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 speak 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.”  (MORE TO FOLLOW SOON)

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this new work-in-progress – John 5:36-40.  Construction is moving along slowly but surely.  I hope that what I’ve written so far will encourage you to investigate His true identity even further.  You’re welcome to take a walk around the block and visit the finished projects.  It’s a nice day for physical and spiritual exercise.  Hope to see you in this neighborhood again soon!

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part IV) – John 3:19-21

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS

INTRODUCTION:

Have you ever played Hide and Go Seek?  It was one of the after-supper games that the children in our neighborhood would play.  The way we played it, as kids, was with one “seeker” who was chosen for the first game, and the position rotated so that each of us had at least one turn.  The rest of the children were “hiders”.  The seeker would begin by closing his eyes, then counting to one hundred loudly, giving the hiders time to find a place to hide.  For those who couldn’t count that high, they could count to ten for each of their ten fingers.  When the seeker finished counting, he would say loudly, “Ready or not, here I come!”  Then the search began.  The winner was the last one found.  At first it was pretty easy to find the hiders, but as the evening wore on, it became darker, and finding one another became harder.  That was because the darkness became part of your hiding place, and you could sometimes even move to another hiding place without being seen (which was against the rules but nobody would know).  When our parents called us in to get ready for bed, it always seemed that it was at the time when the game was becoming the easiest for the hiders and the most challenging for the seekers.

The darkness had become our friend.  While the sun was out, it was our enemy, so to speak.  The sun made it harder for us to hide because there weren’t as many good hiding places.  We could too-easily be seen.  But the darker it became, the more we blended in with the darkness.  That’s why some of the kids wore dark clothing.  They were more obvious when the sun was out, but when the sun was going down they were better able to blend in with the darkness.  Our parents realized that the darkness could also be our enemy, causing us to stumble or bump into things and get hurt because we couldn’t see where we were going.  That’s why they called us to come inside, even when we didn’t have school the next morning.

I’ve just shared about physical light and darkness, and their affect on our game of Hide And Go Seek.  Jesus is concluding his conversation with Nicodemus by talking about spiritual light and darkness.  He’s going to tell Nicodemus why many people don’t want to be born anew by the Spirit of God, and why they do not want to admit their own sinfulness and hopelessness, and look to Him in faith.

I.  THE VERDICT (verse 19)

Verse 19 says:  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The Lord Jesus is calling Himself “the light who has come into the world”   People don’t want to be born again by the Spirit of God.  They don’t want to recognize their sinfulness and helplessness, and look in faith to His Son for forgiveness and healing.  They like their evil ways and don’t want to give them up

Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah was the best known, and his writings were the most-often read.  The reason for this was his focus on the coming Messiah.  His words were a source of hope, joy, and expectation.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had memorized many portions of Isaiah, and as Jesus talks to him about light and darkness, those Scriptures are coming to his mind, and Jesus knows that this is happening.  In the book of Isaiah, the Messiah is often referred as a “light in the darkness”.  For example, Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”  Another Messianic prophecy in Isaiah is Isaiah 60;2,3:  “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you.  And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  Jesus’ words and His judgment were not unfamiliar to Nicodemus.  He also remembered Scriptures referring to light and darkness in the psalms.

Through these illustrations, Jesus is saying that He didn’t come into this world to judge, but to save.  However, people are judging themselves when they refuse to turn from their darkness and respond to His light.  William Barclay shares an illustration that brings the point across.  A visitor was being shown round an art gallery by one of the attendants.  In that gallery were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius.  At the end of the tour the visitor said, “Well, I don’t think much of your old pictures.”  The attendant answered quietly, “Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are.”  That man’s reaction demonstrated his own blindness to beauty and talent.

II.  THE EXPLANATION (verse 20)

In verse 20, the Lord Jesus explains more fully what He said in verse 19.  Here are His words:  “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  The light that Jesus is referring to is Himself, “the light of the world”  He’s not using these words in a physical or intellectual sense, but from a moral and spiritual perspective.  He’s telling Nicodemus that, in spite of the fact that God loves the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for their sins so that they might have forgiveness and a new life, the vast majority of the people do not want to come to Him.  In their pride they are saying, “I like living in my sin.  Leave me alone!  Don’t expose me to the truth because I don’t want to hear it!”  The word “hate” is a very strong emotion and choice.  It’s directed not only toward it’s revealing effects, but also to its Source.  They don’t want to see themselves as they really are.  Therefore they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus.  It’s a self-imposed spiritual blindness and darkness.  In the Old Testament, darkness (in a spiritual sense) is a place where the light of God does not shine.  Jesus has given Nicodemus a description of those who will not come to the light, as well as the reasons for that choice.  The apostle Paul gives a description of such people when he speaks to Timothy about the last days.  “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:2-4).  That’s quite a description!

