GOTCHA! – John 7:19-24

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INTRODUCTION:

“Gotcha” is an American slang term that literally means, “I’ve got you”.  It has been used in a number of ways.  Many of us have used that word in a conversation, and we had a specific purpose and meaning in mind.  It can mean “I understand what you are saying”, or “I’ll do what you’ve asked”.  The word is sometimes used in the sense of capturing or apprehending someone, taking someone by surprise, embarrassing or disgracing someone, exposing a person’s mistakes, or proving that the person is wrong.  That’s quite a range of meanings and uses for the word, and that’s not all of them.  Why would I be using the word “gotcha” to describe an event in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Does that choice seem strange to you?  As we study this passage of Scripture, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not this title is appropriate.

TRANSITION:

As we begin our study of John 7:19-22, let’s imagine the scene at that moment in Jesus’ life.  It’s the week-long Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles].  Jesus arrived unnoticed, went into the temple and began to teach.  A crowd of people has formed around Jesus to listen to Him.  The Jewish religious authorities have arrived, have made their way to the front of the crowd, and are standing in front of Him, making accusations about Him; and Jesus is once again defending His authority.  Meanwhile, the crowd is standing there, watching and listening.

I.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)

In verse 19, there is a change of direction.  Jesus takes the offensive position against them and assumes the control of the conversation.  “Turnabout is fair play”, as the saying goes.  It’s time for Him to examine their words and their actions, and offer His conclusions.  It’s time to bring them back to reality.  He begins His attack by saying, “Did not Moses give you the law”?  They are thinking in their minds, “Of course he did!”  They prided themselves on this, and believed that every violation of the law of Moses was deserving of death.  While they are gloating about their self-righteousness and their exalted position in the eyes of God, Jesus goes on to say yet not one of you carries out the law.” Those are stinging words to His questioners!  These leaders revere Moses and obey his every word – at least they try to give the impression that they do so!  Jesus is telling them, “You’re not carrying out the Law that God gave to Moses.  You’re carrying out your own version of it.  Those aren’t the Sabbath laws that God gave to Moses.  You’ve changed them and added to them to the point where they have become a despicable burden to the people.  It’s no surprise that you reject My teaching because you have rejected Moses’ teaching” (John 5:46-47).

At this point in Jesus’ discussion, it’s important to know the words that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.  Here are those words:

Then Moses commanded them saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the
time of the year of the remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel
comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose,
you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people,
the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that
they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe
all the words of this law.” 
[bold print added to emphasize key words]

We aren’t told whether or not this is the seventh year but, if not, Jesus may be alluding to that command to remind the Jewish leaders that, when the people hear the words of the Law being spoken, they will notice many of the differences between the Law of Moses and the teachings they have received from these rabbis.

II.  THE QUESTION (verse 19b)

As further proof of their disobedience to the law of Moses, Jesus asks them a question:  “Why do you seek to kill Me?”  He is saying, “Where does Moses say specifically that I should be killed for healing a person on the Sabbath day over a year ago?  What offenses deserve the death penalty in the law of Moses?  If My healing-miracle is not one of those offenses, then one of the commandments in the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not kill’.  So you’re the ones who are breaking the law of Moses by seeking to kill Me.”

III.  THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)

I can imagine that the leaders of the Jews were standing there dumbfounded.  Jesus’ reasoning was too solid.  They weren’t prepared for this, and didn’t know what to say.  The crowd, most of whom were from outlying areas and weren’t familiar with Jesus or with the things He was saying, come to the defense of their leaders.  In verse 20 we read, The multitude answered, “You have a demon!  Who seeks to kill You?”  They weren’t telling Jesus that He was demon possessed.  During that period of time, many Jews believed that all unusual or uncalled for behavior was prompted by the devil.  In this day and age, we might use the words “you’re out of your mind”, “you’re crazy”, or “you’re paranoid”.  They misunderstood Jesus’ words because they didn’t know the history behind them.

IV.  THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)

I’m sure the leaders were relieved that the crowd directed the attention of Jesus away from them, but it didn’t last for long.  Rather than become distracted by the crowd and direct His conversation toward them in defense of His sanity, Jesus ignores their remark and continues His conversation with the leaders of the Jews, answering His own question.  In verse 21, He says,  “I did one deed and you all marvel.”  The religious authorities were amazed when they learned that Jesus healed, in an instant, a man who had been lame for 38 years, just by saying the words.  It was a miracle that only God could perform.  Yet they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed that miracle on the Sabbath Day.

