YES, YOUR HONOR! – John 5:21-23

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In most states in the United States of America the words “Your Honor” are used when addressing the judge in a courtroom.  This has been the practice for many centuries.  Several other countries use those same words as well; other countries use titles such as:  “My Lord”, “My Lady”, “Your Lordship”, “Your Ladyship”, “Judge”, and many other titles of respect and authority.   In Israel, a judge is a shofet, and is addressed with the words “Sir” or “Madam”.  As a general rule, these judges from around the world also wear distinctive robes.  Many of these robes are black, but there are also some very colorful ones.  In some countries the judges also wear wigs.  These robes and wigs are used in order to distinguish them from others in the courtroom, and serve as marks of authority and honor.  Because of their knowledge and experience in the practice of Law, they are worthy of respect and recognition.

In the previous message on John 5:19-20, the Lord Jesus gave two evidences of His deity.  He said that He was equal to the Father in “working” and in “knowing”.  He also shared the relationship of love that He had with the Father; a relationship that only a Son could have.  But the comparisons with the Father, and evidences of His deity aren’t over yet.  In verses 21-23, Jesus claims equality with the Father in resurrecting, in judging, and in honor.  Let’s take a look at each of those claims.

I.  EQUAL IN RESURRECTING (verse 21)

The Lord Jesus has already told them that He is doing the works of the Father, or I should say, that the Father is doing the works through Him.  Now, here in verse 21, to coin a popular phrase, it’s as if Jesus is saying to His accusers, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”  The following are Jesus’ words to them in verse 21.  “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He wishes.”  That statement must have stirred up some angry words from His listeners.  According to the Gospel record, Jesus had not yet raised anyone from the dead.  The Lord Jesus was able to say those words truthfully because He was involved with the Father during the two resurrections in the Old Testament:  the son of the widow of Zarephath through the prophet Elijah in I Kings 17:22, and the Shunamite’s son through the prophet Elisha in II Kings 4:32-35.

Commentator Warren Wiersbe offers this helpful information concerning the Jewish beliefs at that time.

For Jesus to claim to have power to raise the dead was a blasphemous thing in the eyes of the Jewish Leaders; they gave that power to God alone.  They said that Jehovah held the three great keysthe key to open the heavens and give rain (Deuteronomy 28:12); the key to open the womb and give conception (Genesis 30:22); and the key to open the grave
and raise the dead (Ezekiel 37:13).

In the minds of these Jews, what Jesus had just said was blasphemy, claiming to be God.  Later in His life and ministry, Jesus would prove His words to be true by raising the widow’s son in the city of Nain (Luke 7:14-15), Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:38-42), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44) from the dead.  And most significantly, Jesus would raise Himself from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:7-8; John 20:3-8).  “Even so” – just like the Father raised people from the dead, Jesus did so in like manner, and there were too many eye-witnesses, together with the person who was restored to life, to disprove those events and the resurrecting power of Jesus.   Therefore He must be equal with the Father because only God can give life and restore life.

II.  EQUAL IN JUDGING (John 5:22)

As further proof of His deity, the Lord Jesus says is verse 22, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to His Son”  We find the justice of God declared many times in the Old Testament.  For example, in Genesis 18:25, Abraham makes the following statement about God’s justice in his plea to spare the people of Sodom  “Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.  Far be it from Thee!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?” That’s a good argument!

As Moses sings his song, recounting the things that God has done for the people of Israel, he includes these words about God and His justice in Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all his ways are just;a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”

I imagine that most of us have come to realize that the justice systems on this earth are not perfect.  Let me give you a personal example I was travelling home from a meeting many years ago and drove my car through several small towns along the way.  Two days later I received a letter from one of those towns.  When I opened the letter I saw a photo of myself driving my car.  Below it was a sizeable ticket and the address where this excessive-speed violation occurred. This was my first and only (so far) photo-radar ticket  I didn’t remember any excessive speeding so I went back to that address the next day and saw no speed limit sign.  Upon closer observation, I noticed a white sign post but the top of it was completely covered by low-hanging branches of a nearby tree.  As I looked under its branches at the reduced speed on the sign and stood back to take another look, a store-owner came out of his store and asked if he could be of assistance.  When I shared my story, he pointed to the top of a pole across the street to show me the camera that took the photo, then he stood back with me and told me that there was no way a person coming down the street could see that sign.  He suggested that I might want to take my case to court, which I did.  After explaining the situation to the judge, there was a short pause and then the judge said “Reduce the amount to (a small reduction)”, hit the desk with the gavel, and said “Next case!”  I paid the remainder.  This was not the justice I was hoping to receive.  Two weeks later, I was driving through that town again and was pleased to see that those low-hanging branches had been removed from the tree, and the sign was now completely visible.. It may have been done at my expense, but at least it was done!

Going back to Jesus’ words stating that the Father had given all judgment into His hands, let’s see if there are any Old Testament Scriptures that attribute the role of judging mankind to the coming Messiah.  If the Jews at that time were spending time reading and studying specific passages of Scripture, it’s very possible that they were reading or studying the prophecies concerning their Messiah.  They were looking forward to His coming and wanted to be ready to recognize Him and worship Him when He arrived on Earth.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the Messiah’s coming reign.  “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples.  And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations will not lift up sword against nation. and never again will they learn war.”   (Isaiah 2:4)  The Jewish people are looking forward to a perfect Judge who will make perfect judgments, and there won’t be the Roman occupation and government anymore.

Isaiah 11 is another Messianic prophecy.  “And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth . . . ”  (Isaiah 11:3-4).  The Lord Jesus is the perfect Judge because, as God, He is holy, righteous, all-knowing and just; and as man He is understanding and sympathetic, having experienced poverty and the unfairness and affliction of others while on this earth.  No wonder the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.”

The prophet Micah also affirms Isaiah’s prophecy in Micah 4:3.  The Jewish leaders have those prophecies in their minds yet they fail to recognize and acknowledge the Judge of the whole earth who is standing before them and making that claim.  Even John the Baptist acknowledged that Jesus was going to bring judgment when he used the following analogy:  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean the threshing floor; and he will gather His wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (John 3:12).

III.  EQUAL IN HONOR (John 5:23)

There doesn’t appear to have been any positive response to those claims, so the Lord Jesus makes another claim:  that of being equal in honor with the Father.  That’s a claim that the Lord Jesus should not have needed to make, since it should have been the logical conclusion they should have drawn, and the response they should have given to His previous claims of deity.  He says, “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus begins by drawing the application.  He’s telling them that, based on the claims of deity He has already made, they should have responded by showing Him the same “honor” (praise, worship, devotion, obedience) that is due to the Father.  That’s the only valid and proper response that can be given to His claims and the evidence that supports them.

His explanation is followed by a very powerful and convicting statement and conclusion.  “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  The Lord Jesus is saying that it is false and useless to claim to love and worship God if you do not have the same love and worship for Him, because they are two Persons in the same Triune God.  Whoever does not honor and worship the Son does not honor and worship God at all.

CONCLUSION:

I hope that you are taking the claims of Jesus Christ and the evidences supporting those claims seriously.  Your quality of life on this earth and your eternal destiny depend upon it.  The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of the highest honor:  the honor, praise, worship and obedience that are deserved by God alone. If you are still seeking, and questioning, and pondering, the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying will go much deeper into role of Jesus as Judge of heaven and earth.  I hope to see you there.  May you find Jesus to be the Honorable One who fulfills His words, keeps His promises, and changes lives.

CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED.

