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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

I.  THE MIRACLES (verse 36)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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

EQUAL IN GIVING SPIRITUAL LIFE – John 5:24-25

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INTRODUCTION:

When we talk about the quality of physical life, we often use phrases like “in the prime of life”, “the good life”, “barely alive”, “in the peak of health”.  When we answer the question, “How are you?”, we may have responded with words such as “fine”, “OK”, “still kicking”, “so-so”, “could be better”, “could be worse”, “hanging in there”, “not very well”, “fantastic”, “doing well”, and a host of other descriptions.  There are many possible and reasonable answers to that question.

When we speak of physical death we sometimes use phrases like “deader than a doornail”, “deader than a doorknob”, “deader than a doormat”, “as dead as can be”.  But think about that logically.  When you’re dead, you’re dead, right?  You can’t get any deader than that!  If you’ve ever watched the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, you may remember that Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked Witch of the East.  After the Munchkin coroner examined her body, he gave his professional conclusion very clearly and succinctly.

“As coroner I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her;
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead.”

I think he got the point across very clearly, don’t you?  There aren’t degrees of physical death because it’s not a comparative term;  it’s a once-and-for-all term, with a few rare exceptions given in the Scriptures.  A mortician/embalmer may do such a masterful job of preparing the person’s body for viewing that everyone at the funeral service believes that the dead loved-one is only sleeping.  But even a “total makeover” is not going to bring that person back to life.

This passage of Scripture we are studying deals with spiritual life and spiritual death.  There is a basis for comparison here.  A spiritually lost sinner is as spiritually lifeless and helpless as a dead person is physically.  He cannot save himself and he cannot give himself spiritual life.  In this passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus is telling His listeners that He not only has the power to give physical life, but He also has the greater power to give spiritual life with all its benefits, and to remove spiritual death with all its consequences.

I.  SPIRITUAL REGENERATING (verse 24)

Verse 24 begins with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you.”  Jesus is once again telling them that He is speaking from personal knowledge and experience, therefore what He has to say is true.  To put it into our manner of speaking, Jesus is saying something like “Pay close attention to what I am about to tell you.”  “It is very important information.”  He continues by saying, “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  This verse of Scripture has a lot to say to us.

The phrase “He who hears My word” is often misunderstood.  In this case, as well as in many other New Testament scripture passages, the word “hear” conveys the idea of listening, being receptive, and responding in obedience.  There were many who heard Jesus speak, in the sense that they were in “earshot” of Him and heard the words He said.   There have been many over the centuries since that time who have “heard” the gospel message with their ears, but with no concern or response.  It was “in one ear and out the other” so to speak.  When correcting a child, a parent might sometimes use the words, “Do you hear me?”.  Does the parent mean, “Did you hear the words I pronounced to you”?  No!  When I’ve heard those words spoken, the parent meant, “Are you going to do what I just told you or are you going to face the consequences!

There are some Old Testament scriptures that may give us a better perspective on this phrase, “He who hears my words”.  You will find that I often go to the Old Testament to seek a basis for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:  how He said them, where He said them, to whom He said them, and why He said them.  There is a reason why I spend a great deal of time seeking answers to those questions in the Old Testament scriptures.  I am personally convinced that the Lord Jesus is often tying His words to the words God spoke to His people through the prophets.  He is thus reminding them that this isn’t the first time that similar words have been spoken to them,  He’s also implying that He is the “Prophet who is to come” – the Messiah.  I think we miss much of what Jesus is saying to His people if we fail to make that connection.

In this case, when the Lord Jesus says, “He who hears My words”, scripture passages galore should have come to the minds of His listeners.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, speaking to the leaders of His people, the Jews.  Do the words, “Hear the Word of the Lord” sound familiar to you?  If they do, imagine how familiar and convicting they would have sounded to the Jewish leaders standing before Him.  Moses, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah, used those words when prophesying to the people of Israel and Judah, and usually those words were an indication of an impending judgment by God upon His people.

Here in verse 24, however, we have participles instead of verbs in the Greek text.  The beginning of the verse is literally saying, “The one hearing My word and believing the One having sent Me”, and the result is positive rather than negative.  It’s as if the Lord Jesus is showing them a contrast between those words of impending judgment, spoken by the prophets to their ancestors, and the words of pardon and eternal life that He is about to offer them.

Jesus refers to His Father as “the One who sent Me“.  He used that phrase several times while He was on this earth.  Does that sound impersonal to you – to refer to His Father in that way?  It did to me at first, but after doing some research, I think I understand why Jesus uses those words at times when referring to His Father.  Whom did God “send” in the Old Testament scriptures?  He sent Moses to lead the people of Israel and be His spokesman.  He sent the prophets to declare His words to His people and speak of things to come.  He also sent “the Angel of the Lord” to protect and defend His people.  Earlier in his Gospel, the apostle John said, in chapter 3, verse 17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  The apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son . . .”.  By using the words “Him who sent Me”, Jesus is telling His listeners:  “You can’t believe the Sender and not believe the One who was sent.”  To put it another way, “You can’t believe in the One who sent His Son without believing in the Son Whom He sent.”

The Lord Jesus is telling His listeners, and each of us, the relationship between hearing and believing.  Both knowledge and faith are involved in salvation.   The apostle John’s thinking about faith is unique to the New Testament.  Faith is based on the testimony of historical witnesses.  At that particular point in time, Jesus was giving a testimony about Himself, and that testimony was authenticated by the Father.  Eternal life was the result of listening to that testimony and choosing, by God’s enabling, to believe Him by putting their trust in Him as their Messiah, the Son of God, sent by the Father.  At that moment eternal life began.  The focus of Jesus Christ in verse 24 is on the object of one’s faith.  The Lord Jesus has just been telling them that He is equal to the Father in working (verse 19), in knowing (verse 20), in resurrecting (verse 21), in judging (verse 22), in honor (verse 23), and now in regenerating (verse 24).  They have received Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself.  Now He is inviting a response from them.  Only faith in Him as the Son of God and the Father’s Representative results in “eternal life, no judgment, and passing from death to life”.  No One else and nothing else can bring those gifts as a result.  Only Jesus Christ is equal to the Father in regenerating – giving spiritual life.  As Jesus said in John 10:27-28, “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”.  “Following” is the outward evidence of genuine belief.

