Gospel of John, Chapter 12: Honoring the Lord Jesus

John 12: Honoring the Lord Jesus

We are told whenever two or three gather together in His name, He is in the midst of them.  The opening of John 12 gives us a time line: it is six days before the Passover.  But John’s remembrance of this occasion also gives us a portrait of the local church where every week 2 or 3 are gathered in His name and He is in the midst of us.

Jesus started his ministry at a wedding. Now he closes his ministry by a visit to a home.  The home is where the church began, and because of persecution it is where it often begins in many places in the world. Perhaps the church will return to homes where we enjoy fellowship with one another and with the Lord Jesus. We are told this dinner was given to honor Jesus.

Lazarus is a picture of the believer. Like Lazarus we were all dead spiritually in sin and trespasses.  Now we are alive spiritually and in fellowship with Jesus, just as Lazarus on this fateful evening at supper with the Lord Jesus in this home. Lazarus’ life was a witness to the miraculous work of Jesus, raising him for the dead.  You and I are witnesses to what Jesus has done in our lives. We are not what we used to be and are now in the process of sanctification to become like Jesus.  Lazarus’ life was a witness to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  Martha was working, she was serving him.  And Mary was at His feet, worshipping Him. In fact this story is about her act of worship.

Let’s look at Lazarus:  he had suffered a grave illness; a disease so deadly it took his life. He was changed forever by this event as well as his sisters because they had all suffered and experienced a great loss, even though it was for the good and Lazarus was restored to health. For in the Christian life there are gains which can only come from suffering.  I wish there was another way to learn certain truths and have our faith enlarged and strengthened, but it is clear suffering is a part of our life and journey of faith.

LOSSES IN SUFFERING

In every battle there are losses and suffering, even for the victor. Lazarus, Martha and Mary had learned this through the experience of Lazarus’ death.  What were those losses?

LOSS OF CONTROL

As I have often stated, control is an illusion. It is like believing you are in control driving your car because you steer it, control the speed, and can stop it whenever you need to stop it. Until- you experience driving on ice.  Black ice is what we are warned about, for it does not appear to be icy. We like predictability. We like the certainty of knowing the results like 2 +2= 4.  We spend enormous amounts of time planning in business, and in life. Preparing to manage and predict and control, mapping out where we will go next week, and next year and beyond. But life cannot be managed, it can only be lived.  Our first response when we experience loss of control is to regain control. Get our lives back on track, on schedule, our to-do list up to date and checked off. To not gain control is to be out of control. We feel shame because we are not meeting the standards our culture and society recognize as successful and good. Can you imagine the panic and the suffering of Martha and Mary upon the death of Lazarus? It was not just the loss of a loved one, it was the loss of someone on whom they depended to keep their life on track.

LOSS OF IDENTITY

The last 25 years of my career were the peak years of my career. I reached my peak earnings, ability and recognition.  I had established a reputation and enjoyed the work I was doing. Then it was over in one day when our company was bought out by our joint venture partner. Men are known for their work, they identify with their career because it gives them identity and meaning and satisfaction. The more successful they are, the more satisfied they are. Then when time and age and change take this away, they suffer a loss of identity. The professional athlete has usually been recognized and idolized since they were teens. Actors and actresses were known for the roles they played. When they can no longer perform and are no longer needed for those purposes, they begin to wonder what is the purpose of life.  For them and many of us, our purpose had been all about us and what we do.

We understand it is normal to mourn these losses. But these losses must not obscure our sense of what we can become. You may curse your fate or count your possibilities. Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach to the masses, perhaps envisioning filling up the Coliseum with thousands to hear his preaching. Instead, he ends up in a Roman prison in chains.  His response:  “Now I want you to know, brothers, that was has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. “  Really?  This setback was a setup for a comeback. This evil was intended for good by God.   Paul had learned and knew, God was working all things together for good for those who love the Lord, who have been called according to His purpose. His purpose is to make us like Jesus, to conform us to His image.  And suffering losses of those things which entangle us is part of His plan.

LOSS OF CERTAINTY

What once was predictable is no longer predictable. Who or what can we depend on when these losses occur?  What is the purpose of this suffering?  Paul answers the question of us in 2 Corinthians 1: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered.” (Paul is giving us information we need to understand about suffering.)  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (Paul is saying things were beyond our ability to control. We were hopeless.)  The Paul tells us the reason this occurred to them and the reason this will happen to us. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

We are to trust the Lord with all our heart, and lean not to our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3)  And yet we feel we have lost our place in society. We are no longer needed in certain areas. Others, younger, smarter, better prepared have come to take our place.  Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it?

GAINS IN SUFFERING

  1. Clarified values. One of the greatest gains we make in suffering is to discover what is really important, really valuable. Our value system gets changed. Things which had been secondary become primary.  Price tags get changed from the temporary to the eternal. This story of Mary and her sacrifice with the costly perfume revealed Judas’ value system. He knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Money which was his god became such a curse, he threw it away.
  2. Freedom. Mary had saved this over years. It represented either her dowry for when she got married or for her old age, her retirement plan. These things we believe we need to be happy can often become things which enslave us.  We have loved those things- inanimate objects: houses, cars, clothes, jewelry, golf clubs, shotguns, etc.  Why are so many of our age group now downsizing?  Because we have spent a lifetime accumulating these things which we find at this time in our life, a burden to maintain.
  3. A new and deeper trust in God. Paul said those things which happened to them in Asia which caused them to suffer beyond their ability to endure happened so they would learn to trust, and rely on God, not on themselves. Let’s face it, most of us will not trust the Lord with all our heart, until we are out of options and must depend on Him completely.

AN ANALYSIS OF MARY’S ACT OF WORSHIP

Mary’s lavish gift makes us uncomfortable and it made Judas so uncomfortable he wanted her lavish gift to be condemned as wasteful.  Jesus told Judas very quickly to leave her alone.  When we read the account Mark, we read she  first broke the alabaster box which contained this precious perfume worth a year’s wages cost.

  1. Mary did what she could do. Lazarus was enjoying fellowship with Jesus. Lazarus is never quoted in Scripture as saying anything. He was a quiet man. He enjoyed being with Jesus, fellowship was his act of worship. It was what Lazarus could do. Martha served the Lord by working, by serving food. She was a worker. She knew she was worshipping the Lord using the gift He had given her. Mary knew she could not cook like her sister Martha, I believe. She knew how much she loved to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to Him. He had taught her about life and death. She wanted to express her love for Him, just as Lazarus did with his witness, and Martha did with her gift of serving. How could she show Him how much she loved Him? What could she give Him? She could only give Him what she realized He had given her. She would give Him her perfume, her most valued possession.  Her dowry, her life savings, for surely He had saved not only Lazarus but her and Martha also. She went and got her most valuable possession: her alabaster box of nard perfume. Mark’s account tells us she broke the box. I think she may have done that because something within her, was telling her not to go overboard. Just measure out a few drops, that would be sufficient and she could save the rest as she had planned for her dowry or when she was old and needed it. She broke it – because then she had no other options but to pour it all out on Jesus. Sometimes we look at others who have more talents for gifts than we do:  a beautiful singing voice, the ability to play a musical instrument, or speak with great wisdom and insight and think we can do nothing like that. So rather than doing what we can- we do nothing. Jesus only wants us to give what we can. And we can only give what He has given us. The little boy had his lunch which his mother had given him. He could only give to Andrew what his mother had given to him. Jesus broke the bread and blessed it. Brokenness is a path to blessing.  Mary broke the alabaster box for then there was no turning back.  Moses had been stripped of his power and prestige and now 40 years after he left Egypt as a wanted murderer, God has called him to serve Him. Moses has nothing to give but a rod. God said give me what you have- the rod in your hand.   Mary did what she could.
  2. Mary did that much. She could not give what she did not have. She could not give more than she had. She could only give what the Lord had given to her. He had given her brother life in place of death. And she knew He had given her eternal life also. He had given her hope and He had given her His love. How could she give back anything which matched His love and sacrifice for her?  She could only give Him what she could. She could only do that much. And she did it. She did what she could with what she had, she did that much. She gave it to Jesus.
  3. Do it now. Sometimes Jesus tells us to do something in a small still voice. We rationalize we can’t do that right now, later on when we have the time and more resources we will do that the, but not now. If Mary had waited – she would have never had the opportunity to anoint Him. He would be dead and buried in a week. The women who went out on Sunday morning to anoint Him, did not get the opportunity to do so. Do it now- now is the appointed time.

Mary prepared Jesus for His death.

This is one the most important things we do is prepare people for death. We prepare people for dying. No one wants to think about that now.

But in preparing them for dying, we prepare them for living.

We help them and ourselves deal with suffering and loss.

We help them clarify their values.  We provide them with freedom.  Jesus said if you continue in His word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed.  It was for freedom that Jesus set us free.  Free to live life the way it is supposed to be lived by knowing the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

We often attend funeral which honor loved ones. We have dinners for people who have served faithfully to honor them for their faithful service.

Why not invite Jesus to your home and honor Him?  I know you are thinking, what can I give Him that would match what He has done for me?

What can I do?  You can only do what you can do You can only give what God has given you.  You can do that much and you can do it now.

Worship is the center, the heart of Christianity.  We need to come back to the heart of worship and Honor the Lord with our fellowship, with our service, with our giving which express our love.

Gospel of John: Chapter 11, “Waiting for Jesus”

John 11: Waiting

for Jesus

John has carefully selected the miraculous signs of Jesus during his ministry on earth.  His first was to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.  In today’s study in John 11, we see one of his most well-known miracles, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  His last miracle before his own resurrection is at a funeral. Two of life’s gladdest and saddest hours- a wedding and a funeral, one at a beginning, the other at what appears to be an ending. Both are events which impact the individual and the  family .

After Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees he had returned to the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing in the early days. We read here he stayed and many came to believe in him.( John 10:41)  We believe this place to be at Bethabara beyond the Jordan in Perea about 25 miles from Jerusalem. 

Now Jesus has just told us:  “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. But I have come that you might have life and life more abundantly.”   Yet we know death is certain, only the time of death is uncertain.   This is why this story, the raising of Lazarus is so appropriate, for it deals with the two most important issues for mankind:  life and death.   Jesus is the answer to the abundant life and Jesus is God’s answer to mankind’s death.

In the first miracle where Jesus turned the water into wine, His mother informed Jesus of the problem, “ They have no more wine.”  This miracle begins with the sisters of Lazarus ( Mary and Martha) informing Jesus:  “ Lord, the one you love is sick.”   Since there are several Mary’s in the Gospels, John identifies her as the one who anointed the feet of our Lord with costly perfume and wiped it with her hair. Notice in both of these instances their prayer does not include instructions on what or how Jesus is to deal with the problem, they simply inform Jesus of the problem.  Prayer in its simplest form, does not presume to tell Almighty God what to do about the problem, just to inform Him of the problem.  King Jehoshaphat when faced with a vast armies coming at him from all sides we are told: “ Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord.”  King Jehoshaphat admitted: “ For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  Jesus, Himself, had said He did nothing of His own, but depended on the Father to show Him what to do.   Do their prayers which range  from the lesser problems of life, ‘ they are out of wine’ to these desperate problems of  life and death issues: a loved one’s  grave illness, to a vast army preparing to attack you, reflect how you pray? Is prayer your first response or last resort? Do you come to cast your care upon the One who cares for you, or do you come with instructions as to how He should solve your problem?    The Roman Centurion knew Jesus did not have to come to his house to heal his servant, he could do it from a distance.  The nobleman who implored Jesus to come to his home for his son was near death, was convinced Jesus did not have to come, but placed so much faith in His Word,  he actually stopped for the night to rest.  Are you at rest in the Lord’s word concerning your concerns?

Moses at the burning bush encounter when told by the Lord to go free his people came up with excuse after excuse why he could not do this:  people would not believe him, he was not an eloquent speaker, etc.  God replied: “ Who gave man his mouth? Who made him deaf or mute? Who give him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I the Lord?  Now go. I will help you speak and teach you what to say.”  Is this not the way of the Lord who says He does not change?

The home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, was a home away from home for Jesus. He loved them and they loved and supported Him.  Here is the picture: 25 miles away, Jesus is with the disciples enjoying a time of teaching and preaching with great results. Meanwhile in Bethany, Mary and Martha are caring for their dear brother Lazarus who is gravely ill. Having sent word to Jesus informing him of the situation, they must be eagerly awaiting his arrival.  We believe the messenger came back to tell them he had delivered the message to Jesus personally.  The sisters had probably figured Jesus would drop everything and come immediately to their aid, or maybe just heal from a distance as they had heard he had done before. Surely in their minds, they thought if Jesus did this for people he did not know, they could  be sure He will take care of those who loved Him.

THE RESPONSE TO THEIR PRAYER

“ When he heard this, Jesus said, “ This sickness is not unto death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” 

Did Jesus address this message to the messenger the sisters had sent? I believe it makes sense he would have expected Jesus to reply to the request. And since the messenger had traveled 20-25 miles, he would wait until the next day to return with Jesus’ reply.  Imagine their shock and sorrow when Lazarus dies. For we know Lazarus had already died when Jesus started back two days later, as Jesus plainly tells the disciples on the way back in verse 14:  “ Lazarus is dead.” 

So when the messenger arrives without Jesus, Lazarus was already dead when. Yet  His message was  now to two grief stricken sisters whose brother had already died : Jesus said, “  this sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified.” How can this be?- they must have thought.

Our familiarity with the story and knowing the happy ending takes away the sting of death and the sadness surrounding it.   For the sisters the death of Lazarus was a tragedy. They depended on him for everything. But to make matters worse, Jesus had let them down. He could have kept this from happening. They experienced the same  emotions we do when we hear bad news, when we get a diagnosis of a major illness, when a loved one passes away. We pray and pray and pray, but when the answer comes it seems wrong, even cruel and heartless.  Don’t you care Lord, we are perishing, the disciples proclaimed in the boat in storm on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus slept in the boat. Ever said or thought that?  Don’t you care Lord? 

Death would not have the last word.  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. He is the first word which created life and He is the last word regarding death. He is Lord over life and death.  He is the Lord over time- He invented it, He created it. And as John has told us from the beginning, his hour had not yet come.  He had come to do the will of his Father and until he had completed that will at Calvary, it was not finished.

0N HIS ARRIVAL

Sometimes in life, it seems as if we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting on the results of the test the doctor performed; waiting to hear if a child has arrived at their destination; waiting to hear if we got the job; and the list goes on and on.   The Lord wants us to believe Him. He wants us to know and has shown us in our life and in the lives of many whose story he has told us how waiting on the Lord is a part of our journey of faith. “Wait on the Lord, I say, wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say on the Lord.” ( Psalm 27)

Waiting on His arrival creates anxious moments of confusion and sorrow sometimes. Waiting on the Lord to “ come through for you” is a time when the enemy attacks with the fiery darts of doubt, ‘ hath God really said?’  The writer of Psalm 27, said he would have lost heart unless he believed he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.   Jeremiah was so devastated by the conditions he was in danger of losing hope. “ yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.”  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning , great is your faithfulness.

Jesus says to his disciples: “ I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  Jesus was not glad because of the sadness which Lazarus’ death had created. He was glad for He knew the outcome and what joy it would bring and what glory it would create.

At last, four days after Lazarus had died and been buried- JESUS ARRIVES.  It appears to all, He has arrived too late.  But things are not always as they appear, are they ?

ABUNDANT LIFE. 

It is interesting to notice the word: live spells evil backwards.  And lived spelled backwards spells devil. It is often said, ‘ youth is wasted on the young.’  And life also teaches us ‘ I got old too  soon, and smart too late.’  These words come from people who have lived life for decades. It is an expression of sorrow and regret for having spent their lives on things which in the end counted for so little.  Some have said, it would make more sense if our lives were lived backwards.  “ If only I had___________ or what if____________ .  You fill in the blanks because they represent regrets over the past, and worries over the future. We all have them. But the good news is  when Jesus arrives in our life, you are a new creation. You get to start a new life, an abundant life, eternal life and now understand what makes the difference in life. It all starts when Jesus arrives in our life.  Live life over?  Yes. You have been born again. Jesus was the beginning of your physical life.  You exist because He willed for you to exist. And you exist for one reason- for God to give Himself to you. He is the death of your old life. He is the giver of your new life. He is the author of life. And until you enter into His story you will not discover the plans He has for you. You get to start life anew. A new beginning. No matter how late it arrived, it extends into eternity.   Even knowing this,  we often get confused and caught up with the things of the world.   The emphasis in John 11 is on faith in His word.   Jesus had a lesson for all of us in this story..  Let us look at the time line here:

Day 1:  the messenger comes to Jesus with news of Lazarus sickness. We are told when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead and buried four days.  This means Day 1 Jesus received the news from the messenger, Lazarus had already died.  It takes a day to cover those 20-25 miles, so the messenger would not have returned the same day.

Day 2: the messenger returns to Bethany with the message Jesus had given.

Day 3: Jesus waits another day, we are told he waited two more days,  then departs.

Day4: Jesus arrives in Bethany.

When the messenger arrived back home, he would find Lazarus dead and buried. He would tell the sisters what Jesus said. But how could they believe His Word when their brother was dead and buried. Jesus was urging them to believe Him, no matter how discouraging the circumstances might appear. He had sent His word to them:  this sickness is not unto death but for the Glory of that the Son of God might be glorified.

Now the disciples were confused as well. They knew Jesus loved this family- why did he delay? Why did He not heal from a distance?  God’s love for us is a perfecting love. Sometimes a tough love. Jesus was careful to tell us we would have trouble in this world. He has shown us His actions from Genesis all through the Bible with stories of those who went through unspeakable hardships yet assures us He is working all things together for good for those who love Him.  Love and suffering are not incompatible. They work together.

The Lord’s message to the sisters was NOT that Lazarus would not die, but that the ultimate result would be the glory of God. This is a story we need to remember when we face disease, disappointment, delay and even death, that our encouragement is the Word of God. We must live by faith and not by sight. Their situation seemed hopeless. Yet the Lord has said: “ And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50)

Each experience the Lord allows to come into our lives is about increasing and strengthening our faith. But it requires a proper response from us. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters and now we are about to see how they had received it.

As the sisters had waited for Jesus’s Arrival, they had been crushed by his seeming lack of urgency and concern. They both had come to the conclusion, if Jesus had been there, their beloved brother Lazarus would not have died.

THE WORD WHICH GIVES HOPE TO THE HOPELESS

There will be three groups who witness this miracle: the disciples; Martha and Mary and the Jews who had been with Mary comforting her. Martha had gone out to meet Jesus when she heard of his arrival.  She was aware of the threats upon Jesus’ life and how coming to their home so close to Jerusalem would put his life in danger. “ Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “ if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”   This is an interesting statement.  It is a bold statement which says we believe you are who you say you are and can do what you say you can do. Nothing is too hard for you. But yet we sometimes doubt He will do it for us.

I believe Jesus sees in Martha what He sometimes sees in us during a time of disappointment. He sees we want to believe Him with all our heart, but circumstances are preventing us from doing so.  As He sees our hearts and understands our weakness, He encourages us with His Word.  Jesus gives her a reassuring promise. “ Your brother will rise again.”   You hope will rise again- you will not lose hope.  For He is the God of all Hope.  Paul wrote: “ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope. “  Peter said , “ Lord to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” He has the words of life. He is the Word of God. In Him was life and His life was the light of men.

