GOTCHA! – John 7:19-24

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INTRODUCTION:

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

TRANSITION:

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

I.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)

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

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

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

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

II.  THE QUESTION (verse 19b)

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

III.  THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)

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

IV.  THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI.  THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)

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

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

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

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

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

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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JESUS INCOGNITO – John 7:10-13

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INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever tried to conceal your identify in a public place where there were people who knew you?  Were you successful?  It’s not always easy to do so, is it?  The challenge is much greater if you’re a well-known person.  The Lord Jesus Christ was a man who was in the public eye.  He had become well-known in Galilee, Samaria and Israel, and was attracting a lot of attention because of the miracles He was performing.  He was also under close scrutiny because of the claims He made about Himself.  As far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, Jesus was now “public enemy #1”, and He was on their “hit-list”.

Once you’re in the public eye, how do you get out of it?  In John 7:10-13, we are going to be considering the tactics the Lord Jesus may have used in order to attend the Feast of Tabernacles incognito (unrecognized), as well as His reasons for doing so.

I.  THE PROPER TIME (verse 10)

Verse 10 begins with the words, “But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up”.  In verse 9, Jesus told His brothers, “Go up to the feast yourselves.  I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”  So He stayed in Galilee and His brothers went to the feast without Him.  Did Jesus lie to His brothers when He said He wasn’t going to the feast?  Did He change His mind?  The answer to both those questions is “no”.  Jesus was on His Father’s timetable and, after His brothers left, His Father revealed to Him that it was now the time for Him to go to the feast, so He departed from Galilee and was on His way to Jerusalem.  He didn’t tell His brothers that He wasn’t going to the feast.  He told them that He wasn’t going at that point in time.

II.  THE CHOSEN METHOD (verse 10)

The rest of verse 10 describes the manner in which Jesus attended the feast:  “not publicly, but as it were, in secret.”  By this time in His ministry, Jesus had become a familiar face.  How could He keep people from noticing Him – especially His brothers and the twelve disciples?  Was He wearing a disguise?  I don’t think so.  There were thousands of Jews attending this feast, and some of them lived outside the nation of Israel and had traveled several days in order to fulfill the commands of the Law concerning feasts.  These Jews had never met Jesus, and many of them may not have even known anything about Him.  Jesus could have spent His time with those Jews, who probably had their own area where they set up their tents and enjoyed one another’s company.  He may also have worn a covering over His head, such as a hood, keeping Himself within earshot of what was being said but not close enough to be recognized.

By staying incognito, Jesus is preventing the Jewish leaders from taking His life whenever they pleased.  The Father had set a time (an “hour”) when this was going to happen, and Jesus is taking the responsibility to protect His own life until the proper time.  You might say that, at this point in time, Jesus is in “self-preservation mode” once again.

III.  BEHIND ENEMY LINES (verse 11)

Verse 11 tells us that Jesus was able to get close enough to the leaders of the Jews that He could hear their voices and see the expressions on their faces without being detected by them.  This is what Jesus sees and hears:  “The Jews therefore were seeking Him at the feast, and were saying, ‘Where is He’.”  He watched as they looked around at all the people at the feast.  The looks on their faces as they did so, were evidence of their anger and frustration.  Some of them may have looked right at Jesus but didn’t recognize Him.  They were seeking Him alright!  They were seeking to kill Him!  You can almost hear the tone of their voices as they kept blurting out the words, Where is He?”  The “search party” hadn’t given up their search yet; but so far, things weren’t working out according to their plans.  Don’t you hate it when things don’t go your way!

IV.  HIS STRATEGY BECOMES UNFURLED (verses 12-13)

Does this scene bring to mind any memories from the Old Testament?  Can you think of a time when a similar strategy was used, and do you recall the reasons for that strategy and the impact it made on the people of Israel?  Let’s take a look at the book of Joshua, chapter two, and verses one, eight, and nine:

Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim saying,
“Go view the land, especially Jericho.”  So the men went and came into the house of
a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. . . . Now before they lay down,
she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has
given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the
inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.”

“Melted away” – those words cause me to imagine a stick of butter that’s been taken out of the refrigerator, placed on a dish, and set in the sunshine on a warm day.  Before long, the strength and consistency of that butter will be completely gone and you will have to pour it on your toast!  The people of that land were scared to death!  In verse 24, when those two spies returned to Joshua, they repeated the good news, saying, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands, and all the inhabitants of the land, moreover, have melted away before us.”  After hearing those words, Joshua and all the sons of Israel were up early the next morning, ready and eager to cross the Jordan River and take on the enemy.

With those Old Testament scripture passages in mind, we learn, in verses 12 and 13 of John 7, the main reason why Jesus was attending the feast incognito.  Having been in the military for a few years, a word came to mind that I haven’t used or heard since those days in the armed forces.  The Lord Jesus was “reconnoitering” at the feast.  How’s that for a word?  Jesus was doing reconnaissance.  The following is part of the U.S. Army’s definition of that word.

“Reconnaissance is a mission to obtain information by visual observation or other detection methods, about the activities and resources of an enemy or potential enemy.” This definition fits the description of Jesus’ activities – wouldn’t you agree?  In verses 12 and 13, there is a quiet, public-opinion poll going on, and Jesus is nearby incognito, watching and listening to what’s being said. Let’s catch up with Him again and see if we can find out what kinds of information He’s been gathering.  Verse 12 begins with the words:  “And there was much grumbling among the multitudes concerning Him.”  They’re mumbling and grumbling again!  Why the muffled voices and low voice tones?  We’re going to find out.  Jesus moves a little closer to these “discussion groups” in order to hear what they are saying.  Verse 12 continues, “Some were saying, ‘He is a good man’.”  That’s good news to Jesus’ ears!  There are people in these crowds that have a positive attitude toward Him!  Those words must have encouraged His spirit and brought a smile to His face.  Even though they called Him a “man”, at least He was a “good man” in their opinion.  Does it make you wonder which Jews the apostle John was referring to?  I think those Jews were the ones from Galilee and the outlying areas.  The good news is now followed by the bad news:  “others were saying, ‘No, on the contrary, He leads the multitude astray.”   These Jews are the ones living in Jerusalem and its neighboring towns in the district of Judea.  They have heard the Jewish leaders use those words in their conversations and are believing them and repeating their words of warning and instruction.

These two opposing views about Jesus’ character have a lesson for us to learn.  Jesus is either “good” or He’s a “liar”.  It’s one or the other; there are no compromises.  A person can’t be good and a liar at the same time.  The same is true of our own conception of Jesus Christ:  He’s either the Son of God or He is a deceiver, a lair.  There are no intermediate conceptions.  Which of these have you chosen to believe?  Do you have a firm basis for your personal choice?

Since Jesus has been prophesying, performing miracles, and calling God His Father, to call Him a deceiver would be equivalent to calling Jesus a false prophet or a false Messiah.  In Deuteronomy 13, Moses wrote that a false prophet was to be stoned to death.  Very soon the Jews are going to attempt to do just that.

In verse 13 we find that Jesus is not the only one who is being secretive.  John writes, “Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews.”  The people in the crowds are also trying to be secretive in their conversations with one another.  The Greek word translated “openly” can also be translated “boldly”.  The leaders must have made it clear that no one was to talk about Jesus at the feast.  They may have boldly announced this prohibition in loud, angry voices to let the people know that they meant business and would punish those who disobeyed.  They weren’t afraid to speak boldly and loudly against Jesus.  Their goal was to instill fear in the people, and it looks like they succeeded.  Many leaders over the years have used that approach with success.  During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin.  Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience.  “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues.  Why didn’t you stop him?”  “Who said that?” roared Khrushchev.  An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared to move a muscle.  Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.”  Khrushchev used that response to demonstrate what it was like to be around Stalin.  You didn’t question or criticize Joseph Stalin unless you no longer wanted to remain alive!  He was a man to be feared!  In the 1930’s, he had changed his birth-name to Stalin, which means “man of steel”, and he lived up to his name!

This passage of Scripture we are studying, John 7:10-13, is a lesson in contrasts.  The first contrast is between the words spoken by various people in the crowd concerning Jesus.  Some said He was a “good man”, others said that He was a“deceiver of the people”.  If there was ever anyone who lived on this planet who was not a liar or a deceiver, it was the Lord Jesus Christ.  If there was ever anyone who was truly good in every sense of the term, it was He.  Yet He was being accused and denounced by some of the most deceitful and evil-minded people of that day – the leaders of the Jews.  No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites (ones wearing a mask)!

The second contrast is between the reasons for silence at the feast on the part of Jesus and on the part of the members of the crowd. The religious authorities didn’t even want Jesus’ name spoken aloud.  They wanted the people to act as if Jesus didn’t exist.  I think the people feared being excluded from the synagogue and exposed to ridicule if they were caught mentioning His name, especially in a positive manner.  It was a fear for their reputations and social status, at the very least.  Fear of what others may think, say, or do is a powerful deterrent from speaking one’s mind honestly.