You and I have saving faith when we understand what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, and when we act upon that truth by putting our trust in Him as our Lord and Savior.  When that happens, events occur in heaven and in your lives.  It will be a life-changing event, as the Lord Jesus begins to conform us to His image and as we take delight in spending time with Him in His Word and prayer.  So the words “eternal life”  also refer to a change in the quality of our lives while we are on this earth.

Dr. H.A, Ironside, the famous Bible expositor and pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago a generation ago, said that a friend of his preached on a similar passage of Scripture, John 3:36.  At the close of the meeting, his friend went down to the church door to greet people as they were leaving.  A lady who was troubled about her soul came by the door and the preacher looked at her and said, “Well, how is it with you tonight?  How is your soul; have you been born-again?  Are you saved?”

She said, “I don’t know, sir.  I hope so.”

He said, “Well let me go over that text with you again.  It says, he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Oh yes, I do sir.  I believe in Jesus Christ.”

He said, “Well, do you have everlasting life?”

She said, “I hope so.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the verse again: he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Yes I do.”

“Do you have everlasting life?”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Well, read it again”

And so they went through the same thing again, and finally he said to her, “You know, when you were a little girl they spelled very differently from what they did when I was a boy.”

She looked at him and said, “What do you mean; I’m not so much older than you.”

He said, “Well, evidently when you were a girl, H-A-T-H spelled hope.  When I was a little boy, H-A-T-H spelled hath.”

She said, “Oh!  I see it!  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life!”

It makes you wonder how many truly born-again Christians are still hoping for something that they already have!  I say that because, on the night I believed in Jesus Christ, after having the Gospel message presented to me, and all my questions answered, I memorized several verses on assurance of salvation, including John 5:24, before going to bed that night.  The concept and the promise were so amazing to me that I needed to go over and over that realization in my mind so that I could remove all doubts and enjoy what was now mine.

The promise of the Lord Jesus in verse 24 not only includes the free gift of eternal life which we do not deserve; it also removes the judgment that our sins really deserve.  The believer “does not come into judgment”.  A poll conducted for the Times Mirror Company in 1993, revealed that more than four out of every five Americans agree that “we all will be called before God, at judgment day, to answer for our sins.”  I was surprised to find that figure to be so high, only because I wasn’t expecting people to be so honest and willing to admit their own accountability to God.

Dr. H.A. Ironside said that one of the first illustrations that ever made a real impression upon his young heart was a simple story which he heard a preacher tell when Harry was less than nine years old.  It was of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They travelled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow.  One day they were terrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dry grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly.  They had crossed a river one day before but it would be impossible to go back to that before the flames would be upon them.  One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done.  He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them.  Then when the space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it.  As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror.  “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?”  The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has already been!”

What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!

“On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place.”

The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for we are standing where the fire has been.(H.A.Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth).

Verse 24 ends with the words, “but has passed out of death into life”.  The Lord Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him immediately pass from spiritual death and judgment into spiritual life, never to be condemned.  The only way this could be possible would be for Jesus to be judged in our place and pay the penalty Himself, which He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary (Philippians 2:5-8).  For those of us who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, our judgment is now in the past, paid-in-full, and God the Father has signed off the debt.  It’s written in blood – the blood of His Son.  A change of reservations was made.  Your reservation for hell was immediately cancelled and your reservation for heaven was immediately written down in the book compliments of the Owner (your Heavenly Father).  You have first-class accommodations awaiting you, and you will be treated like family forever because you’re a child of God!

Looking at verses 24-29, I personally observe five resurrections mentioned by Jesus.  In each case, the resurrection came to pass as a result of the words of Jesus.  In verse 24, we have already looked at the first resurrection – the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of all who hear Jesus’ words and believe.  At the moment of genuine belief in Him as Lord and Savior, one has eternal life, release from the condemnation for one’s sin, has passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, and has a changed life.  The second resurrection is given in verse 25.  I believe that Jesus is referring to the physical resurrections from the dead that He is going to perform while on this earth.  At that point in time the Lord Jesus hadn’t performed any resurrection miracles yet, but they were soon to come.  There were three of them recorded in God’s Word, and in each case the resurrections occurred at the voice of Jesus.  The third resurrection is given in verse 26, and I believe that Jesus is referring to His own physical resurrection from the dead in fulfillment of His words.  The fourth resurrection, in verses 27-29a is the resurrection of life – the call of believers to the judgment seat of Christ.  The fifth resurrection, mentioned at the end of verse 29, is the resurrection of unbelievers to judgment and condemnation.  In this sermon we are studying the first two resurrections and will save the other three for the next construction project.  There is much yet to learn from verse 25.

II.  RESURRECTIONS TO PHYSICAL LIFE (verse 25)

In verse 25, the Lord Jesus makes the same oath again, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  I take those words to mean that Jesus is about to say something different; that He is attesting to something else that He is going to do.  He says, “An hour is coming and now is.”  There are things that are going to be happening, and they are just about to happen.  What is it that’s about to occur?  The Lord Jesus continues, “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.”  My conclusion is that Jesus is talking about those people whom He is going to physically raise from the dead while He is here on this earth.  He has not performed any physical resurrection-miracles yet, but it’s going to start happening very soon.

Before we look at the resurrection-miracles of Jesus, let’s first look at the physical resurrection-miracles in the Old Testament so that we can use them as a basis of comparison.  In I Kings 17, the son of the widow at Zarephath dies, and we see Elijah’s response and God’s answer:  “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him’.  And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” (I Kings 17:21-22).  The restoration to physical life came as an answer to prayer.  God was the One Who resurrected the child, not Elijah.

The second resurrection-miracle is found in II Kings 4:32-35.  The Shunammite’s son dies and Elisha’s response is similar to that of Elijah.  “So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the Lord.  And he went up and lay on the child . . . and the flesh of the child became warm . . . and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.”  Once again God restored life in answer to prayer.

By contrast, when Jesus raised the dead, He didn’t pray or apply “life-saving techniques”.  He spoke or gave the command and the person was instantly restored to life.  “Talitha Kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41).   “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:14).  “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43).  They came back to life as a result of hearing His voice.  God alone can do that – give life and restore life by just saying the word!  In the account of creation in Genesis we find God saying, “Let there be” , . . “and there was”.  Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”   The patriarch Job said, “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.”   Jesus’ resurrection-miracles, and the way in which they were performed, were irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  The people who watched those miracles occur could come to no other rational, logical, or Scriptural conclusion!  They already believed that God is the Creator, and the only Creator and Controller of the universe.  Therefore Jesus Christ must be God.

