NOTHING TO FEAR – John 6:16-21

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Have you ever been frightened by the forces unleased in nature?  Can you remember hearing lightning cracking overhead, and then “KA-BOOM!”, the thunder was deafening and the ground vibrated under your feet”?  Did you shake for a moment also?  When Mt. St. Helens exploded and those tons of ash were billowing up into the sky, did you feel a twinge of fear as you watched it from a distance or on your television sets?  I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest when that event occurred, but I have experienced an earthquake in Southern California, a tornado while going to school in Iowa, and a typhoon while stationed at an Air Force base on Okinawa, and I trembled with fear on all three occasions!  I can imagine that you have some stories that you could tell about instances in your life when the forces of nature caused fear in you also.

In John 6:16-21, the apostles also experienced the forces of nature, but that wasn’t their only source of fear.  Let’s examine the experiences of the disciples that evening, and their responses, in the light of what preceded it.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 16-17)

Jesus had just finished feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children, with five barley cakes (“tortillas”) and two fish (“dried sardines”), and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers (one basket apiece).  They saw the power and the provision that only God could provide in such a miraculous way, and were reminded of God’s faithful provision of the manna to their ancestors in the wilderness for forty years.  Another lesson was taught them by Jesus, and now it was time for another examination to determine whether the lesson was learned and would be put into application.

You might call this a “stress test” or a “distress test”.  I like to think of it as a “practicum” – putting into practice the things they had learned.  Immediately after the disciples came back with the baskets of fragments from the meal, John writes, in verses 14 and 15, that the people were saying that Jesus must be the Messiah.  Jesus realized their intent to take Him by force and make Him king, so He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”   Mark’s gospel fills in a few details that are missing.  Mark 6:45-46 says, “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And  after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.”  The Lord Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and leave immediately because He didn’t want His disciples to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd to make Him king.  It still wasn’t clear in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus’ purpose for going up on the mountain was to pray.  Jesus was truly a man of prayer.  As you read through the Gospels you will find that He often spent time communicating with the Father in prayer, sometimes spending the whole night in prayer.  His disciples recognized this and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Going back to John’s gospel, verses 16 and 17 tell us, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.  And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  During the time of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, sunset was at about 7:00 p.m.  So the stage is set:  Jesus is on the mountain, they are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and it’s dark.

II.  THE STORM (verses 18-19a)

Verse 18 says, “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.”  The Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level in a bowl in the hills.  Winds can travel up the valley of the Jordan River at great speeds.  Not only that, but I’ve read that cold air can suddenly come rushing down from the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee and collide with the warm, moist air rising from the surface of the water.  The Sea of Galilee is also relatively shallow, so the waters can become stirred up very quickly.  Add up all those factors and you have “Trouble with a capital T!”  This storm must have taken the disciples by surprise.  Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  Not at all!  Sending them into the storm was their exam.  He was testing their faith to see if they learned the lessons He was teaching them, and had come to a true understanding of Who He was.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were expert sailors and they knew that they had better get the boat to the other side of the lake as soon as possible.  They had been in a similar situation recently, but on that occasion Jesus was with them in the boat, sleeping.  This time He’s on the mountain.  What were they going to do?

Rather than calling upon God and trusting in Him to provide for their need, they keep on rowing.  They’re going to get themselves out of this situation on their own!  This wind and these waves aren’t going to get the best of them!  They are failing the test but they’re not ready to give up yet!  Does Jesus know that there is a storm on the Sea of Galilee?  Yes, He certainly does.  Mark 6:48 begins with the words, “and seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”.  How can Jesus see them if it’s dark and stormy, and they are in the middle of the lake?  Good question!  It’s the Passover celebration.  The Passover is also called the new moon celebration.  When God sent Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt, He provided a full-moon to light the way for them.  From His vantage point on the top of the mountain, Jesus could see them by the light of a full-moon.  Then, why doesn’t He do something about it?  He is:  He’s praying for them!  As a wise and caring Teacher, He’s also giving them extra time to complete and pass the test!

Let me give you a mental picture of the examination scene at this time.  The apostles are in the boat rowing with their backs to the wind and their faces pointed in the direction of the dock where they had embarked for their cruise across the lake.  Little do they know that Jesus is looking at their faces and watching them as He continues to pray for them.