I found an illustration that fits that description to some degree.  The story is told of a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong distain for “religious” things.  As he plowed his field on Sunday morning, he would shake his fist at the church people who passed by on their way to worship.  October came and the farmer had his finest crop ever – the best in the entire county.  When the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local paper which belittled the Christians for their faith in God.  Near the end of his diatribe he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper.”  The response from the Christians in the community was quiet and polite.  In the next edition of the town paper, a small ad appeared.  It read simply, “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.” (William F. Brown in Making Sense of Your Faith)

III.  THE ALTERNATIVE AND THE INVITATION (verse 21)

Verse 21 gives the last words recorded by John of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  The Lord Jesus says, “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  Nicodemus did “come to the light” (Jesus), even though it was under the cover of darkness.  This act shows a desire to want to know the truth about Jesus, but his understanding is unclear.  He hasn’t acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah because there has not been a response of worship, repentance and obedience.  There has been no evidence of change in his life and no commitment to follow Him.  I sense that an invitation is being given to Nicodemus by Jesus.  The next step in his life is to be born again by the power of the Spirit of God so that he can manifest the glory of God in his life.

The conversation ends abruptly there.  John records no parting remarks.  He leaves it there and moves on.  We aren’t told the affect this meeting has had on Nicodemus.  There don’t seem to be any immediate results.  Nicodemus goes back home and his life continues where it left off before this meeting.  He has much to think about and sort out in his mind.

In 1964, Billy Page wrote a song and his brother Gene arranged it.  The song was originally performed by Dobie Gray in 1965 and became a big hit here in the USA and in the UK.  The name of the song is “The In Crowd”.  Here are the words to the first stanza:

I’m in with the “in-crowd”; I go where the “in-crowd” goes.
I’m in with the “in-crowd”, and I know what the “in-crowd” knows.
Anytime of the year don’t you hear; dressing fine, making time.
We breeze up and down the street; we get respect from all the people we meet.
They make way day or night; they know the “in-crowd” is out-of-sight
.

Nicodemus is leaving the presence of Jesus to go back to the “in-crowd”.  As a Pharisee, and especially as a leader in the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus is in the “in-crowd” of Jewish society at that time and place.  The words of that song ring true for him.  But if any member of the “in-crowd” found out that Nicodemus had a personal meeting with Jesus, he would be out of the “in-crowd” in a hurry!  Make no mistake about that!

Nicodemus is “out-of-sight” alright!  He makes a comment about following God’s Law when his associates are making accusations about Jesus in John 7:50-53, and then we don’t hear about him for over two years!  I believe that Nicodemus was there, together with the other rulers, watching Jesus die on that cross (Luke 23:35).  It would have been obvious to him that Jesus’ illustration of the serpent on the pole was being fulfilled before his eyes.   Did Nicodemus become a follower of Christ?  I’m convinced that he did.  He wouldn’t have gone along with Joseph of Arimathea to request the body of Christ from Pilate, and he would not have spent a fortune for aloes and spices in order to give Jesus a King’s burial if he wasn’t convinced that Jesus was his Messiah (John 19:38-40).  He was no longer a member of the “in-crowd”.  He had become a child of God and was now a member of God’s family:  the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION:

There is much that we can learn from Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus.  For one, Jesus’ life was a major part of His witness.  Nicodemus was impressed with Jesus and with His method of teaching.  He wanted to meet Him and talk to Him personally.  By welcoming Nicodemus, showing respect and listening to him, Jesus was given the privilege of responding to him. and focusing on his deepest need.  Jesus let Nicodemus know that there was a cure for his deepest needs, even though Nicodemus didn’t express them.  Everyone needs a cure for sin and its effects on their lives, and Jesus pointed Him to the only cure.  Jesus kept His presentation simple, using physical illustrations that were familiar to Nicodemus in order to help him understand spiritual realities.  Most importantly, Jesus stressed the love of God for him.  God’s love for him and for the world was Jesus’ primary focus.  That’s why God provided a way to Himself through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is why Nicodemus would give up what he had and become a follower of Jesus Christ.  Let’s keep those principles, demonstrated by Jesus, in mind and follow His example in witnessing.

