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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

I.  EMPTY OF LOVE (verse 41-42)

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

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

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

II.  FILLED WITH PRIDE (verses 43-44)

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

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

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

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

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

III.  THE CONSEQUENCES (verses 45-47)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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

 

 

 

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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Here in verse 14 of James, chapter 3, James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition . . . “.  Pay close attention to the first four words:  “But if you have”.  James isn’t saying that it’s a possibility.  He’s implying that it is a reality.  James has observed this attitude among believers and he is telling them not to glory in it.

Notice three more words in this verse that need to be kept in mind.  Those three words are:  “in your heart”.  That’s where it begins, isn’t it?  And that’s where it needs to be dealt with.

James is accusing them of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”.  The word “jealousy” is not necessarily a bad word.  We get our English word “zeal” from the Greek word “zelon” that’s used in this verse.  That same word was used of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple of the corruption that was going on inside.  It’s a question of motives.  Jesus’ motive was to glorify the Father.  The jealousy that James is referring to is a “bitter jealousy”.  The word “bitter” is the Greek word “pikron”  which means “sharp”, “piercing”.  The sound of the Greek word, “pikron” brings to my mind the image of an ice pick.  The jealous person is pictured as jabbing his rival with it and enjoying the pain and agony that he is inflicting.

Such a jealous person is excessively concerned about himself and resents the good fortune of others.  We all have problems with envy at times, don’t we?  Even if it’s not obvious on the outside, it’s happening on the inside.  We may even envy the success of others when we are successful ourselves.

There’s a legend about a successful Burmese potter who had become envious of the prosperity of a washerman (a laundryman or cleaner).  Determined to put this man out of business, the potter convinced the king to issue an order requiring the man to wash one of the king’s black elephants and make it white.

The washerman replied that according to the rules of his vocation he would need a vessel large enough to hold the elephant, whereupon the king commanded the potter to provide one.  So the potter constructed a giant bowl and had it carefully delivered to the washerman.  But when the elephant stepped into it, it crumbled to pieces beneath the weight of the enormous beast.

More vessels were made, but each was crushed in the same way.  Eventually it was the potter who was put out of business by the very scheme he had devised to ruin the man he envied.

This is a very abbreviated version of the story.  There are many versions of the full story.  My favorite is the one written by Pam Hopper and illustrated by Allan Eitzen. Type “The Potter and the Washerman” into your web browzer and you will see it.  It is a very amusing story with a good moral lesson to it.  You can even find it acted out on UTube.  Enjoy!

So “bitter jealousy” is an excessive concern for oneself, and a resentment for the good fortune of another.  Bible expositor and theologian, William Barclay, had this to say about “bitter jealousy” or envy:  “As long as we think of our own prestige, our own importance, our own reputation, and our own rights, we will always be envious.”

James also accused his readers of “selfish ambition”.  The Greek word is actually a political term.  It can also be translated “party spirit”, “rivalry”, or “faction”.  It was used to refer to rival schools of thought in the political arena who were heaping abuse on each other.  You’ve probably heard the term “mud slinging” used to refer to these kinds of tactics.  We are getting very close to an election year here in America, and potential candidates are already canvassing for votes.  Have you received any such mail lately?  You will very soon!

James’ admonition to those with jealousy and selfish ambition is to “stop being arrogant and so lie against the truth”.  Verse 14 is a sequence of events.  Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary of James, calls it a “chain of events”.  He says:  “First there is selfish ambition, which leads to a party spirit and rivalry.  In order to ‘win the election’ we must resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves lies.”

If you should find yourself at the first “link” of envy, or you’re aleady adding links to it, stop now, confess your sin to God and ask for His wisdom and strength before you get wrapped up in those chains and drag others down along with you!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  A WORK IN PROGRESS!

Please come back and visit again soon.  I don’t want to be the only one having fun!  There is much more to learn!  You are welcome to visit the other sermons on this site.  Thank you for visiting!  I would enjoy hearing from you.

 

THE TRUE MINISTER – I Corinthians 4:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

How do you evaluate a pastor?  All kinds of criteria have been used to determine who are the most successful, the most influential, the most gifted, and the most effective ministers.  Some magazines take surveys and write extensive reports, ranking pastors by church membership, attendance at worship services, sizes of church staff and Sunday school, academic and honorary degrees, books and articles written, numbers of messages given at conferences and conventions, and so on.  As popular as this practice may be, it may not always be true to God’s Word.

