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!

 

ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

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

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

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

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

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

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

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

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

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

PATIENCE APPLIED AND EXEMPLIFIED – James 5:9-11

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INTRODUCTION:

Writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Don’t complain and talk about all your problems.  Eighty percent of people don’t care; the other twenty percent will think you deserve them!”  As the saying goes, “those who complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones who dropped it!”

i.  PATIENCE APPLIED ( verse 9)

James’ reading and listening audience appears to have problems with complaining.  The Greek word literally means “groaning” or “grumbling”.  I get the feeling that it starts deep down inside a person and increases emotion as it reaches the lips.  How many times have we been in difficult or frustrating situations and felt the desire to express those aches and frustrations in anger to someone else?  As a child, or a teenager, can you ever remember saying these words to your parents: “Aw, do I have to?”  And the usual reply was:  “Yes, you do!”  Complaining didn’t get us very far as children, did it?  And it usually causes more harm than good as adults!

This word James used may also have been intended to remind his audience of a situation in the Old Testament where grumbling and complaining affected a whole generation of people.  In Numbers 14, when the twelve spies returned from spying out the land of Canaan, the people of Israel believed the negative report given by the 10 spies rather than the report given by Joshua and Caleb.  Exodus 14:2 says, “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . . ‘would that we had died in the land of Egypt  , , , it’s better for us to return to Egypt.’ ”  God’s punishment upon them affected a whole generation of the nation of Israel.  God said in verse 31, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.  But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness.”  That was a high price to pay for their “grumbling”, and failure to believe in God’s power and promises.  James might be implying, “That’s what God thiinks of grumbling and complaining against Him.  You may want to reconsider your attitudes and actions toward each other”.

Returning to James 5:9, what James has said in this verse may also fit in with his illustration of the farmer in verse 7.  For the most part, farmers don’t tend to complain to each other and get into arguments with each other.  They are too busy for that sort of thing!  They have more important things to do!  There is a harvest to prepare for, get underway, and finish!  All over the world you will find agricultural cooperatives, also known as farmers’ co-ops, where farmers pool their resources (such as land, machinery, feed, seed, fertilizer, etc.) for the benefit of all.  They know how to “cooperate” with each other!

James ends verse 9 by saying, “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door”. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 and 2, “Do not judge lest you be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by the standard you measure, it will be measured to you.”  God is “standing right at the door” and He hears everything you say and sees everything you do.

II.  PATIENCE EXEMPLIFIED (verses 10-11)

A.  THE PROPHETS (vs. 10)

Here in verse 10, James says, “Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.” Joseph, the son of Jacob, would be considered a prophet, and one of the great reminders of suffering and patience in the Old Testament is called “The 50:20 Principle” because it is found in Genesis chapter 50 and verse 20.  Here Joseph says to his brothers, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  This was the attitude of the prophets both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.  They were patient and content, knowing that God was sovereign and would use their sufferings and their deaths to bring glory to Himself and to accomplish His purposes.

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?”  Why not?” He replied.  “They are the only ones who can take it.”

The Scriptures don’t give very much specific mention of what each prophet patiently suffered.  However, we do have general mention in several places. The last book of the Hebrew scriptures is II Chronicles.  Chapter 36, verse 16 says, “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”

The Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Near the end of His life, when Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matthew 23:37)  The Lord Jesus patiently endured His own sufferings and death, as did Steven, the church’s first martyr, because it was God’s will, and they were looking forward to being in the presence of God.  These words and images may have come to the minds of the recipients of his letter as he mentions the prophets as examples of patience.  And, even though the book of Hebrews was probably written after this letter of James, his Hebrew-Christian readers and listeners were familiar with the sufferings of the prophets and others as described in Hebrews 11:37.  “They were  stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword . . . “

B.  Job (verse 11)

Probably the best-known example of patience in the Old Testament is the patriarch Job.  To correct any misunderstanding, Job was a real person, not a fictitious character.  He lived in a real location, was married and the father of ten children, and was a prosperous businessman.  Forty-two chapters describe the details of his life and sufferings.  The prophet Ezekiel twice includes his name along with the names of Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:20,24).

It’s hard to imagine the grief and suffering Job experienced, and the sense of rejection by God and his friends.  He loses all his possessions, all his children, and his health in a matter of moments.  His wife tells him to curse God and die, his friends condemn him, and God is silent.

When James speaks of Job’s endurance, he’s not trying to sanctify Job and put him above the level of humanity.   “Did not Job grumble about his circumstances, self-righteously proclaim his innocence, and generally question God’s way with him? . . . Yet there is still a sense in which the Job of the Old Testament can be seen as a great example of steadfastness.  For although Job did complain bitterly about God’s treatment of him, he never abandoned his faith; in the midst of his incomprehension, he clug to God and continued to hope in him (Job 1:21; 2:10; 16:19-21; 19:25-27)” (Douglas Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, JAMES),  William Barclay says, “Job’s is no grovelling, passive, unquestioning submission.  Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”

The following poem from an unknown source beautifully and clearly depicts for the Christian, the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God:

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me

I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily

Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper and I the underside

Not til the loom is silent and the shuttle ceases to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The prophets were willing to die for their faith, and counted it a privilege to suffer for God’s sake.  Job was able to trust God and cling to God in the midst of all that he suffered.  Can’t you and I, by the grace of God, accept our circumstances without complaining or holding a grudge?  You know that the answer is “yes”, don’t you?  And I believe that this is what James is trying to communicate to his brethren in Christ then and now.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, in all patience and long-suffering.

 

 

WORK-IN-PROGRESS  Thanks for visiting.  There has been a lot of consctruction going on at this site over the last three years of its existence.  Hope you’ll take a tour!  If you see any problems with spelling, grammar, or sentence structure, etc., I’ll be back soon to clean up and continue the work.  Hope you will join in the work along with me.  They say that work is good for the soul, especially when we are working in the Word of God!

I don’t know if you remember these initials which were popular back in the 70’s:  PBPGIFWMY (Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet).  Those words are true for all of us, so be patient and “hang in there”!