 

 

WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART III – Guilt, Repentance, and Worship – John 4:16-26

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INTRODUCTION:

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well has progressed.  Jesus began by asking her for a drink, putting Himself in a position of being indebted to her for her kindness.  She responds by giving Him the drink and asking Him why He would make such a request of her.  Jesus uses the setting of the well to tell her about “living water”, and in the course of the conversation she decides that she really wants this water and trusts that He is telling her the truth.  Now she is ready for the next step in understanding who He is and what is her present condition in the sight of God.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CONSCIENCE (verse 16)

In verse 16, Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here”.
Why would He say such a thing to her, especially when the conversation is going along so well?  It sounds like a command, but it’s actually said in the form of a request.  Jesus knows her past and her present condition because He is God, and the Father has revealed those things to Him.  So He wants to find out how she will respond to those words.  Will she be angry or will she feel ashamed and guilty about her sinful relationships.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verse 17a)

She feels ashamed and guilty alright!  This is her shortest response in the entire conversation:  “I have no husband”.  Only four words in English, and only three words in Aramaic!  She is basically saying, “Here’s my answer; end of conversation on that subject!”  I believe that she lowered her eyes away from His gaze as she quietly said those words (“I have no husband”), and may have hung her head in shame as she did so.

III.  FACING THE FACTS (verses 17b-18)

The Lord Jesus doesn’t change the subject, as she was hoping He would, and hinting that He should.  Instead, He congratulates her for her answer by saying, “You have well said ‘I have no husband’ “.  That must have brought a shocked look to her face – “He’s paying me a compliment!  How did He know?”  There may also have been a quick sigh of relief:  “At least He doesn’t know the whole truth.”  But before she could respond, Jesus reveals information about her that no stranger could possibly have known, especially a Jewish stranger.  He says to her in verse 18, “For you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”   I believe that Jesus said those words to her courteously and gently.  The words themselves revealed that this was no ordinary man who was speaking to her.  We will see that the words of the prophets must have come to her mind also.

Now the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together.  It explains why she is coming to draw water in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the early morning or the evening.  She was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle, and the other women probably belittled her and refused to let her be part of their conversations or use the well while they were there.  She must have been a very lonely and discouraged woman, encumbered by the guilt of her sins.

IV.  A DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?  (verses 19-20)

I found myself laughing as I considered the woman’s frame of mind when Jesus has just complimented her on her honesty, and then, zing!  He tells her all the private information she left out!  How do you respond to a revelation like that?  Verses 19 and 20 give us her reply.  “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped at this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men are to worship.”  Has she been paying close attention to the way in which Jesus is directing this conversation?  The reason I ask is because she just paid Him a compliment, and then directs Him to an issue that has divided Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  Touche!  The tables are turned!

Seriously, I think she truly believes that Jesus is a prophet.  Her concept of Him is getting closer to reality.  She also wants to move this conversation away from herself and her personal issues.  If He truly is a prophet, He will have a definitive answer to this issue.  Notice that Jesus allowed her to change the topic of conversation.  In spite of her motives, this discussion is moving in the exact direction that Jesus wants it to go.

So I don’t believe that her question was primarily meant to be a side-track.  There is a genuine reason for her question, and it’s based upon the words that Jesus has just spoken to her.  Jesus had exposed her sins, and I think there is a genuine conviction of sin and a repentant heart on her part as a result.  She may be asking, “Where should I go to present a sin offering to God as an act of repentance and worship.  What I’ve been taught disagrees with what you Jews believe.”  Warren Wiersbe comments, “She didn’t  know who to worship, where to worship, and how to worship.”  There are some historical events and teachings that need an explanation before we can understand her quandary.

The history of Samaria and the Samaritan people is complex, so I’ll try to put the meaning behind the woman’s question into a nutshell.  In my previous sermon I shared how the captives who were left in Israel intermarried with captives from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in Israel, thus losing the purity of their Jewish race and religion.  In an attempt to restore their legitimacy as God’s chosen people, the Samaritans changed some Scriptures in the Law of Moses and altered some historical events.  They built a temple on Mount Gerizim and said that this was the place where God wanted them to worship, rather than at the temple in Jerusalem.  So the woman wants to know where she should go to present her sin offering to God,  Where is the proper place to worship, and how do I do this in the traditional way?

V.  TRUE WORSHIP (verses 20-26)

Once again, the Lord Jesus doesn’t give this woman the answer she wants to hear.  He gives her the answer she needs to hear.  To her, worship is limited to a specific place and time, and is a ritual that is performed in a certain way.  But now she has come to the point where she wants to worship God and seek forgiveness for her sins.  She is now ready to learn the meaning of true worship.

1.  JESUS’ PROPHETIC ANSWER  (verse 21)

In verse 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”  When Jesus told her, “believe Me”, He’s saying, “since you have come to the conclusion that I am a prophet, then put your faith and trust in what I am about to tell you because it is coming from God.”  He then gives her a glimpse of the near-future.  Very soon the present system of worship is going to be replaced.  What He doesn’t share at this time is that the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system will no longer be needed.  He’s referring to His own sacrificial death on the cross.  When Jesus says, “It is finished”, the penalty for sin will be paid for once-and-for-all.  At that very moment the curtain that separates the people from the presence of God will be torn from top to bottom.  He’s telling her to get ready for a new way of worship that’s not dependent upon physical locations, nor limited by format or ritual.

2.  JESUS CORRECTS HER MISUNDERSTANDINGS (verse 22)

Before going on to explain what this new way of worship is all about, the Lord Jesus first corrects her misunderstandings about the Jewish faith.  In verse 22 He says to her,  “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  That may sound like a blunt statement but that’s the way truth is – it’s uncompromising.  Salvation is from the Jews – the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to that, but it is for everyone who believes.  Notice that Jesus tells her that her misconception is based on ignorance, not defiance.  She has already been demonstrating her desire to know the truth, so He tells her the truth, plainly and simply.

3.  REAFFIRMATION AND EXPLANATION (verse 23-24)

Obviously, there was no outburst of anger on her part as a result of what Jesus said, and she didn’t walk away because the Lord Jesus continues where He left off, without a word spoken by her in response.  Jesus continues by using the words again, “An hour is coming”.  In verse 23 He says:  “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”  The phrase “is coming and now is” sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it.  I think Jesus is saying that what is about to come is already beginning to happen.  His disciples and a few others are beginning to worship Him as their Messiah, and this is the preview of things to come.  The focus of their worship is now based on a personal relationship with the Messiah rather than the Temple services.  The words of Jesus are being added to the Scriptures, and a whole new relationship to God is being expressed by His words,  Jesus, the God-man, is touching the hearts of people and drawing them to Himself and to the Father in worship that comes from the heart.  This is the kind of worship, and these are the kinds of worshippers that the Father desires and seeks.  Now the Lord Jesus concludes this discussion about worship by giving this woman the reason for His statement and the logical conclusion.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  There is no other way to truly worship God.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri, deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, failed to kneel at the appropriate moment.  His enemies turned to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege.  Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing.”  We can only hope that his accusers felt remorse over their own failure to truly worship God.

I heard a short definition of worship many years ago and have never forgotten it.  “Worship is all that I am, responding to all that He is.”  It’s my whole being (body, mind, emotions, will, and spirit) wholeheartedly responding to all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in His creation.