The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, was not motivated by fear, but by obedience to His heavenly Father.  He was being silent because He was gathering information concerning the people’s attitude toward Him at the feast.  He learns that there are many in the crowd who admire Him and think well of Him.  In the next passage of Scripture we will examine how Jesus puts that information to good use.  He learned what He wanted to learn while incognito, and is ready to openly do what the Father wants Him to do next.

CONCLUSION:

Does fear have any effect on your life?  Are there times when you are afraid to speak or act because of what others may think, say, or do in response?  Are you afraid to become a follower of Jesus Christ because of what you might lose, what you might have to give up, or what family and friends might do as a result?  Those are concerns that many people face as they consider placing their faith in Jesus Christ.  Don’t let fear get in the way of making the most important, and the most wonderful decision of your life.  God will give you the strength and peace of mind and heart to make that decision if you ask Him and rely upon Him.  God’s words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 41:10 are meant for you today because He hasn’t changed:  “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

If you are a fellow-Christian, then, like me, you’ve had moments when you’ve been afraid to be a witness for the Lord.  Pray and ask God to fill you with a deep, unconditional love for that person.  God will enable you to overcome that fear with love.  The apostle John says in I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  In the next passage of Scripture, it’s going to be love that motivates the Lord Jesus to come out of hiding and once again expose the people to truth in spite of threats to His own life.  May we manifest the love of Christ as we live for Him and seek to introduce others to Him.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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THE BREAD OF LIFE – John 6:48-50

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INTRODUCTION:

There are many foods in this world of ours that are available only to a few people because of their cost or because of their scarcity or seasonal nature.  But bread is the universal food of mankind.  It is found on every table – rich or poor, king or peasant.  Whether it is made of wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or some other grain, it is bread, the cheapest and most nourishing food.  Bread represents all the elements needed to sustain life.  Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, gives the following description.  “Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking.  Throughout recorded history it has been popular around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.”

Here in John’s gospel, Jesus has been described in terms of the basics of physical life.  He is called “light” in chapter 1, and describes Himself to Nicodemus, in chapter 3, as the “light that has come into the world.”  Jesus also describes the work of the Spirit of God by using the wind, the movement of air, as an illustration of spiritual birth.  When speaking to the woman at the well, in chapter 4, Jesus identifies Himself to her as the Source of “living water”, and now He is referring to Himself as the “bread of life”.   Putting those descriptions together, we have the basics for sustaining physical life in human beings:  light, air, water, and bread.  His purpose for all these illustrations is to transition from “physical basics” to “spiritual basics”, and so far He has been very successful in doing so.  There is more to be said about bread.  In this passage of Scripture we’re going to see how this information about Himself is received by this small crowd of people who crossed the Sea of Galilee in boats that morning, and found Jesus and His disciples in Capernaum.

I.  JESUS RESTATES HIS CLAIM (verse 48)

Verse 48 contains these words of Jesus:  “I am the bread of life”.  He just said those very same words to them several minutes earlier in verse 35.  I think there is more to His words than just repetition for the sake of remembrance.  In Matthew’s gospel we find that Jesus spent quite a bit of time in the synagogues of the Jews.  It was His practice to visit the synagogues in Galilee when He was in that region.  Matthew 4:23 says, “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues . . . “.  Since a small portion of the 5000 crossed the Sea of Galilee in the early morning and found Jesus and His disciples, I personally think that Jesus was on His way to the synagogue in Capernaum when they joined Him, and Jesus spoke to them about the bread of life while they were walking into town.  As they approached the synagogue, bystanders along the way may have joined the crowd, and they followed Jesus into the synagogue.  Inside there were more people, gathered for the time of instruction.  I think Jesus may be repeating His earlier statements for the sake of the people in the synagogue, who were watching them enter the building and were, no doubt, curious about what they were discussing.  This may not be the first time that Jesus taught in their synagogue.  John 6:59 confirms this.  It reads, “These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”

I’m sure they all wondered what Jesus meant when he walked into the synagogue, waited for everyone to sit down and listen to Him speak, and then said those words, “I am the bread of life.”  Jesus was saying that in Him are all the elements for a healthy, growing spiritual life.  The famous missionary, Jonathan Goforth, had preached a series of messages in a chapel in southern China in the early 1900’s.  Afterward, a man asked to talk to him.  The man said, “I have heard you speak three times, and you always have the same theme.  You always speak of Jesus Christ.  Why?”  The missionary replied, “Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, ‘What did you have for dinner today?’ ”  “Rice”, replied the man.  “What did you have yesterday?”
“The same thing.”  “And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?”  “Rice, of course.  It gives me strength.  I could not do without it.  Sir, it is . . .”  (the man hesitated, as if looking for a strong word).  Then he added, “Sir, it is my life!”  The missionary responded quickly, “What you have said of rice, Jesus is to your soul.  He is the “rice” or “bread of life”.

There may yet be another reason why Jesus keeps repeating that He is the bread of life.  The Jews in Judea had grumbled saying that Jesus and His family were from Nazareth, and no prophet was supposed to come from Nazareth.  They didn’t ask Jesus where He was born and they didn’t do any research for themselves, or they would have learned that He was born in Bethlehem.  Did you know that the name “Bethlehem”  literally means “House of Bread”.  Jesus was speaking to them in Hebrew, and the word He was saying was “lehem”, the second half of the word “Bethlehem”.  He’s saying, “I am lehem” over and over again.  Wouldn’t you think that the town of Bethlehem might come to the minds of some of His listeners?  “I am ‘lehem’ from ‘Bethlehem’.”  “I am bread” from the “house of bread”.  I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility, and that’s a new insight for me.

II.  COMPARISON TO THE MANNA RESTATED (verses 49-50)

Once again, Jesus also compares Himself to the manna for the sake of all the people who are present, many of whom did not hear the first statement in verses 28-32.  But this time Jesus changes the wording slightly to emphasize a different perspective.  Earlier, in verses 28-31 the crowd asked Jesus to show them a sign as proof that He came from God.  Then they describe the kind of a sign they want Him to perform.  To paraphrase, they said,  “Give us a sign like the one Moses gave the people of Israel.  Send us manna from heaven to eat.”  The crowd wanted another free meal; only this time they wanted it catered from heaven!

The Lord Jesus responds to them by telling them about the long-lasting effects of the bread He has to offer them.  In verse 35, He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is speaking spiritually, but they are taking it literally.  They want this bread, just as the woman at the well, in John 4:15, wanted that “living water”!  He also states, in verse 33, that the bread He offers is not exclusive to the Jews, but inclusive of the whole world.  He “gives life to the world”.  So the bread Jesus offers in Himself is long-lasting and inclusive of all peoples without distinction.

A.  THE MANNA WAS PHYSICAL FOOD  (verse 49)

In verse 49, Jesus once again begins to compare Himself to the manna, but this time He emphasizes that He is the bread which will prevent death.  He says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”  The manna sustained physical life but it didn’t prevent death.  All who ate the manna eventually died.  There would be no argument among the people listening to Him concerning that statement.  They were probably nodding their heads silently in agreement.  The Scriptures were clear that the manna was given to sustain the lives of their ancestors until they died, or until the next generation entered the promised land and could eat the fruit of that land.  However, the next sentence from the mouth of Jesus is going to raise some eyebrows and start the grumbling again!  This is especially so because He is now inside the synagogue where there are probably priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees among those who are listening to Him speak.  The crowd isn’t friendly anymore!

This is not the Sabbath day.  They apostle John is very diligent about letting his readers know when it is a Sabbath or a feast day of the Jews.  The previous Sabbath was just a couple of days earlier, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-17).  If it’s not the Sabbath, why would Jesus be going to the synagogue on a weekday?  This synagogue was a busy place during the week also.  It served as a community center, school, court, and place of study.  There was never a dull moment in the synagogues of that day.

B.  THE BREAD OF PERPETUAL LIFE (verse 50)

In verse 50, the Lord Jesus once again makes a comparison between the manna and the bread He has to offer them.  He says, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”  So far, the crowd has been thinking that Jesus is talking about physical bread, so they are naturally going to deduce that He is talking about physical death.  Two people from the Scriptures must have immediately come to their minds.  Their names were Enoch and Elijah, and they are the only two people in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings who did not die.  (Genesis 5:22-24; II Kings 2:1-15).  It’s also obvious from the Scriptures that it wasn’t bread that kept these two men from dying.  What is Jesus talking about?  Why is He making such a claim?

To begin with, I think the Lord Jesus wants to bring the subject of death to their minds.  The children of Israel were given the manna in answer to their fear of starving.  Jesus is going to give them an answer to their fear of death.  It’s a subject about which there was a considerable difference of opinion among first-century Jews.  Each of those present in that synagogue had ideas they were taught as children, along with their own personal ideas about death and the after-life, referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Ha-Ba (the World To Come).

