them!  As a wise and caring Teacher, He’s also giving them extra time to complete and pass the test!

Let me give you a mental picture of the examination scene at this time.  The apostles are in the boat rowing with their backs to the wind and their faces pointed in the direction of the dock where they had embarked for their cruise across the lake.  Little do they know that Jesus is looking at their faces and watching them as He continues to pray for them.

Have you ever run on a treadmill or an elliptical machine?  If you have, I imagine that you’ve thought about the fact that you’re running hard and are becoming exhausted, but you aren’t going anywhere.  You’re still in the same place where you started!  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve talked to people who have those machines but still like to run outdoors in good weather.   They do so not only because they like the change in scenery, but also because of a greater sense of accomplishment that comes from arriving at a destination rather than reaching a time limit or going the distance based on the odometer reading.  If you compare this illustration with the situation of the disciples, it’s as if they’re on a rowing machine, rowing hard and steadily, but going nowhere!  The boat they were in was probably one of the boats used for carrying passengers across the Sea of Galilee.  If so, it would normally be large enough to hold 12 passengers and had oars rather than a sail.  The Greek word refers to a “small boat”  These boats could easily become swamped in a storm because they were not as high above the water and as sturdy as many of the fishing boats.

From Matthew, Mark, and John’s gospels we learn that they are in the middle of the lake and it’s now the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch begins at 3:00 in the morning.  They started crossing the lake at about 7:00 the previous evening, so they’ve been rowing for eight hours or more!  Mark 6:48 states that Jesus “saw them straining at the oars”.  They must have been completely exhausted but they hadn’t learned the lesson from the feeding of the 5000.  They failed another test because they failed to bring their need to God in prayer and trust Him to meet that need.  They failed to follow the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings back to my mind a course I took in college as a Business major.  The course was Business Communications, and it was taught by a professor who had been a journalist.  As he gave us our first business letter to compose, he told us his grading system.  Then he said, “There is no excuse for misspelled words or wrong punctuation.  A misspelled word is an automatic F (a failing grade).  Each punctuation error would reduce the grade for the paper by one letter-grade.”  Most of the students, including myself, didn’t pay heed to his words, and over half the class failed the first assignment because of misspelled words and wrong punctuation.  Needless to say, we students got out our dictionaries and brushed up on our English grammar for the remaining assignments!  We learned the hard way to heed his warning, follow his advice, and not be overly confident in our own abilities!

III.  THE RESCUE (verses 19b-22)

The examination is now over.  When I was in high school, several of my teachers were in the habit of leaving their desks when the bell rang, walking down the aisles in the classroom, collecting the tests, and then taking them back to their desks.  In this case, Jesus was going to collect His disciples and bring them to the other side of the lake, but in a very unusual and miraculous way.

The second half of verse 19 says, “they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”  Mark’s gospel gives more details:  “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”  Jesus’ timing is perfect, as always.  He comes to them at the moment when they have finally given up hope.  They were in the middle of the lake and all their efforts were getting them nowhere.  They were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spiritually unreceptive.  They weren’t prepared for what was going to happen next.   Suddenly, they see something that their minds refuse to believe.  Jesus is walking toward them against the wind as if there were no wind at all, and walking on top of the water as if the water was dry ground!  The wind and the waves are having no effect on Him.  Their response was to cry out in terror, imagining that Jesus was a ghost.  The Greek word is “phantasma”.  We get our English word “phantom” from that word.

Why did they respond in such a way to Jesus?  For one, they weren’t expecting Him because they failed to pray to God and trust in the power and authority of His Son to meet their need and rescue them.  The second reason is given in Mark 6:52, which says, “their hearts were hardened”. They hadn’t learned the lesson from the loaves and fishes.  They tried to overcome the storm their way, and now they concluded that it was an impossible and hopeless situation.  It was impossible alright, humanly speaking, but it wasn’t hopeless!

