SHOW AND TELL – John 6:22-35

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INTRODUCTION:

I can remember, when I was in kindergarten and first grade, the teacher would tell us that we would be having “Show And Tell” time on the following day.  Each of us children was asked to bring an interesting and unusual object to class, and then we would each take turns showing our object to the rest of the children and telling them something about it.  Our parents were allowed to help us with our choice of what to bring to school the next day.  Does that bring back memories?  That expression, “Show And Tell”, originated in the 1940’s and is one of the learning exercises still being used in early-childhood education.  It is often used by adults also as a means of getting to know one another and as a form of instruction and entertainment. It can also engage more than one of our senses, such as sight, sound, touch, and smell.

You may be wondering how this teaching method or game relates to the passage of Scripture we are now studying:  John 6:22-35.  If we look back at the previous day in Jesus’ life, He showed them that He was the Son of God by breaking the five barley cakes and two dried fish and feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children.  He also showed them how much was left over by having His disciples gather up the fragments.  There were twelve baskets filled with those leftovers.  Sadly, neither the crowd nor His disciples came to the understanding that Jesus was the Son of God as the result of that miracle He just showed them.

After the meal, Jesus showed two more signs to His disciples only.  The first sign or miracle was the sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee, and the second was Jesus Himself walking on the water toward them in the midst of the storm.  The Lord Jesus showed them a life-threatening situation and they did not call upon Him to save them. He then showed them Himself walking on top of the water and they refused to believe it, thinking they were seeing a ghost.  They thought their eyes were deceiving them and they were hallucinating.  They weren’t convinced by what He showed them, but they did become convinced when He spoke to them.  Why?  Because, in John 6:20, Jesus said to them, “I AM, do not be afraid”.  He used God’s covenant name which He gave to Moses to tell to the people of Israel.  Matthew 14:33 says, “and those who were in the boat worshipped Him saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son.’ ”  They finally “put two and two together”, so to speak.  Jesus was claiming to be the God who parted the Red Sea, fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with manna for 40 years, and stopped the Jordan River from flowing.  It required both “show and tell” to convince the disciples that Jesus was the Son of God.  The story isn’t over yet.  There are many others who were “shown” but also have to be “told”.

I.  THE BACKGROUND (verses 22-25)

Verse 22 begins with a search for the missing Jesus.  The last time the crowd saw Jesus was the night before when Jesus told His disciples to get into a boat, and He sent them on their way across the Sea of Galilee.  Then He told the crowd to go home, and I’m sure many of them saw Jesus heading for the hills.  Many of those same people came back the next morning, and verse 22 describes the scene and what they were doing.  “The next day the multitude that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone.”

I wonder whether these people came early that morning in the hope that Jesus might treat them to a free breakfast!  There were probably still many among them who wanted to make Jesus their King.  They weren’t able to find Jesus, and when they looked across the lake they saw only one boat docked there, and that was the boat the disciples used the day before.  They already knew that Jesus didn’t go in the boat with them, and now they know that Jesus didn’t cross the lake in another boat.  Where could He be?  He wouldn’t have walked all the way around the lake in the middle of the night, would He?

Verse 23 says that “other boats came from Tiberias.”.  Those boats must have been blown across the lake by the storm the night before.  Having become convinced that Jesus was not on their side of the lake, verse 24 says that they “got into the boats and went to Capernaum.”  The city of Capernaum was the place where Jesus normally resided when He was in the district of Galilee. It’s beginning to sound like a variation of “Hide and Seek” but, instead of one person seeking all the rest of the people, all the rest of the people are seeking one person!

Verse 23 tells us that the crowd found whom they were looking for.  It reads, “And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’ ”  They must have been very surprised, amazed and confused.  Their question seems strange to me.  I would have expected them to say “Rabbi, how did you get here”, not “when did you get here.”  It makes me wonder whether they concluded that Jesus must have walked around the Sea of Galilee, and were wondering how He could have done it so quickly during the night.   If you do the math, the circumference of the Sea of Galilee is 33 miles around the shoreline.  Let’s say that the distance from the place where Jesus fed the 5000 to Capernaum on the other side was 16-18 miles.  That’s a long way to walk along the sand of the sea shore wearing a long robe and sandals in the dark of night and heading into the wind!  Now I understand why they asked “when” instead of “how”.  Walking that far in such a short time under those conditions must have seemed like a miracle to them.  Little did they know just how amazing a miracle it actually was.  Jesus took the “short-cut” across the lake on foot!

II.  THEIR MOTIVES QUESTIONED AND CORRECTED (verses 26-27)

Rather than answering their question, the Lord Jesus responds by questioning and correcting their wrong motives.  In verse 26, He says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.”  Jesus is telling them that their interest in Him is merely selfish.  They considered Him to be some kind of a magician who could meet their physical needs.  Many of them wanted to make Jesus their king so that their need for food would be taken care of and they wouldn’t have to work any longer.  Their motive was:  “What’s in it for me”.  They missed the meaning of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and now Jesus has to explain it to them.  It’s “Show and Tell” all over again!

In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you.”  Those words should have brought the words of the prophet Isaiah to their minds.  Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy.”  God has given mankind a hunger for things that this world cannot satisfy.  Jesus is telling them about two kinds of food:  food for the body and food for the soul or spirit.  He’s telling them that He is the only One who can satisfy their deepest needs, the hunger of their souls.  He’s also implying that we need to work to provide for our physical needs.  In the context of that particular situation, Jesus may have been using the word “work” to describe how they wearied themselves by walking around the lake to find Him in order to get more free food.  But only God can provide lasting satisfaction.    Physical food “perishes” in two senses.  If it is not eaten, it become stale, rotten, or ,moldy.  But if it is eaten, it perishes in the sense that the body uses it up and in a few hours we are hungry again.  We need more food to replenish what has been digested and its nutrients are now gone.  Have you ever considered how much of your time is spent eating?  If you are a typical person who lives an average lifetime, you will probably spend about 35,000 hours of your lifetime eating.  That’s eight years of eating non-stop for 12 hours each day.  That’s a lot of eating and that’s a lot of food!  If we have to spend that much time satisfying our physical hunger for food, how much more time should we be spending in the satisfaction of our spiritual hunger for God!

The wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon, who may also have been the wealthiest man in the Old Testament, wrote a book of the Bible entitled “Ecclesiastes”. In this book, Solomon describes his search for happiness and fulfillment.  He went down many dead-end streets, pursuing wisdom, pleasure, riches and work, and found that they were all vanity, “striving after wind”.  These things did not fill the emptiness in his soul.  His conclusion:  “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person”  (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Only the worship of God, and the living of one’s life to please Him, brings lasting satisfaction.

Jesus is teaching the crowd a similar lesson here in verse 27.   He’s telling them that there is something more to life than working for physical food.  He encourages them to work “for the food that endures to eternal life.”  Then Jesus tells them the source of that eternal life, and by Whose authority He can make such a statement.  He says, “which the Son of Man will give you”. Notice that Jesus is talking about the future in this case.  The eternal life can’t be given to them until Jesus pays the price for their sins by dying on the cross and then rising victorious from the grave.  It is also conditioned upon their willingness to believe in Him and entrust their lives to Him as their Lord.  “For on Him the Father, even God, has set his seal.”  Jesus is stating His credentials.   The Father set His seal of approval on His Son at Jesus’ baptism and His seal of authority through the miracles that Jesus performed.  A seal was used in those days for many different reasons.  It witnessed the truth of a document or person. It could also be used, among other things,  to show ownership, authority, approval, or as a guarantee of quality,  Since Jesus’ discussion with the crowd is about food, I read that some bakers during that period of time would put a seal or impression on their bread as they baked it in order to let people know where the bread came from, and also as a guarantee of its quality.

So Jesus has told them that both their intentions and their motives are wrong as they follow Him around seeking free food to fill their stomachs.  They should be seeking the spiritual food which lasts for eternity, and which He alone can provide.  What follows is a time of questions on their part and answers on His part.

III.  QUESTION AND ANSWER TIME (verses 28-33)

In verse 28 the crowd asks their first question: “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  What did they mean when they said those words?  I think they were saying, “Give us a list of the things God wants us to do so that we can perform them.”  In their minds, “works” meant obeying the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets.   So they were asking, “Which particular ones did He have in mind; which ones merit eternal life after they are accomplished?”  They didn’t understand what Jesus just said to them.  Their minds focused on the word “work” and their attention became glued to that word.  Bible expositor Alfred Barnes makes this comment:  “The idea of doing something to merit salvation is one of the last that the sinner ever surrenders.”  Here’s an illustration that exemplifies that comment made by Barnes.

A young man in the military, who was concerned about his eternal destiny, had been encouraged to receive Christ and stop trying to save himself.  He felt, however, that he must show his “good intentions and sincerity” by first cleaning up his life.  His superior officer had often tried to make it clear to him that salvation comes to him who “does not work but believes”, but the young man couldn’t seem to grasp this truth.  One day, when he had been busy doing some work which left him covered with dirt and grease, he received a call to see his commanding officer.  He didn’t like to go in his grimy condition, but having been told to leave immediately, he went without delay.  When he arrived, the one who had sent for him said, “Sewell, I am very glad to see that you know how to obey orders.  Now that’s the way I’ve been telling you that you must respond to the Gospel call.  Come to the Lord Jesus Christ just as you are.”  Those words went right to his heart, and then and there he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

In verse 29, Jesus responds to their question by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  Notice that Jesus uses the word “work”, not “works” (plural).  He’s the one who is going to do the work to provide eternal life, not them.  It’s going to be His gift to them through His atoning “work” on the cross, not as a result of their “works” to please God.

Obviously, the crowd was not satisfied with Jesus’ answer to their question, so they ask Him two more questions in verse 30.  They ask, “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see and believe you?  What work do you perform?  The miracle of the loaves and fish should have been proof enough that He was the Messiah.  But they wanted more proof; they’re always wanting more proof, more miracles.  The next verse reveals the real reason for those questions.  They continue by saying,  “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’ “   They are referring to a comparable miracle in the life of Moses.  I think they are saying, “Moses feed the Hebrew people in the wilderness with manna for 40 years.  If you are greater than Moses, why don’t you prove it by feeding all of us for 40 years?  Then we’ll believe you.”

In verses 32 and 33, Jesus corrects their beliefs.  When they say “HE”, they mean Moses, but that’s not who that Scripture passage is referring to.  They are correctly quoting the words written in Psalm 78, verse 24, but they are incorrectly applying that statement to Moses.  The psalmist is referring to the works of God in that psalm.  Moses’ name isn’t even mentioned, nor is he referred to indirectly, in the seventy-two verses of Psalm 78.  It’s not obvious from their question that they are referring to Moses.  So how do I know they are?  I know so because Jesus knows it, and He communicates that fact to them in verse 32 when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.”

The Jews of that day highly esteemed Moses, sometimes even more highly than God!  They attributed all the plagues on the Egyptians, as well as the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the manna, the quail, and every other supernatural event to Moses instead of God.  They also believed that the manna ceased when Moses died.  But Joshua 5:12 states that the manna continued after they entered the land of Canaan and didn’t cease until the day after they celebrated the feast of the Passover, when they ate some of the produce of the land.  That was over two months after Moses’ death!  Their beliefs point to a tendency throughout history for people to glorify the person God uses rather than God, who empowers and uses that person.  Moses would have been enraged at their exaltation of him rather than God.

