THE HEALING AT BETHESDA – John 5:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on man.”  As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl contended that when a man no longer possesses a motive for living, and has no future to look forward to, he curls up in a corner and dies.

In 1965, James B. Stockdale became one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vietnam War.  He was captured by the Viet Cong, and spent seven years as a prisoner-of-war.  During that period of time he was frequently tortured in an attempt to break him and get him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the war.  He was chained for days at a time with his hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes.  Today, he still cannot bend his left knee and walks with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors and never reset.  One of the worst things done to him was that he was held in isolation away from the other American P.O.W.s and allowed to see only his guards and interrogators.

How could anyone survive such treatment?  As he looks back on that time, Stockdale says that it was his hope that kept him alive – the hope of one day going home; that each day could be the day of his release.  Without hope, he knew that he would die in hopelessness, as others had done.

In this passage of Scripture, John 5:1-9, we will see the description of a man whose life seems hopeless.  Then he has an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and everything changes.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

Verse 1 says, :After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem”  We don’t know for sure what feast this was.  The Jews living a day’s journey from Jerusalem were required to observe three feasts a year:  Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost, so it was probably one of these three feasts.  Notice also that Jesus is mentioned by name but His disciples are not mentioned in this verse, nor in this passage of Scripture we are studying.  It appears that Jesus went to the feast alone.  Once again, we do not know for sure.  But we know from what follows that the Father had another appointment for the Lord Jesus to keep, and this appointment was near the Temple area in Jerusalem.

Verse 2 describes that location in some detail.  “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.”   From his description, the apostle John is telling us that the pool at Bethesda is going to be Jesus’ first stop in Jerusalem.  As we shall see, this pool is not a place that healthy people would normally visit.  Bethesda means “house of mercy”, but some manuscripts use the name Beth-Zatha which means “house of the olive”.  This pool is located by the sheep gate.  That gate is only mentioned four times in the Bible:  here, and three times in the book of Nehemiah (3:1; 3:32; and 12:13).  It is a gate near the temple area which is used to bring sheep and oxen to the temple as sacrifices during the temple services.  Commentator William Barclay gives a helpful explanation for the pool of water at Bethesda.  “The word for pool is kolumbethron, which comes from the verb kolumban, to dive.  The pool was deep enough to swim in.”  The five porticoes were porches that were probably covered, providing some protection from the sun or the rain.  This is the only place in the Bible where the word Bethesda (Beth-Zatha) occurs.

II.  THE ENCOUNTER (verse 3)

Verse 3 describes what Jesus sees as He enters the pool area and gets a panoramic view of the five porticoes:  In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered [waiting for the moving of the waters.].”  The place was crowded with people, and they were people who were limited in their mobility and were probably not able to take care of themselves.  Family and friends probably carried them to these porticoes or helped them to get there.  You’ve probably heard the saying “Misery likes company”, and maybe you’ve used those words yourself in appropriate situations with various shades of meaning.  The phrase has been around for many centuries.  A translation of the words of 14th century historian Dominici de Gravina reads:  “It is a comfort to the unfortunate to have had companions in woe.”  Having other people to converse with, who understand what you are going through because they are going through something similar themselves, can be a real source of comfort and encouragement.  Sometimes the greatest suffering can be emotional and social – the feeling that you are alone in your suffering; that someone else understands or cares.  As John Stockdale said in my introduction, that one of the worst things that happened to him as a P.O.W. was being isolated from the other Americans.

The apostle John says that the sick people were “waiting for the moving of the waters”.  What do those words mean?  Historians have remarked about a spring underneath this pool, and excavations have verified John’s words.  It was an “intermittent spring” that would occasionally force hot water up between the rocks at he bottom of the pool.  When this happened, the surface of the water would become agitated and bubbles would appear.  That’s what the disabled people lying on the porticoes were watching for and waiting to see.

III.  THE POPULAR OPINION (verse 4)

The explanation of the moving of the waters is given in verse 4 as the popular opinion of the people.  “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]

It was not unusual for the Jewish people of that time to attribute such occurrences to the ministry of angels.  In the Old Testament, angels are mentioned as protectors of the nation of Israel against oppressors, and as the ones God used to supply the physical needs of the prophets.  When the nation of Israel turned away from the true God to worship false gods, many of those religions of the other nations believed that every body of water had its own spirit that protected it.  So it became customary and popular for the people to attribute to angels or spirit beings any natural occurrences that they did not understand or could not explain.  Many bibles show brackets from the second half of verse three and continuing to the end of verse four.  This was done to indicate that the information within the brackets is missing from some of the oldest manuscripts.

IV.  THE WORST CASE SCENARIO (verse 5)

In verse 5, the apostle John gives us the worst case-scenario.  “And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.”  We don’t know when this illness began in his life; we are only told how long he has been afflicted with it.  Thirty-eight years – that’s half a lifetime!  If anyone there would be considered a “hopeless case”, it was he.  We  also don’t know the diagnosis, only that he had no strength in his body and was incapacitated.  Little does he know that he is going to become the focus of Jesus’ attention.  In the midst of that crowd of ailing people, Jesus is going to be talking to him personally.”

V.  THE QUESTION (verse 6)

In verse 6, we see the situation from Jesus’ perspective.  “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ “   Does that sound like an odd question to you?  It did to me at first.  The Lord Jesus’ question reveals to us something about what Jesus knows and what He doesn’t know.  While Jesus was here on this earth, He was not all-knowing.  When He became a man, He became like us in all things except sin (Philippians 2:5-8; John 8:46, Hebrews 7:26).  His knowledge consisted of what He learned from experience and study, plus what the Father revealed to Him.  So in this case, He was not given an understanding of this person’s thoughts and emotions.  He did not know whether this person wanted to be healed or not.  The ailing person knows that what Jesus is asking by the question, “Do you want to be healed”  is “Do you still believe that you can be healed, or have you given up all hope of ever being healed?”  Does he have the faith needed to be healed or has he closed the door of his heart to such a possibility?  If his answer reveals that his faith and hope are completely gone, there would be no reason to pursue the conversation any further.

VI.  THE RESPONSE (verse 7)

The man gives Jesus the answer He hopes to hear, but he does so in an indirect way.  He’s saying, “I’m helpless, but I’m not hopeless.”  He didn’t need hope; he needed help.  I think this man is also giving Jesus a hint  concerning his unspoken request:  “Would you be willing to help me into the water the next time the ‘stirring’ occurs?”  Since Jesus asked him the question, would He be willing to be part of the answer?  Little does he know that he’s talking to the Son of God!  The answer to his “long-suffered problem” is just a few words away!

