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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

I.  THE MIRACLES (verse 36)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now comes another rebuke to the Scribes and Pharisees in verse 40:  “Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  (MORE TO FOLLOW SOON)

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

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

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON – John 5:19-20

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I’ve heard that saying used many times.  Have you?  “Like father, like son.”  Most of the time the person saying it was pointing out a character trait or fault that a son demonstrated, indicating that he must have inherited it from his father.  A similar saying is, “You’re just like your father!” In my own case, it was my mother who was usually the one saying it to me.  I almost always took it as a compliment because I wanted to be like my dad.  He was a character at times, playing pranks on my mother!  And, of course, I was always ready to be of service to him if he could use my help!

I’ve also heard the phrase “Like mother, like daughter”, and it was usually said as a compliment.  Those sayings, or something equivalent to them, go back many centuries in history.  My favorite one is “A chip off the old block”.  I guess it’s all part of the “family resemblance” that sets us apart from other families.  Like it or not, know it or not, family members have a tendency to “rub off” on one another, and people who have been around us for a while notice those resemblances, and they are often much more than just “skin-deep”,

In John 5:17, the Lord Jesus made the statement:  “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”  The Jews correctly assumed that Jesus was claiming to be God.  Throughout the rest of the chapter (verses 19-47), the Lord Jesus goes into much greater detail to explain and add further proof of His deity.  Jesus claims equality with God in seven areas and we are going to look at two of them in this study.

I.  EQUAL IN WORKING (verse 19)

In the midst of their angry words and threats, the Lord Jesus begins His explanation of His relationship to God the Father by swearing an oath to them.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, those things the Son also does in like manner.”  By using the Greek and Hebrew words “amein, amein” (or amen, amen), Jesus is saying that what He is about to tell them is first-hand information.  He is claiming that He knows these things directly, by personal experience, and therefore they are true.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s power and might.  Those examples are often called miracles.   Dynamis is the Greek word for power, might, or strength.  The word is found 118 times in the New Testament, usually in conjunction with the performance of miracles by Jesus.  How many times do you think the word “dynamis” is found in the Gospel of John?  If you guessed “zero”, you would be correct.  In the whole Gospel of John, all 21 chapters,  there is not even one mention of that word.  Instead, we find the repeated use of the Greek word “dynatai” which means “powerless”.  That is a new insight for me personally.  I did not know that previously.

Do you ever feel powerless to please God, powerless to serve God?  If not, you should, because you are!  As human beings, we are all powerless to do God’s will and God’s work by our own enabling.  To disagree with that statement would be to consider oneself as being better and greater than the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was a perfect, sinless Man, but He was still a man.  In His case He had both a human and a divine nature.  In the literal Greek text, Jesus is saying, “Cannot the Son do for Himself anything except what He sees the Father doing.”   The word “cannot” is the Greek word “dynatai” (powerless).  In other words, Jesus is watching as the Father does the miracle through Him.  By saying those words to his accusers, He is telling them that they are actually blaming the Father for doing those miracles on the Sabbath day.  Jesus is just doing the will of the Father by the power of the Father.  This information is going beyond the capability of our human understanding to comprehend completely.  The following true illustration will give us another person’s perspective.

Daniel Webster, the 19th century statesman, once dined in Boston with some influential people.  Soon the conversation turned to Christianity.  Webster, a convinced Christian, confessed his belief in Jesus Christ and His atoning work.  A Unitarian minister asked, “Mr. Webster, can you comprehend how Jesus Christ could be both God and man?”

“No sir, I cannot understand it:, replied Webster, “and I would be ashamed to acknowledge Christ as my Savior if I could understand it.  He could be no greater than myself.”

In my Bible, verse 19 ends with the words “in like manner”.  In verse 17, when Jesus said “My Father is working until now, and I am working”, the Jews thought that Jesus was saying that He was working independently of the Father, when actually the reverse was true.  Jesus was equal to the Father in nature as God, but dependent upon the Father in His human nature as a man.  Jesus’ equality with God was also demonstrated by His working together with the Father in perfect harmony.  This is one of the great mysteries of the Bible – how Jesus Christ can be fully God and fully man, and be able to function in both capacities without compromising either of them.  Are you still with me?  That was a difficult sentence to formulate!  I hope it helps you realize the need for Jesus’ total dependence upon the Father in order to do the works of God.

In Psalm 40:7-8, king David says, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.”  I believe that David is speaking prophetically in those verses because the author of Hebrews twice quotes those words almost exactly when referring to Jesus.  Hebrews 10:7 says, “Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God.”  Then again, in verse 9, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.”  And Jesus did just that.  In His prayer to the Father in John 17, Jesus said in verse 4, “I glorified Thee on earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.”
May that be our goal in life:  to accomplish the work that God has given each of us to do.