The Jewish leaders, as well as all of the Jews, revered Elijah because of his amazing miracles, especially the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son.  But as you can see, the Lord Jesus is infinitely greater than Elijah, and Elijah would wholeheartedly agree.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Jesus claimed the power to raise people from the dead.  Did you notice that the dead always responded to the voice of the Lord?  What about the living?  How did they respond?  That’s a different story, isn’t it?  Very few of those who heard the words of Jesus and saw His signs, even His resurrection of people from the dead, responded in faith and followed Him.  But did that stop Jesus from continuing to declare Who He was, or from explaining God’s plan of salvation?  Not at all!

I may have shared a principle with you before, but it bears repeating because I have observed that Jesus followed this principle during His ministry on earth.  Here is the principle:  “Expose people to as much truth over as long a period of time as they will allow you.”  It’s important that we understand the first word in that quote.  The rest of the words are evident.  The word “expose” means to communicate, not only by our words but also by our lives.  People are looking for truth, and most of them not only want to see it in writing and hear it spoken, but also to observe it being lived out in a person’s life.  People want truth that will set them free from their hopelessness and emptiness, and bring purpose, meaning, joy, and direction into their lives.  If we are truly Christians, indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God, our lives will be evidenced by a love for God and His Word, a love for people, a hope for the future, and joy in spite of circumstances.  Is that a description of you?  If so, don’t become discouraged in your witness.  Keep growing in your walk with the Lord and faithfully being a witness for Him by word and by life.  The Spirit of God is working in the lives of people.  Many of those who may be silently watching you and questioning the things you are saying, may later want what you have and be ready to know the Giver of life eternal.  Nothing we do in obedience to the Lord is without reward in this life and the next.

If you are not a Christian, are you willing to give more thought and consideration to the One who raised the dead by just saying the words?  If Jesus Christ can have such power over physical life, and can give eternal life, imagine what He can do in your life if you put your trust in Him.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

There are also over 100 completed sermons on this website and it’s always “Open House” here.  Please take a look around the block!  There are sermons from  Philippians, James, Jonah, the Gospel of John, and other seasonal and assorted messages.   Thanks for taking a look, and may the Lord bless your time in His Word.

 

YES, YOUR HONOR! – John 5:21-23

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In most states in the United States of America the words “Your Honor” are used when addressing the judge in a courtroom.  This has been the practice for many centuries.  Several other countries use those same words as well; other countries use titles such as:  “My Lord”, “My Lady”, “Your Lordship”, “Your Ladyship”, “Judge”, and many other titles of respect and authority.   In Israel, a judge is a shofet, and is addressed with the words “Sir” or “Madam”.  As a general rule, these judges from around the world also wear distinctive robes.  Many of these robes are black, but there are also some very colorful ones.  In some countries the judges also wear wigs.  These robes and wigs are used in order to distinguish them from others in the courtroom, and serve as marks of authority and honor.  Because of their knowledge and experience in the practice of Law, they are worthy of respect and recognition.

In the previous message on John 5:19-20, the Lord Jesus gave two evidences of His deity.  He said that He was equal to the Father in “working” and in “knowing”.  He also shared the relationship of love that He had with the Father; a relationship that only a Son could have.  But the comparisons with the Father, and evidences of His deity aren’t over yet.  In verses 21-23, Jesus claims equality with the Father in resurrecting, in judging, and in honor.  Let’s take a look at each of those claims.

I.  EQUAL IN RESURRECTING (verse 21)

The Lord Jesus has already told them that He is doing the works of the Father, or I should say, that the Father is doing the works through Him.  Now, here in verse 21, to coin a popular phrase, it’s as if Jesus is saying to His accusers, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”  The following are Jesus’ words to them in verse 21.  “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He wishes.”  That statement must have stirred up some angry words from His listeners.  According to the Gospel record, Jesus had not yet raised anyone from the dead.  The Lord Jesus was able to say those words truthfully because He was involved with the Father during the two resurrections in the Old Testament:  the son of the widow of Zarephath through the prophet Elijah in I Kings 17:22, and the Shunamite’s son through the prophet Elisha in II Kings 4:32-35.

Commentator Warren Wiersbe offers this helpful information concerning the Jewish beliefs at that time.

For Jesus to claim to have power to raise the dead was a blasphemous thing in the eyes of the Jewish Leaders; they gave that power to God alone.  They said that Jehovah held the three great keysthe key to open the heavens and give rain (Deuteronomy 28:12); the key to open the womb and give conception (Genesis 30:22); and the key to open the grave
and raise the dead (Ezekiel 37:13).

In the minds of these Jews, what Jesus had just said was blasphemy, claiming to be God.  Later in His life and ministry, Jesus would prove His words to be true by raising the widow’s son in the city of Nain (Luke 7:14-15), Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:38-42), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44) from the dead.  And most significantly, Jesus would raise Himself from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:7-8; John 20:3-8).  “Even so” – just like the Father raised people from the dead, Jesus did so in like manner, and there were too many eye-witnesses, together with the person who was restored to life, to disprove those events and the resurrecting power of Jesus.   Therefore He must be equal with the Father because only God can give life and restore life.

II.  EQUAL IN JUDGING (John 5:22)

As further proof of His deity, the Lord Jesus says is verse 22, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to His Son”  We find the justice of God declared many times in the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 18:25, Abraham makes the following statement about God’s justice in his plea to spare the people of Sodom  “Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.  Far be it from Thee!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?” That’s a good argument!

As Moses sings his song, recounting the things that God has done for the people of Israel, he includes these words about God and His justice in Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all his ways are just;a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”

I imagine that most of us have come to realize that the justice systems on this earth are not perfect.  Let me give you a personal example I was travelling home from a meeting many years ago and drove my car through several small towns along the way.  Two days later I received a letter from one of those towns.  When I opened the letter I saw a photo of myself driving my car.  Below it was a sizeable ticket and the address where this excessive-speed violation occurred. This was my first and only (so far) photo-radar ticket  I didn’t remember any excessive speeding so I went back to that address the next day and saw no speed limit sign.  Upon closer observation, I noticed a white sign post but the top of it was completely covered by low-hanging branches of a nearby tree.  As I looked under its branches at the reduced speed on the sign and stood back to take another look, a store-owner came out of his store and asked if he could be of assistance.  When I shared my story, he pointed to the top of a pole across the street to show me the camera that took the photo, then he stood back with me and told me that there was no way a person coming down the street could see that sign.  He suggested that I might want to take my case to court, which I did.  After explaining the situation to the judge, there was a short pause and then the judge said “Reduce the amount to (a small reduction)”, hit the desk with the gavel, and said “Next case!”  I paid the remainder.  This was not the justice I was hoping to receive.  Two weeks later, I was driving through that town again and was pleased to see that those low-hanging branches had been removed from the tree, and the sign was now completely visible.. It may have been done at my expense, but at least it was done!

