A Meal for a Multitude – John 6:1-15

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IINTRODUCTION:

“In the city of Philadelphia many years ago, a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt came to a small Sunday School and asked if she might attend.  They regretfully explained to her that they were completely crowded out and that there was no room.  Some time later Hattie became seriously ill and soon slipped away from this earth to be with Jesus.  Under her pillow was found an old, torn pocketbook.  Inside was a scrap of paper in which she had wrapped fifty-seven pennies.  On the paper, scrawled in a childish hand, were these words:  “To help build the church a little bigger so that more children can go there to Sunday school.”  Hattie May was only a little child and so didn’t have much that she could give to Jesus, but she had saved fifty-seven shining coppers to help enlarge a Sunday school that could not let her in.  The pastor, deeply touched, told his congregation what the little child had done.  The newspapers repeated the story, and soon from far and wide gifts began to come in to build a bigger auditorium.  That contribution of fifty-seven sacrificial pennies, given in love for Jesus, grew until the fund reached the sum of $250,000.  As a result, in Philadelphia there is now a great church, seating over 3000 people, with plenty of room for little children who want to attend Sunday school.” (Our Daily Bread devotional)

We will soon see how that touching story relates to the passage of Scripture we are now studying:  John 6:1-15.

I.  THE SETTING:  (verses 1-4)

Verse 1 begins with the words, “After these things”.  Actually, several months have passed since the end of chapter 5.  During that time Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, performed several miracles and told several parables, He also gave His disciples the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, and then sent them out two-by-two to proclaim the kingdom of God.  When they returned to Him, Jesus listened to their accounts of what they had done (Matthew 9-14; Mark 4-6; Luke 5-9)

Now He’s going by boat across the Sea of Galilee, probably to spend some time with His disciples and get some much-needed rest.  What happens next is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15).  The time alone with His disciples didn’t last long.  Verse 2 tells us that “a great multitude was following Him”.  They were walking around the Sea of Galilee, probably bringing their sick and lame along with them for Jesus to heal.  Mark’s gospel tells us that the crowd of people were already there when He and His disciples arrived.

Verse 3 tells us, “And He went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.”  From that vantage point they could see quite a distance, and they “lifted up their eyes” and watched and waited until all who were coming had arrived.  The mountain they climbed was part of what is now called the Golan Heights.  There was a large, grassy plateau at the top.

Luke 14:21 says that the crowd consisted of 5000 men “aside from women and children”.  If you do the math, that means there were 15,000 to 20,000 people in that crowd.  Where did all these people come from?  I think the apostle John gives us part of the answer to that question when he inserted verse 4 into his narrative.  It says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand”.  This means that throngs of Jews from all over the Roman Empire were making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal.  What would you do if you were one of those pilgrims and saw a large crowd of Jews going in a different direction?  I’d want to ask them some questions, wouldn’t you?  “What’s going on?” “Where are you going”?  “Why”?  I believe that many of these pilgrims decided to make a detour and follow this crowd to see Jesus.

In spite of the fact that Jesus wanted to get away to a secluded place with His disciples to rest for a while, He wasn’t irritated by the fact that the crowds of people followed Him. Luke writes, “. . . and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God, and curing those who had need of healing.”  The Lord Jesus was always a servant, concerned about the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.

II.  THE TEST (verses 5-9)

As the day wore on, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away so that they could buy food for themselves (Mark 6:36).  In response, Jesus said to Philip (the “mathematician”), “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.”  He’s saying, “These people are our guests.  So, what are we going to do to provide them with a meal”  Jesus knew what He was going to do, but He puts Philip to the test; and Philip (“the mathematician”) considers this to be a “math test”, so he works out the problem in his head.  “Let’s see, 5000 men plus women and children, multiplied by the cost of one meal for each person, divided by the number of days worked to earn that amount of money.” . . .   Philip can’t count that high in his head, so he makes a minimum “quesstimate” in verse 7, saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.”  Philip is saying, “This is mathematically impossible; two-hundred days wages wouldn’t be enough to give them each a mouthful of bread.”  Philip failed that test!

