EQUAL WITH GOD – John 5:15-18

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“Tattletale! . . . Tattletale!”

Can you remember hearing those words as a child?  Were those words directed at you because of something you did?  Have you ever spoken those words to others because of what they did to you?  In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a tattletale is a child who goes to an adult (parent, teacher, etc.) and tells the adult that you are doing something that you are not supposed to be doing.  It’s called “tattling” and the person who does it is a “tattletale”.  (Other similar words include a “blabber”, “rat”, “fink”, “stoolie”, “snitch”, and the list goes on).

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 5:1-13, Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethesda,  This man had been sick and weak for 38 years.   He didn’t know who Jesus was, and couldn’t give an answer to the Jewish leaders when they asked.  Jesus later, in verse 14,  found him in the temple and admonished him not to sin anymore or something worse might happen to him.  Now this man knows that the One who healed him is Jesus.

I.  THE HEALER IS REVEALED (verse 15)

The narrative continues in verse 15.  “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”  The first words that came to my mind after I read that verse were, “Tattletale, tattletale”!  After all that Jesus did for him by healing him, and now he’s going to “rat on Him”, getting Him into trouble with the Jews.   What’s the matter with this guy?  Is that any way to treat your Healer?

Actually, that was not the man’s intent at all.  The leaders of his people had asked him a question that he couldn’t answer:  the identity of his Healer.  Once he found out, he told the leaders the answer to their question out of respect for them, thinking that they would want to rejoice and give praise to Jesus also.   Jesus had not warned this man not to say anything to them because it was the time for the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself more fully to the Jews.  The tension is going to be growing.

II.  THIER ANGER IS REDIRECTED (verse 16)

In response to the healed man’s words, verse 16 says, “And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.”  Now they have the real culprit to deal with.  I find it significant that the healed man tried to direct their focus away from their Sabbath laws and onto his miraculous healing and the one who healed him.  However, they direct their attention away from the amazing miracle Jesus performed and back to the violation of their Sabbath laws.  It’s as the saying goes, “Don’t confuse us with facts; our minds are made up!”.  The healed man’s “reality check” was unsuccessful.  We don’t find them objecting to the healing itself – just the day on which it was done.  The Jewish leaders were living in a world of their own:  a world darkened by their own laws.  It says that they were “persecuting” Jesus.  This persecution involved making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors in order to attack His character and ruin His popularity.  I guess you could call that a form of tattling also:  they were spreading gossip about Him.  That’s just the beginning of their attacks.  In their minds, no one was going to get in the way of their laws and their control over the social and spiritual traditions of their people.  At this point the leaders of the Jews don’t appear to have a clear knowledge of Jesus’ claims, but after Jesus responds to them, their understanding becomes clearer and their hatred of Him increases.

III.  JESUS’ REPLY (verse 17)

The Lord Jesus replies to them, in verse 17, with a simple statement that is packed with meaning.  But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”   God only rested once, and that was from His work of creation only.  You might say that He stepped back for a short time to enjoy it, while at the same time keeping everything else going, so to speak.  God gave us the Sabbath as a day of rest for us, not for Him.  God is always working.  The Scriptures give us many examples of the work that God does on a continuing basis.  In Deuteronomy 11:12, speaking about the promised land, Moses says, “a land for which the Lord your God cares;  the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning. . . “.  Add to those verses Zephaniah 3:5, Romans 8:34 and many others.  God is always there.  He always sees, always hears, always knows, and always cares.  It’s a 24/7 responsibility.  God never sleeps (Ps. 121:4)

The Jews would have to agree with the first half of Jesus’ statement:  “God is always working”.  Can you imagine what it would be like if God took a day off every week?  Everyone and everything would fall apart or disappear.  He would have to create all over again!

To give you an inkling of how terrifying this would be, imagine that all medical personnel and all medical facilities and pharmacies took the Sabbath day off  every week.  No ambulances, no emergency rooms, no urgent care, nothing.  Wouldn’t that be frightening?  I wouldn’t want to leave my house on that day!  Now imagine if everyone everywhere took the Sabbath day off and did no work.  There would be no stores open, no public transportation, no gas, no electricity, no food, nothing.  Thank God their laws weren’t carried out to the fullest extent then or now!

I don’t think the Jewish leaders could put up an argument about the fact that God is always working.  but when the Lord Jesus says, “And I Myself am working”, they became enraged. The Tehillim should have come to their minds when Jesus said those words.  The Tehillim is the Book of Praises (The Psalms).  When Jesus said those words, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working”, I think there was a pause in the middle.  “My Father is working until now . . . and I Myself am working.”   If His accusers would have given thought to the first half of Jesus reply, the Book of Journeys should have come to their minds (Psalm 121).  It speaks of the journey of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land, and the journey of each individual through life.  It is a psalm of David and is called “A Song of Ascents”.  Here are the first four verses to that Psalm        

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep
.

The Psalm goes on to say that God is their Keeper, their Shade, their Protector and their Guard.  God the Father was always there with them, 24/7, working constantly for their good; and Jesus was there right along with Him!  In their pride and legalism, the Jews completely overlooked the love and concern that prompted Jesus’ answer to them.  They’ve been reciting and singing that psalm for a thousand years, yet sadly, they refused to honor the One who fits the description.  The author of that Psalm, King David, would probably have fallen with his face to the ground after hearing those words from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.

IV.  FROM PERSECUTION TO EXECUTION (verse 18)

In verse 18 we see that the Jews are turning up the heat on the Lord Jesus.  “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  Now the intent of the Jews is not just a “smear campaign”; it has also become a “death warrant”.  Not only has the Lord Jesus broken their Sabbath laws, but He has dared to claim that He is their Messiah!  In their minds, that is a death sentence.

Let’s look at this situation from a logical point of view.  At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus had performed a miracle that only God could accomplish.  A man who was helpless and without strength for 38 years had his condition reversed instantly by the command of Jesus.  When the leaders of the Jews met this man at the temple, they didn’t even question the miracle because they couldn’t refute it.  Doesn’t it seem logical to you that they should have given Jesus the benefit of the doubt concerning HIs claim until they could find proof that would undeniably refute it?  Just a few minutes earlier they were looking at proof that undeniably affirmed it!

In the late 1800’s a man by the name of Lew Wallace wrote a book that became a best seller, and many years later it was made into a movie which is considered to be one of the best movies of all time.  The book’s name is “Ben Hur”.  Maybe you’ve read the book or seen the movie.  It weaves the true story of Jesus Christ with that of a fictional young Jewish nobleman named Judah Ben-Hur.   As Wallace did his research, studying the Bible and the history and customs of the Jewish people at that time, he came to believe in Jesus Christ.  Wallace said, “I have seen the Nazarene , . . I saw him perform works which no mere man could perform.”  (Our Daily Bread, 4/9/17)

What is your estimate of Jesus Christ?  Have you studied His life and His claims, and have you reviewed the evidence that supports those claims?  Please don’t let personal pride or indifference get in the way of the only relationship that lasts forever, and the only joy that is beyond comparison.

CONCLUSION;

This passage of Scripture demonstrates what legalism can do to people.  Three important principles we can all learn from this incident in the life of Jesus have to do with a proper understanding of legalism and what is needed on our parts in order to avoid legalism in our own lives.  First, my standards, if they go beyond the teachings of the Scriptures, should not go any further than myself.  Secondly, legalism consists, not of having standards which exceed the bounds of Scripture, but of considering those personal standards as being equal to Scripture, and trying to impose them on others.  Thirdly, we’ll avoid legalism if we stay in God’s Word and make it our only guide for living.  You and others around you will be glad you did!

 CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED

The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 3:10-11, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building upon it.  But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than the which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  May your work and your life continue to stand firm on His foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOBLEMAN’S SON HEALED – John 4:45-54

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INTRODUCTION;

A 39-year-old woman in England, who was born deaf and is going blind because of Usher syndrome, is offered the option of having cochlear implants surgically placed in her ears.  There are serious risks involved.  She recounts her fears as she considers the alternatives.  “I’m overwhelmed by fear.  My mother is worried too.  ‘You’re OK as you are, Joanne’, she says, ‘What if it goes wrong?’  But what if it doesn’t?  What if there’s a chance that I’ll take out my hearing aids and never put them back in again?”  (She wears hearing aids but they just provide a constant “white noise”, nothing more).  But if her auditory nerve is damaged during surgery, she will hear nothing for the rest of her life.  What’s she going to do?  Is it worth the risk?

The man in the passage of Scripture we are studying is also faced with a decision.  His son is about to die and there is nothing that the medical doctors can do to change that prognosis.  He’s heard about the “Miracle-Worker” who changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.  He needs a miracle and this Man is his only hope.  There may be serious consequences to him and his family if he pursues such a course of action.  What’s he going to do?  Let’s take a look at John’s Gospel, chapter 4, beginning at verse 45.

I.  JESUS’ RECEPTION IN GALILEE (verse 45)

Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Cana in Galilee, having passed by Nazareth where Jesus commented to His disciples about that town.  As they enter the region of Galilee, their reception is much different from the reception they had in Judea.  Verse 45 says, “The Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”  Jesus and His disciples were in friendly territory.  Many of these Galileans were present when He performed His first miracle, and many others heard about it from those who were there.

II.  THE NEED EXPRESSED (verses 46-47)

Verse 46 says, “He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum.”   We aren’t given the exact reason why they are making this trip.  We do know from other passages of Scripture that one of His disciples, Nathaniel, comes from there, and Jesus and His mother have friends in Cana.  There is also someone in Cana who has travelled a day’s journey to meet Him, and is anxious to talk to Him.  This man is described as a “royal official” (nobleman, courtier).  The Greek word is basilikos, which literally means ” of the king” or “belonging to a king”,  He is probably a royal official appointed by King Herod in some capacity.  We don’t know whether this man is a Jew or a Gentile, but we do know that he is desperate.  He would not have come all the way from Capernaum to be seen in public talking to Jesus if he wasn’t desperate.  What did he have to lose by doing such a thing?  He might lose his reputation, his job, his friends, his family, and possibly even his life.  But right now, what he might gain is more important than what he might lose.  His son is dying and he is willing to do anything, and risk everything, in order to keep that from happening.

Verse 47 tells us how he responds to this critical need in his household.   “When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him. and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.”  He arrived at Cana and waited for the opportunity to speak to Jesus.  When the opportunity was given him to speak, he pleaded for Jesus to come and heal his son.  The nobleman could have sent his servants to make the request but preferred to lay aside his nobility and come humbly to Jesus.  His faith has been called “crisis faith” because believing in Christ’s healing power was his only hope for saving his son who could die at any moment.  You can imagine that a man wearing fine clothing that distinguished him as a high-ranking member of the Roman government, arriving in the little town of Cana, would attract the attention of everyone in the town.  Then to see this nobleman approach Jesus and plead with Him to come and heal his son – this would cause people to come closer to watch what is going on, and to hear the conversation.  The crowd may be thinking, “I wonder if Jesus is going to perform another miracle like He did at the wedding?”  Some members of the crowd may want to “go along for the ride”, so to speak, to watch Jesus perform another miracle.  It’s as if they are saying in their hearts, “Keep showing us miracles; we aren’t convinced yet!”

III.  THE CROWD REBUKED; THE NEED REPEATED (verse 48-49)

The Lord Jesus, looking around at the crowd that has gathered around them, says in verse 48, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”   I don’t believe that Jesus is saying those words to the nobleman, but to the crowd and to the people in general.  He was not performing His miracles for entertainment purposes.   Jesus may have looked away from the nobleman and around at the crowd when He said those words, because the pronouns (“you . . . you”) in the Greek text are both plural.  The nobleman also understands that those words weren’t directed toward him because he says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies”.  We see no offense taken.  He wasn’t concerned about the crowd, nor about his reputation.  He just continues his conversation, repeating his plea; this time addressing Jesus as “Lord” (“kyrie” in the Greek text).  He’s gaining a clearer understanding of Who Jesus is, and his persistence tells me that he is convinced that Jesus can and will heal his son.  However, his understanding of Jesus’ healing abilities is limited.  He thinks that Jesus can only heal someone by going there in person.  As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited by distance (or space).

IV.  THE REPLY OBEYED (verse 50)

In verse 50 his faith is put to the test.  “Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.”  After Jesus kindly spoke those words of assurance, the royal official’s “crisis faith” has now become “obedient faith” (“confident faith”).  He’s taking Jesus at His word, and his faith in Jesus’ Person and His healing abilities has been tested and has increased as a result.  He’s heading for home.  I’m reminded of the centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”

V.  THE RESULTS RECEIVED (verses 51-52)

As the royal official is walking those 20 miles back home, he has nothing but Jesus’ word to keep him going.  Then, in verse 51, something unexpected happens.  “And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.”  The child’s recovery was so sudden and unexplainable that his servants hurried to find him and let him know what had happened.  Verse 51 says that “,,,.his servants met him, saying that his son was living.”  Without knowing it, they were echoing Jesus’ words to him:  “Your son lives”.  Jesus was telling him that his son was immediately healed, and his servants were saying that his son was suddenly and completely healed.  The royal official responds, in verse 52, with words you would expect to hear:  “So he inquired of the hour when he began to get better”.  He was expecting a gradual recovery.  His servants replied, “yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”.  They were telling him that it was an immediate recovery for it happened at the seventh hour (one o’clock that afternoon).  I think the servants were hurrying to find their master before he talked to Jesus in the hope of sparing him the risk of losing his reputation, job, or even his life as a result of being seen with Jesus.  But their words confirmed that the Lord Jesus was the One who healed his son, removing all doubts that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God.

VI.  THE REPONSE GIVEN (verses 53-54)

Verse 53 says, “And the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed, and his whole household.”  I am convinced that the royal official “believed”, surrendering His life to Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment he was given the hour the fever left his son; and the man’s life changed immediately and dramatically.  As he talked to his servants on the way home they could sense this change in his life because he spoke with joy and conviction about the Man who had healed his son.  When he arrived home and held his son in his arms again, he shared with them, not only the details of his meeting with Jesus, but also the change in his own life when he believed.  His “household” – family and servants, heard his testimony, witnessed the change in his life, and “believed”, making the same commitment to Jesus Christ that he made.  It was now a Christian household.  In verse 54, John records that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed, and both of them occurred in Cana of Galilee.

By believing in Jesus Christ, this household was accepting new risks, besides the ones the father took by going to Jesus.  Is it worth the risks?  Ask anyone who has truly made that decision, and whose life has changed because of the power and presence of Christ.  You will see a smile come to that person’s face and a gleam in his or her eyes.  You will also hear expressions of joy from the person’s lips.  The results and rewards are infinitely greater than the risks.

