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.

 

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.

 

 

NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”?  If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean.  Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season.  If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.  I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth.  Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

The story begins in Luke chapter 1.  Verses 26 and 27 say:  “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke states that it is the “sixth month”.  He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth.  They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph.  They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor.  This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.

Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph.  Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship.  It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated.  It must have been near the end of that espousal period.  I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens.  God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary.  Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing.  His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.

There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time.  Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today.  There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them.  The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born.  If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year.  You will really enjoy it!

The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17).  There are too many of them to count.  Yet only two angels are named in the Bible:  Gabriel and Michael.  It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them.  I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face.  We will know some day!  Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary.  Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you’.”  Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area.  Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him.  Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege.  He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women   He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation.  It is an unmerited favor from God.  She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it.  Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.

In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting:  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”.  “Why would he be saying those words to me?”  “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name.  Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah.  The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).

As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth?  Yes.  Was it her fault that she didn’t know this?  No.  This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel.  There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah.  The first is Genesis 3:15.  After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  This verse is speaking of the Messiah.  God says “her seed”.  A woman doesn’t have a seed.  She has eggs.  The man has the seed.  If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right?  If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God.  Isaiah 7:14 confirms this.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.”  The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.

IV.  THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)

Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it.  As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born.  Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said.  She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true.  She is just curious as to the  “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin.  So she asks the question:  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God).  This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.

So, just how did this all come about?  Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception!  Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”.  (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures).  When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others.  In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do.  This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God.  As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary.  She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother!  What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed!  In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God!  Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement:  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  The Message puts it this way:  “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as you say.”  Then the angel left.  As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her.  She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.

VI.  THE LESSONS

Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience:  “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them?  Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off.  You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.”  Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back.  “Better never late, but better late than never.”

Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love?  Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day.  Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today.  Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day?  If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day.  We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”!  After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  I call this particular construction project:  “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”.  I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17).  As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder.  I hope this has been your experience also.  May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.

P.S.  I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38.  There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”.  Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own!  See you in the next construction site!

JESUS DEFENDS HIS AUTHORITY – John 2:18-22

Bible sermon, Christ, Gospel of John, Gospel of John, John 2:18-25, New Testament sermon, Uncategorized

Are guarantees important to you?  When you shop for an item to purchase, do you read the fine print in the contract and the guarantee forms?  Maybe you can recall a time when you didn’t read all the fine print and wish you had.  We all desire proof, not only that things live up to their claims, but also that people live up to the claims they make.  The most fantastic claim that any person could possibly make would be the claim to be God.  Jesus Christ wasn’t the first Person to make that claim, and there have been many others who have claimed it since then.

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple.  While doing so He declared:  “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house  of merchandise.”  By His actions and His words, the Lord Jesus was fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy and declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now we see their response.

I.  THE REACTION OF THE JEWISH LEADERS (verses 18)

In verse 18 the leaders of the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things.”  They used that same expression at the end of Jesus’ ministry, in Matthew 21:23.  They were angry, and probably shouted those words at Him.  It may have sounded something like this:  “Who do You think You are!  Who gave You the right to do the things You just did.”  They ask Him for a sign.  I guess they felt they had the right to put Jesus to the test.  After all, they considered themselves to be the guardians of the Jewish faith.  I wonder whether or not they were trying to (incorrectly) apply God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-3.  “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes true concerning which he spoke to you saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  But Jesus was not a prophet or a dreamer, He was God Himself!

The problem was that the Jewish people were always looking for signs and miracles.  What Jesus says to them in reply is the greatest of all signs or miracles.

II.  THE PREDICTION BY JESUS (verse 19)

Jesus’ answer to the Jews who were questioning Him was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  It was a statement they misunderstood, but they would never forget it.  Three years later they quoted it at Jesus’ trial, and even used it to mock Him while He was on the cross.  The word translated “destroy” is a permissive imperative in the Greek.  His listeners didn’t realize it, but Jesus was giving them permission to kill Him in order that He might pay the price for the sins of the world.  This was a new insight for me.

There are two Greek words that were used when referring to the temple.  The Lord Jesus chose to use the word “naos”, a word that could also be used to refer to the human body.  Speaking of the temple, Jesus said “I will raise it up”.  The Greek word used here, “egeiro”, literally means “to rouse from sleep” It occurs 141 times in the New Testament, and 70 of those usages refer to the resurrection.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t point to Himself or make any other kind of gesture to indicate clearly to them that He was referring to His body.  I don’t think that Jesus wanted them to understand what He was saying.  Even His own disciples didn’t understand the meaning of His statement until after His death and resurrection.  Can you ever remember receiving the following response when you asked someone a question:  “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it!”?  I think those words also apply to this situation.