At that moment Andrew (the “bringer”), Simon Peter’s brother, approaches Jesus.  Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus, and in this case he brings along a little boy.  The child’s mother made him a snack lunch that morning to take with him for the day, and he wanted to give it all to Jesus.  Does that remind you of Hattie May Wiatt, the little girl in my introduction?  Like Hattie May, this little boy had no idea how great the cost would be to meet the need, but he wanted to give everything that he had in order to help meet that need.

Andrew said to Jesus, in verse 9:  “There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish”.  If Andrew had stopped there, it would have been a demonstration of faith in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  However, Andrew continues, “but what are these for so many people?”  Andrew failed the test also!  He failed because, like Philip, he removed his focus away from His Messiah and started doing the math.  This was not a math test that Jesus was giving them.  He is not their math teacher, but their God!  I would consider this to be more of a history test than a math test, and I’ll explain why later on in this sermon.

So far, the only one who has passed the test is this little boy!  He knew that Jesus could meet the need – that’s why he made his investment!  For him, it wasn’t a mathematical problem, but an opportunity to express faith and trust in Jesus.  Whether it’s a lunch or 57 cents, this boy and Hattie May gave what they had and God does the rest.

Before we look into the miracle itself, let’s first look into the lunchbox.  I’m sure there was a broad smile on Jesus’ face as He squatted to talk to the child.  I can imagine that Jesus embraced him as He thanked the boy for his gift.  When Jesus opened the lunchbox, what does He see?  Before His eyes are five small barley cakes.  Barley is the food of the poor, so Jesus knows that this child is from a poor family.  He also knows that the boy is not with his family because they did not come along with him to meet Jesus.  They may have given him that lunch because they were both going to be in the fields that day, harvesting someone’s crop or gleaning the left-over grain in order to have enough to eat for themselves and their family.  When the boy saw crowds of people going around the lake, and learned that they were on their way to see Jesus, he decided to join them.

What do those barley cakes look like?  They are small and flat, and look like little tortillas.  The two dried fish were probably about the size of sardines.  Not much of a meal, is it?  It was barely enough to feed this child, and would have provided only a few mouthfuls for a hungry man.  But the child’s lunch was the answer to Jesus’ question to Philip:  “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.”  Jesus didn’t say “how”, but “where”.  The answer to that question was now in His hands, and He and His disciples didn’t even have to pay for it!

III.  THE MEAL (verses 10-11)

Rather than chiding these two disciples for their lack of faith in Him, Jesus puts them and all the rest of His disciples to work.  This is going to be a disciple-participation miracle, and not just a child-participation miracle.  He says to them in verse 10, “Have the people sit down.”  As His disciples fan out to pass those words on to the people, they are probably wondering in their minds:  “What is He going to do next?”

Have you ever wondered what happened to the boy?  Did he just walk away and fade into the crowd?  I don’t think so.  Based upon the character of Jesus and His love for people, especially little children, I think that Jesus invited the boy to stay close beside  Him so that the child could watch the miracle as it was taking place.  He was going to see firsthand how Jesus was going to use his small lunch to feed the multitude.  I’m sure this was an unexpected surprise for him.

How did this miracle take place?  Verse 11 tells us that it began with a prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, said by Jesus.  “Jesus therefore took the loaves, and having given thanks”.  Luke’s Gospel adds the words, “looking up to heaven”.  Jesus gave thanks for the abundance of food that didn’t exist yet!  By looking up to heaven, Jesus made it obvious to His disciples and everyone near Him that He was giving thanks for the Father’s provision.  That is a prayer of trust in the Father’s enabling!  Let me ask you a question.  How would you like to invite 20.000 people over for a free meal, all-you-can-eat?  You would be asking for a miracle too!

