WHEN FAMILIARITY BRED CONTEMPT – John 4:43-44

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INTRODUCTION:

The story is told about a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer.  When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog.  And whenever the moon shines it goes outside and barks all night.”  Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject.  Finally someone asked, “But judge, what about the dog and the moon?”  “Oh”, he replied, “the moon kept on shining –  that’s all.”

Most of us have sayings that we tend to use when the situation is appropriate.  I mentioned one proverbial saying in my previous message:  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  Other sayings that come to mind are:  “Birds of a feather flock together”, “That’s the way the ball bounces”, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, and the one I used as the title for this message  (“Familiarity breeds contempt.”)  Do you have favorite sayings that you use, or that come to your mind?

The Lord Jesus and His disciples have left Sychar, Samaria after the revival that occurred there, and they are headed north for the region of Galilee.  As verse 43 says, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.”  What follows in verse 44 is a proverbial saying that Jesus gives to His disciples.  “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”  It is significant that those words spoken by Jesus (“A prophet has no honor in his own country“) are recorded in all four Gospels, and may have been said at different times and with different results .  The other three passages of Scripture where those words are recorded are Matthew 13:54-57, Luke 4:21-24, and Mark 6:1-4.  Those three passages of Scripture give us more information, and a better understanding of Jesus’s reason for using that phrase, so we will be studying all three passages of Scripture and bringing all that information together.  I think that there is much that we can learn and apply from those few words that Jesus may have repeated to them several times.  Studying all four passages may also answer our questions and explain the “mystery” behind those repeated statements.

I.  “A PROPHET” (John 4:44a)

When He said those two words (“A prophet”), Jesus was asserting that His proverbial saying has been true of all the prophets of God.  Is there any evidence to affirm this?  We see many cases in the Old Testament where the people of Israel tried to kill the prophets.  So we see that Jesus’ saying did occur.  The prophet Jeremiah, however, agrees with the Lord Jesus and puts his experiences into words, in Jeremiah 2:19, describing what his own people, the people of Judah, were trying to do to him.  “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit; and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’ “

One of the prophets who may have been scorned because of his profession was the prophet Amos.  He is described as being a farmer and a grower of sycamore figs.  I can hear their jeers in my mind:  “Amos?  Isn’t he the farmer?  What makes that fig-picker think he has the right to tell us what to do?”

The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet, and He is a prophet.  But He is also much more than a prophet.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and by His forerunner, John the Baptist.  He deserved not only honor but also worship, adoration and obedience.

II.  “HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY”  (verse 44b)

Here in John’s Gospel, these words are not given as a direct quote from Jesus, but as a reference to a quote made by Him.  As they are passing by, or passing through the city of Nazareth on their way to Cana in Galilee, those words of Jesus come back to his John’s mind.  John may be saying those words as an explanation for why Jesus did not stop there, or spend any time in Nazareth as they were passing by it on this trip.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, this saying is given as a direct quote from Jesus, and the settings and reasons for His response are also given.  Luke’s Gospel reads:  “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up . . . . went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day . . . was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . . . ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.”  Their response:  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  That’s a snide remark if I’ve heard one!  “How can Joseph’s son from our own community dare to make the claim that He is the Messiah?”  Beside the fact of the family’s low income, there may also have been the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child because of the virgin birth.  That’s the way it is in some small towns, even in that day!  When Jesus reminds them that the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed miracles for Gentile people outside the nation of Israel, the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff!  (Luke 4:16-30)

III.  HIS OCCUPATION AND FAMILY (Matthew 13 and Mark 6)

In Matthew 13:54-57, just before Jesus quotes that proverb, the Gospel writer Matthew records these words:  “And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this man all these things?’  And they took offence at Him.”

Notice that twice they address the Lord Jesus as “this man”.  He’s a “home-town boy” and they won’t even address Him by His name!  They’ve also added more ammunition to their insults!  They won’t mention His name but they mention the names of His family members.  I call this tactic of theirs “guilt by association”.  They can’t find sin or imperfections in Jesus’ life and character so they mention the names of all His family members.  They can recall sins and imperfections in their lives, so Jesus must be the same way since He’s one of the family, and sinfulness “runs in their family”, so to speak!