Often during Jesus’ public ministry, the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign.  But He refused to do so, except for the sign of Jonah, which depicts death, burial, and resurrection.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, or the Lord.  Watchman Nee also expresses this argument clearly in his book, Normal Christian Faith:
“A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:  First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.  Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie. Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.  You can only choose one of these
possibilities.”

III.  THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING (verses 20-21) 

Judging from their response to Jesus’ remark, the Jewish leaders must have thought that Jesus was a lunatic. Their answer to Jesus is:  “It took forty years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  They thought He was talking about the temple in Jerusalem.  Josephus, the Roman historian, said that about 18,000 workmen were employed in that task, and that the temple wasn’t finished until 64 A.D.  They are saying to Jesus, “You’ve got to be crazy if you think you can rebuild that massive, ornate structure in just three days!”  Little did they realize that Jesus was going to do something even more astounding.  He was going to bring His own dead body back to life after three days in a tomb!

The originator of a new religion came to the great French diplomat, Talleyrand and complained that he could not make any converts.  “What would you suggest I do?” he asked.  “I should recommend”, said Talleyrand, “that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day.”  I don’t think he took that advice!  Talleyrand must have recognized that it is the resurrected, living Christ that holds Christianity together and draws people to it.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:14 and 17, “And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” 

IV.  THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE (verse 22)

In verse 21, the apostle John affirms that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.  But John did not know that at the time.  He says in verse 22, “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this (over three years earlier); and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  They didn’t understand until they saw Him in His resurrected body three years later.

What is the “Scripture” that they believed?   It must have been Psalm 16:10 because the apostle Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31), and the apostle Paul quoted it at Antioch;  (Acts 13:35).  Psalm 16:10 says, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”  That “mysterious” verse had been solved and fulfilled.

A little boy once taught his Sunday School class a lesson about the resurrection of Christ that they understood immediately and would never forget.  Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several other eight-year-old boys and girls.  Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine.  But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.

The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs.  Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container.  Back in the classroom they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion.  After running through the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one.  After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.

Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside.  The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid!”   “That’s not fair!”  “Somebody didn’t do their assignment!”

Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”

“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted.  “There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip insisted.  “I did do it.  It’s empty, the tomb is empty!”

Silence followed.  From then on Philip became a full member of the class.  He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off.  At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar, not with flowers but with their Sunday School teacher, each to lay on his casket an empty pantyhose egg.

Like the empty pantyhose egg, the Lord Jesus used the picture of the temple (His body) to describe His violent death that would be followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead (the empty tomb).  This is the second picture that John records in his Gospel.  The first picture was that of the Lamb of God, the unblemished substitute who would be sacrificed to pay the price for our sins.  There is also a third picture which John gives in chapter 3 of his Gospel.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

The Lord Jesus’ description of Himself as a “temple” brings to mind several images from the Old Testament.  The tabernacle in the wilderness was just a tent until it was consecrated and the Spirit of God came and filled it.  Then it became the Tabernacle of the Lord, and the Shekinah glory shone out from within.  The people saw it and worshipped God who now dwelt there.  The temple of Solomon was just a beautiful building until it was consecrated, and the Spirit of God filled it.  Then it became a temple where people were drawn together to worship the Lord.

Just as Jesus described His body as a temple, our bodies are temples also.  Who, or what. is being worshipped in your “temple” (your body, your life)?  Who is being glorified in your body?  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins.  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God incarnate.  Those things are important to believe, but believing those things to be true is not the formula for becoming a child of God.  There is also the need for consecration:  repenting of our sins and devoting our lives to Him.  Is your body (your life) an outward testimony of forgiveness and joy because of the death of Christ for you?  Is your body (life) an outward evidence of victory because of the risen Christ who reigns in you, and the Spirit of God who fills and controls you?  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  Becoming a Christian is not a rental agreement or a lease.  It is a permanent transfer of ownership of our lives to God our Creator.  You couldn’t be in better hands, and the enjoyment never ends!  I hope this is your experience.  If not, I hope that you will make that choice and experience the wonderful, life-changing results very soon.  You will be eternally glad if you do, or eternally sorry if you don’t.  God wants you to be His, and the Lord Jesus paid the price to make that possible.  If it is still unclear in your mind, please go to my “About page” where the Scriptures are given, or leave me a comment so that we can talk about this decision, and so that any questions might be answered.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

 

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

anger, Bible sermon, discrimination, Garden of Eden, Gospel of John, Jesus Christ, New Testament sermon, Passover feast, rip-offs, Sermon on John 2:12-17, temple cleansing, Uncategorized

I.  INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)

Have you ever been ripped off?  Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what you paid for them?  Have you ever been exploited by others so that they could make a profit at your expense?  In our culture this injustice is called by many names, such as “cheated”, “bamboozled”, “shanghaied”, “fleeced”, and so on.  Some of these injustices are performed by people who claim that they know God and are acting on His behalf.  I imagine that most of us can think of a person, organization, product, or service that has left a bad impression in our minds.  These rip-offs aren’t just common to our day.  You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth.  He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  They fell for his lie, and as a result they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.