Why did Jesus choose to walk to them on the water?  He could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He had just appeared in their boat, or called out to the wind and waves in a voice loud enough for them to hear, telling the wind and waves to quiet down.  That’s what He did in the previous storm (see Mark 5:39).  Jesus walked to them on top of the water in order to give them a visual demonstration that the things they now feared, (the wind and the waves), were completely under His control.  Jesus was showing them something that only God could do; and in response to their terror, He said, in John 6:20, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  Jesus spoke those words to them in Hebrew, and He was literally saying to them, I AMdo not be afraid”.  The Lord Jesus was using God’s covenant name, pronounced “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”, and was applying it to Himself.

In Exodus 3:13, Moses asked God, “What is your name that the people may know that you are the true God, and that you have sent me to them?”  God answered Moses with these words:  “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM (Yahweh), the God of your fathers . . . has sent me to you.”   The name Yahweh suggests, first of all, that there is no cause for God’s existence outside Himself; but the name had a much more personal meaning than that.  Yahweh is the God who is near to His people, close to them and available to them in time of need.  He controlled the forces of nature for them when He parted the Red Sea, provided manna for them to eat, and stopped the Jordan River so that they could enter the promised land.

During the previous storm, when Jesus was in the boat with them, He rebuked the wind and the waves, telling them to become calm, and they immediately obeyed His voice.  In response, His disciples asked the question, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27)  Now, after seeing Jesus walking on water and hearing those words from His mouth, the disciples answer their own question when they say, “You are certainly God’s Son!”, and they worshipped Him. (Matthew 14:33).  This is the first time Jesus is called the Son of God by His disciples.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk on water?  Other than Jesus, Peter is the only one who knows, and his experience didn’t last very long (Matthew 14:29-31)!  When the two of them got into the boat, it was apparently close to the shore – another amazing occurrence!  The rescue was now over.

LESSONS TO LEARN AND APPLY:

Before we consider the fear of the disciples, and our own fears as well, I think we should all thank God for giving us the emotion of fear.  He has given us, as well as  many of the animals He created, a built-in alarm system to warn us of danger.  It was designed by Him for the purpose of protection and preservation.  It’s natural for us to be afraid in times of danger, and there are times when we, as human beings, should choose to follow our fears.  There are also times when we should choose to overcome our fears by the power of God.  A question we need to ask ourselves honestly is “What do I fear, and why do I fear it?”  Then write those fears and the reasons for them on a sheet of paper so that we can sort them out and think about them.  Only then can we ask the question, “How should I respond to those fears, in the light of God’s Word?”

The first lesson given in this passage of Scripture is one on prayer.  Jesus was up on the mountain praying.  I think His first request to the Father was that the apostles would realize their helplessness and turn to the Father in faith, asking Him to rescue them.  When they failed to do so and they were about to drown, I believe that Jesus’ second request to the Father was that the Father might use Him to rescue them and show them that He was truly the Son of God.  His request might have been something like this:  “Father, give me the power and authority to walk on the water to rescue them so that You and I might be glorified.”  Or maybe He just asked for their deliverance and the Father told Him what to do in answer to that prayer.  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that God answered His prayers.  Jesus’ prayers “held a lot of weight” in the eyes of His Father because of the close relationship and deep trust between them.

What’s the value of our prayers to God?  How much weight do our believing prayers have in God’s sight?    Many years ago Henry Bosch shared the following true story which he entitled “Weighing A Prayer”.