Going back to Jesus’ words stating that the Father had given all judgment into His hands, let’s see if there are any Old Testament Scriptures that attribute the role of judging mankind to the coming Messiah.  If the Jews at that time were spending time reading and studying specific passages of Scripture, it’s very possible that they were reading or studying the prophecies concerning their Messiah.  They were looking forward to His coming and wanted to be ready to recognize Him and worship Him when He arrived on Earth.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the Messiah’s coming reign.  “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples.  And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations will not lift up sword against nation. and never again will they learn war.”   (Isaiah 2:4)  The Jewish people are looking forward to a perfect Judge who will make perfect judgments, and there won’t be the Roman occupation and government anymore.

Isaiah 11 is another Messianic prophecy.  “And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth . . . ”  (Isaiah 11:3-4).  The Lord Jesus is the perfect Judge because, as God, He is holy, righteous, all-knowing and just; and as man He is understanding and sympathetic, having experienced poverty and the unfairness and affliction of others while on this earth.  No wonder the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.”

The prophet Micah also affirms Isaiah’s prophecy in Micah 4:3.  The Jewish leaders have those prophecies in their minds yet they fail to recognize and acknowledge the Judge of the whole earth who is standing before them and making that claim.  Even John the Baptist acknowledged that Jesus was going to bring judgment when he used the following analogy:  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean the threshing floor; and he will gather His wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (John 3:12).

III.  EQUAL IN HONOR (John 5:23)

There doesn’t appear to have been any positive response to those claims, so the Lord Jesus makes another claim:  that of being equal in honor with the Father.  That’s a claim that the Lord Jesus should not have needed to make, since it should have been the logical conclusion they should have drawn, and the response they should have given to His previous claims of deity.  He says, “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus begins by drawing the application.  He’s telling them that, based on the claims of deity He has already made, they should have responded by showing Him the same “honor” (praise, worship, devotion, obedience) that is due to the Father.  That’s the only valid and proper response that can be given to His claims and the evidence that supports them.

His explanation is followed by a very powerful and convicting statement and conclusion.  “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus is saying that it is false and useless to claim to love and worship God if you do not have the same love and worship for Him, because they are two Persons in the same Triune God.  Whoever does not honor and worship the Son does not honor and worship God at all.

CONCLUSION:

I hope that you are taking the claims of Jesus Christ and the evidences supporting those claims seriously.  Your quality of life on this earth and your eternal destiny depend upon it.  The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of the highest honor:  the honor, praise, worship and obedience that are deserved by God alone. If you are still seeking, and questioning, and pondering, the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying will go much deeper into role of Jesus as Judge of heaven and earth.  I hope to see you there.  May you find Jesus to be the Honorable One who fulfills His words, keeps His promises, and changes lives.

CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED.

 

 

WHEN FAMILIARITY BRED CONTEMPT – John 4:43-44

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INTRODUCTION:

The story is told about a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer.  When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog.  And whenever the moon shines it goes outside and barks all night.”  Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject.  Finally someone asked, “But judge, what about the dog and the moon?”  “Oh”, he replied, “the moon kept on shining –  that’s all.”

Most of us have sayings that we tend to use when the situation is appropriate.  I mentioned one proverbial saying in my previous message:  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  Other sayings that come to mind are:  “Birds of a feather flock together”, “That’s the way the ball bounces”, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, and the one I used as the title for this message  (“Familiarity breeds contempt.”)  Do you have favorite sayings that you use, or that come to your mind?

The Lord Jesus and His disciples have left Sychar, Samaria after the revival that occurred there, and they are headed north for the region of Galilee.  As verse 43 says, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.”  What follows in verse 44 is a proverbial saying that Jesus gives to His disciples.  “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”  It is significant that those words spoken by Jesus (“A prophet has no honor in his own country“) are recorded in all four Gospels, and may have been said at different times and with different results .  The other three passages of Scripture where those words are recorded are Matthew 13:54-57, Luke 4:21-24, and Mark 6:1-4.  Those three passages of Scripture give us more information, and a better understanding of Jesus’s reason for using that phrase, so we will be studying all three passages of Scripture and bringing all that information together.  I think that there is much that we can learn and apply from those few words that Jesus may have repeated to them several times.  Studying all four passages may also answer our questions and explain the “mystery” behind those repeated statements.

I.  “A PROPHET” (John 4:44a)

When He said those two words (“A prophet”), Jesus was asserting that His proverbial saying has been true of all the prophets of God.  Is there any evidence to affirm this?  We see many cases in the Old Testament where the people of Israel tried to kill the prophets.  So we see that Jesus’ saying did occur.  The prophet Jeremiah, however, agrees with the Lord Jesus and puts his experiences into words, in Jeremiah 2:19, describing what his own people, the people of Judah, were trying to do to him.  “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit; and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’ “

One of the prophets who may have been scorned because of his profession was the prophet Amos.  He is described as being a farmer and a grower of sycamore figs.  I can hear their jeers in my mind:  “Amos?  Isn’t he the farmer?  What makes that fig-picker think he has the right to tell us what to do?”

The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet, and He is a prophet.  But He is also much more than a prophet.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and by His forerunner, John the Baptist.  He deserved not only honor but also worship, adoration and obedience.