Have you ever run on a treadmill or an elliptical machine?  If you have, I imagine that you’ve thought about the fact that you’re running hard and are becoming exhausted, but you aren’t going anywhere.  You’re still in the same place where you started!  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve talked to people who have those machines but still like to run outdoors in good weather.   They do so not only because they like the change in scenery, but also because of a greater sense of accomplishment that comes from arriving at a destination rather than reaching a time limit or going the distance based on the odometer reading.  If you compare this illustration with the situation of the disciples, it’s as if they’re on a rowing machine, rowing hard and steadily, but going nowhere!  The boat they were in was probably one of the boats used for carrying passengers across the Sea of Galilee.  If so, it would normally be large enough to hold 12 passengers and had oars rather than a sail.  The Greek word refers to a “small boat”  These boats could easily become swamped in a storm because they were not as high above the water and as sturdy as many of the fishing boats.

From Matthew, Mark, and John’s gospels we learn that they are in the middle of the lake and it’s now the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch begins at 3:00 in the morning.  They started crossing the lake at about 7:00 the previous evening, so they’ve been rowing for eight hours or more!  Mark 6:48 states that Jesus “saw them straining at the oars”.  They must have been completely exhausted but they hadn’t learned the lesson from the feeding of the 5000.  They failed another test because they failed to bring their need to God in prayer and trust Him to meet that need.  They failed to follow the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings back to my mind a course I took in college as a Business major.  The course was Business Communications, and it was taught by a professor who had been a journalist.  As he gave us our first business letter to compose, he told us his grading system.  Then he said, “There is no excuse for misspelled words or wrong punctuation.  A misspelled word is an automatic F (a failing grade).  Each punctuation error would reduce the grade for the paper by one letter-grade.”  Most of the students, including myself, didn’t pay heed to his words, and over half the class failed the first assignment because of misspelled words and wrong punctuation.  Needless to say, we students got out our dictionaries and brushed up on our English grammar for the remaining assignments!  We learned the hard way to heed his warning, follow his advice, and not be overly confident in our own abilities!

III.  THE RESCUE (verses 19b-22)

The examination is now over.  When I was in high school, several of my teachers were in the habit of leaving their desks when the bell rang, walking down the aisles in the classroom, collecting the tests, and then taking them back to their desks.  In this case, Jesus was going to collect His disciples and bring them to the other side of the lake, but in a very unusual and miraculous way.

The second half of verse 19 says, “they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”  Mark’s gospel gives more details:  “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”  Jesus’ timing is perfect, as always.  He comes to them at the moment when they have finally given up hope.  They were in the middle of the lake and all their efforts were getting them nowhere.  They were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spiritually unreceptive.  They weren’t prepared for what was going to happen next.   Suddenly, they see something that their minds refuse to believe.  Jesus is walking toward them against the wind as if there were no wind at all, and walking on top of the water as if the water was dry ground!  The wind and the waves are having no effect on Him.  Their response was to cry out in terror, imagining that Jesus was a ghost.  The Greek word is “phantasma”.  We get our English word “phantom” from that word.

Why did they respond in such a way to Jesus?  For one, they weren’t expecting Him because they failed to pray to God and trust in the power and authority of His Son to meet their need and rescue them.  The second reason is given in Mark 6:52, which says, “their hearts were hardened”. They hadn’t learned the lesson from the loaves and fishes.  They tried to overcome the storm their way, and now they concluded that it was an impossible and hopeless situation.  It was impossible alright, humanly speaking, but it wasn’t hopeless!

Why did Jesus choose to walk to them on the water?  He could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He had just appeared in their boat, or called out to the wind and waves in a voice loud enough for them to hear, telling the wind and waves to quiet down.  That’s what He did in the previous storm (see Mark 5:39).  Jesus walked to them on top of the water in order to give them a visual demonstration that the things they now feared, (the wind and the waves), were completely under His control.  Jesus was showing them something that only God could do; and in response to their terror, He said, in John 6:20, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  Jesus spoke those words to them in Hebrew, and He was literally saying to them, I AMdo not be afraid”.  The Lord Jesus was using God’s covenant name, pronounced “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”, and was applying it to Himself.