As bad as those insults are in Matthew’s Gospel, it gets even worse in Mark’s Gospel.  A couple more insults are slipped into the conversation and one of them is the worst insult of them all!  Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?”  They call Jesus a “carpenter”.  This is the only place in the Bible that refers to Jesus’ occupation before beginning His public ministry.  The Greek word is tekton, and we get our English words “technical”, “technician”, “technique”, and “architect” from forms of that word.  He was basically a handyman, working  with wood, stone, and metal to build whatever needed to be built and fix whatever needed fixing.  He worked hard, got His hands dirty, and is an example to all who are in a trade, in the construction business, or in technical professions.  In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  The literal Greek says, “MY YOKE FITS WELL”.  As a handyman/carpenter, the Lord Jesus must have built many yokes for oxen.  I’m sure that farmers from miles around asked Jesus to come, measure, build and fit yokes for their oxen because He did the job so well – 100% satisfaction guaranteed!

But His profession was looked down upon by the rabbis and leaders.  They despised Him because He was a working man.  But their worst insult follows right after his occupation.  They called Jesus “the son of Mary”.   A man was never described or addressed as the son of his mother, even if she was a widow.  It was intended by them to be an insult, stating that He really was an illegitimate child.  This time their intent was clear.  Now the apostle John’s words in John 1:11 ring out loud and clear:  “He (Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

CONCLUSION:

Criticism seems to be a favorite pastime among many people in this day and age.  The temptation to compare and criticize is always present, asking for permission to pass from our minds to our mouths.  Here is one example.  Two taxidermists stopped before a window in which an owl was on display.  They immediately began to criticize the way it was mounted.  It’s eyes were not natural; its wings were not in proportion with its head; its feathers were not neatly arranged; and its feet could be improved.  When they had finished with their criticism, the old owl turned his head . . . and winked at them!

The two specialists thought they were criticizing the owl’s taxidermist, when in actuality, they were criticizing the owl’s Creator!  It’s easy to criticize from the outside, looking in.  Why not go inside, leaving your prejudices and your biases behind, and view the real thing from all sides and angles, having all your questions answered.  Your perceptions might change drastically!

If we are children of God through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have critics, especially among unsaved family members.  But we ought to live in such a way that no one will believe our critics, and pray that some day, by the grace of God, our critics won’t believe their criticisms of us anymore either.

May we be so deeply rooted in the Word of God and so closely tied together in our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, that the winds of criticism won’t take us off-course, no matter how strong they blow and no matter which direction they come from.  May we continue to shine like the moon in spite of all the “howling and barking” that goes on when we are present.

 

 

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

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               THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SERPENT ON THE POLE

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.  THE NEW TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION (verse 14b)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

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

 

 

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.  CHRIST’S SUFFICIENCY (verse 16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRIST’S FULLNESS BY COMPARISON (verse 17)

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

 

 

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

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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I.  HE BECAME FLESH

John chapter 1, verse 14, is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring verses in the Bible.  It reveals a mystery that we can’t comprehend with our finite minds.  The apostle John has been saying that the “Logos”, the “Word”, used by the Greeks to describe the force that created the universe and holds it together, is actually the Creator-God.  Now he is saying, in verse 14, that this Creator-God “became flesh”.  The verb is in the aorist tense, signifying an action that took place at a point in time.  By “becoming flesh” the Word became something that He previously was not. He not only assumed a human body, but took on the whole nature of man:  body, soul, and spirit.  He took on our limitations.  Romans 8:3 says that He took on “the likeness of sinful flesh”, but “He knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21).  Martin Luther said of Jesus, “He sunk Himself into human flesh”.  That’s a long way to sink!

In his book entitled “Miracles”, British author C.S. Lewis uses several illustrations to try to depict the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  His illustration of the diver is somewhat similar to the previous statement made by Martin Luther.

“Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing downward through green and warm water into  black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping precious thing that he went down to recover.  He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light; down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”

As we consider the incarnation, let’s be reminded that Jesus Christ was not a created being.  He is the Creator, but He chose to become part of His creation at a specific place and time in human history.  His essence, divine nature, and oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit did not change.  We cannot understand how this can be, but we can accept it by faith.