II.  “HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY”  (verse 44b)

Here in John’s Gospel, these words are not given as a direct quote from Jesus, but as a reference to a quote made by Him.  As they are passing by, or passing through the city of Nazareth on their way to Cana in Galilee, those words of Jesus come back to his John’s mind.  John may be saying those words as an explanation for why Jesus did not stop there, or spend any time in Nazareth as they were passing by it on this trip.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, this saying is given as a direct quote from Jesus, and the settings and reasons for His response are also given.  Luke’s Gospel reads:  “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up . . . . went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day . . . was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . . . ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.”  Their response:  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  That’s a snide remark if I’ve heard one!  “How can Joseph’s son from our own community dare to make the claim that He is the Messiah?”  Beside the fact of the family’s low income, there may also have been the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child because of the virgin birth.  That’s the way it is in some small towns, even in that day!  When Jesus reminds them that the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed miracles for Gentile people outside the nation of Israel, the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff!  (Luke 4:16-30)

III.  HIS OCCUPATION AND FAMILY (Matthew 13 and Mark 6)

In Matthew 13:54-57, just before Jesus quotes that proverb, the Gospel writer Matthew records these words:  “And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this man all these things?’  And they took offence at Him.”

Notice that twice they address the Lord Jesus as “this man”.  He’s a “home-town boy” and they won’t even address Him by His name!  They’ve also added more ammunition to their insults!  They won’t mention His name but they mention the names of His family members.  I call this tactic of theirs “guilt by association”.  They can’t find sin or imperfections in Jesus’ life and character so they mention the names of all His family members.  They can recall sins and imperfections in their lives, so Jesus must be the same way since He’s one of the family, and sinfulness “runs in their family”, so to speak!

As bad as those insults are in Matthew’s Gospel, it gets even worse in Mark’s Gospel.  A couple more insults are slipped into the conversation and one of them is the worst insult of them all!  Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?”  They call Jesus a “carpenter”.  This is the only place in the Bible that refers to Jesus’ occupation before beginning His public ministry.  The Greek word is tekton, and we get our English words “technical”, “technician”, “technique”, and “architect” from forms of that word.  He was basically a handyman, working  with wood, stone, and metal to build whatever needed to be built and fix whatever needed fixing.  He worked hard, got His hands dirty, and is an example to all who are in a trade, in the construction business, or in technical professions.  In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  The literal Greek says, “MY YOKE FITS WELL”.  As a handyman/carpenter, the Lord Jesus must have built many yokes for oxen.  I’m sure that farmers from miles around asked Jesus to come, measure, build and fit yokes for their oxen because He did the job so well – 100% satisfaction guaranteed!

But His profession was looked down upon by the rabbis and leaders.  They despised Him because He was a working man.  But their worst insult follows right after his occupation.  They called Jesus “the son of Mary”.   A man was never described or addressed as the son of his mother, even if she was a widow.  It was intended by them to be an insult, stating that He really was an illegitimate child.  This time their intent was clear.  Now the apostle John’s words in John 1:11 ring out loud and clear:  “He (Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

CONCLUSION:

Criticism seems to be a favorite pastime among many people in this day and age.  The temptation to compare and criticize is always present, asking for permission to pass from our minds to our mouths.  Here is one example.  Two taxidermists stopped before a window in which an owl was on display.  They immediately began to criticize the way it was mounted.  It’s eyes were not natural; its wings were not in proportion with its head; its feathers were not neatly arranged; and its feet could be improved.  When they had finished with their criticism, the old owl turned his head . . . and winked at them!

The two specialists thought they were criticizing the owl’s taxidermist, when in actuality, they were criticizing the owl’s Creator!  It’s easy to criticize from the outside, looking in.  Why not go inside, leaving your prejudices and your biases behind, and view the real thing from all sides and angles, having all your questions answered.  Your perceptions might change drastically!

If we are children of God through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have critics, especially among unsaved family members.  But we ought to live in such a way that no one will believe our critics, and pray that some day, by the grace of God, our critics won’t believe their criticisms of us anymore either.

May we be so deeply rooted in the Word of God and so closely tied together in our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, that the winds of criticism won’t take us off-course, no matter how strong they blow and no matter which direction they come from.  May we continue to shine like the moon in spite of all the “howling and barking” that goes on when we are present.

 

 

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF HIMSELF – John 1:19-28

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If each of us were to make a list of some of the most prominent people in the New Testament, several people might come to our minds immediately.  Of course there is the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might think of Paul, and Peter, and John.  One person who may not make it near the top of our lists is John the Baptist.  Jesus, however, puts John the Baptist at the top of His list, and pays Him the highest tribute.

In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist“.  In the next three verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to him as the second Elijah, sent by God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy, and He quotes the following words from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5:  ” Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

The first eighteen verses of John’s gospel are called his “prologue”.  If you open a book, you will often find an introduction, preface, or forward.  It normally establishes the setting and gives some background information to prepare the readers for the rest of the story.  John ends his prologue at verse 18 and now he begins to share a biography of Jesus Christ from his perspective.  He is very detail-oriented, especially when it comes to times and places.

Beginning with verse 19 of John chapter 1, we will be looking into the events of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  From out of the wilderness came a man whose clothing, diet, lifestyle, and message made his hearers think of Elijah, and his message was stirring up the nation of Israel.  The apostle John tells us very little about the message of John the Baptist, and nothing about how he dressed and lived.  He takes it for granted that these facts, which were written down in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, are now general knowledge.  Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judah, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’.”  In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is described as wearing a “garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  Thousands of people came to hear him, and many were being baptized as a sign of their repentance.

I.  QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED (verses 19-22)

In John chapter 1, verses 19-22, John the Baptist fields questions concerning his identity.  He knew his calling very clearly, was pursuing it wholeheartedly, and was ready and willing to answer any questions.  A delegation of priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem in order to get some information from him.  There are two important reasons why this delegation consisted of priests and Levites.  Bible commentator William Barclay explains it very clearly, and these are his words:  “. . . John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.  In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. . . . If he was a descendent of Aaron nothing could stop him from being a priest.  Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.”

This delegation was to ask him the question, “Who are you?”  That’s an interesting question.  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?  It may not have become clear to him until just before he began his public ministry.  We don’t know.  But his parents knew his calling before he was even conceived (Luke 1:13-17).  The angel Gabriel told them, quoting the prophet Malachi’s prophesy.  I can imagine that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were watching and waiting for those words to be fulfilled.

The word translated “ask”, in John 1:19, is a word that was used to make a request of someone who was in a higher position than yourself, such as a person asking for something from God, a child from a parent, or a subject from a king.  It is a word that implies humility and courtesy.  The reason for the use of this word is found in the questions that they ask of him.  When they asked, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist answered the question behind their question by saying, “I am not the Christ”.  Verse 20 says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny” (his answer).  He is saying “I promise you, I assure you of the truth of that statement, and I will not back down from it”.  In our society we might say something like “I swear to God”, or “you have my word for it”.  He doesn’t want there to be any question about the truth of his answer.  In so doing, he passed up the opportunity to impress this delegation by boasting about himself.