In Exodus 3:13, Moses asked God, “What is your name that the people may know that you are the true God, and that you have sent me to them?”  God answered Moses with these words:  “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM (Yahweh), the God of your fathers . . . has sent me to you.”   The name Yahweh suggests, first of all, that there is no cause for God’s existence outside Himself; but the name had a much more personal meaning than that.  Yahweh is the God who is near to His people, close to them and available to them in time of need.  He controlled the forces of nature for them when He parted the Red Sea, provided manna for them to eat, and stopped the Jordan River so that they could enter the promised land.

During the previous storm, when Jesus was in the boat with them, He rebuked the wind and the waves, telling them to become calm, and they immediately obeyed His voice.  In response, His disciples asked the question, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27)  Now, after seeing Jesus walking on water and hearing those words from His mouth, the disciples answer their own question when they say, “You are certainly God’s Son!”, and they worshipped Him. (Matthew 14:33).  This is the first time Jesus is called the Son of God by His disciples.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk on water?  Other than Jesus, Peter is the only one who knows, and his experience didn’t last very long (Matthew 14:29-31)!  When the two of them got into the boat, it was apparently close to the shore – another amazing occurrence!  The rescue was now over.

LESSONS TO LEARN AND APPLY:

Before we consider the fear of the disciples, and our own fears as well, I think we should all thank God for giving us the emotion of fear.  He has given us, as well as  many of the animals He created, a built-in alarm system to warn us of danger.  It was designed by Him for the purpose of protection and preservation.  It’s natural for us to be afraid in times of danger, and there are times when we, as human beings, should choose to follow our fears.  There are also times when we should choose to overcome our fears by the power of God.  A question we need to ask ourselves honestly is “What do I fear, and why do I fear it?”  Then write those fears and the reasons for them on a sheet of paper so that we can sort them out and think about them.  Only then can we ask the question, “How should I respond to those fears, in the light of God’s Word?”

The first lesson given in this passage of Scripture is one on prayer.  Jesus was up on the mountain praying.  I think His first request to the Father was that the apostles would realize their helplessness and turn to the Father in faith, asking Him to rescue them.  When they failed to do so and they were about to drown, I believe that Jesus’ second request to the Father was that the Father might use Him to rescue them and show them that He was truly the Son of God.  His request might have been something like this:  “Father, give me the power and authority to walk on the water to rescue them so that You and I might be glorified.”  Or maybe He just asked for their deliverance and the Father told Him what to do in answer to that prayer.  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that God answered His prayers.  Jesus’ prayers “held a lot of weight” in the eyes of His Father because of the close relationship and deep trust between them.

What’s the value of our prayers to God?  How much weight do our believing prayers have in God’s sight?    Many years ago Henry Bosch shared the following true story which he entitled “Weighing A Prayer”.

Soon after World War II, a tired-looking woman entered a store and asked the owner for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her children.  When he inquired how much money she could afford, she answered, “My husband was killed in the war.  Truthfully, I have nothing to offer but a little prayer.”  The man was not very sentimental, for a grocery store cannot be run like a breadline.  So he said, “Write your prayer on a paper.”  To his surprise she plucked a little folded note out of her pocket and handed it to him, saying, “I already did that during the night while I was watching over my sick baby.”  As the manager took the paper, an idea struck him.  Without even reading the prayer, he put it on the weigh side of his old-fashioned scales, saying, “We shall see how much food this is worth.”  To his surprise, it would not go down when he put a loaf of bread on the other side.  To his even greater astonishment, it would not balance though he added many more items.  Finally he blurted out, “Well, that’s all the scales will hold anyway.  Here’s a bag.  You’ll have to put them in yourself.  I’m busy.”  With a tearful “thank you,”  the lady went happily on her way.  The grocer later found out that the balance was out of order.  As the years passed, however, he wondered if that really was the solution.  Why did the woman have the prayer already written to satisfy his premeditated demands?  Why did she come in at exactly the time the mechanism was broken?  Frequently he looks at that slip of paper upon which the prayer was written, for amazingly enough, it reads, “Please, dear Lord, give us this day our daily bread!”

