THE BREAD OF LIFE – John 6:48-50

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INTRODUCTION:

There are many foods in this world of ours that are available only to a few people because of their cost or because of their scarcity or seasonal nature.  But bread is the universal food of mankind.  It is found on every table – rich or poor, king or peasant.  Whether it is made of wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or some other grain, it is bread, the cheapest and most nourishing food.  Bread represents all the elements needed to sustain life.  Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, gives the following description.  “Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking.  Throughout recorded history it has been popular around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.”

Here in John’s gospel, Jesus has been described in terms of the basics of physical life.  He is called “light” in chapter 1, and describes Himself to Nicodemus, in chapter 3, as the “light that has come into the world.”  Jesus also describes the work of the Spirit of God by using the wind, the movement of air, as an illustration of spiritual birth.  When speaking to the woman at the well, in chapter 4, Jesus identifies Himself to her as the Source of “living water”, and now He is referring to Himself as the “bread of life”.   Putting those descriptions together, we have the basics for sustaining physical life in human beings:  light, air, water, and bread.  His purpose for all these illustrations is to transition from “physical basics” to “spiritual basics”, and so far He has been very successful in doing so.  There is more to be said about bread.  In this passage of Scripture we’re going to see how this information about Himself is received by this small crowd of people who crossed the Sea of Galilee in boats that morning, and found Jesus and His disciples in Capernaum.

I.  JESUS RESTATES HIS CLAIM (verse 48)

Verse 48 contains these words of Jesus:  “I am the bread of life”.  He just said those very same words to them several minutes earlier in verse 35.  I think there is more to His words than just repetition for the sake of remembrance.  In Matthew’s gospel we find that Jesus spent quite a bit of time in the synagogues of the Jews.  It was His practice to visit the synagogues in Galilee when He was in that region.  Matthew 4:23 says, “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues . . . “.  Since a small portion of the 5000 crossed the Sea of Galilee in the early morning and found Jesus and His disciples, I personally think that Jesus was on His way to the synagogue in Capernaum when they joined Him, and Jesus spoke to them about the bread of life while they were walking into town.  As they approached the synagogue, bystanders along the way may have joined the crowd, and they followed Jesus into the synagogue.  Inside there were more people, gathered for the time of instruction.  I think Jesus may be repeating His earlier statements for the sake of the people in the synagogue, who were watching them enter the building and were, no doubt, curious about what they were discussing.  This may not be the first time that Jesus taught in their synagogue.  John 6:59 confirms this.  It reads, “These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”

I’m sure they all wondered what Jesus meant when he walked into the synagogue, waited for everyone to sit down and listen to Him speak, and then said those words, “I am the bread of life.”  Jesus was saying that in Him are all the elements for a healthy, growing spiritual life.  The famous missionary, Jonathan Goforth, had preached a series of messages in a chapel in southern China in the early 1900’s.  Afterward, a man asked to talk to him.  The man said, “I have heard you speak three times, and you always have the same theme.  You always speak of Jesus Christ.  Why?”  The missionary replied, “Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, ‘What did you have for dinner today?’ ”  “Rice”, replied the man.  “What did you have yesterday?”
“The same thing.”  “And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?”  “Rice, of course.  It gives me strength.  I could not do without it.  Sir, it is . . .”  (the man hesitated, as if looking for a strong word).  Then he added, “Sir, it is my life!”  The missionary responded quickly, “What you have said of rice, Jesus is to your soul.  He is the “rice” or “bread of life”.

There may yet be another reason why Jesus keeps repeating that He is the bread of life.  The Jews in Judea had grumbled saying that Jesus and His family were from Nazareth, and no prophet was supposed to come from Nazareth.  They didn’t ask Jesus where He was born and they didn’t do any research for themselves, or they would have learned that He was born in Bethlehem.  Did you know that the name “Bethlehem”  literally means “House of Bread”.  Jesus was speaking to them in Hebrew, and the word He was saying was “lehem”, the second half of the word “Bethlehem”.  He’s saying, “I am lehem” over and over again.  Wouldn’t you think that the town of Bethlehem might come to the minds of some of His listeners?  “I am ‘lehem’ from ‘Bethlehem’.”  “I am bread” from the “house of bread”.  I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility, and that’s a new insight for me.