VII.  THE HEALING (verses 8-9)

To his surprise, a command is given to him by Jesus, and he responds by faith.  A miracle happens!  “Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk’.  And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk.”   There were actually three commands given by Jesus:  “arise”, “take up your pallet”, and “walk”.  All three of those commands were fulfilled when the man obeyed.  It became obvious to him and everyone around him that this was no “adrenalin rush”, nor “power surge”, but a complete and total healing.  Muscles, tendons, and ligaments were restored; joints lubricated, circulation restored, nerves reconnected to the brain, and the ability to walk while carrying his pallet – all done instantly without any physical therapy or re-learning.  All the effects and side-effects of his long illness were removed at once.  Amazing!  And I’m sure I missed many other physiological and neurological events that happened at that moment in time.  When the Lord Jesus gives commands, He also gives the enablement to carry out those commands.  As the Son of God, Jesus has the power and authority to instantly heal body, soul, and spirit.

When the Lord Jesus gave the command, did this disabled man feel the strength in his body before he chose in his heart to obey and make the effort to get up?  It doesn’t say.  I prefer to believe that faith came first – faith that this Man had the power to fulfill His command.  As the ailing man believed, made up his mind to obey, and began to act in obedience to Christ, the strength and healing came to him to enable him to fulfill Christ’s command.  This man who had not been able to do anything for himself for thirty-eight years, was instantly able to everything that a healthy man could do!

CONCLUSION:

Do you want to be healed?  Do you wish to get well?  Are you suffering from a spiritual illness that has no natural cure?  Do you feel like you don’t have the strength to go on because your life is empty and meaningless?  Have you become fatalistic or are you still desperately looking for answers?

Do you believe in miracles?  It will take a miracle to change your spiritual condition, heal you, and make you a new person.  Do you want to be healed?  If not, there will be no miracle in your case.  The only cure for your spiritual condition is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus Christ is asking you to believe that He is the Son of God, the God-Man, to take that first step of obedience by repenting of your sin and turning your life over to His control and power to change your life.  Only then will the miracle occur.  As II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  You will become a new person with a new spiritual life that will affect every other part of your life. 

Do you wish to get well?  Have you come to the conclusion that you are, at times, a weak, faltering Christian?  What are you struggling with in your life?  Could it be pride, anger, lust, dishonesty, foul language, smoking, drinking to excess, or something else?  The temptations are always there.  Are you often discouraged because of these temptations and sins?

The following is an imaginary story that illustrates our dilemma and struggle, as Christians:

The devil decided to have a garage sale.  On the day of the sale, his tools were placed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price.  There were a treacherous lot of implements:  hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lust, lying, pride, and so on.  Set apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool.  It was quite worn and yet priced very high.
“What is the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers, pointing to it.
“That is discouragement,” Satan replied.
“Why have you priced it so high?”
“Because it is more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that, even when I cannot near him with the other tools.  It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know that it belongs to
me.”
It is still his favorite tool today, and he continues to use it on God’s people.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this work-in-progress!  We are nearing the conclusion of this project.  Let’s see what we can learn and apply from the work that has been done.

Please view other completed sites while you’re here.  There are over 100 completed sermons on this website.  The work goes on!  There’s always work to do when you’re studying God’s Word.  It’s a never-ending gold mine of truth and wisdom, revealing to us the character and purposes of God!

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CONSCIENCE (verse 16)

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

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verse 17a)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V.  TRUE WORSHIP (verses 20-26)

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

1.  JESUS’ PROPHETIC ANSWER  (verse 21)

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

2.  JESUS CORRECTS HER MISUNDERSTANDINGS (verse 22)

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

3.  REAFFIRMATION AND EXPLANATION (verse 23-24)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VII.  THE REVELATION (verse 26)

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

VIII.  CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

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

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

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

May your life be filled with true worship of God.  May it be the highest priority in your life.  There will always be potential obstacles and hindrances along the way.  May you recognize the obstacles that are presently in your way, and any further obstacles along the way.  May you give up the struggle to try to remove the obstacles yourself, and your efforts to cover them up as if they don’t exist.  Turn those obstacles over to the Divine Contractor for Professional removal and reconstruction.  You can’t miss Him.  He has pre-paid ads all over the B-I-B-L-E.  Tell Him I sent you.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Part II): LIVING WATER – John 4:10-15

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INTRODUCTION:

Jesus broke several Jewish traditions by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  In response the Samaritan woman broke several Samaritan traditions by giving Him a drink and by speaking to Him.  Now an open conversation between them is ready to begin.

I. THE TRANSITION TO “LIVING WATER”.  (verse 10)

Jesus responds to her question by appealing to her curiosity rather than answering  her question directly.  She asked Him:  “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?  Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  The Lord Jesus is saying, in effect, “I’m not really who you think I am” and “I have something to give you that you don’t really comprehend.”  Jesus used this very same approach with Nicodemus when He said to him, “You must be born again.”  We will find that these two conversations follow a similar pattern throughout.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CURIOSITY (verses 10-12)

So here in verse 10 Jesus is telling her that, before she can receive the gift that God wants to give her, she must first have a correct understanding of the gift, as well the identity of the One who is speaking to her and offering it to her.   Only then will she understand that He alone is capable of giving her this gift if she asks for it.

The woman’s response , in verse 11, demonstrates that she misunderstands what Jesus is saying.  “She said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water’?”  She thinks Jesus is speaking about physical water, and there is a logical reason for this misunderstanding.  The words “living water” were sometimes used to describe moving water, such as a river or stream, or gushing water, such as a spring or geyser.  However, this well did not fit either of those two descriptions.  This well had what is called “percolating” water.  The word literally means “filters through”, or “seeps through”.  The water in this well gradually seeped upward through the rock or stone at the bottom of the well, providing a steady supply of water.  If you’ve ever used a percolator coffee-maker, you know what I mean.  The hot water at the bottom of the pot rises up the tube, splashes down on the coarse-ground coffee beans and the result is boiling-hot coffee.  Drinking it is an art-form.  I call it the “blow and slurp method”!  My dad used to do it loudly, but to perfection!  Once you got below “slurp level”, the coffee had cooled slightly so that you could start sipping it without the danger of blistering your lips!  Do you remember those days?