One of the early church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, expressed his amazement.  He said that in his pre-Christian days he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.  To the Greeks that was impossible and ridiculous.

II.  HE DWELT AMONG US

Here in verse 14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by the Gospel writer Luke.  He “dwelt among us”.  The Greek word translated “dwell” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”.  He “tabernacled among us” is another way to put it.  The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen.  The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside.  There was no beauty in its outward appearance.  So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ was a hidden glory.  When He came to pitch his tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil His glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place.  It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness and until the temple of Solomon was built (Exodus 24:8; 40:34-35; I Kings 8:10-12).  It’s interesting to note that the people of Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

III.  WE BEHELD HIS GLORY

Years ago an old pioneer journeyed westward across the Great Plains of North America until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  He gawked at the sight before him – a vast chasm 1 mile deep, 18 miles across, and stretching out of sight.  He gasped, “Something must have happened here!” (Our Daily Bread, 12/22/02)

Something even more amazing happened when the Creator-God came to His earth in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures declare it and changed lives continue to provide evidence for His birth, life, death, and resurrection.

John says, “we beheld His glory”.  This may bring to your minds the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness.  When the pillar of cloud that guided them by day would begin to settle down, there the sons of Israel would camp.  Once the tabernacle was set up, the cloud would settle over the tabernacle (Numbers 9).  Exodus chapter 40 describes the glory of the Lord.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The apostle John knew this information since childhood, having grown up in a Jewish home.  But John and the other disciples had the privilege of witnessing this glory in the Person of Jesus Christ for about three years.  “The Word” was not an abstract concept but a real Person.  John begins his first epistle with these words:  “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life.”

John, Peter, and James were with Jesus when He was transfigured before them.  His garments became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Him and were talking to Him (Mt. 17; Mk. 9).  What a spectacle that must have been!  But John is writing here about the inner glory that he saw in the Lord Jesus.

John was the “beloved disciple”, the one who knew Jesus so intimately.  He describes Jesus as One who was “full of grace and truth”.  This is a Hebrew expression for the fullness of the revelation of God.  “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The words “grace and truth” would probably bring to the minds of his Jewish readers two passages of Scripture from the book of Exodus.  One of them is in Exodus 33, and the other in chapter 34.  God tells Moses once again to make two stone tablets and meet with Him again on Mount Sinai.  Moses makes this request of God in Exodus 33:18:  “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!”  In responding to Moses, God first describes Himself to Moses.  Then He  responds to Moses’ request and describes Himself more fully.  I think you will gain a greater understanding of the meaning of grace as a result of reflecting upon God’s description of Himself.  This is what God says in Exodus 33:19 and in 34:6:  “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. , , , Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.’ “

I believe that the Lord Jesus demonstrated those qualities of God in His character and His actions while He was here on this earth.  I also believe that the apostle John is purposely using the words “full of grace and truth” to connect his description of Christ in his Gospel with God’s description of Himself in the Old Testament Scriptures.  The best Person to give an accurate description of God is God Himself, and He has been gracious enough to do so through various means.

In the next passage of Scripture, verses 15-18, John will be elaborating on the words of verse 14 more fully.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading and re-reading a poem written by Marv and Marbeth Rosenthal entitled:  “Mary Had The Little Lamb”.  It briefly describes the Person, life and ministry of Jesus Christ from beginning to end.  If you’ve never read this poem before, I encourage you to read it several times.  If you are familiar with the poem, please read it again.  Here it is:

Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before His birth
Self-existent Son of God, from heaven He came to earth.
Micah 5:2

Mary had the little Lamb; see Him in yonder stall–
Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall.
Isaiah 7:14

Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God;
Everywhere the Father led, His feet were sure to trod.
John 6;38

Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree,
The rejected Son of God, He died to set men free.
I Peter 1:18-19

Mary had the little Lamb — men placed Him in the grave,
Thinking they were done with Him; to death He was no slave!
Matthew 28:6

Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is He,
All work on earth is ended, our Advocate is be.
Hebrews 4:14-16

Mary had the little Lamb — mystery to behold!
From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold.
Revelation 5:5,6

When the Day Star comes again, of this be very sure,
It won’t be Lamb-like silence, but with the Lion’s roar.
Psalm 2:12
Revelation 19:11-16

May you experience the meaning of the grace and truth that are in Christ Jesus; and may you experience the joy and peace that come as a result of knowing Him personally, depending upon Him completely, and giving Him all the glory.

