FLESH AND BLOOD – John 6:51-59

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INTRODUCTION:

“THIS IS A TEST.  THIS IS ONLY A TEST.”  Have you heard those words before? Those words are a warning to all who are listening and watching, telling them that this is only a practice session, and informing them that, if this was an actual alert, instructions would be given to prepare each person for what was about to happen.  As you listened to those words, were you trusting that the one who was speaking them was telling you the truth, and was speaking with authority?

Author C.S. Lewis made the following statement concerning belief and authority.  He said, “Believing things ‘on authority’ only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.  Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority.  I believe there is such a place as New York.  I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place.  I believe it because reliable people have told me so..  The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority – because the scientists say so.  Every historical statement is believed on authority.  None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority.  A person who balked at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Since the very beginning of His ministry, the Lord Jesus has been speaking with authority, and this authority has been attested to by John the Baptist, by the voice of the Father from heaven at His baptism, and by the miracles He has performed.  Let’s see how the Jewish leaders and the crowd respond when Jesus’ words seem offensive, and they don’t understand what He means by what He is saying.

TRANSITION:

Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum, and He’s been telling the people in the synagogue that He is “the bread of life”, and that whoever eats of this bread will not die but will live forever.  The crowd is taking His words literally, thinking that He is talking about physical bread.  They are bewildered by His words because they don’t understand how this can be physically possible.

I.  REPETITION AND ADDITION (verse 51)

In chapter 6, verse 51 of John’s gospel, Jesus repeats this statement about Himself, but this time He adds a trailer at the end of it.  He says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Notice that Jesus did not say “my body”, but “my flesh”.  The Greek word is “sarx”, and Jesus is going to use that word six more times before this conversation is over.  As the saying goes, the Lord Jesus has “opened a can of worms” and there is going to be a repulsive reaction from the crowd.  Get ready for some negative repercussions!

II.  THE RESPONSE (verse 52)

How did the people react to those words?  Verse 52 says, “The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”   They must have thought that Jesus was talking about some form of cannibalism.  The Greek word translated “argue” literally means to “fight” or “quarrel”.  They are “fighting mad” and are taking out their anger on each other in the presence of Jesus.  Notice the words they use to refer to Jesus, calling Him “this man”.  After all the things that Jesus has said and done so far in His public ministry, they refuse to consider Him to be anymore than just a man.  They’ve shut their eyes and closed their ears and their minds to everything they have seen and heard.  Ironically, many of those present didn’t close their mouths to the free food that was miraculous provided for them on the previous day!

I used to wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus tell them He wasn’t speaking literally but figuratively, and then explain to them what He meant by those words?  I now think that a more appropriate question is, “Why didn’t they ask Jesus to explain to them what He meant?”  The answer to both of those questions is the same:  the crowd didn’t want an explanation.  What they were looking for was an excuse and an opportunity to kill Him.  As John 5:18 says, “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill Him . . .”.  Maybe that’s why they were arguing so vehemently with each other – they may have been fighting about how they were going to kill Him and who was going to do it. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that those thoughts were in their minds.

The crowd may have missed the words “for the life of the world” because of the shocking words that preceded them.  Jesus was saying that what He was offering them wasn’t for the Jews only, but for everyone.  As the apostle John says of Jesus in I John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

III,  EATING AND DRINKING – FLESH AND BLOOD (verses 53-58)

Rather than calming the angry crowd, Jesus makes a series of statements that are even more repulsive to His audience.  He begins by saying, in verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”   In John’s gospel, we find that Jesus often uses the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He does so, not because He is telling the truth in this case, but because He is letting His listeners know that He has firsthand knowledge of what He is about to say, and therefore is speaking with authority.  He is also implying that they should, therefore, pay close attention to what He is saying.because it is very important information that applies to them. 

When Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood”, what did He mean by those words?  Why did He say them?  There is a tendency to look for similarities between Jesus’ words to this crowd and the words He said to His disciples at the Last Supper.  But Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) in this conversation here in John 6.  He did not intend His statement to be taken literally.  He is using an analogy to communicate spiritual truths in the context of what they have already been talking about.  This is one of the many times in John’s gospel where Jesus uses symbolism to communicate spiritual lessons.  We have already studied Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus compared the wind that was blowing that evening to the Holy Spirit, and told Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.   In His conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus compared the water in the well to the living water He would give her, and if she drank from it, she would never thirst again but would have everlasting life.  So what does Jesus have in mind on this particular occasion?