4.  AN ALTERNATE MEANING (verses 23-24 revisited)

There is a member of the Trinity that has been missing from my study of this passage of Scripture so far, and He deserves much more than just “honorable mention”.  There is another interpretation of the words “spirit and truth” which, in my opinion, agrees with the rest of Scripture, fits the context of this conversation, and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Does that statement arouse your curiosity?  It gets even better!  Have you ever heard of a figure of speech called a hendiadys.  The word literally means “one through two”.  This figure of speech usually occurs when two words connected by the word “and” are capable of being restated so that the one word modifies or is subordinate to the other, and yet the resulting statement is still true and the words still have the same basic meaning.  Have I lost you with that description?  Let me give you a couple of examples.  “This coffee is nice and hot” could be changed to “this is nice hot coffee” and still have the same meaning.  In Mark 11:24 the literal Greek text says “whatever you pray and ask“, but in most English translations it reads:  “whatever you ask in prayer“.  Have those illustrations given you a clearer concept of what a hendiadys is?  I hope so.  Now let’s apply this figure of speech to the words “spirit and truth” in John 4:23-24.  Jesus has told the woman that “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  Let’s apply that figure of speech and see what happens.  If we remove the conjunction “and”, we have “spirit truth”.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  But if we insert the preposition “of” so that the second word modifies and is subordinate to the first word, we get the phrase “spirit of truth”.  That is a phrase that the Lord Jesus often used when referring to the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:16-17, after telling His disciples that He will answer their prayers so that the Father may be glorified, He says, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth . . . He abides with you and will be in you.”  The Lord Jesus says the same thing in John 14:26, and then adds “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  We find the title again in 15:26 where He is again called “the Helper”.  In John 16 Jesus says, “He will guide you into all truth . . . He will glorify Me.”  

The Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us how to pray and provides assistance as we pray.  “He intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Praise is called “rejoicing in the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18f); confession of sins is “under the conviction of the Spirit” (John 16:8).  The apostle Jude tells us to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).  The Scriptures were given by the Holy  Spirit, and our minds are illumined by the Holy Spirit as we study them.  The list goes on.  The Holy Spirit has everything to do with every aspect of worship and ministry.  I encourage you to do a personal study on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

So, whether you and I want to consider the expression “grace and truth” to be a hendiadys or not is really immaterial.  The important thing to realize is that the change in worship that was about to come to pass would occur at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would indwell believers, and would teach them and empower them to worship in spirit and in truth.

VI.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE, AND WHAT PROMPTED IT (verse 25)

Returning to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I believe that when Jesus said, “the hour is coming” (verse 21), and then said “the hour is coming, and now is.” (verse 23), one of the most beloved passages of Scripture for both the Jews and the Samaritans came to her mind.  Hardly a week would have gone by without thinking about and praying for the fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by Isaiah and written down in the Scriptures.  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace.  . . ” (Isaiah 9)   In her joy and expectation, she couldn’t help but express her excitement about that coming day.  John 4:25 says, The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ ”  The Messiah would answer all her questions and correct any misunderstandings.  Her response seems to indicate that she expected the Messiah to be coming soon.  Little did she know how soon her words and her hopes would be fulfilled.

VII.  THE REVELATION (verse 26)

Try to imagine her response when Jesus said these words:  “I who speak to you am He.”  You don’t get the full effect of His words until you understand what the Lord Jesus actually said to her.  The literal translation of the Greek text reads:  “I am is speaking to you.”  He spoke to her in Aramaic, so the Lord Jesus was using the word Yahweh (Jehovah), God’s covenant name.  There was no doubt that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  This was the first time that Jesus used that name in public; the first time that He publicly declared that He was the Messiah.

VIII.  CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In the next passage of Scripture, we will be examining the woman’s response to this good news, as well as a lesson that Jesus teaches His disciples.  There is an illustration that will help bring some lessons from John 4:16-26 home to us today.  Have you ever been kite-flying?  A boy was flying a kite one day, and the kite was so high in the air that it had disappeared into the clouds.  A man came by and asked, “Why are you holding onto that string?”  The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.”  The man looked up and said, “I don’t see it.”  The  boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”  Do you feel a “tug” in your life?  Is conviction of past sins, a lack of peace, purpose and joy in life, and a fear of what happens after death tugging at your heart?  It’s not your imagination nor your present state of mind that’s causing that feeling inside.  The Holy Spirit wants you to worship God in spirit and in truth, and the first act of true worship is to repent of your sins, turn your life over to Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior, and let Him rule in your life.  Then you will be a child of God.  Your act of worship will be accepted in His sight and He will begin to remove those hindrances, bring new joy, peace, and purpose to your life.   Then He will begin to transform you into His image as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, worshipping Him with joy in your heart and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Please go to my “About Page” if you would like to read how this happened in my life and the Scriptures God used to bring me to Himself.

If you are a Christian, do you feel a “tug”?  The Holy Spirit wants you to know that He’s always there with you, even though you can’t see Him.  He wants to keep taking you higher and higher in your fellowship with God and worship of Him.  He’s calling you to come closer; to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him.  Maybe you’ve been allowing other things to occupy your time to the point where He’s being left out or limited to only certain times and places.  He’s tugging because He misses that intimate fellowship with you.  Don’t ignore His “tugs”.  They are given in love.

As a practical application, you may want to consider going and flying a kite yourself.  As you feel the kite tugging on your hand, be reminded of the One who is tugging on your heart.  When you do, let out some more string and let the kite soar even higher!   Then spend some time worshipping our unseen, but ever-present and all-powerful God!

May your life be filled with true worship of God.  May it be the highest priority in your life.  There will always be potential obstacles and hindrances along the way.  May you recognize the obstacles that are presently in your way, and any further obstacles along the way.  May you give up the struggle to try to remove the obstacles yourself, and your efforts to cover them up as if they don’t exist.  Turn those obstacles over to the Divine Contractor for Professional removal and reconstruction.  You can’t miss Him.  He has pre-paid ads all over the B-I-B-L-E.  Tell Him I sent you.

THE WITNESS FROM HEAVEN – John 3:31-36

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Have you ever been a witness in court?  Have you served on the jury of a court case?  Have you ever been asked to give a report about something that you witnessed – something that you saw or heard?  Did you have to answer questions, and were you told to fill out a written report?  Every detail is important, isn’t it?  Whatever the situation, those involved want enough proof to secure a verdict or to validate a situation or verify a person’s identity.  We pay extra postage to get a return receipt, or we pay extra to have a document or package sent by certified or registered mail for our own protection.  We may also want the assurance that it has been delivered to the right person and has been personally signed for and received.  We may also want the recipient to realize the importance of the document we sent, and the need for an immediate response to it.

What is it that makes a person a good witness?  What is required in a court of law?  The first requirement is that the witness must give firsthand information.  The judge isn’t going to accept hearsay evidence.  Secondly, the witness must be willing to testify.  Thirdly, the witness must be reliable.  His witness must be substantial and consistent enough to be believable.  These three requirements are necessary if a person is to be an excellent witness.  John’s point in this passage of Scripture is that the Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect witness concerning God.  This is one of the major themes in John’s Gospel.   Let’s see how this theme unfolds as we examine the witness of Jesus Christ to the world around Him, and to us today.

First, the following words of Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on John’s Gospel, will help prepare us for the study of verses 31-36.  He says,”Bible scholars do not agree as to who is speaking in John 3:31-36, John the apostle or John the Baptist. . . There are no quotation marks in early manuscripts, but since all scripture is inspired, it really makes little difference who said the words”.  Personally, I think they are the words of the apostle John as he ties the previous words of John the Baptist into the theme of his Gospel.  But what is of importance to us is an understanding of what those words in John 3:31-36 mean, and what the Spirit of God wants us to learn from them and apply to our lives.

I.  FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION (verse 31)

When you go to a “second-hand” store, are you expecting to find brand-new items, fresh from the factory?  I hope not.  You may find your visit to be frustrating and a waste of your time.  It’s called “second-hand” because other hands have already made use of it and that person is passing it on for someone else’s use.  We don’t know the whole story about that particular product’s history, nor all the details of its prior use.  In a similar vein, John is about to tell us that everything we know about God is “second-hand”, so to speak.  We receive it from a secondary source:  in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We don’t know every thing He knows about the Father.  We haven’t seen everything He has seen, heard everything He has heard, nor experienced everything He has experienced in His relationship to the Father.