 

 

 

 

BE PATIENT LIKE THE FARMER – JAMES 5:7-8

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INTRODUCTION:

Are you a patient person – both on the outside and on the inside?  Do you mind standing in long lines?  Are you unperturbed when listening to long commercials on your TV or radio, or long, automated ads on the telephone?  Are you content when put on hold for an undetermined amount of time?  If your honest answer is “yes”, you are, by far, an exception to the rule!

In 2006, a survey of more than 2000 adults revealed that most peope take an average of 17 minutes to lose their patience when waiting in line.  Also, most people lose their patience in only 9 minutes when on hold on the phone. Impatience is a common trait; wouldn’t you agree?

TRANSITION:

James has finished his verbal chastening of the selfish, unrighteous rich people, and is continuing where he left off in his address to the churches.  We see the transition in verse 7, where James now calls his readers and listeners “brethren”. He is writing once again to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

I.  THE EXHORTATION (vs. 7a)

He has been telling the wicked rich people what to do before they meet their Maker.  Now he is telling his fellow-believers what their attitude should be in their present circumstances in order to prepare to meet their Lord and Savior.  He reiterates what he said in chapter 1, verse 12:  “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  In this letter, James has brought to their minds many passages from the Old Testament, and I believe he is doing so again.  One Old Testament passage of Scripture which closely parallels his words is Psalm 37. In verses 7-9 of Psalm 37, King David writes:  “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret for him who prospers in his way, because of him who carries out wicked schemes.”  Then David says in verse 9, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”

This exhortation is repeated several times in Psalm 37.  I encourage you to read the whole psalm to get the full effect of what David is saying there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

James also gives this encouragement in verse 7 in order to protect his readers and listeners from their own selfish plans and boastful attitudes (James 4:13-17).  Some of them have been setting up their own timetable for what they want to accomplish for themselves, and have been boasting about it to others.

When James uses the words “until the coming of the Lord”, he may be reminding himself of the Lord Jesus’ words to him and the other disciples:  “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also”  (John 14:1-3). That’s a wonderful promise for us to cling to as well, in these troublesome times! The early church believed that Christ could come at any moment, and that was a source of joy and encouragement in their trials.  Two centuries have passed, but Christ could still come at any moment.  Are you excited about that possibility?  It could become a reality at any moment!

II.  THE EXAMPLE (vs. 7b)

James says, “take a good look at the farmer as an example of patience (long-suffering)”.  The farmer has a lot of work to do, and he also must wait for things to happen in his fields and orchards.  Plants take time to grow and fruit takes time to ripen.  As his readers and listeners know, in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, God made a promise to the nation of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land.  “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain . . . “.  In Israel the early rain, or autumn rain, comes in October and November, after the ground has been prepared and the seed has been sown.  This rain enables the seed to germinate, produce sprouts, and grow to almost full height.  The late rain, or spring rain, comes in March or April, when the buds have formed, and enables the grain to mature for the harvest.  It’s important that the farmer follows this timetable set forth by God if he wants an abundant harvest.  There is a time of patiently waiting for the autumn rain to arrive, for the spring rain to arrive, and for the harvesting to begin, but the farmer is kept busy preparing and repairing the equipment and the barns, and getting the laborers ready for the coming harvest.  The time goes by quickly because the farmer is committed to his tasks and excited about the harvest to come.

III.  THE EXHORTATION (verse 7b)

James encourages his readers and listeners to have the same attitude of perseverance and expectancy as the farmer that he has just described.  There are, and have been, times in our lives that have tested our patience and posed a threat to our devotion to God and service for Him.  There have also been times when we have wanted to get things done in a hurry just to get them over with!  19th-century preacher A.B. Simpson offers this advice:  “Beloved, have you ever thought that someday you will not have anything to try you, or anyone to vex you again?  There will be no opportunity in heaven to learn or to show the spirit of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering.  If you are to practice these things, it must be now.”  Each day offers countless opportunities to learn patience.  Let’s not waste them.