Watch Martha’s response to His Word: “ I know he will rise again in the resurrection of the last day.”  Jesus now responds to her faith which is growing.  Jesus said to her, “ I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, will live, even though he dies; and whoever believes lives and believes in me will never die. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” 

“ Yes, Lord,” she told him, “ I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world. “  Next Jesus meets with Mary who is weeping and Jesus is moved by her sorrow and deeply troubled.  He is truly a man acquainted with sorrow, a man of sorrows.  He is our perfect High Priest because He understands our pain.  His Deity is about to be displayed, but here in the shortest verse in the Bible: “ Jesus wept”; we see his humanity. 

As they approach the tomb, the cave where Lazarus’ body lay behind a rock, the crowd has now collected around them. Jesus is here. He has arrived. As they approach the tomb, Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. Martha protests there will be a bad odor for he has been buried for four days. Jesus reminds her of His promise:  “ Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” This goes back to the message he had sent back to her and Mary.

The roll away the stone. Jesus prays to his Father and He thanks Him for what He is about to do and also reminds us of the purpose:  ‘ ..this is for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus then calls Lazarus by name to come forth  And Lazarus comes forth from the grave wrapped in the grave clothes.  Jesus has overcome death and the grave. Here is a picture of our death, burial and resurrection. Raised to walk in the newness of life. Notice Jesus tells them to take off his grave clothes. We must put off the old and put on the new. And this is what we are to  do as we make disciples teaching them who they have become and how they should now walk in the light as we help the take off the old and put on the new.

THE RESPONSE

There were those who believed and placed their faith in Jesus. There were others who went and reported to the Chief Priest of what they had seen.  They began to seek how to kill Jesus and also Lazarus as the Passover was growing near.

The hour was drawing near, which Jesus had been moving toward  during these three plus years. The question which was the question of many was : “ What do you think?” For as a man thinketh in his heart so is He.

The question is “ What do you think?”  Do you believe the Lord is who He says He is? Do you believe He can do what He says He can do?  Do you believe you are who He says you are? Do you believe you can do what He says you can do? 

If your answer to these four questions has been yes, perhaps your faith is like Martha’s.  you have been disappointed by God’s lack of response to your prayers. Or that He allowed something to happen you believe He could have prevented. You are hurt, but you still believe Him.  And maybe your answer to the first two questions are yes; but the answer to the last two questions are: I am not sure, I don’t know what I think sometimes. I believe. Help my unbelief.

Now that is what Martha’s reply to Jesus revealed a faith that believes, help her unbelief. How does Jesus help her faith?  By His Word.  Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

The Word of God must be active and alive in our life.  Be not a hearer only, but a doer of the Word.

ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF UNBELIEF.

 

Gospel of John; Chapter 10: The Abundant Life

John 10: The Abundant Life

The conversation Jesus was having with the Pharisees at the end of chapter 9 is continued in chapter 10.  Thus we read what is a continuation of their conversation here in chapter 10. Jesus has just healed a man who was born blind. He is presenting his credentials as the Messiah with these miracles, or signs as John refers to them- for they are proof of who He is. In Isaiah 35, we read of the works the Messiah would do:  “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. “

When John the Baptist was in prison awaiting execution, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the one who was to come, or should they expect another?  Jesus answered them by telling to go tell John what they had heard and seen: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the dead hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11)

Jesus then tells the Pharisees, the man who does not enter by the gate (door) into the sheepfold but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber.  A thief is one who takes away another’s property by stealth. He sneaks in the house. The robber takes it by violence. The robber intimidates.  Since Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about the “sheepfold” it refers to the nation of Israel. Psalm 100 says we (nation of Israel) are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

The word picture which Jesus is drawing is of a sheepfold, which in Jesus’ day would be a public pen where the shepherds would bring their flocks at night. It would be a fenced area with a gate where multiple flocks were brought at night. The watchman would be the gatekeeper. The flocks represented the tribes of Israel.

Jesus is saying he is the true shepherd who entered by the gate or door. Some would say John the Baptist was the gatekeeper as he introduced Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. But if you go back and read about John the Baptist, it was foretold he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth. (Luke 1). So we can ultimately say the gatekeeper or watchman is the Holy Spirit who opens the ears of the sheep to hear His voice.

When Jesus says He came in by the gate or door, He is saying he came lawfully, legally. He came as a fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. His miracles were signs and credentials he was presenting to the religious rulers, but they were spiritually blind. He came in by the law in the fullness of time. Born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem, a descendant of David. No one else could have had the credentials He did. The Pharisees had just asked Jesus, “Are we blind, too?”  Jesus is making it very clear they are blind.  The blind leading the blind.

The reaction of the Pharisees was not something unexpected. We read in Jeremiah: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord.”  The Lord then says He will gather the remnant of the flock Himself. He states He will raise up to David, a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. (Jeremiah 23)   If you have ever done any genealogy search for your family, you realize there are many branches in a family tree.  But prophecy made it clear how this One would be recognized and Jesus had fulfilled and was fulfilling all the many prophecies. But these religious leaders were spiritually blind.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, he could not see the kingdom of God, unless he was born again of the Spirit.

Jesus now introduces another word picture of Himself with another “I AM” statement. Jesus says I am the door.  Think about a door:  a door divides/ separates; a door secures; a door opens; a door gives access. Jesus is the door. He is the door which opens to the abundant life, eternal life.  He stands and knocks at the door of our hearts, our lives, and ask to be invited in so He can share His life with us.

Now the sheep in the community pen were not branded. Nor did the Eastern shepherds of Jesus’ time use sheep dogs to herd the sheep and drive them. They led them and the sheep recognized their voice as surely as a beloved pet dog recognizes his master’s voice. Jesus said his sheep know his voice. They will not follow strangers.  They will not be tossed to and fro by false teachers, thieves who want to steal from the master’s flock with false teaching.  Jesus said he came to testify to the truth and those who side with the truth listen to him. A shepherd leads his sheep. He goes before them. He knows where he is leading them- to still waters and green pastures. He will lead us into the way everlasting. He will not lead us into temptation and will deliver us from evil. He comforts me and protects me with His rod and his staff.

Jesus says he is the good shepherd, the true shepherd. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. He is the only One who can lead us to the Father, there is no other way.

The true shepherd saves. By me if any man enters in he will be saved.

The true shepherd provides.  You shall go in and out and find pasture.

The true shepherd secures. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that you might have life.

The true shepherd satisfies. I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.

Jesus came that we might have life, eternal life, abundant life. But this promised life is only on His terms. On his terms we can have life now and forever on a higher plane, a life in the Promised Land.  How is this done?   How can we have the abundant life?

THE ABUNDANT LIFE

Now we must understand in the eyes of God all of humanity can be divided into two categories. Those who are lost, the natural man and those who are saved, born again.  Now among those who are born again, there are two categories:  the spirit filled and the carnal.

The natural man cannot understand the supernatural. He believes it to be foolishness. Unless he is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, for it is spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit of God.  The natural man is dominated by self, sin and Satan. He is under the dominion of the one who is called the prince of power of the air. He or she may be a moral person, a good parent, good spouse. They may also be immoral and depraved. But a lost person is not necessarily a hideous monster. Many of them are sitting next to you in church, belong to the same clubs you do, root for the same football team and care about many of the things a Christian does. He or she does not judge things by the same standards we do.  They are blinded to the truth. Their philosophy of life runs the gambit from paganism to a hodgepodge buffet of beliefs, both moral, amoral and immoral. Self is the judge of all they do.

The saved person, the spiritual man is described as one who is rightly related to God through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This relationship was brought about by the Holy Spirit. So we have received the Spirit of God that we might understand what God has given us. The saved man, has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him or her. They are being taught and empowered by the Spirit. The spiritual person judges spiritual things, the Bible is our source of truth by which we judge and try to live our lives by.

The Spirit-filled Christian has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. They have yielded to Christ as Lord. And they have appropriated Christ as their life.  Paul describes this in detail in Romans 6,7 & 8.  In Galatians 2: 20 we read a description of this process:  “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We are partakers of His divine nature. This represents the highest plane we can live on.  However, we do not always abide on this plane.

Unfortunately, we do not always live Spirit-filled, and Spirit-led lives. We have His divine nature, but we also have our old nature. When we give into the demands of the old nature, the flesh, we are described as carnal. The carnal Christian lives their life partly unto God and partly unto himself. There is divided control in their life, usually in one particular area of sin which so easily entangles them. These two natures are side by side. They travel on parallel paths. This is why Paul writes of his own experience, whenever he wanted to do good, evil was always present.

These three planes are the levels upon which we live and carry out our daily lives. The natural man in God’s view lives on the lowest plane. Their description of the abundant life, the good life can be as simple as eat, drink and be merry. You only go around once, so live life with gusto. Others want to build their own kingdom of wealth, power and possessions. Others want to do good works which they will leave behind as a legacy. But their lives are measured by standards which they have adopted, standards which might include truths, half-truths, and outright lies. Some are happy and well -adjusted, or appear to be. But things are not always as they seem. They have chosen a way that is right to them. They have entered the wide gate and headed down the broad way. There is a veil over their minds and they cannot ‘see’ the truth. But we must continue to cast the seed, water it and God’s role is to produce growth.  Many of these have built an empire, a successful business and in the eyes of the world, a successful life. They have climbed the ladder of success only to find at some point in the eternal future they have leaned their ladders against the wrong wall.

All of us were born searching for something. God placed eternity in our hearts. We were born spiritually dead.  We were without form and in darkness until the light of the Gospel came into our lives and we discovered what it was we were created for and why we exist.

We will study this in depth in John 15, the Abiding Life. Where Jesus will tell us He is the True Vine and the Father is the constant gardener, the owner of the vineyard.  We discover the secret of living in the right relationship with the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The secret of living is to know we were created to glorify God. By this is God glorified, that we bear much fruit.  The secret of living is glorifying God by fruit bearing. Notice it is not fruit producing. The secret to fruit bearing is abiding, this is the only way we can bear fruit. The secret to abiding is obeying.  And the secret to obeying is loving. And the secret to loving is knowing.

Listen to how Jesus describes eternal life, life abundant, and life with the Father.  “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17) How do we come to know God?

The Gatekeeper, the Holy Spirit will let the True Shepherd into the sheepfold. He will open the sheep’s ears to hear their Master’s voice. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then can they call on the name of the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not hear? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent? AS it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.   But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah said, “Lord, who has believed our message? Consequently, faith, comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God. “Psalm 19 tells us the heavens declare the Glory of God.  But we also are to be salt and light and let the light of the Gospel shine into their eyes. We are to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always unto the end of the world.

An abundant life awaits each of us believers- it is our possession. It is the Promised Land. But we must enter into the abundant life by grace through faith.  It is grace which has brought us thus far and it is grace which will take us home.

The natural man is laboring to build an abundant life. The carnal man is confused about the abundant life for his old nature keeps taking control of certain areas of his or her life. The Spirit filled Christian is walking in the light as He is in the light and in fellowship with fellow believers and God.  We seem to forget or not take seriously the spiritual truth, that when we gather together to worship Him, He is in our midst.

HOW TO BUILD A SPIRIT-FILLED, SPIRIT-LED ABUNDANT LIFE

Just writing this sub-title was such a challenge, I thought about changing it. But isn’t this what we want to do? That is the question. So let’s use a real world example, just like Jesus does.

Have you ever built a house?  Gina and I did. And we still talk about how it made us feel to move into it- to see it built from the foundation up.

So the first thing Jesus tells us to build a spirit-filled abundant life is the foundation.  He instructs us in Matthew 7.  “Anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. The first step in building a good house is a solid foundation. The first step is to make sure your life is built on the solid rock, for all other ground is sinking sand. Like the foolish builder who built his house on the sand.  I would also point out Jesus is letting us know storms come into both the lives of the saved and the lost.  How foolish not to build your life on the One called the cornerstone. My life is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I believe in the virgin birth, the Word of God who became flesh; who was crucified for my sins, and I was crucified with Him; I believe He arose on the third day in a glorified body and ascended to heaven where He was exalted and sent the Holy Spirit who indwells me.

After the foundation is laid, we begin to build the superstructure, the house itself. We pictured each room as it would be. Then when all the walls were up, the doors and windows in and the roof is on, we have standing before us a house, a home. Jesus the Carpenter of Nazareth has built this for us. He created this earth on which we live and exist. He is currently building a retirement community in which I will live forever.  You see, Jesus has moved in with me. I live with Him and He lives with me. The abiding life

Now once the foundation is laid, and the superstructure is completed, the interior has to be designed and decorated. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, our interior decorator. He comes to cleanse us from the inside -out, put everything in place and order, so that we live each day reminded of the One who made it all possible. The One who even now is preparing a place for us which we cannot even imagine how wonderful it will be. When you walk in the completed, brand new house, you love everything about it. It is so clean and pristine, it sparkles. The Interior Decorator has done a work and created a wonderful place for you.  But it must be maintained. It must be cleaned regularly.

The abundant life is very simply the life lived with Jesus at home in your heart. You can be in a five room house with three children and be content, because Jesus is at home in your heart, seated on the throne of your heart.

But let your old nature come into your home, and take control and take the place in your heart reserved for Jesus, and your home will become defiled. He will let the enemy take control of your evening with entertainment which will grieve the Holy Spirit. Your old nature will cause you to be discontented with the home you once loved because of envy and lust of the eyes, wanting more of the world, until your life becomes crowded and your carnal heart has crowded out the word of God.

So remember what brings us joy- bearing much fruit. And remember unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labor in vain.

Jesus said, life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. King Solomon had more than anybody had, but found these possessions, this wealth was meaningless. Paul on the other hand had learned to be content regardless of the situation. Life without God is meaningless. Life with God is life as God intended it to be. He always wanted to live with you and me.

The abundant life begins the moment we trust Jesus as Savior. He becomes the foundation of our new life. He becomes the superstructure, which we now supernaturally share with Him. And He brings into our life the décor and surroundings which glorify Him daily.  He is the light of our life. He is our life. The abundant life.

 

 

 

 

Gospel of John; Chapter 9, “I Was Blind, But Now I See”

John 9: I Was Blind, But Now I See

There was an explosion in coal mine in West Virginia some years back. The explosion trapped the miners hundreds of feet down into total darkness. When the rescue team broke through to them and managed to get a light through to them, one of the miners said, “Well why don’t they turn the light on?” His fellow miners realized the explosion had blinded him. In the darkness, in the absence of light, he did not know he was blind. The light revealed that he was blind. The lack of sight does not mean the light is not there. It reveals our condition. What is true physically is also true spiritually.  It reveals we are spiritually blind because we were born spiritually blind.  This story is another miraculous sign which illustrates the truth of spiritual blindness and how one can receive the Light of the World.  This miracle was one of the signs Jesus was the Messiah. For it was said, ‘the blind shall receive their sight.”

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man or nor his parents sinned,” answered Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am still in the world, I am the light of the world.”  (John 9:1-5)

This miracle or sign as John refers to them as, is a further illustration of what Jesus claimed in John 8 when he said he was the light of the world, and “ whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. “

Now the disciples mistakenly believe this man’s condition was a result of sin, either his or his parents. Jesus says it is neither. He says this has happened so the work of God may be displayed, (made manifest, KJV).  In other words it was to bring glory to God. Now to an unbeliever this sounds like a cruel trick for God to play on an innocent baby. This attitude is expected from an unbeliever, but we find as believers we also sometimes question God’s goodness when there is tragedy.

This brings us to a question about WHY God created man.  The ‘whats and whys’ of life often bring us to question our very reason for being. For what purpose was I created, and how do we explain why bad things happen to good people? In this case, a baby is born blind from birth. And Jesus has clearly stated this happened for the purpose of glorifying God, and displaying His Wonder and Power in a work only God could do. Only God can turn disabilities into something that will bring good to people and glory to His name.

THE WHAT AND WHY OF OUR EXISTENCE

Genesis 1 tells us God created man in His Own Image. We were created to rule and reign with Him and thus He gave Adam and Eve dominion over all the earth.  In Isaiah 43:7 we read: “Every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.”  Colossians 1 tells us we were created by Him and for Him.   And Revelation 4: 11 sums it up:  “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

We were created by Him and for Him and for His pleasure. WE exist and received life that God might give Himself to us. Therefore the Westminster Catechism makes this well-known statement on the basis of God’s Word: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Why were we created?  We were created to worship Him; to evangelize; to witness; to make disciples, to fellowship with one another and God; and to have a ministry which God ordained for us to walk in using our spiritual gift.

Guess what we do in our spiritual blindness?  We seek to glorify ourselves by this fallen world’s standards.  Success, wealth, power, looks, fame, popularity, and all that goes with it. Instead of lifting up the name of God, we want to make a name for ourselves. Do you see how we can be conformed by the world which blames God for bad things and tragedies?  Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble, trials and tribulations. He also told us to rejoice for He had overcome the world. We like smooth sailing with no storms, but Jesus in His Sovereignty sends us into storms for a variety of reasons. James says these are to mature and expand and strengthen our faith.

This sign is once again a living parable which illustrates spiritual blindness through physical blindness.

The truth is this:  anyone without Jesus Christ is spiritually blind.  This man was born physically blind so we all are born spiritually blind.  John has already laid the groundwork for this miraculous sign. First John told us in John 1: “In Him (Jesus) was life; and the life was the light of men.”  In John 3, he told Nicodemus he could not see the kingdom of God unless he was born again.  This is because we were born the first time spiritually blind.

Jesus also told Nicodemus and us this truth:  “This is the verdict, Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3: 19)

Let us go back to Genesis to understand why we are born this way.  What happened when Adam sinned?  Adam was suddenly without the Spirit of God in his spirit. Adam was void, empty, spiritually dead.  He was a temple in which God could no longer live. For God had told Adam on the day he sinned against God he would surely die.  He died spiritually immediately as God’s Spirit departed. He died physically later.

Since the life of the Lord was the light of men, when the Lord went out of Adam, the life went out. And when the life went out, the light went out. Since God created his creation to recreate after its own kind, all born of Adam were born without the Spirit of God. Born spiritually dead and spiritually blind.

Therefore this man in John 9 who was born blind is a physical illustration of the spiritual truth that every man, woman, boy and girl who is without Jesus Christ in their life is spiritually blind. Everyone of us were born this way, with this condition.

We know a lost person can have 20/20 eyesight and yet is spiritually blind and cannot ‘see’, comprehend spiritual things.   Ephesians 4:18 say that those who do not know Christ have had their ‘understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through their ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.’ Their foolish hearts were darkened.

Notice in verse 8 of this story, his neighbors tells us the man was a “beggar”. Yet the enemy of our soul has convinced us the only riches worth having are the riches of this world, money, fame, power, possessions.  Listen to what Jesus said to those who said to those at the church at Laodicea:  “You say I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, blind and naked.”    The rich man in the parable in Luke 16 lived a life of luxury while Lazarus lived the life of a diseased beggar.  Yet it is the rich man in Hades who pleads and begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water and later to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of this place.  A beggar for eternity.   Do you begin to see what has happened in the fall?  Man who was created to be royalty- to rule and reign with God Almighty, Creator of all things, has been reduced spiritually to the status of blind beggars. They have been deceived by the father of lies.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS HEALING OF THE BLIND MAN

Before Jesus acts, He repeats: “I am the Light of the World.” Having said that Jesus spits on the ground and made mud (clay, KJV) and He anointed (put NIV) it on the man’s eyes and said, Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  John reminds us the word Siloam means ‘sent.”   What Jesus just said, “I must work the works of Him who sent me.”  This whole event goes back to Jesus’ statement in John 8 he was the light of the world, sent by his Father.  The significance of the mud or clay is man was created by God from the dust of the ground. Paul calls our bodies, these earthen or clay vessels.  The first miracle Jesus did was the turning of water into wine using the water from the clay pots which held the water for ceremonial washing.  Clay represents the humanity of man. If you have ever gotten a foreign object in your eye, you know how irritating or painful it can be. You are told to wash the eye thoroughly, to irrigate it. By placing clay in the man’s eye, it encouraged him to obey. The Holy Spirit irritates us sometimes as He convicts of our sin.   Clay speaks of our weakness our failure and spiritual inability. We are told our God remembers our frames are dust.  Our High Priest, the Lord Jesus understands this.  In our humanity, our spiritual blindness is like this clay in the blind man’s eyes.  Jesus does not leave this man in that condition, He tells him to go wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam.  Whenever water is used for washing in the Bible it is a symbol of the Word of God. As this man obeyed the word of God, he was healed of his blindness.   What had happened to this man physically was his eyes were healed and could now receive light.