Soon after World War II, a tired-looking woman entered a store and asked the owner for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her children.  When he inquired how much money she could afford, she answered, “My husband was killed in the war.  Truthfully, I have nothing to offer but a little prayer.”  The man was not very sentimental, for a grocery store cannot be run like a breadline.  So he said, “Write your prayer on a paper.”  To his surprise she plucked a little folded note out of her pocket and handed it to him, saying, “I already did that during the night while I was watching over my sick baby.”  As the manager took the paper, an idea struck him.  Without even reading the prayer, he put it on the weigh side of his old-fashioned scales, saying, “We shall see how much food this is worth.”  To his surprise, it would not go down when he put a loaf of bread on the other side.  To his even greater astonishment, it would not balance though he added many more items.  Finally he blurted out, “Well, that’s all the scales will hold anyway.  Here’s a bag.  You’ll have to put them in yourself.  I’m busy.”  With a tearful “thank you,”  the lady went happily on her way.  The grocer later found out that the balance was out of order.  As the years passed, however, he wondered if that really was the solution.  Why did the woman have the prayer already written to satisfy his premeditated demands?  Why did she come in at exactly the time the mechanism was broken?  Frequently he looks at that slip of paper upon which the prayer was written, for amazingly enough, it reads, “Please, dear Lord, give us this day our daily bread!”

Has God ever answered your prayers in unusual or unexpected ways?  God delights in answering believing prayer for the supply of our needs.  The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Our God is very rich and very generous!  Don’t let a need go by without asking Him to supply!

The second lesson comes in answer to the question, “Why didn’t the disciples pray to God when the storm began?”  “Pride” is the answer to that question.  Two popular sayings probably describe their attitude:  “I’ll do it my way”, and “I’d rather do it myself”.  I could understand if they kept rowing for 15 minutes in the hope that the storm might die down, but not for eight hours!  That’s ridiculous!  Are you filled with pride in yourself and would rather be independent of God?  Are you drowning in your own sins, but unwilling to lift a hand in prayer to the only One who can reach down and pull you out of the dark waters of separation from God for eternity?  I hope and pray that you will reconsider your attitude and your situation, and choose to put your life in His hands and under His control.

The third and last lesson applies to fear.  I’m sure that we would all agree that fears come in many different forms, and can affect us in many different ways.  Do you find yourself controlled, or hindered by various forms of fear, such as fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of what others may think?  Fears can be tied to the past, the present, or the future.  Worry is also a form of fear.  Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  Worry is like a rocking chair.  It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  The apostle Peter tells us in I Peter 5:7 to “cast all our anxieties on Him (the Lord Jesus Christ), for He cares for you.”

Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man will prove to be a snare.”  It can drain us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  This incident of the storm, in John 6, tells us that we can banish our fears by recognizing and relying upon the faithful presence, power, and providence of God.  Let me close by sharing a few other Scripture passages with you that tell us how to respond to fear in our lives.  Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  In Psalm 23:4 king David says, “I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”  Psalm 34:4 reads, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. You may also want to read and memorize Isaiah 41:10.

It may also encourage you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you right now (Hebrews 7:25).  Some day, the Lord Jesus will come for us, take us to His heavenly haven of rest, and the storms of life will be over forever.  I hope that I’ll see you there!   

DISCUSSION WITH NICODEMUS (PART 1) – John 3:1-7

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This passage of Scripture, John 3:1-21, is one of the most familiar, and also one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible.  From the previous chapter we learned that the Lord Jesus had performed many miracles during the week of the Passover celebration.  Many people were amazed when they witnessed Jesus’ miracles.  He was told that many were believing in Him, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because there was no genuine commitment on their part.  However, in this passage of Scripture we find an exception.  There is a person who earnestly wants to know more about Him.

I.  AN INTRODUCTION TO NICODEMUS (verses 1)

Verse 1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  We learn two important facts from this verse.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, meaning “separatist” or “separated one”, and the Pharisees were very strict about following the Law of Moses and the traditions.  During the lifetime of Christ on earth, there were about 6000 Pharisees.  I wondered,  “What did a Pharisee look like?”  “Did they wear distinctive clothing and wear their hair and beards a certain way to set themselves apart as “separatists”?  The answer to those two questions is “yes” among those Pharisees who criticized Jesus, and He rebuked them because their motive was to be seen and acknowledged by others.  Nicodemus, as we shall see, doesn’t appear to fit that description, and he may not be alone.