V.  THE APPLICATION TO CIRCUMCISION (verses 22-23)

In verse 22, we find that the Lord Jesus isn’t finished with His argument.  He is still building His case against them.  This time He applies their Sabbath laws to the rite of circumcision when He says, “On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.”  First, He corrects their misunderstanding about circumcision.  Moses was not the originator of circumcision.  Before God told Moses to put the command of circumcision into written form in Leviticus 12:3, it had been practiced by “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) over 700 years earlier.  In Genesis 17:10-12, God said to Abraham,“This is the covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . every male among you who is eight days old.”  Therefore, in obedience to that law, every man-child (male baby) is circumcised on the eighth day, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s” about it.  There are no exceptions to the rule.  It’s the law, and this ceremonial law even takes precedence over the Sabbath laws.  That was the teaching of the Jewish religious authorities of that day.  However, there were exceptions to that rule.  In the Talmud (the collection of the teachings of the rabbis), it states that, should the baby suffer from an illness, the circumcision is postponed seven days for the sake of the well-being of the infant.  Therefore, the baby’s health is more important than this rite of purification, and this is one of several exceptions in the Talmud.

With that information in mind, Jesus presents His next argument in verse 23, saying, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.”  Jesus is saying, “You make exceptions to circumcision on the Sabbath because the health of the child is more important than the strict observance of the Law, so why are you upset because I healed this man completely on the Sabbath?”  He’s telling them that they are contradicting themselves because they say one thing but do another.

There is another argument that isn’t spoken by Jesus, but it’s implied, and all the rabbi’s standing around Him know what that argument is.  As they add this final argument to the ones already stated by Jesus, they realize that they have lost their case and there is nothing to refute.  Are you wondering what that final argument is?  It has to do with one of the teachings of their most famous rabbi, Hillel the Great.  Hillel’s first great law of interpretation was, “The Major may be inferred from the Minor”.  What does that mean?  In this case, circumcision, which was considered to be the ceremonial law of the purification of newborn males) overrides the Sabbath, and health overrides circumcision.  So the Sabbath and circumcision are ‘Minor’ when compared with health.  Thus Jesus’ case against them might be put into these words:  “I did what’s considered ‘Major’ according to your laws and the teachings of your most famous rabbi, when I healed that man completely on the Sabbath, so why are you majoring in the ‘Minors’?”

What excellent arguments!  Case dismissed!  As I review Jesus’ arguments, a word comes back to mind.  The word is GOTCHA!  Does that word seem appropriate to you also?

VI.  THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)

While those teachers of the Law are standing there, looking at Jesus in wide-eyed amazement, experiencing the shame and agony of defeat, the Lord Jesus uses that moment to teach them a lesson in verse 24.  Here are Jesus’ words of instruction to these rulers of the Jews.  He says to them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  He’s telling them to repent of the way they have mistreated Him and do what’s right in the sight of God.  How easy and how tempting it is to make judgments about the actions and motives of others before all the facts are known, or in spite of the facts that are known.

A newspaper correspondent attended an auction where he saw, among other items, a pair of excellent crutches.  A poor, crippled boy was the first to bid on them.  A well-dressed elderly man was also interested in them and kept offering more money for them.  Some of the people frowned in disapproval, and one lady said, “Shame on you; let the boy have them!”  Whenever the boy called out a higher price, the man would always top it.  At last, the boy held up a five-dollar bill, all that he had, and made a final bid.  When more was offered, the young fellow turned away in tears.  The crowd muttered angrily.  Then, to everyone’s surprise, the gentleman presented the crutches to the boy, saying, “These are much too small for me, so I won’t have any use for them.  When I saw that you were crippled, my heart went out to you.  So I decided to buy the crutches and give them to you.”  The crowd began to applaud for they realized they had completely misjudged the man and the situation.  They looked at outward appearances only, and came to their own conclusions, when they should have given the situation time to allow the true motives to be revealed.  That same principle is reflected in our attitude toward God’s Word, the Bible.  Are we committed to what God’s Word actually says, or to what we want it to say?