A cemetery in Indiana has a tombstone that is over a hundred years old, and it bears this epitaph:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby had read those words and scratched this reply below them:

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

The passerby was right.  The important thing about death is what follows.  Where are you going?

One sizable group of Hebrew people during the first century were the Sadducees.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  One of my professors in Bible college said something that I’ve never forgotten.  We were studying the Gospels and he said, “The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead;  that’s why they’re ‘sad,you see’.”  If I didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead, I’d be sad too; wouldn’t you?

From what I’ve read about first-century Judaism, the greater focus of attention appears to be on the here and now, rather than on the there and then.  If you have a computer, you probably get notifications of updates that need to be installed.  Some of those updates take quite a bit of time to install.  Usually you are given the option of three buttons to choose from.  You can click “install now”, “set a time”, or “remind me later”.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to be bothered by the interruption and so you click the “remind me later” button.  I’ve been clicking that button several times over the past weeks, putting it off again and again.  I need to stop and let the developers of my operating system get the job done!  First-century Judaism probably wasn’t much different from our society today when it comes to the issue of death.  It wasn’t a subject that they liked to discuss, so they often ignored it or kept putting it off until later.  Evangelist Billy Graham made the following comment:  Much of the world pretends that death does not exist.  We like to speak of the dead as “departed”, or persons who have died as having “passed on” or “expired”.  We do not like the word “death”.  It seems so final, so irreversible, so hopeless.

Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death and the afterlife?  Yes, in many places.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others are spoken of as being “gathered to their people” after they died.  By contrast, the wicked were described as being “cut off from their people.”  Daniel 12:2 speaks of a conscious life after death in one of two places, and both are everlasting.  It never ends.  Many passages of Scripture use the word Sheol to refer to the place of the dead (in the Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jonah, Isaiah, I Samuel, and others).  Add to that the teachings of the Rabbis that were collected as part of the Mishnah and Talmud.  In these writings it seems that each of the rabbis had a different teaching about the afterlife.  This added confusion to the minds of the people, and increased their fear of what’s in store for them beyond the grave.

With that background in mind concerning death and the afterlife, the people’s ears must have been tingling and their attention focused on the Lord Jesus after He said those words in verse 50:  “This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”  Everyone there was wondering, “What is He going to say next?”  “How can this be possible.”  I think Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us as well, a principle for sharing the Gospel message:  Sometimes, in order to awaken in people a desire for eternal life, you’ve got to put the fear of death into them!  By putting the fear of death into people, we may also be putting the fear of God into them:  “If there is a God, what’s He going to do to me when this life is over?”  “I’ve tried to be good, but so far I haven’t been very successful!”

CONCLUSION:

Is death a subject that you don’t like to think about or talk about?  Do you sometimes worry about your own death and what might await you on the other side?  Would you like to put an end to those worries and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life?  If so, please go to my sermon on John 1:12, entitled “What Does It Mean To Receive Christ”, and consider what God wants you to do, and what He gives you in exchange for your act of obedience and faith.  May you allow the Bread of Life to be the One who satisfies the deepest hunger of your soul, both now and for eternity.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Let’s feast on the Word of God, which describes for us the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life.

 

 

 

SHOW AND TELL – John 6:22-35

5000 fed, Bible sermons, Gospel of John, Jesus Christ, Jesus walks on water, John 6:22-40

INTRODUCTION:

I can remember, when I was in kindergarten and first grade, the teacher would tell us that we would be having “Show And Tell” time on the following day.  Each of us children was asked to bring an interesting and unusual object to class, and then we would each take turns showing our object to the rest of the children and telling them something about it.  Our parents were allowed to help us with our choice of what to bring to school the next day.  Does that bring back memories?  That expression, “Show And Tell”, originated in the 1940’s and is one of the learning exercises still being used in early-childhood education.  It is often used by adults also as a means of getting to know one another and as a form of instruction and entertainment. It can also engage more than one of our senses, such as sight, sound, touch, and smell.

You may be wondering how this teaching method or game relates to the passage of Scripture we are now studying:  John 6:22-35.  If we look back at the previous day in Jesus’ life, He showed them that He was the Son of God by breaking the five barley cakes and two dried fish and feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children.  He also showed them how much was left over by having His disciples gather up the fragments.  There were twelve baskets filled with those leftovers.  Sadly, neither the crowd nor His disciples came to the understanding that Jesus was the Son of God as the result of that miracle He just showed them.

After the meal, Jesus showed two more signs to His disciples only.  The first sign or miracle was the sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee, and the second was Jesus Himself walking on the water toward them in the midst of the storm.  The Lord Jesus showed them a life-threatening situation and they did not call upon Him to save them. He then showed them Himself walking on top of the water and they refused to believe it, thinking they were seeing a ghost.  They thought their eyes were deceiving them and they were hallucinating.  They weren’t convinced by what He showed them, but they did become convinced when He spoke to them.  Why?  Because, in John 6:20, Jesus said to them, “I AM, do not be afraid”.  He used God’s covenant name which He gave to Moses to tell to the people of Israel.  Matthew 14:33 says, “and those who were in the boat worshipped Him saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son.’ ”  They finally “put two and two together”, so to speak.  Jesus was claiming to be the God who parted the Red Sea, fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with manna for 40 years, and stopped the Jordan River from flowing.  It required both “show and tell” to convince the disciples that Jesus was the Son of God.  The story isn’t over yet.  There are many others who were “shown” but also have to be “told”.

I.  THE BACKGROUND (verses 22-25)

Verse 22 begins with a search for the missing Jesus.  The last time the crowd saw Jesus was the night before when Jesus told His disciples to get into a boat, and He sent them on their way across the Sea of Galilee.  Then He told the crowd to go home, and I’m sure many of them saw Jesus heading for the hills.  Many of those same people came back the next morning, and verse 22 describes the scene and what they were doing.  “The next day the multitude that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone.”

I wonder whether these people came early that morning in the hope that Jesus might treat them to a free breakfast!  There were probably still many among them who wanted to make Jesus their King.  They weren’t able to find Jesus, and when they looked across the lake they saw only one boat docked there, and that was the boat the disciples used the day before.  They already knew that Jesus didn’t go in the boat with them, and now they know that Jesus didn’t cross the lake in another boat.  Where could He be?  He wouldn’t have walked all the way around the lake in the middle of the night, would He?

Verse 23 says that “other boats came from Tiberias.”.  Those boats must have been blown across the lake by the storm the night before.  Having become convinced that Jesus was not on their side of the lake, verse 24 says that they “got into the boats and went to Capernaum.”  The city of Capernaum was the place where Jesus normally resided when He was in the district of Galilee. It’s beginning to sound like a variation of “Hide and Seek” but, instead of one person seeking all the rest of the people, all the rest of the people are seeking one person!

Verse 23 tells us that the crowd found whom they were looking for.  It reads, “And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’ ”  They must have been very surprised, amazed and confused.  Their question seems strange to me.  I would have expected them to say “Rabbi, how did you get here”, not “when did you get here.”  It makes me wonder whether they concluded that Jesus must have walked around the Sea of Galilee, and were wondering how He could have done it so quickly during the night.   If you do the math, the circumference of the Sea of Galilee is 33 miles around the shoreline.  Let’s say that the distance from the place where Jesus fed the 5000 to Capernaum on the other side was 16-18 miles.  That’s a long way to walk along the sand of the sea shore wearing a long robe and sandals in the dark of night and heading into the wind!  Now I understand why they asked “when” instead of “how”.  Walking that far in such a short time under those conditions must have seemed like a miracle to them.  Little did they know just how amazing a miracle it actually was.  Jesus took the “short-cut” across the lake on foot!

II.  THEIR MOTIVES QUESTIONED AND CORRECTED (verses 26-27)

Rather than answering their question, the Lord Jesus responds by questioning and correcting their wrong motives.  In verse 26, He says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.”  Jesus is telling them that their interest in Him is merely selfish.  They considered Him to be some kind of a magician who could meet their physical needs.  Many of them wanted to make Jesus their king so that their need for food would be taken care of and they wouldn’t have to work any longer.  Their motive was:  “What’s in it for me”.  They missed the meaning of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and now Jesus has to explain it to them.  It’s “Show and Tell” all over again!