The Holy Spirit comes into our lives to impart truth.  He becomes the receiver we need to see the One who is the Light of the World. As we will see in this blind man’s story, spiritual understanding comes gradually, it is a progressive process. We are now enabled to ‘see’, that is understand spiritual truth because we have received the Spirit. “No eye has seen, no hear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has planned for those who love Him. But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.  The mind of sinful man, the man without the Spirit of God cannot see these truths, they are foolishness to him.  But we have received the Spirit of God that we might understand(see) what God has freely given us.  I Corinthians 2.

THE STAGES OF GROWTH

As the blind man progresses in his knowledge, so will we as we have been enabled to see and hear and conceive what God has in store for us. And as we do we begin to be transformed from the inside – out by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit now lives within us. The Spirit of God now uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.

Now once again Jesus has healed on the Sabbath.  He was deliberately challenging the religious leaders. Let us observe the blind man’s progress. He is asked four times in this story how he was healed, who healed him.  When we ask “how” we want to understand the process. Nicodemus asked Jesus ‘how can a man be born again?’  When asked to describe his experience the blind man simply told his story. All he knew was a “man called Jesus” did this miracle. He did not know who Jesus was. He only knew His Name. It is the only name under heaven by which men can be saved. He did not know where he came from or where he had gone.

Next the Pharisees questioned the former blind man. They wanted the details of his miracle. They wanted to make sure this man was really born blind. Also they were gathering facts, about how Jesus did this miracle. When they heard he made clay on the Sabbath, they could accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law.  People who do not want to believe, will always look for errors and reasons to doubt and not believe. People today refuse to look at the evidence honestly. The Pharisees concluded Jesus could not be a true prophet of God if he broke the Sabbath law.   When the former blind beggar was asked who he thought Jesus was, he replied, “a prophet.”

In an attempt to discredit the miracle they would imply this was not the blind beggar, but someone who looked like him.  A clever ploy used by Jesus to deceive them. They asked his parents to verify this was their son. “Is this your son? If he is, how does he see?”  He was their son, they answered. They did not know how he was healed or who healed him.  The parents then tell the Pharisees, “He (their son) is of age- ask him.”

The former blind beggar is brought before the Pharisees again and instructed: “Give glory to God, we know this man (Jesus) is a sinner.” He replied to them: “Whether he was a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see.”  Once again we see the word How- How did He open your eyes?   I have told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples?

This reply infuriated the Pharisees. “You are his disciple. We are disciples of Moses. We know God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’ The former blind man is no theologian, but he knows the truth. Listen to the boldness of his reply: “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  The Pharisees are furious and cast the man out- excommunicate him.

Jesus heard that he had been thrown out and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  Notice Jesus went and found him. He found his lost sheep. The sheep know his voice. This man had never seen Jesus, but he had heard his voice.  Blind people have acute sense of hearing. I knew a young man while at Lambuth named Jerry Crook. Jerry had been blinded in an automobile accident. My roommate and childhood friend, Max Lewis, knew Jerry from CMA.  We used to eat lunch together and also ran around together for a brief time at Lambuth. Jerry went his way and I went mine. Thirty years later, I saw Jerry in the Memphis Airport wearing the collar of a priest. I went and spoke to him, calling him by name. He recognized my voice after all these years. The Apostle Paul had an accident like Jerry which took his physical sight. We know it was no accident and I believe Jerry has probably discovered the same.  Jesus said his sheep know his voice. “Who is he sir, asked the man. Tell me so that I may believe in Him. Jesus said, you have now seen him, in fact, he is the one talking to you”.

Then the man said, “Lord I believe and he worshipped him.”    Why were we created? To worship Him. To Tell others about Him and what Jesus had done. To make disciples. To have fellowship with Him and one another and to have a ministry.  Observe the stages of understanding:   From a man called Jesus to a prophet, to a man of God, to Lord.  This man was not a theologian, he could not even read. Yet he had seen the light. And walked in the light.

The Pharisees were like that miner, they stood in the presence of the Light of the World, but could not see. Proof they were spiritually blinded.  “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood.” (John 1)

“You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they might see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound which saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Gospel of John; Chapter 8, Part 2

John 8, Part 2: Free Indeed

Jesus had just made the remarkable statement : “ I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Now the Pharisees challenge Jesus’ teaching and his lack of witnesses.  Jesus tells them His Father testifies of Him. Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms all spoke of Jesus.

When Jesus spoke of his Father, who sent him, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “ Who is your father?”   We will see later, they knew of his birth and the rumor Jesus was illegitimate. Jesus states a basic truth: you do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father.

Then Jesus makes a statement which speaks of an eternal truth. “ I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”  Jesus was speaking of His death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension to heaven. The Jews to this day still look for the Messiah.  Paul writes their minds are veiled, they are in darkness when they read Moses.  Unless they turn to Jesus, the veil will not be lifted. If they do not turn to Jesus, they will die in their sins. Their destination will be hell, the cannot come where Jesus is, which is in heaven. But we know He is not willing that any perish, but all come to repentance. God never willed anyone to hell.

The spiritually blind Pharisees do not understand and think Jesus is speaking of suicide. So Jesus continues to offer the truth.  “ You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you  that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”  Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Jesus came to show us the way, the truth and the life.

He specifically tells them of how His death will occur according to Scripture. “ When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be, and I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The One who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what please Him. “  When we read the accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels, we read of the signs which occurred that fateful day. The sky turned dark in mid-afternoon; an earthquake split rocks and the veil in the temple was rent from the top to the bottom.  Graves were opened and the bodies of many holy ones who had died were raised to life. They went into the city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw all this, they were terrified and the centurion proclaimed, surely this was the Son of God. ( Matthew 27)  We know as far as Jesus resurrection, He was seen by over 500 witnesses.  These gospels were written while these eyewitnesses were still living. These were real people verified by other sources in the recording of history: Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas were real people. These are historical facts. When historians want to verify a historical event, they use several methods:  archaeological discoveries, manuscript evidence, eye witnesses to the event, and the character of the eyewitnesses. This  is what has led well-known historians to say they know of no other event in history better and more fully proven than the resurrection Jesus.

A NEW KIND OF FREEDOM

Now we come to some very familiar, often quoted verses.  Beginning at verse 30 John  records the impact of Jesus’ teaching: “ Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said: “ if you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” ( NIV)   “ Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed on Him, if you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (KJV)  Whenever Jesus talked about discipleship, he prefaced the statement with the word- if.   Examples:  If you love me, keep my commandments.  If any man follows me, he must deny himself.

Turn the verse around and it reads:  If you are my disciples indeed, you will continue in my word.  If you are really my disciples, you will continue in my word.  Jesus is sifting the wheat from the chaff. He is stating the evidence of saving faith, it is a faith which continues in the word of God.  The study of his word and obedience to his word are evidence of saving faith. Like a newborn babe desires milk, we desire the Word of God. It is our nourishment, the bread of life, it is alive and powerful . It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining.

People heard the word, the incorruptible seed on this day.  For some it bounced off their hardened hearts, and the birds took it away. Others received it with joy, but the soil was shallow due to a rock underneath, and it did not take root and withered. Others were crowded out by the cares of the world, the pleasures of sin.

What was this new kind of freedom?  Do we not all want to be free? Yet we are born in darkness and spiritual blindness.  The opposite of freedom is slavery. Jesus says you are slave to sin. You serve sin. Sin is your master. And since everyone sins, everyone is a slave to sin. We yearn to be free. The enemy has blinded us to real freedom, a new kind of freedom.  Have you sinned since you became a Christian?  Of course you have, we all have sinned, even since we became a Christian.

How does sin enslave one?  It enslaves us by producing a compelling desire, more desirable than anything.  When you sin as a Christian,  you are by your actions  saying I desire this sin more than Jesus.

The Pharisees did not understand the spiritual truth and replied to Jesus : “ We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage.”  What incredible willful blindness. They were at that very moment the slaves of the Roman Empire, the generation before them had been under the Greek Empire, and the list goes all the way back with Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt.

Again quoting from the  KJV Jesus answered them: “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” This is present tense, which implies this is an ongoing lifestyle of sin.  The Jesus explains: ( NIV) Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs forever. “  The servant comes to work in the morning and leaves at night. He does not live in the home, he goes back to his home after the day of service.  The son lives there. We have been adopted into the household of God. He is our Heavenly Father. Jesus, is our true elder brother.

In verse 36, Jesus substitutes his name for the truth, because He is the truth and came to testify to the truth:  “ If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. “

I was a slave to alcohol.  At first it produced pleasure, it was fun. I was experiencing what I thought was freedom from my parents rule. Off at college, I could make my own decisions and do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.  I had the desire to sin. I had the opportunity to sin. I had the ability to sin.

While the chains of enslavement were being forged about my life, I was blind to what was happening. Sin blinds one to the truth. Unless someone intervenes,  we are in a free fall to destruction.   It was a  way which seemed right to us, but its end is destruction.  Some of the habits we form through the practice of this particular sin, so enslave us we believe even after we have been saved, we cannot give them up.  Smoking for many of us began as a harmless, sophisticated habit. Nicotine is highly addictive. For many the  desire still exists, it is still compelling and the opportunity and ability to commit it is available.

Deception is obvious. Many times family intervenes and confronts the one enslaved to drugs or alcohol to take them into a treatment center. The one who is enslaved says they are not enslaved, they can quit anytime they want to quit.  The problem is they have no desire to quit.  They are in a free-fall which will end as badly as the sky diver who jumps from the plane, only to find they have a defective parachute.   I tried and tried to quit drinking in my own will power. But my old nature was no match for the master of sin.  I needed not only a new master, I needed a new way of thinking, for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

When Jesus says true disciples continue in His word, He is speaking on an ongoing, continuous study of His word and adherence to it for the rest of our lives.  One can send children to school for learning, and at some point in time they graduate. We are students of Christ and his teaching for all our lives right into eternity.

How does the word set us free from the slavery of sin?  We have a new master. We have been born again, our old nature has been crucified and buried. Buried with Christ, my sins have been buried and carried away, as far as the east is from the west. Into the deepest part of the ocean where there is no fishing allowed. My new nature desires  Jesus above all things.

Free indeed means:  free from the desire to do this sin. I no longer have a desire to drink alcohol.

I no longer seek an opportunity to drink alcohol.

I no longer have the ability to drink alcohol. Why?  Because a dead man cannot drink. I have been crucified with Christ. ( Past Tense). Nevertheless I live. ( A present fact). Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. ( A truth, a fact which Paul says we must reckon or count as true) and the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. ( The exchanged life which took place at conversion. Jesus wants to share his life with me, as I share my life with Him.)  Galatians 2: 20

He knew how miserable I was in my slavery. He heard my cry that morning as surely as He heard the cries coming up from the enslaved Israelites in Egypt.  He inclined his ear to me and lifted me up out of the miry pit I was stuck in and could not get out of in my own strength and will. He literally kept me from falling.

To take away the desires of my old nature, he took away my old nature. He crucified me with Him. My old nature was buried with Him.  Paul says we need to know these facts: “ Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed and that henceforth we should not serve sin. FOR HE THAT IS DEAD IS FREED FROM SIN.”

A dead man has no desire. A dead man cannot smoke or drink.  WE ARE NOW FREE NOT TO SIN.

Paul then concludes and tells us how this works.  DO NOT MISS THIS.

“ Let not sin reign in our mortal body, that you should obey it in the lust thereof. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; ( do not give your old nature an opportunity to sin, do not entertain sinful thoughts, but cast them out, replace them with truth) but yield yourselves unto God; as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. “ ( Yield to the truth of God’s word)

I was sick and tired of not being able to stay sober. I was wretched. I was miserable. The wine which had sparkled in the cup had turned into poison and its sting was close to taking my life. I was so weary of life, I did not want to live.

Hear our Lord’s invitation:   Come unto me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ( There is a rest that is given at salvation) Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart ; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ( Matthew 11: 28-30)  I was given that rest on the day I was saved, September 16, 1977.  What began then continues to this day is the sanctification process which is ongoing. It is an apprenticeship where I work by His side, yoked with Him. For the yoke is the place of learning.

Now I am a child of God, a son. I abide forever with my Father in the Father’s house.  I was adopted.  Adoption is a legal process by which one becomes a member of a family. It is initiated by the parent.  Regeneration is the work of God and as a result I am born into the family of God. Now as a legal member, born into the family I have an inheritance. I am in fact, a joint heir with Jesus.   The Holy Spirit has shed abroad in my heart the love of God. I have the peace of God, I have access to the power of God, the mind of Christ, and the gift of faith.  I have been freed and am being freed of the desire to sin. I strive to have a conscious awareness of God at all times, to set my mind on things above so I will not seek an opportunity to be tempted. Deliver me from temptation is my prayer, which Jesus, Himself taught us to pray.

Jesus said  if you are really my disciples, you will continue in my word. Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you. He drew me to His word from the day I was saved. He gave me a promise from early on and that one promise ( I Cor. 10:13) prayed back to Him kept me from giving into the desire to drink, because my new nature desired Him more than a drink. He kept me from drinking , removing the opportunity that very day I prayed it.

I was about to fall from 10 stories to my death on that September morning, so here is my everlasting testimony:

“ To Him, who is able to keep me from falling and to present me before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen.

 

 

Gospel of John: Chapter 8

John 8:

As chapter 7 ends, we see the Sanhedrin in a meeting about Jesus and his teaching. The temple guards have returned empty-handed, unable to arrest Jesus. And Nicodemus has spoken up for Jesus by saying it is wrong to condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out the truth.  Both Nicodemus and the temple guards are ridiculed by the Sanhedrin.  The chapter ends by saying:  “Then each went to his own home.”  So a long day ends and as night falls everyone returns home, but Jesus.

John 8: 1 tells us:  “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.”  The Lord who is maker of heaven and earth, had no earthly home. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8: 20)

(Now your copy of the Bible may add a note, this account of the woman caught in adultery was not in some of the earlier manuscripts. This account is present in over 900 early manuscripts, but some omitted it. Augustine said some omitted it because they feared it would encourage adultery. However, it follows logically from the preceding events in John 7 and is consistent with Jesus’ teaching and fits in this location as Jesus issues the statement: “I am the light of the world.”)

At dawn, Jesus was in the temple courts teaching with a crowd of people gathered around him. It is in this early morning setting, the story takes place. “The teachers of the law (scribes) and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. They made her stand in the before the group and said to Jesus: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question to trap him in order to have a basis for accusing him.”

Now let’s follow the time line. The Sanhedrin was in a late night meeting. They went home, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives and had returned to the temple courts at dawn. I believe, this whole thing was planned, a set- up, in which the man is conveniently not arrested. Since she was ‘caught in the act’, there had to be a man present when they took the woman.

In John 1: 17, John writes: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Christ.” The law was given to reveal sin, to uncover it. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”(Romans 3: 20)   When God gave the Law through Moses it was given to show man his inability to keep the law and thus, ‘all sinned.’  The ceremonial law, the instructions for sacrifices were given also so that guilt could be covered until it was cancelled at Calvary.

The law and grace do not compete, they complement. One cannot be saved by the law by keeping the law. Jesus was the only one to ever keep the law, every jot and tittle. But no one can ever be saved by grace, without first being convicted of sin by the law.

Moses and the law were very, very important to the Jewish people and the Sanhedrin now wanted to trap Jesus with this obvious act of law breaking for which the punishment was death according to the Law of Moses. Either way Jesus decided had repercussions. Remember Jesus is not only grace, he is truth. He cannot set aside the law of Moses and set the woman free. Her sin must be paid for, and this is just what Jesus would do at Calvary. He came not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved. If he says stone her, he would lose the support of the people, the sinners and publicans who were his friends.  He would also be arrested by the Romans for they did not allow the Jews to carry out executions.  If he ordered them to free her, he would be guilty of not keeping the law of Moses.  If he said nothing, they would accuse Jesus of not having wisdom.

The case is laid out before Jesus. The law is clear. The trap is set.  What will he do? Surely He cannot escape this cleverly laid trap must have been the thoughts of his accusers.  “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.”  We can visualize their smug faces, their knowing smiles, the sly wink of the eyes, the nodding of heads implying we have him now.  They think he is stalling trying to decide how he can get out of what appears to be an ‘airtight case’.   We do not know what Jesus wrote in the dust that dawn morning. We do know it was by the ‘finger of God’ which carved the Ten Commandments given to Moses.

Jesus straightens up and says:  “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw as stone.” The law required the guilty woman be stoned and the man also. The law required that witnesses be produced and that a witness begin the execution. The accusers are the ones breaking the law. The law says the man must be stoned also. If caught in the act, as they said she was, the man was present, but let go. The law required the man also to be stoned, and called for witnesses to cast the first stone as testimony.  In capital cases, the law required there be two witnesses plus the man who also committed adultery.   So guess who had also broken the law?  The very ones accusing the woman and trying to trap Jesus.  As they considered what Jesus had said, they realized they were not without sin, for they had broken the law’s requirements.

Notice Jesus stoops again after he makes this statement, which probably gave them time to consider what they had done. The scribes were the experts in the law, and they knew Jesus was absolutely right. If Moses himself had been there, he would have consulted the written law and thrown the case out of court, because they had not produced the man or the two witnesses.

So the truth was upheld according to God’s law. And grace was about to be extended to this woman.  She had certainly been humbled by this public display of her sin and God gives grace to the humble. Finally when all of her accusers have left, Jesus says to the woman: “Woman where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord. (KJV) And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Remember what Jesus said earlier in John 3? He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him, the world might be saved. Jesus did not dismiss this woman’s sin, He died for it!  She now had a new Lord and a new life.  How ironic:  her accusers left guilty, she left forgiven and with joy in her heart for her guilty stains were washed away.    Want some more irony? Theologians believe this took place in the Court of the Women.  It was also there a huge candelabra provided light. This great golden candelabra was a great golden piece of workmanship which symbolized the shekinah glory of God which guided the Israelites in their wilderness journey.

THE WILDERNESS JOURNEY

This whole week which had just passed in this account in John 7 where the nation of Israel celebrated the Feasts of the Tabernacles was a remembrance and a memorial to what God had done in Israel’s deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. How Jehovah God had provided for them in the wilderness journey. Providing a pillar of fire at night to lead them. His Shekinah Glory filling the Tabernacle. How he provided manna, bread from heaven and water from the rock which Moses struck.   How fitting now as perhaps the sun is rising as dawn gives away to a new day, the morning light is  now lighting up the court and Jesus makes the third “I am” statement.  Each of these statements coincided with three of the wilderness journey miracles or as John would call them- signs.

“When Jesus spoke again got the people, he said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  Jesus had performed a miraculous sign when he fed the thousands with the five loaves of bread. He said I am the true bread of life which comes down from heaven.  He cried out with a loud voice on the last day of the festival when they poured out the water, which symbolized, the water which came from the rock which Moses struck. That water symbolized Jesus who was smitten for our sins, and from his side came water and blood. Blood to cover our sins, all our sins. And water which symbolized the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent and is sending, a stream of living water which will flow within each Spirit-indwelled believer.

