THE FINAL THREE PROOFS OF DEITY – John 5:36-40

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INTRODUCTION:

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale about a young woman who was tested to determine whether or not she was truly a princess.  You may be familiar with the story:  “The Princess and the Pea”.  Actually, the literal translation of the title of his story, from Danish to English, is “The Princess on the Pea”, and that title describes the story more clearly.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, or would like to refresh your memory, click the following link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waw0U9tKpW0.  You will watch a very short and concise summary of the story with sketches.  The “pressure test” proved positive and the prince married the princess.  Don’t you love happy endings?

As you can well imagine, it’s going to take much more than a “pea” to prove that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth.  During this conversation with the leaders of the Jews, Jesus has already given them three “signs”, or witnesses of His deity, and He has three more to go.  “Like 3 peas in a pod”, these next three witnesses are very closely-related to one other  Let’s see what else He has to say about Himself in this passage of Scripture:  John 5:36-40.

I.  THE MIRACLES (verse 36)

The Lord Jesus has already shared with them His own witness concerning Himself, and also John the Baptist’s testimony about Him.  But the courtroom imagery isn’t over yet.  Jesus is still surrounded by His accusers for healing a person on the Sabbath, and they are still not convinced that He has the authority to do such things on the Lord’s day.

Jesus now presents His own works as proof that He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God.  In verse 36 we read, “But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”  When we think of Jesus’ works, we naturally think of His miracles because they were examples of His divine power.  As Nicodemus said to Jesus in John 3:2, “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”   We are told in John 10:41 that John the Baptist worked no miracles.  However, the Bible does record specific miracles performed by ordinary men, such as Moses, Elijah, and the apostles Peter and Paul.  Do those miracles also prove that they are also sent from God?  Yes, they do, but none of these men ever claimed to be the Son of God.  No true servant of God would ever make that claim; but Jesus did, and His mighty works are evidence that His claim is true.  One who is able to raise the dead by the words from His mouth must have all power, and the One who sent Him must be God.  His works are a “greater witness than that of John” – being stronger, and more decisive evidence. 

The word that is translated “works” in my Bible, is the Greek word “erga”.  This word encompasses more than just the miracles of Christ.  It includes His whole purpose for being sent by the Father – including His birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection.  It refers to His whole ministry on this earth.  We see that perspective in the words that Jesus says in His prayer to the Father in John 17:4, “I have glorified Thee on earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.”  The Lord Jesus was a Man on a mission.  What about you?  What is your mission in life?  Have you given it much thought? Have you ever put your mission in writing so that you can compare it to the way you live each day:  the way you use your time, spend your money, choose your friends?  You might find that to be a challenging and rewarding assignment.  The Lord Jesus is giving us an Example to follow.  His mission must have been very clearly delineated in order for Him to be able to confidently say that He had accomplished it.

II.  THE WITNESS OF THE FATHER (verses 37-38)

The next witness that Jesus brings to their attention (again) is God the Father.  He has called God His Father many times already, and their response has been anger and threats.  They don’t want to believe His words;  they don’t even want to hear them!  I’m amazed at Jesus’ patience and persistence, because He tells them again for the umpteenth time!  Here are His words in verse 37:  “And the Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me.  You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen Him.”  

Jesus is still surrounded by the leaders of the Jews.  That’s an intimidating situation for Him, but He will not back down from His claims, and He will not deny Himself nor withhold His witnesses!  He keeps telling them the truth whether they like it or not!  Let’s look at the first phrase in verse 37:  “And the Father who sent me”.  I believe that Jesus is saying, “I’ve already established the fact that the Father sent Me.  Let’s move on!  It’s no longer a theorem but a fact!”  You may be familiar with the abbreviation QED.  It comes from the Latin words, “Quod erat demonstrondum”, which mean, “what has been demonstrated”.  When my high-school math teacher wrote QED in large letters on the blackboard after solving a math problem, he was saying, “It’s been proven!  It’s obvious!  Let’s move on to the next problem!”

Moving on, I can sense, from Jesus’ words and the way He phrases them, that He is getting angry at the hardness of their hearts.  We’ll see that anger increase until it reaches a crescendo in verse 40.  This is no “gentle reproof” that He’s about to express to them.  It’s a scathing rebuke!  I think I even see some sarcasm and irony in His words also.  As we look at HIs words more closely, I think you’ll agree with me that “they had it comin’ to ’em!”