In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you.”  Those words should have brought the words of the prophet Isaiah to their minds.  Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy.”  God has given mankind a hunger for things that this world cannot satisfy.  Jesus is telling them about two kinds of food:  food for the body and food for the soul or spirit.  He’s telling them that He is the only One who can satisfy their deepest needs, the hunger of their souls.  He’s also implying that we need to work to provide for our physical needs.  In the context of that particular situation, Jesus may have been using the word “work” to describe how they wearied themselves by walking around the lake to find Him in order to get more free food.  But only God can provide lasting satisfaction.    Physical food “perishes” in two senses.  If it is not eaten, it become stale, rotten, or ,moldy.  But if it is eaten, it perishes in the sense that the body uses it up and in a few hours we are hungry again.  We need more food to replenish what has been digested and its nutrients are now gone.  Have you ever considered how much of your time is spent eating?  If you are a typical person who lives an average lifetime, you will probably spend about 35,000 hours of your lifetime eating.  That’s eight years of eating non-stop for 12 hours each day.  That’s a lot of eating and that’s a lot of food!  If we have to spend that much time satisfying our physical hunger for food, how much more time should we be spending in the satisfaction of our spiritual hunger for God!

The wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon, who may also have been the wealthiest man in the Old Testament, wrote a book of the Bible entitled “Ecclesiastes”. In this book, Solomon describes his search for happiness and fulfillment.  He went down many dead-end streets, pursuing wisdom, pleasure, riches and work, and found that they were all vanity, “striving after wind”.  These things did not fill the emptiness in his soul.  His conclusion:  “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person”  (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Only the worship of God, and the living of one’s life to please Him, brings lasting satisfaction.

Jesus is teaching the crowd a similar lesson here in verse 27.   He’s telling them that there is something more to life than working for physical food.  He encourages them to work “for the food that endures to eternal life.”  Then Jesus tells them the source of that eternal life, and by Whose authority He can make such a statement.  He says, “which the Son of Man will give you”. Notice that Jesus is talking about the future in this case.  The eternal life can’t be given to them until Jesus pays the price for their sins by dying on the cross and then rising victorious from the grave.  It is also conditioned upon their willingness to believe in Him and entrust their lives to Him as their Lord.  “For on Him the Father, even God, has set his seal.”  Jesus is stating His credentials.   The Father set His seal of approval on His Son at Jesus’ baptism and His seal of authority through the miracles that Jesus performed.  A seal was used in those days for many different reasons.  It witnessed the truth of a document or person. It could also be used, among other things,  to show ownership, authority, approval, or as a guarantee of quality,  Since Jesus’ discussion with the crowd is about food, I read that some bakers during that period of time would put a seal or impression on their bread as they baked it in order to let people know where the bread came from, and also as a guarantee of its quality.

So Jesus has told them that both their intentions and their motives are wrong as they follow Him around seeking free food to fill their stomachs.  They should be seeking the spiritual food which lasts for eternity, and which He alone can provide.  What follows is a time of questions on their part and answers on His part.

III.  QUESTION AND ANSWER TIME (verses 28-33)

In verse 28 the crowd asks their first question: “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  What did they mean when they said those words?  I think they were saying, “Give us a list of the things God wants us to do so that we can perform them.”  In their minds, “works” meant obeying the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets.   So they were asking, “Which particular ones did He have in mind; which ones merit eternal life after they are accomplished?”  They didn’t understand what Jesus just said to them.  Their minds focused on the word “work” and their attention became glued to that word.  Bible expositor Alfred Barnes makes this comment:  “The idea of doing something to merit salvation is one of the last that the sinner ever surrenders.”  Here’s an illustration that exemplifies that comment made by Barnes.

A young man in the military, who was concerned about his eternal destiny, had been encouraged to receive Christ and stop trying to save himself.  He felt, however, that he must show his “good intentions and sincerity” by first cleaning up his life.  His superior officer had often tried to make it clear to him that salvation comes to him who “does not work but believes”, but the young man couldn’t seem to grasp this truth.  One day, when he had been busy doing some work which left him covered with dirt and grease, he received a call to see his commanding officer.  He didn’t like to go in his grimy condition, but having been told to leave immediately, he went without delay.  When he arrived, the one who had sent for him said, “Sewell, I am very glad to see that you know how to obey orders.  Now that’s the way I’ve been telling you that you must respond to the Gospel call.  Come to the Lord Jesus Christ just as you are.”  Those words went right to his heart, and then and there he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

In verse 29, Jesus responds to their question by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  Notice that Jesus uses the word “work”, not “works” (plural).  He’s the one who is going to do the work to provide eternal life, not them.  It’s going to be His gift to them through His atoning “work” on the cross, not as a result of their “works” to please God.

Obviously, the crowd was not satisfied with Jesus’ answer to their question, so they ask Him two more questions in verse 30.  They ask, “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?  The miracle of the loaves and fish should have been proof enough that He was the Messiah.  But they wanted more proof; they’re always wanting more proof, more miracles.  The next verse reveals the real reason for those questions.  They continue by saying,  “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’ “   They are referring to a comparable miracle in the life of Moses.  I think they are saying, “Moses feed the Hebrew people in the wilderness with manna for 40 years.  If you are greater than Moses, why don’t you prove it by feeding all of us for 40 years?  Then we’ll believe you.”

In verses 32 and 33, Jesus corrects their beliefs.  When they say “HE”, they mean Moses, but that’s not who that Scripture passage is referring to.  They are correctly quoting the words written in Psalm 78, verse 24, but they are incorrectly applying that statement to Moses.  The psalmist is referring to the works of God in that psalm.  Moses’ name isn’t even mentioned, nor is he referred to indirectly, in the seventy-two verses of Psalm 78.  It’s not obvious from their question that they are referring to Moses.  So how do I know they are?  I know so because Jesus knows it, and He communicates that fact to them in verse 32 when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

The Jews of that day highly esteemed Moses, sometimes even more highly than God!  They attributed all the plagues on the Egyptians, as well as the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the manna, the quail, and every other supernatural event to Moses instead of God.  They also believed that the manna ceased when Moses died.  But Joshua 5:12 states that the manna continued after they entered the land of Canaan and didn’t cease until the day after they celebrated the feast of the Passover, when they ate some of the produce of the land.  That was over two months after Moses’ death!  Their beliefs point to a tendency throughout history for people to glorify the person God uses rather than God, who empowers and uses that person.  Moses would have been enraged at their exaltation of him rather than God.

Jesus goes on to make a distinction between the manna (the bread which fell from the sky), and the “true” bread from heaven.  He says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”  The Greek word used here is katabainon”, which means “to descend” rather than “to fall”.   He’s implying that the true bread from heaven descended to become a part of humanity.  He’s also saying that this bread is not only for the Jews, as was the manna, but this bread is for the whole world as well.

What’s the reaction of His audience?  They still have their minds on physical food, and “forever food” sounds even better than forty years of manna.  Their response? “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” (verse 33)  Does that response sound familiar?  When Jesus told the woman at the well about “living water” that would quench her thirst forever, she said, “Sir, give me this water”.

IV.  THE REVELATION (verse 35)

Jesus reveals Himself to them in verse 35 when He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is telling them that only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.  Without Him we are spiritually starving. As you well know, you can make bread, smell it and touch it, but unless you eat it, the bread isn’t going to do your physical body any good.  This fact is also true spiritually.  Unless Jesus Christ is in your life, and has become a vital part of your life, you are dying of starvation spiritually and eternally.  It’s time to repent of your sins and invite Him to be your personal Lord and Savior.  He is the One who will satisfy your spiritual hunger and thirst now and forever.

If you have already made that commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and are feasting on His Word, be sure to share the wealth with others.  We can’t make people eat, but by allowing Christ to rule in our lives, we can provide an environment where others around us become hungry for the spiritual satisfaction we have in Christ.  For several years I worked across the street from a large bakery.  When they were baking bread, the smell of it would fill the air.  At break time, many of us would go outside to enjoy the smell of it.  In our minds we were imagining eating it because the smell made us hungry for it.  If the employees at the bakery would have invited us to come and have some to eat, we would have eaten as much as they would give us.

Can we honestly say what the psalmist said in Psalm 73:25-26?  These are his words:  “There is none upon earth that I desire but Thee.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

It is told of Sadhu Sundar Singh that many years ago he was distributing Gospels in the central province of India and he came to some non-Christians on a railway train and offered a man a copy of John’s Gospel.  The man took it, tore it in pieces in anger, and threw the pieces out the window.  That seemed the end, but it so happened, in the Providence of God. there was a man anxiously seeking for truth walking along the line that very day, and he picked up, as he walked along, a little bit of paper and looked at it, and the words on it in his own language were “the Bread of Life.”  He did not know what it meant; but he inquired among his friends and one of them said, “I can tell you; it is out of the Christian book.  You must not read it or you will be defiled.”  The man thought for a moment and then said, “I want to read the book that contains that beautiful phrase; and he bought a copy of the New Testament.  He was shown where the sentence occurred – our Lord’s words, “I am the Bread of Life”; and as he studied the gospel, the light flooded into his heart.  He came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and he became a preacher of the gospel in the central province of India.  That little bit of paper, through God’s Spirit, was indeed the Bread of Life to him, satisfying his deepest need. (shared by John A. Patten)

The Bread of Life satisfies and nourishes those who are hungry for it.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Welcome to this completed sermon on John 6:22-35.  If you would like to study along with me but don’t feel like you have the “tools for the trade”, check online.  Type “Gospel of John”, or “Bible study resources” and you will find hundreds of sites.  I probably use preceptaustin the most because of the number of Greek helps  and because I like the way it is organized, but I also use many other sites, too many to list here.  You’ve got all the tools you need online!  Hope to see you at he next construction site  There is much work to be done and you will find it to be an enjoyable experience.  It’s like digging for gold and precious stones!