As you review in your mind all the excuses and fears that have kept you from making that decision, also consider what Joann considered in my opening illustration.  “What if it goes wrong?”  “But what if it doesn’t?”  What if it’s true?  What if my life can be drastically changed and I can have a joy, peace, and purpose in my life that’s beyond comparison?  Isn’t it worth the risks?  Won’t the Lord Jesus be faithful to keep His promises if I put my life in His hands and trust in Him?  He was faithful to keep His promise to the royal official.  Why put off the joy that would begin today and last forever?

Joann decided to put her fears aside and have that surgery.  The implants were now in place, and she had to wait a month for her ears to heal.  Then the audiologist connected electrodes, made adjustments, put new hearing aids in place, and made more adjustments.  When the adjustments were completed, the words:  “caaaaaan , , , yooooooou , , , heeeeeear . . . meeeeeeee?” rang in her ears.  “The first words I’ve ever heard . . . tears spill into my lap as I try to take it all in . . . “.  (“Hearing For The First Time … at Age 39 “, by Jo Milne, (Readers’ Digest, 7/8/2015); from the book, “Breaking The Silence”).  It was worth the risks!

There’s a whole new life and a whole new world that opens up to you when you repent of your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  He took the greatest risks and paid the greatest price to provide you with this opportunity.  His grace is sufficient to enable you to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances that might result from your decision (Ephesians 5:20; I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As you consider again the two alternatives:  a commitment to Jesus Christ, or not; remember that in this case, what you gain, you gain forever, and what you lose, you lose forever.  Is it worth the risks of putting it off?  Is it worth the risk of suffering the consequences both now and forever?  I hope you will follow the example of the royal official and his household.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is complete.  There may still be some finishing touches.  The next construction site will be John 5:1-9.  If this is your first time at this website, I put my study of God’s Word on this site a section-at-a-time as I study it   There are over a hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May this be a joyful and productive day for you, whether it’s risky or risk-free.

WHEN FAMILIARITY BRED CONTEMPT – John 4:43-44

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INTRODUCTION:

The story is told about a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer.  When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog.  And whenever the moon shines it goes outside and barks all night.”  Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject.  Finally someone asked, “But judge, what about the dog and the moon?”  “Oh”, he replied, “the moon kept on shining –  that’s all.”

Most of us have sayings that we tend to use when the situation is appropriate.  I mentioned one proverbial saying in my previous message:  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  Other sayings that come to mind are:  “Birds of a feather flock together”, “That’s the way the ball bounces”, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, and the one I used as the title for this message  (“Familiarity breeds contempt.”)  Do you have favorite sayings that you use, or that come to your mind?

The Lord Jesus and His disciples have left Sychar, Samaria after the revival that occurred there, and they are headed north for the region of Galilee.  As verse 43 says, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.”  What follows in verse 44 is a proverbial saying that Jesus gives to His disciples.  “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”  It is significant that those words spoken by Jesus (“A prophet has no honor in his own country“) are recorded in all four Gospels, and may have been said at different times and with different results .  The other three passages of Scripture where those words are recorded are Matthew 13:54-57, Luke 4:21-24, and Mark 6:1-4.  Those three passages of Scripture give us more information, and a better understanding of Jesus’s reason for using that phrase, so we will be studying all three passages of Scripture and bringing all that information together.  I think that there is much that we can learn and apply from those few words that Jesus may have repeated to them several times.  Studying all four passages may also answer our questions and explain the “mystery” behind those repeated statements.

I.  “A PROPHET” (John 4:44a)

When He said those two words (“A prophet”), Jesus was asserting that His proverbial saying has been true of all the prophets of God.  Is there any evidence to affirm this?  We see many cases in the Old Testament where the people of Israel tried to kill the prophets.  So we see that Jesus’ saying did occur.  The prophet Jeremiah, however, agrees with the Lord Jesus and puts his experiences into words, in Jeremiah 2:19, describing what his own people, the people of Judah, were trying to do to him.  “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit; and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’ “

One of the prophets who may have been scorned because of his profession was the prophet Amos.  He is described as being a farmer and a grower of sycamore figs.  I can hear their jeers in my mind:  “Amos?  Isn’t he the farmer?  What makes that fig-picker think he has the right to tell us what to do?”

The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet, and He is a prophet.  But He is also much more than a prophet.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and by His forerunner, John the Baptist.  He deserved not only honor but also worship, adoration and obedience.

II.  “HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY”  (verse 44b)

Here in John’s Gospel, these words are not given as a direct quote from Jesus, but as a reference to a quote made by Him.  As they are passing by, or passing through the city of Nazareth on their way to Cana in Galilee, those words of Jesus come back to his John’s mind.  John may be saying those words as an explanation for why Jesus did not stop there, or spend any time in Nazareth as they were passing by it on this trip.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, this saying is given as a direct quote from Jesus, and the settings and reasons for His response are also given.  Luke’s Gospel reads:  “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up . . . . went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day . . . was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . . . ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.”  Their response:  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  That’s a snide remark if I’ve heard one!  “How can Joseph’s son from our own community dare to make the claim that He is the Messiah?”  Beside the fact of the family’s low income, there may also have been the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child because of the virgin birth.  That’s the way it is in some small towns, even in that day!  When Jesus reminds them that the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed miracles for Gentile people outside the nation of Israel, the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff!  (Luke 4:16-30)

III.  HIS OCCUPATION AND FAMILY (Matthew 13 and Mark 6)

In Matthew 13:54-57, just before Jesus quotes that proverb, the Gospel writer Matthew records these words:  “And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this man all these things?’  And they took offence at Him.”

Notice that twice they address the Lord Jesus as “this man”.  He’s a “home-town boy” and they won’t even address Him by His name!  They’ve also added more ammunition to their insults!  They won’t mention His name but they mention the names of His family members.  I call this tactic of theirs “guilt by association”.  They can’t find sin or imperfections in Jesus’ life and character so they mention the names of all His family members.  They can recall sins and imperfections in their lives, so Jesus must be the same way since He’s one of the family, and sinfulness “runs in their family”, so to speak!

As bad as those insults are in Matthew’s Gospel, it gets even worse in Mark’s Gospel.  A couple more insults are slipped into the conversation and one of them is the worst insult of them all!  Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?”  They call Jesus a “carpenter”.  This is the only place in the Bible that refers to Jesus’ occupation before beginning His public ministry.  The Greek word is tekton, and we get our English words “technical”, “technician”, “technique”, and “architect” from forms of that word.  He was basically a handyman, working  with wood, stone, and metal to build whatever needed to be built and fix whatever needed fixing.  He worked hard, got His hands dirty, and is an example to all who are in a trade, in the construction business, or in technical professions.  In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  The literal Greek says, “MY YOKE FITS WELL”.  As a handyman/carpenter, the Lord Jesus must have built many yokes for oxen.  I’m sure that farmers from miles around asked Jesus to come, measure, build and fit yokes for their oxen because He did the job so well – 100% satisfaction guaranteed!

But His profession was looked down upon by the rabbis and leaders.  They despised Him because He was a working man.  But their worst insult follows right after his occupation.  They called Jesus “the son of Mary”.   A man was never described or addressed as the son of his mother, even if she was a widow.  It was intended by them to be an insult, stating that He really was an illegitimate child.  This time their intent was clear.  Now the apostle John’s words in John 1:11 ring out loud and clear:  “He (Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

CONCLUSION:

Criticism seems to be a favorite pastime among many people in this day and age.  The temptation to compare and criticize is always present, asking for permission to pass from our minds to our mouths.  Here is one example.  Two taxidermists stopped before a window in which an owl was on display.  They immediately began to criticize the way it was mounted.  It’s eyes were not natural; its wings were not in proportion with its head; its feathers were not neatly arranged; and its feet could be improved.  When they had finished with their criticism, the old owl turned his head . . . and winked at them!