Here in verses 53-58, as the Lord Jesus uses those words several times with some alterations, get ready for a history lesson, a principle of philosophy, and another short course in Greek grammar in order to understand what He really means by those statements.  Firstly, the differences between His words spoken here and those spoken much later at the last supper are much greater and more numerous than any possible similarities. 

   A.  A HISTORY LESSON

When the Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (the Passover feast) with His disciples, He did not say “This is my flesh”,  He said, “This is my body.  He also did not say, “This is my blood”.  Rather, He said “This is the new covenant in my blood”Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’.”  The focus of His attention is on the cup and the new covenant.  The Lord’s Supper (Communion) is not a sacrifice but a remembrance.  The apostle Paul addresses this issue to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 11 because of misunderstandings concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Some members of the church at Corinth, along with many in churches today, mistakenly thought (or think) that eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Table is essential for salvation, and that all who do so are guaranteed salvation.  The apostle Paul quotes those words said by Jesus, and then, in verse 26, he summarizes by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Rather than being a source of salvation, the Lord’s Supper is not only a remembrance, but also a proclamation. 

Looking again at the context of Jesus’ words on the way to the synagogue and in the synagogue, Jesus uses this analogy of flesh and blood because that was the initial subject of the conversation.  He was comparing Himself to the manna which their forefathers ate after fleeing from Egypt.  The Jews listening to Jesus took pride in the manna, considering it to be heavenly food which extended one’s lifespan, and asked Jesus to give them a sign like the manna.  Jesus addressed this belief of theirs by saying that He is the living bread.  He is greater than the manna because the life He offers lasts forever.

Rather than look ahead to the Last Supper to find a reason for Jesus’ words, it would be better to look back in history to the night when the first Passover was celebrated.  Before the manna, there was the Passover meal.  Before God sustained His people with the manna, He saved them from their bondage in Egypt.  In order for this salvation to occur, a price had to be paid:  death for life.  In Exodus 12, each household of the sons of Israel was told to slaughter a lamb, roast its flesh and eat it along with unleavened bread and put the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their home.  When the death angel passed through Egypt that night, wherever he saw that blood he would “pass over” that house and the firstborn would be spared from death.  The people of Israel would also be delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt, and God would lead them to the land He had promised them and give them a new life there.  So the flesh and blood of the lambs were the instruments used by God to bring salvation, deliverance, and a new life for His people as they believed and obeyed the word of the Lord given to them through Moses.  I believe that the original Passover was the Old Testament event that Jesus may have had in mind as a basis for comparison when He spoke of eternal life and deliverance through His flesh and blood.

B.  A PRINCIPLE OF PHILOSOPHY

A second evidence that Jesus was referring to salvation comes from one of the branches of philosophy called logic.  It is the science of evaluating arguments and determining sound reasoning.  A fundamental law of reasoning is the following:  “Two concepts which are equal to a third concept are also equal to each other.”  That sounds logical, doesn’t it?  Let’s see what Jesus is saying in verses 53-58 and then add up the results that come from the “eating” and “drinking”:  1)  If you don’t do so, “you have no life in yourselves” (verse 53).  So Jesus’ command is absolutely essential for eternal life.  2)  He “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (verse 54).  It’s a guarantee of eternal life and physical resurrection.  3)  He abides in Me and I in him” (verse 56).  Jesus speaks of an eternal relationship with Himself.  4)  “he shall live because of Me” (verse 57).  Jesus is saying that He is the source of that life.  5)  “he . . shall live forever” (verse 58).  Once again, the result of doing so is eternal life.

In each of His statements, Jesus is equating “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” to having eternal life as a result, correct?  If we look ahead to verse 63, we find that Jesus says, ” . . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  Jesus is telling His disciples afterward that he was speaking to the crowd in the synagogue about spiritual things and was not to be taken literally.

Now let’s compare Jesus’ words in verses 53-58 with other statements He made recently on the topic of eternal life.  Several times the Lord Jesus has spoken clearly about eternal life and what was necessary on man’s part in order to receive it.  In His discussion with Nicodemus, He began to speak clearly and literally in John 3:14-16, where He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The only other recourse given is that of perishing.