One of the things that can cause us to make wrong judgments is peer pressure.  Em Griffin in his book, “The Mindchangers”, describes an experiment done by Solomon Asch with groups of 12 people.  They were brought into a room where four lines of unequal length were displayed.  They had to decide which two were the same length and publicly vote for their choice.  Person after person after person (11 in all) voted for the wrong line – because they had been told to do so ahead of time.  The one individual who was in the dark couldn’t imagine how in the world all these seemingly normal people could all choose the wrong line.  When it was his turn to vote, he had to decide, “Do I go with what I know my senses are telling me, or do I go with the crowd?”  One-third of those tested caved in to group pressure and changed their vote to agree with their peers.  Are you feeling the pull of peer pressure in your life?  Don’t let peer pressure keep you from repenting of your sin and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  He will give you a new life, a changed life manifested by a love for Him and desire to obey Him and depend upon Him for strength, guidance, and victory.

Fellow-believers, a decision needs to be made in our hearts to do what is right in God’s sight even when everyone around us, where we live or work or go to school, wants to go the wrong way.  Ask God for the desire and the strength to make the right choice and do the right thing, even if it means standing alone.  In actuality, we won’t be alone.  The Lord will be with us, and there are many Christians over the past 20 centuries who have chosen to live righteously.  Some of their testimonies are written down for us in the Scriptures and in the history books.  I’ll close by giving you one of those examples.  In the third century, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being.  After being exiled five times for his beliefs, he was summoned before emperor Theodosius who demanded that he cease his opposition to Arius.  The emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?”  Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”

May we have that kind of tenacity in our obedience to the truths of God’s Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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CALL THE FIRST TWO WITNESSES – John 5:30-35

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

The Lord Jesus Christ had just claimed equality with God in seven areas.  The magnitude and the significance of Jesus’ claims called for substantiation.  Jesus now introduces five witnesses to validate those claims.  We are going to examine the first two witnesses in this study of John’s Gospel.

I.  HIS WITNESS CONCERNING HIMSELF (verses 30-31)

On the night I became a Christian, I was encouraged to read the Gospel of John.  In the first five chapters of John’s Gospel, two verses of Scripture really spoke to a need in my life as a new Christian, so I wrote down the references and the verses on the inside cover of my Bible.  The first verse was John 3:30, where John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease”.  The second verse was John 5:30, and I just wrote down the first part of the verse, “I can of mine own self do nothing”.  Those two verses described to me what living the Christian life was all about:  putting Christ first in my life, living to glorify Him, and realizing my own inability to do so apart from His enabling.

Verse 30 seems to be a transition verse.  I think Jesus is restating what He said in verse 19.  In that verse He said, “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, these things the Son also does in like manner.”  By saying these words in verses 19 and 30, Jesus is declaring that His testimony about Himself is true.  Notice that, in verse 30, Jesus starts speaking in the first-person again, using the words “I” and “Me” instead of “He” and “Him” when referring to Himself.  In the remainder of verse 30, Jesus says, “As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.” Therefore His witness and His judgments are true because it’s the Father’s witness through Him, and it’s the Father who is making the judgments.  Their witness and judgments are one-in-the-same.  The Greek word, “martyrion”, translated “witness”, is a very important word in John’s gospel.  We get our English word “martyr” from that Greek word, and it occurs 47 times in the gospel of John; so we’ll be seeing it again and again as more and more witnesses take the stand.

In verse 31, Jesus says, “If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” He’s speaking in a legal sense, meaning that it is not admissible in a court of law.  Of course, Jesus’ testimony is true for the reasons He has already given.  He and the Father are one and He always does the will of the Father.  But He is living among sinful men who may give false testimony if it’s to their advantage, and they think they can get away with it.  Even the law given to Moses does not allow a person to testify in his own case.  In Deuteronomy 17:6, God says, On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”  Again, in Deuteronomy 19:15. Moses writes, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or more witnesses a matter shall be confirmed”.  So Jesus is going to follow the Mosaic law and provide them with other witnesses of His deity and of His authority to judge men.

Have you ever placed the names of personal references or character references on your resume or job application?  Have you ever been asked by others if you would be willing to be a personal reference for them?  It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility, isn’t it?  We choose personal references who are up-to-date in their relationship with us and can vouch for our character and abilities.  We want references whom we respect; who have known us for a number of years, and who think highly of us.  Isn’t that true?  Let’s see whom Jesus chooses to be witnesses of His character and deity.

II.  THE WITNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verses 33-35)

In verses 33-35, we find that Jesus chooses John the Baptist as a witness.  I’ve skipped verse 32 for now because Jesus is alluding to Someone He is going to be describing in greater detail in verses 37-38.  For now we will call that person the “mystery Witness”.  Jesus reserves this Witness for later because He is the “Expert Witness”.