Verse 31 says, “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.”   Notice the repetition of words and phrases in this verse:  “from above , . . above all . . . from heaven . . . above all”, as well as the words “of the earth . . . from the earth  . . . of the earth”.  Heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that the Lord Jesus is from heaven.  He is the God-man, and was sent “from heaven” into this world by God the Father.  The Greek word, anothen, was often used to show a comparison or contrast.  Judaism emphasized the contrast between above and below.  Heaven is God’s sphere and the earth is man’s.  In the New Testament, the contrast is made between a holy God and sinful man.  When John uses those words, “above all” and “from heaven”, he means that only Jesus knows the Father perfectly and intimately because He has existed from all eternity with Him in heaven as a member of the triune God.  Therefore He alone can give first-hand evidence of what God is like.  John 1:18 says, No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  No one can explain what God is like better than Jesus because no other human being is God.

By contrast, everyone else is called “earthly” or “from earth”.  There is more to these words than meets the eye.  John may be making reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in 3:12, where He says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  I think the words “earthly” and “from earth”  may also have the connotation “fallen”, suffering the effects of Adam’s sin.  We were born with a mind, will, and conscience which are tainted by sin, and this limits our capacity to know about and understand heavenly things.  When James refers to human wisdom, he calls it “earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:15).  So our capacity to be a perfect witness of heavenly things is negated by the fact that we are not God, and by the fact that we are earthly and sinful human beings.

II.  WILLING TO TESTIFY (verse 32)

In verse 32, John tells us that the Lord Jesus was willing to testify about God.  No one had to force Him to testify because that was one of the reasons He came to this earth.  It says in verse 32,  “What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness, and no one has received His witness.”  The Greek word oudeis, translated “no one” has the connotation of being “very few”.  At the end of Jesus’ life He had very few followers who had committed themselves to Him as their Lord.  John is reiterating what he said in John 1:11, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him, but . . . “ (there were exceptions),  But that didn’t stop Jesus from being a faithful witness.  He was willing to testify in spite of the response.  The book of Hebrews begins with these words:  “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”  It was part of God’s plan.  The author of Hebrews also gives Jesus’ qualifications as a witness when he says, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”  I’ll say it again, no one is more qualified to testify about God the Father than His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is willing and ready to do so, not only by His words but also by His life.  He has also chosen to bear witness to us today by allowing His words and a description of His life, death, and resurrection to be written down for us in the Scriptures.

III.  A CONSISTENT WITNESS (verses 33-35)

The Lord Jesus also fulfilled the third requirement for a perfect witness.  His witness was consistent.  It was complete, and therefore totally reliable.  Verse 33 says, “He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.”   Various seals were popular in that day.  The Bible refers to a “signet ring” and a seal that was worn around the neck.  The seal was often pressed into a small amount of wax or clay at the bottom of a document to publicly attest to the truth of it, or to enter into a contract.  Verse 33 is saying that when a person understands the testimony that Jesus makes about Himself, and then commits himself to what he has seen and heard by following Jesus, his words and his changed-life bear witness to the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God.  One’s life and words are like a seal for everyone to see.  The life of Jesus has made an indelible impression. So each of us who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is a witness to the truth of God by our words and our lives.

In verse 34, John gives us another reason why Jesus’ words are true when he says, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.”  The giver of the Spirit is God the Father; the receiver of the Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ.  So Jesus is not only our Ambassador, sent to us from God the Father, but He has also been given all power and authority to act in that capacity.  He comes “fully endorsed”.  The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Truth”, and the Lord Jesus has been given a “full measure” of Him by the Father.

Not only that, by verse 35 says, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.”  Not only does the Lord Jesus have all the qualifications of a perfect witness for God to the world, but He has been given all the power to prove it by His actions.  God the Father guarantees the truth and total reliability of Christ’s words.  And all of this was  motivated by love – the love of the Father for His Son and their love for us.

IV.  THE VERDICT (Verse 36)

The testimony has been given and it has been proven to be absolutely true.  Now John gives us the verdict.  We are left with two choices, with eternal consequences which are as different as night and day.  The first consequence:  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  The word “believe” refers to a commitment to the authority and rule of Jesus Christ in your life.  By believing, Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but he is your Lord.  We will begin to taste what heaven is like as He brings joy and peace into our lives.  The Holy Spirit will give us a love for God’s Word and will begin to change our lives as we yield to His control, and we will begin to take on a “family resemblance” as children of God.  And the best is yet to come.  We will spend eternity in heaven enjoying His presence and speaking to God face-to-face, all expenses paid!  It will be so amazing that it is beyond our present imagination.  The apostle Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah when he writes:  “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

Now John puts all of this into stark contrast at the end of verse 36:  “but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  People don’t like to hear about the wrath of God.  Many believe that God is good, loving and forgiving,  They can do what they please and He’ll forgive them and let them into heaven.  There are many who believe that all roads lead to heaven, that all religions basically believe the same things.  That’s not what this passage of Scripture has been saying,  The wrath of God abides on all who will not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.  This isn’t “scare tactics”.  I call it “reality therapy”.  We need to face the facts.

There have been times when a person has spent a lot of time and money to lovingly help another person, only to have the intended recipient become angry, refuse the gift and reject the giver.  Sometimes this is referred to as a “slap in the face”.  It hurts very deeply because it is rude, uncalled for, and saddens the giver.  It deprives both people of the joy they could have experienced, and a deeper bond of friendship that could have developed between them.  The intended recipient is also depriving himself of something he really needs and of someone who really cares.

God presents you and I with a gift at the cost of His own Son’s life.  He poured out His wrath for sin upon His Son and watched Him suffer and die in order to save us from the consequences of our own willful sins.  He broke off His fellowship with His Son until the debt was completely paid.  There was no other way to make this gift possible.  There has never been a greater gift and there has never been a higher price to pay for it.  To ignore or refuse such a gift is a “slap in the face” of God.

Let’s take a closer look at God’s wrath and the reasons for it.  Some people believe that wrath is beneath God’s character; that it suggests a lack of self-control or a bad temper on His part.  But God’s wrath is based upon His holiness and justice.  No one stands under God’s wrath except those who have chosen to do so.  God respects people’s freedom of choice, and gives them what they choose with all its implications and consequences.  Every person who chooses to be his own god; to worship another god, to ignore or rebel against the true God and testimony of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is choosing to face the wrath of God rather than the mercy of God.  Every person who thinks he can earn his way to heaven by his works and is unwilling to recognize his own sinfulness and hopelessness, and seek the only true remedy for his spiritual condition, is placing himself under God’s wrath (Romans 3:20).

An American Indian who was a Christian was once asked the question, “What did Jesus do for you?”  They were outside so he squatted down, gathered some leaves into a pile, and placed a worm that he found under the leaves into the middle of the pile.  Then he lit a match and set the outside edges of the pile on fire.  As the flames closed in on the worm and were about to engulf if, the man quickly picked up  the worm and put it safely on the ground.  Then he looked up and said, “that’s what Jesus did for me.”

We either entrust our lives to Jesus Christ and commit ourselves completely to Him as our only Lord and Savior, or we receive the punishment that our sins deserve in the sight of a holy God.  It is God’s desire, and my desire, that you not ignore or reject the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, but instead commit yourself to Him who died for you and wants you to be with Him forever in heaven.

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God wants us to be impressed  with His hatred of sin, and not regard sin lightly or make excuses for it in our lives.  Let’s also be continually praising Him for what He did for us, and for the love that motivated it, and praying for the salvation of those who have not yet chosen to follow Him.

There are many other completed sermons on this website and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the testimony of the Lord Jesus give you a sense of inner peace and protection as your trust in Him continues to grow stronger.