We humans aren’t the only ones who get ripped off.  God gets ripped off sometimes too.  This passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people.  Verses 12 and 13 are a transition to Jesus’ appearance at the temple in Jerusalem.  Verse 12 says, “After this (the wedding feat at Cana), He went to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples, and there they stayed a few days.”  A figure of speech called a “polysyndeton” is found here in this verse.  The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group.  From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.

The city of Capernaum was to become the headquarters for His ministry in the region of Galilee.  In this case they were there only a few days because “the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”  The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land.  In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside door posts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children.  They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.

II.  CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

In verse 14 Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes.  “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated.”  In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards.  First, there is the Court of the Gentiles, then the Court of the Women, then the Court of Israel, and finally the Court of the Priests.  Jesus had just entered the temple so He was in the Court of the Gentiles in verse 14.

God had called the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations.  The Court of the Gentiles was meant to be a place where gentiles were to be welcomed, assisted, and instructed in the ways of the true God.  However, because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities had decided to set up their animal market and the tables for the moneychangers in the Court of the Gentiles.  Who knows how many interested, seeking gentiles came into their court, then left in anger, never to return.

Those animals were not supposed to be inside the temple, nor were the moneychangers to be conducting their business inside the temple.  According to the instructions given to Moses in Leviticus and Numbers, the sacrificial animals were to be brought into the temple by the priests.  These priests were to bind the animals, place them on the altar, slay them, catch the blood in basins and sprinkle it on the altar in the holy place.  The body of the animal was burned and then taken out of the temple.  The traffic jam in the Court of the Gentiles was impeding the procession of the priests in and out of the temple with the sacrificial animals, as well as keeping them from fulfilling their responsibilities according to the Law.

It had become a very corrupt system.  For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to participate in the Passover Feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal there at the temple.  But there were many cases where the priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable.  So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals.  On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell the High Priest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar.  That’s quite a reduction in price!

This monopoly on the sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship loathsome to the people.  The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals that the person cared for since its birth and cherished.  By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the worshipper was giving a part of himself and his work to God.

This was also the time of the year for the annual temple-tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple.  The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged and, of course, there was a substantial service charge!  The temple had become like a circus!  The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the moneychangers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship.  That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.

III.  THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)

In Exodus 12:15 God tells his people, “on the first day (of the Passover celebration) you shall remove leaven from your houses”.  Leaven, and everything with leaven in it, must be removed from the house in preparation for the Passover meal.  Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption.   The Lord Jesus was about to rid His Father’s house of the sin and corruption that was in it.

Verse 15 says that Jesus “made a scourge out of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen”.  I believe that the scourge was intended for the oxen.  One dictionary defined an ox as a “lazy, reluctant creature” that needed to be goaded often to keep it going, and going in the right direction!  Once Jesus got the oxen and sheep moving, the people would be moving out the door also to keep from being trampled by them.  Either there wasn’t an ox goad handy or the throw-together scourge of cords was a better tool for the job.  He also “poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables”.  You can imagine the scramble for all the rolling coins!  In verse 16 we see the Lord’s restraint as He said to those who were selling the doves, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”  He wanted the doves left in their cages, and the cages removed from the courtyard of the temple.  There was no desire on Jesus’ part to do any physical harm to the animals or the people.

Jesus’ warning to them in verse 16 also includes His motivation, as well as a brief description of Himself.  He says, “Stop making my Father’s house a house of merchandise.”  He is proclaiming to them that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Within minutes the Courtyard of the Gentiles was cleared.  They just needed to pick up the litter, move the tables, and clean the floor!  As several commentators have remarked:  “Jesus ‘cleaned house’ that day!”