John the Baptist bore witness to the deity of Christ several times in John’s gospel.  You will find his testimony in chapters one and three.  John the Baptist was considered to be a prophet of God, and many, including a few of the Pharisees, believed his words, repented and were baptized. In verse 33, Jesus says, “You have sent to John, and he has born witness to the truth.”  He’s making reference to John 1:19.  The Jews sent priests and Levites to John asking, “Who are you?”, and John answered them truthfully.  Quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, he says, “I AM THE VOICE OF ONE  CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’ ” (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3).  In another instance, John calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”, making all the preparations for the wedding and waiting to hear the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29).  The focus of John’s words and John’s ministry was always on Jesus, the coming Messiah.  After Jesus began His public ministry, John encouraged all of his own disciples to follow Jesus.  At that point in time, John the Baptist was the best human witness to the deity of Christ.  He may not have looked like the best witness, considering the clothes he wore and the food he ate.  However, a good witness should not be determined by the clothes he wears or the food he eats, but by what he has seen and heard first-hand, what he knows, and by his integrity and willingness to provide the information he possesses.  You might say that the Lord Jesus chose John the Baptist to be one of His personal references on His resume, and He continues to give us more reasons for doing so in verse 35.

In verse 34, Jesus qualifies His words by saying, “But the witness I receive is not from man”.  His point is that He doesn’t require man’s testimony as proof of His Messiahship.  However, He includes John’s testimony “that you may be saved.”  John the Baptist’s words were true, and he was sent by God to prepare people’s hearts for the Savior.

Now Jesus gives us another description of John the Baptist, who, at that point in time, may be in prison or might already have been killed.  I say that because of the description Jesus gives in verse 35.  Jesus uses the past tense when he says, “He was a lamp that was burning and shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”  In the original Greek text, there is a definite article before the word “lamp”.  John the Baptist was God-appointed as a lamp to the nation of Israel.  The Greek word, luchnos, translated “lamp”, refers to a portable lamp (a candle or an oil lamp).  It was placed on a candlestick or a lampstand to provide light to those nearby and to be seen from a distance.   A different word was used to describe Jesus.  He was a “light”, and the Greek word, phos, means “to make manifest, to shine (especially by rays).  It is the word that is used to describe the sun.  Our words “photo” and “photography” are derived from that word.  John was a lamp that pointed the way to salvation in Jesus Christ.  He is described by Jesus as a lamp that was “burning and shining”.  A lamp must be lit in order to burn and shine.  God “ignited” John the Baptist, and he “burned” with a zeal for God; and he also “shone”, giving off the light of truth in the darkness.  F.B. Meyer makes this comment:  “A lamp must burn if it is to shine.”  In burning, the oil is eventually consumed.  In burning, the candle burns itself out when the wax and the wick are gone.  William Barclay said, “A true witness burns himself out for God.”  It’s a life-long passion and commitment.  So when Jesus used the words “was burning and shining”, it makes me wonder whether John’s life and witness had already “burned out” (come to an end). 

In verse 35, the Lord Jesus says three words that add a note of sadness to the ministry of John the Baptist.  Those words are:  “for a while”.  At the beginning of his ministry, large crowds of people came out to see him.  Matthew 3:5-6 says, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan.”  That’s a lot of people!   Some of them were travelling quite a distance to listen to him and be baptized by him!  But he made some enemies among the Pharisees and Sadducees when he called them a “brood of vipers“, and urged them to demonstrate genuine repentance for their sins, warning them of what would happen if they didn’t do so.  John’s popularity didn’t last long, but John wasn’t trying to win a “popularity contest”.  He accomplished the purpose for which God sent him by preparing the way for the Messiah, and he was an outspoken witness to the deity of Jesus Christ.  As the “friend of the Bridegroom”, his responsibility was to make all the preparations for the wedding, and when he heard the Bridegroom’s voice, calling for His bride (all who repent of their sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as their King and Lord), it was time for him to step back, join the wedding guests, and rejoice in the wedding.