You might say that the miracle that followed took place in the hands of Jesus.  John 6:11 continues with the words, “He distributed to those who were seated; likewise the fish as much as they wanted.”  The other Gospels add that Jesus broke the loaves (tore the tortillas) and broke the fish.  I personally believe that this was a two-part miracle, in the sense that it happened in two distinct places.  It happened in the hands of Jesus as He broke the loaves and fish and placed the pieces in the baskets, and the miracle also happened in the baskets themselves.  I believe those baskets became “never-ending fish and chips baskets”.  The apostles distributed some at first and then set the baskets down in each of their distribution areas and the people could come and get more until they were satisfied.  It would be similar to the widow’s never-ending jar of oil in II Kings 4, or The Olive Garden Restaurants’ “never-ending salad bowl and breadsticks”.  Otherwise, Jesus would have been breaking loaves and fishes for many hours, and the twelve apostles would have made several hundred trips back and forth distributing and refilling.  Jesus and His disciples would have been too exhausted to eat, and the sun would have been going down.  Does that opinion make sense to you?

That done, guess who had the privilege of having lunch with Jesus and His disciples?  The boy who gave his lunch is going to receive back much more than he gave!  Can you imagine what a joyful experience that must have been, and I imagine that each one of the disciples thanked him also.  This child is going to have quite a story to tell his parents that evening!

IV.  THE CLEAN-UP (verses 12-13)

In verses 12 and 13 we learn that Jesus is no “litter-bug”, and He does not believe in wasting food.  He tells His disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.”  Each of His disciples returned with his basket full of pieces of bread and fish.  These baskets were probably of a wicker material and could hold about two gallons each.  Twenty-four gallons of leftovers from five little tortillas and two little fish!  It was another opportunity for His disciples to reflect upon, and be amazed at what had happened, along with all the people who were there.  It had become, not only a disciple-participation miracle, but an audience-participation miracle as well!

Did you ever wonder what they did with all those leftovers.  I think the Lord Jesus gave them away to some of the poorest people in the crowd for their next meal, or as food for any animals they might have.  I wonder whether one or more of those baskets was given to that little boy to take home and show his parents.  We don’t know, but one thing we do know for sure is that the boy who donated his lunch will always be remembered because of his generosity.  Likewise, the people of Philadelphia will never forget Hattie May for her donation of 57 pennies to build a bigger church.  To have that kind of faith we need a big concept of God – a child’s concept of God!

V.  THE REACTION (verses 14-15)

After the meal is over and the clean-up is completed, we see the initial response of the crowd in verse 14.  “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ ”  Which “prophet” are they referring to, and how did they come to that conclusion?  For all Jews at that time, a favorite messianic passage of Scripture in the Law of Moses was Deuteronomy 18:15.  Before his death, and before the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

This amazing meal reminded the people of the manna that Moses said God would provide for their ancestors to eat while they were in the wildernes.  That’s why I said earlier that Jesus’ question to Philip in verse 6 was more like a history test than a math test. He wanted to bring to Philip’s mind the miracle that God performed in the wilderness.  In Exodus 16:4, God said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you”.  God speaks to Moses again in verse 12 saying,  “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”   How many people were fed by the manna and the quail in the wilderness?  Numbers 12:37-38 tells us that there were 603,550 men over 20, apart from women and children.  Multiply that number by four, and we’re talking about 2.5 million people fed with manna every day for 40 years.  Try doing the math to see if you can figure out how much bread was eaten.  I’ll bet you can’t do it in your head!  In both cases, there was enough, and more than enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.  I made some calculations based upon a few assumptions.  If an omer was equivalent to a bushel, and a bushel was equivalent to an American gallon, then 2,500,000 people times 365 days a year times 40 years would be a minimum of 36,500,000,000 (or 36 billion, 500 million) bushels or gallons of manna, and that’s only what was gathered and eaten!  That’s a lot of bread!  It would be enough to feed the entire population of our world for 5 days, with some leftovers!  Isn’t that awesome?  We have an awesome God!

Returning to the passage of Scripture we are studying, we learn that the multitude Jesus fed had come to the conclusion that Jesus must be the Prophet, the One who was to be their Messiah.  In verse 15, we are told what this crowd of people wanted to do.  It reads, “Jesus, therefore, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Mark’s and Luke’s gospels add that Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of Him by boat, and then dismissed the crowd before going up on the mountain.

