THE HEALING AT BETHESDA – John 5:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

I.  THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

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

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

II.  THE ENCOUNTER (verse 3)

Verse 3 describes what Jesus sees as He enters the pool area and gets a panoramic view of the five porticoes:  In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered [waiting for the moving of the waters.].”  The place was crowded with people, and they were people who were limited in their mobility and were probably not able to take care of themselves.  Family and friends probably carried them to these porticoes or helped them to get there.  You’ve probably heard the saying “Misery likes company”, and maybe you’ve used those words yourself in appropriate situations with various shades of meaning.  The phrase has been around for many centuries.  A translation of the words of 14th century historian Dominici de Gravina reads:  “It is a comfort to the unfortunate to have had companions in woe.”  Having other people to converse with, who understand what you are going through because they are going through something similar themselves, can be a real source of comfort and encouragement.  Sometimes the greatest suffering can be emotional and social – the feeling that you are alone in your suffering; that no one else understands or cares.  As John Stockdale said in my introduction, that one of the worst things that happened to him as a P.O.W. was being isolated from the other Americans.

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

III.  THE POPULAR OPINION (verse 4)

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

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

IV.  THE WORST CASE SCENARIO (verse 5)

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

V.  THE QUESTION (verse 6)

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

VI.  THE RESPONSE (verse 7)

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

VII.  THE HEALING (verses 8-9)

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

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

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

The devil decided to have a garage sale.  On the day of the sale, his tools were displayed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price.  There were a treacherous lot of implements:  hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lust, lying, pride, and so on.  Set apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool.  It was quite worn and yet priced very high.
“What is the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers, pointing to it.
“That is discouragement,” Satan replied.
“Why have you priced it so high?”
“Because it is more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with that, even when I cannot get near him with the other tools.  It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know that it belongs to
me.”
It is still his favorite tool today, and he continues to use it on God’s people.  But be encouraged!  God’s miracles are much greater and more powerful than any of his tools!  May you find in the Lord Jesus Christ the hope, the strength, and the encouragement that only He can give.   May each day of your life be a miracle that others can observe as you joyfully walk by faith and in obedience to Him.

A friend recently sent me a true story taken from Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, Beyond Suffering:

Dorothy Williams was a British missionary who served in West Africa during the 1930’s.  She was a nurse from Wales who spent her time on the mission field training African nurses.  Dorothy was very frail, and her mission board back home didn’t expect her to last more than a year or two working in Africa.  But with God’s help, she amazed the board by serving many years, refusing to be discouraged by her limitations.  This inspired the young African nurses under her charge who were often disheartened by their own poverty and lack of resources.

One day a nurse was carrying a tray of surgical instruments, and Dorothy noticed a sad look in her student’s eyes.  “Oh, Mum, I am feeling much afraid today,” the young woman shared.  “Dearie, look at those shiny instruments on your tray,” Dorothy said, picking up the sharpest one.  “The devil has a tray of instruments too, and the shiniest and sharpest is his tool of discouragement – it’s sharp because he uses it so often.”  The student nurse smiled, blushed, and then went on her way with fresh resolve.

Ezra 4:4-5 describes the devil’s strategy against God’s people.  It is “to discourage and frighten people , , , to work against them and to frustrate their plans.”  Do not be fearful, for the Bible repeats the phrase, “Do not be afraid,” 112 times.  And Dorothy would add, “Don’t be discouraged.”  You have your own shiny, sharp tool:  The Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).  Keep it sharp and use it often against your adversary!

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A WITNESS TO THE LIGHT – John 1:6-8

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

I.  A MAN SENT FROM GOD (verse 6)

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

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

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

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

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

II.  A WITNESS (verses 7 and 8)

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

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

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

 

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT PARTIALITY – James 3:17 (continued)

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The word translated “partiality” is the Greek word adiakritos.  It is a compound word and this is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used.  The Greek word has two distinct meanings, but those meanings complement each other.  I am describing them one at a time and you will see how the two meanings balance each other out.