Did the religious leaders learn anything from this incident?  Was there any conviction of sin, change of attitude, or change in behavior?  No.  After Jesus left the temple, they set up their tables, brought back the animals, divided up the coins, and were back in business again.  The apostle John does not record a second cleansing of the temple by Jesus, but the other Gospel writers record a cleansing of the temple near the end of Jesus’ life (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark. 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46).  I personally believe this was a second cleansing for at least two reasons.  First, it avoids the hassle of trying to excuse John for putting this event in the “wrong place” in his Gospel.  After all, he is outnumbered three-to-one!  Secondly, Jesus has something different to communicate to the Jewish leaders by His second cleansing of the temple.  Here in John 2:16 Jesus describes the temple as being “My Father’s house”.  After His second cleansing of the temple, Jesus referred to the temple as “your house” (Matthew 23:38).  God the Father had removed His abiding presence and His protection from “their temple”.  Did this second cleansing get the point across to the Jewish leaders?  Was a double-dose of reproof sufficient to turn their hearts back to the Lord, and their worship back to His guidelines?  No.  They ignored the words of the Lord and continued those same practices for almost forty more years.  Jesus handed “their temple” over to destruction.  That temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. and, after almost two thousand years, it has not yet been rebuilt.  It was a high price to pay for their stubborn disobedience to God, and to the words of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV.  LESSONS FOR HIS DISCIPLES AND FOR US TODAY(verse 17)

This incident in Jesus’ life made a definite impression on His disciples.  It caused them to bring Psalm 69:9 to their minds:  a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says, “For zeal for Thy house has consumed me”.  In this passage of Scripture it was predicted that, when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God.  They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.  Purity of thought, attitude and action is given a high priority in the New Testament.  One of the beatitudes given by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount was “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  The first characteristic of godly wisdom given by James is: “wisdom from above is first pure” (James 3:17).

Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple at Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them.  Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary.  It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him.  Have we given the Lord Jesus the place of ownership in our own individual lives?  Are we being good stewards of all He has given us, using it for His glory as an act of adoration to Him.  If so, it will be obvious to those around us.  Are we consumed with a passion for God and a zeal for God?  If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for coming to this construction site:  John 2:12-17  Please visit some of the other completed sermons when you have the time and the interest.  May your worship of God be pure and free from unnecessary distractions.

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)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “RECEIVE CHRIST”? – John 1:12-13

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Many different answers have been given to the question, “What does it mean to ‘receive Christ’.”  Many passages of Scripture have been used and many interpretations have been given.  Many illustrations have been used to try to visualize and explain what these two verses are saying.

As we begin our study of John 1:12-13, let’s lay aside previous building materials for now.  Let’s start anew by clearing the land and digging deep to lay a firm foundation based upon the Person of Jesus Christ and the words that the apostle John is saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s keep his purpose for writing in mind, as well as his reading-audience:  their culture, historical background, and belief-system.  By God’s grace let’s turn this plot of ground into a work of art that is straight and true, well-defined, attractive, and above all, glorifying to God.

I.  THE TRANSITION:

Verse 11 sounds like a sad ending to a story, doesn’t it.  “The world did not know Him” and “His own did not receive Him.”  John’s approach seems to be:  “First the bad news, then the good news.”  Verse 12 begins with the little word “but”.  John Phillips calls this little three-letter word a “hinge”.  The door to this conversation may seem like it’s shutting but that “hinge” keeps the door open to even greater truths, revealing the power and sovereignty of God.  What John said in verse 11 may have been true of “the majority”, but it was not true of “the totality”!  We are seeing a shift from the unbelievers to the believers.

John now tells us who are invited to receive Christ.  He uses the Greek word, “hosoi“.  I personally like the translation “whoever“.  Every person, without exception and without distinction, is invited to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.  That includes both Jews and Gentiles.

I.  THE PROCESS (verse 12)

The word translated “receive” in verse 11 is a different word from the word translated “receive” here in verse 12, though the two words are similar.  Here in verse 12 the Greek word is “lambano”, whereas the word in verse 11 is “paralambano”.  The word ‘para” means “beside” or “alongside”.  We get our English word “parallel” from that word.  For example, parallel lines go alongside each other and do not intersect.  Why the use of this form of the word?  It reveals a major reason why the Jews at the time of Christ did not receive Him. The apostle John will be sharing more examples of this failure to receive Christ on the part of the religious leaders and their followers as we study his Gospel.  Literally, verse 11 is saying “His own (people) did not take Him alongside”,  That doesn’t make any sense unless we realize that, over the years before the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, the rabbis had been putting their studies of the Law of Moses, along with their interpretations and applications of that Law into written form.  They also added personal practices that became traditions.  These writings and traditions, such as the Talmud, had become more important than the Law of Moses .  They were often used to interpret the Law of Moses, and were sometimes used in place of it.  They could not “take Jesus alongside” these traditions because He intersected with them, and this led to a growing opposition to Christ.  I hope this explanation adds clarity rather than confusion.

Before we seek to determine what it means to personally receive Christ, let me present you with a situation which should be seen as a stark contrast.  I rented a private room and bath in a private residence for a couple of months and learned the meaning of an “owner-tenant relationship”.  The rules included paying the rent on time, keeping my goods in my assigned places in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet, staying in my own area and common areas, cleaning up after myself, and not playing the music too loud.  There were parts of the house that were understandably “off-limits”.  As I hope you realize, receiving Christ is not the beginning of an owner-Tenant relationship (notice where I put the capital letter).  Such a person has a misunderstanding of the meaning of these two verses, and Jesus Christ does not enter our lives under our terms and conditions.