II.  COMPARISON TO THE MANNA RESTATED (verses 49-50)

Once again, Jesus also compares Himself to the manna for the sake of all the people who are present, many of whom did not hear the first statement in verses 28-32.  But this time Jesus changes the wording slightly to emphasize a different perspective.  Earlier, in verses 28-31 the crowd asked Jesus to show them a sign as proof that He came from God.  Then they describe the kind of a sign they want Him to perform.  To paraphrase, they said,  “Give us a sign like the one Moses gave the people of Israel.  Send us manna from heaven to eat.”  The crowd wanted another free meal; only this time they wanted it catered from heaven!

The Lord Jesus responds to them by telling them about the long-lasting effects of the bread He has to offer them.  In verse 35, He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is speaking spiritually, but they are taking it literally.  They want this bread, just as the woman at the well, in John 4:15, wanted that “living water”!  He also states, in verse 33, that the bread He offers is not exclusive to the Jews, but inclusive of the whole world.  He “gives life to the world”.  So the bread Jesus offers in Himself is long-lasting and inclusive of all peoples without distinction.

A.  THE MANNA WAS PHYSICAL FOOD  (verse 49)

In verse 49, Jesus once again begins to compare Himself to the manna, but this time He emphasizes that He is the bread which will prevent death.  He says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”  The manna sustained physical life but it didn’t prevent death.  All who ate the manna eventually died.  There would be no argument among the people listening to Him concerning that statement.  They were probably nodding their heads silently in agreement.  The Scriptures were clear that the manna was given to sustain the lives of their ancestors until they died, or until the next generation entered the promised land and could eat the fruit of that land.  However, the next sentence from the mouth of Jesus is going to raise some eyebrows and start the grumbling again!  This is especially so because He is now inside the synagogue where there are probably priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees among those who are listening to Him speak.  The crowd isn’t friendly anymore!

This is not the Sabbath day.  They apostle John is very diligent about letting his readers know when it is a Sabbath or a feast day of the Jews.  The previous Sabbath was just a couple of days earlier, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-17).  If it’s not the Sabbath, why would Jesus be going to the synagogue on a weekday?  This synagogue was a busy place during the week also.  It served as a community center, school, court, and place of study.  There was never a dull moment in the synagogues of that day.

B.  THE BREAD OF PERPETUAL LIFE (verse 50)

In verse 50, the Lord Jesus once again makes a comparison between the manna and the bread He has to offer them.  He says, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”  So far, the crowd has been thinking that Jesus is talking about physical bread, so they are naturally going to deduce that He is talking about physical death.  Two people from the Scriptures must have immediately come to their minds.  Their names were Enoch and Elijah, and they are the only two people in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings who did not die.  (Genesis 5:22-24; II Kings 2:1-15).  It’s also obvious from the Scriptures that it wasn’t bread that kept these two men from dying.  What is Jesus talking about?  Why is He making such a claim?

To begin with, I think the Lord Jesus wants to bring the subject of death to their minds.  The children of Israel were given the manna in answer to their fear of starving.  Jesus is going to give them an answer to their fear of death.  It’s a subject about which there was a considerable difference of opinion among first-century Jews.  Each of those present in that synagogue had ideas they were taught as children, along with their own personal ideas about death and the after-life, referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Ha-Ba (the World To Come).

A cemetery in Indiana has a tombstone that is over a hundred years old, and it bears this epitaph:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby had read those words and scratched this reply below them:

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

The passerby was right.  The important thing about death is what follows.  Where are you going?

One sizable group of Hebrew people during the first century were the Sadducees.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  One of my professors in Bible college said something that I’ve never forgotten.  We were studying the Gospels and he said, “The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead;  that’s why they’re ‘sad,you see’.”  If I didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead, I’d be sad too; wouldn’t you?