The first relates to a person’s treatment of others.  A person with wisdom from above makes no distinctions in his or her treatment of others.  This is a wisdom that is free from bias and favoritism.  It is not influenced by another person’s apparel, rank or position, physical or mental condition, age, color or creed, but is fair and just to all.

General Robert E. Lee was a devout follower of Jesus Christ.  It is said that soon after the end of the American Civil War, he visited a church in Washington D.C.  During the communion service he knelt beside a black man.  An onlooker said to him later, “How could you do that?”  Lee responded, “My friend, all ground is level beneath the cross.”

A person who exercises Godly wisdom shows kindness to all, and does not engage in negative criticism of others, or use sarcasm when speaking about others.  In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity.  He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solutions to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian.  When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people.  Gandhi left the church and never returned.  “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”  That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior and Lord.

Are there people you look down upon or refuse to associate with?  Are there people you speak evil about or make fun of when they are not around?  What about your thoughts and attitudes toward “certain people”?  We all have our prejudices that we have to be careful about and fight against, don’t we?  The following story appeared in the newsletter “Our America”:   

Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about.  Traveling alone in a truck with a trailer in tow, she launched out.  One afternoon, rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento, California, in rush-hour traffic, the water pump blew on her truck.  She was tired, exasperated, scared, and alone.  In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping.  Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, “Please, God, send me an angel . . . preferably one with mechanical experience.”

Within four minutes a huge Harley drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard and tattooed arms.  With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck.  Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.

The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk, especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket:  “Hell’s Angels – California”.  As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, “Thanks so much”, and carry on a brief conversation.  Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.  You may not know who you’re talking to.”      With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley.  With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared.

Was this an “angel in disguise?”  We don’t know, but why couldn’t an angel take on such a human form?  Maybe he was just a “good Samaritan”  whose heart God had touched in this desperate situation. Either way, God sent an “angel” in answer to her prayer and he met her need.  One lesson learned was that people shouldn’t always be judged by what they look like on the outside.

The Greek word we’ve been studying, adiakritos, also means “unwavering”.  Wisdom from above is evidenced by an unwavering loyalty to God and His Word.  It does not play politics with the truth, and is undivided in it’s committment to God and to others.  Godly wisdom does not succumb to peer pressure, and is not swayed by selfish interests.

One who possesses wisdom from above is free from ambiguity.  The Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5:37:  “But let your statement be ‘yes,yes’, and ‘no, no’.”  The word “no” is one of the few words in the English language that cannot be misunderstood.  In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated unswerving obedience to God.  In Daniel 3:17,18 they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “If so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the image which you have set up.”

Proverbs 24:10 says, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”  You can easily determine the caliber of a person by the amount of opposition it takes to discourage him.

In the 1960’s, drug companies were presenting nearly 700 applications a year to the Federal Drug Administration for new medicines.  The New Drug Section had sixty days to review each drug before giving approval or requesting more data.

A few months after Dr. Frances Kelsey joined the FDA, an established pharmaceutical firm in Ohio applied for a license to market a new drug, Kevadon.  In liquid form the drug seemed to relieve nausea in early pregnancy.  It was given to millions of expectant women, mostly in Europe, Asia, an Africa.  Although scientific studies revealed harmful side effects, the pharmaceutical firm printed 66,957 leaflets declaring its safety.  The company exerted great pressure on Dr. Kelsey to give permission for labels to be printed, in anticipation of the drug’s approval.

Dr. Kelsey reviewed the data and said no.  Through several rounds of applications, she continued to find the data “unsatisfactory”.  After a fourteen-month struggle, the company humbly withdrew its application.  “Kevadon” was thalidomide, and by that time, the horror of thalidomide deformities and missing limbs on newborn babies was becoming well publicized!  One firm “no” decision by Dr. Kelsey spared untold agony in the United States.  (taken from God’s Little Devotional Book)

An illustration of the word “unwavering” that just came to my mind is the description of a Christian that the apostle Paul gives in Ephesians 6:13-17.  In this passage of Scripture, the Christian is described as a soldier, clothed in the armor of God.  The command is to “stand firm” and resist the devil.  It is interesting and significant to note that there is no armor for the soldier’s back. The soldier was not to retreat in the battle against Satan, or in the defense of the Gospel of Christ.