NOTHING TO FEAR – John 6:16-21

Bible sermons, Evidence that Jesus Christ is God, Gospel of John, Jesus walks on water, John 6:16-21, John's Gospel

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

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

I.  THE SETTING (verses 16-17)

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

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

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

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

II.  THE STORM (verses 18-19a)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.  THE RESCUE (verses 19b-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSONS TO LEARN AND APPLY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Meal for a Multitude – John 6:1-15

Bible sermons, feeding of the 5000, Gospel of John, Jesus Christ, John 6:1-15

INTRODUCTION:

“In the city of Philadelphia many years ago, a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt came to a small Sunday School and asked if she might attend.  They regretfully explained to her that they were completely crowded out and that there was no room.  Some time later Hattie became seriously ill and soon slipped away from this earth to be with Jesus.  Under her pillow was found an old, torn pocketbook.  Inside was a scrap of paper in which she had wrapped fifty-seven pennies.  On the paper, scrawled in a childish hand, were these words:  “To help build the church a little bigger so that more children can go there to Sunday school.”  Hattie May was only a little child, and so she didn’t have much that she could give to Jesus, but she had saved fifty-seven shining coppers to help enlarge a Sunday school that could not let her in.  The pastor, deeply touched, told his congregation what the little child had done.  The newspapers repeated the story, and soon from far and wide gifts began to come in to build a bigger auditorium.  That contribution of fifty-seven sacrificial pennies, given in love for Jesus, grew until the fund reached the sum of $250,000.  As a result, in Philadelphia there is now a great church, seating over 3000 people, with plenty of room for little children who want to attend Sunday school.” (Our Daily Bread devotional)

We will soon see how that touching story relates to the passage of Scripture we are now studying:  John 6:1-15.

I.  THE SETTING:  (verses 1-4)

Verse 1 begins with the words, “After these things”.  Actually, several months have passed since the end of chapter 5.  During that time Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, performed several miracles and told several parables, He also gave His disciples the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, and then sent them out two-by-two to proclaim the kingdom of God.  When they returned to Him, Jesus listened to their accounts of what they had done (Matthew 9-14; Mark 4-6; Luke 5-9)

Now He’s going by boat across the Sea of Galilee, probably to spend some time with His disciples and get some much-needed rest.  What happens next is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15).  The time alone with His disciples didn’t last long.  Verse 2 tells us that “a great multitude was following Him”.  They were walking around the Sea of Galilee, probably bringing their sick and lame along with them for Jesus to heal.  Mark’s gospel tells us that the crowd of people were already there when He and His disciples arrived.

Verse 3 tells us, “And He went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.”  From that vantage point they could see quite a distance, and they “lifted up their eyes” and watched and waited until all who were coming had arrived.  The mountain they climbed was part of what is now called the Golan Heights.  There was a large, grassy plateau at the top.

Luke 14:21 says that the crowd consisted of 5000 men “aside from women and children”.  If you do the math, that means there were 15,000 to 20,000 people in that crowd.  Where did all these people come from?  I think the apostle John gives us part of the answer to that question when he inserted verse 4 into his narrative.  It says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand”.  This means that throngs of Jews from all over the Roman Empire were making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal.  What would you do if you were one of those pilgrims and saw a large crowd of Jews going in a different direction?  I’d want to ask them some questions, wouldn’t you?  “What’s going on?” “Where are you going”?  “Why”?  I believe that many of these pilgrims decided to make a detour and follow this crowd to see Jesus.

In spite of the fact that Jesus wanted to get away to a secluded place with His disciples to rest for a while, He wasn’t irritated by the fact that the crowds of people followed Him. Luke writes, “. . . and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God, and curing those who had need of healing.”  The Lord Jesus was always a servant, concerned about the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.

II.  THE TEST (verses 5-9)

As the day wore on, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away so that they could buy food for themselves (Mark 6:36).  In response, Jesus said to Philip (the “mathematician”), “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.”  He’s saying, “These people are our guests.  So, what are we going to do to provide them with a meal”  Jesus knew what He was going to do, but He puts Philip to the test; and Philip (“the mathematician”) considers this to be a “math test”, so he works out the problem in his head.  “Let’s see, 5000 men plus women and children, multiplied by the cost of one meal for each person, divided by the number of days worked to earn that amount of money.” . . .   Philip can’t count that high in his head, so he makes a minimum “guesstimate” in verse 7, saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.”  Philip is saying, “This is mathematically impossible; two-hundred days wages wouldn’t be enough to give them each a mouthful of bread.”  Philip failed that test!

At that moment Andrew (the “bringer”), Simon Peter’s brother, approaches Jesus.  Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus, and in this case he brings along a little boy.  The child’s mother made him a snack lunch that morning to take with him for the day, and he wanted to give it all to Jesus.  Does that remind you of Hattie May Wiatt, the little girl in my introduction?  Like Hattie May, this little boy had no idea how great the cost would be to meet the need, but he wanted to give everything that he had in order to help meet that need.

Andrew said to Jesus, in verse 9:  “There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish”.  If Andrew had stopped there, it would have been a demonstration of faith in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  However, Andrew continues, “but what are these for so many people?”  Andrew failed the test also!  He failed because, like Philip, he removed his focus from His Messiah and started doing the math.  This was not a math test that Jesus was giving them.  He is not their math teacher, but their God!  I would consider this to be more of a history test than a math test, and I’ll explain why later on in this sermon.

So far, the only one who has passed the test is this little boy!  He knew that Jesus could meet the need – that’s why he made his investment!  For him, it wasn’t a mathematical problem, but an opportunity to express faith and trust in Jesus.  Whether it’s a lunch or 57 cents, this boy and Hattie May gave what they had and God does the rest.

Before we look into the miracle itself, let’s first look into the lunchbox.  I’m sure there was a broad smile on Jesus’ face as He squatted to talk to the child.  I can imagine that Jesus embraced him as He thanked the boy for his gift.  When Jesus opened the lunchbox, what does He see?  Before His eyes are five small barley cakes.  Barley is the food of the poor, so Jesus knows that this child is from a poor family.  He also knows that the boy is not with his family because they did not come along with him to meet Jesus.  They may have given him that lunch because they were both going to be in the fields that day, harvesting someone’s crop or gleaning the left-over grain in order to have enough to eat for themselves and their family.  When the boy saw crowds of people going around the lake, and learned that they were on their way to see Jesus, he decided to join them.

What do those barley cakes look like?  They are small and flat, and look like little tortillas.  The two dried fish were probably about the size of sardines.  Not much of a meal, is it?  It was barely enough to feed this child, and would have provided only a few mouthfuls for a hungry man.  But the child’s lunch was the answer to Jesus’ question to Philip:  “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.”  Jesus didn’t say “how”, but “where”.  The answer to that question was now in His hands, and He and His disciples didn’t even have to pay for it!

III.  THE MEAL (verses 10-11)

Rather than chiding these two disciples for their lack of faith in Him, Jesus puts them and all the rest of His disciples to work.  This is going to be a disciple-participation miracle, and not just a child-participation miracle.  He says to them in verse 10, “Have the people sit down.”  As His disciples fan out to pass those words on to the people, they are probably wondering in their minds:  “What is He going to do next?”

Have you ever wondered what happened to the boy?  Did he just walk away and fade into the crowd?  I don’t think so.  Based upon the character of Jesus and His love for people, especially little children, I think that Jesus invited the boy to stay close beside  Him so that the child could watch the miracle as it was taking place.  He was going to see firsthand how Jesus was going to use his small lunch to feed the multitude.  I’m sure this was an unexpected surprise for him.

How did this miracle take place?  Verse 11 tells us that it began with a prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, said by Jesus.  “Jesus therefore took the loaves, and having given thanks”.  Luke’s Gospel adds the words, “looking up to heaven”.  Jesus gave thanks for the abundance of food that didn’t exist yet!  By looking up to heaven, Jesus made it obvious to His disciples and everyone near Him that He was giving thanks for the Father’s provision.  That is a prayer of trust in the Father’s enabling!  Let me ask you a question.  How would you like to invite 20.000 people over for a free meal, all-you-can-eat?  You would be asking for a miracle too!

