CALL THE FIRST TWO WITNESSES – John 5:30-35

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

The Lord Jesus Christ had just claimed equality with God in seven areas.  The magnitude and the significance of Jesus’ claims called for substantiation.  Jesus now introduces five witnesses to validate those claims.  We are going to examine the first two witnesses in this study of John’s Gospel.

I.  HIS WITNESS CONCERNING HIMSELF (verses 30-31)

On the night I became a Christian, I was encouraged to read the Gospel of John.  In the first five chapters of John’s Gospel, two verses of Scripture really spoke to a need in my life as a new Christian, so I wrote down the references and the verses on the inside cover of my Bible.  The first verse was John 3:30, where John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease”.  The second verse was John 5:30, and I just wrote down the first part of the verse, “I can of mine own self do nothing”.  Those two verses described to me what living the Christian life was all about:  putting Christ first in my life, living to glorify Him, and realizing my own inability to do so apart from His enabling.

Verse 30 seems to be a transition verse.  I think Jesus is restating what He said in verse 19.  In that verse He said, “Truly, truly,  I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”  By saying these words in verses 19 and 30, Jesus is declaring that His testimony about Himself is true.  Notice that, in verse 30, Jesus starts speaking in the first-person again, using the words “I” and “Me” instead of “He” and “Him” when referring to Himself.  In the remainder of verse 30, Jesus says, “As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.” Therefore His witness and His judgments are true because it’s the Father’s witness through Him, and it’s the Father who is making the judgments.  Their witness and judgments are one-in-the-same.  The Greek word, “martyrion”, translated “witness”, is a very important word in John’s gospel.  We get our English word “martyr” from that Greek word, and it occurs 47 times in the gospel of John; so we’ll be seeing it again and again as more and more witnesses take the stand.

In verse 31, Jesus says, “If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” He’s speaking in a legal sense, meaning that it is not admissible in a court of law.  Of course, Jesus’ testimony is true for the reasons He has already given.  He and the Father are one and He always does the will of the Father.  But He is living among sinful men who may give false testimony if it’s to their advantage, and they think they can get away with it.  Even the law given to Moses does not allow a person to testify in his own case.  In Deuteronomy 17:6, God says, On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”  Again, in Deuteronomy 19:15. Moses writes, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or more witnesses a matter shall be confirmed”.  So Jesus is going to follow the Mosaic law and provide them with other witnesses of His deity and of His authority to judge men.

Have you ever placed the names of personal references or character references on your resume or job application?  Have you ever been asked by others if you would be willing to be a personal reference for them?  It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility, isn’t it?  We choose personal references who are up-to-date in their relationship with us and can vouch for our character and abilities.  We want references whom we respect; who have known us for a number of years, and who think highly of us.  Isn’t that true?  Let’s see whom Jesus chooses to be witnesses of His character and deity.

II.  THE WITNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verses 33-35)

In verses 33-35, we find that Jesus chooses John the Baptist as a witness.  I’ve skipped verse 32 for now because Jesus is alluding to Someone He is going to be describing in greater detail in verses 37-38.  For now we will call that person the “mystery Witness”.  Jesus reserves this Witness for later because He is the “Expert Witness”.

John the Baptist bore witness to the deity of Christ several times in John’s gospel.  You will find his testimony in chapters one and three.  John the Baptist was considered to be a prophet of God, and many, including a few of the Pharisees, believed his words, repented and were baptized. In verse 33, Jesus says, “You have sent to John, and he has born witness to the truth.”  He’s making reference to John 1:19.  The Jews sent priests and Levites to John asking, “Who are you?”, and John answered them truthfully.  Quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, he says, “I AM THE VOICE OF ONE  CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’ ” (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3).  In another instance, John calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”, making all the preparations for the wedding and waiting to hear the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29).  The focus of John’s words and John’s ministry was always on Jesus, the coming Messiah.  After Jesus began His public ministry, John encouraged all of his own disciples to follow Jesus.  At that point in time, John the Baptist was the best human witness to the deity of Christ.  He may not have looked like the best witness, considering the clothes he wore and the food he ate.  However, a good witness should not be determined by the clothes he wears or the food he eats, but by what he has seen and heard first-hand, what he knows, and by his integrity and willingness to provide the information he possesses.  You might say that the Lord Jesus chose John the Baptist to be one of His personal references on His resume, and He continues to give us more reasons for doing so in verse 35.

In verse 34, Jesus qualifies His words by saying, “But the witness I receive is not from man”.  His point is that He doesn’t require man’s testimony as proof of His Messiahship.  However, He includes John’s testimony “that you may be saved.”  John the Baptist’s words were true, and he was sent by God to prepare people’s hearts for the Savior.

