EQUAL WITH GOD – John 5:15-18

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“Tattletale! . . . Tattletale!”

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

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

I.  THE HEALER IS REVEALED (verse 15)

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

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

II.  THIER ANGER IS REDIRECTED (verse 16)

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

III.  JESUS’ REPLY (verse 17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV.  FROM PERSECUTION TO EXECUTION (verse 18)

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION;

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

 CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

JESUS CHRIST, IDENTIFIED AND MAGNIFIED – John 1:15-17

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Have you ever had something really wonderful happen to you and you could hardly wait to share it with your family and friends?  As you write the letters, send the emails, or make the phone calls, in your excitement you begin with the big picture, the main event.  In just a few action-packed and emotion-filled words you release your excitement.  Then you begin to explain the details:  what led up to the event, the event itself, and what has been happening to you afterward.  You might also talk about the effects it might have on your future.  Does that sequence of events sound familiar to you?

The apostle John has reached that point in his gospel.  Verses 1-18 are his prologue, the introduction to his book.  He has been describing the “logos” in order to gain the attention and interest of his Greek-speaking audience.  In verse 14 he comes to the exciting main event:  “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us“!  In his excitement, John is saying, “Isn’t that amazing!”  “Isn’t that exciting!”  He spends the rest of his book telling them, and us, about it.

I.  THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verse 15)

To verify his statement, John directs our attention again to the words of John the Baptist, for a brief moment, because John the Baptist was the first person to publicly identify the Logos.  Though John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, he says of Jesus in verse 15, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”   He shouted those words as loud as he could because he wanted to get everyone’s attention.  He wanted everyone within earshot to hear from his lips who Jesus truly was,  John the Baptist is referring to Jesus’ eternal existence, and therefore His deity.  He will have much more to say about Jesus in the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying – verses 19 and following of John chapter 1.

Some people consider Jesus Christ to be only a man, and indeed He is a man.  Some people point to Him as an example, and He is that also.  But if that’s all you can see in Jesus Christ, then your view of Him is incomplete and contrary to the Scriptures.  For the first and most important thing said about Jesus Christ is that He had no beginning, and that is the same as calling him God.

The Old Testament, which was completed 400 years before the birth of Christ, contains many occurrences of His appearing to people.  The terms “the angel of the Lord” or “the angel of God” are used often in the Old Testament to refer to an appearance of Christ.  He appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 and is referred to as “the Lord”.  In John 8:56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  He appeared to Jacob in a dream in Genesis 31 and introduced Himself as “the God of Bethel”.  Jacob wrestles with a man in Genesis 32, and the man says, “You have striven with God”.  Jacob then says, “I saw God face-to-face”.  In Exodus 23:21 He appears to Moses and is identified by God as having the power to forgive sins because God says, “My name is in him”.

There are many other references to “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament.  It’s interesting to note that this “angel of the Lord” never appeared during the lifetime of Jesus Christ on this earth.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ is the “angel of the Lord” making an “extended appearance” for thirty-three years as a human being.

II.  CHRIST’S SUFFICIENCY (verse 16)

In verse 16, the apostle John continues where he left off in verse 14.  He said that the Word was “full of grace and truth”.  Now he adds, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”  We might ask the question:  “What is it that we have received from Jesus Christ?”  A better question might be:  “What is it that we have not received?”  From Him we have received a new life, peace, joy, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and all that the believer needs for this life and for eternity.

Have you ever filled a glass or bucket to the brim with water and then tried to walk while carrying it?  You couldn’t keep it from spilling the water all over the place, could you?  The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:19, says of Jesus;  “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus was “that you may be filled with all the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:19).  The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, declared, “I have heard our Lord compared to a man carrying a water pot.  As he bore it upon his shoulder, the water, yielding to the movement of his body, fell dropping and spilling about so that one could easily track the water-bearer.  So should all of God’s people be carrying such a fullness of grace that everyone knows where they have been by the tracks they leave behind.”

The apostle John describes this “fullness” as “grace upon grace“.  Out of Christ’s “fullness” we have received one grace after another.  It is an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace.  I lead worship services at several healthcare facilities and we have been studying the miracles in the Old Testament.  I think that the miracle we studied this week is very appropriate to this verse of Scripture.  In I KIngs 17, after Elijah told King Ahab that there was going to be a drought, God told Elijah to hide at the brook Cherith and He would provide Elijah with food daily.  Many of you are probably familiar with the “Meals On Wheels” program.  For a modest fee they will bring a hot meal to the door of a person who is unable to prepare a good meal for himself.  I think that God had an even better idea.  I call it “Meals on Wings”.  Twice a day ravens brought Elijah meat and bread — airmail, special delivery!  This continued for months, maybe for a year or more.  What a demonstration of the continuing, faithful grace of God!