You might say that the miracle that followed took place in the hands of Jesus.  John 6:11 continues with the words, “He distributed to those who were seated; likewise the fish as much as they wanted.”  The other Gospels add that Jesus broke the loaves (tore the tortillas) and broke the fish.  I personally believe that this was a two-part miracle, in the sense that it happened in two distinct places.  It happened in the hands of Jesus as He broke the loaves and fish and placed the pieces in the baskets, and the miracle also happened in the baskets themselves.  I believe those baskets became “never-ending fish and chips baskets”.  The apostles distributed some at first and then set the baskets down in each of their distribution areas and the people could come and get more until they were satisfied.  It would be similar to the widow’s never-ending jar of oil in II Kings 4, or The Olive Garden Restaurants’ “never-ending salad bowl and breadsticks”.  Otherwise, Jesus would have been breaking loaves and fishes for many hours, and the twelve apostles would have made several hundred trips back and forth distributing and refilling.  Jesus and His disciples would have been too exhausted to eat, and the sun would have been going down.  Does that opinion make sense to you?

That done, guess who had the privilege of having lunch with Jesus and His disciples?  The boy who gave his lunch is going to receive back much more than he gave!  Can you imagine what a joyful experience that must have been, and I imagine that each one of the disciples thanked him also.  This child is going to have quite a story to tell his parents that evening!

IV.  THE CLEAN-UP (verses 12-13)

In verses 12 and 13 we learn that Jesus is no “litter-bug”, and He does not believe in wasting food.  He tells His disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.”  Each of His disciples returned with his basket full of pieces of bread and fish.  These baskets were probably of a wicker material and could hold about two gallons each.  Twenty-four gallons of leftovers from five little tortillas and two little fish!  It was another opportunity for His disciples to reflect upon, and be amazed at what had happened, along with all the people who were there.  It had become, not only a disciple-participation miracle, but an audience-participation miracle as well!

Did you ever wonder what they did with all those leftovers.  I think the Lord Jesus gave them away to some of the poorest people in the crowd for their next meal, or as food for any animals they might have.  I wonder whether one or more of those baskets was given to that little boy to take home and show his parents.  We don’t know, but one thing we do know for sure is that the boy who donated his lunch will always be remembered because of his generosity.  Likewise, the people of Philadelphia will never forget Hattie May for her donation of 57 pennies to build a bigger church.  To have that kind of faith we need a big concept of God – a child’s concept of God!

V.  THE REACTION (verses 14-15)

After the meal is over and the clean-up is completed, we see the initial response of the crowd in verse 14.  “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ ”  Which “prophet” are they referring to, and how did they come to that conclusion?  For all Jews at that time, a favorite messianic passage of Scripture in the Law of Moses was Deuteronomy 18:15.  Before his death, and before the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

This amazing meal reminded the people of the manna that Moses said God would provide for their ancestors to eat while they were in the wildernes.  That’s why I said earlier that Jesus’ question to Philip in verse 6 was more like a history test than a math test. He wanted to bring to Philip’s mind the miracle that God performed in the wilderness.  In Exodus 16:4, God said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you”.  God speaks to Moses again in verse 12 saying,  “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”   How many people were fed by the manna and the quail in the wilderness?  Numbers 12:37-38 tells us that there were 603,550 men over 20, apart from women and children.  Multiply that number by four, and we’re talking about 2.5 million people fed with manna every day for 40 years.  Try doing the math to see if you can figure out how much bread was eaten.  I’ll bet you can’t do it in your head!  In both cases, there was enough, and more than enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.  I made some calculations based upon a few assumptions.  If an omer was equivalent to a bushel, and a bushel was equivalent to an American gallon, then 2,500,000 people times 365 days a year times 40 years would be a minimum of 36,500,000,000 (or 36 billion, 500 million) bushels or gallons of manna, and that’s only what was gathered and eaten!  That’s a lot of bread!  It would be enough to feed the entire population of our world for 5 days, with some leftovers!  Isn’t that awesome?  We have an awesome God!

Returning to the passage of Scripture we are studying, we learn that the multitude Jesus fed had come to the conclusion that Jesus must be the Prophet, the One who was to be their Messiah.  In verse 15, we are told what this crowd of people wanted to do.  It reads, “Jesus, therefore, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Mark’s and Luke’s gospels add that Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of Him by boat, and then dismissed the crowd before going up on the mountain.

CONCLUSION:

This particular miracle, the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, was a continual source of inspiration and encouragement to a man by the name of George Mueller.  This man of God cared for as many as 2000 orphans at one time in Bristol, England during the middle of the 19th century.  No regular means of support was available and no appeals for money were ever made, yet thousands of dollars came from all over the world.  The orphanage personnel often faced desperate situations, but George Mueller always said, “The Lord is testing us.  I don’t know what He’ll do, but He knows, and that’s enough.”  As Jesus lifted up HIs eyes and thanked His Father for food that wasn’t provided yet, so George Mueller would sometimes sit down with the orphans and thank God for food that was not on their tables.  Often there would be a knock on the door before he even finished praying!

A principle we can draw from this passage of Scripture and from these illustrations from history, is that there is no need, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, that God cannot supply.  We need to look beyond our overwhelming needs to see our all-sufficient God.  What are your “impossibilities”?

There is also a principle we can learn from the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus.  The Lord never forgets to reward those who do what they can, no matter how small their contribution may appear in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.  Let’s give our all to Jesus Christ and watch Him use it to meet the needs of others and bring glory to Himself.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  (COMPLETED)

Thank you for visiting this completed work-in-progress.  Another project, John 6:17-21, will begin very soon on the adjacent lot.  See you there!

THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR UNBELIEF – John 5:41-47

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INTRODUCTION:

The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936.  Through four decades and a World War, she served until she was retired and anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.  During the conversion process, her three massive stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted.  But on the dock they crumbled.  Nothing was left of the 3/4 inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed.  All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years.

After healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda,  the Lord Jesus went into great detail to substantiate His claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  He described five witnesses that couldn’t be refuted; and there were hundreds, even thousands who could attest to the truth of what they saw and heard.  He had built a structure that was strong and lasting, incapable of being torn down and destroyed.  Now, in verses 41-47, the Lord Jesus directs His attention toward His accusers, who are standing around him in their elegant robes and with their pious countenances, and He starts chipping away at their paint!

I.  EMPTY OF LOVE (verse 41-42)

Jesus has been appealing to their minds by giving them proofs of his deity.  Then He appealed to their wills, exposing their stubborn refusal to believe Him.  Now He’s going to get to the heart of the problem.  In verse 41, Jesus gives them a brief description of His own attitude as a basis for comparison to theirs.  He says, “I do not receive glory from men.”  He is not seeking the applause of men.  Rather, His motivation is that of doing the will of the Father out of love for the Father.  He is filled and controlled by His love for His Father.  (John 5:19-20, 30).

By contrast, he says to them, “but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves.”  Can you feel the sharpness of His rebuke? “But I know you”, He says.  They are not going to pull the wool over His eyes!  He sees underneath the paint!   Now He’s going to be chipping away at it, and revealing to them what He sees!

The first thing he reveals to them, in verse 42, is that they have no love for God.  In their hearts they don’t really love God.  It’s just “external paint” that they have applied to themselves so that others might see it and admire them.  I think Jesus is also saying, “You don’t really believe in God, and you are unwilling to believe in Me, because you don’t love God.  I can envision the anger on their faces and can almost hear the murmuring and threats they are making.  I think Jesus had to raise His voice in order to be heard above their murmuring and complaining.

II.  FILLED WITH PRIDE (verses 43-44)

In order to affirm what He has just told them, and give them the underlying reason for His statement in verse 42, Jesus reiterates what He told them earlier.  In verse 43, Jesus begins by saying, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you did not receive Me”.  What He means by those words is, “I’ve already proven to you that I’ve been sent by God and have His authority, yet you refuse to accept Me for Who I am and obey Me.  You refuse to show me the honor and worship that I deserve.”

I believe that the words that follow are used by Jesus to point out the irony in what they have been doing.  He says, “if another should come in his own name, you will receive him.”  Jesus is making a true statement about what the leaders of the Jews have done many times in the past.  During the time of Jesus there were two schools of thought based upon the teachings of two rabbis:  Shammai and Hillel.  The scribes and Pharisees spent much time debating with each other regarding which one of them was right on various issues and doctrines, rather than studying the Scriptures themselves.  Later on, Jesus tells them, in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, that many other false Messiahs will come on their own authority and draw many astray.

Jesus didn’t fit their own description of the Messiah.  Jesus was too humble, poor, and plain.  They were looking for a Messiah whom they considered to be worthy of being followed – a Messiah who would come in royal robes; a stately figure with awesome physical and political power who would crush the power of the Roman Empire. They wanted a Messiah who would recognize their devotion to God and their leadership abilities, and Who would put them in positions of authority in His kingdom on earth.  Jesus was the total opposite of what they had in mind.