     

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part III) – John 3:14-18

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               THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SERPENT ON THE POLE

INTRODUCTION:

The conversation with Nicodemus is still underway and the Lord Jesus has much more to say.  In verses  8-13 of chapter 3, Jesus used the illustration of the wind in order to help explain the mystery of being born from above.  We can’t see the wind itself but we can see its effects and its results, and they can be very powerful.  Jesus was reminding Nicodemus of Ezekiel’s prophesies, and the way the Spirit of God was going to work in the lives of His people to change their hearts and fill them with His Spirit.  It was going to be a miraculous event with powerful and amazing results.  As I mentioned in my last message, there was a price to be paid in order for this to happen.  In the next part of their conversation, the Lord Jesus uses a familiar illustration in order to communicate to Nicodemus the means by which one can be born again.

I..THE OLD TESTAMENT EVENT (verse 14a)

Jesus now says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness”.  This was a very familiar event and Nicodemus knew it very well.  Jesus is referring to the book of Numbers, chapter 21, and verses 4-9.  Verses 4 and 5 give us the background leading up to the event:  “Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom, and the people became impatient because of the journey.  And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ “

Complain, complain!  That’s all these people have done since they crossed the Red Sea!  Now they are blaming God and Moses for the food, the water, and the delays.  Their needs have been taken care of, but it seems like there is always something to complain about and someone to blame when the focus of their attention is on themselves.  The Hebrew people are sinning against God by their attitude and actions.  God has been patient with their complaints but now it has gotten out of hand.  It was time for Him to do something about it, and God deals with them in a very unusual way.

Numbers 21:6 describes the punishment that God metes out to the people for their sin.  “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died.”  There are a number of poisonous snakes in that area, and I think it will be helpful to know which variety of snakes is doing the biting.  You’ll understand when I’m through.  Of all the snakes, researchers believe that there is one particular variety that best fits the criteria and sequence of events that are given in verses 6-9.  G.S. Cansdale, in his article in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible entitled SERPENT (FIERY SERPENT), (Vol. 5. pp.356-358), describes the various serpents which live in the wilderness area mentioned in Numbers 21 and cited again in John 3:14, seeking to determine which of them were the “fiery serpents”.  He, and others mentioned in his article, believe that the most-probable candidate is the “carpet or saw-scaled viper”.  It proliferates (has many babies), so much so that many nearby countries have put a bounty on them.  It is the only viper in that area that can move quickly over sand and rock.

It’s venom is hemolytic. affecting the blood by breaking the small blood-vessels, and the victim eventually bleeds to death within about four days.  The victims often start feeling better after two or three days and assume that all is well, when in actuality they are very close to death.  The effects of this venom are irreversible (except by a miracle from God).  The slow-acting venom gave Moses time to cast the bronze serpent and tell everyone what they needed to do to be saved from certain death before it happened.  As you can see from the description, these snakes could well be the ones used by God to punish His people.  

Numbers 21:9 says, “And Moses made the bronze serpent and set it on the standard (as God commanded him), and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”  It was a time of decision.  Moses had made the bronze serpent, and put it on a standard ( a pole with another pole attached horizontally near the top) for the purpose of holding a banner.  In this particular case it was holding the bonze serpent, and it was raised high enough so that everyone could easily see it.  Each person had to decide whether or not he was going to look at the serpent on the standard when bitten.  His life depended on it; it was his only hope.  But, knowing the pride and stubbornness of the people of Israel, there were probably some who thought, “That’s ridiculous!  How is looking at that snake going to make any difference?  I’m feeling better now anyway.  I can take care of myself!”  That decision cost those people their lives. 

II.  THE NEW TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION (verse 14b)

Now the Lord Jesus compares that illustration to Himself and His mission on earth when He says:  “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”.  So the snake on the pole represents Jesus, not Satan.  It was made of bronze, which was often used in the Old Testament to represent judgment.  The pole or standard on which the bronze serpent was affixed represented the cross of Calvary.

The Lord Jesus was telling Nicodemus that, as the serpent in the wilderness provided physical healing from the deadly poison of the snakes, in a similar way He was going to provide spiritual healing and new life to the souls of people who believe in Him.  Jesus said that He would be “lifted up”.  The Greek word translated “lifted up”  (hypsos) means “to exalt”.  How could Jesus be exalted while He is hanging naked, bleeding, and humiliated on the cross?  What glory was there in that horrible situation?  His enemies and His executioners didn’t realize it, but by lifting Him up on the cross to die before their eyes, they were fulfilling prophesies and enabling the Lord Jesus to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus had laid aside His glory to come to this earth and die and pay the price for the sins of the world.  Only then could His resurrection and ascension back to heaven be fulfilled.  As Philippians 2:8-9 says, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on the name which is above every name”.   Being raised up on that cross was the first step of His exaltation, “that He might draw all men to Himself” (John 12:33).

III.  THE PROPER RESPONSE AND THE RESULT (verse 15)

Is the Lord Jesus Christ being exalted in your life?  He can’t be truly exalted in your life if He isn’t present in your life.  Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe shares an insight and then gives a remarkable, true illustration of Christ’s exaltation in a person through His death on the cross.  “The whole world has been bitten by sin, and ‘the wages of sin is death”  (Romans 6:23).  God sent His Son to die, not only for Israel, but for a whole world.  How is a person born from above?  How is he saved from eternal perishing?  By believing on Jesus Christ; by looking to Him in faith.”

On January 6, 1850, a snowstorm almost crippled the city of Colchester, England; and a teenage boy was unable to get to the church he usually attended.  So he made his way to a nearby Primitive Methodist chapel, where an ill-prepared layman was substituting for the absent preacher.  His text was Isaiah 45:22  –  “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”  For many months this teenager had been miserable, and under deep conviction; but though he had been reared in a church (both his father and grandfather were preachers), he did not have the assurance of salvation.

The unprepared substitute minister did not have much to say so he kept repeating the text.  “A man need not go to college in order to look,” he shouted.  “Anyone can look — a child can look!”  About this time, he saw the visitor sitting to one side, and pointing to him and said, “Young man, you look very miserable.  Young man, look to Jesus Christ!”  The young man did look by faith, and that was how the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted.  (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, pp. 296-297)

The people on the hill of Golgotha that day couldn’t help but see Jesus because He was lifted up above them on a cross (Matthew 27:33ff).  For three hours He hung there in the sight of all, suffering and dying.  We know that at least one person looked to Jesus in faith that day – a thief on a cross dying next to Him.  That thief said, “. . . we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong . . . Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
In this thief’s eyes, Jesus was exalted there on that cross.  He recognized that Jesus was a king, and he asked to be a member of His kingdom.  Jesus told him that he now had something wonderful to look forward to.  He also had Someone wonderful to exalt and enjoy forever in the kingdom of heaven.

IV.  THE MOTIVE AND PURPOSE OF GOD (verses 16-18)

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known, and one of the most beloved verses in all the Bible.  Jesus says to Nicodemus, “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.”  By saying those words, Jesus is stretching Nicodemus’ present understanding of the scope of God’s love way beyond it’s limits.  “God loves the world, not just His ‘chosen people’?”  “What did those sinners and idolators do to deserve that?”  The world didn’t deserve God’s love anymore than he did.  God’s love was a gift, and it came wrapped up in the Person of His “only begotten Son”. the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the only hope, the only antidote, the only alternative for sinful mankind.  Otherwise we are all perishing.  II Thessalonians 1:9 gives a good description of the word “perishing”:  “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  It doesn’t get any worse than that!