CONCLUSION:

This particular miracle, the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, was a continual source of inspiration and encouragement to a man by the name of George Mueller.  This man of God cared for as many as 2000 orphans at one time in Bristol, England during the middle of the 19th century.  No regular means of support was available and no appeals for money were ever made, yet thousands of dollars came from all over the world.  The orphanage personnel often faced desperate situations, but George Mueller always said, “The Lord is testing us.  I don’t know what He’ll do, but He knows, and that’s enough.”  As Jesus lifted up HIs eyes and thanked His Father for food that wasn’t provided yet, so George Mueller would sometimes sit down with the orphans and thank God for food that was not on their tables.  Often there would be a knock on the door before he even finished praying!

A principle we can draw from this passage of Scripture and from these illustrations from history, is that there is no need, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, that God cannot supply.  We need to look beyond our overwhelming needs to see our all-sufficient God.  What are your “impossibilities”?

There is also a principle we can learn from the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus.  The Lord never forgets to reward those who do what they can, no matter how small their contribution may appear in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.  Let’s give our all to Jesus Christ and watch Him use it to meet the needs of others and bring glory to Himself.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  (COMPLETED)

Thank you for visiting this completed work-in-progress.  Another project, John 6:17-21, will begin very soon on the adjacent lot.  See you there!

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST – John 1:29-34

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INTRODUCTION:

In the previous sermon we studied John the Baptist’s description of himself in chapter one, verses 19-28.  In order to understand the sequence of events in the next passage of Scripture, we need to realize that there is a gap of about six weeks before John’s statement about Jesus in verse 15.  During this period of time Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Afterward He was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil.  The gospel writer John makes no mention of this.  After Jesus overcame the devil and recuperated from His long fast, He returned to the Jordan River.  Matthew 3:13-4:11 gives a clear description of these events without any breaks.

I.  JOHN’S PROCLAMATION (verses 29-30)

On the day Jesus returned to the Jordan River, John the Baptist recognized Him at a distance.  Literally it says, “He caught his eye”.  I take it to mean that John the Baptist was “keeping an eye out for Him”, looking expectantly for His return.  I’m reminded of the parable of the prodigal son where the father saw his son returning when the son was still a long way off (Luke 15:20).  He was looking expectantly also – for his son to return.

This is the Lord’s first appearance in the Gospel of John.  John the Baptist points Him out in verse 29 saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I visualize John the Baptist pointing his finger in the direction of Jesus as he said those words in a loud voice, and everyone within earshot turned their heads to look at Jesus.  There seems to be very little doubt that Jesus chose this moment to be introduced to the nation of Israel by his forerunner as the “Lamb of God“.  What a wonderful title!  That statement was packed with meaning for his listeners and for us today.  There are several things that would have come to the minds of his listeners when he said those words.

The feast of the Passover was approaching in just a few days (John 2:12,13).  It was a time of remembering when God was preparing the Hebrew people in the Old Testament to flee from Egypt and from their slavery to Pharaoh (Exodus 12:1-14).  Each Hebrew family was to kill an unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes to protect them from the wrath of God and His final plague on Egypt.  The Angel of Death was going to kill the first-born of the families and the cattle of Egypt, but he would “pass over” and not enter the homes where the lamb’s blood was visible.  They were saved from death by the blood of a lamb.

As John the Baptist introduced Jesus with the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God“, it’s very likely that the Jews who heard him could also hear the sounds of sheep, and could see flocks of sheep being led toward the city of Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover feast.  These animals would be used as sacrifices during the feast, reminding them that salvation comes through the shedding of blood.

The title “Lamb of God” would also remind the Jews of the lambs that were sacrificed every day in the Temple as commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-41.  Every morning and every evening a lamb was sacrificed on the altar as a burnt offering.  In the next verse, verse 42, God says, “It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations . . . “  It was to be part of their daily worship.  So the sacrificial lambs were to be, not only a yearly reminder on the Feast of Passover, but a daily reminder, every morning and every evening, of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin.  These sacrificed lambs were looking ahead to Jesus, the only One who could take away sin.