From what I’ve read about first-century Judaism, the greater focus of attention appears to be on the here and now, rather than on the there and then.  If you have a computer, you probably get notifications of updates that need to be installed.  Some of those updates take quite a bit of time to install.  Usually you are given the option of three buttons to choose from.  You can click “install now”, “set a time”, or “remind me later”.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to be bothered by the interruption and so you click the “remind me later” button.  I’ve been clicking that button several times over the past weeks, putting it off again and again.  I need to stop and let the developers of my operating system get the job done!  First-century Judaism probably wasn’t much different from our society today when it comes to the issue of death.  It wasn’t a subject that they liked to discuss, so they often ignored it or kept putting it off until later.  Evangelist Billy Graham made the following comment:  Much of the world pretends that death does not exist.  We like to speak of the dead as “departed”, or persons who have died as having “passed on” or “expired”.  We do not like the word “death”.  It seems so final, so irreversible, so hopeless.

Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death and the afterlife?  Yes, in many places.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others are spoken of as being “gathered to their people” after they died.  By contrast, the wicked were described as being “cut off from their people.”  Daniel 12:2 speaks of a conscious life after death in one of two places, and both are everlasting.  It never ends.  Many passages of Scripture use the word Sheol to refer to the place of the dead (in the Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jonah, Isaiah, I Samuel, and others).  Add to that the teachings of the Rabbis that were collected as part of the Mishnah and Talmud.  In these writings it seems that each of the rabbis had a different teaching about the afterlife.  This added confusion to the minds of the people, and increased their fear of what’s in store for them beyond the grave.

With that background in mind concerning death and the afterlife, the people’s ears must have been tingling and their attention focused on the Lord Jesus after He said those words in verse 50:  “This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”  Everyone there was wondering, “What is He going to say next?”  “How can this be possible.”  I think Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us as well, a principle for sharing the Gospel message:  Sometimes, in order to awaken in people a desire for eternal life, you’ve got to put the fear of death into them!  By putting the fear of death into people, we may also be putting the fear of God into them:  “If there is a God, what’s He going to do to me when this life is over?”  “I’ve tried to be good, but so far I haven’t been very successful!”

CONCLUSION:

Is death a subject that you don’t like to think about or talk about?  Do you sometimes worry about your own death and what might await you on the other side?  Would you like to put an end to those worries and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life?  If so, please go to my sermon on John 1:12, entitled “What Does It Mean To Receive Christ”, and consider what God wants you to do, and what He gives you in exchange for your act of obedience and faith.  May you allow the Bread of Life to be the One who satisfies the deepest hunger of your soul, both now and for eternity.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Let’s feast on the Word of God, which describes for us the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life.

 

 

 

WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART IV – Witness, Response, and Lesson – John 4:27-34

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Luis Palau, a Latin-American evangelist, tells of the conversion of a woman in Peru whose life was radically transformed by the power of Christ.  Rosario was her name.  She was a terrorist, a brute of a woman who was an expert in the martial arts.  As a terrorist she had participated in the death of twelve policemen.  When Luis conducted a crusade in Lima, she learned of it.  Being incensed at the message of the Gospel, she made her way to the stadium with the intent to kill the preacher.  Inside the stadium, as she contemplated how to get to him, she began to listen to the message he was preaching.  She fell under conviction for her sins, and embraced Christ as her Savior.

Ten years later, Luis met this convert for the first time.  By this time she had assisted in the establishment of five churches.  She was a vibrant, active Christian witness and worker in the church, and had founded an orphanage that cared for over a thousand children.

Almost two thousand years before this amazing transformation, another notorious woman was converted through the words of the Savior Himself.  We don’t know her name, but in this sermon we will be studying the dramatic change in her life, and how the Lord used her testimony in a mighty way.  We will also learn the lesson that the Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples as the effects of this woman’s conversion are in the process of happening.

I.  THE DISCIPLES’ REACTION (verse 27)

The Lord Jesus has been talking to the woman at the well, offering her living water, revealing her “secret” sins, and then revealing Himself as the Messiah that she had been longing to see.  Here in verse 27 the scene changes. “And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why do you speak with her?’ “   It was not customary for Jewish men to speak to women in public, and it was forbidden to speak to Samaritan women.  That was the teaching of the Rabbi’s during that period of time.  If it had been one of their fellow-disciples engaged in that conversation, they might have said something like “You know that is forbidden!  What’s the matter with you?”  But no one questioned Jesus, or rebuked Him.  Their respect for Jesus was great, and they were beginning to realize that He didn’t share their prejudices.  He treated all people with respect and love, and they were learning from His example.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verses 28-29)

It’s obvious to me, from verse 27, that the passage of Scripture we are studying does not record every word of the conversation between the Lord Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  When the disciples return to the well, the two of them are still conversing with each other. What’s recorded here is what the Spirit of God revealed to the apostle John, and he recorded in his gospel.