Years ago, two young parents were faced with a life-or-death decision:  either allow the doctor to give their baby an experimental drug or their baby would be dead by morning because of a 109 degree temperature caused by a sudden ailment.  Of course they gave that permission or I wouldn’t be here today to tell you about it!  When we look at the very best of human love, we can gain a bit of a glimpse of God’s love.  The following is one example of the very best of human love:

In his book, Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion.  The doctor explained that she had the same disease that the boy had recovered from two years earlier.  Her only hope for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease.  Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

“Would you give your blood to Mary?”, the doctor asked.  Johnny hesitated.  His lower lip started to tremble.  Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”  Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room–Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy.  Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.  As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded.  He watched the blood flow through the tube.  With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence.  “Doctor, when do I die?”

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he agreed to donate his blood.  He thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his own life.  In that brief moment, he’d made his great decision.  Johnny, fortunately, didn’t have to die to save his sister.  Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary’s, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life.  (Thomas Lindberg) 

Below is a brief description of the greatness of this verse:  John 3:16

“God”–The greatest Lover.
“So loved”–The greatest degree.
“The world”–The greatest company.
“That He gave”–The greatest act.
“His only begotten Son”–The greatest Gift.
“That whosoever”–The greatest opportunity.
“Believeth”–The greatest simplicity.
“In Him”–The greatest attraction.
“Should not perish”–The greatest promise.
“But”–The greatest difference.
“Have”–the greatest certainty
Everlasting life”–the greatest possession.

How great is our God!  I hope that reading the words to John 3:16 from that perspective will give you a fresh realization and appreciation for what God did for us and why He did it.  You may want to copy those words and place them in a place where you will see them often, as I am going to do.

Martin Luther referred to John 3:16 as “The Miniature Bible” because it contains the essence of the Gospel in “a nutshell”.  During World War II, it was the custom for any household that had given a son in the service to place a star in the window in the middle of a white banner.  A gold star, however, indicated that the son of the house had already given his life’s blood in support of his country’s cause.  Sir Harry Lauder related a touching story in regard to this custom.  He said that one night a man was walking down a certain avenue in New York City accompanied by his five-year-old son.  The little fellow was greatly interested in the brightly lighted windows of the houses and wanted to know why some of the houses had a star in the window.  The father explained that those houses had given a son to the war.  The child would clap his hands as he saw another star in the window and would cry out, “Look, daddy, there’s another family who gave a son for his country!  And look, there’s another!  And another!  And look, there’s one with two stars!”

At last they came to an empty lot, and a break in the row of houses.  Through the gap could be seen the evening star shining brightly in the sky.  The little lad caught his breath, “Oh, daddy”, he cried, “look!  God must have given HIS Son for He has hung a star in the window of heaven!”  (Our Daily Bread, 9/6/1960)

How true are that little boy’s words!  As we look at the brightest star in the sky tonight, may we be reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins; and as we count the other stars in the heavens, may we be reminded of all the believers who are shining for Him, both on earth and in heaven.  There are more than we can count.  I hope you are one of them, shining brightly for Him today and every day (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus has just described to Nicodemus how He was going to die and the reasons for His death.  In three short years, I believe that Nicodemus would be standing at a distance together with the other Pharisees and Leaders, watching Jesus die, and he would be realizing the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to Him.  He could not help but think about the serpent on the pole and put the two events together.

Verses 17 and 18 are sometimes overlooked because of the greatness and popularity of John 3:16.  But these two verses amplify the mystery and the eternal consequences of Christ’s death on the cross.  Verse 17 begins with the words, “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world.”  This is a mystery to me because, logically and realistically, God should have sent His Son into this world to judge us and condemn all of us to hell.  That’s what we all deserve because we’ve all sinned against a holy and perfect God.  But God wasn’t acting logically; He was acting emotionally.  Love is a powerful emotion and God’s love is perfect and unconditional.  That’s why the rest of verse 17 says, “but that the world should be saved through Him”.  Notice the word “should.  God has expressed His desire and provided the way.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, turning our lives over to His control.  There are no “good reasons”.  There are only excuses.  If you haven’t done so, what is your excuse?  You’re making the biggest mistake in your life, you’re passing up the greatest opportunity of your life, and you’re missing the greatest joy in life if you don’t respond to His great love.  The Lord Jesus is not just saying these words to Nicodemus, but to each of us as well.

I personally believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest preacher and teacher who ever lived on this planet.  There is much to learn by studying how He communicated with people.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had never been in a conversation quite like this one before!  Jesus had made some shocking statements to Nicodemus, given illustrations, asked questions, corrected misconceptions, and made comparisons.  In verse 18 the Lord Jesus ends this illustration of the serpent on the pole with another principle of preaching and teaching:  REPETITION.  He says in verse 18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe in Him is judged already. because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Jesus is saying basically the same thing to Nicodemus, but this time His purpose is to establish blame or fault.  The Lord Jesus did not come to this earth to judge, but to save and remove judgment by taking that judgment for sin upon Himself.  Therefore those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are not judged  because it has already been taken care of through His death on the cross.  However, those who refuse to believe, those who reject God’s gift are “judged already” because they have made the call; they have made their choice in view of the consequences, and by so doing they are judging and condemning themselves at that moment.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  To not believe in His name is to not confess Him as Lord.

While Nicodemus is still reeling from the impact of Jesus’ words to him, the Lord Jesus gives one final illustration and exhortation:  the contrast between light and darkness.  We will study that illustration in the next message.  I hope that the words of Jesus so far have given each of us some things to think about and put into practice in our own lives.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  This is a completed construction site.  If you are new to this blog site, my purpose, as I study a passage of Scripture, is to place it on the site a section at a time as I complete it so that you can see the progress and study along with me if you would like to do so.  I call it a work-in-progress.  May God teach us all patience as we learn to accept the events in our lives, and diligence to make the most of our situations by His all-sufficient grace.

 

 

 

THE WEDDING AT CANA – John 2:1-11

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Don’t you love weddings!  They are such joyful occasions!  I’ve heard people say that they didn’t like going to funerals, but I’ve never personally heard anyone say that they didn’t like going to weddings.  There is the beautiful ceremony, the exchange of vows between the bride and groom, and those words:  “I now pronounce you husband and wife . . . You may kiss your bride.”  Then there is the reception afterward:  all the good food and drink, the joyful conversation, the photos taken, and the wonderful memories.

THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

The setting for this passage of Scripture is a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Verses 1 and 2 tell us that “Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited.”  Jesus and His mother must have been friends of the bride and groom. Notice that John uses the term “mother of Jesus“.  He never calls her “Mary” in his Gospel.  In all the Scriptures the place of preeminence is always given to Jesus and not to Mary.

First-century Jewish weddings differed in many ways from our typical American weddings, but the receptions were similar.  The three stages to a first-century Jewish wedding are:  the “betrothal” (for a year – somewhat like an engagement), the “procession” (led by the groom, who goes to her parents’ home and takes her to his parents’ home where the marriage is consummated), and “the feast”.  This passage is talking about the wedding feast.  This feast could go on for several days, a week, or even longer.

What would be one of the worst things that could happen at a marriage feast?  What would cause the most embarrassment for the families of the bride and groom?  What would provoke anger among the guests and cause many of them to leave?  Running out of food and drink, right?  That would destroy the joy of this happy occasion because it would be saying to the guests, “We don’t want you here any longer!”  “Go home!”

II.  JESUS’ CONVERSATION WITH HIS MOTHER (verses 3-5)

Mary may have been helping with the feast because she knew that they were out of wine before the guests realized it.  In verse 3 she said to Jesus, “They have no wine”.    Was Mary expecting her Son to perform a miracle?  I don’t think so.  The apostle John tells us that this was His first miracle (see verse 11); so Jesus did not perform any miracles during His childhood.    Based on her previous experiences with her Son, I think she had a different reason for bringing this need to His attention.  In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, and verses 41-52, Jesus is 12 years old and went with His parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.  Afterward. without their knowledge, He stayed in Jerusalem.  When they searched for Him, “they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”  When His mother expressed their concern, Jesus said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me?  Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”  Jesus did return with them to Nazareth, and “Mary treasured all these things in her heart”.  Verse 52 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom”.  I believe that Mary brought this need to Jesus because she was convinced that He had the wisdom to come up with a solution to this problem.  I don’t think that she was expecting a miracle from Him.  That’s my opinion.  If it is right, Mary witnessed much more than she expected.