There is one more description of the Lamb that is a prophetic description given by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.  The prophet Jeremiah refers to himself as “a gentle lamb being led to the slaughter”.  The prophet Isaiah uses similar words to refer to the suffering Messiah:  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter , and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  Both of these passages of Scripture speak of the humility and gentleness of a lamb.  In Matthew 11:29, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus describes His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart“.  Hopefully, those thoughts came to the minds of his listeners also after John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God”.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world”.  The Greek word translated “takes away” can also mean “takes up”.  Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon Himself.  This is what is described in Isaiah 53:4-5.  “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; , , , He was crushed for our iniquities . . . “

Years ago, in a small oriental town, several men were working on a scaffold high above the street.  Suddenly one of them lost his footing and fell to the pavement below.  Horrified, his companions quickly descended, expecting to find his body broken and mangled.  To their surprise they discovered that he was unhurt!  At the exact moment of his fall, some sheep were passing through the street beneath him, and he landed on the back of one of the animals.  There it lay, crushed and dead, but the man was saved.  As he gazed upon that lifeless creature, he was heard to say, “It died for me!”

The death of Christ was no accident.  His crucifixion was part of God’s plan from all eternity.  Revelation 13:8 says that Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world”.  The first stanzas of the following two hymns declare how precious those words of John the Baptist are for us today.

Behold the Lamb, whose precious blood
Poured from His opened veins,
Had power to make our peace with God
And cleanse our deepest stains.
(Christopher Hall)

Now Behold the Lamb,
the Precious Lamb of God,
born into sin that I may live again,
the precious Lamb of God.
(Kirk Franklin)

It is said that the shortest sermon that Charles Haddon Spurgeon ever preached consisted of the recitation of those wonderful words in John 1:29.  The great preacher had been commissioned to conduct special services in the Chrystal Palace in London, England.  A day or two before he was to preach, he decided to test the acoustics of the building.  Thinking the auditorium was empty, he cried out in a loud voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world”!  A workman in one of the galleries, who knew nothing about what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul.  He was filled with conviction because of his sin.  Putting down his tools, he went home, and there, after a time of spiritual struggle, found peace and eternal life by accepting the Lamb of God as his Savior and Lord.  If Jesus Christ is not your Lord, and you are convicted of your sin, I hope that you will respond to those words in John 1:29 in the same life-changing way.

In verse 30, John the Baptist says that Jesus is not only “the Lamb of God”, but He is also God Himself.  John was six months older than Jesus, but he says that Jesus “existed before me”.  In other words, Jesus’ existence did not begin at birth.  He always existed, and is therefore God.

II.  JOHN’S PREVIOUS CONCERNS RESOLVED (verses 31-34

In my previous sermon, “John the Baptist’s Testimony About Himself”, I raised the following question:  “Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?”.  Verses 31-34 raise this question:  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah?  In verse 31 John says, “And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.”  John knew what he was supposed to do, but the text seems to indicate that he didn’t know the Person for whom he was doing it.  Have you ever been given the responsibility of doing something for someone else, with clear instructions, but you didn’t know the recipient of your efforts?  As you did the work, did you have a longing inside to know who that person was?  I think we would all like to know those details if we could, wouldn’t we?

So when did John the Baptist come to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God?  Obviously, he realized this fact after his baptism of Jesus, when the signs from heaven occurred, but could the realization have come earlier?  In Matthew 3:13-14, as Jesus was coming toward him to be baptized, John tried to prevent Him saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”  It could be that John the Baptist had opportunities to observe Jesus before this encounter and was impressed by Jesus’ sinless life.  Maybe that’s the reason he felt that Jesus didn’t need baptism, but should be the One who baptized him.  Another possibility is that God gave John a flash of insight when he saw Jesus coming, and this insight was confirmed after His baptism.  The Scriptures don’t say for sure, but I lean toward the second possibility myself.  We do know from Scripture that Jesus did not fit the Jew’s concept of what the Messiah would look like.  Jesus was not a handsome man.  He was also a poor man, and wore the clothing of a poor person.  To look at Him, no Jew would have thought that Jesus was the Messiah by His outward appearance alone.