May God give us the grace and the wisdom to be impartial in our treatment of others and unwavering in our committment to do what is true and right in the sight of God.  The manifestation of these qualities in our lives is further evidence that we are exercising Godly wisdom, the “wisdom from above”.

 

 

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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I.. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)

Have you ever been ripped off?  Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what your paid for them?  I imagine that most of us can think of a particular product, movie, place of entertainment or eating establishment that has left a bad impression in our minds.  Rip-offs aren’t just common to our day.  You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth.  He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would become like God, knowing good and evil.  They fell for his lie, and as a result, they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.

We human beings aren’t the  only  ones who get ripped off.  God gets ripped off sometimes too.  This passage of Scripture shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people.  In verses 12 and 13, Jesus, His mother, His family, and His disciples spent a few days in Capernaum.  A figure of speach called a “polysyndeton” is found here.  The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group.  From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.

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

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

In verse 14, Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes.  In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards.  First, there is the court of the gentiles, then the court of the women, then the court of Israel, and finally the court of the priests.  Jesus was in the court of the gentiles in verse 14.

Because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities decided to set up their animal market and tables for the money changers in the court of the gentiles. It had become a very corrupt system.  For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to attend the Passover feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal right there in the temple.  But there were many cases where a priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable.   So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals.  On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell, the highpriest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar.  That’s quite a reduction in price!

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

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

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

In Exodus 12:15 God tells His people on the first day of the week of the Passover to remove all leaven, and everything with heaven in it, from their houses in preparation for the Passover meal.  Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption, and the Lord Jesus was about to rid the temple of the corruption that was in it.  He made a scourge of cords and used it to drive out the oxen.  He turned over the money tables, and you can imagine the scramble for the rolling coins!  He also herded out the sheep, and ordered those who sold the doves to remove the cages from the temple.  You can see the Lord’s restraint.  He wanted to safeguard the innocent birds and do no harm to the animals or the people.  It’s at this time that He calls God His Father in verse 16, thereby proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Within minutes the place was cleared.  All that remained to be done was the picking up of the litter and cleaning the floor!

Jesus took on the powerful hierarchy of the scribes, pharisees, priests, and sudducees.  In Matthew 23:38, when Jesus cleansed the temple for the second and last time, He called it “your house”.  Jesus had prophetically handed “their” temple over for destruction, and the temple was later destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

This incident in Christ”s life made a definite impression on His disciples, who remembered Psalm 69:9 – a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says  “Zeal for my Father’s house shall consume Me.”  In this passage it was predicted that when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God.  They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.

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

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND FIRST APPEARANCE – John 20:1-18

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Christians meet together for worship and fellowship on Sunday morning because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and Christians have been worshiping on Sunday ever since. Throughout the centuries men have tried to honor their heroes by erecting lavish monuments.  The massive pyramids of Egypt were built as resting places for the Egyptian Pharoahs;  the glistening Taj Mahal in India is the tomb of an Indian emperor and his favorite wife.  Lenin’s tomb in Russia’s Red Square is where the body of the Marxist leader is preserved by some mysterious process;  and the burial vault at Mt. Vernon is the site of George Washington’s’ body. Jesus’ simple grave can’t compare with these costly burial places.  But the tomb of Jesus excels all of these in the most important respect.  It’s empty!  He is not there!  At the heart of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ, on the third day after His death on the cross, rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.  No other world religion has dared to make such a claim about its leader.

I.  MARY AT THE TOMB (verses 1-2)

Let’s look at what happened in John’s Gospel on the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross.  In Verse l, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb very early on the first day of the week.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was bringing spices to prepare  His body for burial.  She must not have known that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already done so. Why did Mary wait until the third day after Jesus’ burial?   The Jewish traditions taught that the soul hovered over the body of a dead person until the third day, when it finally left.  Friends and family were often in the habit of going to the grave up to the third day, when corruption was supposed to begin, in order to make sure that the person was really dead. The first thing Mary sees is the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb.  The stone was a large disc-shaped stone that had  been rolled down against the entrance to the tomb.  It would have taken many men to move such a heavy stone away from that tomb. Mary must have been in a state of shock as she ran to tell Peter and John what she had seen.  She tells them in verse 2 that “they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid Him”.  Notice that Mary says, “WE do not know”.  Luke tells us in his Gospel that Mary was accompanied by Joanna and Mary the mother of James, as well as other women, when she went to the tomb.