But that answer didn’t satisfy the delegation.  They said to him, “What then?” (“ti oun” in Greek).  By using those two words, the delegation was expressing their impatience.  Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and then found yourself in a traffic jam?  As you’re waiting for the traffic to start moving again, have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:  “Come on, let’s get going!  I haven’t got all day!”  I think that’s what this delegation meant when they used the words “what then”.  So they fired some more questions at him.  “Are you Elijah?” 

The Malachi 4:5-6 the Old Testament prophet Malachi said, “Behold I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”  The Jewish leaders were looking forward to the return of Elijah.  They remembered that he did not die physically, but left this earth in a fiery chariot.  So they concluded that the identical person would reappear.  John the Baptist must have looked like Elijah because of the clothes he was wearing.  He must also have sounded like Elijah in his preaching on repentance.  But John the Baptist gives a simple answer:  “No, I am not.”  His answer to them was true.  John was not the Elijah who went up into heaven in a chariot of fire.

Their next question was:  “Are you the prophet”?  The prophet they were referring to was the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  His answer to that question is “no”.  Have you noticed that his answers have been getting shorter with each question?

Finally, in verse 22, the delegation stopped guessing and asked John the Baptist to give his own description of himself.   They needed to have some information to bring back in their report, so they decided to give up their interview-format and preconceived ideas, and allow John the Baptist to control the conversation.  They are no longer demanding information from him; they are pleading for it!

II.  JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF (verses 23-28)

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

What he gives as an answer may have created even more confusion in their minds, but I’m sure that his brief answer was written down word-for-word.  His answer should have been easy for them to remember because John the Baptist quoted Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 as his answer to them.  This quote made by John the Baptist can be found in all four of the gospels.  Here in verse 23 John says, “I AM A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’.”

We need to read Isaiah chapter 40 and see John’s quote in the context of this amazing chapter on the greatness, the sovereignty, the power and the love of God.  We need to see these words of John in the context of God’s mercy, His faithfulness, and His wonderful plans for His people.  The Babylonian captivity is about to occur and Isaiah has been describing God’s condemnation of them for their sins, and the things they are going to experience in captivity.  The Jews at the time of John’s Gospel were under the “captivity” of Rome.  Without that context, we won’t see what John the Baptist wants the nation of Israel to see about their God and about the preparations that need to be made in anticipation of His coming.  The time has come.

As John the Baptist has already said, he is not the Messiah (the Word), but he has the God-given privilege and responsibility of being the “voice”, proclaiming the Word loud and clear.  He spoke in a loud, strong voice, filled with emotion and conviction, so that all would hear him (whether they wanted to or not)!  I was listening to one of Billy Graham’s first crusades at Madison Square Garden.  He was preaching his message at the top of his lungs!  Microphones and sound systems weren’t as powerful and as sophisticated in the mid-1950’s as they are today, and he wanted to make sure everybody heard every word he had to say to them!  His preaching at that crusade gave me a better impression of what John the Baptist must have sounded like.  And he didn’t have any microphones or speakers in his day!  God must have given him a powerful set of lungs and vocal chords!

The words “make straight the way” were a familiar expression in that day.  Before a king would visit a town in his realm, a messenger called a “forerunner” would be sent ahead of him to announce his coming.  This gave the townspeople some time to fix the road, removing any obstacles, and to make themselves presentable to him before his arrival.  John was saying, in effect, “The King of heaven and earth is coming.  Get your hearts cleaned up and your lives prepared to welcome His arrival!”

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

Verse 24 may not seem significant, but John’s wording tells us otherwise.  He says, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Would it come across more clearly if it were translated:  “Oh, by the way, those priests and Levites were sent by the Pharisees.”  Who gave the Pharisees the right to tell the priests and Levites what to do and what to say?  The Pharisees had no authority from God.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated” or “separatist”.  The movement started about 150 B.C., and by the time of Christ, this sect had become a very powerful and corrupt part of the Jewish religious hierarchy, even though they were neither priests nor Levites.

In verse 25 the delegation said to John the Baptist, “Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  They are saying, “Who gave you the authority to baptize?”  The Lord Jesus addressed that question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27.  The chief priests and elders asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”   In reply Jesus asks them a question about John the Baptist.  They were speechless.  Here is a portion of that conversation:  “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” . . . “We do not know”. . . . “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do things.”

When the delegation asked John the Baptist why he was baptizing, they really meant “why are you baptizing Jews?”  In their minds baptism was meant only for Gentiles who wanted to adopt the Jewish faith.  They were angered at the suggestion that they needed repentance and baptism.  In answer to their question, John gives another description of himself.  He describes himself as a lowly servant, not even worthy of such a humble service as untying his Master’s sandals.  That was considered to be one of the most demeaning jobs that a servant could be called upon to do for his master.  Once again John the Baptist turns the focus of the conversation away from himself and onto the Messiah.  He also tells them that the Messiah is already in their midst but they don’t know Him.

CONCLUSION:

If someone asked you the question, “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”, how would you respond?  John’s focus was on the Messiah, and he was a “voice”, preparing the way for the Lord.  His words were “repent and be baptized”.  Jesus’ words in Mark 1:13 were:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Any day now, any moment now, the Lord Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (I Thes. 4:16-17).  God has called Christians to be a “voice”, pointing people to Him.  The message is still the same:  “Repent” – turn from your sins and your control over your life, “believe” in Christ as your Lord and Savior, turning your life over to Him, and “be baptized”, make a public declaration of your faith to your family, friends, and community.  If you haven’t made that decision, there’s no better time than now.  Please, don’t put it off any longer.

Christians, whenever you are tempted to think that you are indispensable to the work of the Lord, remember John the Baptist.  The fact that God uses us is no excuse for pride.  Instead, it is a reminder of Christ’s worth and His glory, and the privilege of being a voice for Him and a light that reflects His glory.  The King is coming!  Let’s let the whole world know before He arrives!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

The blueprint of John 1:29-34 is on the drafting table, the Spirit of God is the Architect overseeing the project, and construction will begin soon.  Hope you will come back again.  God’s Word is a never-ending, construction project, and our lives are “concrete examples” of the effects of working hard on the project.  May we, as His workmen, grow wiser, stronger, and better equipped to serve Him with each working day.