Nicodemus is also described as a “ruler”.  This means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, composed of 70 members.  The word Sanhedrin means “seated with” and refers to a person who sits with the council of elders.  The Roman equivalent was the Senate.  So Nicodemus was in a position of power and influence, as well as being a caretaker and administrator of God’s Law.  One of his responsibilities as a member of the Sanhedrin was to keep the Jewish religion pure and undefiled by examining and dealing with false teachers and false prophets

II.  THE UNANNOUNCED VISIT (verse 2)

Verse 2 begins with the words, “this man (Nicodemus) came to Him by night”.   The sun had gone down, and the evening meal was probably finished at the place where Jesus was staying.  An unexpected visitor was entering the courtyard hoping to talk to Jesus.  He was, no doubt, dressed in the elegant garb of a Pharisee, and probably wearing a serious, puzzled look on his face, considering how he is going to begin the conversation as Jesus greets him.  Verse 2 continues:  “and he (Nicodemus) said to Him (Jesus). ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’ “.

Nicodemus came by night, either so that he might not be seen by his companions, or because Jesus was surrounded by crowds during the day, or both.  His desire is to have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation with Jesus.  Nicodemus greets Jesus respectfully and begins the conversation with a confession, and seems to indicate that the religious leaders privately recognized that Jesus spoke with divine authority, even though they opposed Him publicly.  He uses the word “we”, probably including the other 69 members of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to learn much more from this conversation with Jesus than he could ever have imagined, and he’ll have many things to ponder when the conversation is over.  Jesus is now going to take the lead in the conversation and is going to use four different illustrations:  birth, the wind, the serpent on the pole, and light and darkness.  These illustrations will be used by Jesus to instruct Nicodemus about the basics of salvation.

I.  BIRTH (verses 3-7)

Jesus begins in verse 3 by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He’s telling Nicodemus that what He is about to tell him is a very important truth.  Then He says, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  The Greek word anothen” literally means “from above”, but can also be translated “again”.  As we shall see from the context, Jesus meant “from above”. Unless this happens, you “cannot” see the kingdom of God because it is an impossibility.  Commenting on these words of our Lord, preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said:  “You can see many countries, but there is one you shall never behold unless you are born again.  You can look abroad and see many beautiful trees, but you shall never behold the ‘tree of life’ unless your eyes are made clear by faith in the Savior.  You may see the beautiful rivers of the earth, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the river which bursts out from the Throne of God and flows through the Upper Kingdom, unless you are ‘born again.’  When you are in London you may go to the Tower and see the crown of England which is worth thousands of dollars, and is guarded by soldiers, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the ‘crown of life,’ unless you are ‘born again’.  You may see ten thousand beautiful things in this world, but the city that Abraham caught a glimpse of – and from that time became a pilgrim seeking the Lord – you shall never see unless you are ‘born again.’ ”

Those are some sobering words from Jesus and from Mr. Moody.  It must have been discouraging for Nicodemus to think that his strict observance of the laws and his position and responsibilities would not get him into the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ words were puzzling to Nicodemus.  He thought that Jesus was talking about physical birth, and couldn’t make any sense of that.  He responds with these words:  “How can a man be born when he is old?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  I am amazed by the composure of Nicodemus.  Any other Pharisee would have become angry at Jesus and told Him that He was crazy.  But out of respect for Jesus, and with a desire to know the truth, Nicodemus is trying to sort this out and make sense of it.  Have you ever used the following phrase in a conversation:  “This may sound stupid but I’ve got to ask . . . “?  You took the risk of having the other person in the conversation be angry or impatient with you for having to take the time to give you an explanation because you just had to understand what that person was saying.  That’s especially hard to do with someone you don’t even know, isn’t it!?  You’re wondering whether the person is going to stare at you, take a deep breath, exhale loudly, and then drone on like a father explaining something to his child for the umpteenth time!  But Nicodemus overcomes his pride and humbly asks that question anyway.  Bravo!