Later, in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  The only other option given is “judgment”.

Now, in the middle of this present conversation with the Jews, Jesus says, in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

As you can see from these three statements made by Jesus, eternal life results only from believing,  The logical conclusion, then, is that “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” is the same as believing in Him, with an emphasis on His atoning work, since both concepts have the same result.

C.  A LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR  (verse 53)

As you probably know, the Gospel of John, together with all the other books of the New Testament, was written in Greek.  The English language, in this particular passage of Scripture, does not communicate the tense of certain verbs as clearly as the original Greek text because there are more tenses to Greek verbs than there are in English.    In verse 53, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  Those two verbs (“eat” and “drink”) are in the aorist tense, denoting a one-time action.  It is not continued or repeated, but is a once-and-for-all event.  In passages of Scripture such as John 6;29, where Jesus asks people to believe in Him for eternal life, or tells them that they do not believe, the aorist tense is used also.  This is another proof that the words, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” are equivalent to saving faith because they are both once-for-all events, using the same tense of the verbs.

D.  A SECOND LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR (verses 54-58)

This second lesson is a new insight for me.  Below is the New International Version translation of verses 54-58:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate manna and died,
but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The words “eats”, “drinks”, and “feeds” are verbs in this English translation, but in the original Greek text they are not verbs, but participles.  You may be thinking, “Would you refresh my memory?  Just what is a participle and what does it do?”  I will be glad to do so, having just refreshed my own memory!  Participles are verb-forms ending in “ing” which have the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective.  To demonstrate that definition, let me write out for you verses 54-58 again, only this time you will see those verbs changed to participles.  The words that I’ve enclosed in parentheses are implied in the Greek text.

The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the (one) feeding on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate the manna and died,
but the (one) eating this bread will live forever.

Does reading that literal translation give you a change of perspective?  It did for me. The present participles put the emphasis on the believer rather than on believing.  Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a one-for-all event, demonstrated by the use of the Greek aorist tense.  Once a person takes that step of repentance, faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ, thereby becoming a Christian, a life-long process begins (as demonstrated by the use of the present-participles).  It’s called the “doctrine of sanctification”.  This process includes growing in our relationship to the Lord through spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, as well as through the fellowship with other believers.  As verse 56 says, “(The believer) remains in me, and I in him.”).  There is a closeness to God that becomes closer, and a fellowship with God that becomes deeper as the believer spends time with Him.  It’s the abiding relationship that Jesus will later describe in John 15.  There is also a deepening dependence upon God as the believer seeks to obey God, serve Him, and be a witness for Him.  It’s the Father’s desire, and it should be our goal, to become more and more like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So verses 51-53 focus on the beginning of spiritual life – how a person becomes a believer, and verses 54-58 describe the believer’s spiritual growth until the day when God calls him home to be in His presence and enjoy Him for eternity.  The once-for-all event of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, evidenced by genuine repentance for our sins and the surrender of our lives to His Lordship, then becomes a moment-to-moment fellowship with God, and obedience to our heavenly Father as His adopted children.  When this life is over we will see God face-to-face and enjoy His presence and His love for eternity in heaven.  Those are the three aspects of the doctrine of salvation:  justification (the one-time event),  followed by sanctification (the process of spiritual growth as His children), followed by glorification (with God for eternity in heaven).

IV.  POINT OF REFERENCE (verse 59)

The apostle John ends this conversation of Jesus by letting us know where it occurred.  We can’t say that this conversation didn’t happen because John documented it.  John writes, “He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”  Our responsibility. as readers and students of God’s Word, is not to discount this conversation or overlook it, but to understand its spiritual meaning and apply it’s principles to our lives.

CONCLUSION:

Where are you today in relation to this conversation between Jesus and the Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum?  Do you understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ?  Do you realize the price that Jesus, the Son of God and the Lamb of God, is going to pay to make that relationship with God possible?  Are you ready to commit yourself to follow the One who wants to give you a new, and an abundant life now, and eternal life with Him in heaven?  Whether you are ready or not, please read my “About Page” to understand what that decision involves and the Scriptures that declare it.