The two specialists thought they were criticizing the owl’s taxidermist, when in actuality, they were criticizing the owl’s Creator!  It’s easy to criticize from the outside, looking in.  Why not go inside, leaving your prejudices and your biases behind, and view the real thing from all sides and angles, having all your questions answered.  Your perceptions might change drastically!

If we are children of God through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have critics, especially among unsaved family members.  But we ought to live in such a way that no one will believe our critics, and pray that some day, by the grace of God, our critics won’t believe their criticisms of us anymore either.

May we be so deeply rooted in the Word of God and so closely tied together in our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, that the winds of criticism won’t take us off-course, no matter how strong they blow and no matter which direction they come from.  May we continue to shine like the moon in spite of all the “howling and barking” that goes on when we are present.

 

 

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST – John 1:29-34

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INTRODUCTION:

In the previous sermon we studied John the Baptist’s description of himself in chapter one, verses 19-28.  In order to understand the sequence of events in the next passage of Scripture, we need to realize that there is a gap of about six weeks before John’s statement about Jesus in verse 15.  During this period of time Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Afterward He was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil.  The gospel writer John makes no mention of this.  After Jesus overcame the devil and recuperated from His long fast, He returned to the Jordan River.  Matthew 3:13-4:11 gives a clear description of these events without any breaks.

I.  JOHN’S PROCLAMATION (verses 29-30)

On the day Jesus returned to the Jordan River, John the Baptist recognized Him at a distance.  Literally it says, “He caught his eye”.  I take it to mean that John the Baptist was “keeping an eye out for Him”, looking expectantly for His return.  I’m reminded of the parable of the prodigal son where the father saw his son returning when the son was still a long way off (Luke 15:20).  He was looking expectantly also – for his son to return.

This is the Lord’s first appearance in the Gospel of John.  John the Baptist points Him out in verse 29 saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I visualize John the Baptist pointing his finger in the direction of Jesus as he said those words in a loud voice, and everyone within earshot turned their heads to look at Jesus.  There seems to be very little doubt that Jesus chose this moment to be introduced to the nation of Israel by his forerunner as the “Lamb of God“.  What a wonderful title!  That statement was packed with meaning for his listeners and for us today.  There are several things that would have come to the minds of his listeners when he said those words.

The feast of the Passover was approaching in just a few days (John 2:12,13).  It was a time of remembering when God was preparing the Hebrew people in the Old Testament to flee from Egypt and from their slavery to Pharaoh (Exodus 12:1-14).  Each Hebrew family was to kill an unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes to protect them from the wrath of God and His final plague on Egypt.  The Angel of Death was going to kill the first-born of the families and the cattle of Egypt, but he would “pass over” and not enter the homes where the lamb’s blood was visible.  They were saved from death by the blood of a lamb.

As John the Baptist introduced Jesus with the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God“, it’s very likely that the Jews who heard him could also hear the sounds of sheep, and could see flocks of sheep being led toward the city of Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover feast.  These animals would be used as sacrifices during the feast, reminding them that salvation comes through the shedding of blood.

The title “Lamb of God” would also remind the Jews of the lambs that were sacrificed every day in the Temple as commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-41.  Every morning and every evening a lamb was sacrificed on the altar as a burnt offering.  In the next verse, verse 42, God says, “It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations . . . “  It was to be part of their daily worship.  So the sacrificial lambs were to be, not only a yearly reminder on the Feast of Passover, but a daily reminder, every morning and every evening, of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin.  These sacrificed lambs were looking ahead to Jesus, the only One who could take away sin.

There is one more description of the Lamb that is a prophetic description given by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.  The prophet Jeremiah refers to himself as “a gentle lamb being led to the slaughter”.  The prophet Isaiah uses similar words to refer to the suffering Messiah:  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter , and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  Both of these passages of Scripture speak of the humility and gentleness of a lamb.  In Matthew 11:29, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus describes His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart“.  Hopefully, those thoughts came to the minds of his listeners also after John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God”.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world”.  The Greek word translated “takes away” can also mean “takes up”.  Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon Himself.  This is what is described in Isaiah 53:4-5.  “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; , , , He was crushed for our iniquities . . . “

Years ago, in a small oriental town, several men were working on a scaffold high above the street.  Suddenly one of them lost his footing and fell to the pavement below.  Horrified, his companions quickly descended, expecting to find his body broken and mangled.  To their surprise they discovered that he was unhurt!  At the exact moment of his fall, some sheep were passing through the street beneath him, and he landed on the back of one of the animals.  There it lay, crushed and dead, but the man was saved.  As he gazed upon that lifeless creature, he was heard to say, “It died for me!”

The death of Christ was no accident.  His crucifixion was part of God’s plan from all eternity.  Revelation 13:8 says that Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world”.  The first stanzas of the following two hymns declare how precious those words of John the Baptist are for us today.

Behold the Lamb, whose precious blood
Poured from His opened veins,
Had power to make our peace with God
And cleanse our deepest stains.
(Christopher Hall)

Now Behold the Lamb,
the Precious Lamb of God,
born into sin that I may live again,
the precious Lamb of God.
(Kirk Franklin)

It is said that the shortest sermon that Charles Haddon Spurgeon ever preached consisted of the recitation of those wonderful words in John 1:29.  The great preacher had been commissioned to conduct special services in the Chrystal Palace in London, England.  A day or two before he was to preach, he decided to test the acoustics of the building.  Thinking the auditorium was empty, he cried out in a loud voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world”!  A workman in one of the galleries, who knew nothing about what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul.  He was filled with conviction because of his sin.  Putting down his tools, he went home, and there, after a time of spiritual struggle, found peace and eternal life by accepting the Lamb of God as his Savior and Lord.  If Jesus Christ is not your Lord, and you are convicted of your sin, I hope that you will respond to those words in John 1:29 in the same life-changing way.

In verse 30, John the Baptist says that Jesus is not only “the Lamb of God”, but He is also God Himself.  John was six months older than Jesus, but he says that Jesus “existed before me”.  In other words, Jesus’ existence did not begin at birth.  He always existed, and is therefore God.

II.  JOHN’S PREVIOUS CONCERNS RESOLVED (verses 31-34

In my previous sermon, “John the Baptist’s Testimony About Himself”, I raised the following question:  “Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?”.  Verses 31-34 raise this question:  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah?  In verse 31 John says, “And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.”  John knew what he was supposed to do, but the text seems to indicate that he didn’t know the Person for whom he was doing it.  Have you ever been given the responsibility of doing something for someone else, with clear instructions, but you didn’t know the recipient of your efforts?  As you did the work, did you have a longing inside to know who that person was?  I think we would all like to know those details if we could, wouldn’t we?