Now Jesus gives us another description of John the Baptist, who, at that point in time, may be in prison or might already have been killed.  I say that because of the description Jesus gives in verse 35.  Jesus uses the past tense when he says, “He was a lamp that was burning and shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”  In the original Greek text, there is a definite article before the word “lamp”.  John the Baptist was God-appointed as a lamp to the nation of Israel.  The Greek word, luchnos, translated “lamp”, refers to a portable lamp (a candle or an oil lamp).  It was placed on a candlestick or a lampstand to provide light to those nearby and to be seen from a distance.   A different word was used to describe Jesus.  He was a “light”, and the Greek word, phos, means “to make manifest, to shine (especially by rays).  It is the word that is used to describe the sun.  Our words “photo” and “photography” are derived from that word.  John was a lamp that pointed the way to salvation in Jesus Christ.  He is described by Jesus as a lamp that was “burning and shining”.  A lamp must be lit in order to burn and shine.  God “ignited” John the Baptist, and he “burned” with a zeal for God; and he also “shone”, giving off the light of truth in the darkness.  F.B. Meyer makes this comment:  “A lamp must burn if it is to shine.”  In burning, the oil is eventually consumed.  In burning, the candle burns itself out when the wax and the wick are gone.  William Barclay said, “A true witness burns himself out for God.”  It’s a life-long passion and commitment.  So when Jesus used the words “was burning and shining”, it makes me wonder whether John’s life and witness had already “burned out” (come to an end). 

In verse 35, the Lord Jesus says three words that add a note of sadness to the ministry of John the Baptist.  Those words are:  “for a while”.  At the beginning of his ministry, large crowds of people came out to see him.  Matthew 3:5-6 says, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan.”  That’s a lot of people!   Some of them were travelling quite a distance to listen to him and be baptized by him!  But he made some enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees when he called them a “brood of vipers“, and urged them to demonstrate genuine repentance for their sins, warning them of what would happen if they didn’t do so.  John’s popularity didn’t last long, but John wasn’t trying to win a “popularity contest”.  He accomplished the purpose for which God sent him by preparing the way for the Messiah, and he was an outspoken witness to the deity of Jesus Christ.  As the “friend of the Bridegroom”, his responsibility was to make all the preparations for the wedding, and when he heard the Bridegroom’s voice, calling for His bride (all who repent of their sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as their King and Lord), it was time for him to step back, join the wedding guests, and rejoice in the wedding.

CONCLUSION:

Does the Lord Jesus Christ have you as a personal reference?  If not, He wants you as His personal reference.  My understanding of Scripture is that everyone’s name is written down in the Lamb’s book of life as a potential reference.  It’s written in blood: His own blood shed on the cross for you.  Your name is only blotted out of His book of life if you refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, Who paid the price your sins deserve, or if you keep putting it off until it’s too late.  He’s waiting and hoping, but the choice is up to you.  Your reference is there, but it hasn’t been activated yet.  Once it’s activated, it’s there forever.  What are you waiting for?  Now is the time to think it over and respond.  Now is the time to admit your need for Him, and to turn your life over to Him.  Please don’t choose to ignore, or refuse His desire and His offer to you.

If you are a born-again Christian, is Jesus Christ your personal reference?  Is His name listed first on your resume (your life)?  If so, shouldn’t it be obvious to others around you where you work, where you go to school, and in your community?  If you are a genuine, committed Christian, the Lord is not going to be an “add-on” reference in your personal portfolio.  His Name and a description of Him is going to fill the whole front page in large print and bold letters!  He will also be the “headliner” at the top of every other page!  People won’t be able to miss it, and that would be your intent!

Frances Ridley Havergal wrote a hymn based upon David’s call to commitment given to his army in I Chronicles 12, and His army’s response to him.  Verse 13 says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Amasai, chief of the captains, and he said:  “We are yours, O David, and with you, O son of Jesse.”  The title of her hymn is:  WHO IS ON THE LORD’S SIDE?  Below I’ve written the first stanza to that hymn, and I hope that you will find a hymnal and read the other three stanzas as well.

Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side?  Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior, we are Thine.