Jesus goes on to make a distinction between the manna (the bread which fell from the sky), and the “true” bread from heaven.  He says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”  The Greek word used here is katabainon”, which means “to descend” rather than “to fall”.   He’s implying that the true bread from heaven descended to become a part of humanity.  He’s also saying that this bread is not only for the Jews, as was the manna, but this bread is for the whole world as well.

What’s the reaction of His audience?  They still have their minds on physical food, and “forever food” sounds even better than forty years of manna.  Their response? “Lord, evermore give us this bread.” (verse 33)  Does that response sound familiar?  When Jesus told the woman at the well about “living water” that would quench her thirst forever, she said, “Sir, give me this water”.

IV.  THE REVELATION (verse 35)

Jesus reveals Himself to them in verse 35 when He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is telling them that only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.  Without Him we are spiritually starving. As you well know, you can make bread, smell it and touch it, but unless you eat it, the bread isn’t going to do your physical body any good.  This fact is also true spiritually.  Unless Jesus Christ is in your life, and has become a vital part of your life, you are dying of starvation spiritually and eternally.  It’s time to repent of your sins and invite Him to be your personal Lord and Savior.  He is the One who will satisfy your spiritual hunger and thirst now and forever.

If you have already made that commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and are feasting on His Word, be sure to share the wealth with others.  We can’t make people eat, but by allowing Christ to rule in our lives, we can provide an environment where others around us become hungry for the spiritual satisfaction we have in Christ.  For several years I worked across the street from a large bakery.  When they were baking bread, the smell of it would fill the air.  At break time, many of us would go outside to enjoy the smell of it.  In our minds we were imagining eating it because the smell made us hungry for it.  If the employees at the bakery would have invited us to come and have some to eat, we would have eaten as much as they would give us.

Can we honestly say what the psalmist said in Psalm 73:25-26?  These are his words:  “There is none upon earth that I desire but Thee.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

It is told of Sadhu Sundar Singh that many years ago he was distributing Gospels in the central province of India and he came to some non-Christians on a railway train and offered a man a copy of John’s Gospel.  The man took it, tore it in pieces in anger, and threw the pieces out the window.  That seemed the end, but it so happened, in the Providence of God. there was a man anxiously seeking for truth walking along the line that very day, and he picked up, as he walked along, a little bit of paper and looked at it, and the words on it in his own language were “the Bread of Life.”  He did not know what it meant; but he inquired among his friends and one of them said, “I can tell you; it is out of the Christian book.  You must not read it or you will be defiled.”  The man thought for a moment and then said, “I want to read the book that contains that beautiful phrase; and he bought a copy of the New Testament.  He was shown where the sentence occurred – our Lord’s words, “I am the Bread of Life”; and as he studied the gospel, the light flooded into his heart.  He came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and he became a preacher of the gospel in the central province of India.  That little bit of paper, through God’s Spirit, was indeed the Bread of Life to him, satisfying his deepest need. (shared by John A. Patten)

The Bread of Life satisfies and nourishes those who are hungry for it.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Welcome to this completed sermon on John 6:22-35.  If you would like to study along with me but don’t feel like you have the “tools for the trade”, check online.  Type “Gospel of John”, or “Bible study resources” and you will find hundreds of sites.  I probably use preceptaustin the most because of the number of Greek helps  and because I like the way it is organized, but I also use many other sites, too many to list here.  You’ve got all the tools you need online!  Hope to see you at he next construction site  There is much work to be done and you will find it to be an enjoyable experience.  It’s like digging for gold and precious stones!

P.S.  If you’ve never been to the blogsite, godinterest, you may find it to be an enriching and enjoyable experience also.  There are about two hundred articles written by Christians, and it’s been my privilege to have seven of my articles published on that site.  If you go to that site, I would be interested in knowing what you think of it.

 

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.

 

 

 

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS, PART II – John 3:8-13

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THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE WIND

Has the wind ever caught your attention?  Was it the sound of it, the suddenness of it, the power of it, the things being carried along by it, the refreshment it gave, or some other aspect that caused you to observe it’s workings and be fascinated by it?  Were there times when it caused fear and apprehension because of its power and unpredictability.  I have personally experienced a tornado and a typhoon.  The memories of those two experiences are still fresh in my mind, and come back into focus whenever the wind gives me another reminder.  In that little town in Iowa, no one could deny, the next morning, that there was a tornado in their town the night before.  It took weeks to clean up the mess and months to repair the damages.  On the island of Okinawa, Japan, no one could deny that a typhoon had struck the island.  We heard the winds, saw the water from the ocean coming across the island, and witnessed the damage that occurred in its wake.  Both experiences left unforgettable reminders on the landscape and in our minds.

The wind has often been the subject for poets, songwriters, movie producers, and photographers.  The wind has been used to express feelings of exhilaration (“the wind in my sails”, “the wind at my back”), of frustration and hopelessness (“try and catch the wind’), of sudden and irreversible loss (“gone with the wind”), or the experience of being drunk and out-of-control (“three sheets to the wind”).  In each case the wind is depicted as something that is outside our control and can have an effect upon us.

TRANSITION:

The Lord Jesus has been having a discussion with Nicodemus on the subject of being “born again” or “born from above”.  Nicodemus is not getting the picture, and it is not an easy concept to grasp.  So Jesus is about to give him an illustration that will use physical realities to help explain spiritual realities.  That’s where we left off in the previous sermon (John 3:1-7).  The Lord Jesus said to him in verse 7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.” 