So when did John the Baptist come to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God?  Obviously, he realized this fact after his baptism of Jesus, when the signs from heaven occurred, but could the realization have come earlier?  In Matthew 3:13-14, as Jesus was coming toward him to be baptized, John tried to prevent Him saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”  It could be that John the Baptist had opportunities to observe Jesus before this encounter and was impressed by Jesus’ sinless life.  Maybe that’s the reason he felt that Jesus didn’t need baptism, but should be the One who baptized him.  Another possibility is that God gave John a flash of insight when he saw Jesus coming, and this insight was confirmed after His baptism.  The Scriptures don’t say for sure, but I lean toward the second possibility myself.  We do know from Scripture that Jesus did not fit the Jew’s concept of what the Messiah would look like.  Jesus was not a handsome man.  He was also a poor man, and wore the clothing of a poor person.  To look at Him, no Jew would have thought that Jesus was the Messiah by His outward appearance alone.

In verse 32, John the Baptist describes what happened after Jesus’ baptism:  “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He (the Spirit/dove) remained upon Him (Jesus).”  He doesn’t mention the voice coming from heaven, probably because he is declaring the fulfillment of a statement he received from God.  That statement is found in verse 33:  “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”

When I was a little child I thought that the Holy Spirit actually was a dove because He was always depicted that way in the pictures I had seen.  Is there a significance to the fact that the Holy Spirit chose to manifest Himself in the form of a dove?  Henry Bosch shares some interesting facts in an Our Daily Bread devotional.  Doves do not have a gall bladder, so there is no bitterness to them, only sweetness.  The Scriptures associate a dove with gentleness and innocence (Matthew 10:16), and beauty (Psalm 68:13).  The cooing of a dove has a calming effect.  All of these descriptions also describe the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.  Bible commentator William Barclay adds that the dove was considered a sacred bird in Palestine.  It was not hunted and it was not eaten.  The Rabbis, referring to Genesis 1:2, used to say that the Spirit of God “moved and fluttered like a dove over the ancient chaos, breathing beauty and order into it.”   The Jews of that day knew and loved the symbol of the dove as a picture of the Spirit of God.  The dove and young pigeon were the only birds that could be used as an offering to God, according to Mosaic law (Leviticus 5:7; 12:8), and only the poor were allowed to use them.  It brings to my mind that, only when we are poor in spirit, can we be filled with the Spirit of God.  Only when we surrender our own control over our lives can the Holy Spirit take control.

When the dove remained on Jesus after his baptism by John, the words of God to John were fulfilled.  Jesus is the One who “baptizes in the Holy Spirit”.  What does that mean?  There is no record that Jesus baptized anyone with water during His ministry on earth.  The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” which also means “to identify with”.  There are four “ingredients” to baptism:  the baptizer, the one being baptized, the element into which the person is being baptized, and the purpose of the baptism.  In John’s baptism, the baptizer was John the Baptist, the one being baptized was the Jew who had repented of his or her sins, and the purpose was to publicly declare their repentance in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival.  In the baptism of believers in Jesus Christ, His apostles/disciples were the baptizers, the one being baptized was the person who repented and believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, the element again was water, and the purpose was to obey God by publicly identifying with Christ  and with the local body of believers.  The mode of baptism was emersion symbolizing death and burial to one’s old way of life and resurrection to a new life as a new person in Christ.  This public baptism was a one-time event.  A genuine Christian need only be baptized once.

Following this same format, in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is the Baptizer, the one being baptized is the one who has placed his faith in Jesus Christ, the element into which the person is being baptized is the Holy Spirit and the purpose is  personal identification with Jesus Christ and admittance into the universal body of believers (the “children of God”).  This baptism also only occurs once at the moment of conversion.  At that exact moment the believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit.  This is to be distinguished from the  “fullness” of the Spirit, which is a moment-to-moment yielding to His control over our lives, resulting in the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit.  As J. Sidlow Baster aptly said about God’s ministry in our lives:

What God chooses, He cleanses.
What God cleanses, He molds.
What God molds, He fills.
What God fills, He uses.

In verse 34, John concludes this testimony of his by saying, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”  That was what the voice from heaven said, and John has testified that he heard it and believes it.  There is now no doubt in his mind that Jesus is the Son of God, and he declares it publicly.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  Welcome to this new site:  John 1:29-34!  I’m making  headway on this work-in-process and enjoying what I’m learning and describing to you.  More will be added very soon, and you are welcome to visit other completed sermons on this site.  It’s always “Open House” here!  See you again soon!

“THE WORD” – THE INFINITE AND ETERNAL GOD – John 1:1-3

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INTRODUCTION:

There have been thousands of neighborhood surveys given by Christian organizations and churches over the years.  Maybe you’ve participated in one or more of them yourself.  A question that is often asked on these surveys is:  “Who is Jesus Christ?”.  The answer most often given is:  “He is the Son of God”.  But most of the people who give that answer don’t know what it means nor how they came to that conclusion.  In a 1983 Gallup poll, Americans were asked, “Who do you think Jesus is?”  70% of those interviewed said that He was not just another man.  43% stated that Jesus was God among men,  27% felt that Jesus was only human but divinely called.  9% stated that Jesus was divine because he embodied the best of humanity.  Also, 81% of the Americans polled considered themselves to be Christians.  In John 1:1-3, John gives a brief and concise summary of Jesus’ relationship to God.

I.  JOHN’S USE OF THE “WORD” (verse 1)

The passage begins by using the term “Word” to refer to Christ.  This term is not used in this way in any of the other gospels.  John uses the Greek word “logos” because it was a familiar term in Greek philosophy and literature, and also because it had a special meaning for the Jews.

In Greek philosophy the “logos” was the principle which maintained perfect order in the universe and controlled it.  The “logos” also controlled the events of history.

What meaning would “the word” have in the minds of the Jewish readers of John’s gospel?  It would turn their thoughts to the first chapter in the book of Genesis where we are told that in the beginning God spoke, and all things came into being.  Genesis 1:3 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”  If a Jew living during the lifetime of Christ on earth was asked the question:  “What happens when God speaks?”  His answer would have been, “The thing is instantly done or happens.”  The prophet Isaiah records these words that God spoke to him in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which it was sent.”

By beginning his gospel with the use of the term “logos”, John has succeeded in creating an interest and has peaked the curiosity of both Greeks and Jews.  “Who is this person you are referring to?”  “How can you claim that He is the ‘logos’?” John has succeeded in grabbing their attention and they are anxious to find out what he is going to say next.  Now that he has their attention, John makes four statements about Christ’s deity.

Ii.  JESUS IS ETERNALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“In the beginning was the Word.”  We know that as the apostle John writes about the Word, the “Logos”, he is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ because he says in verses 14 and 17:  “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  (NASB)

“In the beginning” – John begins his gospel in eternity past.  In the Greek text there is no definite article before the word “beginning”.  At whatever beginning you might choose, “the Word” already existed.  The following is an excuse that is sometimes used by those who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God:  “If Jesus is called the Son of God, He cannot be eternal because He is called the ‘firstborn’, and the eternal Father must be older than His Son.”

However, eternal fatherhood demands eternal sonship.  Consider this question:  “When did your father begin to be your father?”  He became your father at the very moment that you became his child, and not before.  Isn’t that correct?  Therefore the eternal Father must have an eternal Son.

John is also implying in this verse that, unlike the Greek concept of the “logos”, which came along with creation as part of creation, Jesus Christ, “the Logos” existed before creation.  John is stretching their concept of the logos to a much higher level.  Contrary to their thinking, the logos is not a force in the universe, but an eternal Person who transcends this universe.  Both the Jew and the Greek at the time of this writing would agree that the only Person who could transcend time would have to be God.