A PERSPECTIVE FROM ABOVE

I’m going to carry this illustration of the farmer a step further because both the Old and New Testaments do so.  It is a clear, powerful, and exciting realization and motivation for us today.  I have already shared scriptures concerning the early and late rains as found in the old testament.  But there is another image that James may be trying to convey, and this image may be coming to the minds of his readers and listeners.  It is the image of God as the patient Farmer, the Cultivator, the Planter, the Nurturer, the Pruner, and the Harvester in the lives of His people.

King David says to God is Psalm 65:9-10:  “Thou dost visit the earth and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it.  The stream of God is full of water. Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth.  Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges.  Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth.”  He describes God as doing the whole work of the farmer.

Psalm 121 gets more personal.  “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is the shade at your right hand.  The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from every evil.  He will keep your soul.”  As the farmer takes good care of his land and crops, so the Lord takes constant care of His people.

A song that I sing to myself almost every day is the hymn, “God Will Take Care Of You”.  Now I’m beginning to realize why this song is so special to me.  The words. “God will take care of you” are repeated over and over again with different melodies.  Singing the song brings a smile to my face and an assurance that those words are really true.  It reminds me that when I was a little child, my mother used a similar method to calm me down and help take away the fear or the pain I was experiencing.  She would hold me close, rock me in her arms, and say, “It’s OK, Tommy . . . It’s alright . . . I love you . . . You’re going to be alright . . .  It’s gonna go away . . . You’re going to be OK.”  Does that bring back memories?  Those repeated words brought comfort to me, and helped take my mind off the problem.  In a similar way, God tells us over and over again in the Scriptures that He loves us and will take care of us.

Isaiah 30:18 reflects the patience of a farmer.  “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you.  And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”  “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightul plant.”  If God is waiting, that means He is also watching, and with joyful anticipation!

The Lord Jesus echoed the words in the psalms and prophets when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . by this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:5,8).

We believers in the Lord Jesus are God’s vineyard, God’s field.  We are the fertile ground which God has prepared.  He has planted the seed of His Word in us, watered it, and caused it to germinate and grow.  He has provided for everything, filled us with His Spirit, and taken care of everything in our lives.  Now He is waiting patiently for you and I to cooperate with Him so that we might bear much fruit before He comes again. The seed is in that fruit to bear more fruit.  God wants us to depend upon His enabling, follow His example of working and waiting on Him, and so prove to be His disciples.  You are equal to the task because He is the “Lord of the Harvest”, and He has called you to be His laborers.  The coming of the Lord is very soon!

“For you are God’s fellow-workers: you are God’s field”  (I Corinthians 3:9).  May you experience the Lord’s care for you, and may your lives bear much fruit for the Lord!

I’m moving on to a new construction site:  James 5:9-11.  Hope to see you there once construction begins!  This work-in-progress must go on until He comes!  Or until I go to Him – whichever comes first!  May the Lord of the Harvest bear fruit in your life today as you abide in Him!  (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

 

 

 

 

  

 

ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10 (Continued)

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Welcome back to James 4:1-10!  I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section.  We are now studying verses 5-10.  Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret.  No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers.  Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations.  Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?  (KJV)

Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?  (RSV)

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels.  Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.

That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5.  There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter.  There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words.  This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.

So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it?  I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole.  He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture.  Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:

Or do you think that vainly the scripture says:  to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you?  (Greek Interlinear New Testament)

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?

James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds.  That was part of their upbringing.  But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives.  So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel.  Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”?  James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!

A psalm of David comes to mind.  At the end of his song, David says,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers.  They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!

In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement:  “But he gives more grace” (NIV).  The word translated “more”  actually means “greater”.  As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness.  As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,  Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV).  I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half.  But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride?  A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:

“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.”  Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary:  “BEND OR BUMP!”

I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height.  One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door.  I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames.  Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head.  I was tempted to wear a helmet!  Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance.  Then a wonderful thing happened!  I didn’t have to think about it any longer.  Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God!  However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!

We are never humble enough, are we?  Humility is something we are to ask for from God.  But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!

Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test?  Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you?  Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit?  Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?