II.  EQUAL IN KNOWING (verse 20)

Verse 20 reads:  “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing, and even greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.”  Jesus points out that His knowledge of the Father is by-far superior to theirs.  It is a knowledge that only the Son of God could have.  God had concealed many things from Jesus’ accusers.  There are mysteries in the Bible that we don’t understand – things beyond our human comprehension.  We are also given a limited knowledge of God’s working throughout history and the details of our future.  But Jesus is saying that God the Father has withheld nothing from Him.  Then Jesus continues by saying “greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.”  We’ll see what He means in the next verse of Scripture.  A person’s knowledge gives him authority and earns him respect if that knowledge is used properly.  I think that Jesus is communicating to them that, because He has the knowledge that belongs only to God, He should be acknowledged as God and worshipped as God as a result.

As we look at the Father’s motive for giving this knowledge to Jesus, you might agree with me that the first part of verse 20 may be an even stronger evidence that Jesus Christ is God.  The verse begins with the words “For the Father loves the Son”.  The Greek word for “loves” is “phileo”.  It speaks of family-love, or love for an intimate friend.  It is this special, Fatherly love that motivated God the Father to reveal all things to His Son.  The more scholarly Jews, versed in the writings of the Law and the Prophets, should have realized the similarity of Jesus’ words to the prophecy written down by Isaiah in Isaiah 42:1.  It reads: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.  I have put my spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”  It’s a prophesy concerning the Messiah.

What does the Father say about His Son in the New Testament?  At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke aloud from the heavens introducing the world to His Son by saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22).  The Father speaks one more time from the cloud on the mount of transfiguration, saying to Peter, James, and John, This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35 ).  The Lord Jesus was the Father’s delight and source of Fatherly admiration and pleasure.  This has been true from all eternity.  What a testimony to the deity of Christ, coming from His own Father!

Tying all those verses and their meanings together, I like the beautiful summary-statement that John Piper makes.  “He is well-pleased with His Son.  His soul delights in the Son.  When He looks at His Son, He enjoys and admires and cherishes and prizes and relishes what He sees.”

Let’s see if we can gain a perspective on the Son’s helplessness as a Man to do the works of God, having to rely totally on the Father’s enabling for everything that He did; and the Loving heavenly Father working together with His Son to accomplish their work together.  Have you ever wondered what that must have been like for Jesus to have been totally dependent upon His Father during His entire life on this earth?  I’ve been looking for some basis of comparison here in the United States of America, and I think I may have found it.   We live in the first generation that has electronic media at their fingertips 24/7.   According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans own a phone.  67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls – even when they don’t notice their phones ringing or vibrating.   Studies have talked about all the things we choose to use our cell phones and smart phones to do for us:  such as scheduling meetings, finding places to eat, things to do, checking scores of sporting events, surfing the web, talking, texting, gaming, social media, and the list goes on.  Adding up all the ways these phones are being used, based on surveys, one internet trends report said that the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Add to this the personal use of desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, blue-tooths, etc.

My purpose is not to be judgmental but to cause us to see how dependent many of us are upon our phones and computers.  We’ve made choices in our use of them, and now many of us are so dependent on them that we don’t see how we can live without them.

When we look at what Jesus says about His total dependence on the Father, we realize that His words have been verified by the choices He has made throughout His own life.  How did the Lord Jesus spent His time on this earth?  We find in the Scriptures that Jesus spent much time in prayer and the study of the Scriptures.  He also spent a lot of time teaching the apostles, witnessing to the lost, and serving the needs of people.  He did all those things because that’s what the Father wanted Him to do and empowered him to do; and that’s what brought Him joy and personal satisfaction.

I hope that you believe that Jesus Christ is God.  If so, I hope that you’ve responded by committing yourself to Him as your God, your Lord and Ruler, letting Him take charge of your life from moment-to-moment until you see Him face-to-face.

As Christians, we are dependents, and we will never outgrow that dependency during our lifetimes on this earth.  We are part of His family and He has claimed us as his children.  By His enabling, let’s do the will of Him who adopted us, lovingly depending upon Him to do what He wants to accomplish in our lives because of His great love for us.

May our lives and the use of our time reflect the priorities of Christ, and may our motives reflect the love of Christ.

CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED

I’ll see you at the next construction site.  The Lord Jesus has much more to tell us about His deity.

EQUAL WITH GOD – John 5:15-18

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“Tattletale! . . . Tattletale!”

Can you remember hearing those words as a child?  Were those words directed at you because of something you did?  Have you ever spoken those words to others because of what they did to you?  In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a tattletale is a child who goes to an adult (parent, teacher, etc.) and tells the adult that you are doing something that you are not supposed to be doing.  It’s called “tattling” and the person who does it is a “tattletale”.  (Other similar words include a “blabber”, “rat”, “fink”, “stoolie”, “snitch”, and the list goes on).

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 5:1-13, Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethesda,  This man had been sick and weak for 38 years.   He didn’t know who Jesus was, and couldn’t give an answer to the Jewish leaders when they asked.  Jesus later, in verse 14,  found him in the temple and admonished him not to sin anymore or something worse might happen to him.  Now this man knows that the One who healed him is Jesus.