Has God ever answered your prayers in unusual or unexpected ways?  God delights in answering believing prayer for the supply of our needs.  The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Our God is very rich and very generous!  Don’t let a need go by without asking Him to supply!

The second lesson comes in answer to the question, “Why didn’t the disciples pray to God when the storm began?”  “Pride” is the answer to that question.  Two popular sayings probably describe their attitude:  “I’ll do it my way”, and “I’d rather do it myself”.  I could understand if they kept rowing for 15 minutes in the hope that the storm might die down, but not for eight hours!  That’s ridiculous!  Are you filled with pride in yourself and would rather be independent of God?  Are you drowning in your own sins, but unwilling to lift a hand in prayer to the only One who can reach down and pull you out of the dark waters of separation from God for eternity?  I hope and pray that you will reconsider your attitude and your situation, and choose to put your life in His hands and under His control.

The third and last lesson applies to fear.  I’m sure that we would all agree that fears come in many different forms, and can affect us in many different ways.  Do you find yourself controlled, or hindered by various forms of fear, such as fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of what others may think?  Fears can be tied to the past, the present, or the future.  Worry is also a form of fear.  Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  Worry is like a rocking chair.  It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  The apostle Peter tells us in I Peter 5:7 to “cast all our anxieties on Him (the Lord Jesus Christ), for He cares for you.”

Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man will prove to be a snare.”  It can drain us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  This incident of the storm, in John 6, tells us that we can banish our fears by recognizing and relying upon the faithful presence, power, and providence of God.  Let me close by sharing a few other Scripture passages with you that tell us how to respond to fear in our lives.  Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  In Psalm 23:4 king David says, “I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”  Psalm 34:4 reads, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. You may also want to read and memorize Isaiah 41:10.

It may also encourage you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you right now (Hebrews 7:25).  Some day, the Lord Jesus will come for us, take us to His heavenly haven of rest, and the storms of life will be over forever.  I hope that I’ll see you there!   

THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.

“THE WORD” – THE INFINITE AND ETERNAL GOD – John 1:1-3

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INTRODUCTION:

There have been thousands of neighborhood surveys given by Christian organizations and churches over the years.  Maybe you’ve participated in one or more of them yourself.  A question that is often asked on these surveys is:  “Who is Jesus Christ?”.  The answer most often given is:  “He is the Son of God”.  But most of the people who give that answer don’t know what it means nor how they came to that conclusion.  In a 1983 Gallup poll, Americans were asked, “Who do you think Jesus is?”  70% of those interviewed said that He was not just another man.  43% stated that Jesus was God among men,  27% felt that Jesus was only human but divinely called.  9% stated that Jesus was divine because he embodied the best of humanity.  Also, 81% of the Americans polled considered themselves to be Christians.  In John 1:1-3, John gives a brief and concise summary of Jesus’ relationship to God.

I.  JOHN’S USE OF THE “WORD” (verse 1)

The passage begins by using the term “Word” to refer to Christ.  This term is not used in this way in any of the other gospels.  John uses the Greek word “logos” because it was a familiar term in Greek philosophy and literature, and also because it had a special meaning for the Jews.

In Greek philosophy the “logos” was the principle which maintained perfect order in the universe and controlled it.  The “logos” also controlled the events of history.

What meaning would “the word” have in the minds of the Jewish readers of John’s gospel?  It would turn their thoughts to the first chapter in the book of Genesis where we are told that in the beginning God spoke, and all things came into being.  Genesis 1:3 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”  If a Jew living during the lifetime of Christ on earth was asked the question:  “What happens when God speaks?”  His answer would have been, “The thing is instantly done or happens.”  The prophet Isaiah records these words that God spoke to him in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which it was sent.”

By beginning his gospel with the use of the term “logos”, John has succeeded in creating an interest and has peaked the curiosity of both Greeks and Jews.  “Who is this person you are referring to?”  “How can you claim that He is the ‘logos’?” John has succeeded in grabbing their attention and they are anxious to find out what he is going to say next.  Now that he has their attention, John makes four statements about Christ’s deity.