I can feel a biting sarcasm in the words “You have neither heard HIs voice at any time, nor seen Him.”  There was a voice from the Father at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Near the end of Jesus’ life, in John 12:28, Jesus asks the Father, “Glorify Thy name”, and a voice comes from heaven again saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  In this case, most of the multitude that heard it said that “it had thundered”.  I wonder if they used that same excuse at His baptism.  It’s as if Jesus is implying, “Are you saying that My Father doesn’t speak loudly enough and doesn’t enunciate His words clearly enough for you to understand what He is saying, and that He is the One who said it?”  I doubt that anyone present at those two occasions could forget the words that the Father had said.  I also believe that those listeners told everyone they knew the words they had heard.  It’s not every day that God speaks from heaven in a loud voice for everyone to hear!

Jesus adds, “nor seen His form”.  Later, when Philip says, “show us the Father”, Jesus responds by saying, “He who sees Me, sees the Father”.  Could Jesus be saying here to his accusers, “You’re looking Me in the face, but you don’t see the Father; you don’t recognize the Father in Me?”  There are other interpretations of this verse of Scripture, and I don’t claim to be an authority.  I’ve come to this personal understanding based on Jesus’ rising anger and the increasing sharpness of His words to them.

In verse 38, Jesus is saying, “that’s not all” – “And you do not have His words abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.”  God’s words were on their lips but not in their hearts.  When you think about the life and the words of Christ, who received the most scathing rebukes from Him?  Was it not the hypocrites?  And who were the greatest hypocrites of His time?  Were they not the Scribes and the Pharisees?

In any great forest you will find many huge trees.  They tower above other trees and appear to be the very picture of strength and maturity.  However, loggers will sometimes not even bother to cut down these huge trees.  At first one wonders, “Why leave them?  After all, a tree that big must contain twice or thrice the amount of lumber as a smaller tree.”

The reason is simple.  Huge trees are often rotten on the inside.  They are the hollow trees that children’s picture books show raccoons living in.  And they are the trees that are often blown over in a strong wind-storm because, while they appear to be the picture of strength, in fact their hollowness makes them weak.  This is the essence of hypocrisy – appearing strong on the outside, but being hollow and rotten on the inside.  Even so, the Scribes and Pharisees standing around Him didn’t have God’s Word abiding in them.  As I said earlier, it was on their lips but not in their hearts.  It wasn’t genuine.  They appeared righteous and scholarly on the outside, and people looked up to them because of this, but they were hollow, empty and rotten on the inside.

III.  THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES (verses 39-40)

Jesus’ anger is still rising as He says these words to His accusers, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life”.  A few versions of the Bible translate verse 39 as a command:  “Search the Scriptures”, but this does not fit the context.  He’s rebuking them and ridiculing them for the way they study the Scriptures, and for the conclusions they make.  The Lord Jesus uses the plural word, “Scriptures” to refer to the whole Old Testament, composed of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The Rabbis of that day studied the Old Testament Scriptures very meticulously, examining how many words were on a line and on a page; how many of each letter and of each word were on a line, a page, or the whole book.  They followed many of the techniques that the scribes used when copying the Scriptures.  Their purpose was to demonstrate to others how well they knew all the minute details of the Scriptures.  For many of the Rabbis, it was a way of exalting themselves and causing others to be amazed at their knowledge of the Scriptures, coming to the conclusion that they must be very close to God.

I read a story about an 18-year-old boy who was deeply interested in scientific subjects, especially astronomy.  So his father bought him a very expensive telescope.  Since the boy had also studied optics, he found the instrument to be very intriguing.  He took it apart, examined the lenses and made detailed calculations on the distance of its point of focus.  He became so absorbed in gaining a technical knowledge of the telescope itself that he never got around to looking at the stars.  He knew a lot about that fine instrument, but he missed seeing the wonders of the heavens.  He overlooked the purpose for which that telescope was made.