Getting back to the conversation, the woman is trying to figure out how Jesus is going to get this “living water” out of the well without a bucket and a rope.  You don’t walk through the desert for three days without bringing a bucket and a rope to draw water from wells along the way.  I’m sure the disciples brought them along and had them as they went to town to buy groceries.  I think she sincerely wants to believe what He is saying, but from her perspective it still doesn’t make any sense.  She thinks He is talking about physical water.  This is all part of Jesus’ plan, just as it was with Nicodemus.  He is adding information for her to consider in order for her to come to the conclusion that what He is saying is physically impossible, so that He can, step-by-step, direct their conversation to spiritual realities as the only explanation.

In verse 12 the woman becomes defensive because she thinks that Jesus is comparing His water to the water in Jacob’s well.  This leads her to question whether or not He is comparing Himself to Jacob.  “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”  Her understanding of Jesus is growing.  First, she called Him “a Jew”; now she is comparing Him with the patriarch Jacob, who dug this well.

II.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER DESIRE (verses 13-15)

In response to this woman’s frustration and defensiveness, Jesus carries the conversation a step further, in verse 13, by appealing to her desire.  She doesn’t like having to walk all the way to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day to draw water and carry it home, but she can’t survive without water and there is no other way for her to get it.  So Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Everyone who drinks of this water (in Jacob’s well) shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; for the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  The Lord Jesus is making it clearer to her that this water is spiritual water by using the words ‘shall never thirst again” and “water springing up to eternal life”.  He is also saying that this water is a gift.  She can’t work to obtain it.  She must only ask Him for it in faith.

Now the woman wants this water – she really wants it!  In verse 15 I can sense excitement in her voice as she replies to Jesus’ words. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”  She has taken another step in the right direction.  She still thinks that Jesus is speaking of physical water, but now she wants it, and she asks Him for it.  Even if a bit of humor could be detected in her voice, the inner desire was real. 

This woman apparently was not very knowledgeable of the Old Testament scriptures because there are many scripture passages in the Old Testament where the words “living water” and “thirst” are used in a spiritual sense.  And yet, none of those passages of scripture came to her mind.  For example, in Psalm 42:2 the psalmist says, “My soul thirsts for the living God”.  Psalm 39:9 says, “For with Thee is the fountain of life.”  The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah used those terms several times.  They are also used by Ezekiel and Zechariah.

CONCLUSION:

Like the woman at the well, each of us is composed of body (physical make-up), soul (intellect, emotions, will), and spirit (a capacity for fellowship with God).  It is usually obvious to us when our bodies are thirsty.  Normally, when our bodies get low on fluids, our brains sense this and give us a thirst – a desire or impulse to satisfy that need by getting something to drink.  We may also have physical symptoms such a dry mouth or throat, or a feeling of weariness.  Our souls also get thirsty.  Just as each of us is different physically, we also differ emotionally and intellectually. We have mental and emotional thirsts for knowledge, for meaning, for stability and for peace in our daily lives.  When these thirsts of ours aren’t being satisfied, we may feel drained, stifled, discouraged or depressed.  You might say that the soul is the essence of who we are, whereas the spirit is our connection to God.

Each of us also has a spiritual thirst, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  God put it there.  He created us in His image so that we might have fellowship with Him.  King David, as well as the sons of Korah, speak of their thirst and yearning for God.  (Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6).

Are you personally unsatisfied with life?  Are you longing for something more, something that earthly things, earthly endeavors, earthly relationships and earthly pleasures have failed to provide?  It’s probably because Someone is missing from your life.  Don’t you think it’s time to reach for the living water that only Jesus provides.  If you repent of your sins, release the control of your life to Him, then He will fill your life with the living waters.  Your dissatisfaction with life will end, you will be filled with new life, new peace, new purpose, and refreshment that never ends.  Why waste another “percolated” moment when it can be “spring-time” in your life forever?

If you are a true, born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, your life will be evidenced by joy and satisfaction.   But witness by life is not enough.  Have you been offering anyone a drink?  There’s more than enough “living water” to go around.  It’s our God-given responsibility to share it, and it should also be our delight to quench someone else’s spiritual thirst.  Don’t you want to hear the words, or see the expression on people’s faces that says, “Ahhhhh , , , that satisfies like nothing else can!”

May you find in God’s Word, and in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer to your emotional and spiritual thirsts.  Then may you come to Him in faith, drink deeply, and satisfy those thirsts forever.

You might enjoy the songs I found on YouTube that relate to this passage of scripture.  The first song is “Living Water” and shows slides along with the song.  Clicking the following link should take you there.  https://youtube.com/watch?v=D1Xs3Kdur7E.  When you get to the site, if you click the full-screen icon at the bottom of the screen on the far right, you will get the full, visual effect.

The second song is “Fill My Cup, Lord”, sung by Wanda Jackson along with a video.  I was unable to set up a clickable link, but if you type into your web browser:  fill my cup lord-wanda jackson-video, you’ll see a list of her songs, and the version with the video is the second one.  Both of these songs are beautiful renditions and have very good visual effects.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Background and Opening Greetings) – John 4:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you find it easy and natural to open a conversation with a total stranger?  Are there certain people you would not go out of your way to begin a conversation with?  Are there certain people, or kinds of people, that you would try to avoid having a conversation with?   Are there people with whom you would feel hesitant or awkward about opening a conversation?  If you were honestly able to say “yes” or “no” to the first question,  and “no” to all the other questions, you are a very unusual and remarkable person!  The Lord Jesus Christ was an unusual and remarkable person when it came to initiating a conversation with a stranger.  There is much that we can learn from Him.

In John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus’ last one-to-one conversation with a “stranger” was His conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Ruler of the Jews, and a devout and upright man.  They talked about “being born-again”, or “born from above”.  The next conversation is going to be as different as night and day because of the differences between the two people who talked to Jesus.  Let’s take a look at what led up to this meeting, and examine the opening remarks.

I.  THE DEPARTURE TO GALILEE (verses 1-3)

Chapter 4 begins with the words:  “When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)”.  How quickly news spreads and gets distorted in the process!  What was a private conversation between John’s followers and John the Baptist has been turned into a “bone of contention” by the Pharisees.  Apparently they only heard, or wanted to hear, one side of the conversation.  What about John’s answer to them?  After sharing the relationship between the bride and groom and the friend of the bridegroom, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  The Pharisees weren’t interested in that part of the conversation.  They were looking for an excuse to start a major confrontation between the Jews and Jesus.