Ii.  JESUS IS ETERNALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“In the beginning was the Word.”  We know that as the apostle John writes about the Word, the “Logos”, he is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ because he says in verses 14 and 17:  “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  (NASB)

“In the beginning” – John begins his gospel in eternity past.  In the Greek text there is no definite article before the word “beginning”.  At whatever beginning you might choose, “the Word” already existed.  The following is an excuse that is sometimes used by those who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God:  “If Jesus is called the Son of God, He cannot be eternal because He is called the ‘firstborn’, and the eternal Father must be older than His Son.”

However, eternal fatherhood demands eternal sonship.  Consider this question:  “When did your father begin to be your father?”  He became your father at the very moment that you became his child, and not before.  Isn’t that correct?  Therefore the eternal Father must have an eternal Son.

John is also implying in this verse that, unlike the Greek concept of the “logos”, which came along with creation as part of creation, Jesus Christ, “the Logos” existed before creation.  John is stretching their concept of the logos to a much higher level.  Contrary to their thinking, the logos is not a force in the universe, but an eternal Person who transcends this universe.  Both the Jew and the Greek at the time of this writing would agree that the only Person who could transcend time would have to be God.

III.  JESUS IS EQUALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“And the Word was with God” – a unique Person, yet a common entity.  He is distinguishable from God the Father, yet eternally God.  It is a mystery.  We cannot understand how this can be with our finite minds.  Genesis 1 says, “The Spirit of God was moving upon the surface of the waters.”  He is also a distinct Person, and part of the God-head.

In John chapter 1, verse 2, John says it again using different words:  “He was in the beginning with God“.  By writing it again, John is saying, “Yes, that’s what I said and that’s what I meant!”  The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is “elohim”.  It is a plural noun.

There are not three Gods.  There is one God in three Persons.  I like this definition in the book, Christian Theology in Plain Language:  “Three persons who are coequally and co-eternally God”.  Expressed mathematically, the concept of the Trinity would be described, not as 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals three, but as one times one times one equals one.  People have problems with the Trinity because they can’t completely understand it, but in actuality, the concept of the trinity lies behind the very nature and structure of this universe.  For example, we are living in a space – matter – time universe.  We express space in terms of length, width, and height.  We express time in terms of past, present, and future.  We express matter in terms of  energy, motion, and phenomenon.  Even the tiny atoms that make up our universe are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons.  These aren’t “accidents” or “coincidences” but evidences that the universe reflects the very nature of the Godhead.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 1:19-20 when he says,  “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

All three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus.  There was Jesus who had just been baptized, the Holy Spirit who descended from heaven in the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus, and there was the Father, whose voice from heaven said, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 5:16-17; Luke 3:21-22)

Just before the ascension of Jesus into heaven, He gave His Great Commission to His disciples, and in it He mentions all three members of the Triune God.  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-19).  So the Lord Jesus Himself declares the Trinity of God and identifies Himself as one of the members of that Trinity.

IV.  JESUS IS ESSENTIALLY GOD (1:1)

“And the Word was God.”  In His essence, in His real nature, and in His attributes, Jesus Christ is God.  There is at least one religious sect that says that Jesus Christ is not God because John 1:1 says “The Word was a god“, since there is no definite article before the word “God” in the Greek text.  To show the error of this thinking, let’s insert the definite article into the Greek text.  Now the English translation would read, “The Word was the God”.  This would imply that no divine being existed except Jesus Christ.  Such a statement would contradict the previous phrase, “The Word was with God”.  It would also contradict Genesis 1, where God says, “Let us make man in our image”.  So John purposely did not put the definite article in his text because he wanted to imply that Jesus Christ is God.  He is divine, but there are also other divine Persons, namely the Father and the Holy Spirit.

After verse 1, the apostle John never uses the term “logos” again.  Why?  Because the concept, the force, the spoken word is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And as the eternal Son of God, He has been the true “Logos” from all eternity.  From now on John’s focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ because He and “the Logos” are the same.

This has been a “deep theology lesson”, and I’m no theologian!  But John realizes that this is a necessary introduction if we are going to understand his purpose for writing this Gospel.  Knowing this basic theology will help us to understand the signs Jesus performed, the words Jesus said, and the responses He received as a result, as recorded by the apostle John.   