The Lord Jesus came to redeem mankind and reveal God to mankind. Jesus, the greatest teacher ever, used the ordinary things to speak of the extraordinary, the physical to illustrate the spiritual; and the temporary to explain the eternal. When we get saved, we receive the Spirit who teaches us and reveals to us those things which God has freely given us.

We will hear more of these great “I Am” statements. For God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 as “I AM THAT I AM.”

I AM THE LIGHT is the highest claim Jesus has made so far in the Gospel of John. As the sun is the center and source of life for all things on the earth, so is the Son the center and source of life for those of us who believe in Him. In 1 John 1: 5, we are told “God is the light of the World. In Him there is no darkness at all.   Physical light is essential for all life. Physical light is a very complicated subject. It travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second, which means in the snap of your fingers, it has traveled around the earth 7.5 times. We cannot see light, we can only see what it reveals. It is such a mystery; Albert Einstein came to a point in his career, when he stated:  “I will do nothing but study light from now on.”

Light is characteristic of God. It was the first thing God created in Genesis 1. Before light came into the world, the earth was without form and void, empty and in darkness.

This was my life before God came into it- without purpose and empty. A vacuum of emptiness in my life the devil told me he could fill.  He is a liar. He is a deceiver. He is an imitator.  I believed him, so have each of us. I saw the light- have you?

So we begin to see through Jesus’ teaching and miraculous signs who God is and what He wants to do for each of us.

He wants to take us out darkness into the light. In Him, Jesus, was life, and that life was the light of men.

He wants to set us free from the sin which enslaves us. The Jewish people had just celebrated one of the three festivals which memorialized their delivery from slavery in Egypt and their wilderness journey.  Egypt is a picture of the World, which is under the influence of the evil one as the Pharaoh in the time of Moses illustrated.   The Egyptian slave master which held the Israelites in bondage represented the sin which held us in bondage. Moses was sent by God to deliver God’s people from bondage, out of darkness into light; out of slavery into freedom.

Jesus who is the Word of God is a light upon our path and a lamp unto our feet. We are to look to Him as the children of Israel looked to the pillar of fire. We are to follow Him in like manner, looking to Him as the Light of the World.

Gospel of John: Chapter 7

John 7:

John’s Gospel has moved us quickly through Jesus’ ministry with his selected signs and encounters. We are now in the last 6 months of Jesus’ earthly ministry.   We read:  “After this Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews were waiting to take his life.”  The KJV says ‘he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.’ There is a gathering storm in the life of Jesus, but the Gospel of John has given us a sub-theme of which Jesus had spoken of since the wedding in Cana about a divine time schedule in which ‘ his time had not yet come.’ Verse 2 tells us the feast of tabernacles was at hand.    Along with the Passover and the Pentecost, the Feasts of Tabernacle was one of the three feasts every Jewish male was required to attend.  It was also probably the most fun of the three feasts. It celebrated Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt. They camped out for a week in booths. They had parades of torches at night to commemorate the Lord leading them with a pillar of fire at night. The also brought water from the pool of Siloam and poured out water to remind them of the Lord provided water from the rock. On the last day of the feast, they would pour out a double portion.

John 7 is divided into three sections:  before the festival, in the middle of the festival and the last day of the festival.

HIS BROTHERS’ ADVICE

Ever have people offer you advice, you did not ask for?  Of course you have. They view your situation from the outside and offer their advice as to what you should do, although they do not understand or know all the facts regarding your situation.  Their motives might be well-meaning, but often there is an undertone of criticism that says you are not doing the right thing.  Jesus had already turned down the crowd’s desire to make him king. He was a celebrity. He was one of – if not the best known person, in the area. Many had seen his miracles, or had first- hand accounts of those who had seen his miracles and heard his teaching. He was a phenomenon who had created a flurry of activity and talk, while undermining the traditions of the Jewish religious leaders.  Now against his backdrop, Jesus is at home and his brothers, who do NOT yet believe in him. They are offering advice on what he should do, and how he should act and take advantage of the large crowd gathered for the feast of tabernacles in Jerusalem. “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”  For even his brothers did not believe in him.  (Mary had four sons: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. James would write the book of James and Judas, the book of Jude. But they did not at this time believe in him.)   Their advice, I believe, was given with an underlying tone of sarcasm.  If he really was who everyone was claiming he was, he should go right up to Jerusalem and do some miracles and take over.  They did not have all the facts.

JESUS’ REPLY TO HIS BROTHERS

Again we hear Jesus refer to his divine time schedule he is following. “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.”  Jesus says any time is right for you because you come and go at your own desires. They were not depending on their Heavenly Father or living in harmony with His will.  We are surrounded today by people who go where they want to go when they want to go without ever considering the Lord’s will.  It is interesting this unbelief of Jesus’ half-brothers was prophesied in Psalm 69:8: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.”  Psalm 37 begins by telling us not fret because of evil-doers ,nor be envious of those who do wrong, for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.   Later on, in that same Psalm, we read: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighted in his way.”  Do we wait on the Lord’s timing or get ahead of Him and do what we want to do, when we want to do it? Do we fret about evil-doers, or even more likely are we envious of the rich and famous?   If we are honest with ourselves, we are often   envious of the rich and famous- of their magnificent homes and possessions and the ease with which they travel in luxury?  John writes in I John 5, ‘the whole world is under the control of the evil one.’ The world system is the enemy of God. The sinner and the wicked feel at home here, it is their den.  But for the saint, the world system and culture is a lure and temptation for the saint. Remember our enemies and the enemy of God are threefold:  the world, the flesh (old nature) and the devil. It is the ‘prince of this world’ who manipulates this system with its motivating factors: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. These three factors are determining the steps of the majority, their direction in life. The majority has entered the wide gate and the broad way. Jesus said many enter there. It is a way which seems right to man, but the end is death.   Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the narrow way and the strait gate, few enter there, yet it leads to the abundant life. The rich man in Luke 16 had an abundant life. His decades on earth were lived in ease and luxury as he received the good things, while Lazarus received the bad things. Sometimes our lives, as good as they are, appear to be as troubled and lacking as Lazarus’ life when compared to the rich.  You must also realize the rich man in Luke 16, saw Lazarus every day and did nothing to comfort or help him.    Remember how Jesus started His Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.”(Matthew 5)  Jesus also reminds us when He comes to establish his kingdom in Matthew 25, he will bless and reward those who fed the hungry, gave drink too the thirsty, clothed the naked, looked in on the sick and visited those in prison.  Jesus also said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.  Yet he said all things were possible through God.  Perhaps his brothers at this time were jealous of the attention their brother was getting. And they were getting nothing out of it. Their advice was based on a worldly view. Satan is still trying to tempt Jesus and uses his family to tempt him.

THE MIDDLE OF THE FESTIVAL

We read in verse 14 after his brothers had left: “Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to temple courts and begin to teach.”  His timing and sudden appearance in the temple in the middle of the festival week was in God’s perfect timing as prophesied by Malachi:  “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple…” (Malachi 3) Notice the reaction of the Jews, the religious leaders, to Jesus’ teaching:  “The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning, without having studied?” (how knoweth this man letters, having never learned? KJV)  Intellectual snobbery is still with us today, especially in religious circles.  Churches seek those with letters after their names.

Jesus answers their question:  “My teaching is not my own. It comes from Him who sent me.” Jesus is making it clear his doctrine comes from his Father.  He then makes this statement of how to prove he is teaching the truth. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”   Jesus is saying by obeying what God tells us to do, God’s Word will prove itself true to those who sincerely seek to do it. First we must hear the word, for faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The incorruptible seed is cast; this is how it is heard. The parable of the seed and the sower describes the types of heart which it lands upon. What Jesus is saying you must choose to do God’s will. We are not to be hearers only, but doers.   Here is an example of how this works:  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there might be food in my house. Test me in this says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing you will not have room enough for it.”(Malachi 3) Now you can hear this bold claim of the Lord’s but until you actually do it, you cannot test it. Study how the tithe is to be given and the do so according to all the Lord has told you.  We know the tithe must be the first portion, the first fruits. You are not to wait until you have paid all others then pay the Lord what is left over. The first tenth belongs to the Lord. You give the first as an act of obedience and trust.  Cain’s offering was not accepted. Not because it did not contain blood, because the tithe does not have anything to do with forgiveness of sin which requires blood. Notice what it says in Genesis 4: “And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground as offering, unto the Lord.”  He did not bring the first fruits. He brought it when it was convenient for him, when perhaps he had gathered all the fruit and then sure he had enough, he brought it later.  We bring the first- so it can redeem the latter. God did not accept Cain’s offering, NOT because it was plant – but because it was given in a careless, disobedient and selfish manner. I believe this verse tells us Cain did not bring the first fruits, thus recognizing the whole harvest belonged to the Lord and all productivity came from Him. Cain gave it when he was ready, and when he had collected all the harvest. We must trust the Lord’s faithfulness, and money and possessions is one of the areas in which we are tested.  Everyone’s teaching stands or falls by the fruit it produces in the lives of those who embrace it and base their lives upon it. Over forty years ago as young man of 31, I put the Lord’s teaching to the test. It makes the drunkard- sober, the hopeless- hopeful, the crooked- straight. It transforms. The Word of God is life giving, life changing and life sustaining.

Every person comes to base their life and life decisions based on something they believe to be true.  If they believe there is no God, and the Bible is only an ancient book written by men whose motive was to control others, then they will do what is right in their own eyes. The natural man who cannot understand spiritual truths will base his decision on superficial judgements because they do not have all the facts.  This is what Jesus says to his enemies, his critics in verse 24: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgement.

THE QUESTION: IS JESUS THE CHRIST?

Notice the question 2000 years ago on this very day Jesus is teaching in the temple, it is the same today.  Is Jesus the Christ? “Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ?” And the debated continued: “But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”  Jesus’ response:  “Then Jesus still teaching in the temple courts cried out: “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but He who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him, because I am from Him and He sent me.”  At this they tried to seize Jesus, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.  But the Pharisees sent for the temple guard to arrest him.  He was disturbing their peace!

THE LAST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL.

The very last day of the festival would be the seventh day. On this day the priests would march around the altar and draw water and pour it out. Water they poured out was symbolic of the water Moses drew from the rock. * Water for drinking is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.  Water for cleansing or washing is a symbol of the Word of God.*

On this last day when the poured out the water, Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Do you hear the longing of the Savior’s heart in this invitation?   John tells us, by this living water reference, Jesus meant the Holy Spirit.

Moses smote the rock and from it came water. The Lord Jesus was smitten at the cross. After His resurrection and resurrection ministry, Jesus ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to earth to take His place. The Holy Spirit has been flowing all over the world since that day at Pentecost centuries ago. The flowing of the Spirit does not stop.  The Spirit is filling men and women, boys and girls from every nation on the face of the earth. Mightier than any river from the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Nile or the mighty roaring Niagara Falls, the Sprit is the greatest power on earth. And to know that this power which raised up Jesus , this incomparable power in the third person of the God Head, the Holy Spirit is in each of us who believe is all the more remarkable. How can we take Him for granted? How can we not be consciously aware of Him at all times?  He fills every believer in every way.  We have all of Him- the question is does He have all of you?

Today, the question is still debated: Who is this Jesus?  Some thought that day, he was a prophet. Others believe He was the Christ. But for others, Jesus was a problem. He was a threat to their way of life. Thus the people were divided then as they are now.

The temple guards who were sent to arrest Jesus came by to the Jewish leaders – empty-handed. They had not arrested Jesus or taken him into custody. When asked why they had not arrested Jesus, the temple guards replied: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” And may I add, no one ever will. No one will ever love me like Jesus.

Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus. John refers to Nicodemus as the one who came to Jesus at night. Nicodemus had been drawn to Jesus by his teaching and his miraculous signs. I believe after his visit with Jesus in John 3, Nicodemus must have been studying the scriptures to see what they said about the Messiah, the Christ. He wanted to have Jesus come speak to the group. If any of them who continued to talk about Jesus being from Nazareth, from Galilee and therefore not qualified to be the Messiah according to scripture, they could have checked the records and discovered Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was a descendant of the house of David.  Genealogy records were kept in the temple. The Jews had their own form of Ancestry.com.   Their knowledge of Jesus was based on half-truths and ignorance. The half-truth- he was from Nazareth of Galilee. Ignorance- they had not looked at the birth records to see where he was born and from the house of David.    Now the Sanhedrin and these supposedly learned men are baffled. When they asked the soldiers, these temple guards why they had not arrested Jesus, they said they had never heard a man speak like him. When one cannot come up with an answer to the argument, they attack the speaker with ridicule. To the temple guards they say, ‘are you deceived too? ‘  When Nicodemus suggest they proceed according to their law, which is to hear a man first before condemning him, they laugh at Nicodemus and say are you from Galilee too?

Guess what? They did not have all the facts!  They did not want to know the truth. So it is today, people do not want to know the truth. It is inconvenient. It is a threat to their lifestyle. It interferes with their pleasures.  They will not listen and learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gospel of John, Chapter 6; Part 3: The Bread of Life

John 6 Part 3:  The Bread of Life

The title of this lesson comes from Jesus’ declaration He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven.  He is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. We realize the Word of God which is to be engrafted into our souls, is truly in every sense, “soul food.” So let’s pick up the story the day after the feeding of the five thousand.

The next day the crowd finds Jesus on the other side of the lake. Because there had only been one boat and Jesus had not entered it with his disciples they were curious as to how Jesus got to the other side. “Rabbi, when did you get here?”  Notice Jesus does not satisfy their curiosity. Jesus knows why we are seeking Him, because He knows the heart of men.  Your carnal nature always wants something. James said in James 4: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  We read in John 2, many people were following after Jesus when they saw the miracles, but Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew what was in their hearts.

Jesus said in essence, I know what you are looking for- not me, but what I can do for you. You want the gifts, not the giver. You want it for your own pleasure.  Now what Jesus says next closely parallels closely to what Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her as He is telling this crowd, He is the source of eternal spiritual life.   Today people are no different; their thoughts rise no higher than their physical needs, their own pleasure.  They wanted another miracle. If Jesus was not going to provide miracles, or as John referred to them, “signs”, they would not follow Him.  This is why it was said, ‘the Jews demand a sign.’  We will see in this passage, when Jesus does not provide a miracle and his teaching becomes difficult, many would leave him.

Jesus tells the crowd, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God has placed his seal of approval.”  (Remember what happened at Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke from heaven, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”) Jesus has told these people as he told the woman at the well, there was a water which could satisfy her thirst so she would never thirst again. Jesus was pointing to things which sustain our physical life.   Jesus used the metaphors of bread and water which are necessary for physical life to spiritual bread and spiritual water for eternal spiritual life. John told us at the very beginning of the Gospel of John this fact: “In Him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand.”  Jesus used the physical to illuminate spiritual truths. John had purposely referred to Jesus as the Word who was with God and was God.  And it was the Word which created everything and now the Word had become flesh and dwelt among them.

In creation, God created everything and when He did, He also created the source or resource from which that living thing would derive and sustain its nourishment for life.  For example, He placed fish in the seas and waters for the seas and waters would be their source of life, providing everything the fish needed for life. Away from the source of life brings death; a fish out of water cannot survive. Same for the plants and vegetation which were sustained by the earth.  He, also created Adam from the dust of the ground, but it was God’s own breath which gave Adam life. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living soul.  The fruit of the earth sustained Adam and Eve’s physical life, but their spiritual life was dependent on their relationship with God. He told Adam and Eve they would eat the plants of the field, but because of their sin, their physical bodies which came from ground would return to the ground. God told them when they sinned, they would die spiritually. They did die spiritually the moment they sinned, but physically they would die later.  Pick a flower from your garden and it will die, for it is away from the source of its life. You can place it in water, but water is not enough to keep it alive for long.  Adam and Eve died spiritually, but they lived on for a while, just as a rose might maintain its beauty for a while after being picked and placed in water, but will soon wither and return to dust. When Adam and Even sinned, it was if they were flowers which decided they no longer needed the earth from which they drew their being. The flower which says to the earth, I am pulling out of here.  I want to be placed in a lovely vase.  The plucked flower soon withers and fades. The same is true of the branch and the vine. Jesus will later give us the metaphor of the vine and the branch in John 15.  But clearly tells us the branch can do nothing apart from the vine. They believed the lies of the deceiver that there was a more desirable, pleasurable life apart from God. Mankind has been believing that lie ever since the Fall.

But the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth has by His divine power given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.  He will provide all that you need.

We were born spiritually dead but physically alive.  This is why we must be born again, spiritually. The flesh came from the earth, it will return to the earth. Dust to dust was not spoken of the soul. The spirit within man lives on, for the spirit came from God, our spirits are immortal. Since God made bodies of plants, animals and man from earth the bodies return to earth. Dust to dust.  He told Adam his body would return to earth. But this was not spoken of the soul, the spirit of life in man. The spiritual part of man cannot die. This is consistent teaching throughout OT and NT.  Ecclesiastes12: 7 tells us:  “And the dust returns to the ground from which it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” The body and the spirit separate at death. Then one’s spirit will exist in one of two places – heaven with God, or hell with the fallen angels. We who believe will have our works judged for rewards, but live forever with the One who loved us and gave His life for us.    Jesus promised eternal life to those who believe in Him. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives in and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? “ ( John 11)  Paul believed this and wrote: “ For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. “ (Romans 8)  Death is not the end of existence. We will return to God to spend eternity with Him or without Him.

Q AND A

At the mention of the word, work, the crowd wanted to know what works they must do which God requires. What follows is what we would call a “Q and A” session.   Jesus answers their question:  “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” Jesus is saying I am the source of eternal life.  Just as Jesus had told the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God and the who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. “ (John 4)  Jesus is telling this crowd, I am the bread of life.

The peoples ask a question and Jesus gives an answer.  But people want to believe in something they can see.  I will believe it when I see it, is the answer of the carnal man. Give us a sign.  In Luke 16, Jesus tells of a rich man in Hades. He is in torment and thirst. He sees Lazarus, the beggar at rest in Paradise at Abraham’s side. He wants just a drop of water, but Abraham tells him there is a gulf which separates them that now cannot be spanned. The rich man in Hades then asked Abraham something remarkable. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers of this place of torment. Abraham replied, they have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them. (Remember Jesus said, Moses spoke of Him.) No, father Abraham, replied the man, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. He said to him, ‘if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. “The crowds had seen Jesus raise a man named Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, from the dead after he had been buried for 4 days. And more than 500 people had seen the resurrected Lord after His public death.  Death always involves separation, but the spirit does not die, it returns to God for judgement of works for rewards or judgement of sins for punishment, in the place of eternal separation from God.  And it that awful place of darkness there are those now who want us to witness to their loved ones, so they will not end up in hell.

At the mention of the word- work, the crowd wanted to know what works they must do which God requires. And Jesus answers their question:  “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”  Jesus is saying I am the source of eternal life to those who believe in me, the one sent by God. This is all God requires- faith and trust in His Son.

Now the Q and A continues:  “So they asked him, “What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you?  What will you do?  Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: He gave the bread from heaven to eat.”

Here is Jesus’ answer:  Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Their answer:  “Sir, they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

His reply, his declaration: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.* All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (no wise cast out, KJV)*. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day I.”  Jesus tells us, it is the Father’s will that everyone who looks to the Son will be saved.  Peter tells us God is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance. And remember what Jesus said in his discourse with the Jews who questioned him about healing the man on the Sabbath. “These are scriptures which testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me.”(John 5:40) *he Father gives Jesus all who will come to him, that is election. And whoever comes to Him or refuses to come to Him is an act of free will.

Their response:  They grumbled. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, I came down from heaven.”?