I.  THE ILLUSTRATION (verse 8)

The Lord Jesus and Nicodemus may have been sitting in the courtyard talking, and an evening breeze may have been blowing.  This would make the illustration not only appropriate but timely.  Jesus says to him in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  He’s telling Nicodemus that being born again, “born of the Spirit”, is much like the wind.  One cannot control it.  Like the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, it is invisible but powerful.  You can’t see it taking place but you can see and feel the effects and results.  The Greek word that the apostle John uses for both “wind” and “Spirit” is the word pneuma.  They are the same word and they work in the same way.  But Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus in Hebrew (Aramaic), and the word He used was ruach, which also means both wind and Spirit.  So there is nothing lost in translation!

II.  THE REPLY (verse 9)

In reply to Jesus, Nicodemus says in verse 9, “How can these things be?”  He’s giving Jesus an abbreviated version of what he said before.  This time I think that Nicodemus is getting the message but he doesn’t want to put the pieces together.  Because of Jesus’ response to follow, I think that Old Testament Scriptures dealing with this subject are popping into the mind of Nicodemus and he’s trying to set them aside rather than deal with them.  Just as he is unwilling to admit that Jesus is the Messiah, addressing Him as a “Teacher from God”, so also he is not willing to consider those verses in his mind as being addressed to him personally and conclude that the Messiah is the One who is speaking to him right now.  What are those verses that have come to his mind?  For one,  Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “You do not know the path of the wind , , , so you don’t know the activity of God who makes all things.”  It’s almost as if Jesus was quoting from this passage of Scripture – the words of Jesus and Solomon are so closely-related.  Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  David expresses his need to become a new person with a new heart and spirit from God.

The words of the prophet Ezekiel should have immediately come to the mind of Nicodemus.  God tells Ezekiel in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them”.  By using the word “them”, God is addressing, not only the nation of Israel, but also the individual members of that nation.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 is probably the clearest Old Testament reference of them all.  It says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”   This prophesy points out that before there can be a change on the outside, there must first be a new heart and spirit given by God to each person, and immediately the Spirit of God will indwell and empower His people.

When you’ve heard or seen something amazing or startling, have you ever used the phrase, “That really blew me away”?  The Free Dictionary defines the phrase in these words:  “to affect someone intensely in mind and emotion.”  When I’ve used the phrase, it was my way of expressing a joyful amazement, a happy surprise and excitement about a new revelation.  Why wasn’t Nicodemus “blown away” as a result of the things he just learned?  Why isn’t he showing appreciation and asking questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and His teachings?

III.  JESUS’ REACTION AND RESPONSE (verses 10-13)

In response to the “ignorance” of Nicodemus, Jesus chides him with these words:  “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?”  Every teacher, every Jew was familiar with the words of Ezekiel 37:  The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.  Every Jew was looking forward to the fulfillment of that prophesy.  The wind, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, rebirth, the breath of God, and the kingdom of God are all included in this passage of Scripture.  “Ignorance was no excuse” for Nicodemus.  To rephrase His words, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, how can you not know these things?  There is no excuse!”

In verse 11, Jesus says “truly, truly, I say to you.”  The King James version uses the original Greek words:  “Amen, amen”.  That’s what it says in the Greek text.  He uses those words 25 times in John’s Gospel.  When we say an oath in court, we say “I swear to God” or “as God is my witness”.  By saying the words “Truly, truly, I say to you”, Jesus is swearing to them on His own authority.  Only Jesus could use those words to attest to the truth of what He was saying.  He didn’t have to swear to anyone higher than Himself because there was no one higher than Himself.  Therefore, every time He used those words, He was declaring Himself to be God.  The apostle John doesn’t tell us any reaction from Nicodemus when Jesus said those words.

I don’t mean to come down harshly on Nicodemus for his answers.  I think he wants to know the truth, but he’s trying to get an explanation for things that can’t be understood completely.  That’s why Jesus is using illustrations to give him a basis for comparison.  If Nicodemus did not want to know the truth, he would have left in anger after Jesus’s first statement.  The fact that Jesus is continuing to give illustrations says to me that He wants to continue to expose Nicodemus to truth for as long as he is willing to listen.  The Holy Spirit will bring clarity and conviction in His time.

After swearing an oath to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.”  Why does the Lord Jesus use plural pronouns and adjectives in this statement?  Is He referring to the Trinity, He and John the Baptist, He and His disciples, He and other teachers, He and the prophets, or He and all those born of the Spirit?  Is Jesus being rhetorical or generalizing?  Could there be a reason other than these?  That’s a lot to choose from!  It’s hard to say for certain.  Looking at the immediate context of His words, I personally think that Jesus is including Himself with the prophets who came before Him (including John the Baptist).  My second opinion is that He might be including His disciples.  Those are only opinions.  In any case the focus of Jesus is on the rejection of the witnesses and their testimony (Himself included).  We’ll find in verse 32 that the prophet John the Baptist echoes those words of Jesus when he says, “What He (Jesus) has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness.”   He is identifying his witness with that of Jesus.

In verse 12 Jesus gets to the point behind His illustration.  “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  Jesus is not rebuking Nicodemus here; He’s proving His point.  Jesus is saying, in essence,,  “I’ve shared with you the illustration of the wind, which you can see, hear and feel, but can’t explain.  If you have to accept the workings of the wind by faith, since you can’t explain its source or how it happens, but can experience the results, how much more is this true of spiritual realities.  You also have to accept them by faith in the promises of God’s Word, and by faith in the Person who is explaining them to you.”  I would also add the words, “Do you see what I’m saying?  Is that making more sense to you”?  Nicodemus knows that Jesus is being respectful, and is trying to help him realize the need for faith.  There are many things in this world that we cannot understand, but we accept them by faith because we cannot deny the results.