V.  JESUS IS THE CREATOR-GOD (1:3)

It is natural, when we think of God, to think of His power to create.  Thus John says in verse 3, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”.  If we were to look through the most powerful telescope, we would see galaxy after galaxy, and worlds travelling at incredible speeds.  Yet their orbits are so mathematically precise that we can predict an eclipse or a comet’s appearance years in advance.  If we were to look into the most powerful microscope we would be able to see the atoms that are the building blocks of all matter.  An atom measures about 150 millionths of an inch in diameter.  Though they are so small, atoms are like a miniature solar system, with a central nucleus and a number of electrons flashing in orbit around it.

Hopefully, the following illustration will give you a sense of the vastness and complexity of God’s creation.  If the molecules in just one drop of water could be converted into grains of sand, there would be enough sand to build a concrete highway, half a mile wide and one foot thick, all the way from New York to San Francisco.  That’s about 3000 miles!  And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made them all – every single atom in the universe!

CONCLUSION:

I encourage you to take some time to reflect upon the vastness, complexity and order of our universe.  Take a walk or drive to a secluded spot and observe the foliage and the animals.  Or draw the curtains, pull up the shades, open the windows and take in the sights, sounds, and smells.  Reflect also upon yourself and how you are made. There is no one like you.  You are unique.  Your fingerprints, your voice, your hair, your DNA are unique to you.   All of these things you observe and consider point to a Creator.  Do you know Him?  Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  Do you know Jesus Christ personally and intimately?  If so, your life will be filled with joy, and your actions will give testimony to His presence in you.

You are also welcome to read other sermons I have placed on this site.  There are over 70 of them now!   May God’s Word provide direction and enrichment to your life.

 

BEHOLD YOUR GOD – Background and Survey of the Gospel of John

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FORWARD:

This study through the Gospel of John is going to keep us busy for over a year, and possibly over two years.  The apostle John says in I John 1:1, “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! (The Message).

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, to hear His voice, to hear Him call you by name, to embrace Him, to watch the expressions on His face, and to observe all the things He said and did while He was on this earth?  Does thinking about that fill your hearts with joy and excitement?  My desire is to try to imagine and simulate that first-hand experience as I study the text.  I plan to incorporate more of the Old Testament scriptures and the other three Gospels into the study, where appropriate, so that we might see Him in as much detail, and with as much clarity as possible.

I.  INTRODUCTION:

Was there ever a time in your life when you asked yourself the question:  “Which book of the Bible should I read first?”  Has anybody ever asked you that same question, seeking your advice?  A question that is often asked by Bible translation teams is “Which book of the Bible should we translate first?”  The answer to those two questions is often the same:  the Gospel of John.

William MacDonald made this observation:  “The Gospel of John is the most familiar and perhaps the best loved book in the Bible.  Charles R. Erdman says of this Gospel:  “It has induced more people to follow Christ, it has inspired more believers to loyal service, it has presented to scholars more difficult problems, than any other book that could be named.”

II.  WHY ARE THERE FOUR GOSPELS?

That’s a commonly asked question also:  “Why are there four gospels?”  Actually, there is one gospel, written from the perspective of four different men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.

Matthew, formerly named Levi, was a Jewish tax collector who became a follower of Christ.  His purpose in writing was to demonstrate to his fellow-Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the “anointed One”, whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.  He begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.  Matthew also quotes from the Old Testament scriptures more often than any other gospel-writer.  His intention is to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies that were written concerning the coming Messiah.

Mark, also called John Mark, focuses on the Lord Jesus as a servant.  A theme verse is Mark 10:45 where Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live as a ransom for many.” (NIV)  We find no genealogy in Mark’s gospel, but we see Jesus involved in the lives of people.

Luke is writing to the Greeks, and looks at Jesus as a man.  Many of the Greek gods and goddesses had a pretty-sordid history and didn’t relate well to people.  The genealogy in Luke’s gospel goes all the way back to Adam, showing that Jesus was truly a member of the human race.  Luke also gives more insights into the birth and childhood of Jesus than any other gospel writer.

John looks at Jesus as God.  He focuses on the deity of Christ.  John’s gospel contains no details about the birth or the childhood of Christ.  It also contains no parables, no temptation scene, no Gethsemane, and no mention of scribes, publicans, lepers, or demoniacs.