Jesus reply:  “Stop grumbling among yourselves. (Remember how the Jews grumbled in Exodus.) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up the last day. It is written in the Prophets.”  Jesus is telling us the Father uses the Word of God, for it is alive and powerful to draw us. Jesus is the Word of God in flesh. It is through the teaching of the Word of God that God draws people to the Savior.   I believe, the Father also draws people with His love, but not all people respond.  As I have said many times, Jesus wept for Jerusalem and said how often He had longed to gather them as a mother hen would her chicks.  The word longed speaks of a great desire, so great it brings the Lord Jesus to tears. He had longed to gather them, but says they were not willing.  It is the will of God that saves, it is the will of man that damns. A sinner hears, learns, and comes as the Father draws him or her.  A mystery to me, but the truth nevertheless. We are born again of the incorruptible seed, the Word of God.  Jesus said this is the verdict, light has come into the world, but men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil. People hate the light because it reveals how ugly they really are.

Jesus then tells the crowd: “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me.” This is why Jesus said It is written in the Prophets, why He told the disciples in his resurrected ministry that Moses and the Prophets spoke of him. “I tell you the truth; he who believes in me will have everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died. But there is a bread which comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

In the desert after God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, God sustained the Israelites for 40 years with manna from heaven. The word manna in Hebrew means “what is it.”(Exodus 16)  The manna came at night from heaven, and Jesus came to this earth when sinners were in darkness. The manna was white, which represents purity, just like Jesus. It was sweet to taste and met the needs of the people. It sustained their life. The Word of God is life-giving, life-changing and life-sustaining.  JESUS IS THE WORD OF GOD.

Now the manna was on the ground so one had to stoop down to pick it up. If they did not pick it up, they would have walked on it. The Lord offers Himself as the bread of life. Take Him into our life which is what eating and drinking represent.

Jesus then says his flesh is the bread of life which he offers to the world. God fed the nation of Israel for 40 years in the desert, but Jesus offers Himself to the world, not just for our sins, but for the sins of the world.  Jesus is using a human analogy to convey a spiritual truth. Food is essential for life, and Jesus is essential for eternal life.

The question arises from the Jews who are now arguing among themselves. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

Jesus answers them:  “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.”  At the mention of blood man are turned off. But we know life is in the blood.   Jesus is proclaiming to be greater than the manna in the desert, for those people ate it and died. He said those who hear him and believe him have everlasting life.

“On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” It was not hard to understand, it was hard to accept it once you understood it. It was true on that day, it is true to this day. Aware of the grumbling among his disciples, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascent to where he was before? “

Then Jesus explains that his language was figurative and spiritual, not actual and physical.

“The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet some of you do not believe.”  Jesus was referring to Judas who would betray him.

We read from that time, many of those who had been following him, turned back and no longer followed him.  Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Do you want to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answered Jesus back. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One from God.”

How do we eat His flesh and drink His blood?  Through the Word of God, the incorruptible seed which gives life. At the Last Supper Jesus explains the visual picture of his body and shed blood as necessary for the new birth:  He took the bread and broke it, and said this is my body, broken for you. Take and eat. Then he poured the wine. ( Remember, his first miracle? He turned the water into wine.) Jesus said this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many, take and drink.  Eating and drinking is believing and receiving.

There is a movement called the ‘emerging church’.  Those pastors who are a part of this movement do not say like Billy Graham said for years in his crusades, “The Word of God says…”.Listen to them and watch them. Ask yourself is the Bible, the Word of God in their hands and they are preaching and teaching out of it. They, with good intentions, want to lead people to Christ, but sense his name is offensive. As far as good intentions go, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.   Instead they will say a man named John who was a disciple of Jesus said.  They have softened their stance on sin; they do not want to offend people in the hope of being ‘seeker friendly.’

But the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Paul was not ashamed of it socially, morally or intellectually. The Word of God is alive and powerful as a two-edged sword, it divides asunder the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The preaching and teaching of the Word of God always leads to a sifting of the hearts of the listeners. God draws sinners to the Savior through the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of sin and righteousness. To be saved a person must hear the Word of God, not about the Word of God.

Those who reject His Word, will reject the Savior. Those who receive His Word will receive the Savior. They will experience the new birth, eternal life.   We have a world, a society which obviously is desperately seeking to satisfy something in their life, a gnawing hunger for which they have accepted the bread of deceit from the father of lies.   We are to offer the Bread of life. We are to feed the hungry.

Paul warns us in 2 Timothy of what will occur in the last days, men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. @ Timothy 4.   People want to hear words, teaching in keeping with their own evil desires. They will not listen and learn from the Father, from the Word of God.

Gospel of John; Chapter 6, Part 2: “A Troubling Storm”

John 6, Part 2:  A Troubling Storm

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6: 15)

The people had decided this was the kind of king they wanted: one who would supply their material needs.  Jesus withdrew from the crowd to prevent this from happening and sent his disciples by boat by across the lake to Capernaum.   We are told in the passage: “By now it was dark and Jesus had not joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. (The KJV, states: ‘and the sea rose by reason of a great wind that blew.’)   A sudden storm arose on the Sea of Galilee, in the dark of night and Jesus was not with them.

What a picture of life:  storms which come into our lives in the darkness of night. Some storms are of our own making, others are those which Jesus has not only allowed, but sent us into.  Mark tells us in Mark 6:  “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to Bethsaida. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.  “

Jesus had led them to middle of nowhere to teach them a lesson on a deserted mountaintop. There He would thank His Father in heaven and break the bread and feed 5,000 men all they could eat from the little boy’s lunch of 2 fish and five barley loaves.  They had the leftovers in the boat with them, 12 baskets full.   WE now understand the feeding of the 5,000 was the lesson, but the storm was the examination to see if they had learned the lesson.

Jesus comes walking to them on the water and we read ‘they were terrified.’ But He said to them, “It is I, fear not.” In Mark 6, we are told: “The wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.”   Remember the area where Jesus had the people sit down to eat as was described in John 6: 10?  “There was plenty of grass in that place…”  Now He has caused the wind to cease the waters are still.  “The Lord is my Shepherd, he leads me beside still waters, He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He restores my soul.”

Jesus had sent them into the storm. They were filled not only with the bread and the fish; they were filled with a sense of power, excited about the miracle. But a storm was just ahead.   We have those days and nights when everything is perfect. We are ‘sailing along through life’ without any problems. Then a storm of adverse, troubling circumstances strikes like a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee.

No wonder people today are so frightened by the physical hurricanes, the threat of war, while an economy teeters on the brink, and a government seems to be completely ineffective. It is dark and Jesus has not come into their lives. Nor do they know He is on the throne high above in heaven praying with His eye on the storm and those He loves.  What an absolutely terrifying place to be- alone, in the dark, in the middle of trouble, without Jesus in your life.

What a comfort it is to hear his words:  It is I, fear not.

The disciples we are told in the other gospels were straining at the oars.  They were stuck in the middle of the sea. Could not seem to go forward and in the darkness could probably not see the shoreline behind them. They had plummeted spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally from the high of the day’s miracles to the reality of a life-threatening storm. Yet the One who created the seas knew exactly where they were, and they were exactly where He wanted them to be – in the middle of nowhere in a stormy sea, and unable in their own strength to make any progress.  “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtains, where Jesus, who went before us has entered on our behalf. He has become our high priest, forever, in the order of Melchizedek. “(Hebrews 6)   Here is our first anchor:  There is nothing which comes into your life except that Jesus either causes or allows. One way or the other, you are guided by His Providential care. It may be too dark for you to see Him, but He has his eye on you. Your storm is not beyond His control. The anchor holds.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is teaching his disciples. He wants them to grow in their faith. So He allows storms to come into their life. Remember He will never place more on you than you can bear. But do not forget His goal which is to make you Holy, not happy.   So by studying how Jesus trained His disciples we see part of the plan of growth includes growing through troubling circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but suspect you are probably like me, I want to avoid trouble. I mean, really, who enjoys trials?  Not me. But then after a while, you realize the Lord puts you through these for they are one of the most important ways He uses to enlarge our faith.  David wrote: “Thou has enlarged me when I was in distress.” Psalm 4: 1)   Adrian Rogers said, “Faith is like film, it is best developed in darkness.”  God may have you in the dark room of development. But know this truth:  God’s plan for our spiritual growth includes storms and trials.  When I was growing up we bought Wonder Bread, it builds strong bodies in 12 ways!  Bread is necessary for physical growth. And Jesus is teaching us about the bread of trouble and trials. It is part of God’s plan for our spiritual growth. And Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is our Daily Bread.

Now here is the next anchor we must not forget in storms. Jesus, our Great High Priest is praying for us, just as He was that night on top of the mountain.  Jesus has a perfect view of our life and situation in which we find ourselves in the middle of. He sees it all. He has His eye on me and mine. “Thou shall guide me with thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73: 24)  And as the song we all know tells us:  His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.   He lives today in heaven, and he ever lives to make intercession for you and me.

We take prayer requests each week and we send them out to probably close to 75 people. But think of this- you are on Jesus’ prayer list!  If He is for you, who can be against you?

The miracle of feeding the 5000 with the two fish and the five barley loaves was the lesson. Now comes the test to see if they understood the miracle. Jesus has sent them without his presence into a storm in the dark of night. Mark writes: “…for they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6: 52)    They had not forgotten the miracle; they had 12 baskets of leftovers at their feet.  In the midst of their problems, they had forgotten the Lord. He who had fed 5000 with this boy’s simple, sparse lunch could keep their boat from sinking.  This is the problem with miracles. We continue to depend on miracles. Want miracles, believe in miracles. But here is another lesson:  MIRACLES DO NOT PRODUCE FAITH WHICH LASTS.  We always want another miracle.

The disciples wanted another miracle; they wanted to be out of the storm and this life threatening situation. But what they needed, was not another miracle. They needed the Miracle Worker- Jesus Himself.

Now the disciples had been fighting this storm for some hours, which probably seemed endless to them. Jesus waited for just the right time to come to them. His timing is always perfect. He comes at exactly the right time. Why does He seem to delay?   Here is our answer:  “Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.” (Isaiah 30: 18)   After all it is Isaiah who tells us the Lord can make a way, where there is no way.

I believe, and this is my belief, the greater the delay, the more gracious He can be.  The story of Lazarus bears this out. Jesus delayed until Lazarus had died and been buried for four days.  Martha and Mary were so disappointed in the Lord for his delay and told him, ‘if you had been here our brother would not have died. ‘They had suffered grief and disappointment which had broken their hearts.  Can you not imagine how great their joy was because their grief and disappointment had been so great and devastating? Now can you imagine when we all get to heaven- what a day of rejoicing that will be?! Let your hearts be lifted and gladdened with the thought He always comes at the right time. And when you look back after these times, you realize when you thought you were in the middle of nowhere; you were actually in the center of God’s will. His eye was upon you. He already knew before He sent the storm what He was going to do.

We are guarded by His power. Jesus came at just the right time that night. He came walking on the water. His presence terrified the disciples until He spoke to them.  “It is I, be not afraid.”  Have you heard your Master’s voice and believed?  He has told us:  I am the bread of life. I am the door, I am the great Shepherd, I am the water of life, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And I am in the midst of your storm.  Do you see He walked on the stormy sea?  The stormy sea raised up by the mighty winds was about to go over their heads.  Jesus came along and showed them what they feared was under His feet.

Jesus is telling the disciples and us- fear not I am with you.  I am the Great I Am.  I am your present help in time of trouble. I am always with you and will never leave you.

Here is what Jesus wants us to remember and know:  “In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; for I have overcome the world.” (John 16. 33)

Is the boat of your life being filled with stormy seawater? Are the winds of troubling circumstances of all types blowing against you? Are you stuck in seemingly impossible situation of which you cannot get out of, try as you might?   Remember where Jesus was during their most difficult hours when they strained against the oars?  He was on top of the mountain praying for them.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made the heaven and the earth. “Psalm 121.

GOD’S PURPOSE.

In all of this we want to keep in mind, God has a purpose in all of this.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. ..”

There it is we are being guided by God’s purpose. And as stated earlier, His purpose is not make us happy, but holy.  Even when you are in a dark storm at sea and taking on water. He is the Lord who made the heaven and the earth.

What we realize in this semi-private miracle just for the disciples is the miracle had three parts. He calmed the storm, the winds and the sea obey Him. He walked on water.  And He immediately had the boat reach the safety of the shore, from the middle of the sea. He overcame the laws of time and space.

Will the Lord be able to accomplish His purpose in you?  You may be wondering and worrying you are not going to get there.  But we have this promise, another promise to anchor our souls.  “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. “  He will complete it. (Phil 1: 6)

WHAT DO YOU NEED DURING A STORM?

Peace. These miracles assure us God will see us through to the other side. Nothing is too hard for Him. He will supply your needs.

He will guide you through the storm.

He has a plan for you- to grow you. Trouble is the means through which we grow. Remember it is God who gives the increase.  He enlarges our faith in distress.

He is praying for you. He has His eye on you.

He is your present help in time of trouble. Trust Him.  Even when you cannot see Him, or understand His plan, trust His heart.

His almighty power protects and guards you. What is over your head is under His feet.

He has a purpose for you.  So do not panic in the storm. Thank the Lord for the storm because you know it will not sink your boat, but build up your faith.

His delay is not a delay, it has as its goal to be gracious to you.

Gospel of John: Chapter 6, In the Middle of Nowhere

John 6:  In the Middle of Nowhere

The miracle of feeding the 5,000 was of such magnitude that is it recorded in all four gospels. It appears from these four  accounts, Jesus and the disciples were trying to get away from the crowds for some much needed R& R. In Matthew 14, we are told it is after the execution of John the Baptist this takes place and Jesus and the Disciples have to gone to a remote, deserted place, in the middle of nowhere. In Mark 6, we also are told the 12 disciples had just returned from a mission trip also and Jesus and the disciples were getting away from the crowd for some much needed rest. In Luke 9, we gather one more detail, they were near the town of Bethesda, which is where Phillip was from and thus, the reason Jesus ask Phillip where they might find food.

Jesus and the disciples had just sat down when Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him.  He asked Phillip: “ Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Notice John tells us the reason Jesus asked Phillip:  to test Phillip, because Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  In the other Gospel accounts we are told the disciples told Jesus because it was such a remote place and it was getting late, they should send the crowd into the surrounding countryside and villages to find food. ( Mark 6)   But probably because it was remote and the men, women and children were tired, , Jesus replies “ They do not need to go away, you give them something to eat.   I love the statement, Jesus already know what He was going to do.  Do you know what that means to you personally?  Wherever you are, you might think you are in the middle of nowhere, stuck and cannot seem to get anywhere.  Jesus already knows what He is going to do.

So this question to Phillip is a test question, John tells us. Phillip is doing some calculating, some mental math. Sizing up the crowd, taking into consideration the remote location, he comes up with a worldly solution.  What is the world’s solution for needs?  Money. Phillip estimates it would take 8 months’ wages to buy enough bread for a bite. Think about it:  we have a drug epidemic- the government is budgeting billions of dollars.  Public education  is in trouble- spend more money.

So the first two suggestions offered are: send them away, we can’t help them;  raise money, but it would be an impossible task to raise that much money, find a source and then it would be inadequate.

Here comes Andrew with a little boy who had a small lunch, two little fish ( sardine size) and five small barley cakes. Even though he brought the little boy with his little provision, Andrew summed up the impossible situation:  “ But how far will they go among so many?” So we have three suggested strategies among the disciples:  send them away; need more money than we have and a resource which could feed 5,000.  Andrew has brought a small lunch, but he has already concluded it can do no good in a crowd this large.

It was Paschal, the great physicist and philosopher, who said there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person that can only be filled by God.  It is an empty place. It is a place of great desire, it is like the hunger of a starving man, the thirst of a lost man in the desert. It is a desire which only God can provide. And His Provision is His One and Only Son, Jesus. Ann Graham Lotz wrote a book which came from a prayer she prayed when there was so many desperate problems in her life, she could not seem to pray for all her needs and her family’s needs. So in a state of desperation, she cried out to Father God, “ Just give me Jesus!” Jesus is God’s supply for our all our needs.

Everyone in the crowd that day were probably tired, hot and hungry.  In addition, Jesus and the disciples needed some “ down time”, they were drained.   But know this, when Jesus asked Phillip ‘ where shall we buy bread?” Jesus was not in a panic, needed advice, or was unsure of what to do.    Guess what ?  In heaven, there is never any panic, or uncertainty. There are only plans.   The Lord tells us ‘ I know the plans I have for you.’  And like the disciples we often try to figure out how to accomplish what we believe are the plans by leaning to our own understanding.   Those who said send them away were just being practical. It was late, everyone was tired, and because of the location, they needed to go somewhere else to find their needs met. Is this not what we Christians have allowed the government to do ? To take care of the poor, the sick , the hungry, the unemployed. After all, it is why we pay taxes.  Scrooge said it was why the work houses and debtor’s prisons existed. Not my problem. This is why I  pay taxes, said Scrooge. This is someone else’s responsibility, not mine.

So far the first two suggested solutions are solutions any agnostic,  atheists or Scrooge  would come up with:  we cannot do anything about this – so send them elsewhere. Money could solve the problem, but you would need a lot and it would only be temporary and insufficient. It would not really satisfy their needs.

Do you see what the disciples were leaving out in their trying to solve this problem?  They had left Jesus out of the solution. Phillip had left Jesus out of his equation.   In Algebra, we are told to find the X factor and it will supply the answer.

Got a seemingly impossible problem in your life? See a problem in our culture, our community, our nation which seems too big for any of us to solve?    A debt too large to pay? A direction our country is headed in, we cannot get turned around?  Let me ask you- who are you asking to help you solve the problem?  Meet the need?  Pay the debt?  Or at this time in your life, are you saying, I am just too old ?

In Genesis 18, the pre-incarnate Lord visits Abraham.  The Lord asked Abraham where is Sarah?  She is there in the tent.  Watch what happens next:  “ The Lord said, “ I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah and you will have a son. Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “ After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have pleasure?”  Then the Lord said why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘ will I really have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Whatever problem you are facing, or our nation is facing, our community, and the church listen to this direct quote from Almighty God:  “ I am the LORD, the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me?” ( Jeremiah 32:27)

No problem too large. Do not leave the Lord out of your equation. Our problem is we are not using all our strength. Imagine a little 5 year old boy trying to lift a 50 – pound rock. It is impossible for him to do it, no matter how hard he tries. So what does he do?  He ask his father to help him, for his father’s strength is his strength also, his source. It is his ever present help. So remember this- there is no problem too hard, too big for Jesus to solve.  Yet – even though we say it and believe it- do we rest in that or do we worry and try to figure out how we can do it with our finite strength and finite knowledge.

Jesus said “ come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. “ Do you notice how “ restless” our culture is today?  They must be constantly in motion, in contact with others, texting , tweeting and messaging with our smart phones which have created a nation with Attention Distraction Disorder. Do you see how desperate they are to fill the hole in their lives.  To not have their phone with them, makes them feel disconnected, lost, out of touch. When we do not have this marvel of technology right with us- are separated from it for just hours, we feel incomplete, out of touch, there is a hole in our life and we are anxious and restless.

These disciples were tired, this crowd of people were tired. They needed food, drink, rest.  Guess what- when we are tired, worried, hungry for something which will satisfy us, thirsting for something which will quench our thirst, looking for love, for pleasure, for security, and worn completely out, because we cannot find that ‘ something or someone ‘ to complete us.

America is an affluent nation. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of our economy. Yet it is very strange, that affluence breeds boredom. This is why we go shopping many times, because we are bored. Amazon makes it easier, because you do not even have to get out of your easy chair or leave home.   We have thousands of options of entertainment on our large, flat screen televisions, which we can also access on our smart phones or computers or I-pads, yet we are restless, every clicking our remotes.  We are looking for the quick fix, the easy solution, the one we can manage ourselves.  We live in a restless world. And in a restless world like this is, love is over even before it begins. Ever searching, never finding. Distracted. Worn out restlessness.