There are also lessons to be learned from Nicodemus.  What I’ve learned this week is that Nicodemus was an exception to the rule.  He was not the typical Pharisee and Ruler.  But every person has the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.  Look at the apostle Paul!  So don’t give up on people.  Love them, take an interest in them, befriend them, listen to them, and pray for them.  Remember that you also have the potential of being an exception to the rule by the grace of God.   



CONSTRUCTION SITE :

Welcome to this completed work site: John 3:19-21.  It’s time to move to the site next door as we keep working our way down the block.  John the Baptist designed the next building for us, and it’s time to follow his blueprint and enjoy seeing what it looks like with each working day.  Please come back again soon or visit other completed messages on this blog.  May God shed the light of His Word on your life and cause you to shine brightly for Him, as He lives and reigns in you.

 

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.

JESUS CHRIST: “Life” and “Light” – John 1: 4-5

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Often, at the beginning of a work of literature or piece of music, a writer or composer will present a theme, and then allow that theme to recur again and again.  John’s major themes in his gospel are “life” and “light”.  The word “life” occurs 36 times, and the word “light” occurs at least 15 times in John’s gospel.

I.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Life” (verse 4)

We have already learned, from verses 1-3, that Jesus Christ (the Logos) is eternal (“In the beginning was the Word”), that He is equally God along with the Father and Holy Spirit (“and the Word was with God”), and that He was involved in the work of creation (“All things were made through Him . . . “).  Now, in verse 4, John carries the concept of the Logos a step further when he says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  There is a connection  between “life” and “light” in this passage of scripture,  One obvious connection, in a physical sense, is that light is necessary for physical life.  There are at least four things that are necessary for human life:  light, air, water and food.  The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”,  the “Light of the world”,  the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water”, and “breathing on His disciples He said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ “.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the source of physical life, spiritual life, and eternal life.  We aren’t really living until we have Christ living in us and are living for Him.  I like the way that evangelist Billy Graham put it:  “Jesus is Life with a capital L!”  He shared this illustration about one of the greatest Christian writers of this modern age.  “C.S.Lewis,  a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford and later at Cambridge, had to do the same thing.  He spent his life exploring the literature of the centuries.  In his remarkable autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY, he tells of his pilgrimage from atheism to Christianity.  His turning point came with the realization that the writing with the deepest meaning and greatest content was based on a deep, personal faith in God, written by men like St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and George Macdonald.”  Reading their writings brightened his days and pointed him to the source of their joy and convictions about life.  As a result. C.S. Lewis decided to re-study the scriptures and re-consider the claims of Christ. His life was changed and his book, “Mere Christianity” is a classic.  In the following quote from “Mere Christianity” you will see how C.S. Lewis’s pre-conceived ideas about Jesus Christ changed as he studied God’s Word:

“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him:   ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher. but I don’t accept his claims to be God.’  That is one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool. you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great moral teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

As the “Bread of Life”, Jesus satisfied the craving that C.S. Lewis had for knowing the truth.  He found that truth in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and his life changed dramatically because “the Life” now lived and reigned in Him.

II.  JESUS CHRIST:  “The Light” (verses 4-5)

The Greek word John uses is “phos”, which literally means “brightness” or “brilliance”.  We get our English words “photo” and “phosphorous” from that word.  The Greek gods were said to live in a world of brightness, whereas our world was one of darkness.  However, according to myth, when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, things weren’t quite so dark anymore.

Jesus’ life was a light to men.  The Lord Jesus is not only the giver of physical and spiritual life, He is also the source of light for our journey through life.  He was a revealing light.  He reveals what we are in comparison to Him.  Pastor and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “A holy life will produce the deepest impression.  Lighthouses blow no horns; they just shine.”  Jesus’ light is so bright that it is meant to take the focus away from ourselves and put the focus on Him.  The light of His Person and His character shows us life the way it really is; the way it was meant to be.  When we have the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ living and reigning in us, we can’t help but shine.