Jesus concludes His illustration of the wind in verse 13 by saying,
“And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.” 
  I wondered, “why does it say ascended into heaven first, and then descended from heaven?  Didn’t Jesus “descend from heaven” first, at his conception and birth, then “ascend into heaven” later, after His death and resurrection.  The literal Greek text will help us to understand the meaning.  The translation of the Greek text word-by-word says:  And no man has gone up into heaven except the (one) out of heaven having come down, the Son of man.”    It is true that no man (no human soul) had yet gone to heaven.  No human soul could go to heaven until the Lord Jesus satisfied the wrath of the Father by dying on the cross for sin, and then rising from the dead.  The Scriptures speak of a place of waiting for the righteous, sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom.  It was a place of contentment, but not yet the joy of being in the presence of God.

I also think that Jesus had another reason for saying those words in the order that He said them:  “ascended . . . descended”.  He’s referencing Proverbs 30:4, a proverb written by Agur, and one that, I’m sure, Nicodemus was familiar with.  After saying those words, Agur gives an awesome illustration about God, His Son, and the wind.  He says, “Who has gathered the wind in His fists?  Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name or His son’s nameSurely you know!   

“Gathered the wind in His fists” – that description really blows me away!  Try to imagine that!  We may not be able to catch the wind, but God can!  In fact, He doesn’t have to catch it because it has already been gathered in His fists!  What a description of God’s greatness, power and sovereignty!  If you want to put yourself in an attitude of worship and focus your thoughts on God, that’s a good verse to bring to mind.  Then Agur ends his proverb with the words “Surely you know!”.  You should know, Nicodemus; you’re sitting right next to Him!  The Son’s name is JESUS!

Jesus concludes this illustration of the wind by referring to Himself as the “Son of Man”, a title that was given to the Messiah by the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.  Every time Jesus uses that term to refer to Himself, He is declaring that He is the Messiah.

Bob Dillan wrote a song in 1962, which was released as a single in 1963.  Many singers have sung that song, and the Trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary made the song very popular.  In 1994 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  In 2004 it was ranked on Rollin’ Stone Magazine’s list of the top 500 songs of all time.  As you probably already know, the name of that song is “Blowin’ in the Wind’ If you would like to hear that song, type “blowin’ in the wind” on your web browser.  Many questions are asked and many social issues are faced and the conclusion given after each one is:  “The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”  In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any answer.

With all due respect for the author and singers of that beautiful song, the answer isn’t “blowin’ in the wind”.  That’s the illustration.  The answer is “BEING BORN-AGAIN”.  If that’s the answer, then what’s the question?  Actually, there are many questions that are answered by those words of Jesus.  Here are just a few questions that can be answered by being “born again”, “born from above”:
How can I find peace of mind?  How can I be delivered from my fear of death?  Where can I find purpose and meaning to life?  How can I be delivered from my addictions?  Where can I find unconditional love?  What’s the solution to hatred and wars?  How can I escape from my fatalistic attitude toward life?  How can I be sure I’m going to heaven?  How can I keep from going to hell?  How can I break away from my conformity to this world?  How can I ever forgive myself for the things that I have done?  What can be done about this emptiness I feel inside?

If none of those questions relate to you, maybe there are other questions you might want to add to that list.  Whatever the case, the Lord Jesus wants to make things new for you.  He wants to change you into a new person if you will let Him do so.  The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus isn’t over.  There are other illustrations that He is going to use to make that decision clearer for Nicodemus and for you.  I hope you will come back to see the picture more clearly.  The best is yet to come.  There was a price that had to be paid in order to make that new birth possible, and Jesus will pay it all.

If you are a born-again Christian, as I am, let’s remind ourselves of what it was like in our lives before that wonderful day, and pray for others around us who are experiencing the emptiness and frustration with life that we once faced.  Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to make us more like Him – loving and caring for everyone who came His way, and communicating the truth in love.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Thank you for visiting and I hope you’ll come back to visit other completed construction sites   I have a complete series of messages on Philippians, James, Jonah, and other assorted messages here from the last four years of Bible study.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing with you.  Having this opportunity to share with you the results of my Bible study has encouraged me to study all the more, as I try to put the things I’ve learned into words that I hope everyone can understand and apply to their lives.  May the Lord be with you, and may His Spirit control and empower you like the wind at your back today!  May He fill your sails with a steady breeze as you sail through your day with joy under His control!

 

THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

Over the past three months we have examined each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom in detail.  I hope that it has been a learning and growing experience for you also.  We have already studied the devastating results that are produced by the exercise of human wisdom.  As verse 16 explains, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)  Here in verse 18, the apostle James now summarizes the results that occur when heavenly wisdom is exercised.  He describes these results in one short, compact sentence:  “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NKJV version).

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

I especially like the NIV translation for this verse of Scripture because it seems to me that it brings out the intent of the writer very clearly.  It reads:  “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  The ones who sow are the peacemakers.  James uses the word “peace” here to refer to the right relationship between man and man, not between man and God.  But how can we have real outward peace with others if we do not have an inward peace with God?

James wants peace in the church and among the believers in it.  He knows that peace is the only environment in which righteousness can flourish.  The wisdom of this world produces trouble, whereas the wisdom from above produces peace among men.