If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your life bears evidence to that decision, are you growing daily as a result of your fellowship with Him?  Are you enjoying His presence with you throughout your day, and learning to depend more and more on His strength and His faithfulness to supply your needs?  Is it becoming more and more obvious to those around you that your faith is real and your joy is infectious?  I hope so.  That’s just part of God’s desire for His children, as revealed in His Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Welcome to this completed construction site.  John 6:51-59 is a controversial passage of scripture with a number of viewpoints or interpretations.  There can only be one correct interpretation,  The Lord Jesus had a reason and motive for saying the things He said, and the apostle John was an eye-witness and wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

 

 

 

HE KNOWS THE REAL THING – John 2:23-25

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Having been a boy scout for several years, I can still remember most of the Scout Law.  There are twelve character qualities given in the Scout Law:  A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  I wondered why it started with “trustworthy”.  I guessed that, in case you forgot all the others, you would still remember that one!  It worked because I did remember that one and most of the others as well!

“Trustworthy” – worthy of trust, dependable, believable, consistent, enduring.  Over the last several years I’ve experienced the untrustworthiness of people more than at any other time in my life.  It seems to me that the number of people who can be trusted is growing smaller, and that deceitfulness and hypocrisy are on the increase.  I hope this observation is only true in my case.  There has been the temptation to become paranoid and not trust anyone anymore.  But that wouldn’t be right either.  Greater care needs to be taken, and more research done on my part before trusting a person or making a decision.  More prayer needs to precede decisions   As the saying goes:  “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”  Have you had similar experiences?  Have there been times when you wished that you could read people’s minds and weigh their motives before you put your life, your health, your confidence, your money, your house, or your car in the hands of a doctor, lawyer, realtor, salesman, mechanic, “friend”, or relative, as the case may be.  It’s often a step of faith, isn’t it?

TRANSITION:

The Lord Jesus teaches us a lesson about faith and trust in these last three verses of chapter 2.  He had recently performed His first miracle when He changed the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.  People were beginning to notice Him and ask questions about Him, and say good things about Him.  Then He cleansed the Temple, and people are wondering, “Who gave Him the right to do that?”   People were beginning to take sides for or against Him, and many were saying evil things about Him.

I.  THE MIRACLES (verse 23)

It was the time to celebrate the Passover, the first Passover since beginning His public ministry.  Verse 23 begins with the words:  “Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast.”  The celebration lasted for eight days and Jesus may have arrived early.  Crowds of people were there from Judea, Galilee, and the surrounding areas in order to obey God’s command and remember God’s deliverance of His people Israel from their slavery in Egypt.  The next section of the verse tells us what the Lord Jesus was doing during that period of time.  “Many saw the miraculous signs He was doing.”   Obviously, Jesus was performing many miracles while He was there – probably healing miracles.  Now there was visual evidence and public testimonies of His power to heal.  Jesus was getting the attention of everyone.  

II.  THE RESULT (verse 23b)

Verse 23 ends with the words “and trusted in His name”.  These people were amazed at the miracles Jesus was performing, and having seen them up close, they came to the conclusion that He must be the Messiah or a prophet, because nobody else could do such things.  They were responding to His miracles in a positive way.  Was their faith a saving faith, a life-changing faith?  Is there any way that we can know for sure?  Do these “believers” meet all the criteria?  Remember that it is very early in the public ministry of Christ.  This may be the first time they had ever met Jesus, and they may know nothing else about Him other than the fact that He performs miracles.  Let’s see how Jesus responds to this news.

III.  THE RESPONSE OF JESUS (verse 24a)

Verse 24 begins with these words, “Jesus did not commit Himself to them”.
The word translated “commit” in this verse is the same Greek word that is translated “believe” in verse 23.  J. Oswald Sanders, in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, has these words to say about verse 24:  “Our Lord trusted no man; yet He was never suspicious, never bitter, never in despair about any man, because He put God first in His trust. . . . If I put trust in human beings first, I will end up despairing of everyone; I will become bitter, because I have insisted on man being what no man can ever be – absolutely right.  Never trust anything but the grace of God in yourself or in anyone else.”