Verses 28 and 29 focus on the woman’s reaction and response to the words and claims of Jesus.  “So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?’ ”  We can see from her words and her actions that this woman had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, was converted. and became a devoted follower of Him.  Like Rosario in my opening illustration, her life was completely changed, and in her case we get to see the immediate results.  She left her waterpot behind at the well when she left.  She was so filled up with the “Living Water” that both her spiritual and her physical thirsts were completely satisfied.  Besides, she was going to be coming back for it very soon. The city of Sychar was at least half a mile from the well, and I believe she ran the whole distance!  This woman immediately became the first woman-evangelist in the New Testament.  She even gave an invitation:  “Come and see”!  She said those words respectfully, wanting them to find out firsthand and come to their own conclusions.  Her last words are “This is not the Christ, is it?”  She believes it.  Jesus Christ has already changed her life; but she is saying those words to arouse their curiosity.  They are looking forward to Messiah’s coming also.  Enthusiasm can be contagious, and this woman certainly had enthusiasm that day!  She was starting her life all over again, and getting off to a running start!

This brings an illustration to mind.  A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just goes to prove you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  The manager replied, “Son, take my advice:  your job is not to make him drink.  Your job is to make him thirsty.”  (Preaching, Dec., 1985).  This woman, by her words, her attitude. and actions had created a thirst in the men of Sychar, and they were following her to the well in the hope of satisfying that thirst.

III.  INVITATION ACCEPTED (verse 30)

A miracle was about to occur in the city of Sychar.  Normally the men of that city would not dare to be seen in the presence of such an immoral woman, and would have refused to talk to her, but something had drastically changed about this woman, and they could see it in her face and hear it in their voice.  I imagine that she was breathless from running that distance, and there were tears of joy in her eyes and an expression of excitement on her face.  The Spirit of the Lord had also gone before her to prepare their hearts for what she was going to tell them.

Amazingly, the men of the city decided to accept her invitation and began to follow her to Jacob’s well.  They wanted to find out for themselves whether or not her words to them were true.  We’re not talking about a handful of men, or a company of men, or even a large group of men.  If “all” of the men in the city of Sychar followed her, there would have been hundreds of men, stretched across the countryside, coming to Jesus!

A similar situation and response occurred in Mainland China.  A Chinese farmer, after having cataracts removed from his eyes, made his way from the Christian compound to the far interior of China.  Only a few days later, however, the missionary doctor looked out his bamboo window and noticed this formerly blind man holding the front end of a long rope.  In single-file, and holding onto the rope behind him were several dozen blind Chinese whom the farmer had rounded up and led for miles to the doctor who had worked a “miracle” on his eyes.  His restored sight was cause enough for this man to share what had happened to him with those in like condition. (1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching).

IV.  MEANWHILE . . . BACK AT THE WELL (verses 31-34)

A.  DISCUSSION ABOUT FOOD (verses 31-33)

Verse 31 may not seem to be saying much of any consequence, but it is actually a pivotal verse that gives us much information about the disciples.  “In the meantime the disciples were requesting Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat’.”  Those two words, “Rabbi, eat”. speak volumes about their trip to Sychar to buy groceries.  Let me describe what I mean.  A group of twelve Jewish men show up at the market place in Sychar, Samaria that afternoon.  Do you  think anybody noticed?  I think every eye in the market place was on them, wondering what they were doing in their city.  I also think that the disciples could sense this, and felt uneasy about it.  Did the disciples make use of this opportunity to tell the people about Jesus and invite them to meet Him?  No.  Did they say anything to anybody at all?  If they did, it would only have been what was absolutely necessary in order to purchase the food.  How do I know that?  Because of those two words, “Rabbi, eat”, which indicate that their only concern was the enjoyment of the food they bought Add to that the fact that they “marveled” that Jesus was talking to this Samaritan woman.    If they had been witnesses of Christ to those people, they would have come back with hearts full of joy and love, and their first concern would have been to tell Jesus how God had used them.  In fact, the men of the city might have followed them back to the well to meet Jesus if they had been invited to do so.  Sadly, their prejudices and their concern for themselves got in the way, and the disciples were ineffectual for the Lord on that day.