I.  THE HEALER IS REVEALED (verse 15)

The narrative continues in verse 15.  “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”  The first words that came to my mind after I read that verse were, “Tattletale, tattletale”!  After all that Jesus did for him by healing him, and now he’s going to “rat on Him”, getting Him into trouble with the Jews.   What’s the matter with this guy?  Is that any way to treat your Healer?

Actually, that was not the man’s intent at all.  The leaders of his people had asked him a question that he couldn’t answer:  the identity of his Healer.  Once he found out, he told the leaders the answer to their question out of respect for them, thinking that they would want to rejoice and give praise to Jesus also.   Jesus had not warned this man not to say anything to them because it was the time for the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself more fully to the Jews.  The tension is going to be growing.

II.  THIER ANGER IS REDIRECTED (verse 16)

In response to the healed man’s words, verse 16 says, “And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.”  Now they have the real culprit to deal with.  I find it significant that the healed man tried to direct their focus away from their Sabbath laws and onto his miraculous healing and the one who healed him.  However, they direct their attention away from the amazing miracle Jesus performed and back to the violation of their Sabbath laws.  It’s as the saying goes, “Don’t confuse us with facts; our minds are made up!”.  The healed man’s “reality check” was unsuccessful.  We don’t find them objecting to the healing itself – just the day on which it was done.  The Jewish leaders were living in a world of their own:  a world darkened by their own laws.  It says that they were “persecuting” Jesus.  This persecution involved making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors in order to attack His character and ruin His popularity.  I guess you could call that a form of tattling also:  they were spreading gossip about Him.  That’s just the beginning of their attacks.  In their minds, no one was going to get in the way of their laws and their control over the social and spiritual traditions of their people.  At this point the leaders of the Jews don’t appear to have a clear knowledge of Jesus’ claims, but after Jesus responds to them, their understanding becomes clearer and their hatred of Him increases.

III.  JESUS’ REPLY (verse 17)

The Lord Jesus replies to them, in verse 17, with a simple statement that is packed with meaning.  But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”   God only rested once, and that was from His work of creation only.  You might say that He stepped back for a short time to enjoy it, while at the same time keeping everything else going, so to speak.  God gave us the Sabbath as a day of rest for us, not for Him.  God is always working.  The Scriptures give us many examples of the work that God does on a continuing basis.  In Deuteronomy 11:12, speaking about the promised land, Moses says, “a land for which the Lord your God cares;  the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning. . . “.  Add to those verses Zephaniah 3:5, Romans 8:34 and many others.  God is always there.  He always sees, always hears, always knows, and always cares.  It’s a 24/7 responsibility.  God never sleeps (Ps. 121:4)

The Jews would have to agree with the first half of Jesus’ statement:  “God is always working”.  Can you imagine what it would be like if God took a day off every week?  Everyone and everything would fall apart or disappear.  He would have to create all over again!

To give you an inkling of how terrifying this would be, imagine that all medical personnel and all medical facilities and pharmacies took the Sabbath day off  every week.  No ambulances, no emergency rooms, no urgent care, nothing.  Wouldn’t that be frightening?  I wouldn’t want to leave my house on that day!  Now imagine if everyone everywhere took the Sabbath day off and did no work.  There would be no stores open, no public transportation, no gas, no electricity, no food, nothing.  Thank God their laws weren’t carried out to the fullest extent then or now!

I don’t think the Jewish leaders could put up an argument about the fact that God is always working.  but when the Lord Jesus says, “And I Myself am working”, they became enraged. The Tehillim should have come to their minds when Jesus said those words.  The Tehillim is the Book of Praises (The Psalms).  When Jesus said those words, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working”, I think there was a pause in the middle.  “My Father is working until now . . . and I Myself am working.”   If His accusers would have given thought to the first half of Jesus reply, the Book of Journeys should have come to their minds (Psalm 121).  It speaks of the journey of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land, and the journey of each individual through life.  It is a psalm of David and is called “A Song of Ascents”.  Here are the first four verses to that Psalm        

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep
.

The Psalm goes on to say that God is their Keeper, their Shade, their Protector and their Guard.  God the Father was always there with them, 24/7, working constantly for their good; and Jesus was there right along with Him!  In their pride and legalism, the Jews completely overlooked the love and concern that prompted Jesus’ answer to them.  They’ve been reciting and singing that psalm for a thousand years, yet sadly, they refused to honor the One who fits the description.  The author of that Psalm, King David, would probably have fallen with his face to the ground after hearing those words from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.

IV.  FROM PERSECUTION TO EXECUTION (verse 18)

In verse 18 we see that the Jews are turning up the heat on the Lord Jesus.  “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  Now the intent of the Jews is not just a “smear campaign”; it has also become a “death warrant”.  Not only has the Lord Jesus broken their Sabbath laws, but He has dared to claim that He is their Messiah!  In their minds, that is a death sentence.

Let’s look at this situation from a logical point of view.  At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus had performed a miracle that only God could accomplish.  A man who was helpless and without strength for 38 years had his condition reversed instantly by the command of Jesus.  When the leaders of the Jews met this man at the temple, they didn’t even question the miracle because they couldn’t refute it.  Doesn’t it seem logical to you that they should have given Jesus the benefit of the doubt concerning HIs claim until they could find proof that would undeniably refute it?  Just a few minutes earlier they were looking at proof that undeniably affirmed it!