Verse 3 gives us Jesus’ response.  He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.”  Jesus wasn’t running away out of fear.  He was obeying the will of the Father.  His time of confrontation, leading to His death, had not yet come.  He was avoiding that confrontation for the time being because He was on the Father’s timetable, not theirs.  It was time to go back to the headquarters of His ministry, which was in Galilee.  There was much to be done there, as we shall see.

II.  THE ROUTE TAKEN (verses 4)

Verse 4 says, “And He had to pass through Samaria”.  Geographically speaking, Jesus did not “have to” pass through Samaria.  There were two other routes.  There was the direct route through Samaria, but most Jews, and all the Pharisees and  teachers of the Law, refused to take that route.  They would either take the coastal route or they would cross the Jordan River, travel north through Perea, and then cross the Jordan River again north of Samaria.  Using these two routes would double their travel time from three days to six days.  Jesus, however, had to go through Samaria because it was the Father’s will for Him to do so.  The Lord Jesus had an appointment to keep with a particular Samaritan, and no advance-notice was given to that person.

Why this unwillingness, on the part of the Jews, to go through Samaria?  Well, to say that the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along with each other would be putting it mildly!  Historical events from several hundred years earlier caused this hatred for one another to develop, and more recent events only served to fan the flames of that hatred.  Later on in Jesus’ ministry, the Jews, in an attempt to give Jesus the worst possible insult, said, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).  Notice which description came first.  They are either saying that being a Samaritan is worse than being demon possessed or that all Samaritans are demon possessed.  Such was their hatred for the Samaritan people.

It all began 700 years earlier when the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom (Samaria) and took most of the Jews into captivity.  Those Jews who were left behind intermarried with the people from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in the northern kingdom of Israel.  They became despised by the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah because they were no longer pure Jews.  The rest of the Jews who were taken into exile never came back but were assimilated into the gentile nation.  They were called “the lost 10 tribes of Israel”.  More information will be revealed in the upcoming conversation.

III.  THE REST-STOP ALONG THE WAY (verses 5-6)

In verse 5, the apostle John, since he was along with Jesus and the other disciples on this journey, gives us some geographical and historical information along the way.  He says, “So He (Jesus) came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there.”   Jacob’s well had a special place in Jewish history and historians say that Jacob’s well is “one of the best attested sites in Palestine, at least since New Testament times.”  Yet it’s possible that none of His disciples had ever seen the well before this occasion.  They may never have taken this route before, but they don’t question the Lord’s decision to go through Samaria.

Verse 6 gives us a brief description of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.”  He got tired like we all do after physical exertion.  He needed time to sit down, get some rest, and quench His thirst.  Though the apostle John’s major focus is on the deity of Christ, he doesn’t pass up any opportunities to show that Jesus was also truly a man.  The Lord Jesus was now alone.  Verse 8 explains that “His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”  The scene was ready in preparation for another private conversation.

“It was the sixth hour”.  They didn’t have clocks or watches in those days, and time was measured beginning at approximately 6:00 in the morning.  So it was about 12:00 noon, the hottest part of the day in that region.

IV.  A CONVERSATION BEGINS:  OPENING REMARKS (verses 7 and 9)

As Jesus sits there resting in the heat of the day, he beholds a Samaritan woman coming His way.  She has her water jar on her head or shoulder, and her leather bucket and rope in her hand in order to lower the bucket into the well and bring up the water to fill her jar.  This was not the usual time of the day for drawing water from this well.  Women usually came in the early morning or the late afternoon when it was cooler.  She came at noon, possibly because she had a bad reputation among the women in her village.  So she preferred to come to Jacob’s well for water at a time when no one else would be there.

As she begins to draw water to fill her jar, Jesus does the unthinkable.  He breaks tradition but He obeys God’s Word which says, “You shall love  your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). He asks this woman to do Him a favor.  In verse 4 the Lord Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink”.  He is not giving her a command but making a request of her.  Translated into our culture, Jesus is saying “May I please have a drink” or “Would you do me the favor of giving me a drink of your water.”  We don’t know His tone of voice but we know the kind of Person that Jesus was and is.  He obviously said those words with kindness and love in His voice because of her response.  I can imagine that her eyes must have widened and her jaw dropped.  She probably looked Him square in the eyes to see if He was being honest and sincere.  She must have seen much more than that in His eyes and facial expression because she does something that a Samaritan woman would never do to a Jewish man – she answers Him!   She broke her traditions by breaking her silence and responding to Him.

“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, since I am a Samaritan woman?” (verse 9).  How did she know that Jesus was a Jew?  Was there a difference in physical appearance, clothing, or speech between Jews and Samaritans?  Probably all three, since they were a people of mixed race with different customs.

l don’t think this woman was being rude or sarcastic when she said those words to Jesus.  I think she was amazed by His words, the kindness in His voice and the sincerity and love in His eyes.  I also think that she said those words to Jesus after she gave Him the cup of water to drink.  The words “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” are in parentheses.  John may be adding those words to explain the reason for her reply.  They don’t appear to be words that were actually said by the woman.

I’ve learned a couple of lessons from the introductory remarks to this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  First, people are more important than traditions, laws, customs and prejudices.  When the Lord Jesus began and continued a conversation with this woman, He overcame just about every major prejudice you can think of:  racial, moral, religious, social, cultural, geographical, historical, and sexual.  She was more important to Him than her “dossier” (her public and personal background and reputation).  What about you and I?  What thoughts, attitudes and responses do we have toward different kinds of people, especially people who are vastly different from us, people who may treat us with distain or silence when we are around them?  The kind of love that Jesus demonstrated by His words and actions is impossible for us to imitate unless we are “born-again”, having become a child of God through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we become a new person, the transformation into the likeness of Christ can begin as we yield to the control of the Spirit of God within us.  Then the barriers between us and others can begin to break down and new relationships can be formed.

Secondly, The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us a lesson about receiving from others. There was an article in Psychology Today entitled “5 Reasons Why Receiving Is Harder Than Giving.”  Author John Amodeo gives these five possible reasons. 1.  Defense against intimacy  (keeping people distant).  2,  Letting go of control.  3.  Fear of strings attached.  4.  Belief that it is selfish to receive.  5.  A self-imposed pressure to reciprocate.