IV.  THE REASONS (verses 24b-25)

The apostle John gives the following reasons for Jesus’ response to those who “believed in Him”:  “for He knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.”   Jesus was all-knowing.  This was another one of the evidences of His deity.  He knew what was in their hearts – the reasons and motives for their actions.  He knew human nature.  These people who had been reported to Him as having believed in Him were Jews who were attending the feast.  The Lord Jesus realized that many of these same people who believed in Him at the start of His public ministry would later turn from Him and turn against Him.  They were uncommitted and easily swayed by the Jewish leaders. 

CONCLUSION:

As I have studied the Gospels, Jesus wasn’t calling people to believe in Him; He was calling them to follow Himthe full-sense of the Greek word for “believe” (pisteuo).  At the end of Jesus’ life there were very few who were called His “followers”.

In this present age of internet websites and social media, the words “follow” and “follower” have a very precise meaning and application.   If you like a particular site and would like to receive updates and notifications of new postings on that site, you simply click the button labelled “FOLLOW”.  When you do so, you instantly become a “follower”.  It’s as simple as that!  The fact that you are here at this site may indicate that you might have a site of your own and have followers as well.

In this computer-age, is it easy to become a follower of Christ?  Has our computer technology made it easier?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that there is easier access to Bible translations, Bible study materials, commentaries, sermons, etcetera.  No, in the sense that the decision itself is a costly one, and the price hasn’t changed.  A profession of faith is not enough.  A profession of faith and baptism is not enough.  I see no distinction being made in the Scriptures between a believer in Jesus Christ and a follower of Jesus Christ.  In Acts 8:13, Simon the magician believed and was baptized.  Later, in verses 18-19, Simon offers to pay money so that he also can lay hands on people and they could receive the Holy Spirit.  He thought it was a magic trick!  Peter says to Simon, in verse 21, “You have no part nor share in this ministry because your heart is not right with God . . . I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

So how does one become a follower of Jesus Christ?  The Lord Jesus answered that question Himself in Luke 9:23 when He said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”  Death to self and dedication to Christ on a daily basis.

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?  In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  The proof is in the following.  At this time of the year crowds of people are standing in lines all over the world, waiting to return gifts they received for Christmas, or exchanging them for another gift.  Why not begin this year with the crowds of people who have decided to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ by exchanging gifts with Him – your life in exchange for His?  It’s the best gift exchange you will ever make, and you’ll experience the real joy of this season when you choose to follow Him.  Now is the time.

If you are a genuine follower of Christ, why not set some spiritual goals for this year.  Organize your day around Him by setting aside a place and time for fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer.  Follow a one-year Bible reading program to read the Bible in a year (approximately 20 minutes a day), put together a prayer list of people you want to pray for daily or weekly; possibly pick a passage of Scripture that you want to memorize this year.  There are many potential goals that you can set.  Just make sure you write them down and put the list in a place where you will see it often.  It also helps to have another Christian that you can share accountability with, and be of mutual encouragement to each other.  May we be good stewards of what God has given us this year, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Truth.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to another work-in-progress.  Wishing you a happy New Year 2017.  I do have two New Year’s messages in my posts somewhere if you would like to search for it.   One is entitled “A New Year’s Commitment”, and was published in January of 2015.  The other message was for New Year’s 2014.  Let’s organize this day, this week, and this year around Him, and put it in writing so that we can see, and He can see, that we mean business.

 

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!

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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

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

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

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

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

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

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

THE REMOVAL AND BURIAL OF JESUS – John 19:31-42

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INTRODUCTION:

When the Lord Jesus came into this world as an infant, there were also miraculous signs that accompanied His birth.  Luke 2 tells us of the angel who suddenly appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  After the angel made the announcement of the Savior’s birth, a whole multitude of angels appeared in the sky singing, “Glory to God in the highest . . . “.  Then there was a star that pointed the way for the Magi from the East to find Jesus.

Jesus’ death was also followed by some amazing events.  Matthew 27 tells us that immediately after Jesus said “It is finished!”, the earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  Also tombs opened up and bodies of the saints were raised and entered the holy city of Jerusalem.  When the centurion who was guarding Jesus saw these things happening, he said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”.  The Lord Jesus revealed His deity to a few people both at His birth and at His death.