We find this idea expressed and implied in many places in the Old Testament.  God’s nearness or closeness was indicated or demonstrated by light (Exodus 13:21ff, Nehemiah 9:12, Daniel 2:22, Habakkuk 3:4)  The “pillar of fire”, “the light”, “the sunlight” are among the many indications of God’s presence and holiness. and are among the many self-manifestations of God.

Secondly, the Lord Jesus is a guiding light – a Light that shined in the darkness.  This may seem obvious to you, but it’s been a fresh insight to me and I’ve been thinking about it all day.  It is this:  Darkness cannot extinguish light, but light can extinguish darkness.  No matter how dark the darkness, a bright light will extinguish enough darkness for us to find our way.  Applying those thoughts to John 1:4-5, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only remedy for mankind who is in the darkness of sin.  John records these words of Jesus in chapter 8, verse 12:  “I am the light of the world. he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The world’s difficulties and problems can be summed up in the words of verse 5:  “And the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”  Even today, there are many in this world who are living in spiritual darkness and don’t even realize it.  I believe there is a much greater number of people in this world today who have chosen to live in spiritual darkness and oppose the light of Jesus Christ.  Are you in the darkness or in the light?

The Greek word “katelaben”, in verse 5, has several meanings.  It can mean “understand” and it can also mean “overcome”.  Did you do any wrestling in high school or college?  Have you ever watched a wrestling match in person or on T.V.?  The Greeks loved the sport of wrestling, and this word was used when a wrestler took down his opponent and pinned him to the mat.  King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus when Jesus was only a little child.  He gave the order that all the male babies in Bethlehem  and the surrounding areas who were two years old or younger must be killed.  Yet he failed to kill the baby Jesus!

Mothers and fathers who lost their children in that slaughter by Herod must have wondered, “Is it ever going to end?  How can it get any worse than this?  Those were dark times!

During His public ministry the Scribes and Pharisees tried to kill Jesus many times, but their plans failed because it was not yet His time to die.  When that time came, Jesus went voluntarily and peaceably to His death.  While Jesus was on the cross, darkness came over the earth for three hours, and the forces of darkness thought they had won the match.  But Jesus would not go down for the count!  He rose from the dead and was victorious over the powers of darkness!  Jesus was, and is, a beacon in a world of darkness; a Light that has no power failures!

We are also living in dark times today.  There is moral and social decline, political unrest, and spiritual decay, to name a few.  The difference is that there are now many lights all over the world, shining like stars in the night-time skies.  These stars are men and women, and boys and girls who have repented of their sins and invited Jesus Christ to have His rightful place in their lives as Lord and Savior.  As a result, their lives have changed dramatically and the light of Christ is shining out through their actions and attitudes (Matthew 5:16).

May the life and light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine forth in your life.  Maybe it’s for the very first time; maybe it has been a moment-by-moment experience for many years,  In either case, stay close to Him and “be shiny”!

 

 

 

More will be added to this work-in-progress soon.  Please come back and visit this construction site again soon.

PRAYING LIKE ELIJAH – A True Story in Africa in the 20th Century

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John C. Wengatz was a pioneer missionary to Africa for 42 years, serving in Liberia, Angola, and the Congo during the early to mid-1900’s.  In his book, Miracles in Black, Dr. Wengatz tells of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord’s work with a cannibal tribe.  It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming.  Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky.  Then came the time for the normal dry period.  By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation.  In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take “the white man’s God” with him.  The courageous Christian refused to go.  Then, flushed with anger, the chief sullenly warned, “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?  If it doesn’t rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!”  Recalling the biblical account of Elijah, Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with the same urgency as that ancient prophet.  Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the dawn when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast.  Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region!  As a result, the believer was able to continue his work for Christ.

GOD’S REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF I KINGS 17:42-45 IN ANSWER TO BELIEVING PRAYER.

God glorified Himself in answer to prayer and answered their challenge:  “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?”  Are you faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge in your life today?  God would like to hear from you about it.