 

 

JESUS CHRIST, IDENTIFIED AND MAGNIFIED – John 1:15-17

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Have you ever had something really wonderful happen to you and you could hardly wait to share it with your family and friends?  As you write the letters, send the emails, or make the phone calls, in your excitement you begin with the big picture, the main event.  In just a few action-packed and emotion-filled words you release your excitement.  Then you begin to explain the details:  what led up to the event, the event itself, and what has been happening to you afterward.  You might also talk about the effects it might have on your future.  Does that sequence of events sound familiar to you?

The apostle John has reached that point in his gospel.  Verses 1-18 are his prologue, the introduction to his book.  He has been describing the “logos” in order to gain the attention and interest of his Greek-speaking audience.  In verse 14 he comes to the exciting main event:  “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us“!  In his excitement, John is saying, “Isn’t that amazing!”  “Isn’t that exciting!”  He spends the rest of his book telling them, and us, about it.

I.  THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verse 15)

To verify his statement, John directs our attention again to the words of John the Baptist, for a brief moment, because John the Baptist was the first person to publicly identify the Logos.  Though John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, he says of Jesus in verse 15, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”   He shouted those words as loud as he could because he wanted to get everyone’s attention.  He wanted everyone within earshot to hear from his lips who Jesus truly was,  John the Baptist is referring to Jesus’ eternal existence, and therefore His deity.  He will have much more to say about Jesus in the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying – verses 19 and following of John chapter 1.

Some people consider Jesus Christ to be only a man, and indeed He is a man.  Some people point to Him as an example, and He is that also.  But if that’s all you can see in Jesus Christ, then your view of Him is incomplete and contrary to the Scriptures.  For the first and most important thing said about Jesus Christ is that He had no beginning, and that is the same as calling him God.

The Old Testament, which was completed 400 years before the birth of Christ, contains many occurrences of His appearing to people.  The terms “the angel of the Lord” or “the angel of God” are used often in the Old Testament to refer to an appearance of Christ.  He appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 and is referred to as “the Lord”.  In John 8:56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  He appeared to Jacob in a dream in Genesis 31 and introduced Himself as “the God of Bethel”.  Jacob wrestles with a man in Genesis 32, and the man says, “You have striven with God”.  Jacob then says, “I saw God face-to-face”.  In Exodus 23:21 He appears to Moses and is identified by God as having the power to forgive sins because God says, “My name is in him”.

There are many other references to “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament.  It’s interesting to note that this “angel of the Lord” never appeared during the lifetime of Jesus Christ on this earth.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ is the “angel of the Lord” making an “extended appearance” for thirty-three years as a human being.

II.  CHRIST’S SUFFICIENCY (verse 16)

In verse 16, the apostle John continues where he left off in verse 14.  He said that the Word was “full of grace and truth”.  Now he adds, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”  We might ask the question:  “What is it that we have received from Jesus Christ?”  A better question might be:  “What is it that we have not received?”  From Him we have received a new life, peace, joy, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and all that the believer needs for this life and for eternity.

Have you ever filled a glass or bucket to the brim with water and then tried to walk while carrying it?  You couldn’t keep it from spilling the water all over the place, could you?  The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:19, says of Jesus;  “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus was “that you may be filled with all the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:19).  The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, declared, “I have heard our Lord compared to a man carrying a water pot.  As he bore it upon his shoulder, the water, yielding to the movement of his body, fell dropping and spilling about so that one could easily track the water-bearer.  So should all of God’s people be carrying such a fullness of grace that everyone knows where they have been by the tracks they leave behind.”

The apostle John describes this “fullness” as “grace upon grace“.  Out of Christ’s “fullness” we have received one grace after another.  It is an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace.  I lead worship services at several healthcare facilities and we have been studying the miracles in the Old Testament.  I think that the miracle we studied this week is very appropriate to this verse of Scripture.  In I KIngs 17, after Elijah told King Ahab that there was going to be a drought, God told Elijah to hide at the brook Cherith and He would provide Elijah with food daily.  Many of you are probably familiar with the “Meals On Wheels” program.  For a modest fee they will bring a hot meal to the door of a person who is unable to prepare a good meal for himself.  I think that God had an even better idea.  I call it “Meals on Wings”.  Twice a day ravens brought Elijah meat and bread — airmail, special delivery!  This continued for months, maybe for a year or more.  What a demonstration of the continuing, faithful grace of God!

When John describes how that fullness is bestowed upon us, he uses the Greek preposition, anti, which has been translated into English in many different ways.  The most popular translation appears to be “grace upon grace“.  However, there are several other translations such as:  “grace for grace”, “grace on grace”, “grace after grace”, “grace in place of grace”, “grace over against grace”, as well as many paraphrases of those words.

Which translation of “anti” is correct?  Do they all convey the exact same meaning?  What was the literal meaning of that word in common usage during that period of time?  My own conclusion, so far, is that the Greek preposition “anti” usually means “instead of” or “in place of”.  It does sound awkward to say “grace instead of grace” or grace in place of grace”.  There needs to an explanation so that we can put the phrase into understandable English.  I think I found that explanation.  It makes sense to me and I hope it will make sense to you as well.  Joanie Yoder gives the following explanation and illustration in an Our Daily Bread devotional:

Years ago, Amy Carmichael shared some helpful insights about the phrase, “grace for grace.”  Drawing from the writings of Bishop Moule (1841-1920), she wrote that the Greek word translated “for” literally means “instead of”.  He illustrated the meaning by describing a river.  “Stand on its banks,” he wrote, “and contemplate the flow of waters.  A minute passes, and another.  Is it the same stream still?  Yes.  But is it the same water?  No.”  The old water, he explained, had been displaced by new — “water in stead of water,”

The same is true of grace.  Your life today may carry yesterday’s problems, but remember, God’s grace is new each morning, exactly what you need to meet each new challenge.  It is an inexhaustible and ever-fresh supply.

Thank you, Joanie, Bishop Moule, and Our Daily Bread Ministries for those insights.  As the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness (RSV).  I personally like the translations “grace after grace” and “one grace after another”.