William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, has given me a new perspective on those words spoken by Nicodemus.  Barclay puts himself in the sandals of Nicodemus and then explains his dilemma:  “I know that it is necessary (to be born anew), but in my experience it is impossible.  There is nothing I would like more; but you might as well tell me, a full-grown man, to enter into my mother’s womb again and be born all over again.”  It is not the desirability of this change that Nicodemus questioned; that he knew only too well.  it is the possibility.  Nicodemus is up against the eternal problem, the problem of a man who wants to be changed but who cannot change himself.” 

Jesus responds by giving Nicodemus another important statement which adds some clarity to His first statement.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  I personally get the impression that Jesus is welcoming the question of Nicodemus, so that He can provide more information for Nicodemus  to remember and consider.  I also think that the Lord Jesus is testing his attitude.  If Nicodemus is truly a “learner” then he will keep asking and keep seeking.

The Lord Jesus is not talking about baptism when He says “born of water and the Spirit”.  Baptism is a symbol of death, not birth.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 “buried with Him in baptism”.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he has the wrong perspective.  He is focusing on the physical and material, but Jesus is talking about the spiritual.  You not only have to be born physically, you must also be born spiritually.  Every year we celebrate a birthday.  For some of us there are too many candles to put on the cake!   But it’s actually not a birthday, it’s the anniversary of our birthday.  We are only born once physically, at a specific place and time.  The same is true spiritually.  We can only be born once spiritually, and it is at a specific place and time.  We may not be able to remember the specific time and place, but God does, and the resulting change in our lives is evidence to us and those around us.

Jesus continues in verse 6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is Spirit.”  The two events are not related.  What Jesus is saying is, “Nicodemus, you’ve been born physically but you haven’t been born spiritually yet.”  Nicodemus must have been thinking, “I’m a Jew, one of God’s chosen people; I’m a Pharisee, a strict observer of the Law and Traditions; and I’m a ‘ruler’ of the Jews; how much more ‘spiritual’ can you get?”  Jesus took notice of the fact that the eyes of Nicodemus widened in astonishment, and his jaw dropped in surprise and bewilderment, because He says in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  It’s a mystery.  Evangelist Billy Graham uses an illustration from his past to convey the problem and how it must be resolved.

“I was born and reared on a dairy farm.  How can a black cow eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow butter?  I don’t understand that.  I might say, ‘because I don’t understand it, I’m never going to drink milk again’.  And you’d say, ‘You’re crazy.’ —  I don’t understand it but I accept it by faith.  Nicodemus could only see the physical and material, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual.”  In Part II of this conversation, we will see how Jesus uses an illustration from nature to help Nicodemus better understand what He is saying.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:+

The example of Nicodemus provides some lessons for us to learn.  By coming to meet with Jesus, he probably did what no other Pharisee or member of the Sanhedrin would ever do.  I’m sure he fought off many excuses that came to his mind – excuses similar to the ones given by those who don’t go to church.  For example, the excuse:  “people will judge me”.  There’s no doubt that he could have used that excuse because it’s true.  His colleges would definitely not approve.  How about this excuse:  “I don’t have the right clothes to wear.”  Nicodemus was wealthy and dressed that way.  He probably didn’t have any “poor people’s clothes” around his house.  He wouldn’t want to embarrass Jesus by “out-dressing” Him and making Him feel even poorer.  Do you see what I mean?  There are always excuses to be found for not doing the right thing.  One of the unmentioned excuses that Jesus addresses is “I’m already good enough”.  What excuses do we use for not wanting to know the truth, or not wanting to see ourselves as we really are?  Nicodemus is an example to us of one who considers the knowledge and application of God’s truth to be more important than his personal reputation.