CONCLUSION:

Does the Lord Jesus Christ have you as a personal reference?  If not, He wants you as His personal reference.  My understanding of Scripture is that everyone’s name is written down in the Lamb’s book of life as a potential reference.  It’s written in blood: His own blood shed on the cross for you.  Your name is only blotted out of His book of life if you refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, Who paid the price your sins deserve, or if you keep putting it off until it’s too late.  He’s waiting and hoping, but the choice is up to you.  Your reference is there, but it hasn’t been activated yet.  Once it’s activated, it’s there forever.  What are you waiting for?  Now is the time to think it over and respond.  Now is the time to admit your need for Him, and to turn your life over to Him.  Please don’t choose to ignore, or refuse His desire and His offer to you.

If you are a born-again Christian, is Jesus Christ your personal reference?  Is His name listed first on your resume (your life)?  If so, shouldn’t it be obvious to others around you where you work, where you go to school, and in your community?  If you are a genuine, committed Christian, the Lord is not going to be an “add-on” reference in your personal portfolio.  His Name and a description of Him is going to fill the whole front page in large print and bold letters!  He will also be the “headliner” at the top of every other page!  People won’t be able to miss it, and that would be your intent!

Frances Ridley Havergal wrote a hymn based upon David’s call to commitment given to his army in I Chronicles 12, and His army’s response to him.  Verse 13 says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Amasai, chief of the captains, and he said:  “We are yours, O David, and with you, O son of Jesse.”  The title of her hymn is:  WHO IS ON THE LORD’S SIDE?  Below I’ve written the first stanza to that hymn, and I hope that you will find a hymnal and read the other three stanzas as well.

Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side?  Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior, we are Thine.

With our enlistment papers already signed, may we be clothed in His armor and standing together at the battle line.  May it be obvious to everyone we know and everyone we meet, that we are on the Lord’s side, and we will not retreat!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Thank you for visiting this recently-completed sermon on John 5:30-35.  I hope that you will take it to heart.  It’s time to move the equipment and tools to the construction site next door:  John 5:36-39.  It may take a couple of days to clear the land and set a foundation.  Until then, you’re welcome to visit the finished projects.  I believe there are 120 sermons on this blog site.   May you rely on the power of Christ and enjoy the presence of Christ at your side throughout this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “RECEIVE CHRIST”? – John 1:12-13

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Many different answers have been given to the question, “What does it mean to ‘receive Christ’.”  Many passages of Scripture have been used and many interpretations have been given.  Many illustrations have been used to try to visualize and explain what these two verses are saying.

As we begin our study of John 1:12-13, let’s lay aside previous building materials for now.  Let’s start anew by clearing the land and digging deep to lay a firm foundation based upon the Person of Jesus Christ and the words that the apostle John is saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s keep his purpose for writing in mind, as well as his reading-audience:  their culture, historical background, and belief-system.  By God’s grace let’s turn this plot of ground into a work of art that is straight and true, well-defined, attractive, and above all, glorifying to God.

I.  THE TRANSITION:

Verse 11 sounds like a sad ending to a story, doesn’t it.  “The world did not know Him” and “His own did not receive Him.”  John’s approach seems to be:  “First the bad news, then the good news.”  Verse 12 begins with the little word “but”.  John Phillips calls this little three-letter word a “hinge”.  The door to this conversation may seem like it’s shutting but that “hinge” keeps the door open to even greater truths, revealing the power and sovereignty of God.  What John said in verse 11 may have been true of “the majority”, but it was not true of “the totality”!  We are seeing a shift from the unbelievers to the believers.

John now tells us who are invited to receive Christ.  He uses the Greek word, “hosoi“.  I personally like the translation “whoever“.  Every person, without exception and without distinction, is invited to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.  That includes both Jews and Gentiles.

I.  THE PROCESS (verse 12)

The word translated “receive” in verse 11 is a different word from the word translated “receive” here in verse 12, though the two words are similar.  Here in verse 12 the Greek word is “lambano”, whereas the word in verse 11 is “paralambano”.  The word ‘para” means “beside” or “alongside”.  We get our English word “parallel” from that word.  For example, parallel lines go alongside each other and do not intersect.  Why the use of this form of the word?  It reveals a major reason why the Jews at the time of Christ did not receive Him. The apostle John will be sharing more examples of this failure to receive Christ on the part of the religious leaders and their followers as we study his Gospel.  Literally, verse 11 is saying “His own (people) did not take Him alongside”,  That doesn’t make any sense unless we realize that, over the years before the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, the rabbis had been putting their studies of the Law of Moses, along with their interpretations and applications of that Law into written form.  They also added personal practices that became traditions.  These writings and traditions, such as the Talmud, had become more important than the Law of Moses .  They were often used to interpret the Law of Moses, and were sometimes used in place of it.  They could not “take Jesus alongside” these traditions because He intersected with them, and this led to a growing opposition to Christ.  I hope this explanation adds clarity rather than confusion.