As the prophet Jeremiah said to the Lord God, “Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?  Or can the heavens grant showers?  Is it not Thou, O Lord our God?  Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things.”  (Jeremiah 14:22)

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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

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

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

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

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

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

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

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

I.  THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH (verses 1-2)

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

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

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

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

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

IV.  THE APOSTLE PAUL (verses 8-10)

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

PRACTICING THE TRUTH – James 1:19-27

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INTRODUCTION: James now comes to the basic theme of his letter:  the importance of behaving like we believe.  In these verses James states that we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word;  and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest relationship with God and with others.

I.  PREPARE OURSELVES TO RECEIVE THE WORD (verses 19-21)

Our first responsibility toward God’s Word is to prepare ourselves to receive it.  James says that we can do this by: 1)  Being quick to hear.   To prepare ourselves for the truth, we must be ready to listen to God and to others.  Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing  by the Word of God.”  Just as a servant is quick to hear his master’s voice, and a mother is quick to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.  Listening is a part of loving.  It involves giving of ourselves and our attention wholeheartedly to another person.  And this involves really caring;  setting aside our own concerns and focusing on God or on others.  It’s much easier to find a good speaker than a good listener. 2)  Being slow to speak.  Proverbs 17:27 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words.”  God gave us two ears and one mouth,  which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak.  An anonymous poem goes like this:

A wise old bird sat on an oak.  The more he saw the less he spoke.                         The less he spoke the more he heard.  Lord, make me like that wise old bird.

We learn while listening, not while talking.  Those who want to learn the truth must silence their tongues in order to hear God speak. 3)  Being slow to anger.  Don’t get angry at God or His Word.  A pastor once said:  “Temper is such a valuable thing, it is a shame to lose it!”  It is temper that helps to give steel its strength.  The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it.  But James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us.  Like the man who broke the mirror because he didn’t like the image he saw in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.  The story is told that when Leonardo da Vinci was about to paint his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper”, he had a serious quarrel with another man.  A spirit of revenge began to grow in his heart.  It occurred to him that when he painted the picture of Judas, the one who betrayed the Savior, he could easily make Judas’s face look like the face of his enemy.  And that’s just what Leonardo did.  At last he came to the figure of Jesus.  His attempts to paint his impression of Jesus were a complete failure.  He tried again and again, but still no success.  In his heart he knew why he was having such difficulty.  He finally took his brush and painted out the face of Judas.  Then, going to his enemy, he confessed the ill-will he had been feeling toward him.  With a cleansed mind, he returned to his work and painted the figure of our Lord with the freedom and genius that resulted in a masterpiece.  Leonardo found that when he had evil and revenge in his heart, he was not able to reproduce the likeness of the Master, neither in his own personal life, nor on his canvas.  Anger makes a mess of our lives and blocks God’s truth from coming in. 4)  Having a prepared heart  (verse 21)  James saw the human heart as a garden.  If left to itself the soil would produce nothing but weeds. James urges us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil for the implanted Word of God.  How?  First, by confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us.  Then by meditating on God’s grace and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts.  Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness”, which is the opposite of wrath.  “Setting aside filthiness” means demonstrating that we appreciate the blessings of God by eliminating the sins and bad habits in our lives that destroy our witness for Christ. One day a preacher visited a coal-mining town and noticed how dingy it was.  The coal dust seemed to blacken the buildings, the trees, the shrubs and everything else.  As he was walking down the street with the foreman of the mine, his attention was focused on a beautiful, white flower.  He said, “The owner of this flower surely must take good care of it.  There’s no dust and dirt on it at all.”  The foreman threw a handful of dust on the flower.  It immediately fell off and left the flower as stainless as before.  “It has a natural enamel which prevents any dust from clinging to it”, the foreman explained.  “I think it must have been created especially for such a place as this.”  This is the way Christians are to be in this world, which is filthy because of the dust and dirt of sin.  God gives a spiritual enamel to those who yield themselves completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit,  and who  seek to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives.