His response is, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?  My hour has not yet come.”  This is a very controversial passage of Scripture.  I read it in 20 English versions so far.  Many of the translations and paraphrases seem disrespectful on the part of Jesus, and a few of them are brutal.  This is not the first time that this expression appears in the Scriptures.

After studying verse 4, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that this was a private conversation between Jesus and His mother.  John records it because he was there at the wedding, always stayed close to Jesus, and must have witnessed that conversation.  He wrote it down because this was the first of Jesus’ signs, pointing to His true identity as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31).  Mary did not make a request of Jesus.  She merely presented a need.  His response was respectful and, judging from her reaction, she realized that Jesus was willing to do something about that need.  I believe that Jesus always did the right thing.  Rather than trying to imagine the exact meaning of His words and the tone of His voice when He said them, I am content to treat verse 4 as a private conversation, spoken in Hebrew, and look, rather, at the results of it.  Let’s move on to verse 5 and see what happened.

In verse 5, Mary obviously understands, from His response to her concern, that Jesus is willing to respond to this situation.  So she tells the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Those are Mary’s last words spoken in the Gospel of John.  Her words are good advice for us today, aren’t they?  “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  By saying those words, Mary was stepping back so that the focus would be on Jesus, and so that He could deal with the situation in His own way. 

III.  THE MIRACLE ITSELF (verses 6-10)

I agree with Warren Wiersbe when he says that this is a “quiet miracle”.  Mary, His disciples, and the servants may have been the only ones who witnessed this event and realized that Jesus performed a miracle.  It’s quite a contrast to the last miracle of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel:  “And He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth’.  He who died came forth . . . “.  Let’s take a look at this miracle here in John chapter 2.  It raises some questions and teaches some lessons.  Verse 6 says, “Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.”   There is a reason for John’s detailed description of the waterpots.  These pots were part of a religious tradition.  The Mishnah was a collection of the traditions of the elders passed on from generation to generation and then put into written form in six large volumes.  The largest volume was devoted entirely to the subject of ceremonial washing of hands and vessels for eating, not to remove dirt but to make them “ceremonially clean”.  They had to perform these washings before and after every meal.  The Scriptures did not require this practice.  Only the priests were to cleanse themselves (Leviticus 22) before offering a sacrifice or eating consecrated food, and only if they had come in contact with a leper or an unclean animal or person.  So the Jewish traditions had expanded God’s Law way out of proportion, and they insisted upon their observance very rigidly.  A Rabbi named Rabbi Akiba, who was imprisoned by the Romans and given scarcely enough water to sustain life, preferred to use all that water for his ceremonial washings and to die of thirst.  This may seem like a long side-track but you will see how it fits into this passage of Scripture soon.

In verse 7, “Jesus said to them (the servants), ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’  And they filled them up to the brim.”  Those six waterpots now contained a total of 120 to 180 gallons of water; maybe even more since they were now filled to the brim.  That’s a lot of water!  If you drank a gallon of water a day (and most of us drink about half that much in a day),  the water in those pots would last you from four to six months, or even longer!  Jesus had a reason for telling the servants to fill those pots to the brim.  He wanted there to be no doubt that there was “only” water in those pots, and that there was no room to add wine to them.  There was no way that those servants, or any people nearby, could come to the conclusion that this was a trick, or that wine had been added to the water.

When those servants completed their task and had returned to Jesus, He said to them in verse 8:  “Draw some out now, and take it to the headwaiter.”  The Scripture says, “and they took it to him”.  They obeyed Jesus’ request, but can you imagine what they must have been thinking to themselves and saying to one another as they were taking this “water” to the headwaiter for him to sample.  “Is he going to be angry with us and make fun of us for bringing him water to taste?”  That brings up my first question:  When did the water become wine?  John does not record that Jesus touched the water, or spoke words such as “become wine”, and he doesn’t record any “waving of the hand” by Jesus to indicate the moment of transformation.  When do you think it happened?  We don’t know for sure, but I’ve changed my personal opinion as a result of my study of this passage.  I now believe that it didn’t become wine immediately after they filled the pots.  It didn’t become wine when the servants drew the water, nor as they were on their way to the headwaiter.  I personally believe it became wine an instant before the headwaiter tasted it.  I have reasons for this personal belief.  For one thing, I don’t think there was a smell of wine after the vessels were filled.  I think that six vessels holding a total of 180 gallons of wine would have given off quite an aroma (or “bouquet”).  I also don’t think it was wine when the servants were carrying it to the headwaiter.  If I were one of those servants, I would try to hold the ladle or cup up near my nose to smell it, and also look at it to see if there was a change in color.  If I could get away with it, I might even take a sip, and that’s a no-no!  So the suspense must have been unbearable as they watched the headwaiter bring it to his lips, take a swallow or two and call out to the bridegroom, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  But you have kept the good wine until now!”  So I personally think that the water from the waterpot didn’t become wine until just before the headwaiter tasted it.  Verse 9 says that the headwaiter did not know where it came from, so he was able to be impartial in his response. His proclamation to the bridegroom indicates that Jesus not only turned water into wine, but into aged wine; performing in an instant what would normally have taken many years to happen naturally.

Second question:  How much of all those waterpots full of water actually became wine?  We don’t know that for sure either, but I have my recently-formed opinion on that question also.  I don’t personally believe that any of the water in any of those pots became wine until it was drawn out for use.  Whatever was not drawn out for use remained water.  That may sound ridiculous, but based upon Warren Wiersbe’s comment that this was a “quiet miracle”, if Jesus performed the miracle in this way, the only people who would have known that this was truly a miracle would have been His mother, His disciples, and the servants.  The headwaiter and even the bride and groom may not have known that a miracle was performed by Jesus.  If His miracle had been performed in this manner, there would be no traces of a miracle left behind – no stone waterpots still full of wine, and no empty waterpots having the smell of wine.  Maybe this was part of the intent of Jesus’ words to Mary in verse 4 – “My hour has not yet come.”  It wasn’t the time yet for some people to be proclaiming that He is the Messiah while others are seeking ways to kill Him.

Does this theory still seem farfetched?  You may want to read chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  The five barley loaves and two dried fish were being multiplied as Jesus was breaking them up and putting them into baskets for the disciples to distribute.  Once again, the miracle itself was not visible to anyone except His disciples.  Only the results were visible to others.  Amazing, isn’t it?  I think it makes the miracle even more amazing if it was truly performed by Jesus in this way.

IV.  RESULTS AND CONCLUSION (verses 11-12)

Verse 16 says, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”  It appears that the Lord Jesus’ primary audience for this miracle was His disciples, who were with Him and watched the whole event up-close.  The intended, and actual result was that they saw a manifestation of His glory and “believed in Him”.