In response to the entreaty of His disciples, Jesus says in verse 32, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  The Lord Jesus has a masterful way of generating curiosity in His listener or listeners.  He peaked the curiosity of Nicodemus and the woman at the well through His conversations with each of them, using physical realities as a transition into spiritual realities.  He does so once again with His disciples and gets a similar reaction.  They are whispering to one another in verse 33, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?”  They thought He was talking about physical food because they had never experienced the joy and excitement of bringing another person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Messiah, their Lord and King.

B.  DOING THE WILL OF THE FATHER (verse 34)

Jesus overhears their quiet conversation with one another so He gives them an explanation in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”  Doing His Father’s will was the essence of His life.  It brought Him complete satisfaction and renewed His spirit the way that food nourishes and renews the body.  In this case, doing the will of the Father meant sharing the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with the woman at the well.  It was the good news that her long-awaited Messiah had come and revealed Himself to her.

Have you ever been so happy and excited that you didn’t even feel like eating?  Did you just want to think about what happened and share it with everyone who would listen to you.  If you’ve had such an experience, then you know what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus speaks about doing the Father’s will several times during His life on earth, and He faithfully did so.  If we change one word in verse 34, we can apply it to our own lives as well.  “My food is to do the will of Him who SAVED me, and to accomplish His work.”  The Lord Jesus gave us a perfect example of what it means to do the will of the Father, even to the point of death on the cross for us.  In this particular instance, doing the will of the Father refers to the salvation of souls.  That was the food that nourished His spirit the way physical food nourishes and strengthens the body and delights the senses.

CONCLUSION:

Is something missing in your life?  Are there major questions that are still unanswered and issues that are still unresolved?  Does life seem to have no meaning or purpose beyond this present moment?  Have you been trying to fill that void with all kinds of earthly things to no avail.  You’re not alone.  One of the greatest and wealthiest men of all time had the same problem and tried to solve it “his way”.  His name is Solomon the king, the son of David, king of Israel.  He wrote a book of the Bible entitled “Ecclesiastes” describing his problem of not being able to find lasting joy and purpose in life.  He pursued human wisdom, pleasure, riches, fame, building projects, and other pursuits but could find no lasting satisfaction.  He said it was all “striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14,17).  The book of Ecclesiastes ends with these words:  “The conclusion, when all else has been heard, is fear (worship) God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).  Prior to this statement, Solomon said that the truly wise are like goads, irritating our consciences until we allow the Shepherd to nail down those truths forever as convictions in our lives through faith in Him.  Will you give your life over to the Shepherd today?  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).  There is no better place to be, and no greater One to follow.  Whose sheep are you? 

If you are a Christian, or just became a Christian, did you know that surveys taken by the Billy Graham Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other Christian organizations have found that the number one reason why many Christians don’t share their faith is because of the fear of what others might think of them?  But if you are truly enthusiastic about your faith in Jesus, you won’t let anyone or anything get in your way.  That concern won’t even enter your mind because you’ll be thinking about the will of God and the person’s need, not about yourself.  Pastor and author, Stuart Briscoe gives a very concise definition of a witness:  “A witness is someone who, by explanation and demonstration, gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard, without being deterred by the consequences of his action” (S. Briscoe, “Getting Into God”, p. 76).  Let’s ask God to empower our witness as we strive to tell everyone we know about the life-changing message of the Gospel, and let them see how that message, and the Person of Jesus Christ, has changed our lives.

Thank you for visiting.  I hope that this study of God’s Word has been of encouragement to you today.  The next passage of Scripture that I will be studying is John 4:35-42.  There are also over one hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the grace and peace of the Lord be with you today and always.  May you delight in doing the will of God and sharing the Word of God with others.