II.  PRACTICE THE WORD (verses 22-25)

It is not enough to hear God’s Word.  James says, in verses 22-25, that our second responsibility toward God’s Word is to practice it.  Many Christians have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study makes them grow and get God’s blessing.  It’s not the hearing, but the doing, that brings God’s blessing. In verses 23-25, James compares the forgetful hearer with the doer.  The forgetful hearer is like the person who looks at himself in the mirror, notices his uncombed hair, dirty face, and unbrushed teeth, and instead of taking care of himself, he goes on his way, forgetting all about the problems and presenting a very unattractive appearance to others.  In the same way, a Christian who hears God’s Word without doing anything about it,  turns other people away from the Savior, rather than drawing them to Him. A bus driver became annoyed with his job because he had to wait seven minutes after every run near an open field which “litterbugs” had made into an “unofficial dump”.  He often thought that someone ought to do something about that unsightly mess.  One day he himself decided to get out and pick up some of the tin cans and other debris which were lying all around.  This improved things so much that he soon was eager to complete his route and spend all his free moments in cleaning up the area.  When spring came, he was so enthusiastic about his project that he decided to plant some flower seeds.  By the end of the summer many people were riding to the end of the line just to see what the bus driver had accomplished by “doing” what he and others had only “talked about” before.  Are you brightening the corner where you are? In verse 25, the words “looks intently” come from the Greek word which means “to stoop down”.  It refers to the Christian who humbles himself before the Word of God and lets God’s Word become a part of him, so that he becomes more like Christ in his attitudes and actions.  I have been reading from a daily devotional by Billy Graham, and in yesterday’s devotion on becoming like Christ, he said a few words that convicted me so much that I wrote them on a piece of paper so that I could put it in my wallet as a reminder.  Speaking to Christians, he said these words:  “You should be closer to God today in heart, soul, and body, than at any other time in your life.”

III.  SHARE THE WORD (verses 26,27)

In verses 26 and 27, James tells us that our third responsibility to God’s Word is to share it.  James gives us three tests to enable us to find out if we are taking God’s Word seriously.  The first test is self-control.  Are we able to control our speech so that we’re not lying, gossiping, or using filthy language.  The second test is compassion.  Are we concerned about the needs of others, and are we demonstrating that concern.  The third test is  holiness of life. Noah sent out two birds from the ark.  One was a raven – a ceremonially unclean animal;  the other was a dove, which was a clean animal and became the symbol of the Holy Spirit and holiness.  The raven did not return to the ark, even though the waters were still upon the earth.  No doubt it found a place to rest upon the floating body of some animal.  The second bird, however,  a ceremonial clean creature, returned to Noah for she could find “no rest for the sole of her foot.”  The dove would not land on an unclean thing like a corpse!  Someone has said, “In a world of sin we too have the choice of being a raven or a dove, unclean or clean, spotted or unspotted.  By the power of God’s grace, let’s keep ourselves uncontaminated by the things of the world.  While the Christian must live in the world, he should not let the world live in him..

CONCLUSION:  No sermon is done until we have done something about it.  As the apostle James said:  “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only”.  May our prayer be that of the hymn writer, Ira Wilson:  “O Savior, I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.”

NEW YEAR 2014

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Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?  One dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”.  Another dictionary says:  “a serious decision to do something.”  From those definitions I get the impression that resolutions are choices we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in 2014?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make in 2013?  Are you satisfied with those choices? The search engine Google put a short film on U-Tube entitled “What Did The World Search For This Year.”  It focused on personal and world events that made life worth living in 2013.  At the end of the film are written these words:  “Search On“. I hope that you have come to this site to gain an eternal perspective on life, and to seek God’s  wisdom to guide you on your continuing search for answers and meaning to life.   The Bible tells us that there are only two things in this world that are going to last forever:  God’s Word and people.  In Matthew 24:35 the Lord Jesus told the parable of the fig tree, and said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”  In I Peter 1:24-25 the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40 when he says:  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” The other entity that lasts forever is people.  They will live forever in one of two places:  heaven or hell.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life.  He will not come to judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  By contrast, the apostle John records in Revelation 20 what he saw in a vision:  “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The wonderful and exciting thing about heaven is that it lasts forever.  The terrible and terrifying thing about hell is that it lasts forever.  Each year brings you closer to death, and also to eternity.   May you choose to have a joyful eternity by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Savior and Lord.  Then every day and every year until eternity will be filled with joy, inner peace, and unfading hope.

Please let me know your honest reaction to this New Year’s Eve message.  I will gladly respond to any comments you make and any questions you might have.  My purpose was not to dampen your spirit, but to put the year in perspective.  These were a few of the thoughts that came to my mind this New Year’s Eve.  I’m interested in knowing your thoughts also.  Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!