In verse 44, Jesus rebukes them again by asking them a pointed question: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another. and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”  He faced them with the true cause of their unbelief – their own personal pride and conceit.  The word “glory” is a translation of the Greek word “Doxan”, which comes from the verb “dokeo”, which means “to think”.  The scribes and Pharisees had a very high “opinion” of themselves; so high that they even argued among themselves as to who was the most famous.  You might say that there was even a battle going on to form a “pecking order” among the proud, and nobody wanted to give in to the others.  They were so busy glorifying themselves that they had no interest in seeking the glory of God that could be found reflected in Jesus Christ.

On the French Riviera, it is such an important status symbol to have a balcony on an apartment, that it is quite common to see balconies painted on the walls of apartment houses.  People even painted wet laundry hanging on the clothesline, just to give it a touch of reality!  In the same vein, there was no limit to what these Jewish leaders would do in order to give their own lives an imitation “touch of reality” that might cause others to “look up to them” and be impressed by what they saw.

III.  THE CONSEQUENCES (verses 45-47)

The Lord Jesus has been chipping away at their exterior paint.  Now He is going to hammer away at their foundation so that it crumbles like the stacks of the Queen Mary.  He says, in verse 45, “Do you think that I will accuse you before the Father”?  He’s saying, “Do you think that I am going to follow your example?”  They have been accusing Him of doing miracles on the Sabbath in violation of the Law of Moses (John 5:10,16).  The Lord wasn’t the One who would be gathering the information and pressing charges against them.  He continues by saying, the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.”  The men standing around Jesus claimed to be disciples of Moses.  That statement of Jesus must have raised some eyebrows and evoked some angry responses.  They’ve put their hope in the wrong person because Moses is not going be on their side!

In verse 46, Jesus gives the reason for His statement:  “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.”  Where did Moses write about Jesus?  Moses does not use the name “Jesus”, but he refers to the Messiah in several places using a variety of names to describe Him.  In Genesis 3:15, Moses wrote down the words that God said to the serpent in the hearing of Adam and Eve after their disobedience:  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed; He shall bruise (crush) you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heal.”  The “seed of the woman” is the Messiah.  He will be a descendent of her.

In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses refers to the Messiah as a prophet when he says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

In Genesis 49, Jacob summoned all his sons to gather around him before his death, and prophesied concerning each of his sons.  In his prophecy concerning his son, Judah, Jacob says:  “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10).  This is the only place in the Bible where Shiloh refers to a person rather than a place.  Shiloh is the Messiah, and He has already come to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ.  So why does it say that the scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes?  History gives the answer.  In 70 A.D. the nation of Israel was conquered and its people scattered throughout the earth.  The scepter was removed from Judah, but it is still retained.  Jesus was the last Person from the line of David, on both His mother’s and his father’s side, who had the legal and spiritual right to assume the throne.  He still retains that right and will be returning to bring that prophecy to fulfilment.

Jesus closes His rebuke with the words “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words.”  Jesus was saying to them, and He says to us today also, that belief is not just a matter of the mind, but also of the will.  They knew those Messianic texts, but they were unwilling to ascribe them to Him.  They refused to obey Moses, and they refused to obey Christ.  There was no valid excuse for their behavior.  They loved themselves to the exclusion of a true love of God, and in their pride they chose to be their own gods, doing their own will instead of God’s.

The same is true today.  There is no acceptable excuse for not believing and obeying God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  There is no excuse for not searching after God and asking Him to reveal Himself to us.  There is no excuse for not responding to the truth that we have, the truth God has given to each of us.  The only thing that holds us back is our own foolish pride in ourselves, the original sin of Adam and Eve, the temptation that Satan wants us to give in to.  Don’t let pride separate you eternally from the One who loves you sacrificially and wants you to experience the joy of submitting yourselves to Him as your Lord and King; a joy that will change your life forever, giving you a new purpose for living as you enjoy doing His will and experiencing His power and presence.  Let’s “remove the paint” and “be real” in Christ Jesus our Lord!  

Fellow Christians, let’s review each day and ask ourselves who is getting the glory in our lives.  Even when we are serving the Lord and living in obedience to His Word, it’s always tempting to take the glory to ourselves rather than put the focus on the One who loves us, inspires us, empowers us, and has gifted us to serve Him and be witnesses for Him.

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,

And let us exalt His name together.”
Psalm 34:1-3

  CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

May the Lord Jesus be the One who holds your life together, and gives you joy, peace, purpose, and meaning each day.  May He also receive the glory that He alone deserves.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

I.  TIME TO HARVEST (verse 35)

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

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

II.  SOWING AND REAPING (verses 36-38)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV.  THEIR RESPONSE (verses 41-42)

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

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

WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART III – Guilt, Repentance, and Worship – John 4:16-26

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INTRODUCTION:

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well has progressed.  Jesus began by asking her for a drink, putting Himself in a position of being indebted to her for her kindness.  She responds by giving Him the drink and asking Him why He would make such a request of her.  Jesus uses the setting of the well to tell her about “living water”, and in the course of the conversation she decides that she really wants this water and trusts that He is telling her the truth.  Now she is ready for the next step in understanding who He is and what is her present condition in the sight of God.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CONSCIENCE (verse 16)

In verse 16, Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here”.
Why would He say such a thing to her, especially when the conversation is going along so well?  It sounds like a command, but it’s actually said in the form of a request.  Jesus knows her past and her present condition because He is God, and the Father has revealed those things to Him.  So He wants to find out how she will respond to those words.  Will she be angry or will she feel ashamed and guilty about her sinful relationships.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verse 17a)

She feels ashamed and guilty alright!  This is her shortest response in the entire conversation:  “I have no husband”.  Only four words in English, and only three words in Aramaic!  She is basically saying, “Here’s my answer; end of conversation on that subject!”  I believe that she lowered her eyes away from His gaze as she quietly said those words (“I have no husband”), and may have hung her head in shame as she did so.

III.  FACING THE FACTS (verses 17b-18)

The Lord Jesus doesn’t change the subject, as she was hoping He would, and hinting that He should.  Instead, He congratulates her for her answer by saying, “You have well said ‘I have no husband’ “.  That must have brought a shocked look to her face – “He’s paying me a compliment!  How did He know?”  There may also have been a quick sigh of relief:  “At least He doesn’t know the whole truth.”  But before she could respond, Jesus reveals information about her that no stranger could possibly have known, especially a Jewish stranger.  He says to her in verse 18, “For you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”   I believe that Jesus said those words to her courteously and gently.  The words themselves revealed that this was no ordinary man who was speaking to her.  We will see that the words of the prophets must have come to her mind also.

Now the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together.  It explains why she is coming to draw water in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the early morning or the evening.  She was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle, and the other women probably belittled her and refused to let her be part of their conversations or use the well while they were there.  She must have been a very lonely and discouraged woman, encumbered by the guilt of her sins.

IV.  A DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?  (verses 19-20)

I found myself laughing as I considered the woman’s frame of mind when Jesus has just complimented her on her honesty, and then, zing!  He tells her all the private information she left out!  How do you respond to a revelation like that?  Verses 19 and 20 give us her reply.  “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped at this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men are to worship.”  Has she been paying close attention to the way in which Jesus is directing this conversation?  The reason I ask is because she just paid Him a compliment, and then directs Him to an issue that has divided Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  Touche!  The tables are turned!

Seriously, I think she truly believes that Jesus is a prophet.  Her concept of Him is getting closer to reality.  She also wants to move this conversation away from herself and her personal issues.  If He truly is a prophet, He will have a definitive answer to this issue.  Notice that Jesus allowed her to change the topic of conversation.  In spite of her motives, this discussion is moving in the exact direction that Jesus wants it to go.

So I don’t believe that her question was primarily meant to be a side-track.  There is a genuine reason for her question, and it’s based upon the words that Jesus has just spoken to her.  Jesus had exposed her sins, and I think there is a genuine conviction of sin and a repentant heart on her part as a result.  She may be asking, “Where should I go to present a sin offering to God as an act of repentance and worship.  What I’ve been taught disagrees with what you Jews believe.”  Warren Wiersbe comments, “She didn’t  know who to worship, where to worship, and how to worship.”  There are some historical events and teachings that need an explanation before we can understand her quandary.

The history of Samaria and the Samaritan people is complex, so I’ll try to put the meaning behind the woman’s question into a nutshell.  In my previous sermon I shared how the captives who were left in Israel intermarried with captives from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in Israel, thus losing the purity of their Jewish race and religion.  In an attempt to restore their legitimacy as God’s chosen people, the Samaritans changed some Scriptures in the Law of Moses and altered some historical events.  They built a temple on Mount Gerizim and said that this was the place where God wanted them to worship, rather than at the temple in Jerusalem.  So the woman wants to know where she should go to present her sin offering to God,  Where is the proper place to worship, and how do I do this in the traditional way?

V.  TRUE WORSHIP (verses 20-26)

Once again, the Lord Jesus doesn’t give this woman the answer she wants to hear.  He gives her the answer she needs to hear.  To her, worship is limited to a specific place and time, and is a ritual that is performed in a certain way.  But now she has come to the point where she wants to worship God and seek forgiveness for her sins.  She is now ready to learn the meaning of true worship.