With our enlistment papers already signed, may we be clothed in His armor and standing together at the battle line.  May it be obvious to everyone we know and everyone we meet, that we are on the Lord’s side, and we will not retreat!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for visiting this recently-completed sermon on John 5:30-35.  I hope that you will take it to heart.  It’s time to move the equipment and tools to the construction site next door:  John 5:36-39.  It may take a couple of days to clear the land and set a foundation.  Until then, you’re welcome to visit the finished projects.  I believe there are 120 sermons on this blog site.   May you rely on the power of Christ and enjoy the presence of Christ at your side throughout this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YES, YOUR HONOR! – John 5:21-23

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In most states in the United States of America the words “Your Honor” are used when addressing the judge in a courtroom.  This has been the practice for many centuries.  Several other countries use those same words as well; other countries use titles such as:  “My Lord”, “My Lady”, “Your Lordship”, “Your Ladyship”, “Judge”, and many other titles of respect and authority.   In Israel, a judge is a shofet, and is addressed with the words “Sir” or “Madam”.  As a general rule, these judges from around the world also wear distinctive robes.  Many of these robes are black, but there are also some very colorful ones.  In some countries the judges also wear wigs.  These robes and wigs are used in order to distinguish them from others in the courtroom, and serve as marks of authority and honor.  Because of their knowledge and experience in the practice of Law, they are worthy of respect and recognition.

In the previous message on John 5:19-20, the Lord Jesus gave two evidences of His deity.  He said that He was equal to the Father in “working” and in “knowing”.  He also shared the relationship of love that He had with the Father; a relationship that only a Son could have.  But the comparisons with the Father, and evidences of His deity aren’t over yet.  In verses 21-23, Jesus claims equality with the Father in resurrecting, in judging, and in honor.  Let’s take a look at each of those claims.

I.  EQUAL IN RESURRECTING (verse 21)

The Lord Jesus has already told them that He is doing the works of the Father, or I should say, that the Father is doing the works through Him.  Now, here in verse 21, to coin a popular phrase, it’s as if Jesus is saying to His accusers, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”  The following are Jesus’ words to them in verse 21.  “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He wishes.”  That statement must have stirred up some angry words from His listeners.  According to the Gospel record, Jesus had not yet raised anyone from the dead.  The Lord Jesus was able to say those words truthfully because He was involved with the Father during the two resurrections in the Old Testament:  the son of the widow of Zarephath through the prophet Elijah in I Kings 17:22, and the Shunamite’s son through the prophet Elisha in II Kings 4:32-35.

Commentator Warren Wiersbe offers this helpful information concerning the Jewish beliefs at that time.

For Jesus to claim to have power to raise the dead was a blasphemous thing in the eyes of the Jewish Leaders; they gave that power to God alone.  They said that Jehovah held the three great keysthe key to open the heavens and give rain (Deuteronomy 28:12); the key to open the womb and give conception (Genesis 30:22); and the key to open the grave
and raise the dead (Ezekiel 37:13).

In the minds of these Jews, what Jesus had just said was blasphemy, claiming to be God.  Later in His life and ministry, Jesus would prove His words to be true by raising the widow’s son in the city of Nain (Luke 7:14-15), Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:38-42), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44) from the dead.  And most significantly, Jesus would raise Himself from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:7-8; John 20:3-8).  “Even so” – just like the Father raised people from the dead, Jesus did so in like manner, and there were too many eye-witnesses, together with the person who was restored to life, to disprove those events and the resurrecting power of Jesus.   Therefore He must be equal with the Father because only God can give life and restore life.

II.  EQUAL IN JUDGING (John 5:22)

As further proof of His deity, the Lord Jesus says is verse 22, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to His Son”  We find the justice of God declared many times in the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 18:25, Abraham makes the following statement about God’s justice in his plea to spare the people of Sodom  “Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.  Far be it from Thee!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?” That’s a good argument!

As Moses sings his song, recounting the things that God has done for the people of Israel, he includes these words about God and His justice in Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all his ways are just;a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”

I imagine that most of us have come to realize that the justice systems on this earth are not perfect.  Let me give you a personal example I was travelling home from a meeting many years ago and drove my car through several small towns along the way.  Two days later I received a letter from one of those towns.  When I opened the letter I saw a photo of myself driving my car.  Below it was a sizeable ticket and the address where this excessive-speed violation occurred. This was my first and only (so far) photo-radar ticket  I didn’t remember any excessive speeding so I went back to that address the next day and saw no speed limit sign.  Upon closer observation, I noticed a white sign post but the top of it was completely covered by low-hanging branches of a nearby tree.  As I looked under its branches at the reduced speed on the sign and stood back to take another look, a store-owner came out of his store and asked if he could be of assistance.  When I shared my story, he pointed to the top of a pole across the street to show me the camera that took the photo, then he stood back with me and told me that there was no way a person coming down the street could see that sign.  He suggested that I might want to take my case to court, which I did.  After explaining the situation to the judge, there was a short pause and then the judge said “Reduce the amount to (a small reduction)”, hit the desk with the gavel, and said “Next case!”  I paid the remainder.  This was not the justice I was hoping to receive.  Two weeks later, I was driving through that town again and was pleased to see that those low-hanging branches had been removed from the tree, and the sign was now completely visible.. It may have been done at my expense, but at least it was done!