GOD, THE RAIN-MAKER : A true story from the life and teachings of Watchman Nee

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Watchman Nee was a church leader and Christian teacher in Mainland China during the 20th century.  As a new Christian, I read two of his books:  The Normal Christian Life, and Sit, Walk, Stan(a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).  Both books were a real encouragement to me because they both talk about the basics of the Christian life.  Nee had an experience similar to that of Elijah, as noted in my previous post (The Power of Prayer – James 5:16b-18)

In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast.  There were seven in the ministering group, including a 16-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu.  The island was fairly large, containing about 6000 homes.  Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headteacher of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered that they had come to preach the Gospel.  Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert.  Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-wang.  They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year, the weather was always near-perfect.

“When is the procession this year?”, young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.  “It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning”, was the reply. “Then”, said the new convert, “I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th.”

At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd:  “That is enough!  We don’t want to hear any more preaching.  If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!”

Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation took place.  Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer.  On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain.  Worshipers of the idol Ta-wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain.  Then the rain increased!  After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.

A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen.  The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th.  When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then.  That afternoon the sky cleared, and on the good days that followed, there were thirty converts.  On the crucial last day, Nee says:  “The 14th broke, another perfect day, and we had good meetings.  As the evening approached we met again at the appointed hour.  We quietly brought the matter to the Lord’s remembrance.  Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.”

The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated.  Believing prayer had brought a great victory.  Conversations followed.  And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on.  (Sermon Illustrations, PRAYER, answered)

As in the case of Elijah’s prayer, God once again brought rain in answer to prayer. God demonstrated that He was truly God, and there are no other “gods” like Him.

SCRIPTURE READING;  Now Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.”  So Ahab went up to eat and drink.  But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth, and put his face between his knees (as he prayed).  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.”  So he went up and said, “There is nothing.”  And he said “go back” seven times.  And it came about that at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.”  And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’ ”  So it came about in a short while, that the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.  (I Kings 17:41-45)

THE GOD OF ELIJAH IS OUR GOD!  HE STILL LIVES AND ANSWERS PRAYER!

QUESTIONS TO PRAY ABOUT – James 5:13-16a

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James begins this verse by asking, “Is any one of you in trouble?”  Do you think that James is expecting a “no” answer?  Is he using the laws of probability here? Let’s say that James expects at least 5000 people to read or hear this letter. Therefore there must be at least one person who has this “trouble”.  I don’t think so.  James is expecting a positive response.  If that’s true, then why is he asking the question?  Why doesn’t he just tell them to pray when they are troubled? James is asking a “rhetorical question” here, and he uses three of them in verses 13 and 14.

Sometimes a rhetorical question is used to give the recipient a moment to pause and think about it before receiving the answer.  It can be used as a teaching tool.   Since the reader or listener knows that the answer is “yes”, he may be more likely to listen and pay attention to what is said next.  The Lord Jesus used rhetorical questions.  In Mark 8 He used them repeatedly for the purpose of encouragement and application.

I.  ARE YOU TROUBLED? (verse 13a)

The Greek word translated “troubled” in the NIV, is the word kakopathei.  It can refer to suffering evil or hardship of any kind.  These Hebrew Christians and their families have been scattered all over Asia Minor because of the persecution, so they are struggling to find jobs, learn a new language and adjust to a different culture.  That can be very frustrating!  James knew that they needed some encouragement and some practical steps to take in order to ease their troubled minds.

Let me translate the Greek word into terms and expressions that we can all identify with.  “Are you feeling down?”  “Are you worried or distressed?”  “Are you having a bad day?”  “Are things just not going your way today?  “Do you feel like you got up on the wrong side of the bed?”  James’ response to his question is:  PRAY.  He doesn’t mean “say a prayer”.  He is encouraging them to go into the presence of God, praise and worship Him, get right with Him, give thanks to Him, and then bring their requests to Him.  By the time they get to their petition, they might find that they don’t have any urgent requests anymore.  They now feel refreshed and have a new perspective on their day.  The focus of attention has moved from their problems to their all-sufficient God.