There are lessons to be learned from Jesus so far in this conversation also.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates in these first seven verses that He is not in a hurry to convince Nicodemus of the truth of His words.  He realizes that many people aren’t “born from above” overnight.  His words are not easy to understand because He is talking about the mystery of salvation.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates his concern and kindness by not applying any pressure.  Instead He offers illustrations from life and from nature, giving Nicodemus time to think it over and respond.  He’s providing a comfortable and caring environment for open conversation.  It is a lesson for us that it is not the method of proclamation that brings souls to Christ.   Though methods can be useful; it is the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God that causes change.  This occurs according to God’s timing as we build relationships and let the light of Christ shine through us.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is finished for now.  I may do some detailing later.   John 3:1-21, which was originally intended to be a “house”, is now turning into a “condominium”!  There is going to be a Part II, and maybe even a Part III and Part IV.  Much to be learned from this conversation!  Thanks for visiting.  There are 99 completed sites on this blog.  Hope you’ll take a look around the block and see if there is something that interests you.  I also hope that your life is still under construction and that God is your Master Builder.

 

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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I.  HE BECAME FLESH

John chapter 1, verse 14, is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring verses in the Bible.  It reveals a mystery that we can’t comprehend with our finite minds.  The apostle John has been saying that the “Logos”, the “Word”, used by the Greeks to describe the force that created the universe and holds it together, is actually the Creator-God.  Now he is saying, in verse 14, that this Creator-God “became flesh”.  The verb is in the aorist tense, signifying an action that took place at a point in time.  By “becoming flesh” the Word became something that He previously was not. He not only assumed a human body, but took on the whole nature of man:  body, soul, and spirit.  He took on our limitations.  Romans 8:3 says that He took on “the likeness of sinful flesh”, but “He knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21).  Martin Luther said of Jesus, “He sunk Himself into human flesh”.  That’s a long way to sink!

In his book entitled “Miracles”, British author C.S. Lewis uses several illustrations to try to depict the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  His illustration of the diver is somewhat similar to the previous statement made by Martin Luther.

“Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing downward through green and warm water into  black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping precious thing that he went down to recover.  He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light; down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”

As we consider the incarnation, let’s be reminded that Jesus Christ was not a created being.  He is the Creator, but He chose to become part of His creation at a specific place and time in human history.  His essence, divine nature, and oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit did not change.  We cannot understand how this can be, but we can accept it by faith.

One of the early church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, expressed his amazement.  He said that in his pre-Christian days he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.  To the Greeks that was impossible and ridiculous.

II.  HE DWELT AMONG US

Here in verse 14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by the Gospel writer Luke.  He “dwelt among us”.  The Greek word translated “dwell” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”.  He “tabernacled among us” is another way to put 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 Christ 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 (Exodus 24:8; 40:34-35; I Kings 8:10-12).  It’s interesting to note that the people of Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

III.  WE BEHELD HIS GLORY

Years ago an old pioneer journeyed westward across the Great Plains of North America until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  He gawked at the sight before him – a vast chasm 1 mile deep, 18 miles across, and stretching out of sight.  He gasped, “Something must have happened here!” (Our Daily Bread, 12/22/02)

Something even more amazing happened when the Creator-God came to His earth in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures declare it and changed lives continue to provide evidence for His birth, life, death, and resurrection.

John says, “we beheld His glory”.  This may bring to your minds the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness.  When the pillar of cloud that guided them by day would begin to settle down, there the sons of Israel would camp.  Once the tabernacle was set up, the cloud would settle over the tabernacle (Numbers 9).  Exodus chapter 40 describes the glory of the Lord.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The apostle John knew this information since childhood, having grown up in a Jewish home.  But John and the other disciples had the privilege of witnessing this glory in the Person of Jesus Christ for about three years.  “The Word” was not an abstract concept but a real Person.  John begins his first epistle with these words:  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life.”

John, Peter, and James were with Jesus when He was transfigured before them.  His garments became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Him and were talking to Him (Mt. 17; Mk. 9).  What a spectacle that must have been!  But John is writing here about the inner glory that he saw in the Lord Jesus.