I had been giving to the support of two missionaries while in the military and in college, A few years after graduating from college I decided to go to Bible school in order to become a missionary myself.  When a mission board accepted me, I struggled with the idea of raising support for several of the reasons given above.  I talked to my spiritual mentor about my struggle to receive support from others.  He was one of the missionaries I supported.  I still remember his words.  He said, “Tom, it brought you a great amount of joy to give to the support of me and my family and the ministry God has called me to, didn’t it.  Well, your generosity to us brought us a great amount of joy also, and I’ve shared that with you many times.  Now you are in a ministry that involves raising support so that you can give full-time service in your focus of ministry for the Lord.  Don’t deprive others of the joy they would receive if they chose to support you, and continue to send your newsletter to everyone on your list whether they support you monetarily or not.”  He also encouraged me to add a personal note to  my prayer letters to make them personal.

We find many times in the Old Testament and the New Testament where God’s priests, prophets, disciples, as well as Jesus himself received gifts from others.  Like them, may we also be humble enough to receive and thankful enough to express our gratitude.

As I continue this study of John 4, I’ve found several enactments of this conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well on YouTube.  I’ve chosen to link to the following site because it shows two different enactments one after the other, and it follows the Scripture passage closely.  The second video is even more detailed and inclusive than the first.  Watching these two videos, as well as others, has given me a fresh perspective of John 4:1-42.  Here is the site.  Clicking it should take you there:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sma4o3mCPwA

Thanks for visiting.  I hope you will visit other sermons on this site as well.  May your conversations be seasoned with love and genuine concern for others.  May you also experience great joy in both giving and receiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE WITNESS FROM HEAVEN – John 3:31-36

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Have you ever been a witness in court?  Have you served on the jury of a court case?  Have you ever been asked to give a report about something that you witnessed – something that you saw or heard?  Did you have to answer questions, and were you told to fill out a written report?  Every detail is important, isn’t it?  Whatever the situation, those involved want enough proof to secure a verdict or to validate a situation or verify a person’s identity.  We pay extra postage to get a return receipt, or we pay extra to have a document or package sent by certified or registered mail for our own protection.  We may also want the assurance that it has been delivered to the right person and has been personally signed for and received.  We may also want the recipient to realize the importance of the document we sent, and the need for an immediate response to it.

What is it that makes a person a good witness?  What is required in a court of law?  The first requirement is that the witness must give firsthand information.  The judge isn’t going to accept hearsay evidence.  Secondly, the witness must be willing to testify.  Thirdly, the witness must be reliable.  His witness must be substantial and consistent enough to be believable.  These three requirements are necessary if a person is to be an excellent witness.  John’s point in this passage of Scripture is that the Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect witness concerning God.  This is one of the major themes in John’s Gospel.   Let’s see how this theme unfolds as we examine the witness of Jesus Christ to the world around Him, and to us today.

First, the following words of Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on John’s Gospel, will help prepare us for the study of verses 31-36.  He says,”Bible scholars do not agree as to who is speaking in John 3:31-36, John the apostle or John the Baptist. . . There are no quotation marks in early manuscripts, but since all scripture is inspired, it really makes little difference who said the words”.  Personally, I think they are the words of the apostle John as he ties the previous words of John the Baptist into the theme of his Gospel.  But what is of importance to us is an understanding of what those words in John 3:31-36 mean, and what the Spirit of God wants us to learn from them and apply to our lives.

I.  FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION (verse 31)

When you go to a “second-hand” store, are you expecting to find brand-new items, fresh from the factory?  I hope not.  You may find your visit to be frustrating and a waste of your time.  It’s called “second-hand” because other hands have already made use of it and that person is passing it on for someone else’s use.  We don’t know the whole story about that particular product’s history, nor all the details of its prior use.  In a similar vein, John is about to tell us that everything we know about God is “second-hand”, so to speak.  We receive it from a secondary source:  in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We don’t know every thing He knows about the Father.  We haven’t seen everything He has seen, heard everything He has heard, nor experienced everything He has experienced in His relationship to the Father.

Verse 31 says, “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.”   Notice the repetition of words and phrases in this verse:  “from above , . . above all . . . from heaven . . . above all”, as well as the words “of the earth . . . from the earth  . . . of the earth”.  Heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that the Lord Jesus is from heaven.  He is the God-man, and was sent “from heaven” into this world by God the Father.  The Greek word, anothen, was often used to show a comparison or contrast.  Judaism emphasized the contrast between above and below.  Heaven is God’s sphere and the earth is man’s.  In the New Testament, the contrast is made between a holy God and sinful man.  When John uses those words, “above all” and “from heaven”, he means that only Jesus knows the Father perfectly and intimately because He has existed from all eternity with Him in heaven as a member of the triune God.  Therefore He alone can give first-hand evidence of what God is like.  John 1:18 says, No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  No one can explain what God is like better than Jesus because no other human being is God.

By contrast, everyone else is called “earthly” or “from earth”.  There is more to these words than meets the eye.  John may be making reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in 3:12, where He says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  I think the words “earthly” and “from earth”  may also have the connotation “fallen”, suffering the effects of Adam’s sin.  We were born with a mind, will, and conscience which are tainted by sin, and this limits our capacity to know about and understand heavenly things.  When James refers to human wisdom, he calls it “earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:15).  So our capacity to be a perfect witness of heavenly things is negated by the fact that we are not God, and by the fact that we are earthly and sinful human beings.

II.  WILLING TO TESTIFY (verse 32)

In verse 32, John tells us that the Lord Jesus was willing to testify about God.  No one had to force Him to testify because that was one of the reasons He came to this earth.  It says in verse 32,  “What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness, and no one has received His witness.”  The Greek word oudeis, translated “no one” has the connotation of being “very few”.  At the end of Jesus’ life He had very few followers who had committed themselves to Him as their Lord.  John is reiterating what he said in John 1:11, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him, but . . . “ (there were exceptions),  But that didn’t stop Jesus from being a faithful witness.  He was willing to testify in spite of the response.  The book of Hebrews begins with these words:  “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”  It was part of God’s plan.  The author of Hebrews also gives Jesus’ qualifications as a witness when he says, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”  I’ll say it again, no one is more qualified to testify about God the Father than His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is willing and ready to do so, not only by His words but also by His life.  He has also chosen to bear witness to us today by allowing His words and a description of His life, death, and resurrection to be written down for us in the Scriptures.