God hates a troublemaker.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says:  “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  God opposes church splits and discord among the brethren.  But God loves a peacemaker.  Matthew 5:9 says:  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

II.  THE PROCESS

But peacemaking is not easy.  The Revised Standard Version translates James 3:18 in this way:  “And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  It is the peacemaker who sows the seeds of peace, and that isn’t an easy job.  You have to work hard to cultivate peace.  Do fruit and grain grow up by themselves and take care of themselves?  Do they produce an abundant harvest all by themselves?  No!  Ask any farmer!  There is a lot of work involved.  There’s the cultivation of the ground, adding fertilizer, sowing the seeds or planting seedlings, watering, weeding or spraying weeds, pruning, waiting, hoping, praying.  Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically get along with others and never have conflicts.  As individuals, and as churches, we need to work hard to cultivate peace with one another, listen to one another, express appreciation for one another, show kindness to one another, and settle arguments peaceably.  The following illustration is just one example of the peacemaking process:

The small town of Umbarger, Texas, was an unlikely place for an international work of art. But toward the end of World War II, seven Italian prisoners of war, who were being held at a large camp nearby, were chosen to decorate the church’s plain brick walls.  The prisoners were reluctant to aid their captors, but they agreed on the condition that their efforts be considered a contribution toward Christian brotherhood and understanding.  But as they worked on their paintings and a woodcarving of the Last Supper, one of the POW’s later recalled, “A spontaneous stream of good feelings began almost at once to flow among us.  No one spoke of the war or the past because ‘we were here for a work of peace and love’.”  (Our Daily Bread, Nov. 8, 2011)

In II Timothy 2:24-25, Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy, encouraging him to be gentle and patient when relating to others.  The following are Paul’s words:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

I’ve taught each of the evidences of wisdom from above one quality at a time. Now let’s put them all together.  James 3:17 says:  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” (NIV)  A person who possesses these qualities will be a peacemaker.  Wouldn’t you agree?  So if you truly want to be the peacemaker that God wants you to be, focus on these qualities and work at developing them in your life, by God’s enabling and for His glory,

III.  THE RESULTS

As a result of our peacemaking efforts done by the grace of God, we will reap a harvest of God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others.  God’s righteousness and justice will also be evident and appeciated.  Let’s ask the Lord to use us as His peacemakers so that He might be glorified, and we might be a source of joy to others.

When I was a child in Catholic school, my whole class memorized  a prayer by Francis of Assisi.  I imagine that many of you have read this prayer before, but this time let’s read it slowly and make up our minds that, by the grace of God, we will put these words into practice in our relationships with others, whether we like those people or not.  If so, we will begin to reverse the divisive and hurtful effects of man’s wisdom in our communities today.  Here is a portion of that prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me show love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;  where there is darkness, light;  where there is sadness, joy;  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  to seek to be understood, as to understand; to seek to be loved, as to love . . . ”

May the Lord bless you, and as a peacemaker, may you be a source of blessing and joy to others!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

TRUE WISDOM IS PEACEABLE James 3:17

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“Peaceable” is not a word that’s used much in our vocabulary.  I don’t use it, other than the phrase, “Let’s get peaceable about it!”  Some other translations use the words “peace-loving”.  The Greek word “eirenike” is only used here and in Hebrews 11:12 in the New Testament.   The word means “composed”, “tranquil”, and speaks of one who is at peace with God and seeks to be at peace with others.  We can’t be at peace with God and at peace with others unless we have a pure heart.  No wonder James says that wisdom is “first pure”.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, on your part, be at peace with all men.”  In Romans 14:19 he says, “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”  When you were growing up, did you ever get into an argument with your siblings, or with other children at church, at school, or in the neighborhood?  Sure you did!  And do you still remember the famous words, “he started it” or “she started it”?  Is your mind a little foggy right now?  Mine is!  It’s interesting to note the things we remember from our childhood and things we forget!

Can you remember your father or mother stopping a quarrel between siblings and saying, “We’re family!”  “That’s your brother, (or sister, or cousin).”  I want you to apologize to one another and say you’re sorry.”  There would be tearful apologies and hugs, and things would be better for a while.   It wouldn’t get so far out of hand again because as you looked at each other, those words would come back to your mind:  “You’re family”.

Fighting is not something we naturally outgrow when we become adults, is it?  As adults and as Christians, we probably don’t punch, kick, shove, bite, or pull hair anymore, but we still have our own arenas and tactics.  Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class ministries wrote a devotional on this subject in Our Daily Bread.  The following is part of what he shared.  “How many times has it happened?  You walk away from an argument on the subject of holiness, realizing that you’ve been sinning like crazy.  As you think back, you wonder what it must have looked like to God.  Remember the way it started?  You were sitting around the coffee pot with your Christian friends.  The discussion moved from cars, to churches, to the sovereignty of God.  You love a good lively challenge, so when your doctrinal sparring partner let down his guard, or punched a little too hard, you jumped in for the friendly kill.  For some reason the Scripture you used to support your argument just bounced off his head.  A few more verses were tossed back from his direction.  You claimed they were thrown so badly you didn’t even feel their impact.  Then you began to get a little uneasy.  It soon became apparent that you were no longer testing ideas.  The friendly difference of opinion had turned into a struggle that was now being waged with voice tones, inflections, and gestures.”  He concludes by saying, “When will we learn that knowledge must be accompanied by wisdom?  When will we stop using the doctrines of God as ammunition for our own egos?  When will we allow His Word to make us pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated?”

On a positive note, Proverbs 17:27 says, in the New American Standard Bible, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  I like the word “cool” there.  It brings these words to my mind:  “refreshing”, “soothing”, “pleasant”, “a welcome relief”.  Are there people you like to be around because they make you feel at ease?  They are interested in you and like to listen to you and interact with you.  They accept you the way you are and aren’t trying to impress you?  Do you walk away from the conversation refreshed and renewed?  I hope you have people like that in your life.  I also hope that you are that kind of a person yourself, or you are taking steps to become more of a source of refreshment and encouragement to others.  The Lord Jesus called those “blessed”(happy, joyful) who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

My next message is about the word “gentle” in verse 17.  “Be cool!”  Please come again soon!

III. HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:17

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There is so much to learn and apply from each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom that James gives in this verse.  I’ve decided to publish them one quality at a time.  I don’t want you to miss anything that I am learning!

Here in verse 17, James lists seven qualities that describe the “wisdom from above”.  We also find these qualities mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12.  He calls those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who possess these qualities,  As we study each of these descriptions, consider how they were evident in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Also consider whether or not they are evident in your life.

These descriptions of the “wisdom from above” are also closely related to the fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, just as the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are closely related to earthly wisdom.  At each moment we are either being controlled by the Spirit of God or by our own sinful flesh.  At each moment we are either exercising godly wisdom or earthly wisdom.  I think that deep down inside we know this to be true.  As we study each of these qualities we will hopefully know more clearly.

  1.  TRUE WISDOM IS PURE (verse 17)

We use the word “pure” in expressions and descriptions quite often.  Let me give you a few examples.  “Pure water” – water that is free from dirt, pollutants, and other unwanted or infectious elements.   There is “pure gold” that is genuine, without flaws, imperfections or other alloys.  We use the term “pure breed” or “pure bred”  to refer to an unmixed ancestry.  A “pure tone” in music has a single frequency and is without discord.  The expressions “pure as a newborn baby” and “pure as the driven snow” imply innocence, faultlessness.  Finally the phrase “pure coincidence” intensifies the word by implying “nothing but” or “nothing else”.

The Greek word translated “pure” carries with it these shades of meaning.  Notice in verse 17 that James writes:  “First pure”.  He obviously wants this quality to be at the top of his list.  Does the previous passage of Scripture dealing with “worldly wisdom” have something to do with it?  I think so.  Wisdom from above, Godly wisdom, comes from a pure heart.  It is free from jealousy and selfish motives.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “The secret of purity is God.  Get a pure heart from God.”  Without a pure devotion to God, none of the other characteristics of Godly wisdom would be possible.

King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 24:3-4 speaks of “clean hands and a pure heart”.  God is not going to empower us and use us if our hearts aren’t cleansed from sin, and our lives aren’t consecrated to Him.

This empowering applies not only to the public part of our lives, but also to our private lives, to the little things, the unseen things, the thoughts and attitudes that we ignore or take for granted.  Like the old Ivory Soap commercial, God doesn’t want us to be “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, but 100 percent pure. The Daily Bread devotional in 2007 contained a reading entitled “Only A Rivet”.  It brings the point across very clearly and powerfully.

Scientists have determined that faulty rivets may have caused the rapid sinking of the “unsinkable” HMS Titanic.  According to researchers who recently examined parts recovered from the wreck, impure rivets made of wrought iron rather than steel caused the ship’s hull to open like a zipper.  The Titanic proves the foolishness of spending resources on fancy equipment and public promotion while neglecting the “ordinary” parts.  Although rivets seem insignificant, they are essential for holding the ship together and keeping it afloat.  So too, we Christians, by the grace of God, must be free from defect even in the “little things” in order to stand firm against the pressures of this world’s selfishness and corruption.

I’m concluding this section with the words of the apostle Peter to Christians scattered because of their committment to Christ.  Peter says in I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy, and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

I hope that you are a true child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that this relationship to Him is evidenced by a love for, and desire for, the pure Word of God as your true source of heavenly wisdom.  I hope that you are also putting aside the wisdom of this world as you grow in the knowledge of Him.  Peter concludes this letter by saying:  “Peace be to you all who are  in Christ”.

With the Lord Jesus as the Master Builder, and the Holy Spirit providing the inspiration, the blueprint and the tools, the work progresses.  Please stop by again.

 

 

 

EXERCISE GODLY WISDOM – James 3:13

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you consider yourself to be a wise person?  Do others consider you to be wise?  What is wisdom?  Is there more than one kind of wisdom?  These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture.  Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero.  They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers,  and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment.  Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.

According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life.  Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!

Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it?  Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God.  The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all.  Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”  The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.

There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom.  This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept.  I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.

I  A Challenge (verse 13)

James begins this verse with a question:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  He is not being sarcastic here.  He is being honest and forthright.  Many of his readers are well-educated people:  teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman.  His question is more than just a question.  It is a challenge.  James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated.  The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”.  It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro.  We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”.  True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”

Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom:  “gentleness”.  Other translations say:  “meekness”, or “humility”.  It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today.  Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself.  He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control.  It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use.  Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.

Greetings!  There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message.   The rest of the outline is given below.

II.  A Warning (verse 14)

III.  A Contrast (verses 15-17)

A.  Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16

B.  Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)

IV.  A Conclusion (verse 18)

Summary and Application

 

PAUL’S EXAMPLE IN WITNESSING – I Corinthians 2:1-5

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INTRODUCTION:

In verses 18-31 of I Corinthians 1, Paul told us that human wisdom plays no part in man’s salvation.  In verse 31 Paul says that all glory goes to the Lord because salvation is a work of God.  Here, in chapter 2:1-5, Paul uses himself as an example and discusses his message, his method and his motivation for reaching the lost.