Before we seek to determine what it means to personally receive Christ, let me present you with a situation which should be seen as a stark contrast.  I rented a private room and bath in a private residence for a couple of months and learned the meaning of an “owner-tenant relationship”.  The rules included paying the rent on time, keeping my goods in my assigned places in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet, staying in my own area and common areas, cleaning up after myself, and not playing the music too loud.  There were parts of the house that were understandably “off-limits”.  As I hope you realize, receiving Christ is not the beginning of an owner-Tenant relationship (notice where I put the capital letter).  Such a person has a misunderstanding of the meaning of these two verses, and Jesus Christ does not enter our lives under our terms and conditions.

In my quest to gain a better understanding of the word “receive” in verse 12, I’ve been refreshing my knowledge of Greek grammar.  I believe that a basic lesson in Greek grammar will benefit us all.  There are significant differences between Greek and English.  In the English language, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb usually refers to the time of the action of the verb (past, present, or future time).   In Greek, however, the primary consideration is the kind of action that the verb portrays.  For example, the aorist tense conveys a simple occurrence in the past.  It is like a snapshot because it captures an action at a specific point in time.  The imperfect tense denotes continuous, ongoing, or repeated action in the past, like a motion picture or video tape.  The perfect tense depicts a completed action in the past with results continuing into the present, somewhat like a snapshot which is followed by a video.

The word translated “receive” in verse 12 is the Greek word, elabon, the aorist tense of the word “lambano”.  Therefore it conveys a “one-time, individual, personal-decision”.

I’ve been working on an illustration to describe what it means to “receive Christ”, but I’m having some difficulty fitting all the pieces of the illustration together.  I just realized why I can’t describe it to you yet:  In order to understand what it means to “receive” Christ, we must first understand what it means to “believe in His name”.. As verse 12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).  The believing comes before the receiving, even though the wording of the text seems to imply that the two responses occur simultaneously.

Now I’ve come to a potential “bend in the road”, so to speak, in this construction project.  I’ve reached a point in my study of verse 12 where I’m asking myself questions about the term “receiving Christ”.  Is it Biblically correct to use the term “receive Christ” or “accept Christ” when sharing the gospel message?  What is the biblical justification for the use of those words?  Can the use of these words be misleading and give a wrong understanding of what it means to become a Christian?  Is praying a prayer and asking Christ to come into your life what the gospel message is all about?  I’ve used John 1:12 almost every time I’ve shared the gospel message, and it was a verse that was used when I became a Christian.  The reason I’m asking myself these questions, and sharing them with you, is that I’ve just come to the realization that the term “receive Him” is used only here in the New Testament.  The context of verse 12 is the nation of Israel.  The nation as a whole did not “receive Him”, that is, “welcome Him as their Messiah”, but there were exceptions among His own people who did welcome Him.  We don’t find those words used again in John’s gospel, the other gospels, or the epistles.  There is some question whether I John 5:11-12 or Revelation 3:20 might communicate that concept and I will be studying those passages also.  The Scripture puts the focus on “believing” (repentance, trust, and commitment to Christ as one’s Lord and Savior).  I invite you to consider these observations and questions also.  Let’s get to the heart of the gospel message and follow the scriptural guidelines for communicating it.  I do know that there are thousands of people who have “prayed a prayer to receive Christ” and their lives have not changed.  I believe the greatest danger in evangelism today is not over-stating the gospel message, but diluting it.  I also believe that, in most cases, it is being done unintentionally, but that is no excuse for continuing to dilute it.

With that in mind, let’s leave the word “receive” and study the word “believe” here in verse 12.  The word is a participle, “believing”, and it defines and explains the word “receive” which came before it in the sentence.  “Believing in His name” identifies the Object of faith.  “His name” is not referring to the name Jesus.  That was His earthly name.  His eternal name is Lord (Yahweh, Jehovah), the Lord of heaven and earth.  As the apostle John says near the end of his Gospel, “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The word “believe” is a word of complete trust and commitment to Him as Lord, because that is Who He is.

I think that the following two illustrations, when seen together, give us a picture of belief in the sense of trust and commitment.