Going back to Jesus’ words stating that the Father had given all judgment into His hands, let’s see if there are any Old Testament Scriptures that attribute the role of judging mankind to the coming Messiah.  If the Jews at that time were spending time reading and studying specific passages of Scripture, it’s very possible that they were reading or studying the prophecies concerning their Messiah.  They were looking forward to His coming and wanted to be ready to recognize Him and worship Him when He arrived on Earth.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the Messiah’s coming reign.  “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples.  And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations will not lift up sword against nation. and never again will they learn war.”   (Isaiah 2:4)  The Jewish people are looking forward to a perfect Judge who will make perfect judgments, and there won’t be the Roman occupation and government anymore.

Isaiah 11 is another Messianic prophecy.  “And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth . . . ”  (Isaiah 11:3-4).  The Lord Jesus is the perfect Judge because, as God, He is holy, righteous, all-knowing and just; and as man He is understanding and sympathetic, having experienced poverty and the unfairness and affliction of others while on this earth.  No wonder the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.”

The prophet Micah also affirms Isaiah’s prophecy in Micah 4:3.  The Jewish leaders have those prophecies in their minds yet they fail to recognize and acknowledge the Judge of the whole earth who is standing before them and making that claim.  Even John the Baptist acknowledged that Jesus was going to bring judgment when he used the following analogy:  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean the threshing floor; and he will gather His wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (John 3:12).

III.  EQUAL IN HONOR (John 5:23)

There doesn’t appear to have been any positive response to those claims, so the Lord Jesus makes another claim:  that of being equal in honor with the Father.  That’s a claim that the Lord Jesus should not have needed to make, since it should have been the logical conclusion they should have drawn, and the response they should have given to His previous claims of deity.  He says, “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus begins by drawing the application.  He’s telling them that, based on the claims of deity He has already made, they should have responded by showing Him the same “honor” (praise, worship, devotion, obedience) that is due to the Father.  That’s the only valid and proper response that can be given to His claims and the evidence that supports them.

His explanation is followed by a very powerful and convicting statement and conclusion.  “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus is saying that it is false and useless to claim to love and worship God if you do not have the same love and worship for Him, because they are two Persons in the same Triune God.  Whoever does not honor and worship the Son does not honor and worship God at all.

CONCLUSION:

I hope that you are taking the claims of Jesus Christ and the evidences supporting those claims seriously.  Your quality of life on this earth and your eternal destiny depend upon it.  The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of the highest honor:  the honor, praise, worship and obedience that are deserved by God alone. If you are still seeking, and questioning, and pondering, the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying will go much deeper into role of Jesus as Judge of heaven and earth.  I hope to see you there.  May you find Jesus to be the Honorable One who fulfills His words, keeps His promises, and changes lives.

CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED.

 

 

THE WORDS OF A HUMBLE MAN – John 3:22-30

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An article in the Discipleship Journal in the mid-1990’s said that we live in an age of self-love.  There is even a popular magazine on the market entitled “Self”.  Words like “narcissism” (the love of self), and “hedonism” (the pursuit of pleasure) are being used more-and-more often to describe our society.  I had never heard of those words when I was growing up.  Focus on the Family magazine had a short article entitled, “Remember What’s Important to a Man”.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the article:  1)  Men fear nothing more than failure.   2).  Men are motivated by feeling significant.  3)  Men want to manage their own problems and be “Mr. Fix-It”.  The apostle Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the last days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . “.

A virtue that is fading among men and women in our society, and in our churches today, is humility.  Evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness.  Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.”  A man by the name of John Seldon made this  observation:  “Humility is a virtue that all men preach, but very few practice.”  In the passage of Scripture we are now studying, John 3:22-30, a man is being described by the apostle John, who not only preached humility, but also demonstrated it by his life and by his attitude.  That man is John the Baptist.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 22-24)

Verse 22 says, “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”  Actually, according to John 4:2, Jesus wasn’t doing the baptizing Himself, but His disciples were baptizing under His authority and direction.  In that sense Jesus was involved in the baptism proceedings.  It appears that they were baptizing in the wilderness areas rather than near the city, and may have been moving around the area where they had begun to baptize.

Verse 23 says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”  For a short time, until John the Baptist was put in prison (verse 24), the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped.  From the description given of their locations, they probably weren’t very far from each other.  Since they weren’t far from each other, and were doing identical ministries at the time, it’s a natural tendency to make comparisons and “keep score”, as if they were competing with one another.

John the Baptist had a great deal of popularity because of his preaching and his message.  Luke tells us that “multitudes went out to hear John.”  Matthew tells us that people came to him from Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region beyond the Jordan River.  Some of these people were journeying for several days just to hear John the Baptist preach.