III.  JESUS IS EQUALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“And the Word was with God” – a unique Person, yet a common entity.  He is distinguishable from God the Father, yet eternally God.  It is a mystery.  We cannot understand how this can be with our finite minds.  Genesis 1 says, “The Spirit of God was moving upon the surface of the waters.”  He is also a distinct Person, and part of the God-head.

In John chapter 1, verse 2, John says it again using different words:  “He was in the beginning with God“.  By writing it again, John is saying, “Yes, that’s what I said and that’s what I meant!”  The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is “elohim”.  It is a plural noun.

There are not three Gods.  There is one God in three Persons.  I like this definition in the book, Christian Theology in Plain Language:  “Three persons who are coequally and co-eternally God”.  Expressed mathematically, the concept of the Trinity would be described, not as 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals three, but as one times one times one equals one.  People have problems with the Trinity because they can’t completely understand it, but in actuality, the concept of the trinity lies behind the very nature and structure of this universe.  For example, we are living in a space – matter – time universe.  We express space in terms of length, width, and height.  We express time in terms of past, present, and future.  We express matter in terms of  energy, motion, and phenomenon.  Even the tiny atoms that make up our universe are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons.  These aren’t “accidents” or “coincidences” but evidences that the universe reflects the very nature of the Godhead.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 1:19-20 when he says,  “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

All three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus.  There was Jesus who had just been baptized, the Holy Spirit who descended from heaven in the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus, and there was the Father, whose voice from heaven said, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 5:16-17; Luke 3:21-22)

Just before the ascension of Jesus into heaven, He gave His Great Commission to His disciples, and in it He mentions all three members of the Triune God.  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-19).  So the Lord Jesus Himself declares the Trinity of God and identifies Himself as one of the members of that Trinity.

IV.  JESUS IS ESSENTIALLY GOD (1:1)

“And the Word was God.”  In His essence, in His real nature, and in His attributes, Jesus Christ is God.  There is at least one religious sect that says that Jesus Christ is not God because John 1:1 says “The Word was a god“, since there is no definite article before the word “God” in the Greek text.  To show the error of this thinking, let’s insert the definite article into the Greek text.  Now the English translation would read, “The Word was the God”.  This would imply that no divine being existed except Jesus Christ.  Such a statement would contradict the previous phrase, “The Word was with God”.  It would also contradict Genesis 1, where God says, “Let us make man in our image”.  So John purposely did not put the definite article in his text because he wanted to imply that Jesus Christ is God.  He is divine, but there are also other divine Persons, namely the Father and the Holy Spirit.

After verse 1, the apostle John never uses the term “logos” again.  Why?  Because the concept, the force, the spoken word is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And as the eternal Son of God, He has been the true “Logos” from all eternity.  From now on John’s focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ because He and “the Logos” are the same.

This has been a “deep theology lesson”, and I’m no theologian!  But John realizes that this is a necessary introduction if we are going to understand his purpose for writing this Gospel.  Knowing this basic theology will help us to understand the signs Jesus performed, the words Jesus said, and the responses He received as a result, as recorded by the apostle John.   

V.  JESUS IS THE CREATOR-GOD (1:3)

It is natural, when we think of God, to think of His power to create.  Thus John says in verse 3, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”.  If we were to look through the most powerful telescope, we would see galaxy after galaxy, and worlds travelling at incredible speeds.  Yet their orbits are so mathematically precise that we can predict an eclipse or a comet’s appearance years in advance.  If we were to look into the most powerful microscope we would be able to see the atoms that are the building blocks of all matter.  An atom measures about 150 millionths of an inch in diameter.  Though they are so small, atoms are like a miniature solar system, with a central nucleus and a number of electrons flashing in orbit around it.

Hopefully, the following illustration will give you a sense of the vastness and complexity of God’s creation.  If the molecules in just one drop of water could be converted into grains of sand, there would be enough sand to build a concrete highway, half a mile wide and one foot thick, all the way from New York to San Francisco.  That’s about 3000 miles!  And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made them all – every single atom in the universe!

CONCLUSION:

I encourage you to take some time to reflect upon the vastness, complexity and order of our universe.  Take a walk or drive to a secluded spot and observe the foliage and the animals.  Or draw the curtains, pull up the shades, open the windows and take in the sights, sounds, and smells.  Reflect also upon yourself and how you are made. There is no one like you.  You are unique.  Your fingerprints, your voice, your hair, your DNA are unique to you.   All of these things you observe and consider point to a Creator.  Do you know Him?  Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  Do you know Jesus Christ personally and intimately?  If so, your life will be filled with joy, and your actions will give testimony to His presence in you.

You are also welcome to read other sermons I have placed on this site.  There are over 70 of them now!   May God’s Word provide direction and enrichment to your life.

 

BEHOLD YOUR GOD – Background and Survey of the Gospel of John

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FORWARD:

This study through the Gospel of John is going to keep us busy for over a year, and possibly over two years.  The apostle John says in I John 1:1, “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! (The Message).

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, to hear His voice, to hear Him call you by name, to embrace Him, to watch the expressions on His face, and to observe all the things He said and did while He was on this earth?  Does thinking about that fill your hearts with joy and excitement?  My desire is to try to imagine and simulate that first-hand experience as I study the text.  I plan to incorporate more of the Old Testament scriptures and the other three Gospels into the study, where appropriate, so that we might see Him in as much detail, and with as much clarity as possible.

I.  INTRODUCTION:

Was there ever a time in your life when you asked yourself the question:  “Which book of the Bible should I read first?”  Has anybody ever asked you that same question, seeking your advice?  A question that is often asked by Bible translation teams is “Which book of the Bible should we translate first?”  The answer to those two questions is often the same:  the Gospel of John.

William MacDonald made this observation:  “The Gospel of John is the most familiar and perhaps the best loved book in the Bible.  Charles R. Erdman says of this Gospel:  “It has induced more people to follow Christ, it has inspired more believers to loyal service, it has presented to scholars more difficult problems, than any other book that could be named.”

II.  WHY ARE THERE FOUR GOSPELS?

That’s a commonly asked question also:  “Why are there four gospels?”  Actually, there is one gospel, written from the perspective of four different men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.

Matthew, formerly named Levi, was a Jewish tax collector who became a follower of Christ.  His purpose in writing was to demonstrate to his fellow-Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the “anointed One”, whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.  He begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.  Matthew also quotes from the Old Testament scriptures more often than any other gospel-writer.  His intention is to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies that were written concerning the coming Messiah.

Mark, also called John Mark, focuses on the Lord Jesus as a servant.  A theme verse is Mark 10:45 where Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live as a ransom for many.” (NIV)  We find no genealogy in Mark’s gospel, but we see Jesus involved in the lives of people.

Luke is writing to the Greeks, and looks at Jesus as a man.  Many of the Greek gods and goddesses had a pretty-sordid history and didn’t relate well to people.  The genealogy in Luke’s gospel goes all the way back to Adam, showing that Jesus was truly a member of the human race.  Luke also gives more insights into the birth and childhood of Jesus than any other gospel writer.

John looks at Jesus as God.  He focuses on the deity of Christ.  John’s gospel contains no details about the birth or the childhood of Christ.  It also contains no parables, no temptation scene, no Gethsemane, and no mention of scribes, publicans, lepers, or demoniacs.