Jesus says take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  The yoke is used to harness strength. The strength of two oxen is twice as great as the strength of one. Pulling together makes the burden easier to move. The yoke is where we learn. The yoke is where we how Jesus to come alongside us and help us for nothing is too hard, too big, too heavy for Him.  He says we can learn from Him because He is gentle and humble in heart, and you will find the rest for your souls. He is the shepherd who leads you beside still waters and makes you to lie down in green pastures, where he “ restores your soul”.

Notice the three things Jesus wants to do for you:  give you rest;  teach you, for the yoke is where you learn, working side by side with Him in the apprenticeship of sanctification; and in the end, you will find rest for you soul.

No problem too big for God.

No person too small to use. A little boy ( I visualize a 6 or 7 year old)  Not many mighty, nor many noble, are called, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak to confound the strong. (I Cor. 1)

Notice what this little boy did?  He took what he had. He took all he had and he transferred it to Jesus to multiply.

The so-called, ‘ social gospel’ wants to feed the hungry. And we, as Christians, are to help feed the hungry.  And organizations , like RIFA are a blessing and a good work. The social gospel meets the temporary needs, and they are important to meet. But the Saving Gospel meets an eternal need.  There are those who  need rest, clothing, food, shelter, soap and soup. But they need salvation. They need Jesus.  Jesus is about to reveal He is the spiritual bread, the bread of life.

Now here is what we need to see in this situation , this miracle or as John calls them – signs. There is a deeper meaning to why Jesus fed the 5000 bread in this miraculous manner. You see the fact that Jesus fed them physically, met their temporary needs, allowed Jesus to tell them about spiritual bread, about salvation, and saving faith.

The people Jesus fed that day were hungry the next day, 24 hours later. They wanted Him to feed them again.  Jesus told them “ Do not labor for food that perishes but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you  because  God the Father has set his seal on Him.

What we are all seeking for, hungering for, thirsting for is righteousness.   We are to seek Jesus because Jesus is made unto us, “ wisdom and righteousness.” ( I Cor 1:30)

Feeding, clothing and providing for people in need is a good thing.  It takes care of an immediate need they have.   If you are sick and have fever and pain. The doctor can give you something for the pain and the fever.  But they are temporary, the doctor needs to find the cause of the fever and the pain.

Next week we continue in this story which took place the next day.

But for today’s lesson we have learned the following:

  • Do not leave Jesus out of the equation when trying to figure out how to solve a problem. Remember nothing is too hard for Him.
  • We have a BIG GOD. He always has a plan that will work.
  • The Lord loves to use those who in the eyes of the world are “little people”.
  • He uses the weak and the foolish, the ordinary people to do the extraordinary.
  • Bring what you have. Bring all that you have. Transfer it to Jesus. He will transform it.

Gospel of John: Chapter 5, Part 2: My Father and The Son

My Father: John 5, Part 2

The Fourth Commandment states:  Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Observance of the Sabbath was a chief characteristic of Judaism.  Jesus observed the Sabbath and was in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were extreme legalist. As such they defined what “work” was and was not on the Sabbath.  This was done with the oral tradition, the tradition of the elders and the written man-made laws of the Misnah.  Jesus said he came to keep the law, every jot and tittle. God’s law, not man’s law.  He would fulfill the law and never break God’s law.  In Mark 2, Jesus had an encounter with the Jews over the fact that while passing through the grain fields, his disciples picked some of the grain and ate it. The Jews said he was breaking the law of the Sabbath.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

“So because Jesus was doing those things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  Now the Jews did not take issue with Jesus that God was working on the Sabbath.  For God has not taken a day off since sin entered the Garden. Can you imagine the chaos if God said, do not disturb me on the Sabbath, no calls, no prayers, no visitors, I will be taking the day off.  No, the Jews reasoned God was always at work, what they took issue with is Jesus referring to God as “My Father” in the singular possessive pronoun.  They perceived, rightly so, Jesus was making himself equal with God.   Remember what Paul wrote in Phil. 2: 6&7:  “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” In John 14, Jesus told Phillip, who asked him to show them the Father, that if he had seen him (Jesus) he had seen the Father.  Hebrews 1 tells us Jesus, the Son, is the exact representation of God.  John 1 tells us ‘no one has seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side has made Him known.’ He is called the WORD, because He, the Lord Jesus, is the exact expression of the Father.

Jesus was trying to break through to these blind religious men.  But do not miss He is also teaching his disciples and us (who are also learners) how to listen to the Father and follow Jesus’ instructions.

Jesus answers them in verses 19-20:  “ I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

What does equality mean with God mean?

  1. Jesus does not operate independent of the Father.
  2. Jesus is in constant touch with the Father.
  3. He does what He discerns the Father is doing. He does the will of the One who sent Him.
  4. The Father loves the Son, He also loves us. For this reason He shows us what He is doing so that we might join Him in His work.

Now you realize the temptation of Jesus in the desert by the devil in Matthew 4 was temptation to act independently of the Father.  This is the basis of all sin- to do it ourselves, a way that seems right to us. Jesus said He could do nothing apart from the Father. And has told us the same in his teaching on the vine and the branch in John 15.  Any work done without Jesus is dead orthodoxy, just as dead as the works of these legalistic Pharisees.  It is lacking power and is therefore ineffective. Any church relying on self and methods of man is relying on man not God. In Him is life- works without Him are dead.

The Jewish Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisees, predominantly, who had the responsibility of investigating any new preachers or teachers to make sure they were not false teachers. This is the reason they had gone to question John the Baptist. This is why they are always present in the crowd when Jesus is teaching.    Jesus wanted to show these religious zealots it was their beliefs not his behavior that was at fault.

These Jewish leaders had taken the Sabbath, which was God’s gift to mankind, and had turned it into a prison of regulations and rules which one could not possibly keep. For example a man could get his ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath, but a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years and was miraculously healed, could not carry his mat on the Sabbath.  A physician could not heal on the Sabbath. Jesus deliberately challenged their legalistic traditions and man-made laws.

Having just told them He did what the Father showed him, Jesus gave them a preview of what He was about to do.  He says to these Jews: “Yes, to your amazement, He will show him even greater things than these (healings). For just as the Father raised the dead and gave them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He pleases. Moreover, the Father judges no but has entrusted all judgment to the Son that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Father, who sent him.”  You can imagine how shocked these Jews were at what Jesus was claiming.

THE CROSSOVER

Jesus prefaces this statement with ‘verily, verily, I say unto you’:  something He said when He wanted to make sure they understood what He was about to say was of the utmost important. So let us listen to this all important truth which contains a promise and the qualifications for receiving this promise.

“I tell you the truth, (verily, verily I say unto you) whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  Do you see who qualifies to receive the promise?   It is whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me.  What is the promise?  This person has eternal life- present tense from that moment on for eternity!  And they will not be condemned.

This person has crossed over from death to life. How do we cross over?  When we kneel at the Cross of Calvary. See the picture, you are kneeling and the Cross is over you and you are covered by the blood.  Having been convicted of your sins, you have asked God to show you mercy.  Actually, Jesus asked God to forgive you on the Cross when He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”  We should never get over the Cross, for it was at the Cross where my sins were paid for and I crossed over from death to life. It’s still the Cross.

Now Jesus speaks of two time periods: one is a time to come, future. The other is a time which has come.

THE TIME WHICH HAS COME

This is time when the dead in Christ will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. You see the time has come when the spiritually dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and hearing, will believe and receive salvation and eternal life. This time has already come and the Word of God saves countless lives each and every day. This time has already come and there is still time for anyone who believes to be saved.

THE TIME IS COMING

The time is also coming in the future when the physically dead will be called to resurrection by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They will live as they are raised from the dead, from the grave on the Last Day.

HOW CAN THIS BE? “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He can grant the Son to have life in Himself. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, the life was the light of men.” (John 1: 3-4)

He will also be judge of the living, the believers, for rewards for the quality of their work and judge of the dead, those whose names are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life for their punishment. The Judge will be honored that day. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, the Judge is Lord.

DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY

The Trinity is a mystery we cannot fully comprehend. But we can discern the order of the Trinity.

The Son is not independent of the Father, but rather dependent on the Father and works in tandem with His Father.  They are inseparable. The Son speaks the Father’s words and declares the Father’s judgments. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally equal in Person in one Godhead in three persons. The Son obeys the Father and listens to the Spirit to fulfill God’s plan. This is why Jesus came to show us how to live in dependence upon the Father. This why He sent the Holy Spirit, another who is Comforter, Advocate and Teacher. To help us understand the things God has freely given us.

THE WITNESSES.

Jesus says I have three witnesses:  John the Baptist’s testimony; the miracles, signs, which even Nicodemus said, we know you are a teacher sent from God , because no one could do the miraculous signs you are doing.  And Jesus told them, you have the Scriptures which testify of me. Remember when Jesus was resurrected, he told Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus and his disciples how Moses and the prophets and Psalms spoke of Him. Jesus said to these legalistic, self-righteous Pharisees, the reason you do not hear the Father’s voice concerning me, is the word does not dwell in you.

This phrase, the word dwelling in you, is important to understand. This is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple. In John 8, Jesus said: “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. “ If you abide (dwell) in me and my word abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be given to you.”  (John 15)  The abiding life is the theme of John 15, the vine and the branch.   “ Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts. “ (Col. 3: 16)

What does it mean to have the word of Christ dwell in you?  It means to internalize its truths so it guides our whole life. We embrace it and put it into practice. These Jews did not have the word of God dwelling their hearts, it was in their minds. The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is life giving, life transforming, and life sustaining. The mind is where knowledge dwells. The heart is where love dwells. Jesus said to these Jews, ‘you do not have the love of God in your heart.’ (vs. 42) Romans 5 tells us the ‘love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit.’

APPLICATION FOR DISCIPLES

Jesus said: Follow me. So let’s follow his example, his lifestyle and how he lived day-by-day. Mark 1 said Jesus got up early in the morning, to spend time with his Father. He has told us we can do what He was doing and even do greater things, because He is now in heaven and has sent the third person of the Godhead, another, who will indwell us and seal us and never leave us. The Spirit is from God so that we may understand the things God has freely given us. Words taught us not by human wisdom, but in words taught us by the Spirit expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

So here is what Jesus has shown us:

  1. Jesus is equal with the Father, but voluntarily subjects himself to the Father. So must we.
  2. Jesus listens to the Father, and then does what the Father is doing. This is our example how we listen and obey. Not hearers only, like the Pharisees, but doers of the word.
  3. Eternal life begins now for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How do we glorify Him? By bearing fruit.
  4. In Him is life, there is no other source- not religion nor works. Those are works of flesh, not fruit of the Spirit which the branch bears only when it abides in the Vine.
  5. Like Jesus, our example, we are to live utterly dependent upon the Father; we are not function independently. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

At the empty tomb, Mary has encounter with the risen Lord and did not know it was the Lord.  She supposed him to be the gardener. She asked him if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away. Jesus said to her “Mary!” And she turned to Him and said Rabboni! (Which is teacher). Jesus said to her, “ Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “ I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”  (John 20)   He is my Father, He is my God.

We have been adopted. We can pray to our heavenly Father and He can show us where He is working and we can join Him there.  He will do this as He did for Jesus, because He loves us.

Jesus says to us, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. “(John 14)

We have a threefold enemy, the world culture which wants to conform us. Our flesh, our old sinful nature in which dwells no good things. And the devil who is a relentless foe who goes about like a roaring lion. He wants us to doubt the Word of God and His promises. We have an external source of temptation, the world which is under the control of the evil one. An internal enemy, our old nature, who is always present when we want to do good. And an enemy who wants to destroy us.  But greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

I believe the enemy is filled with fury, because he knows his days are short. (Rev. 12)  As he grows even bolder, so must we.

The signs are becoming clearer.  The battle has intensified. Be on guard. Watch and pray. Things are not what they seem. The things which are seen are temporal, and the things which are not seen are eternal. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of My God stands forever, unchanging, for My God and My Father does not change.

Is He your Father? Have you been born again?  If you have- you now possess eternal life. You are partakers of His divine nature.

You can call Him anytime- He loves to hear from you. After all He is Your Father and Your God.

Gospel of John, Chapter 5: Would You Be Made Whole?

John 5: Would You Be Made Whole?

This is a story which has two parts. In the first part we will see the healing of a paralyzed man on the Sabbath.  An obvious violation of the man-made rules the Pharisees had invented which causes a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees in the second part of this story next week.

John gives us the setting of this miracle. The place is called Bethesda, which means “house of mercy”, and is located near the Sheep Gate.  There are five covered porches surrounding the pool.  It was here under the cover of these porches a great number of disabled people used to lie- the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.

*Now if you are reading in the NIV, verse 4 is missing. If you are reading in another version, you have a verse which explains why they are gathered around this pool: For an angel went down at a certain time and stirred the water; then whoever stepped in first after the stirring was healed of whatever disease they had.  This verse does not appear in original manuscripts.  This verse was added later to explain why these disabled people gathered here and why the man Jesus was about to heal told Jesus he had no one to put him in the pool when the water was first stirred.

Jesus knew about his man, just as he knew about the woman at the well and that he had been in this condition for a long time. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be made whole? (I prefer the use of the word, whole, rather than well in the NIV)

Let us pick up the story at this point with the disabled man’s reply to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”  “Sir, the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was the Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he (the healed man) replied, “The man who made we well, said to me, “pick up your mat and walk.”   So they asked him, “Who is this man who told you to pick up your mat and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him: “See, you are made whole. Sin no more, lest a worst thing come upon you.”  I italicized the word temple because this man had gone to the House of God to thank Him for making him whole.

As you contemplate this story, you might wonder in a place of such sickness, blindness, lameness, why didn’t Jesus heal everyone?  Jesus came to seek and save. Jesus came as Savior. He came to save us from our sins. He came to heal us of our spiritual disability.  This man was healed, but he would still die someday. But Jesus told us;” I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. ( John 11)   Lazarus was raised from the dead, his life was restored. However, Lazarus would eventually die.  The priority of the Lord was and is always to deal with our spiritual condition first and foremost.

Here is the truth: “Though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16)   Out outward bodies are growing weaker as they age, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day- this is the equivalent of the “ fountain of youth” many are seeking today.

Jesus healed just the one man that day. He was teaching a great spiritual truth of which the healing was a symbol or sign. His message is we are all spiritually impotent, without strengthen, unable to walk according to the Spirit. Without strength to resist temptation, powerless over sin.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.  But we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  Here is the power for living. He was standing right in front of this man who did not have power to stand up and walk.

Jesus is the answer to our spiritual disability, our spiritual impotence.

Now notice Jesus asked the man, ‘do you want to be made whole?’     Whatever may be said of God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will, one thing is sure. The human will play its part. The Lord will never save someone against their will.  When he wept for Jerusalem, and proclaimed how often he had longed to gather them as a mother hen does here chicks, he lamented, “You were not willing.” He did not say, you could not- he said you would not, an act of the human will.

Now let’s do an analysis of this miracle, or as John calls them a “sign”. Let us look what is the message, the instructions which the Lord is telling us in performing this miracle.

WHAT THE SIGN IS TELLING US

The first step to being healed of spiritual paralysis is to admit we are powerless.   I have a spiritual birthday coming up, on September 16th.  I was saved on September 16, 1977.  I had a conversation with the Lord Jesus that morning, just as sure as Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the nobleman and this paralyzed man.  As a result of that conversation He sent me to an AA meeting which was taking place just moments away and just moments after my conversion.  Here was what I heard, which Jesus intended for me to hear, when I entered this meeting as they had begun to read the 12 steps. Here are the first three steps of AA I heard that morning when I entered into a church basement to a 10:00 am AA meeting:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Listen to what happened to me and what happened to this man at the pool of Bethesda:  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. “ (Romans 5)

Every person on the face of the earth who is without Christ is without strength and powerless.  I was born and you were born incomplete. We were without Christ and we were born in bondage. We are sinners by birth, sinners by nature, sinners by choice and sinners by practice. You can rename it, re-define, but we are all born this way. This is why we must be born again.

So here is the first step to realize we were born with a sinful nature void of the Spirit of God. The primary source of our weakness, the inability to walk as God intended us to walk is sin. Jesus linked this man’s sin to his inability to walk. This is why Jesus told him to go and sin no more, lest something worse happen to him.  * Not all sickness is caused by sin, but we believe death entered the world as a result of sin. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

The source of our spiritual disability is sin.  We were created to glorify God, to reflect His image. Sin is coming short of the glory of God. (Romans 3: 23).  It is the hole in our life, the gap between our sinful lifestyle and the glory of God is the source of our weakness. God wants us to be holy as He is holy. And we do not have the strength and never will in our own strength.

This paralyzing force of sin is we cannot be what God would have us to be.  I could not stay sober to say my life. This man could not walk. And each year, his condition got worse, the muscles in his legs begin to atrophy and wither. His muscles were deteriorating.  The longer a person stays in the throes of alcohol, or drugs or any type of addictive sin, the course of the disease of sin continues to worsen until it leads to death.   So it is with people who are without Christ. The longer they live, the harder their hearts become and their condition worsens.  But do not give up hope, for nothing is too hard for the Lord, including the stone heart of an unbeliever.

This man had been in this condition for 38 years. His bitterness about his life is obvious, and he has an excuse which he has used for years. When Jesus asked him – do you want to be made whole?  The man had the excuse he had used for years- my problem is I do not have anyone to put me in the water first when it is stirred.

So we see we must realize we are powerless over sin in our own strength.

We must realize the condition will only get worse until we say to the Lord; I am powerless over my sin. Please come into my life and take over or else I will die. This is an act of our will.

When Jesus said to this man, “Do you want to be made whole?”  Jesus was actually asking this man, what is your will in this matter?  Jesus wanted this man to activate his will. God will never make you choose.  God will not coerce your will, but He will enable it.   God says he is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance. He takes not pleasure in the death of the wicked. He did not create hell for man, but for the devil and those fallen angels who followed him rather than God. This why the most important commandment and invitation Jesus offers is “Follow Me.”

BEGINNING THE WALK.

John did not write this book so paralyzed; sick, blind people could be healed of physical illnesses. John tells us why he wrote this Gospel:  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

John wrote this gospel and recorded these miracles, which he refers to as signs so that lost people might be saved and have the abundant life. He wrote it that we might receive the strength from above, so that by believing Jesus we believers could walk in victory, day-by-day.

Jesus offers the man a choice: would you be made whole?

Then Jesus told him to do something. This was a command which required obedience.  Remember our four steps from last week.  We must: hear the Word, believe the Word, Obey the Word, Rest in the Word.

Turning the  water into wine, required the servants to hear the command of Jesus, believe He could turn the water into wine, obey the command by taking the water into the master of the banquet, and rest in their faith that what Jesus commanded would be so.

With the woman at the well, we see a woman who took Jesus at His Word and believed Him without seeing a miracle to validate His words. The people of Sychar believed his word. The nobleman believed his word and now this man will believe his word.

The man had a choice. He could believe Jesus had the power to heal him and make him whole or not. Jesus did not reach down to give him a hand and assist to get up. This man had to get up to his feet and take up his mat and walk. Getting up and walking did not heal this man. He was healed by the power of Christ. His walking demonstrated he had been made whole.

THE SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES:

“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any many should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should WALK in them.” (Ephesians 2: 8-10)

All things are possible with God.

There are three key prepositions in these verses:  by, through and unto.  This is the ordained order of these truths always in this sequence.