In my quest to gain a better understanding of the word “receive” in verse 12, I’ve been refreshing my knowledge of Greek grammar.  I believe that a basic lesson in Greek grammar will benefit us all.  There are significant differences between Greek and English.  In the English language, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb usually refers to the time of the action of the verb (past, present, or future time).   In Greek, however, the primary consideration is the kind of action that the verb portrays.  For example, the aorist tense conveys a simple occurrence in the past.  It is like a snapshot because it captures an action at a specific point in time.  The imperfect tense denotes continuous, ongoing, or repeated action in the past, like a motion picture or video tape.  The perfect tense depicts a completed action in the past with results continuing into the present, somewhat like a snapshot which is followed by a video.

The word translated “receive” in verse 12 is the Greek word, elabon, the aorist tense of the word “lambano”.  Therefore it conveys a “one-time, individual, personal-decision”.

I’ve been working on an illustration to describe what it means to “receive Christ”, but I’m having some difficulty fitting all the pieces of the illustration together.  I just realized why I can’t describe it to you yet:  In order to understand what it means to “receive” Christ, we must first understand what it means to “believe in His name”.. As verse 12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).  The believing comes before the receiving, even though the wording of the text seems to imply that the two responses occur simultaneously.

Now I’ve come to a potential “bend in the road”, so to speak, in this construction project.  I’ve reached a point in my study of verse 12 where I’m asking myself questions about the term “receiving Christ”.  Is it Biblically correct to use the term “receive Christ” or “accept Christ” when sharing the gospel message?  What is the biblical justification for the use of those words?  Can the use of these words be misleading and give a wrong understanding of what it means to become a Christian?  Is praying a prayer and asking Christ to come into your life what the gospel message is all about?  I’ve used John 1:12 almost every time I’ve shared the gospel message, and it was a verse that was used when I became a Christian.  The reason I’m asking myself these questions, and sharing them with you, is that I’ve just come to the realization that the term “receive Him” is used only here in the New Testament.  The context of verse 12 is the nation of Israel.  The nation as a whole did not “receive Him”, that is, “welcome Him as their Messiah”, but there were exceptions among His own people who did welcome Him.  We don’t find those words used again in John’s gospel, the other gospels, or the epistles.  There is some question whether I John 5:11-12 or Revelation 3:20 might communicate that concept and I will be studying those passages also.  The Scripture puts the focus on “believing” (repentance, trust, and commitment to Christ as one’s Lord and Savior).  I invite you to consider these observations and questions also.  Let’s get to the heart of the gospel message and follow the scriptural guidelines for communicating it.  I do know that there are thousands of people who have “prayed a prayer to receive Christ” and their lives have not changed.  I believe the greatest danger in evangelism today is not over-stating the gospel message, but diluting it.  I also believe that, in most cases, it is being done unintentionally, but that is no excuse for continuing to dilute it.

With that in mind, let’s leave the word “receive” and study the word “believe” here in verse 12.  The word is a participle, “believing”, and it defines and explains the word “receive” which came before it in the sentence.  “Believing in His name” identifies the Object of faith.  “His name” is not referring to the name Jesus.  That was His earthly name.  His eternal name is Lord (Yahweh, Jehovah), the Lord of heaven and earth.  As the apostle John says near the end of his Gospel, “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The word “believe” is a word of complete trust and commitment to Him as Lord, because that is Who He is.

I think that the following two illustrations, when seen together, give us a picture of belief in the sense of trust and commitment.

During the terrible days of the Blitz (WW II), a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb.  In the front yard was a shell hole.  Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow.  Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”  The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you.  Jump!”  The boy jumped because he loved and trusted his father, and landed in his father’s arms.  (shared by Donner Atwood)

An evangelist was trying to help a woman understand John 1:12 and what it means to receive Christ.  “Your last name is Franklin, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Yes”, she said.  “How long has it been that?”  “Ever since my husband and I married 30 years ago”.  “Tell me”, he said, “How did you become Mrs. Franklin?’  She paused, and then the realization came.  “It was at the wedding.  The minister said, ‘Will you take this man to be your lawful, wedded husband . . . ?  And I said, ‘I will’.” (Our Daily Bread) 

I hope that these two illustrations, taken together, have given you a clearer understanding of the word “believe”, as the apostle John uses it in this passage of Scripture.  Of all the illustrations I read, these were the ones that communicated trust and commitment most clearly to me.