III.  WHO WAS THE AUTHOR?

The writer of this account of the life and teachings of Christ was John, the son of Zebedee.  He and his brother James were fishermen along with their father.  While James and John were mending their nets, Jesus came by and called out to them, asking them to come and follow Him (Mt. 4:21-22; Mk. 1:19-20; Lk. 5:9-11).  They both immediately left their nets and followed Him.  John outlived the other disciples and wrote three letters.  He also wrote “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” while living as an exile on the island of Patmos.  In this writing, John gives a message to each of the seven churches in Asia and writes down a description of the visions he received from God

IV.  WHAT WAS JOHN’S PURPOSE?

We find John’s purpose for writing his gospel near the end of his book.  John 20:30-31 says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  (NIV)  John’s purpose was to provide the answer to these two questions:  First, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  And secondly, “What is to be our proper response to Him on the basis of who He is?”

Since John’s Gospel was the last to be written, and the others were already being copied and distributed, it makes me wonder whether Matthew, Mark, and Luke might have met with John concerning certain events which were not included in their accounts.  If so, the apostle John did a good job of “filling in the blanks” as well as focusing his attention on the deity of Christ!

There are three key words in John 20:30-31, and they need a bit of an explanation:

Signs” – John recorded six miracles that are not recorded in the other gospels:  the water changed into wine (chapter 2), the nobleman’s son healed (chapter 4), the paralyzed man healed (chapter 5), the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11), and the second great catch of fish (chapter 21).  Each one of these miracles, or signs, demonstrates Christ’s deity and authority.  These signs were performed on other people or for the benefit of other people.

Believe” – is the response that these signs were intended to produce.  The word is used 98 times in John’s gospel, and refers to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  We find in John’s gospel that those who believed in Jesus Christ became His followers, whereas those who refused to believe became His opponents.

Life” – refers to the result that belief brings.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “i tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (NIV)  Eternal life begins at the moment that we invite Jesus Christ to come into our lives and be our Savior and Lord.  John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus said that we can have an abundant and fulfilling life right now if we belong to Him.

V.  WHAT WERE JOHN’S METHODS?

John records the testimonies of seven eye-witnesses:

John the Baptist – “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. . . . And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:30-34)

Nathanael – “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”  (John 1:49)

The Samaritan woman – “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done; this is not the Christ, is it”? . . . And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.”  (John 4:29, 39).

Peter –  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).

Martha – Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”  (John 11:27)

Thomas – “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God’ “.  (John 20:28).

John – “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. (John 20:31)

Each of these people had personal conversations with Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was God.

John also records the seven “I am’s” of Jesus, (Jesus reveals Himself seven times using the words “I am”).

“I am the bread of life” (chapter 6)

“I am the light of the world” (chapters 8 and 9)

“I am the door”  (chapter 10)

“I am the good shepherd”  (chapter 10)

“I am the resurrection and the life” (chapter 11)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (chapter 14)

“I am the true vine”  (chapter 15)

In each of these descriptions of Himself, Jesus points to His deity, and thus His ability to meet their deepest needs.  Also, each time Jesus uses that format to describe Himself, He is bringing to their minds the question that Moses asked the voice that was coming from the burning bush, and the answer he received.  In Exodus 3:!3, Moses said to God, “behold I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  “Now they may say to me, ”What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?”  In verse 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.  That was God’s covenant name to the Jewish people, and Jesus is using it to refer to Himself (YHWH, usually pronounced as  Yahweh or Jehovah).

Finally, John records 27 personal interviews with Jesus.  Some of them were extensive and some were very brief.  The Lord Jesus wanted people of all belief systems and all walks of life to know who He really is, and that He cares for them.

If the things that John is saying about Jesus Christ are hard for you to believe at this point in your life, you are not alone.  John will be giving more and more evidence to verify Jesus’ claims.  Please continue to study this book with me and give it some thought and reflection.  I have personally observed that many people, including myself, have had an unclear concept of Jesus Christ and His teachings.  The Gospel of John, more than any other New Testament book, cleared my mind and changed my heart.  That is one of the reasons why I want to study it again.

It’s time to move on to the next construction site:  John 1:1-3.  I hope to see you there!