II.  THE PROBLEM (verses 25-26)

The problem was that the crowds around Jesus were growing, and John’s disciples were becoming worried about it.  They didn’t want to see their teacher and leader take second place to anyone else.  Verse 25 reads:  “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.”  At first I wondered what this verse had to do with the verses that follow, but I think it’s beginning to make sense.  The Greek word, katharismou, refers to cleansing or removal of dirt.  To the Jew, baptism was considered a form of cleansing.  They may have been discussing with this Jew about which baptism made you cleaner.  Which baptism had the greater cleansing effect:  the baptism of John or the baptism of Jesus performed by His disciples?  The comparison about their baptisms would lead to comparisons about the two people, John the Baptist and Jesus.  You know how one thing leads to another when you start making comparisons!

Well, it’s time to pass the bad news on to John the Baptist and help him come up with a new marketing strategy.  Off they go.  It says in verse 26. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’.”  They don’t even mention Jesus by name.  I don’t think they are being derogatory.  I think they still don’t know who Jesus is.  To them He is “the new Preacher on the block” who is taking away their teacher’s business.  They have forgotten, or overlooked the fact that John the Baptist had already encouraged at least two of his disciples to follow Jesus, and they did so (John 1:35-39).

III.  JOHN’S RESPONSE (verses 27-30)

A.  A Perspective (verse 27)

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and seeking their help, John the Baptist rejoiced at the popularity of Jesus, and is going to give them reasons to rejoice along with him.  He begins by looking at earthly abilities and earthly success from a heavenly perspective.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  John is saying that all success ultimately comes from the same Source.  If God is the Giver, then we should rejoice, not only over what He gives to us, but also over what He gives to others.  If Jesus and His disciples are being successful, that should bring us joy because God is being glorified through them.

B.  A Reminder (verse 28)

Now John the Baptist reminds them of something he said to them earlier.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but ‘I have been sent before Him’.”  Those words were recorded earlier in chapter 1, verses 20 and 23. 

Leonard Bernstein, the great music composer, arranger, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.  And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” 

Up until this time, John the Baptist was “first fiddle”.  Everyone was coming to listen to him.  But he is reminding his followers that he was called and gifted to be the “forerunner”, the one sent on ahead to get people ready for the “Master Violinist”.  John is saying that it is now his privilege to “change seats” and play alongside Him in harmony and with enthusiasm.  In so doing, the sounds of the Master will be all the more attractive and pleasing to the ears of their listeners as the two of them follow the direction of their Conductor, God the Father in heaven.

C.  An Illustration (verse 29)

John the Baptist now uses the context of marriage to give a very clear and beautiful illustration of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The following are his words in verse 29.  “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  And so this joy of mine has been made full.”  John the Baptist calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”.  It is not his wedding.  His function was to serve the bridegroom.  The closest similarity in my culture would be the “best man”.  I’m going to compare the two roles so that you can see the differences and gain a better understanding of what John the Baptist has said.

Have you ever been the “best man” at a wedding?  If you are married, did you have a “best man” at your wedding?  Being a “best man” is quite an honor, isn’t it?   It is questionable these days just what the responsibilities of the “best man” are.  A classmate of mine was asked to be the “best man” at his friend’s wedding and he had no idea of what he was supposed to do.  So he borrowed a book on etiquette from the library.  He looked up the responsibilities of the “best man” and it said, “help seat the family and friends of the bride and groom, give the ring to the groom during the ceremony, protect the groom’s car”, and when he read the last responsibility he started laughing.  It read, “help the groom dress himself”.  Well, the glorious day of the wedding arrived, and as he and the groom were in the dressing room getting ready, he quickly found out why that responsibility was written in the book.  The groom was so nervous and his hands were shaking so much that my classmate had to button all the buttons on his friend’s tuxedo for him!

In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, the “best man”  was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “shoshben“), and he was in charge of everything:  the preparations for the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, and the reception afterward.  With the exception of the bride and groom, everyone else in the wedding, as well as everyone making preparations for the wedding, answered to him and took orders from him.  The friend of the bridegroom was the most-trusted friend of the bride and groom, and had the responsibility of protecting them and acting as a liaison between them, delivering messages to them from each other.  He also sent out the wedding invitations or personally delivered them himself.  His objective, as he made preparations, was to make this wedding celebration a memorable time of great joy and rejoicing for the bride and groom, their families, and all who were invited.