In a similar way, these Jewish leaders missed the purpose for which the Old Testament Scriptures had been given and written down.  The word translated “searched” is the Greek word “ereunao”.  It was sometimes used to refer to a lion or a dog tracking it’s prey by scent (smell).  Jesus was telling them that they had “lost the scent” but had chosen to continue on anyway, and they were going down the wrong trail!  They needed to retrace their steps, pick up the scent again, and follow that trail to where it really leads – to Him.  “It is they (the Scriptures) that bear witness to Me.” Jesus is saying that the Scriptures are not an end in themselves; they are a means to an end.  They are like a signpost pointing directly to Christ and telling us about Him.  Wouldn’t it be a shame to be so taken up with measuring, studying, and admiring the signpost, that we don’t notice or pay heed to the message that’s written on the signpost, nor do what it says?

A little girl bought a Bible to give to her father for his birthday.  When she opened it to write him a note, she wasn’t sure what to say.  “From Mary” seemed to lack feeling.  “From your little daughter” would not be right because he had told her she was getting to be a big girl.  Then she thought, “From one who loves you.”  But others loved him too.  She went to her father’s library and pulled one of his favorite books from the shelf.  On the flyleaf she read, “From the Author.”  That was it!

When the young girl’s father opened the gift and saw, in Mary’s handwriting, “From the Author,” he thought to himself, “I’m not acquainted with the Author of the Bible.”  That thought prompted him to begin studying God’s Word, which led to his conversion.  He came to know the Author.

As it was in Jesus’s time on earth, so it is today.  There are many people today who study the Bible for educational purposes only, rather than for relational purposes.  They know the Book but aren’t personally acquainted with it’s Author.

Now comes another rebuke to the Scribes and Pharisees in verse 40:  “Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  I sense some irony in Jesus’ words.  He’s giving them an invitation.  In spite of all the things they have said and done, Jesus is giving them another opportunity to come to Him to receive life from the true Source of eternal life.  John Calvin said these words, “In order to come from spiritual death to spiritual life, it is necessary to come to Jesus.”  The Scriptures don’t give life; they point to the Giver of life.  Jesus is telling them that He is the only way to eternal life.

What is their response to His invitation?  They stubbornly, obstinately, and  intentionally refused to do so.  They would rather be “dead wrong” than change.  They preferred to stay in their own darkness and turn their backs to the light.  No wonder Jesus is so angry at them.  He offers them eternal life and receives a “slap in the face” in return.

I’m placing a clickable link to the movie, The Gospel of John, again because I think it captures the emotion of the moment and gives a good visual depiction of this confrontation.  If you click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYrvOsc-rCU  and then move the time line at the bottom of the picture to the right until you get to 40:20 (40 minutes, 20 seconds), there you will see this passage of Scripture being enacted.  It has left a lasting impression on my mind.  I hope it will do so on your minds also.

CONCLUSION:

The Lord Jesus has given us five witnesses of His deity.  If you are not a Christian, it should be obvious to you that the solution has been given.  You have a choice to make.  You can accept and respond to Jesus Christ as the Son of God by repenting of your sins and turning your life over to His control.  The result will be a life-changing experience.  You will experience joy and peace such as you have never experienced before, and your desire will be to know Him more fully through the study of His Word, and to enjoy Him and serve Him for the rest of your life.  Whatever you give up will be considered of no significance compared to what you gain.  The only other choice is to refuse Him and face the consequences.  Putting it off is, in a sense, refusal because there is no good reason to do so, and it won’t be a good excuse if you should die in the next moment.  Please respond to what is obviously true, and don’t let personal pride, or the fear of what others may think, get in the way of the most important decision of your life.  The Lord Jesus wants you to come to Him.  Please don’t refuse His request.

Fellow-Christians, we are the sixth witness of the deity of Christ.  Our changed lives, our devotion to God, and our joy in the midst of the trials of life are a “miracle” to those around us.  Jesus tell us that “we are the light of the world”.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).  LET IT SHINE, LET IT SHINE, LET IT SHINE!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for visiting this completed site:  John 5:36-40.  You are welcome to take a walk around the block and visit the other finished projects.  It’s a nice day for physical and spiritual exercise.  Hope to see you in this neighborhood again soon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO OBTAIN WISDOM – James 1:5-8

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INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them.  The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying.  When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about?  James gives the answer:  ask God for wisdom.