1.  JESUS’ PROPHETIC ANSWER  (verse 21)

In verse 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”  When Jesus told her, “believe Me”, He’s saying, “since you have come to the conclusion that I am a prophet, then put your faith and trust in what I am about to tell you because it is coming from God.”  He then gives her a glimpse of the near-future.  Very soon the present system of worship is going to be replaced.  What He doesn’t share at this time is that the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system will no longer be needed.  He’s referring to His own sacrificial death on the cross.  When Jesus says, “It is finished”, the penalty for sin will be paid for once-and-for-all.  At that very moment the curtain that separates the people from the presence of God will be torn from top to bottom.  He’s telling her to get ready for a new way of worship that’s not dependent upon physical locations, nor limited by format or ritual.

2.  JESUS CORRECTS HER MISUNDERSTANDINGS (verse 22)

Before going on to explain what this new way of worship is all about, the Lord Jesus first corrects her misunderstandings about the Jewish faith.  In verse 22 He says to her,  “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  That may sound like a blunt statement but that’s the way truth is – it’s uncompromising.  Salvation is from the Jews – the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to that, but it is for everyone who believes.  Notice that Jesus tells her that her misconception is based on ignorance, not defiance.  She has already been demonstrating her desire to know the truth, so He tells her the truth, plainly and simply.

3.  REAFFIRMATION AND EXPLANATION (verse 23-24)

Obviously, there was no outburst of anger on her part as a result of what Jesus said, and she didn’t walk away because the Lord Jesus continues where He left off, without a word spoken by her in response.  Jesus continues by using the words again, “An hour is coming”.  In verse 23 He says:  “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”  The phrase “is coming and now is” sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it.  I think Jesus is saying that what is about to come is already beginning to happen.  His disciples and a few others are beginning to worship Him as their Messiah, and this is the preview of things to come.  The focus of their worship is now based on a personal relationship with the Messiah rather than the Temple services.  The words of Jesus are being added to the Scriptures, and a whole new relationship to God is being expressed by His words,  Jesus, the God-man, is touching the hearts of people and drawing them to Himself and to the Father in worship that comes from the heart.  This is the kind of worship, and these are the kinds of worshippers that the Father desires and seeks.  Now the Lord Jesus concludes this discussion about worship by giving this woman the reason for His statement and the logical conclusion.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  There is no other way to truly worship God.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri, deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, failed to kneel at the appropriate moment.  His enemies turned to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege.  Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing.”  We can only hope that his accusers felt remorse over their own failure to truly worship God.

I heard a short definition of worship many years ago and have never forgotten it.  “Worship is all that I am, responding to all that He is.”  It’s my whole being (body, mind, emotions, will, and spirit) wholeheartedly responding to all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in His creation.

4.  AN ALTERNATE MEANING (verses 23-24 revisited)

There is a member of the Trinity that has been missing from my study of this passage of Scripture so far, and He deserves much more than just “honorable mention”.  There is another interpretation of the words “spirit and truth” which, in my opinion, agrees with the rest of Scripture, fits the context of this conversation, and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Does that statement arouse your curiosity?  It gets even better!  Have you ever heard of a figure of speech called a hendiadys.  The word literally means “one through two”.  This figure of speech usually occurs when two words connected by the word “and” are capable of being restated so that the one word modifies or is subordinate to the other, and yet the resulting statement is still true and the words still have the same basic meaning.  Have I lost you with that description?  Let me give you a couple of examples.  “This coffee is nice and hot” could be changed to “this is nice hot coffee” and still have the same meaning.  In Mark 11:24 the literal Greek text says “whatever you pray and ask“, but in most English translations it reads:  “whatever you ask in prayer“.  Have those illustrations given you a clearer concept of what a hendiadys is?  I hope so.  Now let’s apply this figure of speech to the words “spirit and truth” in John 4:23-24.  Jesus has told the woman that “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  Let’s apply that figure of speech and see what happens.  If we remove the conjunction “and”, we have “spirit truth”.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  But if we insert the preposition “of” so that the second word modifies and is subordinate to the first word, we get the phrase “spirit of truth”.  That is a phrase that the Lord Jesus often used when referring to the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:16-17, after telling His disciples that He will answer their prayers so that the Father may be glorified, He says, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth . . . He abides with you and will be in you.”  The Lord Jesus says the same thing in John 14:26, and then adds “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  We find the title again in 15:26 where He is again called “the Helper”.  In John 16 Jesus says, “He will guide you into all truth . . . He will glorify Me.”  

The Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us how to pray and provides assistance as we pray.  “He intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Praise is called “rejoicing in the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18f); confession of sins is “under the conviction of the Spirit” (John 16:8).  The apostle Jude tells us to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).  The Scriptures were given by the Holy  Spirit, and our minds are illumined by the Holy Spirit as we study them.  The list goes on.  The Holy Spirit has everything to do with every aspect of worship and ministry.  I encourage you to do a personal study on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

So, whether you and I want to consider the expression “grace and truth” to be a hendiadys or not is really immaterial.  The important thing to realize is that the change in worship that was about to come to pass would occur at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would indwell believers, and would teach them and empower them to worship in spirit and in truth.

VI.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE, AND WHAT PROMPTED IT (verse 25)

Returning to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I believe that when Jesus said, “the hour is coming” (verse 21), and then said “the hour is coming, and now is.” (verse 23), one of the most beloved passages of Scripture for both the Jews and the Samaritans came to her mind.  Hardly a week would have gone by without thinking about and praying for the fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by Isaiah and written down in the Scriptures.  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace.  . . ” (Isaiah 9)   In her joy and expectation, she couldn’t help but express her excitement about that coming day.  John 4:25 says, The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ ”  The Messiah would answer all her questions and correct any misunderstandings.  Her response seems to indicate that she expected the Messiah to be coming soon.  Little did she know how soon her words and her hopes would be fulfilled.

VII.  THE REVELATION (verse 26)

Try to imagine her response when Jesus said these words:  “I who speak to you am He.”  You don’t get the full effect of His words until you understand what the Lord Jesus actually said to her.  The literal translation of the Greek text reads:  “I am is speaking to you.”  He spoke to her in Aramaic, so the Lord Jesus was using the word Yahweh (Jehovah), God’s covenant name.  There was no doubt that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  This was the first time that Jesus used that name in public; the first time that He publicly declared that He was the Messiah.

VIII.  CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In the next passage of Scripture, we will be examining the woman’s response to this good news, as well as a lesson that Jesus teaches His disciples.  There is an illustration that will help bring some lessons from John 4:16-26 home to us today.  Have you ever been kite-flying?  A boy was flying a kite one day, and the kite was so high in the air that it had disappeared into the clouds.  A man came by and asked, “Why are you holding onto that string?”  The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.”  The man looked up and said, “I don’t see it.”  The  boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”  Do you feel a “tug” in your life?  Is conviction of past sins, a lack of peace, purpose and joy in life, and a fear of what happens after death tugging at your heart?  It’s not your imagination nor your present state of mind that’s causing that feeling inside.  The Holy Spirit wants you to worship God in spirit and in truth, and the first act of true worship is to repent of your sins, turn your life over to Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior, and let Him rule in your life.  Then you will be a child of God.  Your act of worship will be accepted in His sight and He will begin to remove those hindrances, bring new joy, peace, and purpose to your life.   Then He will begin to transform you into His image as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, worshipping Him with joy in your heart and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Please go to my “About Page” if you would like to read how this happened in my life and the Scriptures God used to bring me to Himself.

If you are a Christian, do you feel a “tug”?  The Holy Spirit wants you to know that He’s always there with you, even though you can’t see Him.  He wants to keep taking you higher and higher in your fellowship with God and worship of Him.  He’s calling you to come closer; to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him.  Maybe you’ve been allowing other things to occupy your time to the point where He’s being left out or limited to only certain times and places.  He’s tugging because He misses that intimate fellowship with you.  Don’t ignore His “tugs”.  They are given in love.

As a practical application, you may want to consider going and flying a kite yourself.  As you feel the kite tugging on your hand, be reminded of the One who is tugging on your heart.  When you do, let out some more string and let the kite soar even higher!   Then spend some time worshipping our unseen, but ever-present and all-powerful God!

May your life be filled with true worship of God.  May it be the highest priority in your life.  There will always be potential obstacles and hindrances along the way.  May you recognize the obstacles that are presently in your way, and any further obstacles along the way.  May you give up the struggle to try to remove the obstacles yourself, and your efforts to cover them up as if they don’t exist.  Turn those obstacles over to the Divine Contractor for Professional removal and reconstruction.

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

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND

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

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

TRANSITION:

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

I.  THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)

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

II.  THE REPLY (verse 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites   I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, as well as other assorted messages.