The friend of the bridegroom’s last and most important responsibility was to protect the bridal chamber.  After the wedding the friend of the bridegroom would open the door to the bridal chamber for the bride to enter and make herself ready for her husband.  He would then station himself at the door to keep any false lovers from entering.  When it became night he would wait and listen for the sound of the bridegroom’s voice, and when he heard it and recognized it, he would let the bridegroom into the chamber and go on his way rejoicing.  The lovers were now together.  His responsibilities as the friend of the bridegroom were now finished.  He could now go to the wedding banquet and enjoy the feast,

D.  An Explanation (the Old Testament Prophets)

Now that we have a basic understanding of a first-century Jewish wedding, let’s see how it applies to John the Baptist.  If he is the friend of the bridegroom, then who are the bride and groom, and when is the wedding?  John the Baptist doesn’t give any details in answer to those two questions because there is no need to do so.  The prophets have already given those details, and because they are Messianic prophecies, his listeners know them very well.  Let’s take a look at them and you will see what I mean.

John the Baptist had already told his disciples that he was the forerunner, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy at the very end of his book.  Now He is telling them that the Messiah is no longer coming – He’s already here and He is the One they are complaining about!  I can just see their eyes widen in amazement as he gives them the news!  Now that marriage-illustration he just used is bringing many prophesies to their minds because the long-awaited Messiah is here.  In several places God refers to Israel, or alludes to Israel, as His bride.  For example, in Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts”.  Isaiah 62:4,5 says, “But you will be called ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘married’. . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”  In Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a harlot as a visual depiction of what Israel has done to Him.  In Hosea 2:19, God tells the people of Israel, “And I will betroth you to Me forever.  Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice.”

It’s obvious from the illustration that John the Baptist uses in verses 28-29 that the groom refers to Jesus Christ.  There is debate, however, about whether the bride he refers to is Israel or the Church.  I’m personally convinced that the bride, in this case, is Israel because he is speaking to Jews, his ministry is to the nation of Israel, he is using the Old Testament as his backdrop, his purpose is to introduce the nation of Israel to their Messiah, and the church-age doesn’t begin until Pentecost (Acts 2).

AN APPLICATION:

Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible:  John 3:30.  After I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and was reading the whole New Testament once a week, this verse, John 3:30 was the first verse that I wrote down on the inside cover of my Bible.  To me, it described the essence of living the Christian life, and I wanted Christ to become more and more evident in my life.  John the Baptist gave that response in Aramaic, and we don’t know what Aramaic words he used.  But I believe that he said those words with a smile on his lips and his face beaming with joy!

In verse 30, John uses a particular word twice.  It’s the English word “must”.  We often think of that word as being negative and unbending.  As you were growing up, do you remember times when your parents used that term when speaking to you?  Was it used when telling you to do something you didn’t like to do or didn’t want to do?  Was the conversation something like this:  “Do I have to? . . . Yes you must!”  Was it one of those “end of conversation” conversations?  In order to keep from getting a wrong understanding of the apostle John’s reasons for using that word, we need to take a close look at the Greek word that has been translated “must”.

The Greek word that is used in verse 30 is dei.  Remember that John is writing these words to a Greek-speaking audience who are influenced by the Greek culture.  In the classical Greek writings the word dei was often associated with fate – an inner compulsion or calling that spurs a person on and brings personal fulfillment.  The word is sometimes used to describe the fulfillment of one’s destiny.  These descriptions may be closer to the meaning of John’s words.  In that case, it would not only be motivated by joy but produce greater personal joy as a result.

There is no clear Hebrew equivalent to this Greek word – no word or phrase that matches it exactly.  So what is the Christian equivalent of the Greek word dei, and the Greek concept of fate?  How do you translate it into Christian terms that we might understand?  Because the God of the Hebrews is an infinite, personal God who is sovereign over all, there was no need for such a thing as fate.  The word “dei” meant the divine plan of God in a person’s life –  “That’s my calling from God”; “That’s the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life”.  God’s plan for John the Baptist was very clear and specific.  It was written in the Old Testament scriptures and it was described to his parents before his birth.  So it was very clear to him that he had now fulfilled his God-given privileges and responsibilities, and that brought him great joy.

We don’t get much of a look at John the Baptist.  There aren’t many words written about Him, but what is written gives us a clear picture of his role in God’s plan of salvation, and his enthusiasm in fulfilling that role.  As the result of studying the person of John the Baptist, I believe that a truly humble person is not a person who tries hard to be humble.  He is not a person who makes it a point to be humble by wearing humble facial expressions, saying humble words and doing humble deeds.   A truly humble person is definitely not a person who considers himself to be humble!

I sincerely believe that a truly humble person doesn’t even think about humility.  The focus of his thoughts and attention is on God and others.  John the Baptist would never admit it, but by his words and his actions he has demonstrated that he is a remarkably humble man.  No wonder the Lord Jesus praised him so highly!