In the late 1800’s a man by the name of Lew Wallace wrote a book that became a best seller, and many years later it was made into a movie which is considered to be one of the best movies of all time.  The book’s name is “Ben Hur”.  Maybe you’ve read the book or seen the movie.  It weaves the true story of Jesus Christ with that of a fictional young Jewish nobleman named Judah Ben-Hur.   As Wallace did his research, studying the Bible and the history and customs of the Jewish people at that time, he came to believe in Jesus Christ.  Wallace said, “I have seen the Nazarene , . . I saw him perform works which no mere man could perform.”  (Our Daily Bread, 4/9/17)

What is your estimate of Jesus Christ?  Have you studied His life and His claims, and have you reviewed the evidence that supports those claims?  Please don’t let personal pride or indifference get in the way of the only relationship that lasts forever, and the only joy that is beyond comparison.

CONCLUSION;

This passage of Scripture demonstrates what legalism can do to people.  Three important principles we can all learn from this incident in the life of Jesus have to do with a proper understanding of legalism and what is needed on our parts in order to avoid legalism in our own lives.  First, my standards, if they go beyond the teachings of the Scriptures, should not go any further than myself.  Secondly, legalism consists, not of having standards which exceed the bounds of Scripture, but of considering those personal standards as being equal to Scripture, and trying to impose them on others.  Thirdly, we’ll avoid legalism if we stay in God’s Word and make it our only guide for living.  You and others around you will be glad you did!

 CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED

The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 3:10-11, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building upon it.  But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than the which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  May your work and your life continue to stand firm on His foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Bible, Bible sermon, Bible sermons, darkness, God, John 3, John 3:19-21, Uncategorized

THE ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

I.  THE VERDICT (verse 19)

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

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

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

II.  THE EXPLANATION (verse 20)

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

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

III.  THE ALTERNATIVE AND THE INVITATION (verse 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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



CONSTRUCTION SITE :

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

 

DISCUSSION WITH NICODEMUS (PART 1) – John 3:1-7

Bible, Bible sermon, Bible sermons, conversation, conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Feast of Passover, God, Gospel, Gospel of John, Gospel of John, Jesus, Jesus Christ, John 3, John 3:1-21, John 3:1-7, John's Gospel, New Testament, New Testament sermon, Nicodemus, pharisee, religion, Sanhedrin, Sermon on John's Gospel, sermon verse-by-verse, sermon with illustrations, sermons you'll enjoy, supreme court of the Jews, Uncategorized

This passage of Scripture, John 3:1-21, is one of the most familiar, and also one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible.  From the previous chapter we learned that the Lord Jesus had performed many miracles during the week of the Passover celebration.  Many people were amazed when they witnessed Jesus’ miracles.  He was told that many were believing in Him, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because there was no genuine commitment on their part.  However, in this passage of Scripture we find an exception.  There is a person who earnestly wants to know more about Him.

I.  AN INTRODUCTION TO NICODEMUS (verses 1)

Verse 1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  We learn two important facts from this verse.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, meaning “separatist” or “separated one”, and the Pharisees were very strict about following the Law of Moses and the traditions.  During the lifetime of Christ on earth, there were about 6000 Pharisees.  I wondered,  “What did a Pharisee look like?”  “Did they wear distinctive clothing and wear their hair and beards a certain way to set themselves apart as “separatists”?  The answer to those two questions is “yes” among those Pharisees who criticized Jesus, and He rebuked them because their motive was to be seen and acknowledged by others.  Nicodemus, as we shall see, doesn’t appear to fit that description, and he may not be alone.

Nicodemus is also described as a “ruler”.  This means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, composed of 70 members.  The word Sanhedrin means “seated with” and refers to a person who sits with the council of elders.  The Roman equivalent was the Senate.  So Nicodemus was in a position of power and influence, as well as being a caretaker and administrator of God’s Law.  One of his responsibilities as a member of the Sanhedrin was to keep the Jewish religion pure and undefiled by examining and dealing with false teachers and false prophets

II.  THE UNANNOUNCED VISIT (verse 2)

Verse 2 begins with the words, “this man (Nicodemus) came to Him by night”.   The sun had gone down, and the evening meal was probably finished at the place where Jesus was staying.  An unexpected visitor was entering the courtyard hoping to talk to Jesus.  He was, no doubt, dressed in the elegant garb of a Pharisee, and probably wearing a serious, puzzled look on his face, considering how he is going to begin the conversation as Jesus greets him.  Verse 2 continues:  “and he (Nicodemus) said to Him (Jesus). ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’ “.