I Corinthians 4:1-5 focuses on the true nature and marks of God’s ministers.  Paul is not speaking here of the traditional concept of a full-time employee of a church who  is hired to do the preaching, the teaching, and the counseling, as well as officiate at other church functions.  This concept is unknown in the New Testament.  It came into the church only within the past 500 years.  A minister of Christ in the New Testament was anyone, “anyone”, who, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, was a preacher or a teacher of the Word of God.  That is what Paul is talking about here.  And Paul gives basic guidelines and standards by which ministers are to minister and be evaluated.  He also gives us the characteristics of a true minister.

I.  THE IDENTITY OF THE MINISTER (verse 1)

In verse 1, the first characteristic Paul gives us is the identity of the minister.  When Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner”, he is referring to all men, both Christians and non-Christians.  He wants them to see God’s ministers according to what God has called them to be, that is, “servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The word “servants” is a translation of the Greek word “huperetes”, which literally means “under-rowers”.  Everyone in Corinth understood what that word meant.  Corinth was where the war ships of the Roman Empire crossed the isthmus that separated the Ionian Sea from the Aegean Sea, and the Corinthians knew that the lowest deck was the place where the lowest class of slaves sat.  Then, on a little deck, raised up about them all so that all could see him, was the captain of the ship.  It was the rowers’ task to row according to what he said.  If he wanted the ship to move,  then they were to row.  If he wanted them to stop, they were to stop instantly.  Their whole business was to obey his orders.  That is the word that Paul chooses to describe those who are teachers, preachers, and ministers of the Word of God within the congregation of the church.  They are “under-rowers” of Christ.

A young pastor at a pastor’s conference once asked an older pastor whom he respected, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?  My church board called me in and said to me, ‘Look, there are some things we want you to understand.  One is that this is our church;  it is not your church.  We were here before you came and we are going to be here when you leave.  Therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.’  What would you say to a church like that?”  The other pastor told him that he would call together the elders of the church and would say to them, “Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors.  One, you think this is your church, but it is the Lord’s church.  Churches belong to Him.  They do not belong to the people.  They are not a democracy, owned by the people.  Jesus said, ‘On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’  So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church and it is His work to tell us what He wants the church to be, and not our job to tell Him what we think it ought to be.”

“The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not.  I did not come on that basis.  I have joined you to share the ministry with you.  I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside and given me support from the congregation so that I don’t have to spend time earning a living but can devote my full time to the study of God’s Word, and to the ministry of preaching and teaching His Word.  If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere.  I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.”

He went back to his church, shared these principles with them, and they fired him.  But now he has another church, and he made his stand clear from the beginning, and things are working out very well with him.  So, to look first of all at men’s needs is to fail men as well as to fail the Lord.  A minister who becomes so occupied with counseling and helping his congregation and community that he spends little time in the Word is unable to meet those people’s deepest needs.  To serve Christ is to serve His Word, which is the revelation of His will.  As a servant of Christ, his function is to obey God’s commands as revealed in His Word, serving Him with all humility.

Ministers of the Gospel are also “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  The word for steward is “oikonomos”, meaning “housekeeper”.  When you are on an airplane you find a stewardess or a steward who serves coffee, tea, milk, and other beverages, as well as serving a tray of food at the proper time.  They are entrusted with certain valuable commodities which they are responsible to give you.

A minister of Christ, whoever he or she may be within a congregation, is to be a steward entrusted with what Paul calls “the mysteries of God”.  These are the secret truths and the hidden wisdom which can only be found in God’s Word and nowhere else.  As a steward of God’s mysteries, a minister is to take God’s revealed Word and dispense it to God’s household, so that lives are changed and are lived on the basis of these remarkable truths.  A preacher or teacher’s concern should not be to please his hearers or to dispense his own views.  As the apostle Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”

II.  THE REQUIREMENT OF A MINISTER (verse 2)

In verse 2, Paul says that the most important requirement of a good steward is that he be trustworthy or faithful.  God does not require brilliance or cleverness or creativity or popularity.  He can use servants with those qualities, but only trustworthiness is absolutely essential.  So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?”, or “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?”  The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?”