III.  A CONSISTENT WITNESS (verses 33-35)

The Lord Jesus also fulfilled the third requirement for a perfect witness.  His witness was consistent.  It was complete, and therefore totally reliable.  Verse 33 says, “He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.”   Various seals were popular in that day.  The Bible refers to a “signet ring” and a seal that was worn around the neck.  The seal was often pressed into a small amount of wax or clay at the bottom of a document to publicly attest to the truth of it, or to enter into a contract.  Verse 33 is saying that when a person understands the testimony that Jesus makes about Himself, and then commits himself to what he has seen and heard by following Jesus, his words and his changed-life bear witness to the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God.  One’s life and words are like a seal for everyone to see.  The life of Jesus has made an indelible impression. So each of us who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is a witness to the truth of God by our words and our lives.

In verse 34, John gives us another reason why Jesus’ words are true when he says, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.”  The giver of the Spirit is God the Father; the receiver of the Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ.  So Jesus is not only our Ambassador, sent to us from God the Father, but He has also been given all power and authority to act in that capacity.  He comes “fully endorsed”.  The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Truth”, and the Lord Jesus has been given a “full measure” of Him by the Father.

Not only that, by verse 35 says, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.”  Not only does the Lord Jesus have all the qualifications of a perfect witness for God to the world, but He has been given all the power to prove it by His actions.  God the Father guarantees the truth and total reliability of Christ’s words.  And all of this was  motivated by love – the love of the Father for His Son and their love for us.

IV.  THE VERDICT (Verse 36)

The testimony has been given and it has been proven to be absolutely true.  Now John gives us the verdict.  We are left with two choices, with eternal consequences which are as different as night and day.  The first consequence:  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  The word “believe” refers to a commitment to the authority and rule of Jesus Christ in your life.  By believing, Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but he is your Lord.  We will begin to taste what heaven is like as He brings joy and peace into our lives.  The Holy Spirit will give us a love for God’s Word and will begin to change our lives as we yield to His control, and we will begin to take on a “family resemblance” as children of God.  And the best is yet to come.  We will spend eternity in heaven enjoying His presence and speaking to God face-to-face, all expenses paid!  It will be so amazing that it is beyond our present imagination.  The apostle Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah when he writes:  “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

Now John puts all of this into stark contrast at the end of verse 36:  “but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  People don’t like to hear about the wrath of God.  Many believe that God is good, loving and forgiving,  They can do what they please and He’ll forgive them and let them into heaven.  There are many who believe that all roads lead to heaven, that all religions basically believe the same things.  That’s not what this passage of Scripture has been saying,  The wrath of God abides on all who will not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.  This isn’t “scare tactics”.  I call it “reality therapy”.  We need to face the facts.

There have been times when a person has spent a lot of time and money to lovingly help another person, only to have the intended recipient become angry, refuse the gift and reject the giver.  Sometimes this is referred to as a “slap in the face”.  It hurts very deeply because it is rude, uncalled for, and saddens the giver.  It deprives both people of the joy they could have experienced, and a deeper bond of friendship that could have developed between them.  The intended recipient is also depriving himself of something he really needs and of someone who really cares.

God presents you and I with a gift at the cost of His own Son’s life.  He poured out His wrath for sin upon His Son and watched Him suffer and die in order to save us from the consequences of our own willful sins.  He broke off His fellowship with His Son until the debt was completely paid.  There was no other way to make this gift possible.  There has never been a greater gift and there has never been a higher price to pay for it.  To ignore or refuse such a gift is a “slap in the face” of God.

Let’s take a closer look at God’s wrath and the reasons for it.  Some people believe that wrath is beneath God’s character; that it suggests a lack of self-control or a bad temper on His part.  But God’s wrath is based upon His holiness and justice.  No one stands under God’s wrath except those who have chosen to do so.  God respects people’s freedom of choice, and gives them what they choose with all its implications and consequences.  Every person who chooses to be his own god; to worship another god, to ignore or rebel against the true God and testimony of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is choosing to face the wrath of God rather than the mercy of God.  Every person who thinks he can earn his way to heaven by his works and is unwilling to recognize his own sinfulness and hopelessness, and seek the only true remedy for his spiritual condition, is placing himself under God’s wrath (Romans 3:20).

An American Indian who was a Christian was once asked the question, “What did Jesus do for you?”  They were outside so he squatted down, gathered some leaves into a pile, and placed a worm that he found under the leaves into the middle of the pile.  Then he lit a match and set the outside edges of the pile on fire.  As the flames closed in on the worm and were about to engulf if, the man quickly picked up  the worm and put it safely on the ground.  Then he looked up and said, “that’s what Jesus did for me.”

We either entrust our lives to Jesus Christ and commit ourselves completely to Him as our only Lord and Savior, or we receive the punishment that our sins deserve in the sight of a holy God.  It is God’s desire, and my desire, that you not ignore or reject the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, but instead commit yourself to Him who died for you and wants you to be with Him forever in heaven.

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God wants us to be impressed  with His hatred of sin, and not regard sin lightly or make excuses for it in our lives.  Let’s also be continually praising Him for what He did for us, and for the love that motivated it, and praying for the salvation of those who have not yet chosen to follow Him.

There are many other completed sermons on this website and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the testimony of the Lord Jesus give you a sense of inner peace and protection as your trust in Him continues to grow stronger.

     

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part III) – John 3:14-18

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               THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SERPENT ON THE POLE

INTRODUCTION:

The conversation with Nicodemus is still underway and the Lord Jesus has much more to say.  In verses  8-13 of chapter 3, Jesus used the illustration of the wind in order to help explain the mystery of being born from above.  We can’t see the wind itself but we can see its effects and its results, and they can be very powerful.  Jesus was reminding Nicodemus of Ezekiel’s prophesies, and the way the Spirit of God was going to work in the lives of His people to change their hearts and fill them with His Spirit.  It was going to be a miraculous event with powerful and amazing results.  As I mentioned in my last message, there was a price to be paid in order for this to happen.  In the next part of their conversation, the Lord Jesus uses a familiar illustration in order to communicate to Nicodemus the means by which one can be born again.