Here in the United States of America we need to have this concept of belief explained to us clearly because we usually don’t understand the cost of making that decision to commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ until later on.  We don’t comprehend the cost to Jesus’ disciples when they made the decision to follow Him.  In many other countries of our world, making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him is a very costly decision in terms of the personal sacrifices that are made.  When they choose to believe, they are counting the cost of the things they will probably lose:  their jobs, their families, even their own lives.

I became a Christian while stationed in Thailand in the Air Force.  While in Thailand I had the privilege of sharing my testimony at a Thai church.  I learned that these Thai Christians were disowned by their Buddhist families who had a funeral service for them and considered them dead.  Most of these Christians lost their jobs also.  But I was so amazed and impressed by their joy, their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for one another.  They shared that what they gained by believing in Christ was much greater than any of the things they lost.

II.  THE RESULT (verse 12)

The result of salvation, given here in verse 12, tells us more about what true belief encompasses.  When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord we are entering into a relationship where we become “children of God”.  The Greek word, tekna, refers to “little children”, children who are still totally dependent on their parents.  That is the relationship we are entering into when we become children of God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV)  As God’s little children, we will always be dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything, just as Jesus was totally dependent upon His Father while He was here on this earth.  True belief means a commitment to exchange your life of independence for a joyful life of complete trust and dependence upon God for everything.  I know that this biblical perspective has not been communicated very clearly in my presentation of the Gospel message.  How about you?  Is this your understanding of saving faith?

III.  THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE (verse 13)

In verse 12 the apostle John has given us a glimpse of the faith-process and its result.  He will be giving much more detail, and has recorded many examples of people who responded to Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Him.  Here in verse 13, John wants us to understand the new birth from God’s perspective.  The new birth through faith in Jesus Christ is a work of God from beginning to end.  He uses a series of negatives in order to emphasize his point.  Then he ends the verse with the only true source of the new birth in Christ.

not of blood” – the new birth is not based on human descent.  Just because my parents are God’s children does not make me one of God’s children.

not of the will of the flesh” – it’s not based on human desire.  No amount of wishful thinking can make me a child of God.  I might wish I were the child of a millionaire, but wishing doesn’t make me one.  I may even live in a fantasy world where I convince myself that I am a child of a millionaire, but it’s still a lie.

not of the will of man” – it’s not based on human methods.  My parents may have me baptized as a baby, but that does not make me a child of God.  I may try with all my might to live a good life and perform my religious duties, but those things, no matter how earnestly and fervently they are performed, will not impart new life.

but of God” – We must be “born of God”.  We must come to Jesus Christ on His terms, as He has told us here in His Word.  Genuine repentance, acknowledgement of Christ as our Lord, and placing our trust in Him and our lives in His hands are all spiritual miracles of God, and the resulting changes in our lives mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually are all evidences of those miracles (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:8-10; II Corinthians 5:17; and many other passages of Scripture).

THE APPLICATION TODAY:

As was the case with many of the Jews during the lifetime of Christ on this earth, many people in the world today do not want to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and follow Him.  They are either in love with their sins and don’t want to change, or, in their pride, they think they are good enough to go to heaven and don’t want anyone to tell them otherwise.  But there are people today whom the Spirit of God has convinced of their sinfulness and need for a Savior.  Maybe you are one of those people.  Don’t put it off!  Admit your sin and your helplessness to God.  Decide to turn from your sinful ways.  Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the God-man, the Lord of Heaven and earth, trust Him with a child-like faith and let Him take control of your life and change your life more and more into His image and likeness.  Only then will you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of being a new person and having a new life.  Only then will you experience what it’s like to be a true child of God.

If you are a Christian, please don’t give up on people.  Even if others criticize or make fun of you because of your faith in Christ, continue to pray for them and let the light of Christ shine out unhindered by you.  When you have the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with others, make sure you clearly explain from the Scriptures what it means to “believe”, and let the terms “accepting Christ” or “receiving Christ” be dependent upon genuine belief and be the result of belief (John 3:14-15; 11:25-27; I John 5:13).

Let’s reflect upon the words of the apostle John in I John 3:1, and be amazed and forever grateful:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

A WITNESS TO THE LIGHT – John 1:6-8

Bible sermons, Jesus Christ: "Life" and "Light", Sermon on John 1 9-13, Uncategorized, witness

In verse 6 the apostle John introduces another witness besides himself.  He is continuing to build his case that Jesus Christ is truly the Logos, the Light that came into the world.  This next witness is John the Baptist (or baptizer).  Here in verses 6-9, the apostle John gives us an introductory description of him.