John was the “beloved disciple”, the one who knew Jesus so intimately.  He describes Jesus as One who was “full of grace and truth”.  This is a Hebrew expression for the fullness of the revelation of God.  “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The words “grace and truth” would probably bring to the minds of his Jewish readers two passages of Scripture from the book of Exodus.  One of them is in Exodus 33, and the other in chapter 34.  God tells Moses once again to make two stone tablets and meet with Him again on Mount Sinai.  Moses makes this request of God in Exodus 33:18:  “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!”  In responding to Moses, God first describes Himself to Moses.  Then He  responds to Moses’ request and describes Himself more fully.  I think you will gain a greater understanding of the meaning of grace as a result of reflecting upon God’s description of Himself.  This is what God says in Exodus 33:19 and in 34:6:  “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. , , , Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.’ “

I believe that the Lord Jesus demonstrated those qualities of God in His character and His actions while He was here on this earth.  I also believe that the apostle John is purposely using the words “full of grace and truth” to connect his description of Christ in his Gospel with God’s description of Himself in the Old Testament Scriptures.  The best Person to give an accurate description of God is God Himself, and He has been gracious enough to do so through various means.

In the next passage of Scripture, verses 15-18, John will be elaborating on the words of verse 14 more fully.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading and re-reading a poem written by Marv and Marbeth Rosenthal entitled:  “Mary Had The Little Lamb”.  It briefly describes the Person, life and ministry of Jesus Christ from beginning to end.  If you’ve never read this poem before, I encourage you to read it several times.  If you are familiar with the poem, please read it again.  Here it is:

Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before His birth
Self-existent Son of God, from heaven He came to earth.
Micah 5:2

Mary had the little Lamb; see Him in yonder stall–
Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall.
Isaiah 7:14

Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God;
Everywhere the Father led, His feet were sure to trod.
John 6;38

Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree,
The rejected Son of God, He died to set men free.
I Peter 1:18-19

Mary had the little Lamb — men placed Him in the grave,
Thinking they were done with Him; to death He was no slave!
Matthew 28:6

Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is He,
All work on earth is ended, our Advocate is be.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Mary had the little Lamb — mystery to behold!
From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold.
Revelation 5:5,6

When the Day Star comes again, of this be very sure,
It won’t be Lamb-like silence, but with the Lion’s roar.
Psalm 2:12
Revelation 19:11-16

May you experience the meaning of the grace and truth that are in Christ Jesus; and may you experience the joy and peace that come as a result of knowing Him personally, depending upon Him completely, and giving Him all the glory.

 

 

 

 

JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM – John 12:9-19

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INTRODUCTION:

I imagine that most of us are familiar with the song, “The King Is Coming”.  We know that the king spoken about in that song is Jesus Christ.  When you think of Christ as King, what image or picture do you see in you mind?  Do you see Christ seated on a great throne ruling the universe?  Do you see Him on a white horse as He is described in the book of Revelation, leading the armies of heaven?  Those are probably the most common mental images.  In this passage of Scripture, John 12:9-19, we find a different description of Christ as King; one that is equally true and especially important for us today.

I.  THE BACKGROUND AND SETTING (verses 9-12)

Lazarus was now a walking miracle ever since Jesus raised him from the dead, and this put Lazarus in a place of danger.  Now the Jewish leaders wanted to kill both him and Jesus.  They wanted to put Lazarus back into the tomb because he was leading people to faith in Christ.  Since they weren’t willing to accept the evidence, the were going to try to get rid of the evidence.

The next day was Sunday, the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering the period of time when the people of Israel lived in tents as they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, and God dwelt with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  The time was ripe for Jesus to make a public appearance.

Picture this, if you will.  The word is getting around that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and a large crowd of people is following Jesus and wanting to see Lazarus.  Meanwhile, over two million Jews are arriving in Jerusalem to make preparations for celebrating the Passover.