III.  WHO WAS THE AUTHOR?

The writer of this account of the life and teachings of Christ was John, the son of Zebedee.  He and his brother James were fishermen along with their father.  While James and John were mending their nets, Jesus came by and called out to them, asking them to come and follow Him (Mt. 4:21-22; Mk. 1:19-20; Lk. 5:9-11).  They both immediately left their nets and followed Him.  John outlived the other disciples and wrote three letters.  He also wrote “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” while living as an exile on the island of Patmos.  In this writing, John gives a message to each of the seven churches in Asia and writes down a description of the visions he received from God

IV.  WHAT WAS JOHN’S PURPOSE?

We find John’s purpose for writing his gospel near the end of his book.  John 20:30-31 says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  (NIV)  John’s purpose was to provide the answer to these two questions:  First, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  And secondly, “What is to be our proper response to Him on the basis of who He is?”

Since John’s Gospel was the last to be written, and the others were already being copied and distributed, it makes me wonder whether Matthew, Mark, and Luke might have met with John concerning certain events which were not included in their accounts.  If so, the apostle John did a good job of “filling in the blanks” as well as focusing his attention on the deity of Christ!

There are three key words in John 20:30-31, and they need a bit of an explanation:

Signs” – John recorded six miracles that are not recorded in the other gospels:  the water changed into wine (chapter 2), the nobleman’s son healed (chapter 4), the paralyzed man healed (chapter 5), the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11), and the second great catch of fish (chapter 21).  Each one of these miracles, or signs, demonstrates Christ’s deity and authority.  These signs were performed on other people or for the benefit of other people.

Believe” – is the response that these signs were intended to produce.  The word is used 98 times in John’s gospel, and refers to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  We find in John’s gospel that those who believed in Jesus Christ became His followers, whereas those who refused to believe became His opponents.

Life” – refers to the result that belief brings.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “i tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (NIV)  Eternal life begins at the moment that we invite Jesus Christ to come into our lives and be our Savior and Lord.  John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus said that we can have an abundant and fulfilling life right now if we belong to Him.

V.  WHAT WERE JOHN’S METHODS?

John records the testimonies of seven eye-witnesses:

John the Baptist – “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. . . . And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:30-34)

Nathanael – “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”  (John 1:49)

The Samaritan woman – “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done; this is not the Christ, is it”? . . . And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.”  (John 4:29, 39).

Peter –  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).

Martha – Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”  (John 11:27)

Thomas – “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God’ “.  (John 20:28).

John – “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. (John 20:31)

Each of these people had personal conversations with Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was God.

John also records the seven “I am’s” of Jesus, (Jesus reveals Himself seven times using the words “I am”).

“I am the bread of life” (chapter 6)

“I am the light of the world” (chapters 8 and 9)

“I am the door”  (chapter 10)

“I am the good shepherd”  (chapter 10)

“I am the resurrection and the life” (chapter 11)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (chapter 14)

“I am the true vine”  (chapter 15)

In each of these descriptions of Himself, Jesus points to His deity, and thus His ability to meet their deepest needs.  Also, each time Jesus uses that format to describe Himself, He is bringing to their minds the question that Moses asked the voice that was coming from the burning bush, and the answer he received.  In Exodus 3:!3, Moses said to God, “behold I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  “Now they may say to me, ”What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?”  In verse 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.  That was God’s covenant name to the Jewish people, and Jesus is using it to refer to Himself (YHWH, usually pronounced as  Yahweh or Jehovah).

Finally, John records 27 personal interviews with Jesus.  Some of them were extensive and some were very brief.  The Lord Jesus wanted people of all belief systems and all walks of life to know who He really is, and that He cares for them.

If the things that John is saying about Jesus Christ are hard for you to believe at this point in your life, you are not alone.  John will be giving more and more evidence to verify Jesus’ claims.  Please continue to study this book with me and give it some thought and reflection.  I have personally observed that many people, including myself, have had an unclear concept of Jesus Christ and His teachings.  The Gospel of John, more than any other New Testament book, cleared my mind and changed my heart.  That is one of the reasons why I want to study it again.

It’s time to move on to the next construction site:  John 1:1-3.  I hope to see you there!

 

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”!

 

 

BE PATIENT LIKE THE FARMER – JAMES 5:7-8

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INTRODUCTION:

Are you a patient person – both on the outside and on the inside?  Do you mind standing in long lines?  Are you unperturbed when listening to long commercials on your TV or radio, or long, automated ads on the telephone?  Are you content when put on hold for an undetermined amount of time?  If your honest answer is “yes”, you are, by far, an exception to the rule!

In 2006, a survey of more than 2000 adults revealed that most peope take an average of 17 minutes to lose their patience when waiting in line.  Also, most people lose their patience in only 9 minutes when on hold on the phone. Impatience is a common trait; wouldn’t you agree?

TRANSITION:

James has finished his verbal chastening of the selfish, unrighteous rich people, and is continuing where he left off in his address to the churches.  We see the transition in verse 7, where James now calls his readers and listeners “brethren”. He is writing once again to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

I.  THE EXHORTATION (vs. 7a)

He has been telling the wicked rich people what to do before they meet their Maker.  Now he is telling his fellow-believers what their attitude should be in their present circumstances in order to prepare to meet their Lord and Savior.  He reiterates what he said in chapter 1, verse 12:  “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  In this letter, James has brought to their minds many passages from the Old Testament, and I believe he is doing so again.  One Old Testament passage of Scripture which closely parallels his words is Psalm 37. In verses 7-9 of Psalm 37, King David writes:  “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret for him who prospers in his way, because of him who carries out wicked schemes.”  Then David says in verse 9, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”

This exhortation is repeated several times in Psalm 37.  I encourage you to read the whole psalm to get the full effect of what David is saying there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

James also gives this encouragement in verse 7 in order to protect his readers and listeners from their own selfish plans and boastful attitudes (James 4:13-17).  Some of them have been setting up their own timetable for what they want to accomplish for themselves, and have been boasting about it to others.

When James uses the words “until the coming of the Lord”, he may be reminding himself of the Lord Jesus’ words to him and the other disciples:  “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also”  (John 14:1-3). That’s a wonderful promise for us to cling to as well, in these troublesome times! The early church believed that Christ could come at any moment, and that was a source of joy and encouragement in their trials.  Two centuries have passed, but Christ could still come at any moment.  Are you excited about that possibility?  It could become a reality at any moment!

II.  THE EXAMPLE (vs. 7b)

James says, “take a good look at the farmer as an example of patience (long-suffering)”.  The farmer has a lot of work to do, and he also must wait for things to happen in his fields and orchards.  Plants take time to grow and fruit takes time to ripen.  As his readers and listeners know, in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, God made a promise to the nation of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land.  “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain . . . “.  In Israel the early rain, or autumn rain, comes in October and November, after the ground has been prepared and the seed has been sown.  This rain enables the seed to germinate, produce sprouts, and grow to almost full height.  The late rain, or spring rain, comes in March or April, when the buds have formed, and enables the grain to mature for the harvest.  It’s important that the farmer follows this timetable set forth by God if he wants an abundant harvest.  There is a time of patiently waiting for the autumn rain to arrive, for the spring rain to arrive, and for the harvesting to begin, but the farmer is kept busy preparing and repairing the equipment and the barns, and getting the laborers ready for the coming harvest.  The time goes by quickly because the farmer is committed to his tasks and excited about the harvest to come.

