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!

CONSTRUCTION SITE (Completed)

Please view other completed sites while you’re here.  There are over 110 completed sermons on this website.  The work goes on!  There’s always work to do when you’re studying God’s Word.  It’s a never-ending gold mine of truth and wisdom, revealing to us the character and purposes of God!

 

NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”?  If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean.  Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season.  If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.  I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth.  Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

The story begins in Luke chapter 1.  Verses 26 and 27 say:  “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke states that it is the “sixth month”.  He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth.  They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph.  They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor.  This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.

Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph.  Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship.  It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated.  It must have been near the end of that espousal period.  I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens.  God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary.  Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing.  His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.

There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time.  Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today.  There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them.  The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born.  If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year.  You will really enjoy it!

The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17).  There are too many of them to count.  Yet only two angels are named in the Bible:  Gabriel and Michael.  It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them.  I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face.  We will know some day!  Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary.  Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you’.”  Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area.  Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him.  Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege.  He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women   He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation.  It is an unmerited favor from God.  She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it.  Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.

In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting:  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”.  “Why would he be saying those words to me?”  “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name.  Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah.  The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).

As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth?  Yes.  Was it her fault that she didn’t know this?  No.  This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel.  There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah.  The first is Genesis 3:15.  After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  This verse is speaking of the Messiah.  God says “her seed”.  A woman doesn’t have a seed.  She has eggs.  The man has the seed.  If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right?  If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God.  Isaiah 7:14 confirms this.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.”  The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.

IV.  THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)

Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it.  As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born.  Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said.  She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true.  She is just curious as to the  “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin.  So she asks the question:  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God).  This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.

So, just how did this all come about?  Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception!  Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”.  (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures).  When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others.  In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do.  This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God.  As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, 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 cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary.  She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother!  What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed!  In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God!  Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement:  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  The Message puts it this way:  “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as you say.”  Then the angel left.  As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her.  She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.

VI.  THE LESSONS

Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience:  “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them?  Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off.  You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.”  Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back.  “Better never late, but better late than never.”

Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love?  Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day.  Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today.  Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day?  If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day.  We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”!  After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  I call this particular construction project:  “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”.  I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17).  As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder.  I hope this has been your experience also.  May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.

P.S.  I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38.  There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”.  Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own!  See you in the next construction site!  Hopefully I’ll have it completed before Christmas also.

THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.

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.

MAKING ROOM FOR JESUS AT CHRISTMAS

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The real joy of Christmas comes when we discover and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.  The true meaning of Christmas can only be found by asking and answering this question:  “Why did Jesus come to earth?”  Why did Jesus come to earth?  Was it to give us an additional opportunity to “make merry”?  Was it to give people an occasion to spend money on presents, greeting cards, and Christmas decorations?  The purpose of this question is not to condemn these activities, but to cause us to think about the real meaning of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come to earth?  Let’s let Jesus answer that question Himself.  In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says, “. . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus was born on this earth in order to die for our sins, as a perfect sacrifice to a holy God.  He didn’t have to come as a helpless infant.  He didn’t have to come and die for our sins, but He chose to do so out of love for each of us.

In John 10:10 Jesus states another reason for His coming to earth.  Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Jesus came to give us the kind of life that neither money nor anything else on this earth can buy.

Do you and I have the true joy of Christmas this year?  In the midst of wrapping presents and making preparations, is there room in our lives for Jesus?  Today, over 2000 years after that glorious event, millions of people have no room for Jesus.  Although they participate enthusiastically in the festivities of the Christmas season, the Lord Jesus is kept out of their lives.  How about you?  Is there room in your life for Jesus the Messiah?  What better time than during this season to rededicate your life to Him, or to receive Him into your life as your personal Savior and Lord!

Just prior to World War II, in the country of India, there existed a Christian school for the children of the lowest class of society, called the “untouchables”.  Every year these students received Christmas presents from children in England.  The girls received a doll and the boys received a toy.  On one occasion the doctor from a nearby mission hospital was asked to hand out the gifts.  While he was there, he told the youngsters about a village where the boys and girls had never heard of Jesus.  He suggested that maybe they would like to give them some of their old toys as presents.  The children liked the idea and agreed to do so.  A week later the doctor returned to collect the gifts.  One by one the children filed by and handed the doctor a doll or a toy.  To his great surprise, they all gave the new present they had just received a week earlier.  When he asked “why”, a girl spoke up and said, “Think what God did by giving us His only Son.  Could we give Him less than our best?”

What’s it going to be like for you on the day after Christmas – when Christmas is over?  Let’s go back to the original Christmas.  On the day following Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph were faced with the ordinary tasks of caring for a new baby.  The shepherds would be back on the hillside tending their sheep.  All the elements were present for an emotional letdown, which often follows an emotional high.  But I don’t believe they experienced any “after-Christmas blues”.  Mary and Joseph didn’t quickly forget all that happened, and the shepherds couldn’t easily forget what they had seen and heard.  The angelic message had proven to be true, and their lives were filled with new hope and anticipation.

Two thousand years later, we have the full story.  Jesus came into this world to die for our sins.  He then conquered death by rising from the grave.  We have more truth to ponder and more reasons to glorify God than did Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.  We need not experience an “after-Christmas letdown”.  As we remind ourselves of the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, may each day of our lives be filled with joy.

May you have a joyous Christmas season, and “after-Christmas” season!