I..THE OLD TESTAMENT EVENT (verse 14a)

Jesus now says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness”.  This was a very familiar event and Nicodemus knew it very well.  Jesus is referring to the book of Numbers, chapter 21, and verses 4-9.  Verses 4 and 5 give us the background leading up to the event:  “Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom, and the people became impatient because of the journey.  And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ “

Complain, complain!  That’s all these people have done since they crossed the Red Sea!  Now they are blaming God and Moses for the food, the water, and the delays.  Their needs have been taken care of, but it seems like there is always something to complain about and someone to blame when the focus of their attention is on themselves.  The Hebrew people are sinning against God by their attitude and actions.  God has been patient with their complaints but now it has gotten out of hand.  It was time for Him to do something about it, and God deals with them in a very unusual way.

Numbers 21:6 describes the punishment that God metes out to the people for their sin.  “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died.”  There are a number of poisonous snakes in that area, and I think it will be helpful to know which variety of snakes is doing the biting.  You’ll understand when I’m through.  Of all the snakes, researchers believe that there is one particular variety that best fits the criteria and sequence of events that are given in verses 6-9.  G.S. Cansdale, in his article in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible entitled SERPENT (FIERY SERPENT), (Vol. 5. pp.356-358), describes the various serpents which live in the wilderness area mentioned in Numbers 21 and cited again in John 3:14, seeking to determine which of them were the “fiery serpents”.  He, and others mentioned in his article, believe that the most-probable candidate is the “carpet or saw-scaled viper”.  It proliferates (has many babies), so much so that many nearby countries have put a bounty on them.  It is the only viper in that area that can move quickly over sand and rock.

It’s venom is hemolytic. affecting the blood by breaking the small blood-vessels, and the victim eventually bleeds to death within about four days.  The victims often start feeling better after two or three days and assume that all is well, when in actuality they are very close to death.  The effects of this venom are irreversible (except by a miracle from God).  The slow-acting venom gave Moses time to cast the bronze serpent and tell everyone what they needed to do to be saved from certain death before it happened.  As you can see from the description, these snakes could well be the ones used by God to punish His people.  

Numbers 21:9 says, “And Moses made the bronze serpent and set it on the standard (as God commanded him), and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”  It was a time of decision.  Moses had made the bronze serpent, and put it on a standard ( a pole with another pole attached horizontally near the top) for the purpose of holding a banner.  In this particular case it was holding the bonze serpent, and it was raised high enough so that everyone could easily see it.  Each person had to decide whether or not he was going to look at the serpent on the standard when bitten.  His life depended on it; it was his only hope.  But, knowing the pride and stubbornness of the people of Israel, there were probably some who thought, “That’s ridiculous!  How is looking at that snake going to make any difference?  I’m feeling better now anyway.  I can take care of myself!”  That decision cost those people their lives. 

II.  THE NEW TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION (verse 14b)

Now the Lord Jesus compares that illustration to Himself and His mission on earth when He says:  “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”.  So the snake on the pole represents Jesus, not Satan.  It was made of bronze, which was often used in the Old Testament to represent judgment.  The pole or standard on which the bronze serpent was affixed represented the cross of Calvary.

The Lord Jesus was telling Nicodemus that, as the serpent in the wilderness provided physical healing from the deadly poison of the snakes, in a similar way He was going to provide spiritual healing and new life to the souls of people who believe in Him.  Jesus said that He would be “lifted up”.  The Greek word translated “lifted up”  (hypsos) means “to exalt”.  How could Jesus be exalted while He is hanging naked, bleeding, and humiliated on the cross?  What glory was there in that horrible situation?  His enemies and His executioners didn’t realize it, but by lifting Him up on the cross to die before their eyes, they were fulfilling prophesies and enabling the Lord Jesus to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus had laid aside His glory to come to this earth and die and pay the price for the sins of the world.  Only then could His resurrection and ascension back to heaven be fulfilled.  As Philippians 2:8-9 says, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on the name which is above every name”.   Being raised up on that cross was the first step of His exaltation, “that He might draw all men to Himself” (John 12:33).

III.  THE PROPER RESPONSE AND THE RESULT (verse 15)

Is the Lord Jesus Christ being exalted in your life?  He can’t be truly exalted in your life if He isn’t present in your life.  Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe shares an insight and then gives a remarkable, true illustration of Christ’s exaltation in a person through His death on the cross.  “The whole world has been bitten by sin, and ‘the wages of sin is death”  (Romans 6:23).  God sent His Son to die, not only for Israel, but for a whole world.  How is a person born from above?  How is he saved from eternal perishing?  By believing on Jesus Christ; by looking to Him in faith.”

On January 6, 1850, a snowstorm almost crippled the city of Colchester, England; and a teenage boy was unable to get to the church he usually attended.  So he made his way to a nearby Primitive Methodist chapel, where an ill-prepared layman was substituting for the absent preacher.  His text was Isaiah 45:22  –  “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”  For many months this teenager had been miserable, and under deep conviction; but though he had been reared in a church (both his father and grandfather were preachers), he did not have the assurance of salvation.

The unprepared substitute minister did not have much to say so he kept repeating the text.  “A man need not go to college in order to look,” he shouted.  “Anyone can look — a child can look!”  About this time, he saw the visitor sitting to one side, and pointing to him and said, “Young man, you look very miserable.  Young man, look to Jesus Christ!”  The young man did look by faith, and that was how the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted.  (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, pp. 296-297)

The people on the hill of Golgotha that day couldn’t help but see Jesus because He was lifted up above them on a cross (Matthew 27:33ff).  For three hours He hung there in the sight of all, suffering and dying.  We know that at least one person looked to Jesus in faith that day – a thief on a cross dying next to Him.  That thief said, “. . . we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong . . . Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
In this thief’s eyes, Jesus was exalted there on that cross.  He recognized that Jesus was a king, and he asked to be a member of His kingdom.  Jesus told him that he now had something wonderful to look forward to.  He also had Someone wonderful to exalt and enjoy forever in the kingdom of heaven.

IV.  THE MOTIVE AND PURPOSE OF GOD (verses 16-18)

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known, and one of the most beloved verses in all the Bible.  Jesus says to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  By saying those words, Jesus is stretching Nicodemus’ present understanding of the scope of God’s love way beyond it’s limits.  “God loves the world, not just His ‘chosen people’?”  “What did those sinners and idolators do to deserve that?”  The world didn’t deserve God’s love anymore than he did.  God’s love was a gift, and it came wrapped up in the Person of His “only begotten Son”. the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the only hope, the only antidote, the only alternative for sinful mankind.  Otherwise we are all perishing.  II Thessalonians 1:9 gives a good description of the word “perishing”:  “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  It doesn’t get any worse than that!