I.  A MAN SENT FROM GOD (verse 6)

John begins his description of John the Baptist by calling him “a man sent from God”.  The prophet Malachi, who lived about 450 years earlier, predicted his coming when he prophesied these words from the Lord, “Behold I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me”  (Malachi 3:1).  It was obvious to the parents of John the Baptist that their son was sent from God.  The angel Gabriel appeared to Zecharias telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son in their old age.  He also told Zecharias the name that should be given to the child, some details about his upbringing and filling with the Holy Spirit, and his occupation or ministry on this earth.  What follows are some of the words the angel used to describe their son.

“Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  (Luke 1:16-17, NIV translation)

John the Baptist was “sent from God” alright!  There is no doubt about that!  But there is more meaning to those words.  The Greek word used here is “apestalmenos”. It was used in the Greek culture to refer to an envoy:  a personal representative with full authority to represent his master.  The Greeks used the word to refer to a representative of a king or of one of their Greek gods.  So John the Baptist was authorized by God to represent Him.  The word “apostle” comes from a form of this word.

As an aside, have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization that he would be the forerunner of Jesus Christ, paving the way for His ministry?  Luke 1:41 tells us what happened when Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, paid Elizabeth a visit:  “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe (John) leaped in her womb.”  It’s doubtful whether John remembered that experience after he was born, but his mother may have told him about it later on.  John and Jesus were probably playmates at the family gatherings.  I would imagine that their parents wanted them to get to know each other.  I can also  imagine that as a child, John had many questions to ask his parents; questions such as:  “How come you and daddy are so much older than the other kid’s parents?”; “How come you never cut my hair?”; “How come I’m not allowed to eat grapes or drink grape juice?”; “How come you gave me the name John (which means “gift from God”)?”  I’m sure his parents gave honest answers to his questions and he began to gain understanding.  Luke 1:80 says “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”

The defining moment came for John in Luke 3:2, “The Word of the Lord came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”  John was then given his commission, his instructions, and the spirit of Elijah.  Apparently he was also told to wear the same clothing as Elijah.  We will be going into more detail about John the Baptist when we study verses 19 and following.

II.  A WITNESS (verses 7 and 8)

The apostle John is the only gospel writer to use the word “witness” to describe John the Baptist.  The Greek word is “martyrian”.  We get the English word “martyr” from that Greek word.  It is a legal term, referring to the verbal testimony which is given in a court of law, and to the person who gives that testimony.

Verse 8 stresses that “John the Baptist was not that light, but was sent to bear witness to that light.”  John the Baptist’s relation to Jesus is somewhat like the relationship of the moon to the sun in terms of the light that each sheds on the earth.  The moon does not have a glimmer of light of its own.  The work of the moon is to act as a giant reflector in the sky, picking up the light of the sun and relaying that light to the earth.  The moon’s function is only temporary, for the day is coming.  The sun sheds its light directly on the earth during the day, dispelling the darkness in a way that the moon cannot do.  As we shall see, John the Baptist’s desire was to reflect the light of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As verse 7 says, John’s objective was “that all through him might believe”.

Our lives are also God’s gift to us.  What we do with our lives is our gift to God.  May our lives become more beautiful and pleasing in God’s sight each day as we grow in our knowledge of Him and as we give our lives wholehearted in service to Him/

 

JESUS CHRIST: “Life” and “Light” – John 1: 4-5

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Often, at the beginning of a work of literature or piece of music, a writer or composer will present a theme, and then allow that theme to recur again and again.  John’s major themes in his gospel are “life” and “light”.  The word “life” occurs 36 times, and the word “light” occurs at least 15 times in John’s gospel.

I.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Life” (verse 4)

We have already learned, from verses 1-3, that Jesus Christ (the Logos) is eternal (“In the beginning was the Word”), that He is equally God along with the Father and Holy Spirit (“and the Word was with God”), and that He was involved in the work of creation (“All things were made through Him . . . “).  Now, in verse 4, John carries the concept of the Logos a step further when he says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  There is a connection  between “life” and “light” in this passage of scripture,  One obvious connection, in a physical sense, is that light is necessary for physical life.  There are at least four things that are necessary for human life:  light, air, water and food.  The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”,  the “Light of the world”,  the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water”, and “breathing on His disciples He said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ “.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the source of physical life, spiritual life, and eternal life.  We aren’t really living until we have Christ living in us and are living for Him.  I like the way that evangelist Billy Graham put it:  “Jesus is Life with a capital L!”  He shared this illustration about one of the greatest Christian writers of this modern age.  “C.S.Lewis,  a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford and later at Cambridge, had to do the same thing.  He spent his life exploring the literature of the centuries.  In his remarkable autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY, he tells of his pilgrimage from atheism to Christianity.  His turning point came with the realization that the writing with the deepest meaning and greatest content was based on a deep, personal faith in God, written by men like St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and George Macdonald.”  Reading their writings brightened his days and pointed him to the source of their joy and convictions about life.  As a result. C.S. Lewis decided to re-study the scriptures and re-consider the claims of Christ. His life was changed and his book, “Mere Christianity” is a classic.  In the following quote from “Mere Christianity” you will see how C.S. Lewis’s pre-conceived ideas about Jesus Christ changed as he studied God’s Word:

“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him:   ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher. but I don’t accept his claims to be God.’  That is one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool. you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great moral teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

As the “Bread of Life”, Jesus satisfied the craving that C.S. Lewis had for knowing the truth.  He found that truth in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and his life changed dramatically because “the Life” now lived and reigned in Him.