II.  ARE YOU CHEERFUL?  (verse 13b)

The Greek word translated “cheerful” here means feeling good inside; a joyful spirit that is not dependent upon circumstances.  James says, “when you’re cheerful, sing about it, and don’t sing just any song, sing a psalm – a song of praise to God!”  Let the joy that’s inside come out – don’t keep it to yourself!   The apostle Paul and Silas were singing praises to God at midnight while they were in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25)!

Many of you have probably enjoyed listening to a large choir as they sang the great hymns of the faith.  But if you’ve ever sung in a choir yourself, you know that singing your heart out with the other choir members after all the hours of practice is an even greater experience of joy and praise to God.  And don’t forget the enjoyment that God is experiencing as He listens to your voices and the expressions of praise from your hearts.  It is a mutually gratifying experience!

Singing played a major role in the history of the people of Israel.  There are several times in the Old Testament when the whole nation of Israel sang together to the Lord.  These occasions probably came to the mind of James as he was writing these words, and also to the minds of his readers and listeners.  The first time was in Exodus 15, when Moses and the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and the entire Egyptian army drowned when the waters returned to their place.  The first few words of that song are:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (NKJV). Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?  Thousands of people singing it as loud as they could, their faces beaming with joy!  If you read the entire song, you will see that it was more than just a song.  It was a cheer to God, a vocal applause, shouting out to Him in song in response to the great things He has done. When was the last time you gave God a “round of applause” for the things He has done in your life and in the lives of others?  Don’t you think He deserves that kind of a response from our mouths?

When we’re happy we can be a source of cheer and encouragement to others also.  If you’ve been to a football, basketball, or soccer game, and the cheerleaders have you and the rest of the crowd cheering, your team usually plays harder and better.  Your cheers are urging them on and building their confidence. Statistics generally show that more games are won when the team is on its own “home field”, or has the “home court advantage.”

Once, when a great fire broke out at midnight and people thought that all the occupants of the building had been evacuated, way up on the fifth floor a little child was seen crying for help.  Up went a ladder, and soon a fireman was seen ascending to the spot.  As he neared the second story the flames burst in fury from the windows, and the multitude almost despaired of the rescue of the child.  The brave man faltered, and a comrade at the bottom cried out, “Cheer him!”  Cheer upon cheer arose from the crowd.  Up the ladder he went and saved the child, because they cheered him.  When we’re happy, let’s be “cheerleaders” to those around us.

There are several other occasions where the whole nation of Israel sang praises to God.  For example, there is I Chronicles 15 (the return of the Ark of God), and II Chronicles 5 (dedication of the temple).  In addition to these occasions, James remembers the final Passover meal that he and the other disciples celebrated with the Lord Jesus.  Since Jesus presided over the meal, after they had eaten the lamb and unleavened bread, it was Jesus who also led them in the customary singing of a hymn.  Jesus sang a hymn of praise and deliverance from the land of Egypt, knowing that the next day He was going to be that Lamb Who would be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world.  Yet He was able to sing for joy!  I hope and pray that there is a song in your heart, and on your lips today!

III.  ARE YOU WITHOUT STRENGTH?  (verses 14-16)

Another time for specific prayer is when someone within the congregation is sick. I believe this is the only place in the New Testament where praying and anointing of the sick are mentioned in conjunction with each other.  Therefore we must be very careful to understand the context of James’ words, and especially to understand the meaning of the Greek words that are used in these verses. This is not a passage of Scripture that can be clearly understood by just reading it in several translations.  Rather, I think that this is a passage of Scripture that can be easily misunderstood and misapplied if it isn’t thoroughly examined.  Get ready for some hard work and attention to details!

After examining the context of verses 14 to 16, and in the process of studying the first significant Greek word in verse 14, I am getting an altogether different understanding of what is happening in these three verses.  Please join me in laying aside previous ideas and conclusions for a while, and let’s take a fresh look at this text and its applications to us today.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself as I look at the context.  James has been addressing emotional, social, and spiritual issues in this letter.  Why would he suddenly switch to physical healing in an unclear manner and then back away from it as suddenly as he brought it up?  What does anointing with oil, confession of sin, and forgiveness have to do with sickness?  What kind of “healing” is being spoken about here?