Second, can you pass the sincerity test?  A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!”  Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be.  You have nothing to be proud of!”  At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t?  Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!”  This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.

Third, how would you score in the criticism test?  Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings?  What if someone rebukes you?  Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself?  Do you retaliate by finding fault with others?  Or do you remain meek and unruffled?

Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they?  And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean.  His standard is perfection, not “above average”.

In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives.  James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children.  James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother.  The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance.  We don’t know.  But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children.  He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.

In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first.  The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term.  It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”.  God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.

Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan.  I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable.  The result was an outburst of anger on my part.  There was no excuse for it.  Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God?  Do you still maintain control over areas of your life?  The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”.  (Luke 22:42)  You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often:  “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”

The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half.  It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Ephesians 4:27 says:  “Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.”  Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world.  The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history.  The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures.  That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.

Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter.  He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8).  The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God.  When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation.  So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again.  Then I went to sleep.  In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.

Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience.  A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”  However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all.  At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him.  For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil.  Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!”  In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.

Has the devil been troubling you?  If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God.  Put on the “full armor of God”.  Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.

Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent.  Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written:  “Draw near to God!”  “And He will draw near to you!”  Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture?  I sure am!

I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result.  I also hope you have someone  with whom you can be brutally honest.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?

The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God.  In Exodus 19:22  Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying:  ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”  God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.

In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse.  James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!”  When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean?  Can you remember being shown how to do it properly?  I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists.  Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel.  The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain.  We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean.  In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.

James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”!  If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”

The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner.  Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers.  No wonder James is so upset!  They profess to be godly but their actions deny it.  He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world.  So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes.  Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.”  King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?  Or who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)

Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you?  You may be familiar with this accrostic:  ACTS.  It stands for:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers.  Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS:  CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication.  You cat-lovers might like that!  And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.

When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39).  God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.

Are you double-minded or single-minded?  An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.  Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God?  Be honest!  God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it?  It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29).  So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.

The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”.  But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel:  “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.  (Joel 2:12).  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is:  “Don’t take sin lightly”.  Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.

James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he?  There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet!  It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him.  But that’s not all he hurled at him!  Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16.  “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!

When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.”  (II Samuel 16:5-14).  David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly.  Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it?  Especially for a king and his army!  But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.

In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses.  He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself?  Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way?  “I can do better than that!”  “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!”  James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life.  We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.

The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  Self is a god, isn’t it?  And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today.  How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud?  Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled?  The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them.  Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses.  Moody said:  “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finallyhe spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He.  Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him.  Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?

We live in an “instant society”.  There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything.  But there’s no such thing as instant humility.  There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie  that can make you humble.  And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness.  As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV)  But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?

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This work-in-progress is progressing.  I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also.  There is much more work to be done!  I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way.  Keep your hard hats on!  If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient.  I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before.   The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress.  He has His blueprints in hand!  Thank you for visiting this construction site.  Please come back soon!

 

EVIDENCE FOR CHRIST’S RESURRECTION – I Corinthians 15:1-11

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INTRODUCTION:

The most extensive treatment of the doctrine of the resurrection in all of Scripture is found here in I Corinthians 15.  Verse 1 tells us that the doctrinal problem in the church at Corinth was not their disbelief in the resurrection of Christ.  Their confusion was concerning their own resurrection from the dead.  In verses 1-11 Paul reviews the evidence for Christ’s resurrection so that he could later show how their own hope for resurrection is tied to the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Paul gives us five evidences here for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I.  THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH (verses 1-2)

Paul’s first evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the Corinthian Church, the recipients of this letter.  The fact that these Corinthian Christians had received the Gospel message, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were living changed lives, is a strong evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  Every group of believers across the face of the earth that meets together for worship is evidence that Jesus Christ is alive and is building His church.

II.  THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES (verses 3-4)

The second evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the Old Testament Scriptures.  They clearly predicted Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures to identify Himself as their risen Lord.  For example, Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”.  Psalm 22:16-18 is one of the Scripture passages that prophesies Christ’s crucifixion, and Psalm 16:10 prophesies His resurrection.  The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death for all time.”