I.  HIS MESSAGE (verses 1-2)

In verse l, Paul describes his message as “the testimony of God”.  The Greek word here is “marturion”, the word from which we get our English word “martyr”.  The word was often used in the lawcourts of that day.  A witness in a courtroom could only testify to what he himself had seen or heard or experienced.  He was not to make guesses or give opinions.  When Paul had come to Corinth he shared with them only what God had revealed to him.  If you would like to hold your place in I Corinthians and turn with me to Acts 18:1-11, I’m going to read about Paul’s visit to Corinth and ministry in Corinth.  (READ IT)

Getting back to I Corinthians, chapter 2, we read in verse 1 that Paul did not come to Corinth to glorify himself or to start a “religious club or cult”.  He had come to glorify God.  Paul did not depend on “excellency of speech or of wisdom”, as did the philosophers and teachers in Corinth;  he simply declared God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The focus of Paul’s message is given in verse 2 :  “Christ crucified”.  Paul didn’t’ preach Christ as the teacher, nor Christ as the example, but Christ as crucified.  In the Greek, the word “crucified” is the perfect participle, implying a past action which has continuing results.  The Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross outside Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago, and as a result, God has made it possible for men and women today to have their sins forgiven and have a personal relationship with God through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Paul is not saying that “Christ crucified” was all he talked about, but that it was the central focus of his preaching.  If Paul would have begun to preach about worldly wisdom rather than the cross, his preaching would have lost its power.  He said that in chapter one, verse 17.  Even though the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and considered foolishness to the Gentiles, Paul would not leave it out of his presentation of the Gospel.

How important is the message of Christ crucified?  The Lord Jesus Himself says in John 12:32-33, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself”.  In the next verse it says, “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”  In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, the first time the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was openly preached, 3000 people were saved at one time!

When the Moravian missionaries first came to Greenland, they found the people totally ignorant of the meaning of such words as “sin”, “righteousness”, and “justification”.  So they decided to educate them about various theological terms.  The results were so unproductive that, after a period of time, the missionaries decided that the situation was hopeless and they might just as well leave.  Since no ship was due for some time, one of the missionaries began translating parts of the Bible into the native tongue.  Seeking to test the accuracy of his words, he read a passage to those who had been unresponsive to his ministry.  The portion he chose was Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

After he finished reading, the chief of the tribe asked him to repeat it. The missionary read the passage again.  “Why didn’t you tell us about this in the first place?” asked the chief. “Don’t leave now!  We’d be happy to listen to the words of a Man who suffered that much for us!”  So they remained and saw much fruit from their labors as they proclaimed Christ crucified.  The story of the cross had won the people’s hearts.

We too have the opportunity of telling others of the love that led Christ to die for them.  On my blogsite, biblentsermons.wordpress.com, I received the largest response to the sermon entitled “The Suffering and Death of Christ”.  Let’s make the cross the focus of our witness.

II.  THE METHODOLOGY (verses 3 and 4)

In verse 3, Paul says that his witness is “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”, yet in verse 4 he says that his message and preaching were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”  It seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?  How can there be power in weakness?  Yet Paul already said in chapter 1, verse 27, that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong , , , that no one should boast before God”.

In a gun factory, an elongated bar of steel, which weighed 500 pounds, was suspended in the air by a chain.  Beside it, an average-sized cork was hanging by a silk thread.  It was swung gently against the bar which remained motionless.  For 10 minutes the cork, with a regular rhythum, continued to strike.  Then the heavy piece of metal began to move slightly.  At the end of an hour, both objects were swinging together like the pendulum of a clock!

Many of God’s children feel that they are not exerting a feather’s weight of influence upon others or making even a tiny dent upon the strongholds of evil.  This is not so!  As we recognize our fear and inadequacy, and continue to be an influence for good and a witness for Christ, relying upon the power of God’s Word and the Spirit of God, we will find that in God’s hands there is power in weakness.  Therefore courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of fear by relying on the power of God.  The Holy Spirit is the source of the power in the Gospel message.  Paul’s method was to depend on the Spirit of God to convince the person that the message he was sharing was the truth, and to allow the Holy Spirit to use that message to bring the person to saving faith. We allow the Holy Spirit to empower our witness when we stick to the Scripures, which are the “Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17).

III.  HIS MOTIVATION (verse 5)

In verses 4 and 5, Paul said that he didn’t use persuasive words of wisdom.  The reason he gives is so that “your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God”.

It has been said that the great preacher, Jonathan Edwards, read his sermons so that he would not be guilty of using human persuasive techniques to gain a response.  He wanted only the message to bring the results.  It makes you wonder how many there are in the world today who responded to an emotional appeal or to pressure tactics without a true understanding of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ.

About 40 years ago an evangelism program was set in motion by Campus Crusade for Christ.  It was called “Here’s Life America”, and I was personally involved in the program through the church I attended.  Maybe some of you were also involved in that evangelistic program.  Churches across the United States were given a list of phone numbers of the people who lived in their communities.  The purpose was to call each of these phone numbers, share the Gospel message with the people who answered the phone, and ask them to repeat a prepared prayer, asking Christ to come into their lives and give them eternal life.  About ten years later a study was done to determine the success of this evangelistic campaign.  The findings showed that, of the millions of people who prayed that prayer over the phone, the percentage of them who were now attending churches and showing evidence of a changed life and a genuine relationship with Christ was so small that it couldn’t be printed.

A valuable lesson was learned from this.  In spite of good intentions, committment by individuals and churches, and prayer, the United States could not be won for the Lord Jesus Christ through an impersonal and persuasive method such as this.  Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is a miracle performed by the power of God working through His Word.  True saving faith is the work of the Holy Spirit convincing a person of his sin, of the worth of Christ’s death on the cross, and leading that person to genuine repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

CONCLUSION:

To try to summarize this passage and apply it to our lives today, Paul is saying that as we witness for Chtist, our message must be God’s Word, not ours,  Our focus must be the cross of Christ, not our own human wisdom.  Our aim must be God’s glory, not ours.  And our confidence is to be in the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours.  Then, and only then, will we be useful instruments in the Master’s hands.

Are you equipped with an ever-growing knowledge of God’s Word?  Are you ready to focus on the cross of Christ?  Is your reliance on the power of the Spirit of God?  Is your aim to glorify God?  Then be an ambassador for Christ!  Your world is waiting!

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.