When John describes how that fullness is bestowed upon us, he uses the Greek preposition, anti, which has been translated into English in many different ways.  The most popular translation appears to be “grace upon grace“.  However, there are several other translations such as:  “grace for grace”, “grace on grace”, “grace after grace”, “grace in place of grace”, “grace over against grace”, as well as many paraphrases of those words.

Which translation of “anti” is correct?  Do they all convey the exact same meaning?  What was the literal meaning of that word in common usage during that period of time?  My own conclusion, so far, is that the Greek preposition “anti” usually means “instead of” or “in place of”.  It does sound awkward to say “grace instead of grace” or grace in place of grace”.  There needs to an explanation so that we can put the phrase into understandable English.  I think I found that explanation.  It makes sense to me and I hope it will make sense to you as well.  Joanie Yoder gives the following explanation and illustration in an Our Daily Bread devotional:

Years ago, Amy Carmichael shared some helpful insights about the phrase, “grace for grace.”  Drawing from the writings of Bishop Moule (1841-1920), she wrote that the Greek word translated “for” literally means “instead of”.  He illustrated the meaning by describing a river.  “Stand on its banks,” he wrote, “and contemplate the flow of waters.  A minute passes, and another.  Is it the same stream still?  Yes.  But is it the same water?  No.”  The old water, he explained, had been displaced by new — “water in stead of water,”

The same is true of grace.  Your life today may carry yesterday’s problems, but remember, God’s grace is new each morning, exactly what you need to meet each new challenge.  It is an inexhaustible and ever-fresh supply.

Thank you, Joanie, Bishop Moule, and Our Daily Bread Ministries for those insights.  As the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness (RSV).  I personally like the translations “grace after grace” and “one grace after another”.

The following illustration describes grace in terms of “dollars and cents” if that gives you a clearer picture.  A generous man decided to give a thousand dollars to a poor minister.  (This illustration was written back in the day when a thousand dollars was a lot of money; when one hundred dollars a week was the average wage of a blue-collar worker.)  Thinking that it might be too much all at once, he sent fifty dollars with a note which said, “More to follow“.  A few days later he sent a similar amount with the same message.  At regular intervals he sent a third, then a fourth, and a fifth, and so on, all accompanied by the same promise, “More to follow“.  The surprised and happy minister soon became familiar with those cheering words and his gratitude to God overflowed each time he read them.  In the same way, every blessing God gives us in Christ comes with a reminder, “More to follow“.

CHRIST’S FULLNESS BY COMPARISON (verse 17)

In verse 17, John contrasts this grace with the Old Testament law when he says, “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The law was “given“.  It was engraved on tablets of stone by the finger of God.  Grace and truth “came“.  They were wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ.  People saw and experienced His grace.  Peter said, “Jesus went around doing good” (Acts10:38).  The Lord Jesus also spoke the truth, and with authority.  In the gospel writings you will notice that the Lord Jesus often used the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you”, or “I tell you the truth”.  In John 7:32 the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to seize Jesus.  They returned empty-handed.  When asked why they didn’t bring Him, the officers answered, “No one ever spoke the way this man speaks.” (John 7:46, NIV)  Grace and truth were Jesus’ essential perfections.  They set Him apart from the rest of the world.  Those two attributes, grace and truth, need to come together in our own lives also.  It is difficult to receive, and impossible to really enjoy, a gift that comes from someone we don’t trust.  Are there people who don’t trust you?  By the grace of God, what are you going to do about it?

CONCLUSION:

There is joy and excitement in the New Testament, especially after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the focus is upon “the grace of God” and “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.  It was continually in their minds of the apostles, as well as on their hearts, in their speech, and in their writings.  Get out a concordance, look up the word “grace” and see how many times it is mentioned in the book of Acts and in the epistles.  Look at the opening paragraph and closing paragraph of the epistles and see how many times it is there.  It appears to me that this is the way the first-century Christians said hello and goodbye to each other.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about those words and say them often enough.  I can never think about them or say them often enough.  When I turn off this computer I’m going to write the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” on a piece of paper and put it on my refrigerator, where I’ll see it several times a day.  I have a little wooden “pocket cross”, a gift from a friend.  I’ve stopped putting it in my pocket, but it is going back in it again.  Every time I put my hand in my pocket to get my keys or warm my hand, I want to be reminded of the grace of God.  If you have reminders that you use, I would appreciate hearing from you about it.  Let’s be of encouragement to one another.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

 

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  II Timothy 2:15 (NIV)