III.  THE EXHORTATION (verse 7b)

James encourages his readers and listeners to have the same attitude of perseverance and expectancy as the farmer that he has just described.  There are, and have been, times in our lives that have tested our patience and posed a threat to our devotion to God and service for Him.  There have also been times when we have wanted to get things done in a hurry just to get them over with!  19th-century preacher A.B. Simpson offers this advice:  “Beloved, have you ever thought that someday you will not have anything to try you, or anyone to vex you again?  There will be no opportunity in heaven to learn or to show the spirit of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering.  If you are to practice these things, it must be now.”  Each day offers countless opportunities to learn patience.  Let’s not waste them.

A PERSPECTIVE FROM ABOVE

I’m going to carry this illustration of the farmer a step further because both the Old and New Testaments do so.  It is a clear, powerful, and exciting realization and motivation for us today.  I have already shared scriptures concerning the early and late rains as found in the old testament.  But there is another image that James may be trying to convey, and this image may be coming to the minds of his readers and listeners.  It is the image of God as the patient Farmer, the Cultivator, the Planter, the Nurturer, the Pruner, and the Harvester in the lives of His people.

King David says to God is Psalm 65:9-10:  “Thou dost visit the earth and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it.  The stream of God is full of water. Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth.  Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges.  Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth.”  He describes God as doing the whole work of the farmer.

Psalm 121 gets more personal.  “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is the shade at your right hand.  The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from every evil.  He will keep your soul.”  As the farmer takes good care of his land and crops, so the Lord takes constant care of His people.

A song that I sing to myself almost every day is the hymn, “God Will Take Care Of You”.  Now I’m beginning to realize why this song is so special to me.  The words. “God will take care of you” are repeated over and over again with different melodies.  Singing the song brings a smile to my face and an assurance that those words are really true.  It reminds me that when I was a little child, my mother used a similar method to calm me down and help take away the fear or the pain I was experiencing.  She would hold me close, rock me in her arms, and say, “It’s OK, Tommy . . . It’s alright . . . I love you . . . You’re going to be alright . . .  It’s gonna go away . . . You’re going to be OK.”  Does that bring back memories?  Those repeated words brought comfort to me, and helped take my mind off the problem.  In a similar way, God tells us over and over again in the Scriptures that He loves us and will take care of us.

Isaiah 30:18 reflects the patience of a farmer.  “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you.  And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”  “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightul plant.”  If God is waiting, that means He is also watching, and with joyful anticipation!

The Lord Jesus echoed the words in the psalms and prophets when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . by this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:5,8).

We believers in the Lord Jesus are God’s vineyard, God’s field.  We are the fertile ground which God has prepared.  He has planted the seed of His Word in us, watered it, and caused it to germinate and grow.  He has provided for everything, filled us with His Spirit, and taken care of everything in our lives.  Now He is waiting patiently for you and I to cooperate with Him so that we might bear much fruit before He comes again. The seed is in that fruit to bear more fruit.  God wants us to depend upon His enabling, follow His example of working and waiting on Him, and so prove to be His disciples.  You are equal to the task because He is the “Lord of the Harvest”, and He has called you to be His laborers.  The coming of the Lord is very soon!

“For you are God’s fellow-workers: you are God’s field”  (I Corinthians 3:9).  May you experience the Lord’s care for you, and may your lives bear much fruit for the Lord!

I’m moving on to a new construction site:  James 5:9-11.  Hope to see you there once construction begins!  This work-in-progress must go on until He comes!  Or until I go to Him – whichever comes first!  May the Lord of the Harvest bear fruit in your life today as you abide in Him!  (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

 

 

 

 

  

 

ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10 (Continued)

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Welcome back to James 4:1-10!  I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section.  We are now studying verses 5-10.  Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret.  No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers.  Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations.  Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?  (KJV)

Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?  (RSV)

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels.  Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.

That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5.  There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter.  There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words.  This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.

So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it?  I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole.  He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture.  Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:

Or do you think that vainly the scripture says:  to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you?  (Greek Interlinear New Testament)

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?

James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds.  That was part of their upbringing.  But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives.  So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel.  Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”?  James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!

A psalm of David comes to mind.  At the end of his song, David says,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers.  They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!

In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement:  “But he gives more grace” (NIV).  The word translated “more”  actually means “greater”.  As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness.  As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,  Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV).  I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half.  But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride?  A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:

“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.”  Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary:  “BEND OR BUMP!”

I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height.  One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door.  I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames.  Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head.  I was tempted to wear a helmet!  Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance.  Then a wonderful thing happened!  I didn’t have to think about it any longer.  Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God!  However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!

We are never humble enough, are we?  Humility is something we are to ask for from God.  But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!

Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test?  Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you?  Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit?  Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?

Second, can you pass the sincerity test?  A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!”  Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be.  You have nothing to be proud of!”  At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t?  Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!”  This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.

Third, how would you score in the criticism test?  Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings?  What if someone rebukes you?  Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself?  Do you retaliate by finding fault with others?  Or do you remain meek and unruffled?

Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they?  And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean.  His standard is perfection, not “above average”.

In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives.  James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children.  James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother.  The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance.  We don’t know.  But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children.  He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.

In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first.  The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term.  It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”.  God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.

Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan.  I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable.  The result was an outburst of anger on my part.  There was no excuse for it.  Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God?  Do you still maintain control over areas of your life?  The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”.  (Luke 22:42)  You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often:  “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”

The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half.  It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Ephesians 4:27 says:  “Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.”  Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world.  The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history.  The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures.  That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.

Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter.  He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8).  The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God.  When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation.  So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again.  Then I went to sleep.  In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.

Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience.  A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”  However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all.  At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him.  For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil.  Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!”  In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.

Has the devil been troubling you?  If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God.  Put on the “full armor of God”.  Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.

Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent.  Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written:  “Draw near to God!”  “And He will draw near to you!”  Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture?  I sure am!

I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result.  I also hope you have someone  with whom you can be brutally honest.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?

The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God.  In Exodus 19:22  Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying:  ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”  God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.

In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse.  James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!”  When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean?  Can you remember being shown how to do it properly?  I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists.  Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel.  The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain.  We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean.  In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.

James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”!  If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”

The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner.  Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers.  No wonder James is so upset!  They profess to be godly but their actions deny it.  He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world.  So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes.  Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.”  King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?  Or who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)

Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you?  You may be familiar with this accrostic:  ACTS.  It stands for:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers.  Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS:  CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication.  You cat-lovers might like that!  And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.

When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39).  God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.

Are you double-minded or single-minded?  An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.  Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God?  Be honest!  God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it?  It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29).  So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.

The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”.  But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel:  “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.  (Joel 2:12).  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is:  “Don’t take sin lightly”.  Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.

James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he?  There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet!  It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him.  But that’s not all he hurled at him!  Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16.  “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!

When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.”  (II Samuel 16:5-14).  David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly.  Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it?  Especially for a king and his army!  But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.

In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses.  He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself?  Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way?  “I can do better than that!”  “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!”  James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life.  We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.

The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  Self is a god, isn’t it?  And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today.  How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud?  Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled?  The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them.  Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses.  Moody said:  “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finallyhe spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He.  Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him.  Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?

We live in an “instant society”.  There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything.  But there’s no such thing as instant humility.  There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie  that can make you humble.  And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness.  As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV)  But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?

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This work-in-progress is progressing.  I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also.  There is much more work to be done!  I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way.  Keep your hard hats on!  If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient.  I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before.   The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress.  He has His blueprints in hand!  Thank you for visiting this construction site.  Please come back soon!

 

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

Bible, Bible sermon, compassion, God, God's' Word explained and illustrated, James 3:13-18, Jesus Christ, mercy, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Out of my life may Jesus shine;

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,

Make me a blessing to someone today.