I.  REMOVAL FROM THE CROSS (verses 31-37)

As we read in verse 31, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate that the legs of those crucified should be broken so that they would soon die, and then could be taken off their crosses before the Passover Sabbath began.  Breaking their legs would result in a quick death because the crucified person would no longer be able to lift himself up to exhale, and would soon died from asphyxiation.

Pilate granted their request, and the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but they didn’t break Jesus’ legs because they could see that He was already dead.  So in verse 34 it says that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear”.  The middle of the spear’s head was a hand-breadth wide.  Out of Jesus’ side flowed blood and water.  It’s believed that the sword pierced the membrane surrounded the heart, and the serum with clots of blood in it was proof that Jesus had already died.

These events fulfilled two Old Testament prophesies.  The first was the instructions for cooking and eating the Passover lamb.  Exodus, chapter 12, says that as you eat the lamb, you are not to break any bone of it.  This command not to break any of the bones of the Passover lamb is repeated in Numbers 9:12 as they celebrate this feast day each year.  Secondly, the piercing of Jesus’ side fulfills the prophesy in Zechariah 12:10, which is quoted here in verse 37:  “They shall look on Him whom they pierced”.

II.  THE BURIAL (verses 38-42)

The Romans had made an exception by taking Jesus and the two thieves down from the cross.  Normally the Romans left those who were crucified on their crosses until their flesh was eaten by birds of prey.  Guards kept watch over the bodies in order to keep friends and family members from taking them away.  But Pilate made an exception in this case.

Up until now, Joseph of Arimathea had been a secret believer for fear of the Jews.  Now, in verse 38, he boldly comes forward to claim the Lord’s body for burial.  Why did Pilate hand over the body of Jesus to Joseph?  Joseph wasn’t even related to Jesus, and that was against Roman law.  Perhaps it was because Pilate was convinced that Jesus wasn’t guilty.

In verse 39 Nicodemus joins Joseph, bringing with him a hundred pounds of spices.  Why so great an amount of spices to prepare one man’s body for burial?  That’s’ enough spices for a king’s burial!  That’s exactly what they wanted to do for Jesus – give Him a king’s burial!  The spices were probably in a powdered form, or a paste.  They put some of the spices directly on Jesus’ body, wound strips of linen cloth around His body from His feet to His shoulders, and put more spices between each layer of cloth.

Verse 41 says that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb.”  Matthew 27 tells us that it was Joseph’s new tomb, which he had hewn in a rock.  This hill called “Golgotha”, on the edge of town, was considered  a God-forsaken place.  No expensive tombs were constructed by the Jews in this area.  Most wealthy Jews had burial places on the property where they lived.  It’s very possible that when Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death, Joseph of Arimathea hurriedly bought that piece of land in the garden and hired a crew of laborers to cut that tomb in the rock so that Jesus could be buried there.  There wasn’t time to take the body of Jesus very far because it was almost time to prepare for the Passover meal.  Matthew 27 tells us that they rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb after they put Jesus inside, and the chief priests and Pharisees put a guard there.  They didn’t believe Jesus’ prophesy that He would rise from the dead in three days, but they wanted to make sure no one could steal the body and start a rumor that Jesus rose from the dead.

As you’ve read this sermon, have the events surrounding the death and burial of Christ made any impression on you?   The centurion who observed these events was amazed and afraid, and his attitude toward Jesus Christ changed.

ILLUSTRATION:  One day two non-Christians were riding along on a railroad train discussing Christ’s wonderful life.  One of them said, “I think and interesting romance could be written about Him”.  The other man replied, “Yes, and you are just the man to do it, setting forth the correct views of His life and character.  I advise you to tear down the idea of His divine nature, and paint Him and He was – just a man living among men.”  The recommendation was acted upon and the novel was written.  The man who made the suggestion was Colonel Ingersoll, and the author was General Lew Wallace.  The book was entitled “Ben Hur”.  I imagine that many of you have read the book or seen the movie.

In the process of writing that book, Wallace learned some amazing truths.  The more he studied Jesus’ life and character, the more he become convinced that Jesus was more than just a great teacher.  Like the centurion in Matthew’s Gospel, he became persuaded that “Truly, this was the Son of God”!  I pray that you might also reach that conclusion, act upon it, and enjoy the privileges of being a “child of God”.