The following illustration describes grace in terms of “dollars and cents” if that gives you a clearer picture.  A generous man decided to give a thousand dollars to a poor minister.  (This illustration was written back in the day when a thousand dollars was a lot of money; when one hundred dollars a week was the average wage of a blue-collar worker.)  Thinking that it might be too much all at once, he sent fifty dollars with a note which said, “More to follow“.  A few days later he sent a similar amount with the same message.  At regular intervals he sent a third, then a fourth, and a fifth, and so on, all accompanied by the same promise, “More to follow“.  The surprised and happy minister soon became familiar with those cheering words and his gratitude to God overflowed each time he read them.  In the same way, every blessing God gives us in Christ comes with a reminder, “More to follow“.

CHRIST’S FULLNESS BY COMPARISON (verse 17)

In verse 17, John contrasts this grace with the Old Testament law when he says, “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The law was “given“.  It was engraved on tablets of stone by the finger of God.  Grace and truth “came“.  They were wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ.  People saw and experienced His grace.  Peter said, “Jesus went around doing good” (Acts10:38).  The Lord Jesus also spoke the truth, and with authority.  In the gospel writings you will notice that the Lord Jesus often used the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you”, or “I tell you the truth”.  In John 7:32 the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to seize Jesus.  They returned empty-handed.  When asked why they didn’t bring Him, the officers answered, “No one ever spoke the way this man speaks.” (John 7:46, NIV)  Grace and truth were Jesus’ essential perfections.  They set Him apart from the rest of the world.  Those two attributes, grace and truth, need to come together in our own lives also.  It is difficult to receive, and impossible to really enjoy, a gift that comes from someone we don’t trust.  Are there people who don’t trust you?  By the grace of God, what are you going to do about it?

CONCLUSION:

There is joy and excitement in the New Testament, especially after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the focus is upon “the grace of God” and “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.  It was continually in their minds of the apostles, as well as on their hearts, in their speech, and in their writings.  Get out a concordance, look up the word “grace” and see how many times it is mentioned in the book of Acts and in the epistles.  Look at the opening paragraph and closing paragraph of the epistles and see how many times it is there.  It appears to me that this is the way the first-century Christians said hello and goodbye to each other.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about those words and say them often enough.  I can never think about them or say them often enough.  When I turn off this computer I’m going to write the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” on a piece of paper and put it on my refrigerator, where I’ll see it several times a day.  I have a little wooden “pocket cross”, a gift from a friend.  I’ve stopped putting it in my pocket, but it is going back in it again.  Every time I put my hand in my pocket to get my keys or warm my hand, I want to be reminded of the grace of God.  If you have reminders that you use, I would appreciate hearing from you about it.  Let’s be of encouragement to one another.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

 

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  II Timothy 2:15 (NIV)

A WITNESS TO THE LIGHT – John 1:6-8

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

I.  A MAN SENT FROM GOD (verse 6)

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

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

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

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

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

II.  A WITNESS (verses 7 and 8)

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

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

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

 

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)

THE POWER OF PRAYER – James 5:16b-18

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Have you ever made a statement and wanted a good example to back up your words?  You wanted an example that came from a person whom all your readers highly respected; and an example that could not be refuted.  James makes this statement in verse 16:  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (NASB)

“That’s quite a statement!”, his readers and listeners must have been thinking, “You had better be ready to back that up!”  Let’s examine that statement carefully first, and then we’ll see how he backs up his words.

I.  THE STATEMENT (verse 16b)

The word translated “prayer” is the Greek word deesis.  It usually refers to specific prayer of petition for specific needs, and this is the only time that James uses this word.  The “righteous man” is the person who is committed to God and desires to do His will.  This kind of petition has power because it is unwavering, trusting that God is more than equal to the task and will be honored and glorified through it.  The word “effective” literally means “energized”.  The context before this statement of James relates to praying for one another, but the example that follows seems to be referring to prayer for God to show Himself strong in situations where His existence and His power are being challenged by those who don’t believe in Him and make a mockery of Him.  So the statement may apply to both situations.

The “Message” (The Bible in Contemporary Language), says it this way:  “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

II.  THE EXAMPLE (verses 17-18)

His readers and listeners are wondering who James is going to use as an example to back up his statement:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. (NIV)  He chooses the prophet Elijah, and immediately his statement gains credibility in the minds of his audience.  Elijah is the Old Testament prophet of God who is mentioned in the New Testament more times than any other Old Testament prophet.  He and Moses were beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Hebrew people considered Elijah to be one of their greatest “super-heroes”.  He was remembered as one who wore unusual clothing and did powerful deeds.   His fearless words and awesome feats brought fear to the hearts of kings and Baal -worshippers.  Even the Hebrew Christians addressed in this letter had a tendency to put their focus on the man, Elijah, rather than on the God who inspired him and empowered him.  That’s why James begins verse 17 with the following words:  “Elijah was a man with a like nature as ours” (NASB).  He was a human being also, with all the weaknesses and struggles that we possess, and faced with the same kinds of temptations.  So why aren’t we all like him?  I think that British evangelist Leonard Ravenhill captured the difference when he said, “Elijah was a man of like passions as we are, but alas, we are not men of like prayer as he was!”  Leonard is the author of the book, “Why Revival Tarries”, and is also quoted as saying, “A man who is intimate with God is not intimidated by man”, and “No man is greater than his prayer life.”

It’s interesting that I Kings 17 does not say that Elijah prayed before he made the following statement to King Ahab:  “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years (three and a half years), except by my word.”  The Spirit of God must have given James that insight.  However, after God gave Elijah that prophesy, which could mean instant death for him, there must have been a prayer in his heart as the prophesy was spoken by his lips!  Wouldn’t you agree?  And he said those words with conviction.  There was no doubt in his mind that God would fulfill His promise.

But the Scriptures also give us a record of Elijah’s “humanness”.  When Jezebel said that she was going to take his life,”   Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and sat down under a juniper tree”  (I Kings 19:3).  However, verse 4 tells us that he prays to God and repents of his actions.  He asks the Lord that he might die, and says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”  God lovingly responds by giving him rest, food, and strength for the journey and ministry ahead.

If you examine Elijah’s public prayers during his ministry, you will find those prayers to be short and to the point, giving glory to God.  He wasn’t trying to impress God or others by his prayers.

James was also a man of prayer, as was Elijah.  Tradition tells that he was nicknamed “camel knees” because of the callouses on his knees from spending many hours on his knees in prayer.  Did you know that the epistle of James, for its size, has more to say about prayer than any other book?  At least 14 verses are devoted to prayer or principles of prayer.  That’s about 15% of the book!

Let’s continue to take a good look at our God as He describes Himself in His Word. May our prayers reflect His sufficiency and our total dependence on Him.