How was this man made whole?  By Grace.  Same way I was saved and made whole, by grace. And this is true of everyone who is saved.  This man was paralyzed. He was powerless and could not walk. I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable. I could not stay sober.   Salvation is by grace.

Salvation is also through faith. Faith is the gift God offers. When we accept the faith He provides, it is exercised by obedience. We must hear the word. Believe the word. But we must not be hearers only; we must be doers as James tells us in James 1.  Faith is belief with legs on it.  It results in works.

Brings us to the last preposition, unto good works. We are saved by grace through faith unto good works.

We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works which God had planned before for us. This is why Jesus warned us of the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus said he came to give us life and life abundant.  Do you see what the enemy has done from the beginning?  He, who is the father of all lies and the deceiver, has planted a corruptible seed- that God is not faithful and cannot be trusted and taken at His word. He portrays God the Father as a stern taskmaster, a kill-joy. That God is withholding the abundant life from you, while the enemy has a life more rewarding, more enjoyable, and more pleasurable and you can do what is right in your own eyes.

Jesus makes it clear as we study his teaching and listen to his conversations with people He encountered. He told us a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. How does Jesus provide us with the “abundant life”?  Good question.  The Lord Jesus provides us with the abundant life by giving us Himself. The enemy of your soul has convinced our culture today and he done so since the fall of man in Garden, the abundant life is in money, wealth, power, fame, and all that goes with it.  But if we observe the life of the rich and famous we find higher incidents of divorce, infidelity, children in trouble and a never ending search for happiness, for a sense of satisfaction.

So here is the order we see, and the sequence in which it always operates:  Salvation is by grace, through faith, unto good works.

Jesus is the answer to your disability. Faithful is He who calls you who will also do it. (I Thess. 5:24) This means He will provide you with the strength to walk the walk, day by day.

The Christian life is a by grace through faith operation from the moment.  This is why Paul wrote: “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in Him (Col. 2: 6).” How did we receive Him?  By grace through faith. How do we then live and walk in Him?  The same way.  God will replace your disability with his ability.

APPLICATION:

Admit you are powerless over sin and your lack of strength, your disability to walk as God intends you to walk.  Recognize He can provide you with the strength you do not have. In fact, His strength is made perfect in your weakness.  Don’t keep sitting where you are – get up and come to Jesus.

God wants to supply all your needs. This starts with salvation for the unbeliever and strength for the believer.

Trade your disabilities for His abilities.  Remember the currency of exchange in heaven is faith.

Don’t stay where you are- get up and go with Him.  FOLLOW ME, SAID JESUS AND I WILL MAKE OF YOU WHAT I CREATED YOU TO BE AND CALLED YOU TO BE.

 

Gospel of John: Chapter 4: 43-54 – The Nobleman’s Son

The Nobleman’s Son:  John 4:43-54

I love the Word of God.   As John has told us, this name also applies to the Lord Jesus. In the beginning, John writes, was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He tells us later, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God the Son became flesh, His glory was encapsulated in a body prepared for Him. Like the tent in the wilderness, the Glory of God which once dwelt in the tabernacle in the wilderness, now dwelt in the earthly tent of a human body.  I love the Lord Jesus, the Word who became flesh. Who loved me and gave Himself for me.

I also love the printed Word of God.  The longer I study it, the more I love it, the more I learn.  It is hard to explain the wonder of it all, try as I might. When I teach from any of the books of the Bible, I hear the voice of God and see the Lord Jesus on every page.  But when we turn to the Gospels, we are able to read the very words from the Lord’s lips to our ears. I always visualize Him in the setting which the writer, quite often an eyewitness. describes.  In this lesson we will learn the all-important four steps to faith which begins with hearing the Word of God.

Jesus would stay two more days in Sychar in Samaria as a revival swept through the city. He then returned to Galilee and once more visited Cana in Galilee where He had performed the miracle of the wine at the wedding.  Now follow the story as recorded in verses 46-54.

“And there was a certain royal official (nobleman, KJV) whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.”  The word, nobleman, used in the KJV, was by its very meaning, ‘a king’s man.’  The king probably meaning King Herod.  This royal official was a rich, powerful man, an authority figure who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed.

Now there is obviously an audience surrounding Jesus. Jesus answers the man, but his answer is for the audience also:  “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe. “ The nobleman says, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  You can hear the desperation in his voice, you can see the tears in his eyes and we can empathize with his situation.  It is almost as if Jesus is blunt with him.

“Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”  The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on his way, his servants met him with the news that his son was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour. (1:00pm) Then the father realized that this was the exact time Jesus had said to him, “your son lives.” So he and all his household believed.  This was the second miraculous sign Jesus performed having come out of Judea.”

This is a story about genuine faith.  Do you realize what faith is in heaven?  It is the currency of exchange.  Jesus told the two blind men in Matthew 9, “according to your faith will it be done to you.” We exchange our faith for doubt. We exchange our faith for hope, when we are hopeless. We exchange our faith for sight and certainty, when we cannot see and are uncertain. Faith exists in the area of the unseen, the unrealized and unknown. This is where faith is most valuable. It is the currency of heaven. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places; our faith is how we draw from this account. And even the faith with which we believe is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” KJV. The word substance refers to the title deed with which one claims his/her inheritance. Notice also the word which starts this verse: NOW- faith is in the present tense. This is why Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Don’t go out into the future to borrow some more. His grace is always sufficient.

OBSTACLES TO FAITH

Obviously, we want to possess a strong faith.  But what is even more important is we have a strong faith which possesses us. Here are the obstacles to faith. And remember from the very first sin which occurred in the Garden, the enemy wants you to doubt God’s Word.  The Word of God which is the incorruptible seed by which we are saved.  So let’s look at the obstacles:

  1. Obstacle #1: Second hand faith. The nobleman had heard about Jesus. He came to get Jesus to take him back home with him in the hope he could save his dying child. He was desperate. He had a major, major crisis in his life. A matter of life and death.  Salvation is always a matter of life and death.  Often God has to allow us to come to desperate crisis situations in our lives so we can get our priorities in life in order. Jesus replies to this man and the people about him, “unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.” The nobleman is not there for a theological debate. He says to Jesus, “Sir Come down before my child dies.”  Jesus replied, “You may go, your son will live.” This man has come with 2nd hand faith, borrowed faith from other’s testimony about this man Jesus. But you see, your mother and daddy’s faith will not save you, it must be personal. Jesus asks his disciples one day, “Whom, do men say that I am? “ And the disciples told Jesus what others believed who he was.  Jesus then asked them, “Whom do you say I am?”  This was personal belief, personal faith. Peter answered, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” ( Matthew 16)  It does not matter who others says Jesus is – it only matters who you believe He is. This is why we must know who Jesus is, what He offers and how to receive it.   Jesus is saying you demand a sign, a miracle, and a wonder in order to believe. They are not hungry for God, they are hungry for the miracles of God. Jesus said in John 6, the day after feeding the 5000, “you seek me because you ate the bread and were filled.”  In fact when we demand a sign we dishonor God. We are saying to God, we do not take you at your word, you must prove yourself with a miracle.  I need proof you are a God who keeps his word.
  2. Obstacle #2. This one is a big one.  Our faith is self-centered. We realize this nobleman was interested in Jesus for just one reason- he has a dying son he wanted to live. He came to Jesus in desperation as his last hope of having any chance of saving his son. You may ask is it wrong to pray for your loved one’s sickness, or any other problems we have? No, we are encouraged by God to call on Him. But what was the nobleman’s priority?   He wanted Jesus for what Jesus could do for his son, his family. He wanted his will to be done not God’s will. “Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him must believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, (not what they can get from Him.) Hebrews 11: 6.    Jesus told us not to worry about our life, about food and clothing for life was much more than that. He knows this is what the pagans seek after, and He knows you have need of those things also. But seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added. ( Matthew 6) We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are to seek His will, His rule and reign first. We can then love our families best when we love Him first and foremost. He has promised to supply our needs.  Will you take Him as His Word?  Or do you demand He do what you ask Him to do, when you want him to do it and how to do it?  This man was a loving father who wanted to give his son, something he could not give him. He wanted to see him healed and with a future. He loved his son and wanted to give him good gifts.  Jesus said if you earthly fathers, being wicked, know how to give good gifts, how much more would your Heavenly Father give you.  ( Matthew 7)  Now do not leave this section thinking, does this mean I cannot ask God for things for myself and my family, especially if there is a crisis.  No, whatever concerns you, concerns God.   But this man’s problem is he has yet to bow down at the feet of Jesus and worship Him. So many people today, including Christians, are concerned only about our health, our welfare, our children, our families, and our future- but not about the kingdom of Jesus. Our priority is not glorifying God and maintaining a right relationship with Him.  Jesus told us: “The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go their way they are choked out by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature “(Luke 8) Do we add ‘not my will, but thy will, Father to the end or lists of wants and needs we bring to Him? Do we mean it or is it an empty vow? Are you disappointed when God does not answer your prayer the way you want Him to answer it?  To be honest, we usually are, but then later on we often see His wisdom and His Ways which are higher than ours.  But whether we see it or not- we believe His ways are best.
  3. Obstacle #3 – A strong-willed faith. This is often the type of faith which grows out of a self-centered faith. It relies on personal strengths and disciplines. This nobleman was a man who had been successful in life. He was disciplined. He was a hard worker. He was intelligent. He could by his own power control things about him.  He would tell this Jesus what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Peter was a man of great physical strength, who depended on his physical strength to get things done. Paul wanted a thorn in his flesh removed so he could operate at full strength. Until the Lord refused to remove the thorn, telling Paul His grace was sufficient and His strength is made perfect in weakness. This is a lesson we all have to learn. Faith is not so much receiving from God the things you want. But is accepting the things God gives.  But what you will soon find out as this nobleman did, is the Lord is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. This man wanted something very important to him and his family to happen, he wanted his son to live. What he and his family got was so much more.  Jesus gave him and life and life abundantly.  Eternal life. Now we have not been told anything about his man that he was sinful or mistaken in coming to the Lord Jesus.  He was in the right place, pleading with the right person for help.

THE STEPS OF FAITH

  1. “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The nobleman was standing in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, the incarnate Word of God.  He had asked Jesus to come, Jesus told him to go. If you want to believe, you have to have something to believe in. And what we have is the Word of God, the incorruptible seed. The Word which is alive and powerful. It is life giving, life sustaining and life transforming.  I spent a 14 year period in my life without hearing the Word of God, by choice. I had been raised in a Christian home, went to church all my years growing up, but when I went off to college at 17, I decided to live life my way, not my parents’ way nor God’s way. I had a second hand faith.  Like Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and this nobleman, I had heard about Jesus. But I did not know Him personally, until He allowed me to come to a life or death crisis.  Then on September 16, 1977, I came to know Him personally. We began a life journey together, a personal relationship.  It began just like with these people. It began with a conversation. I took Him at His Word. He gave me a promise I could stand on, which allowed me to endure temptation without giving in to it. He saved my life. The nobleman in his desperation had a conversation with Jesus and believed what He told him. He took Him at His Word.  Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God.
  2. Believing the Word. His believed the word of Jesus. He believed His promise. He did not have to perform a miracle for him to believe. He did not have to have proof that He could be trusted.
  3. He obeyed the Word of God. Jesus said, “go your son will live.” He went. He obeyed.
  4. He rested in the Word. He rested in the word. You can imagine the man had experienced sleepless nights with his son’s critical illness. When he arrived in Cana he had probably not slept a wink the night before. Capernaum is about 20 miles from Cana.  A 7-8 hour journey by foot, probably half that by chariot, which he probably had. He had arrived in Cana to see Jesus at 1:00pm.  Leaving shortly after his conversation with Jesus, he could have been home before dark that night. He was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.  He stops on his journey and spent the night. He went to sleep that night, laid his head down on the pillow of the Promises of the Lord Jesus and slept the best night of sleep he had had in days.*Realize this man has not yet seen his son, but he has believed. Jesus said if you believe you will see.  When he was still on his way home the next day, his servants came to give him the news of his son’s miraculous recovery. The nobleman asked at what hour it had occurred, and they told him the 7th hour- the same hour Jesus had said his son would live.  He and his household believed.  They were all saved. They had received not just life but life abundant.

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. Rest in the Lord. Commit your way to Him. (Psalm 37)

APPLICATION: Jesus has now gone back to heaven in his resurrected body. He cannot come to the hospital to visit your loved one. Remember Mary said to Jesus when Lazarus died, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus was on earth, he could not be in two places at once. But He is showing us He does not have to be.  John refers to these miracles as signs, meaning there is something Jesus wants to teach us. He is showing us He is Lord over space, over time, over nature.

He has sent His Holy Spirit to indwell me and never leave me.  Jesus has shown He could heal this man’s son without being present.   I have all of Jesus, He is my ever- present help. I have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  God speaks to me through His word. When we find a promise in the Word of God He has for us for such times in our lives the Spirit will bring it home to our heart and we can stand on the promise. We can rest in the Lord and wait on Him. Wait, I say on the Lord, wait.

So our greatest need is assurance in the place of doubt.  We need assurance of His presence. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with CONFIDENCE, the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? “(Hebrews 13) “I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119: 81) *Hear the Word. *Believe the Word.  *Obey the Word.* Rest in the Word.

“I pray to have a conscious awareness of God AT ALL TIMES.”  Johnye Elizabeth Fortner. My mother.

While preparing this lesson, I had the distinct impression, to go by my old church, Woodland Baptist Church, and give a copy of my book to Len Kennedy, the minister of music. I told him Woodland had been on my heart and in my prayers. It was such an important place and time to me in my life and the lives of others.  I loved this church and what it had been to me and my family. Tears came up in Len’s eyes as he shared with me, how encouraged he was by former members reaching out to him.

He then shared this verse with me, a verse which Gina and I have claimed many a time:  “I would have lost heart, unless, I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say on the Lord. (Psalm 27)

I do not know what circumstances you are in today or what you are waiting on the Lord to do. I do know the word unless is a word of faith, which is the very currency we exchange in heaven for encouragement, hope and strengthened hearts.

Are you in God’s waiting room today?  Then first of all you are in the right place, His Waiting Room.  We have all been there, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, even the Lord Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.”

“I waited patiently for the Lord: And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of a horrible pit. Out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock. He established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth- Praise to our God, many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He leads me…..  The two most powerful words which have changed the world, which were spoken by our Lord, are:  FOLLOW ME.

 

 

Gospel of John: Chapter 4 – Come Thirsty

John 4:  Come Thirsty

As Jesus ends his encounter with Nicodemus, let us once again listen in to the end of this conversation as Jesus makes  the following statements about which there can be no confusion. He tells Nicodemus, “ For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him , the world might be saved.”  Jesus then says almost bluntly to Nicodemus- “… whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  Remember what Paul said in Romans 8? “ There is therefore now no condemnation  to those who are in Christ Jesus.”   The trial has been held in the council of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and the  verdict is read:  “ This is the verdict (condemnation, KJV) Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

We see a brief mention of an argument between John the Baptist’s disciples and a certain Jew about who is baptizing the most converts, John the Baptist or Jesus.  John’s disciples are fearful of everyone going to Jesus and his ministry shrinking.  John the Baptist says Jesus must become greater and he must become less.  And John the Baptist confirms, “ Whosoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whosever rejects the Son will not see life, for Gods’ wrath remains on him.”

Now we move from one remarkable conversation  to another. This difference between these two people could not have been any further apart to the people of that time. Nicodemus was a Jewish man, a Pharisee, a religious, respected ruler.  The next conversation is with a Samaritan woman, immoral, disrespected and ignorant of spiritual and religious truths.

Jesus and his disciples are headed back to Galilee.  We read, “ Now he had to go ( must needs, KJV)  through Samaria.  He did not have to go through Samaria to get back to Galilee, and most Jews would not travel through Samaria. Just so we understand, Samaritans were despised by Jews.  Samaritans were mixed breed of Jews and Assyrians, a result of the Assyrian captivity of the northern tribes in 721 B.C.  They were not allowed to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem and had set up their own synagogue on Mount Gerizim.   Now remember earlier in John 2, Jesus told us mother, “ my hour has not yet come.” Jesus is following His Father’s will, on His Father’s divine time schedule. His decision to take this route through Samaria we will see is in order to do his Father’s will.   Jesus and his disciples have arrived at high noon. The disciples  have gone into town to obtain food.  Jesus is tired and resting by the well. The Samaritan woman comes to draw water at noon, an unusual time to draw water, but probably a time chosen by her to avoid the women from town.

THE CONVERSATION. 

Have you ever noticed most relationships begin with a conversation?  Jesus starts the conversation.  He will start a conversation with what is at hand, the common denominator, the simple need for water. They both need water. This woman lacks the knowledge which Nicodemus had.  Jesus is going to impart three of the most important facts every person on the face of the earth needs to know:

1.      Who He ( Jesus) is.

2.      What He has to offer.

3.      How anyone can receive it.

Jesus is about to cast the seed, the incorruptible seed, the Word of God. We will see as Jesus tells us in the parable of the seed and the sower, the seed will land on one of four types of soil, which represent the condition of one’s heart.  The four conditions are: hard heart, shallow heart, crowded heart, and prepared heart.   We will see as the story and conversation unfolds, she has a shallow heart, which hears and interest springs up , but the soil will need to be prepared, deepened, plowed up.

Jesus starts the conversation with a simple request:  “ Will you give me a drink?”  He is respectful, putting himself in the lower position of asking her a Samaritan woman for a drink.  Remember there is a deep racial barrier of hatred and animosity  between the Jews and the Samaritans.   She wants to begin a civil rights debate: “ you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman, how can you ask me for a drink?”  It is as if she wants to bait him, to cause him to grow angry and debate these racial differences .

Jesus, however, responds using the natural to describe the supernatural, the spiritual. He tells her “ if you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

Notice her reply- for instead of harsh words, his gentle manner of respect has created a similar change in her attitude toward him. First she had called him a “ Jew” and now she calls him, “ Sir.” The whole expression of her face has changed along with her attitude toward this unusual man. “ Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and flocks.”  She is puzzled but interested.

Jesus replies:  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks this water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Jesus who created oxygen and hydrogen and combined two parts of oxygen with one part of hydrogen created water. He is using the physical truths to demonstrate spiritual truths.

So by now, she has encountered two marvels, first of all things,  a Jew had asked her for a drink. Second, he claimed to have living water , which he was quite willing to give her. She replies, “ Sir give me this water, that I may not thirst again, nor have to keep coming to the well to draw water.”  THIS WOMAN HAD COME THIRSTY.

Now Jesus is offering her eternal life a gift. But Jesus always has to deal with the question of sin.  If we say we have not sin, the truth is not in us, and we lie. But if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Jesus must put his finger on what causes our thirst which cannot be quenched.  The cause of this thirst: sin. 

The soil of the heart must be broken. The plow of conviction must do the work. You see, if one wants eternal life, the cause of death – sin-  must be removed.

Jesus says to her, “ go call your husband.”  This woman who has been most talkative up until now, offers her briefest exchange.  “ I have no husband.” 

Jesus said to her, “ You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”  No lecture on sexual immorality, no verbal “ raking her over the coals”, no stern lectures or harsh words. He wanted her to know He knew her sins, and she had to admit them.

From calling Jesus a Jew, to the respectfully calling him “ Sir,” now she adds another as Jesus knew all about her, she calls him: Prophet. But now she is uncomfortable because he knows her history. She attempts to change the direction of the conversation to a religious debate.    She talks about her religion. “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is Jerusalem.”