Years ago, two young parents were faced with a life-or-death decision:  either allow the doctor to give their baby an experimental drug or their baby would be dead by morning because of a 109 degree temperature caused by a sudden ailment.  Of course they gave that permission or I wouldn’t be here today to tell you about it!  When we look at the very best of human love, we can gain a bit of a glimpse of God’s love.  The following is one example of the very best of human love:

In his book, Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion.  The doctor explained that she had the same disease that the boy had recovered from two years earlier.  Her only hope for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease.  Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

“Would you give your blood to Mary?”, the doctor asked.  Johnny hesitated.  His lower lip started to tremble.  Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”  Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room–Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy.  Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.  As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded.  He watched the blood flow through the tube.  With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence.  “Doctor, when do I die?”

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he agreed to donate his blood.  He thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his own life.  In that brief moment, he’d made his great decision.  Johnny, fortunately, didn’t have to die to save his sister.  Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary’s, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life.  (Thomas Lindberg) 

Below is a brief description of the greatness of this verse:  John 3:16

“God”–The greatest Lover.
“So loved”–The greatest degree.
“The world”–The greatest company.
“That He gave”–The greatest act.
“His only begotten Son”–The greatest Gift.
“That whosoever”–The greatest opportunity.
“Believeth”–The greatest simplicity.
“In Him”–The greatest attraction.
“Should not perish”–The greatest promise.
“But”–The greatest difference.
“Have”–the greatest certainty
Everlasting life”–the greatest possession.

How great is our God!  I hope that reading the words to John 3:16 from that perspective will give you a fresh realization and appreciation for what God did for us and why He did it.  You may want to copy those words and place them in a place where you will see them often, as I am going to do.

Martin Luther referred to John 3:16 as “The Miniature Bible” because it contains the essence of the Gospel in “a nutshell”.  During World War II, it was the custom for any household that had given a son in the service to place a star in the window in the middle of a white banner.  A gold star, however, indicated that the son of the house had already given his life’s blood in support of his country’s cause.  Sir Harry Lauder related a touching story in regard to this custom.  He said that one night a man was walking down a certain avenue in New York City accompanied by his five-year-old son.  The little fellow was greatly interested in the brightly lighted windows of the houses and wanted to know why some of the houses had a star in the window.  The father explained that those houses had given a son to the war.  The child would clap his hands as he saw another star in the window and would cry out, “Look, daddy, there’s another family who gave a son for his country!  And look, there’s another!  And another!  And look, there’s one with two stars!”

At last they came to an empty lot, and a break in the row of houses.  Through the gap could be seen the evening star shining brightly in the sky.  The little lad caught his breath, “Oh, daddy”, he cried, “look!  God must have given HIS Son for He has hung a star in the window of heaven!”  (Our Daily Bread, 9/6/1960)

How true are that little boy’s words!  As we look at the brightest star in the sky tonight, may we be reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins; and as we count the other stars in the heavens, may we be reminded of all the believers who are shining for Him, both on earth and in heaven.  There are more than we can count.  I hope you are one of them, shining brightly for Him today and every day (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus has just described to Nicodemus how He was going to die and the reasons for His death.  In three short years, I believe that Nicodemus would be standing at a distance together with the other Pharisees and Leaders, watching Jesus die, and he would be realizing the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to Him.  He could not help but think about the serpent on the pole and put the two events together.

Verses 17 and 18 are sometimes overlooked because of the greatness and popularity of John 3:16.  But these two verses amplify the mystery and the eternal consequences of Christ’s death on the cross.  Verse 17 begins with the words, “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world.”  This is a mystery to me because, logically and realistically, God should have sent His Son into this world to judge us and condemn all of us to hell.  That’s what we all deserve because we’ve all sinned against a holy and perfect God.  But God wasn’t acting logically; He was acting emotionally.  Love is a powerful emotion and God’s love is perfect and unconditional.  That’s why the rest of verse 17 says, “but that the world should be saved through Him”.  Notice the word “should.  God has expressed His desire and provided the way.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, turning our lives over to His control.  There are no “good reasons”.  There are only excuses.  If you haven’t done so, what is your excuse?  You’re making the biggest mistake in your life, you’re passing up the greatest opportunity of your life, and you’re missing the greatest joy in life if you don’t respond to His great love.  The Lord Jesus is not just saying these words to Nicodemus, but to each of us as well.

I personally believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest preacher and teacher who ever lived on this planet.  There is much to learn by studying how He communicated with people.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had never been in a conversation quite like this one before!  Jesus had made some shocking statements to Nicodemus, given illustrations, asked questions, corrected misconceptions, and made comparisons.  In verse 18 the Lord Jesus ends this illustration of the serpent on the pole with another principle of preaching and teaching:  REPETITION.  He says in verse 18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe in Him is judged already. because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Jesus is saying basically the same thing to Nicodemus, but this time His purpose is to establish blame or fault.  The Lord Jesus did not come to this earth to judge, but to save and remove judgment by taking that judgment for sin upon Himself.  Therefore those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are not judged  because it has already been taken care of through His death on the cross.  However, those who refuse to believe, those who reject God’s gift are “judged already” because they have made the call; they have made their choice in view of the consequences, and by so doing they are judging and condemning themselves at that moment.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  To not believe in His name is to not confess Him as Lord.

While Nicodemus is still reeling from the impact of Jesus’ words to him, the Lord Jesus gives one final illustration and exhortation:  the contrast between light and darkness.  We will study that illustration in the next message.  I hope that the words of Jesus so far have given each of us some things to think about and put into practice in our own lives.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  This is a completed construction site.  If you are new to this blog site, my purpose, as I study a passage of Scripture, is to place it on the site a section at a time as I complete it so that you can see the progress and study along with me if you would like to do so.  I call it a work-in-progress.  May God teach us all patience as we learn to accept the events in our lives, and diligence to make the most of our situations by His all-sufficient grace.

 

 

 

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

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND

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

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

TRANSITION:

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

I.  THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)

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

II.  THE REPLY (verse 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites   I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, and other assorted messages here from the last four years of Bible study.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing with you.  Having this opportunity to share with you the results of my Bible study has encouraged me to study all the more, as I try to put the things I’ve learned into words that I hope everyone can understand and apply to their lives.  May the Lord be with you, and may His Spirit control and empower you like the wind at your back today!  May He fill your sails with a steady breeze as you sail through your day with joy under His control!