I.  ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials?  Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance?  We should pray for wisdom for this reason:  we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives.  Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory.  This kind of wisdom comes from God.  It is a gift from God.  God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”  His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth;  it is not found in the depths of the sea;  and it cannot be purchased with precious stones.  Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”  True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers.  Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied.  Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work.  However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God.  King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War.  A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President.  One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep.  From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice.  Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten.  The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible.  He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me.  I cannot lead these people.  I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help.  O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ”  The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved.  Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.

II.  ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)

James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask.  We are to ask in faith.  The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.  The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores.  Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street.  Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity.  Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire.  The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages.  His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss.  The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges.  After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!”  We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief.  Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release.  When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door.  Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside.  “You are out of you mind!”, they said.  But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”.  Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray!  Let’s believe God and expect the answer!  God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person.  A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually.  Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all.  There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink.  This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle.  A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you.  It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration.  When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions.  It was running like mad but going nowhere!  That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth.  There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church.  After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with.  Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story.  The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything.  As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.”  To that he immediately replied, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues.  Some are afraid;  others just don’t like to make decisions.  But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe.  Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered.  But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

SURVEY OF THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

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INTRODUCTION:

If we were asked the question, “Which book of the New Testament was written first”, I imagine that many of us might guess that it was one of the gospels since they talk about the birth, life, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was personally surprised when I learned that the first book of the New Testament was the epistle of James, in all probability.  It was written possibly as early as 45 A.D., and as late as 50 A.D.  That’s approximately fifteen to twenty years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is important to realize that the arrangement of the books in the New Testament is a topical arrangement rather than a chronological one.  If the books were arranged chronologically by the dates that they were written, James would probably appear first.  It’s interesting that, in the book of James, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only appears twice.  His cross is never mentioned, nor is His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit is not mentioned either.  James is not a doctrinal book but a practical book, encouraging us to live our Christian faith.

I.  THE AUTHOR

Who was the author of the book of James?  Obviously it was James, but which James?  There are five men in the New Testament who are called by that name:  James, the father of the apostle Judas;  James, the son of Zebedee;  James, the son of Cleophas;  James the Less;  and James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the son of Mary and Joseph.  It is generally agreed that James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, was the author of the book.

The Scriptures tell us that during the time Jesus was growing up to adulthood, and even during His earthly ministry, His brothers did not believe that He was the Messiah.  In fact, Jesus experienced opposition from them at times.  And yet we find that James was a leader in the church in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension into heaven.  We are left to conclude that it was after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that James came to the realization that Jesus was the true Messiah.  After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to various groups.  I Corinthians 15:7 states, “after that, He appeared to James;  then to all the apostles.”  It was probably after Jesus appearance to James after His resurrection that James placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Since James was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ during His earthly ministry, James was not one of the twelve apostles.  But after he became a Christian, James became one of the leaders in the church at Jerusalem.  He is mentioned as one of the speakers at the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, and his suggestion was accepted by the whole assembly.

III.  THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

The epistle of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because James goes from one topic to another.  The epistle is also very practical, and very convicting.  In the 108 verses of this short letter, there are 54 commands.  That means that half the verses are commands.  Someone has described James’ style as “a string of pearls”.  In a string of pearls there is a basic relationship of one pearl to the other, and yet each pearl is unique and different.

While James was still an unbeliever, he must have paid attention to what Jesus taught because his letter is very much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We’ll see this comparison more clearly as we study the book of James in detail over the next several months.

The book of James has been misunderstood and condemned by many because of its emphasis on good works.  Martin Luther called the epistle of James an “epistle of straw” that ought to be burned.  He and several other leaders of the Protestant Reformation felt that the Epistle of James should be removed from the Bible because of its emphasis on good works.  But they misunderstood  its meaning.  The epistle of James is saying that “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  Or, to put it another way, “the person who has genuinely found the Way, walks in it”.

The problems that James discusses have a common cause:  spiritual immaturity.  The Christians mentioned in his epistle were not growing spiritually.  Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in our churches today.  The five chapters of James suggest five marks of a mature Christian.  In chapter one, a mature Christian is patient in trials and temptations.  In chapter two, a mature Christian practices the truth.  In chapter three, a mature Christian has power over his tongue.  And in chapter four, a mature Christian is prayerful in the midst of troubles.

Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly.  So, don’t give up, because mature Christians are happy, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage and build up others.  As we study this epistle of James together, with God’s enabling we will learn together and mature together, and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will become even more evident to those around us.

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.