May we find rest for our souls from the One who is “meek and humble in heart” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we also learn from the example of the man whom the Lord Jesus praised above every other man:  John the Baptist.

Please visit other sermons on this site if this message has been of instruction and encouragement to you.  The next construction site, John 3:31-36 will be underway soon.  I hope to see you there.

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!

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF HIMSELF – John 1:19-28

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If each of us were to make a list of some of the most prominent people in the New Testament, several people might come to our minds immediately.  Of course there is the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might think of Paul, and Peter, and John.  One person who may not make it near the top of our lists is John the Baptist.  Jesus, however, puts John the Baptist at the top of His list, and pays Him the highest tribute.

In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist“.  In the next three verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to him as the second Elijah, sent by God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy, and He quotes the following words from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5:  ” Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

The first eighteen verses of John’s gospel are called his “prologue”.  If you open a book, you will often find an introduction, preface, or forward.  It normally establishes the setting and gives some background information to prepare the readers for the rest of the story.  John ends his prologue at verse 18 and now he begins to share a biography of Jesus Christ from his perspective.  He is very detail-oriented, especially when it comes to times and places.

Beginning with verse 19 of John chapter 1, we will be looking into the events of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  From out of the wilderness came a man whose clothing, diet, lifestyle, and message made his hearers think of Elijah, and his message was stirring up the nation of Israel.  The apostle John tells us very little about the message of John the Baptist, and nothing about how he dressed and lived.  He takes it for granted that these facts, which were written down in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, are now general knowledge.  Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judah, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’.”  In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is described as wearing a “garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  Thousands of people came to hear him, and many were being baptized as a sign of their repentance.

I.  QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED (verses 19-22)

In John chapter 1, verses 19-22, John the Baptist fields questions concerning his identity.  He knew his calling very clearly, was pursuing it wholeheartedly, and was ready and willing to answer any questions.  A delegation of priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem in order to get some information from him.  There are two important reasons why this delegation consisted of priests and Levites.  Bible commentator William Barclay explains it very clearly, and these are his words:  “. . . John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.  In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. . . . If he was a descendent of Aaron nothing could stop him from being a priest.  Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.”

This delegation was to ask him the question, “Who are you?”  That’s an interesting question.  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?  It may not have become clear to him until just before he began his public ministry.  We don’t know.  But his parents knew his calling before he was even conceived (Luke 1:13-17).  The angel Gabriel told them, quoting the prophet Malachi’s prophesy.  I can imagine that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were watching and waiting for those words to be fulfilled.

The word translated “ask”, in John 1:19, is a word that was used to make a request of someone who was in a higher position than yourself, such as a person asking for something from God, a child from a parent, or a subject from a king.  It is a word that implies humility and courtesy.  The reason for the use of this word is found in the questions that they ask of him.  When they asked, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist answered the question behind their question by saying, “I am not the Christ”.  Verse 20 says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny” (his answer).  He is saying “I promise you, I assure you of the truth of that statement, and I will not back down from it”.  In our society we might say something like “I swear to God”, or “you have my word for it”.  He doesn’t want there to be any question about the truth of his answer.  In so doing, he passed up the opportunity to impress this delegation by boasting about himself.

But that answer didn’t satisfy the delegation.  They said to him, “What then?” (“ti oun” in Greek).  By using those two words, the delegation was expressing their impatience.  Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and then found yourself in a traffic jam?  As you’re waiting for the traffic to start moving again, have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:  “Come on, let’s get going!  I haven’t got all day!”  I think that’s what this delegation meant when they used the words “what then”.  So they fired some more questions at him.  “Are you Elijah?” 

The Malachi 4:5-6 the Old Testament prophet Malachi said, “Behold I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”  The Jewish leaders were looking forward to the return of Elijah.  They remembered that he did not die physically, but left this earth in a fiery chariot.  So they concluded that the identical person would reappear.  John the Baptist must have looked like Elijah because of the clothes he was wearing.  He must also have sounded like Elijah in his preaching on repentance.  But John the Baptist gives a simple answer:  “No, I am not.”  His answer to them was true.  John was not the Elijah who went up into heaven in a chariot of fire.

Their next question was:  “Are you the prophet”?  The prophet they were referring to was the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  His answer to that question is “no”.  Have you noticed that his answers have been getting shorter with each question?

Finally, in verse 22, the delegation stopped guessing and asked John the Baptist to give his own description of himself.   They needed to have some information to bring back in their report, so they decided to give up their interview-format and preconceived ideas, and allow John the Baptist to control the conversation.  They are no longer demanding information from him; they are pleading for it!