III.  THE TESTIMONY OF EYE-WITNESSES (verses 5-7)

The third evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ.  The list given in verses 5-7 is not exhaustive, but includes those who were most prominent in the Church at that time.  Peter is mentioned, as well as the twelve apostles, more than 500 brethren at one time and place, James, and all the apostles over a period of 40 days.  A prominent lawyer, Sir Edward Clarke, did a prolonged study of the resurrection of Christ.  He said, “To me, the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court, I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly as compelling.”

IV.  THE APOSTLE PAUL (verses 8-10)

The fourth evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of the writer himself:  the apostle Paul.  He refers to himself as “one untimely born”.  He was too late to be one of the 12 apostles, and yet he was called by Christ to be an apostle.  What a turn-around in his life!  What a testimony to the truth and power of Christ’s resurrection!

V.  THE TESTIMONY OF A COMMON MESSAGE (verse 11)

The fifth evidence for the resurrection of Christ is the testimony of a common message.  Without exception, the teaching and preaching of the New Testament church centered around the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This message was declared as objective facts based on the testimony of eye-witnesses, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

CONCLUSION:

But there is a sixth evidence that isn’t mentioned specifically in this passage of Scripture.  That evidence is our own lives.  Have you repented of your sins, turned your life over to Jesus Christ, and invited Him to be your Savior and Lord?  If so, is your joy, your peace of mind and heart, and the power of the resurrected Christ obvious to those around you?  If the answer is “yes”, then you are a living, visible evidence of the resurrection of Christ to the world around you.

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part I) – Jonah. chapters 1 and 2

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This is a message I have preached many times, especially when I was a college campus minister in Southern California.  Since I will be quoting several passages from this book, the message is much longer, so I will be sharing it with you in two parts.  I hope this amazing and entertaining book of the Bible will also have many lessons for you, and draw your heart closer to God.

INTRODUCTION:

I’d like you to think for a moment of a person   .  .  .  a person in your neighborhood, or where your work, or where you go to school, or where you do business.  Someone that you come in contact with often.  Someone you don’t like being around!  Is someone coming to mind?  Either because of this person’s nationality, or personality, or the way he or she looks, or acts, or treats you, or for whatever reason, this person causes in you feelings of anger or dislike.  Question:  Do you and I, as Christians, have a responsibility even to such a person?

THE BOOK OF JONAH

The book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, deals with this very issue.  How many of you have ever been fishing, or have friends or family members who like to fish?  Then you’ve probably heard some “fish stories”, like the story about “the one that got away”.  Have you noticed that the more often that story is told, the bigger that fish gets!

There are many people today who think of the book of Jonah as just another “big fish story”.  But the book of Jonah is God’s Word, and it has a message for us today.  ILLUSTRATION:  One day a young man travelling on a train began to discuss the Bible with a Christian seated next to him.  “If you can prove to me that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, I’ll believe all the rest of the Bible”, he said.  “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” asked his companion.  Surprised by the strange response, the first man answered, “That’s beside the point!”  “Oh no, it’s not”, replied the Christian.  “Tell me, do you think that Jesus Christ was wise?”  “Yes”, he said, “I think He was the wisest man who ever lived.” ” Well He believed what you call a ‘fish story’,  for see what He said in Matthew 12:40.”  The unbeliever was amazed to find that the passage of Scripture read, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  “You see”, said the Christian, “Jesus believed the account of Jonah!”  “Thanks mister”, was his reply, “That’s proof enough for me!”

To doubt the story of Jonah and the fish is to doubt the authority and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He considered this event in Jonah’s life to be a fact.  And the book of Jonah has an important message for us today

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK

The writer of the book of Jonah had two main purposes for writing this book under the inspiration of God.  The first purpose was to show us Jonah’s motivation for the things he did, and for his attitude.  Secondly, the writer wanted to show us something about God’s character, what God is like.  Let’s look at the first two chapters of the book of Jonah and see what we can learn from them today.

I.  JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT (1:1-16)

Jonah 1:1-3 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish,  paid the fare,  and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Nineveh was east of Israel, and Jonah went west, in the opposite direction.  He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish, which is modern-day Spain.  Jonah wanted to get as far away from God and God’s plan for him as he possibly could.  Is it possible to escape from the presence of the Lord?  God is all-present, isn’t He.  Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”  How do we behave when no one is looking but God?  Let’s test ourselves this week.