II.  THEIR RESPONSE (verse 13)

The response of the people was a greeting fit a king.  It says that they “took palm branches” and went out to meet Jesus.  Palm branches had nothing to do with the feast of Passover.  It was on the feast of Tabernacles that the people were commanded to rejoice before the Lord for seven days with “branches of palm trees.”  This command is found in Leviticus 23:40.  However, history shows that over 150 years before the birth of Christ, palm trees and palm branches became the symbol of the Jewish nation.  So the use of palm branches during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem symbolized the people’s hope that their nation would soon be set free by Jesus, and this is supported by the words which they used to greet Jesus.  In verse 13 the people cry out:  “Hozanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.    They were quoting from Psalm 118:25-26.  The crowd was expecting Jesus to lead them in triumph over the Romans.  The word “hozanna”  literally means “save us, we pray thee”.

III.  JESUS’ RESPONSE (verses 14-15)

In the midst of all this celebration, Jesus finds a young donkey, sits on it, and has His disciples lead Him in a procession.  A donkey is a symbol of humility and peace, and the kings and judges of Israel rode on donkeys when they were on a mission of peace.  Jesus was a King on a mission of peace:  peace with God through His shed blood on the cross just a few days later.

Jesus was also obeying God’s Word and fulfilling the prophesy written about Him in Zechariah 9:9, which says, “Fear not, Daughter of Zion:  behold your King is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus knew that prophesy and knew that it would need to be fulfilled.  I think Jesus made arrangements for that colt to be ready for Him when He came into the city.  He knew exactly what day this would be, for the book of Daniel gives us that information.  Almost five humdred years earlier an angel had appeared to the prophet Daniel and told him that a certain amount of time has been marked out by God for the fulfillment of certain climactic events which concerned the people of Israel.  And the time this was to begin was clearly given.  It would be when the Persian king, Artaxerxes, issued an edict for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  You will find that edict recorded in chapter 2 of the book of Nehemiah.  And when this heathen king issued the edict, he unknowingly set in motion God’s clock for the Jewish nation.  Daniel was told that 490 years must pass before all of God’s events would be fulfilled, and the passage of 483 of those years would be marked off by the arrival in Jerusalem of Messiah the Prince.

Many years ago there was a brilliant lawyer who served for a long time as the director of England’s famed Scotland Yard.  His name as Sir Robert Anderson.  He was also an avid and devout Bible student.  Sir Robert Anderson, with his precise mind and his training in logic, analyzed the book of Daniel and determined the exact date when that decree of Artaxerxes was issued:  March 28, 445 B.C.  Counting from that date and making the necessary corrections for calendar errors, he determined that on April 6, 32 A.D. Jesus rode into Jerusalem – exactly 483 years later.

Now, if a man in the 19th century could take these Scriptures and figure out the very date on which this event took place, surely the Son of God also knew it very well, and He made arrangements to enter the city, and come riding down the slopes of the Mount of Olives on a donkey, on a colt on which no one had ever sat, in the fultilllment of the predictions of Zechariah and Daniel.  And it was as they were about to enter the city of Jerusalem and the people were cheering, that Luke 19:41-44 says that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because of what was going to happen to it because the rejected their Messiah.

IV.  THE RESULT (verses 15-19)

After the procession there was a lack of understanding of what Jesus came into this world to do.  His disciples were confused.  The Jewish leaders were angry and said, “look, the world has gone after Him.”  The crowds had a wrong understanding about Jesus.  They didn’t realize that before Jesus Christ could enter into His power and glory, He had to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  It may well have been that many of those who were shouting “Hozanna to the Son of David”, later changed their cry to “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

APPLICATION:

Let’s ask ourselves this question:  “Why do you and I follow Jesus?  Do we have expectations we want Him to meet?  Do we think He’ll deliver us from life’s hardships?  Are we just following the crowd?  Or have we accepted Jesus Christ as King and Lord of our lives and serve Him out of gratitude and worship?  As we think about this day in Jesus’ life, and His death and resurrection that will happen just a few days later,  let’s remind ourselves of these words of the apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:15 and put them into practice in our lives:  “And He (Jesus) died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”