During the terrible days of the Blitz (WW II), a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb.  In the front yard was a shell hole.  Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow.  Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”  The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you.  Jump!”  The boy jumped because he loved and trusted his father, and landed in his father’s arms.  (shared by Donner Atwood)

An evangelist was trying to help a woman understand John 1:12 and what it means to receive Christ.  “Your last name is Franklin, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Yes”, she said.  “How long has it been that?”  “Ever since my husband and I married 30 years ago”.  “Tell me”, he said, “How did you become Mrs. Franklin?’  She paused, and then the realization came.  “It was at the wedding.  The minister said, ‘Will you take this man to be your lawful, wedded husband . . . ?  And I said, ‘I will’.” (Our Daily Bread) 

I hope that these two illustrations, taken together, have given you a clearer understanding of the word “believe”, as the apostle John uses it in this passage of Scripture.  Of all the illustrations I read, these were the ones that communicated trust and commitment most clearly to me.

Here in the United States of America we need to have this concept of belief explained to us clearly because we usually don’t understand the cost of making that decision to commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ until later on.  We don’t comprehend the cost to Jesus’ disciples when they made the decision to follow Him.  In many other countries of our world, making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him is a very costly decision in terms of the personal sacrifices that are made.  When they choose to believe, they are counting the cost of the things they will probably lose:  their jobs, their families, even their own lives.

I became a Christian while stationed in Thailand in the Air Force.  While in Thailand I had the privilege of sharing my testimony at a Thai church.  I learned that these Thai Christians were disowned by their Buddhist families who had a funeral service for them and considered them dead.  Most of these Christians lost their jobs also.  But I was so amazed and impressed by their joy, their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for one another.  They shared that what they gained by believing in Christ was much greater than any of the things they lost.

II.  THE RESULT (verse 12)

The result of salvation, given here in verse 12, tells us more about what true belief encompasses.  When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord we are entering into a relationship where we become “children of God”.  The Greek word, tekna, refers to “little children”, children who are still totally dependent on their parents.  That is the relationship we are entering into when we become children of God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV)  As God’s little children, we will always be dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything, just as Jesus was totally dependent upon His Father while He was here on this earth.  True belief means a commitment to exchange your life of independence for a joyful life of complete trust and dependence upon God for everything.  I know that this biblical perspective has not been communicated very clearly in my presentation of the Gospel message.  How about you?  Is this your understanding of saving faith?

III.  THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE (verse 13)

In verse 12 the apostle John has given us a glimpse of the faith-process and its result.  He will be giving much more detail, and has recorded many examples of people who responded to Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Him.  Here in verse 13, John wants us to understand the new birth from God’s perspective.  The new birth through faith in Jesus Christ is a work of God from beginning to end.  He uses a series of negatives in order to emphasize his point.  Then he ends the verse with the only true source of the new birth in Christ.

not of blood” – the new birth is not based on human descent.  Just because my parents are God’s children does not make me one of God’s children.

not of the will of the flesh” – it’s not based on human desire.  No amount of wishful thinking can make me a child of God.  I might wish I were the child of a millionaire, but wishing doesn’t make me one.  I may even live in a fantasy world where I convince myself that I am a child of a millionaire, but it’s still a lie.

not of the will of man” – it’s not based on human methods.  My parents may have me baptized as a baby, but that does not make me a child of God.  I may try with all my might to live a good life and perform my religious duties, but those things, no matter how earnestly and fervently they are performed, will not impart new life.

but of God” – We must be “born of God”.  We must come to Jesus Christ on His terms, as He has told us here in His Word.  Genuine repentance, acknowledgement of Christ as our Lord, and placing our trust in Him and our lives in His hands are all spiritual miracles of God, and the resulting changes in our lives mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually are all evidences of those miracles (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:8-10; II Corinthians 5:17; and many other passages of Scripture).

THE APPLICATION TODAY:

As was the case with many of the Jews during the lifetime of Christ on this earth, many people in the world today do not want to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and follow Him.  They are either in love with their sins and don’t want to change, or, in their pride, they think they are good enough to go to heaven and don’t want anyone to tell them otherwise.  But there are people today whom the Spirit of God has convinced of their sinfulness and need for a Savior.  Maybe you are one of those people.  Don’t put it off!  Admit your sin and your helplessness to God.  Decide to turn from your sinful ways.  Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the God-man, the Lord of Heaven and earth, trust Him with a child-like faith and let Him take control of your life and change your life more and more into His image and likeness.  Only then will you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of being a new person and having a new life.  Only then will you experience what it’s like to be a true child of God.