Nicodemus came by night, either so that he might not be seen by his companions, or because Jesus was surrounded by crowds during the day, or both.  His desire is to have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation with Jesus.  Nicodemus greets Jesus respectfully and begins the conversation with a confession, and seems to indicate that the religious leaders privately recognized that Jesus spoke with divine authority, even though they opposed Him publicly.  He uses the word “we”, probably including the other 69 members of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to learn much more from this conversation with Jesus than he could ever have imagined, and he’ll have many things to ponder when the conversation is over.  Jesus is now going to take the lead in the conversation and is going to use four different illustrations:  birth, the wind, the serpent on the pole, and light and darkness.  These illustrations will be used by Jesus to instruct Nicodemus about the basics of salvation.

I.  BIRTH (verses 3-7)

Jesus begins in verse 3 by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He’s telling Nicodemus that what He is about to tell him is a very important truth.  Then He says, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  The Greek word anothen” literally means “from above”, but can also be translated “again”.  As we shall see from the context, Jesus meant “from above”. Unless this happens, you “cannot” see the kingdom of God because it is an impossibility.  Commenting on these words of our Lord, preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody said:  “You can see many countries, but there is one you shall never behold unless you are born again.  You can look abroad and see many beautiful trees, but you shall never behold the ‘tree of life’ unless your eyes are made clear by faith in the Savior.  You may see the beautiful rivers of the earth, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the river which bursts out from the Throne of God and flows through the Upper Kingdom, unless you are ‘born again.’  When you are in London you may go to the Tower and see the crown of England which is worth thousands of dollars, and is guarded by soldiers, but bear in mind that your eyes will never rest upon the ‘crown of life,’ unless you are ‘born again’.  You may see ten thousand beautiful things in this world, but the city that Abraham caught a glimpse of – and from that time became a pilgrim seeking the Lord – you shall never see unless you are ‘born again.’ ”

Those are some sobering words from Jesus and from Mr. Moody.  It must have been discouraging for Nicodemus to think that his strict observance of the laws and his position and responsibilities would not get him into the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ words were puzzling to Nicodemus.  He thought that Jesus was talking about physical birth, and couldn’t make any sense of that.  He responds with these words:  “How can a man be born when he is old?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  I am amazed by the composure of Nicodemus.  Any other Pharisee would have become angry at Jesus and told Him that He was crazy.  But out of respect for Jesus, and with a desire to know the truth, Nicodemus is trying to sort this out and make sense of it.  Have you ever used the following phrase in a conversation:  “This may sound stupid but I’ve got to ask . . . “?  You took the risk of having the other person in the conversation be angry or impatient with you for having to take the time to give you an explanation because you just had to understand what that person was saying.  That’s especially hard to do with someone you don’t even know, isn’t it!?  You’re wondering whether the person is going to stare at you, take a deep breath, exhale loudly, and then drone on like a father explaining something to his child for the umpteenth time!  But Nicodemus overcomes his pride and humbly asks that question anyway.  Bravo!

William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, has given me a new perspective on those words spoken by Nicodemus.  Barclay puts himself in the sandals of Nicodemus and then explains his dilemma:  “I know that it is necessary (to be born anew), but in my experience it is impossible.  There is nothing I would like more; but you might as well tell me, a full-grown man, to enter into my mother’s womb again and be born all over again.”  It is not the desirability of this change that Nicodemus questioned; that he knew only too well.  it is the possibility.  Nicodemus is up against the eternal problem, the problem of a man who wants to be changed but who cannot change himself.” 

Jesus responds by giving Nicodemus another important statement which adds some clarity to His first statement.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  I personally get the impression that Jesus is welcoming the question of Nicodemus, so that He can provide more information for Nicodemus  to remember and consider.  I also think that the Lord Jesus is testing his attitude.  If Nicodemus is truly a “learner” then he will keep asking and keep seeking.

The Lord Jesus is not talking about baptism when He says “born of water and the Spirit”.  Baptism is a symbol of death, not birth.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 “buried with Him in baptism”.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he has the wrong perspective.  He is focusing on the physical and material, but Jesus is talking about the spiritual.  You not only have to be born physically, you must also be born spiritually.  Every year we celebrate a birthday.  For some of us there are too many candles to put on the cake!   But it’s actually not a birthday, it’s the anniversary of our birthday.  We are only born once physically, at a specific place and time.  The same is true spiritually.  We can only be born once spiritually, and it is at a specific place and time.  We may not be able to remember the specific time and place, but God does, and the resulting change in our lives is evidence to us and those around us.

Jesus continues in verse 6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is Spirit.”  The two events are not related.  What Jesus is saying is, “Nicodemus, you’ve been born physically but you haven’t been born spiritually yet.”  Nicodemus must have been thinking, “I’m a Jew, one of God’s chosen people; I’m a Pharisee, a strict observer of the Law and Traditions; and I’m a ‘ruler’ of the Jews; how much more ‘spiritual’ can you get?”  Jesus took notice of the fact that the eyes of Nicodemus widened in astonishment, and his jaw dropped in surprise and bewilderment, because He says in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  It’s a mystery.  Evangelist Billy Graham uses an illustration from his past to convey the problem and how it must be resolved.