II.  PETER AND JOHN (vs. 3-10)

After listening to Mary words, Peter and John have a foot race to the tomb in verses 3 and 4, and John wins.  It’s interesting to see the differences in these two men.  Verse 5 says that John looks inside the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, but does not go in.  Peter, however, is more bold.  He goes into the tomb, sees the linen wrappings lying there, and also sees the face-cloth rolled up in another place. In verse 8, John also enters the tomb, sees the linen wrappings and believes.  What did John believe and why did he believe it?  John believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead, and he believed when he saw the linen wrappings.  The wrappings were strips of linen cloth.  The spices placed between the wrappings were like glue, and they held the strips of cloth together.  It was like a cocoon around Jesus’ body from His shoulders to His feet.  Jesus’ glorified body somehow passed through those wrappings, leaving them flattened but still wound together. A little boy once said sadly to his mother.  “I’m so disappointed!   You told me that something beautiful would come out of that brown thing I picked up the other day, but when I just now looked at it, I found a hole in it and only an empty skin was left!”  The mother said, “My child, you have looked in the wrong place for what I have promised.  Come with me.”  The mother took the boy back into the other room, and there, not too far from the empty cocoon, was a beautiful butterfly.  It had perched on the window sill so that it could dry its wings in the warmth of the noonday sun. Jesus’ disciples did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture, so verse 10 says that they went away to their own homes, to go back to their old way of life.  In much the same way these friends and followers of Jesus looked in the wrong place when they looked for the Savior.

III.  MARY AND THE ANGELS (verses 11-14)

In verse 11 we find Mary Magdalene remaining at the tomb weeping, and then when looked inside the tomb again, she saw two angels sitting one at the head and one at the feet of Jesus’ empty wrappings.  However, Mary did not realize that they were angels.  In verse 13 they ask her, “woman, why are you weeping”, and Mary gives her reason.  She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”  Mark’s Gospel tells us that the angel on the right tells Mary:  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified;  He is risen;  He is not here.”

IV.  MARY AND JESUS (verses 15-18)

You can imagine Mary’s confusion in verse 15 when she turns around and Jesus is standing there.  But Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, nor did anyone recognize Him.  He was changed.   He now had a glorified body and His physical appearance was changed.  Jesus asks her basically the same question that the angel asked her.  Mary didn’t recognize Him until verse 16 when Jesus said her name.  Then she recognized His voice and the way He always said her name.  She calls Him “Rabboni”, which means Teacher. Jesus is not chiding Mary in verse 17 when He says to her, “Stop clinging to me . . . “.  He is actually gently letting her know that the time is short and there is much to be done.  Then, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives her a commission when He says, “Do not be afraid;  go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”  Mary does so in verse 18.

CONCLUSION: Today we celebrate the resurrection  of Jesus  Christ from the dead.  We serve a risen Savior, don’t we?  The resurrection of Christ is mentioned 108 times in the New Testament, and it is the greatest miracle in the New Testament.  For the believer, the cross of Jesus Christ closes the door to hell, and the empty tomb opens the gates of heaven.  Andrew Blackwood makes this observation:  “There is not a single pessimistic note anywhere in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection.”  The risen Christ became a source of rejoicing for all who followed Him.  They were reminded  of what Jesus said to them in John 16:22 before His death:  “Now is your time of grief,  but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Are you experiencing the joy of the resurrected Christ?  Is He living and reigning in your life?  May we experience that joy and peace this Easter day and every day of our lives.  Let’s not let a day go by, let’s not let a waking hour go by without thinking about and thanking God for the death and resurrection of  His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.