II.  JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF (verses 23-28)

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

What he gives as an answer may have created even more confusion in their minds, but I’m sure that his brief answer was written down word-for-word.  His answer should have been easy for them to remember because John the Baptist quoted Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 as his answer to them.  This quote made by John the Baptist can be found in all four of the gospels.  Here in verse 23 John says, “I AM A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’.”

We need to read Isaiah chapter 40 and see John’s quote in the context of this amazing chapter on the greatness, the sovereignty, the power and the love of God.  We need to see these words of John in the context of God’s mercy, His faithfulness, and His wonderful plans for His people.  The Babylonian captivity is about to occur and Isaiah has been describing God’s condemnation of them for their sins, and the things they are going to experience in captivity.  The Jews at the time of John’s Gospel were under the “captivity” of Rome.  Without that context, we won’t see what John the Baptist wants the nation of Israel to see about their God and about the preparations that need to be made in anticipation of His coming.  The time has come.

As John the Baptist has already said, he is not the Messiah (the Word), but he has the God-given privilege and responsibility of being the “voice”, proclaiming the Word loud and clear.  He spoke in a loud, strong voice, filled with emotion and conviction, so that all would hear him (whether they wanted to or not)!  I was listening to one of Billy Graham’s first crusades at Madison Square Garden.  He was preaching his message at the top of his lungs!  Microphones and sound systems weren’t as powerful and as sophisticated in the mid-1950’s as they are today, and he wanted to make sure everybody heard every word he had to say to them!  His preaching at that crusade gave me a better impression of what John the Baptist must have sounded like.  And he didn’t have any microphones or speakers in his day!  God must have given him a powerful set of lungs and vocal chords!

The words “make straight the way” were a familiar expression in that day.  Before a king would visit a town in his realm, a messenger called a “forerunner” would be sent ahead of him to announce his coming.  This gave the townspeople some time to fix the road, removing any obstacles, and to make themselves presentable to him before his arrival.  John was saying, in effect, “The King of heaven and earth is coming.  Get your hearts cleaned up and your lives prepared to welcome His arrival!”

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

Verse 24 may not seem significant, but John’s wording tells us otherwise.  He says, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Would it come across more clearly if it were translated:  “Oh, by the way, those priests and Levites were sent by the Pharisees.”  Who gave the Pharisees the right to tell the priests and Levites what to do and what to say?  The Pharisees had no authority from God.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated” or “separatist”.  The movement started about 150 B.C., and by the time of Christ, this sect had become a very powerful and corrupt part of the Jewish religious hierarchy, even though they were neither priests nor Levites.

In verse 25 the delegation said to John the Baptist, “Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  They are saying, “Who gave you the authority to baptize?”  The Lord Jesus addressed that question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27.  The chief priests and elders asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”   In reply Jesus asks them a question about John the Baptist.  They were speechless.  Here is a portion of that conversation:  “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” . . . “We do not know”. . . . “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do things.”

When the delegation asked John the Baptist why he was baptizing, they really meant “why are you baptizing Jews?”  In their minds baptism was meant only for Gentiles who wanted to adopt the Jewish faith.  They were angered at the suggestion that they needed repentance and baptism.  In answer to their question, John gives another description of himself.  He describes himself as a lowly servant, not even worthy of such a humble service as untying his Master’s sandals.  That was considered to be one of the most demeaning jobs that a servant could be called upon to do for his master.  Once again John the Baptist turns the focus of the conversation away from himself and onto the Messiah.  He also tells them that the Messiah is already in their midst but they don’t know Him.

CONCLUSION:

If someone asked you the question, “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”, how would you respond?  John’s focus was on the Messiah, and he was a “voice”, preparing the way for the Lord.  His words were “repent and be baptized”.  Jesus’ words in Mark 1:13 were:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Any day now, any moment now, the Lord Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (I Thes. 4:16-17).  God has called Christians to be a “voice”, pointing people to Him.  The message is still the same:  “Repent” – turn from your sins and your control over your life, “believe” in Christ as your Lord and Savior, turning your life over to Him, and “be baptized”, make a public declaration of your faith to your family, friends, and community.  If you haven’t made that decision, there’s no better time than now.  Please, don’t put it off any longer.

Christians, whenever you are tempted to think that you are indispensable to the work of the Lord, remember John the Baptist.  The fact that God uses us is no excuse for pride.  Instead, it is a reminder of Christ’s worth and His glory, and the privilege of being a voice for Him and a light that reflects His glory.  The King is coming!  Let’s let the whole world know before He arrives!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

The blueprint of John 1:29-34 is on the drafting table, the Spirit of God is the Architect overseeing the project, and construction will begin soon.  Hope you will come back again.  God’s Word is a never-ending, construction project, and our lives are “concrete examples” of the effects of working hard on the project.  May we, as His workmen, grow wiser, stronger, and better equipped to serve Him with each working day.