“I was born and reared on a dairy farm.  How can a black cow eat green grass and produce white milk and yellow butter?  I don’t understand that.  I might say, ‘because I don’t understand it, I’m never going to drink milk again’.  And you’d say, ‘You’re crazy.’ —  I don’t understand it but I accept it by faith.  Nicodemus could only see the physical and material, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual.”  In Part II of this conversation, we will see how Jesus uses an illustration from nature to help Nicodemus better understand what He is saying.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:+

The example of Nicodemus provides some lessons for us to learn.  By coming to meet with Jesus, he probably did what no other Pharisee or member of the Sanhedrin would ever do.  I’m sure he fought off many excuses that came to his mind – excuses similar to the ones given by those who don’t go to church.  For example, the excuse:  “people will judge me”.  There’s no doubt that he could have used that excuse because it’s true.  His colleges would definitely not approve.  How about this excuse:  “I don’t have the right clothes to wear.”  Nicodemus was wealthy and dressed that way.  He probably didn’t have any “poor people’s clothes” around his house.  He wouldn’t want to embarrass Jesus by “out-dressing” Him and making Him feel even poorer.  Do you see what I mean?  There are always excuses to be found for not doing the right thing.  One of the unmentioned excuses that Jesus addresses is “I’m already good enough”.  What excuses do we use for not wanting to know the truth, or not wanting to see ourselves as we really are?  Nicodemus is an example to us of one who considers the knowledge and application of God’s truth to be more important than his personal reputation.

There are lessons to be learned from Jesus so far in this conversation also.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates in these first seven verses that He is not in a hurry to convince Nicodemus of the truth of His words.  He realizes that many people aren’t “born from above” overnight.  His words are not easy to understand because He is talking about the mystery of salvation.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates his concern and kindness by not applying any pressure.  Instead He offers illustrations from life and from nature, giving Nicodemus time to think it over and respond.  He’s providing a comfortable and caring environment for open conversation.  It is a lesson for us that it is not the method of proclamation that brings souls to Christ.   Though methods can be useful; it is the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God that causes change.  This occurs according to God’s timing as we build relationships and let the light of Christ shine through us.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is finished for now.  I may do some detailing later.   John 3:1-21, which was originally intended to be a “house”, is now turning into a “condominium”!  There is going to be a Part II, and maybe even a Part III and Part IV.  Much to be learned from this conversation!  Thanks for visiting.  There are 99 completed sites on this blog.  Hope you’ll take a look around the block and see if there is something that interests you.  I also hope that your life is still under construction and that God is your Master Builder.

 

 

NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

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

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

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

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

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

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

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

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

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

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

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

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

VI.  THE LESSONS

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

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

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

THE TRUE LIGHT: UNKNOWN AND UNWANTED – John 1:9-11

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If you grew up in the 1950’s, 60’s, or 70’s, you may remember the weekly TV series entitled “Dragnet”.  It was a story of crime investigation and prevention in Los Angeles.  If you’ve ever watched that TV series, you may also remember these immortal words often said by the straight-faced police officer, Joe Friday:  “Just the facts, ma’am . . . All we want are the facts, ma’am . . . All we know are the facts, ma’am.”

Here in verses 9-11 the apostle John is giving us “just the facts”, the plain and simple facts about the God-man, Jesus Christ.  There is much more to the picture, but for now John wants us to think about and examine “just the facts”.

I.  THE TRUE LIGHT (verse 9)

Referring to Jesus Christ, John makes a simple, true, and profound statement:  “This was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”  The word “true” is the Greek word aleithinon, which can also mean genuine, real, valid, trustworthy and reliable.  It refers to truth in contrast to appearance.  It is a timeless truth because it has always been true.  He is referring to someone whose words we can trust with complete confidence.  You would think that we would always want to hear the truth, plain and simple.  But as we shall see, that is not always so.  Jesus often used the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He could use those words because everything He said was true, and every prophesy He made has come to pass or will come to pass exactly as He predicted it.

Jesus “enlightens every man“.  Only Jesus can be the light to every person.  He is the true light not only to the Jews, not only to the Christians, not only to the wealthy and respectable, but also to every single person on this planet.  He is the light to every man because every man is lost and in darkness without Him.  Job 12:25 says, “They grope in darkness with no light”.  Try closing your eyes tightly.  Now cup one hand over your eyes, and then cup the other hand over that hand.  Pretty scary, isn’t it?  It’s especially scary if you don’t know where you are; if you’re somewhere you’ve never been before.

But this is not the case.  God has taken the initiative to reveal Himself to us.  Just look at the world around you.  The order, beauty, and complexity of our universe points very clearly to a Creator (Romans 1:19-20).  He has left His fingerprints, so to speak, all around us.  I personally don’t understand how a person can look at this world and at himself, and yet call himself an atheist or an agnostic.  God has done everything possible to make Himself known to us.  In His Word, the Scriptures, He has revealed Himself personally and intimately.  By the way, I think that many who call themselves “agnostics” are actually “atheists in disguise”.  They “don’t know” because they really don’t want to know; but they want to give the impression that they are still seeking answers and searching.  I hope that you are not in either of those two categories.  If you are, I hope and pray that God is making His presence known to you now.  Belief is a choice.  Let’s make sure we base our beliefs on facts, not just on our own personal preferences.