You may be wondering when I’m going to keep my promise and return to the topic of purification:  the ceremonial washing of the hands and vessels for eating – the reason those large waterpots happened to be there.  Is there more to be learned from this miracle of Jesus?  Let’s find out.  Psalm 104:14-15 speaks of God’s goodness and generosity to mankind.  It says, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth.  And wine which makes man’s heart glad . . . ”  Wine represents joy, celebration, and festivity.  That’s why it was so important to the wedding feast.  But there was no true joy in Palestine at that time.  The daily ceremonial washings and other rituals made life tasteless for the people.  It took their focus away from their personal relationship with God.  Have there been times when going to church and attending Bible studies has been little more than a ritual for you?  Have there been times when it seemed that there was nothing to be joyful about?  We’ve all experienced those moments, haven’t we?  If we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we have every reason for joy.  What we need is a fresh realization of the glory of God.  Psalm 16:11 says, “In His presence is fullness of joy . . . “.  He is always present with us, and in us if we are His children, and He always desires to have fellowship with us.  When unconfessed sin, or circumstances, people, things, or worry rob us of joy, let’s pray David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10-12 and allow the Lord to put our lives back into proper focus:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, . . . Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” 

Amos 9:12-15 and Joel 3:18 tell us that an abundance of wine is also a symbol of the presence of the Messiah.  That was certainly true of Jesus’ first public appearance!  “The mountains will drip with sweet wine”.  Let’s remind ourselves of His coming, why He came, what He did for us and what He is continuing to do for us as our High Priest.  Let’s also remind ourselves that the greatest wedding and wedding feast is soon to come.  Revelation 19:7.9 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”  Participation in this marriage and marriage feast in heaven is by invitation only, and the joy of this event will last forever.  Is your name on the invitation list (The Lamb’s Book of Life)?  If not, become a child of God through a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today (John 1:11-13).

I’d like to see you there, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  That is my prayer.  “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.  Amen.”  (Revelation 22:21)


 

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting this construction site.  I hope you will come back to view some of the other sermons on this site.  May the joy of the Lord be your strength today.

OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS GENTLE James 3:17 (continued)

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Are you a “gentle” person?  In our culture and society, that is not a word that is often used to describe people, is it?  The adjective “gentle” is often used in the following phrases:  a gentle breeze, a gentle rain, a gentle animal, a gentle push, a gentle voice, a gentle massage, a gentle grip, a gentle detergent, a gentle reminder, gentle to the skin.  Most of the time we use the word to refer to things rather than people.

I searched the internet for pictures that described or captured the meaning of the word “gentle” and found some precious pictures.  There was the picture of a newborn baby’s tiny hand grasping the thumb of its mother.  There was the picture of a young child hugging a horse’s face.  There were pictures of powerful and ferocious animals playing with their young.

The Greek word translated “gentle” is the word epieikes, and it is a different word from the one translated “gentle” in James 3:13.  The term was often used in the ancient world to describe a fine aged wine.  It was not harsh or bitter, but mellow, fragrant, and very pleasing to the taste buds.  The apostle James uses this word here in verse 17 as part of his description of wisdom from above.  In contrast to the harsh, critical, strict, and self-centered wisdom of the world, this wisdom was kind, willing to yield, thoughtful, considerate and patient with others.  The words “chill out” and “mellow out” are ofen said to people who are easily irritated and often judgmental of others.  You would never have a reason to say these words to a gentle person.

The following definition is so true, and always brings a smile to my face:  “Gentleness is the oil that reduces the friction in life”.  Warren Wiersbe said:  “A gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace.”   Carl Sandburg described Abraham Lincoln as a man of “velvet steel”. That’s a good description of gentleness!  In II Corinthians 10:1 the apostle Paul says, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of gentleness.

In the “One Year Book of Hymns” I found the following story:

The story is told of a little girl named Becca who lived in an institution for troubled children.  She had never spoken, and her behavior was quite violent. She terrorized the other children, hitting them and stomping on their toys.

This was in the 1800’s when treatment for emotional problems was still quite primitive. But there was a nurse who showed love to this little girl.  And slowly Becca calmed down.  She began to show affection for the nurse, and she would even sit quietly with the other children as they learned to sing.  Still, she wouldn’t speak.  One summer evening, the nurse put Becca to bed early.  The sun had just gone down, and some birds were singing outside.  Then the nurse heard another voice along with the birds. It was Becca.  Alone in her room she was singing a song she had heard the other children sing:  “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity; suffer me to come to Thee.”

Let me ask the question again:  Are you a gentle person?

Charles Wesley wrote that hymn, and the last stanza goes like this:

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,

In Thy gracious hands I am;

Make me, Savior what Thou art,

Live Thyself within my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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Here in verse 14 of James, chapter 3, James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition . . . “.  Pay close attention to the first four words:  “But if you have”.  James isn’t saying that it’s a possibility.  He’s implying that it is a reality.  James has observed this attitude among believers and he is telling them not to glory in it.

Notice three more words in this verse that need to be kept in mind.  Those three words are:  “in your heart”.  That’s where it begins, isn’t it?  And that’s where it needs to be dealt with.

James is accusing them of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”.  The word “jealousy” is not necessarily a bad word.  We get our English word “zeal” from the Greek word “zelon” that’s used in this verse.  That same word was used of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple of the corruption that was going on inside.  It’s a question of motives.  Jesus’ motive was to glorify the Father.  The jealousy that James is referring to is a “bitter jealousy”.  The word “bitter” is the Greek word “pikron”  which means “sharp”, “piercing”.  The sound of the Greek word, “pikron” brings to my mind the image of an ice pick.  The jealous person is pictured as jabbing his rival with it and enjoying the pain and agony that he is inflicting.

Such a jealous person is excessively concerned about himself and resents the good fortune of others.  We all have problems with envy at times, don’t we?  Even if it’s not obvious on the outside, it’s happening on the inside.  We may even envy the success of others when we are successful ourselves.

There’s a legend about a successful Burmese potter who had become envious of the prosperity of a washerman (a laundryman or cleaner).  Determined to put this man out of business, the potter convinced the king to issue an order requiring the man to wash one of the king’s black elephants and make it white.

The washerman replied that according to the rules of his vocation he would need a vessel large enough to hold the elephant, whereupon the king commanded the potter to provide one.  So the potter constructed a giant bowl and had it carefully delivered to the washerman.  But when the elephant stepped into it, it crumbled to pieces beneath the weight of the enormous beast.

More vessels were made, but each was crushed in the same way.  Eventually it was the potter who was put out of business by the very scheme he had devised to ruin the man he envied.

This is a very abbreviated version of the story.  There are many versions of the full story.  My favorite is the one written by Pam Hopper and illustrated by Allan Eitzen. Type “The Potter and the Washerman” into your web browzer and you will see it.  It is a very amusing story with a good moral lesson to it.  You can even find it acted out on UTube.  Enjoy!

So “bitter jealousy” is an excessive concern for oneself, and a resentment for the good fortune of another.  Bible expositor and theologian, William Barclay, had this to say about “bitter jealousy” or envy:  “As long as we think of our own prestige, our own importance, our own reputation, and our own rights, we will always be envious.”

James also accused his readers of “selfish ambition”.  The Greek word is actually a political term.  It can also be translated “party spirit”, “rivalry”, or “faction”.  It was used to refer to rival schools of thought in the political arena who were heaping abuse on each other.  You’ve probably heard the term “mud slinging” used to refer to these kinds of tactics.  We are getting very close to an election year here in America, and potential candidates are already canvassing for votes.  Have you received any such mail lately?  You will very soon!

James’ admonition to those with jealousy and selfish ambition is to “stop being arrogant and so lie against the truth”.  Verse 14 is a sequence of events.  Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary of James, calls it a “chain of events”.  He says:  “First there is selfish ambition, which leads to a party spirit and rivalry.  In order to ‘win the election’ we must resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves lies.”

If you should find yourself at the first “link” of envy, or you’re aleady adding links to it, stop now, confess your sin to God and ask for His wisdom and strength before you get wrapped up in those chains and drag others down along with you!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  A WORK IN PROGRESS!

Please come back and visit again soon.  I don’t want to be the only one having fun!  There is much more to learn!  You are welcome to visit the other sermons on this site.  Thank you for visiting!  I would enjoy hearing from you.