In verse 32, John the Baptist describes what happened after Jesus’ baptism:  “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He (the Spirit/dove) remained upon Him (Jesus).”  He doesn’t mention the voice coming from heaven, probably because he is declaring the fulfillment of a statement he received from God.  That statement is found in verse 33:  “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”

When I was a little child I thought that the Holy Spirit actually was a dove because He was always depicted that way in the pictures I had seen.  Is there a significance to the fact that the Holy Spirit chose to manifest Himself in the form of a dove?  Henry Bosch shares some interesting facts in an Our Daily Bread devotional.  Doves do not have a gall bladder, so there is no bitterness to them, only sweetness.  The Scriptures associate a dove with gentleness and innocence (Matthew 10:16), and beauty (Psalm 68:13).  The cooing of a dove has a calming effect.  All of these descriptions also describe the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.  Bible commentator William Barclay adds that the dove was considered a sacred bird in Palestine.  It was not hunted and it was not eaten.  The Rabbis, referring to Genesis 1:2, used to say that the Spirit of God “moved and fluttered like a dove over the ancient chaos, breathing beauty and order into it.”   The Jews of that day knew and loved the symbol of the dove as a picture of the Spirit of God.  The dove and young pigeon were the only birds that could be used as an offering to God, according to Mosaic law (Leviticus 5:7; 12:8), and only the poor were allowed to use them.  It brings to my mind that, only when we are poor in spirit, can we be filled with the Spirit of God.  Only when we surrender our own control over our lives can the Holy Spirit take control.

When the dove remained on Jesus after his baptism by John, the words of God to John were fulfilled.  Jesus is the One who “baptizes in the Holy Spirit”.  What does that mean?  There is no record that Jesus baptized anyone with water during His ministry on earth.  The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” which also means “to identify with”.  There are four “ingredients” to baptism:  the baptizer, the one being baptized, the element into which the person is being baptized, and the purpose of the baptism.  In John’s baptism, the baptizer was John the Baptist, the one being baptized was the Jew who had repented of his or her sins, and the purpose was to publicly declare their repentance in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival.  In the baptism of believers in Jesus Christ, His apostles/disciples were the baptizers, the one being baptized was the person who repented and believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, the element again was water, and the purpose was to obey God by publicly identifying with Christ  and with the local body of believers.  The mode of baptism was emersion symbolizing death and burial to one’s old way of life and resurrection to a new life as a new person in Christ.  This public baptism was a one-time event.  A genuine Christian need only be baptized once.

Following this same format, in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is the Baptizer, the one being baptized is the one who has placed his faith in Jesus Christ, the element into which the person is being baptized is the Holy Spirit and the purpose is  personal identification with Jesus Christ and admittance into the universal body of believers (the “children of God”).  This baptism also only occurs once at the moment of conversion.  At that exact moment the believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit.  This is to be distinguished from the  “fullness” of the Spirit, which is a moment-to-moment yielding to His control over our lives, resulting in the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit.  As J. Sidlow Baster aptly said about God’s ministry in our lives:

What God chooses, He cleanses.
What God cleanses, He molds.
What God molds, He fills.
What God fills, He uses.

In verse 34, John concludes this testimony of his by saying, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”  That was what the voice from heaven said, and John has testified that he heard it and believes it.  There is now no doubt in his mind that Jesus is the Son of God, and he declares it publicly.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  Welcome to this new site:  John 1:29-34!  I’m making  headway on this work-in-process and enjoying what I’m learning and describing to you.  More will be added very soon, and you are welcome to visit other completed sermons on this site.  It’s always “Open House” here!  See you again soon!

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

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

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

I.  ARE YOU TROUBLED? (verse 13a)

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

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

II.  ARE YOU CHEERFUL?  (verse 13b)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive

by Maude Battersby

 

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