What was Jonah’s motivation for fleeing?  Was it cowardice?  Was he afraid to go to Nineveh?  Well he had good reason to be afraid.  Nineveh was probably the largest and one of the most wicked cities in the world at that time.  Chapter 4, verse 11 says there were “more than 120,000 people who did not know the difference between their right and left hand.”  If God is speaking in a physical sense, this could be referring to children under the age of five, because it’s often hard to tell whether a child that age is right or left handed.  If God is speaking in a physical sense here, the total population of Nineveh could have been over 600,000 people, which is a large city even by today’s standards.

So, was Jonah a coward?  No.  Let me read for you 1:11-12:  “So they said to him. ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.  And he said to them, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  Jonah was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of the sailors when God brought the great wind and storm in verses 4-14.  When the sailors cast lots in verse 7 to learn who caused this storm to come upon them, the lot fell to Jonah.  When they asked him for information about himself, he told them that he was a Hebrew, and when he told them about his God, the men knew he was fleeing from the Lord.

It’s interesting that they give Jonah an option when they asked him in verse 11, “What shall we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”  Jonah replied in verse 12, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  But the crew was unwilling to do it, and kept on rowing, and finally prayed to Jonah’s God and asked for forgiveness for what they were going to do.  Then in verse 15 they “picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging” just like Jonah said it would.  This caused the sailors to show reverence to Jonah’s God, and they offered a sacrifice to Him in verse 17 and made vows to God.  Jonah’s courage and the fulfillment of his words caused them to believe in his God.

II.  JONAH’S DELIVERANCE (1:17 – 2:10)

But this isn’t the end of the story.  Jonah did not drown.  Verse 17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.  ILLUSTRATION:  Some people say there isn’t a creature in the sea that is capable of performing such a feat.  But scientists know better.  For instance, in 1912 Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a huge mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1500-pound fish that it had swallowed whole!  Those who examined Thompson’s catch said it could have swallowed 20 average-size men!  A Baptist minister who came on the scene stood in the creature’s mouth, holding his hands above his head, and still found that he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s mouth!  And we must not forget that the creature referred to in Jonah 1:17 was especially “prepared” for its unique assignment by the Lord Himself.

Jonah was in the stomach of that fish three days and three nights.  God not only spared Jonah’s life, He gave Him some time to think about what he had done.  I’m sure that being inside that fish was by no means an enjoyable experience.  ILLUSTRATION:  A wealthy lady had a very spoiled and strong-willed youngster.  One day, when a wasp flew in the window, the boy, seeing its brilliant colors, began crying for it.  At last the mother called to the servant who was taking care of the child, “What is that boy crying for?  Will you please let him have it?”  A few minutes later she was startled by a loud scream.  “What’s’ the matter?” asked the mother.  “He got what he wanted” was the servant’s reply.  Sometimes in God’s great wisdom He allows us to feel the sting and misery of our own selfish, disobedient ways, that we might learn through our pain and humiliation that the Lord knows what is best.

We find in chapter 2 that Jonah prays to God from the stomach of the fish.  If you were in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights, what kind of a prayer would you pray?  I know what I would say:  “Help, Lord; please get me out of here!”  But in chapter 2 Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life.  And at the end of his prayer Jonah says what God wants to hear.  In chapter 2, verse 9, Jonah says:  “That which I have vowed I will pay.”  After that promise by Jonah, verse 10 says, “Then the Lord  commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.”  And what are God’s first words to Jonah?  Does He say, “Jonah, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you smell like a fish.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest!”  No.  God’s first words to Jonah in Chapter 3 are:  “Go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”  God is going to have His way in Jonah’s life, and He brings Jonah back to His original command to Him.

So far we’ve learned that disobedience to God has its consequences.  We’ve learned that the book of Jonah is factual and should be treated that way.  We’ve seen some amazing things that God has done, and it’s going to get even more amazing in the rest of this book.  I hope to have chapters 3 and 4 finished next week and posted for you to read.  Don’t miss the exciting conclusion, and don’t forget that God is always watching you and wants you to enjoy His presence.