II.  UNKNOWN BY THE WORLD (verse 10)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”  This verse is apparently referring to Christ, the “Logos”, before He took on human form.  It might also include the thirty silent years before Jesus began His public ministry.

From as far back in history as Genesis 1, God’s creation chose to worship other gods.  After being tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve chose to worship their own gods:  themselves!  They turned their backs to the God who created them. Throughout the Old Testament we find the people that God created choosing to worship gods of wood and stone which they formed with their own hands, rather than the Creator-God.  As the apostle Paul said:  “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God . . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures . . . and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . .”. (Romans 1:21-25)

This must have grieved the heart of God.  It would be much worse than the feeling you might have if somebody walked past you on a daily basis, saw you clearly, heard your greeting, yet ignored you, treating you as if you didn’t exist. In spite of the enlightenment given by God, men chose to reject that knowledge.

III.  UNWANTED BY HIS OWN (verse 11)

What about the nation of Israel?  How did they respond to the coming of Jesus Christ?  Verse 11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”  The term “His own” literally means “His own things”, not “His own people”, as Christians are called.  The nation of Israel is His as a man’s house and lands and goods are his own, and which he uses and possesses.  But believers are His as a man’s wife and children are his own, whom he loves and enjoys.  God had been preparing the Jewish people for His coming for centuries.  The prophets had foretold it.  But Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.  The prophet Isaiah gives us this prophetic description of Jesus from the perspective of the Jewish nation:  “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:3)

We see a similar pattern in the Old Testament.  Joseph had a special relationship with his father Jacob, and Jacob made him a coat of many colors.  Joseph also had a special relationship with God, and God spoke to him in dreams which he shared with his family.  The result was that his brothers envied him. hated him, and sold him as a slave (Genesis 37).

Early in Jesus’ ministry we sense a spirit of prejudice against Him.  “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary”.  He  had what was considered a poor-person’s job and came from a poor family.  Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Jesus came from a “bad neighborhood”.  In addition, the prophet may be implying that Jesus was not a physically attractive person, not only at his death but also during His life (Isaiah 52:3).  He may have been called names such as “ugly”.  We don’t know.  He had nothing going for Him economically, socially, or physically.

Rejection hurts, doesn’t it?  Have you ever struggled with rejection?  Are you experiencing rejection at this time?  The Lord Jesus knows what you are going through.  He’s been through it Himself.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

THE PROFILE OF A LEADER – II Timothy 2:1-7

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INTRODUCTION:

William Sangster, a popular preacher and writer of the 1950’s, said this:  “The church is painfully in need of leaders.”  In the Scriptures God is frequently described as searching for a man of a certain type;  not “men”,  but “a man”;  not a group, but an individual.             I Samuel 13:14 says, “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart.”  In Ezekiel 22:30 God says, “I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap . . . but I found no one.”  Are you such a person?  What kind of a person is it that God is looking for?  In II Timothy 2:1-7,  the apostle Paul, after telling Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, describes such a person by using four images:

I.  A TEACHER (verse 2)

In verse 2, the first image Paul uses to describe the Christian leader is that of a teacher.  A college student was having difficulty with his studies so he finally decided to talk to his professor.  He complained, “I’m studying hard.  I’m doing my best, but I just can’t retain what I read or try to memorize.  Do you think it would help if I hired a tutor?”

Clearly understanding the young man’s problem, the instructor replied, “No, I wouldn’t recommend that at all.  You don’t need a teacher, you need a pupil!”  He knew that learning is increased when we share our knowledge with others.

This professor’s advice reminds us of believers who know many Bible facts but still have a poor understanding of scriptural truths.  They attend church every Sunday, listen faithfully to religious broadcasts, and study the Scriptures personally;  yet they seem to lack a working knowledge of the Bible.  What’s the problem?  They never do anything with that information!  They don”t need to be taught more;  they need to tell others what they have learned.  As they put it into practice, they will begin to understand it more fully.  That is what Paul said to Timothy in verse 2.  The things Paul said were confirmed by many witnesses as being the truth of God.  There are many teachers today who compromise the Scriptures so that they are acceptable to the mentality of this age in which we live.  Paul is telling Timothy to “entrust” the things he’s learned from him to faithful men.  The word “entrust” gives the picture of a precious treasure being placed in the safekeeping of another person.  We each have things that we treasure, either because they are expensive or because they have sentimental value.  If you were going on a trip, would you hand these items over to a total stranger?  No!  You would give them to a trusted friend with information on how to care for and protect them.  The Gospel is a precious treasure and should be given to “faithful men” who won’t misuse it or abandon it.

The teacher is described in verse 2 as equipping others to teach, not satisfied with just communicating the message.  The nature of the Gospel message demands that it be propagated or reproduced in the lives of others.  The ultimate goal of the teacher is to see God’s Word passed on to others, and through them to still others.  That is the key to reaching this world for the Lord Jesus Christ.