God supplied His Word, His Spirit, His gifts, and His power.  All that the minister can supply is his faithfulness in using those resources for God’s glory.  George Washington Carver once asked the Lord to tell him all about the universe.  According to Carver, the Lord said, “George, the universe is just too big for you to understand.  Suppose you let me take care of that.”  Humbled, George Carver replied, “Lord, how about a peanut?”  The Lord said, “Now, George, that’s something your own size.  Go to work on it and I’ll help you.”  George discovered over 300 uses for peanuts, and he helped farmers by showing them how to take care of the soil.  Carver used what little he had, and God rewarded his faithfulness.

III.  EVALUATION OF A MINISTER (verses 3,4)

In verses 3 and 4, Paul uses his own situation as an example of the evaluation of the minister.  Paul is not bragging or placing himself above other ministers, or above any other Christian.  What he said about his own attitude about himself should be said by every minister and every Christian.  It should be “a small thing” to any of us when our ministry or our spiritual life is examined by other Christians or “by any human court”.  The word “examined” means “to investigate, question, evaluate”.  It does not mean to determine guilt or innocence.

It is important to remind ourselves that in the spiritual realm, outward appearance means nothing.  You cannot fool God!  That’s what Paul emphasizes here.  He declares that he is not concerned about the judgment people place upon him and his work.  This doesn’t mean that a sincere word of appreciation from others or a helpful criticism can’t be useful and even a blessing.  But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are, or whether he is working within the Lord’s will.  Because their knowledge and understanding of his motives are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect.

In fact, Paul says that even his own evaluation of himself isn’t really important.  What matters is the Lord’s verdict.  A person can do things that make him look good before men, and in the process even fool himself into thinking he is pleasing the Lord;  yet, in reality, he may be motivated by selfishness and greed.  Men see only the outward deeds and may be favorably impressed, but God sees the intentions of the heart.  Therefore He alone can judge with complete fairness.

There is the story of a young composer whose music was being performed.  He kept his eye fixed intently on one man in the audience, watching every expression that appeared on his face.  It was his teacher.  He cared more for the slightest mark of favor on his face than for all the applause of the large audience.  In our own lives as well, we should watch the face of Christ, as mirrored in His Word, caring only that He should be pleased.

Whenever you are tempted to speak insincerely, or do a good deed only for the praise of men, remember that the Father in Heaven is watching.  In His sight it’s what you really are that counts.  God alone is the judge of the true spiritual value of our service.

IV.  GOD’S EVALUATION (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul looks ahead to God’s evaluation of His people.  Paul tells us not to go on passing judgment before the time.  We need to remember that our brothers and sisters in the faith are at different stages of growth and come from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Conversion to Christ is just the beginning, and a lifetime of replacing old thoughts, attitudes, habits, and actions with new ones follows after it, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who continually works to change us.   We must take the time to understand people, get to know them, learn their backgrounds, and ask for God’s wisdom to discern each one’s stage of spiritual development.  We should never draw hasty conclusions.

God has a day when He will “bring to light the things hidden in the darkness”.  I do not believe “things hidden in the darkness” refers to sins or anything evil, but simply to things presently unknown to us.  We know from this Scripture that the rewards and praise that God will give to his servants will not be based on the degrees behind our names, the numbers we have preached to, taught or witnessed to.  It will also not be based on the programs we have planned and directed, the books we have written, or even the number of converts won to Christ through us.  It will be based on one thing alone:  the motives of our hearts.

According to a legend, a desert wanderer found a crystal spring of unsurpassed freshness.  The water was so pure that he decided to bring some to his king.  Barely satisfying his own thirst, he filled a leather bottle with the water and carried it many days beneath the desert sun before he reached the palace.  When he finally laid his offering at the feet of his king, the water had become stale because of the old container in which it had been stored.  But the king would not let his faithful subject even imagine that it was unfit for use.  He tasted it with expressions of gratitude and delight, and the loyal man went away with a heart filled with gladness.  After he had gone, others sampled the water and expressed their surprise that the king had even pretended to enjoy it.  “Ah”, he said, “it was not the water I tasted, but the love that prompted the offering.”

Our service to God may be marked by many imperfections, but the Master looks at our motives.  He rejoices in our loyal actions, no matter what others may think of them.

Have you become discouraged in your work for the Lord?  Remember the parable of the water and let it motivate you to keep on serving the King of Kings, being faithful to Him and His Word.  Someday your faithful efforts will receive God’s praise.  What is done for Christ now will be rewarded in eternity.