II.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Light” (verses 4-5)

The Greek word John uses is “phos”, which literally means “brightness” or “brilliance”.  We get our English words “photo” and “phosphorous” from that word.  The Greek gods were said to live in a world of brightness, whereas our world was one of darkness.  However, according to myth, when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, things weren’t quite so dark anymore.

Jesus’ life was a light to men.  The Lord Jesus is not only the giver of physical and spiritual life, He is also the source of light for our journey through life.  He was a revealing light.  He reveals what we are in comparison to Him.  Pastor and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “A holy life will produce the deepest impression.  Lighthouses blow no horns; they just shine.”  Jesus’ light is so bright that it is meant to take the focus away from ourselves and put the focus on Him.  The light of His Person and His character shows us life the way it really is; the way it was meant to be.  When we have the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ living and reigning in us, we can’t help but shine.

We find this idea expressed and implied in many places in the Old Testament.  God’s nearness or closeness was indicated or demonstrated by light (Exodus 13:21ff, Nehemiah 9:12, Daniel 2:22, Habakkuk 3:4)  The “pillar of fire”, “the light”, “the sunlight” are among the many indications of God’s presence and holiness. and are among the many self-manifestations of God.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus is a guiding light – a Light that shined in the darkness.  This may seem obvious to you, but it’s been a fresh insight to me and I’ve been thinking about it all day.  It is this:  Darkness cannot extinguish light, but light can extinguish darkness.  No matter how dark the darkness, a bright light will extinguish enough darkness for us to find our way.  Applying those thoughts to John 1:4-5, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only remedy for mankind who is in the darkness of sin.  John records these words of Jesus in chapter 8, verse 12:  “I am the light of the world. he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The world’s difficulties and problems can be summed up in the words of verse 5:  “And the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”  Even today, there are many in this world who are living in spiritual darkness and don’t even realize it.  I believe there is a much greater number of people in this world today who have chosen to live in spiritual darkness and oppose the light of Jesus Christ.  Are you in the darkness or in the light?

The Greek word “katelaben”, in verse 5, has several meanings.  It can mean “understand” and it can also mean “overcome”.  Did you do any wrestling in high school or college?  Have you ever watched a wrestling match in person or on T.V.?  The Greeks loved the sport of wrestling, and this word was used when a wrestler took down his opponent and pinned him to the mat.  King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus when Jesus was only a little child.  He gave the order that all the male babies in Bethlehem  and the surrounding areas who were two years old or younger must be killed.  Yet he failed to kill the baby Jesus!

Mothers and fathers who lost their children in that slaughter by Herod must have wondered, “Is it ever going to end?  How can it get any worse than this?  Those were dark times!

During His public ministry the Scribes and Pharisees tried to kill Jesus many times, but their plans failed because it was not yet His time to die.  When that time came, Jesus went voluntarily and peaceably to His death.  While Jesus was on the cross, darkness came over the earth for three hours, and the forces of darkness thought they had won the match.  But Jesus would not go down for the count!  He rose from the dead and was victorious over the powers of darkness!  Jesus was, and is, a beacon in a world of darkness; a Light that has no power failures!

We are also living in dark times today.  There is moral and social decline, political unrest, and spiritual decay, to name a few.  The difference is that there are now many lights all over the world, shining like stars in the night-time skies.  These stars are men and women, and boys and girls who have repented of their sins and invited Jesus Christ to have His rightful place in their lives as Lord and Savior.  As a result, their lives have changed dramatically and the light of Christ is shining out through their actions and attitudes (Matthew 5:16).

May the life and light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine forth in your life.  Maybe it’s for the very first time; maybe it has been a moment-by-moment experience for many years,  In either case, stay close to Him and “be shiny”!

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ii.  JESUS IS ETERNALLY GOD (1:1-2)

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

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

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

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

III.  JESUS IS EQUALLY GOD (1:1-2)

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

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

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

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

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

IV.  JESUS IS ESSENTIALLY GOD (1:1)

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

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

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

V.  JESUS IS THE CREATOR-GOD (1:3)

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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