The first Greek word I am now studying is the word asthenei.  It is the word I have highlighted in the NASB translation of the first sentence in James 5:14:  “Is anyone among you sick?  It literally means, “without strength”.  In Mark 6:13 it is associated with the casting out of demons. The apostle Paul used this Greek word when referring to one’s conscience being weak (Romans 6:19; I Cor. 8:7), and the weakness of one’s flesh when it comes to giving into temptation and sin (Romans 8:3).

Notice also in verse 14, it says, “is any one among you sick, let him call for the elders . . . “.  Whatever this “sickness”  or “lack of strength” is, it isn’t incapacitating and it doesn’t appear to be physically contagious.  Also, since he is the one calling upon the elders, his specific purpose for doing so is so that they might pray for him, anointing him with oil as they pray.    This person has come to the point where he wants to make it known that he is ready and willing to do this, and wants the elders of the church to be in charge of it.  If it seems that I am belaboring the point, there is a reason for it.

I like the way the Greek Interlinear New Testament literally translates what the elders are doing:  “let them pray over him, having anointed with oil . . . “.  The  word “anointed” here means “to rub”.  It is a different word from the one used to anoint people or vessels for service to God.  Here is my interpretation based on the context of what James dealt with before it, and what proceeds afterward. As we all may know from experience, many of the issues that James has been addressing (e.g. anger, jealousy, bitterness, guilt, and anxiety) can have overpowering effects on us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and also physically.  They can draw us inward and control our personalities much like the effects of a harmful addictive drug.  Therefore I personally wonder if the elders were giving this man something similar to massage therapy and aroma therapy to soothe and comfort him in his anguish.   At the same time they were praying over him, so that he might get some things that have been bothering him “off his chest” so to speak.  The penetrating oil, the soothing aroma, the faces of these elders above him, and the sound of their prayers are preparing him to release the troubles and sins that have been eating away at his soul.  It is done in the name of the Lord, because God deserves the glory and praise for what only He can do.

In verse 15, James says, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (NASB).  The word translated “prayer” is a different Greek word for prayer.  It is the Greek word euche, which means “intense prayer“.  It is intense because it is offered in faith – grounded in the assurance of God’s will in this matter, and trusting in His enabling.  It may also be “intense” because these elders are praying together for a common purpose.  The following devotional article in Our Daily Bread is a true example of intense faith and intense prayer.

Louis Banks relates a story of a veteran missionary who returned to China after a long absence.  On the day of his return, he was met by a former convert and six other Chinese nationals.  These six, as the missionary later learned, had received Christ while living in the dark shadows of opium addiction.  Amazed by their good health, the missionary asked his former convert what remedy he had used in their deliverance.  The man answered by pointing to his knees.  He had prayed for them, and when they came to him for help he encouraged them to pray for themselves.  When they came back saying that it did them no good, the man of faith sent them back to their knees.  He said he did this again and again until they stood before him clean, sound in body and mind.  Through prayer, their cruel chains had been broken, and they had new songs of joy and praise on their lips.

Dr. M.R. DeHaan II, ends his devotional with these words:  “This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t use other means of help.  But it says that whatever help we seek, nothing must replace the role of prayer.”

As James says in verse 15, “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”  (NASB)  God has given each of us a body, soul, and spirit, and when one of these aspects of our being is weak and hurting, it affects the other two.  From this verse and verse 16, it appears that the source of the weakness is spiritual, but it has weakened the body and emotions as well.  When God “raises him up”, He is restoring vitality to every part of his being.

So James exhorts them in verse 16 to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NIV).  He is emphasizing that the sins they have been committing against each other are the source of their problems, and gives the remedy.  As Jews, his readers would tend to associate suffering with sin, and in this case they are correct.  The remedy is not only to confess their sins to God, but also to confess their sins to those whom they have wronged, praying for each other as well.  Only then can our relationships be healed.  As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “. , , first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:24).

Confession isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do in God’s sight.  God will always give us the strength to do what is right if we ask it of Him.  Is there someone you should talk to today, confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness?  The first stanza of the hymn entitled “The Evening Prayer” contains these words:

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive

by Maude Battersby

 

May you experience the joy of our Lord’s presence and closeness today, and may He shine out on your countenances as He did on the face of Moses!  BE SHINY!  (Matthew 5:16 – a child’s paraphrase).