II.  A SOLDIER (verses 3-4)

The second image that Paul uses is that of a soldier.  You could say that if any apostle was an authority on soldiers, it was the apostle Paul.  He had been in prison and chained to soldiers during much of his Christian life.  What comes to your minds when you think of a soldier’s life?  In verse 3, Paul describes a soldier as one who is willing to suffer hardship.  The apostle Paul was a good soldier of Jesus Christ because he suffered for the cause of Christ, and had the scars to prove it.  There was a popular saying during World War II:   people would often say to each other, “there’s a war on!”  It was a reminder to them that hardships were to be expected and accepted.

Fellow Christians, there IS a war on!  We, as Christians, are in a war against the world, against our own sinful flesh, and against Satan.  Are we willing to accept all the hardship that comes as a result of identifying with the cause of Christ?  As modern-day believers, we may not all experience great persecution for our faith, but we do face hardships and trials.  Our faith in Christ is not an escape from them, but it does give us the strength to endure them.

In verse 4, Paul says that a soldier is obedient and loyal.  The words “on active duty” describe the life of a soldier of Christ as a constant battle.  There are no “furloughs” or “vacations” from the Christian life.  Constant and complete dedication is needed.  A soldier  also does not “entangle himself in the affairs of everyday life”.  A Roman soldier was forbidden to engage in civilian occupations and was told to avoid becoming overly involved in the affairs of the market-place.  He was a soldier first and his loyalty was to be to his commander.

The Christian is also to be single-minded.  This may mean laying aside certain habits, amusements, pursuits, and maybe even certain relationships, not necessarily because they may be wrong in themselves, but because they may be an entanglement, keeping us from performing our primary responsibilities as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

III.  AN ATHLETE (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul uses the image of an athlete to describe the Christian.  The word “competes” comes from two Greek words which were used together to describe a “professional” as opposed to an “amateur” athlete.  It was a full-time dedication of one’s life to excellence in the athletic event or events he had chosen.  Paul says that the goal of the athlete is to win the prize by “competing according to the rules”.  Several athletes in the 1976 olympic games were discovered to have taken prohibited drugs.  Their medals were taken away from them.  All those years of preparation and hard work were for nothing!

As a Christian leader, the standard is God’s Word, and we have several umpires observing what we do and how we do it.  We have the divine umpire, and He doesn’t miss a thing.  But we also have the Christians and non-Christians around us.  I’ve personally found that some non-Christians will tempt you, test you, argue with you, and antagonize you, but inwardly many of them want you to succeed, to pass their tests, because they want something worth believing, and worth giving themselves to.  God is looking for faithful Christians, faithful to Him and to His Word,  whatever the cost.  And some day we will win the prize when God rewards our faithfulness to Him.

IV.  THE FARMER (verses 6 and 7)

The fourth image that Paul uses to describe the Christian leader is that of the farmer.  In verse 6, he describes the farmer as being “hardworking”.  The word means working to the point of weariness and exhaustion.  As a kid, I remember spending a week with a friend on his parents’ farm.  We went to bed early every night and got up really early every morning.  His mother made the biggest breakfasts that I have ever seen!  There were eggs, pancakes, potatoes, meat, rolls, fruit, and hot cereal.  I soon found out why there was so much food.  We worked hard after breakfast gathering the eggs, feeding the chickens, cows, horses, and pigs, spraying the weeds, and picking the ripe fruit and vegetables.  By lunch time, and also at supper time, I was famished and ate lots of food.  After the week was over, I can remember coming home exhausted.  Now I knew why their son liked to spend a week with us once in a while!

The farmer must be content to keep working hard,  and also to keep waiting.  More than any other worker, the farmer has to learn that there is no such thing as quick results.  It takes months after the seed is sown and the ground is continually watered and cultivated, that the fruit, vegetables, and grain finally begin to ripen and can be harvested.  But all that hard work will finally pay off.

The Christian life is also hard work  The Christian too must learn to work hard and also to wait.  Often he will sow the seed of God’s Word into the hearts of others and see no immediate results.  Sometimes it takes years of sowing and watering before some people respond to the Gospel message and are saved.  But we must, like the farmer, keep on working and waiting.  The pastor and author, John R.W. Stott, said:  “This notion that Christian service is hard work is so unpopular in some happy-go-lucky Christian circles  today.”

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION:

Let me summarize the qualities of a good Chrtistian leader.  As a teacher, he should be characterized by faithfulness to uphold the truth of God’s Word, and a zeal to see it reproduced in the lives of faithful people, and then passed on to others.  As a soldier, he is to be undistracted from his calling and willing to endure anything for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As an athlete, he is to be above reproach in his actions, attitudes, and methods, both before the eyes of the world and the eyes of God.  And as a farmer, he is to work long and hard, trusting God for the harvest to come.

Will you be such a person:  the kind of person that God and His church seeks after;  the kind of person that this world needs?  Will you be able to say confidently to those you are teaching and helping to grow spiritually, what the apostle Paul said in verse 7:  “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”?

 

 

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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

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

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

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

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

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

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