If you are a Christian, please don’t give up on people.  Even if others criticize or make fun of you because of your faith in Christ, continue to pray for them and let the light of Christ shine out unhindered by you.  When you have the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with others, make sure you clearly explain from the Scriptures what it means to “believe”, and let the terms “accepting Christ” or “receiving Christ” be dependent upon genuine belief and be the result of belief (John 3:14-15; 11:25-27; I John 5:13).

Let’s reflect upon the words of the apostle John in I John 3:1, and be amazed and forever grateful:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS – Philippians 3:1-11

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Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, can’t they? But so can things. And it is this thief that Paul deals with in chapter three. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in things, isn’t it? And not only the things we can see and touch, but also things like reputation, fame and achievement. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15 that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy.

The key word in our passage of scripture for today, Philippians 3:1-11, is the word “count”. It means “to evaluate”, to “examine carefully”. Many people today are slaves of “things” because they’ve never sat down and seriously considered the values that control their decisions and actions, and this has robbed them of real joy. In the case of the apostle Paul, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very noble: a righteous life, obedience to the Law of Moses, and the defense of the religion of his ancestors – the Jewish religion. But none of these satisfied him or made him feel acceptable to God. Paul had high enough morals to keep him out of trouble, but he didn’t have enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus – it was good things! Paul had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. In this passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Paul explains that there are only two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith, and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON WORKS (verses 1-6)

In verse 1 Paul says, “Finally my brethren”. It doesn’t mean that Paul is about to end his letter, because he keeps on going. The word “finally” means “for the rest” or “for what remains”. Paul is changing his topic. He has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision”. We have to go back to the beginning of the church to find out what Paul means. From the beginning, the gospel came “to the Jew first”. The first seven chapters of the book of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or Gentiles who had become Jewish converts. In Acts 8 the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of a problem since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish. But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this caused an uproar. Peter said that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, and the problem seemed to be solved, but not for long. These strict Jewish believers told the apostle Paul that it was necessary for the Gentiles to obey the Jewish rules before they could be saved. They followed Paul wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches. Paul uses three terms to describe them. He calls them “dogs” because they were following on Paul’s heels, viciously “barking” their false teachings. Secondly, Paul called them “evil workers” because these men taught that the sinner must be saved by doing the good works of the Law of Moses. Thirdly, Paul called them “the false circumcision” because they taught that circumcision was necessary for people to be saved. In contrast to these false Christians, Paul says in verse 3 that the true Christian is one who is directed by the Holy Spirit, boasts only in Jesus Christ, and puts no confidence in his sinful flesh.

In verses 4-6 Paul uses himself as an example. He was born into a pure Hebrew family, and was circumcised on the eighth day as required by Jewish law. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, the favorite and most faithful of all the tribes. Paul spoke the Hebrew language, and was a Pharisee, the strictest and most devout leaders of the Jewish nation. He was also a persecutor of the church, and was morally blameless. Paul had everything going for him.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON FAITH (verses 7-11)

But when Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, Paul believed and became a child of God. After this happened, Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost. He recounts this here in verses 7-11. What did Paul lose? Verse 7 says that he lost his reputation as a Jewish scholar and religious leader. He also lost his religious achievements and his Jewish friends.

But what did Paul gain? Verse 8 tells us that Paul gained a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 tells us that Paul gained the righteousness of Christ. When Paul trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God put Christ’s righteousness into Paul’s account, and Paul’s sins were placed in Christ’s account. His sins were paid for in full by the blood of Christ on the cross. In verses 10 and 11, Paul experienced the fellowship of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was Paul’s desire, his goal, and a source of strength and joy.

Paul gained far more than he lost. The things he had lost were like garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. No wonder Paul had joy! His life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world but on the eternal values found in Christ.

When God asks us to surrender something of temporal worth, He does so for the purpose of replacing it with a prize of eternal value. Are you willing to trust Him and obey Him? Is the Lord calling you to sacrifice something you treasure in order to give you something of lasting worth? People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their earthly treasures and worry about whether they will lose their value.

Can you say, along with the apostle Paul, that to have Christ, and know His resurrection power in your life, is your greatest joy? And can we agree that the things we left behind have become so unimportant that we consider them “but garbage”? Consider and reflect on these words written by the missionary Jim Elliot before he was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.