She resorts to tradition and the claim of heritage, the same as the Jews did. She goes back to ‘ our fathers.’ But Jesus takes her remark and uses ‘ the Father ‘ over against her fathers.  Now in today’s environment of re-defined tolerance we are told not just to accept another’s right to believe what they want to believe, but to accept what they believe, especially in religions, as being equal. When marriage was redefined, President Obama, said we should accept the marriage of a man to a man or a woman to a woman as being as honorable as the traditional God ordained marriage between a man and a woman.

Jesus is saying in plain, clear language:  all religions are not equal, nor acceptable to God. They who do not have the Son, do not have the Father. They worship in ignorance and unbelief. Jesus said you Samaritans worship what you do not know.  He tells her the truth: you do not know who to worship, where to worship or how to worship.  This is not hate speech. This is speaking the truth in love.  The only faith God accepts is the faith which came through the Jews.  Through the seed of Abraham, through tribe of Judah, of the family of David, of the city of Bethlehem.   The Bible is of Jewish origin. God gave His Word through them. They were faithful to write it down and preserve it. (God chose Abraham and his offspring to be the people, the vessels through whom He would bless the world. )God the Son came to earth in a Jewish body prepared for him. God chose to send the Lamb of God through the Jewish people. This is why Jesus said, “ Salvation is of the Jews.”  God’s offer of salvation is available to all who believe. To all races, to all genders, to all backgrounds. It is an all inclusive offer. God is not willing that any should perish , but all would come to repentance. But it is an exclusive offer, no one comes to the Father except by Jesus Christ.

Jesus then tells us, “ Yet a time is coming and now has come, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and His worshippers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  We must have the Spirit of God which comes at conversion in order to know the spiritual truths, for the natural man cannot understand the supernatural, the spiritual. We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts who leads us to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth which is found in God’s Word and poured into our hearts. We engraft His Word into our hearts and souls and then the Spirit of God is able to lead us into true worship.  

Now the woman had received some knowledge somewhere in her teaching, she knew about the Messiah, but she did not know who he was. She says, “ I know that Messiah, called the Christ, is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”   

Now Jesus reveals to this woman, an immoral Samaritan woman, he is the Messiah.  He has told there the three most important truths she needs to know:

1.      He Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

2.      He controls the gift of salvation, forgiveness of all sins and eternal life.

3.      It hers for the asking. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10)

“ For by grace are you saved by faith and that not of yourselves, it is the GIFT  of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” ( Ephesians 2: 8,9)

“Therefore , just as sin entered the world through one man( first Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…”  But the GIFT  is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the GIFT  that came by the grace of one man , Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again the GIFT  of God is not like the result of one man’s sin.”  ( Romans 5)

Guess what happens next?  Just at the critical moment of their conversation- an interruption as the disciples come back from town with the food. But guess what- our role is to cast the seed, break the soil, water it, but it is God who gives the increase. The Holy Spirit will not be hindered by interruptions.

Now John in his gospel draws attention to how Jesus was teaching the disciples in private moments those truths which the needed to know. This trip was not just for the Samaritan woman the well or for the citizens of Sychar who come out to hear Jesus. This trip was for His disciples also.  This was Jesus’ ongoing discipleship and training program using every moment every day to teach them through example.  The disciples have returned with food.  They ask Jesus, aren’t you going to eat, Rabbi?  Jesus said I have food to eat  of which you do not know. What is that food?  Did someone bring you something?  Again Jesus uses the natural and physical to teach the spiritual.  My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish the work.  Finish the work of what was God’s plan of redemption even before He created the world. Jesus is on His Father’s time table to finish the work His hour has not yet come.

Jesus then talked about the harvest and told the men to look at the fields for they were already white, ripe for the harvest.  Yet the harvest was in a place they would have never looked. And I believe even as Jesus spoke these words, they looked up and saw the crowd coming out of the city to hear Jesus because of the woman’s witness. 

Revival would come to Sychar in Samaria and Jesus would stay two more days. They came because of what the woman said. But watch what happens:  “ They said to the woman, “ We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  Their faith had found a resting place. It rested not on someone else’s testimony, but on the word of Jesus. Unlike the Jews who asked for a sign in order to believe. The Samaritans asked for no signs.  On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Do you see the impact just one person can have on another person’s life?  Remember we are salt and light. Salt not only preserves, salt makes you thirsty. Sin cannot quench your thirst. To drink alcohol in excess will dehydrate one and they awaken the next morning more thirsty than ever before.  In Luke 16, in the story Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus, where the rich man ended up in Hades in the Place of Torment. Listen to what this rich man, who seemingly in life had everything, asked Father Abraham for: “ Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in the water and cool my tongue, because I am in torment in this place.”  A place of perpetual and unquenched thirst.

This woman came not knowing:

1.      Who Jesus was.

2.      What He had to offer

3.      How she could receive it.

Jesus said if you knew the gift of God and who controls is , you could ask Him and He would give it to you. Now repentance was required, sin had to be confessed. For after all it was sin which had left this woman so thirsty.  She had come to the well that day- SHE HAD COME THIRSTY. She went away satisfied, forgiven and now knew who Jesus was, what he had to offer and how she could receive it. To receive the love of God , we must receive His Son.  The GIFT  that keeps on giving.

“If anyone thirsts , let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ( John 7)   “ Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” ..Isaiah 55:1

COME THIRSTY

 

Gospel of John; Chapter 3, Part Two: The Lamb’s Book of Life

John 3 Part Two: The Lamb’s Book of Life

The reference to Moses lifting up the brass serpent in the desert is recorded in Numbers 21. It is a story of rebellion and sin.  This incident reveals: God’s judgment of sin by sending the fiery serpents whose bite brought death, for the wages of sin is death. It also reveals His grace and the role of faith.  For by grace are you saved through faith. There is another important element which took place in this story, the people confessed their sins. They asked Moses to intercede for them and he does. God responds in grace and provides a solution and cure for the poisonous bite of the fiery serpents. God instructs Moses to make a brass serpent and put it on a pole and anyone who was bitten looked to the brass serpent and lived. This was the role of faith, as one looked in faith to the serpent to be healed, their faith in the promise of God made them whole.

Lifted up has two meanings regarding Jesus Christ. He was lifted up physically and literally on the cross at Calvary.  And lifted up also means to be exalted and we read Jesus ascended up to third heaven and was exalted to the highest place of honor and glory and power. When we exalt Him with our lives, our testimony and actions, we lift Him up and draw men, women, boys and girls to Him. Jesus said he must be lifted up. We must be born again and Jesus must be lifted up, exalted. We are to continue to exalt Jesus today, even though it is becoming politically incorrect to do so, it must be done.

Now today and in every generation since the fall in the Garden we have a serpent problem. We have all been snake bit with sin, poisonous venom which leads to death unless we look to our ‘brass serpent’ the Lord Jesus Christ.  Man has been trying to create his own solution to this problem since the fall. Adam and Eve tried to shift the blame and cover it themselves. Cain thought he had a better solution than God and wanted to deal with the problem his own way, which did not include the shedding of blood. God told Cain, his way was unacceptable. He also told Cain if he would do what was right, he would be accepted, but sin was crouching at his door and its desire was to have Cain.   The only solution is to look to Jesus, lifted up on the cross, to save us from our sin, the poisonous bite of the serpent.

Today people still want to blame someone else for their problems. They want to cover it up. They say there is no problem, but 15 minutes of nightly news will tell us that is a lie. They want to rid themselves of guilt by redefining sin.  But there is only one cure, one anti-venom, the blood of Jesus. By believing Jesus, looking to Him we will find redemption.  We either live in obedience to God or in disobedience to God. Herein lies the problem with disobedience.  Disobedience seems like more fun than obedience. Obedience appears more  difficult, harder to do, and unpopular also.  After all, disobedience represents the broad way and the wide gate which many enter in. It is a way which seems right to man, but ends in death. The way of obedience is a narrow way and a strait gate, few enter there.  Why is it so hard to be good and so much fun to be bad?  The fact that we have this attitude which asked this question is proof we have a sinful nature. That we have been deceived and believe the lie of the enemy, the deceiver and father of all lies.

The lie, a very subtle one, is God is withholding good things from you. That God is unfair, harsh and a “kill-joy.” Yet Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly. It is the enemy who steals and kills and destroys. The devil is the kill joy.  Not surprising then, the first miracle Jesus performed was to turn water into wine, as symbol of joy. Jesus was literally the “life of the party” at the wedding in Cana.  And Scripture tells us this:  “The Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84)  To walk uprightly is to walk in obedience to God, the straight and narrow way which leads to eternal life.   One of the symptoms of this deadly poison called sins, is to view God does not have your best interest in mind.

Here is what God sees and it makes Him weep. Jesus wept. Jesus cried out –‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets, how I longed to gather you as a mother hen would her chicks, but you would not.  God sees what sin does.  He sees the hurt in people’s lives, their pain, guilt, shame and worry. He sees the young girl who has believed the lie about sex and finds herself in an unwanted pregnancy then believes the lie of abortion and find herself guilty and ashamed. God sees the damage the lies and disobedience cause. He sees the damage of drugs, pornography, addictions, greed, oppression, violence, domestic abuse, fear, worry, anxiety and depression. He is not indifferent. He will go to the most extreme measure to cure the problem.  God Himself because of His Love, will do something no one could have imagined.  A love so amazing it prompted the song writer to write- ‘amazing love, how can it be, that God my Savior has died for me?

God sees the cause and the effect. And for this reason, God had a plan before the foundation of the earth, a solution to poisonous bite of the fiery serpent. Let’s break down the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3: 16 into its 10 key words:

  1. God
  2. Loved
  3. World
  4. Gave
  5. Son
  6. Whosoever
  7. Believeth
  8. Perish
  9. Have
  10. Life

Now there are two other small words I want to mention briefly: for and so.

The word, for, is used by Jesus like the word, therefore, as he explains to Nicodemus why the Son of Man must be lifted up.  The cross is a must be for salvation. The perfect sacrifice which takes away the sin of the world, which only Jesus Christ could achieve, for nothing can wash away our sins, but the blood of Jesus. The reason for this action is because of God’s love for the world. Paul tells us: “If God be for us, who can be against us?  You will live forever with either God for you or against you. *THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT.  The little two letter word, so, speaks of the extent to which God would go because of this love.  You can say to someone dear to you:  I love you. Or you can add:  I love you so much, words cannot convey how much… You could expand this verse to say- God loved the world so much, He gave His only begotten Son.  The word so means in this manner or in this way. He demonstrated His love, in this way, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He did this so (in that way) He could forgive us of our sins.

This is why Jesus said, why you worry about life, food and clothing and run after the things the pagans do.  Jesus said they seek after these things, but if you being God’s own children seek first His kingdom He will give you all these things. Obedience or disobedience. Choose the way you will go.

Now let’s pair these 10 words into 5 pairs and you will see God has thought of everything, provided the whole world with a solution for our problem.

  1. God and Son. The giver and the gift. The greatest gift ever. The gift of God to the whole world. The greatest sacrifice ever. Jesus said if you knew the gift of God and who it is who controls this gift, you could ask Him and He would give it. For everyone who asks, receives. For by grace are you saved by faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…
  2. Loveth and gave. God is love. And love always involves giving. Love sacrifices. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. You are a newborn babe with no past, only a future.
  3. World and whosoever. The offer of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life is offered and is available to the whole world- all 7 billion of its inhabitants. The offer is universal and all inclusive. It is not only universal, it is individual.  Whosoever is the blank space in the Lamb’s Book of Life reserved for you, where the Lamb Himself wants to write your name in with His blood. Once your name is written in this Book, it can never be blotted out. At the Great White Throne, the lost are those whose name was not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They will be judged for their sins and sent into eternity because their name never was recorded in the blank space the Lamb wanted to write it, he wanted to gather you- but you would not.
  4. Believeth and have. God extends His Hand, His arms are open wide. He stands at the top of the ladder and bids you to come up to Him. He knocks at the door of your heart. He revealed Himself to you in creation, night after night His voice went forth. Everyone everywhere understood it. Their consciences bear witness to right and wrong. He has extended His hand to you with the gift of salvation. When you reach up with the hand of faith and accept- the transfer is completed.  Believe and receive, then you have it and it will never be taken from you.
  5. Perish and life. These two words could not be more opposite. They represent the two ways. Two eternities. The broad way ends in death, which is hell, eternal separation from God. Heaven, eternal life in the presence of the Lord Jesus in a place He has prepared for us. Because He is for us.

God is not indifferent. God is not a harsh judge who takes pleasure in the death of the wicked. He is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance.  God is not unfair. He is love, just, holy, merciful and kind.

Let’s turn our thoughts toward a great passage of Scripture in Romans 8. It begins and ends with the greatest of news, of conditions which you can experience as a believer, one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Listen how it starts: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life, set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8: 1&2)

Then there is this other wonderful passage and promise:  “And we know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8: 28)

And so Paul begins a conclusion:  “What then, shall we say in response to all of this:  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will he not also along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring charge against us? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life and is at the right hand of God, is interceding also for us. Who will separate us from the love of God?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword?  As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered sheep to be slaughtered.  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you are a believer, a child of God, God is for you. He is on your side. He is not against you. He whispers in your ear or shouts above the noise of the life’s storms, Fear Not I am with you.

If God is not for you- He is against you.  You should be afraid, very afraid.

Paul has brought us a logical conclusion.  Since God has given up His only Son for us. Why would we expect Him to not give us what we need?

Paul has told us in this one chapter of Romans 8:  there is therefore now no condemnation of those in Christ Jesus. He says we have been set free from the law of Sin and Death by the higher law, the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.

He tells us He is working all things together for good for those of us who love Him.

The enemy means it for evil, but God will use it for good.

Then Paul concludes by giving us clear logic and  the assurance there is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world , seen or unseen, present or future which can separate us from the love of God.

So why am I worried and fearful?  Because we doubt His promises.

“All things work for our good; though sometimes we don’t see how they could.

Struggles that break our hearts in two, sometimes blind us to the truth. Our Father know what’s best for us, His ways are not our own. So when the pathway grows dim, and you just don’t see Him, remember you are never alone.

God is too wise, to be mistaken. He is too good to be unkind. So when you can’t see His plan; when you can’t trace His hand, Trust His heart.

He sees the master plan; He holds the future in his hand. So don’t live as those who have no hope. All our hope is found in Him. We see the present clearly. He sees the first and last. And like a tapestry He is weaving you and me. To someday be like him.   He alone is faithful and true. He along knows what is best for you.”

The prodigal son believed disobedience was more fun than obedience. So he was lured to the wide gate, the popular gate, and the wide way which many entered. Sin is pleasurable for a season. Wine sparkles in the cup but in the end stings like a snake. Off we go out from under the rules of our parents to do what is right in our own eyes.  The enemy wants to lead you away from the destiny God has for your life.

The enemy wants to steal the wayward lamb from the Good Shepherd. He goes about like a lion seeking whom he may devour. A thief, a murderer, the father of all lies, the deceive, the destroyers.

But our True Elder Brother, the Lord Jesus, us unlike the elder brother in the parable. He left home to go to far country to find his younger brother and bring him home, like the lost lamb. God the Father and the household of heaven, rejoiced when you and I were found.

A feast is being prepared for us now, a robe has been given, the sandals of the Gospel have been put on our feet and we the ring on our finger, which represents power and authority. We are now in the Kingdom of God.

And God if for us—- who or what can be against us?  Nothing Paul says emphatically and completely can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.  There is therefore now no condemnation. You have been set free.

Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?  If it is nothing can blot it out.

 

Gospel of John; Chapter 3 – Born of the Spirit

John 3: Born of the Spirit

At the end of John 2, we read Jesus performed many miracles at the Passover feast, and many people saw the miracles and believed in His name. But Jesus did not entrust ( commit ) himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in man’s heart.  John tells us many believed in his name when they saw the miracles, the miraculous signs he did. Their faith was in the miracles he did. We will see this become the reason many followed him.  Their faith was not in Jesus, it was in the miracles of Jesus.

Isaiah prophesized : “  These people honor me with their lips , but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”  Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees and  added:  “ you have let go of God’s commands and are holding to the traditions of men.” ( Mark 7)    Samuel said, “ Men look on the outside, but God looks in the heart.”

Jesus is the God- Man. Here he exhibits the omniscience of God. He knows all men- universally.  And He knew each individually.  He did not commit himself to those for he knows  what was in their hearts and did not commit Himself to  them.  Notice what Jesus said in Mark 7, you have let go of God’s command and are holding to the traditions of man. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “ you have heard it said of old” which is a  reference to the teaching of their elders.  The Pharisees and Scribes had written two books, the Misnah, and the Talmud. These still exist to this day.  The Misnah is a book made up of sections on how to apply the Ten Commandments in every- day life. What one can do or not do on the Sabbath which would be considered work covered 24 chapters.  The Talmud was a commentary on the Misnah.  ( For example I have books in my library which offer commentaries on books of the Bible. One commentary I have on the book of John is over 400 pages.  In the NIV, the book of John covers 46 pages, with foot notes.  Without footnotes, it would probably on cover about 25- 30 pages. )

Now it is not that I do not appreciate the work of others who have studied  and shared their views and interpretations.  But I have but one teacher- the Holy Spirit. He helps me discern the truth. For He always testifies to the truth.  It is His testimony I must believe.

We read the last verse of John 2 which says: “ …for he ( Jesus) knew what was in a man.”  And it leads us to the first verse of John 3: “ Now there was a man of the Pharisees , a member of the Jewish ruling council.”  Understand a Pharisee in the time of Jesus was considered to be extremely religious, zealous in keeping the law, following the minutia of the Misnah in all the rituals, diet, ceremonies, cleansing, sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath. Nicodemus was religious, rich, respected and a ruler.  Jesus knew what was in the heart of Nicodemus, for he knew all men and knew what was in this man’s heart.

Nicodemus must have heard what Jesus said and saw what he did in the temple. But Nicodemus had been taught all his life, that what a man needed to please God was clear instructions and hard work to follow those instructions, keeping the law. In some ways we all have this in our hearts, that we can please God with our works, our efforts, our good deeds, and in doing so , God will accept us. Nicodemus recognized in Jesus an ability to teach in a way he had never heard before. Nicodemus was convinced Jesus was a teacher sent from God for no man could do the miraculous signs Jesus did. He knew in his heart Jesus was sent from God.

Nicodemus would seem to anybody viewing his life, to have it all. Money, respect, position, a leader and a morally good man. He is even humble enough to come to Jesus this carpenter from Nazareth.  His words and actions reveal he is a man unsure of his standing with God. He has no assurance of God’s acceptance of his good works, of all his efforts to keep the commandments.  Perhaps he had been to hear John the Baptists, as had many of the Pharisees.  Now this man appears on the scene, this Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter from Nazareth, a “ nobody’” in the eyes of the Sanhedrin.  No degrees, no pedigrees, no writings, no followers except six other nobodies, some rough neck, unlearned fishermen.

Yet…Nicodemus heard Jesus teach, saw what he did and came at night to see him.  Recognized him as a superior teacher, and as a  man who must have been sent by God, for no one could do what he did. Nicodemus uses the plural “we” referring to other members of the Sanhedrin who believe Jesus is somebody special.  If he thought Jesus would be impressed that other members of the Sanhedrin were impressed with his teaching and therefore Jesus would respond favorably he was mistaken.  Nicodemus thought he  would lead the conversation.  But Jesus’ reply comes directly to the point, like a sharp sword it divides the thought and intentions of Nicodemus’ heart.

Jesus replies: “ I tell you the truth, ( verily, verily, KJV- meaning this is the most important thing I can tell you)  no one can  see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”   A new birth is essential, absolutely necessary. The Greek word used here is interesting. The word is anothen.  It literally has three meanings:  to do it a second time; a new beginning; and it also mean from above. We will see all three occur. We will see we are born again a second time, spiritually. It something radical a new beginning  which comes from above and as a result we are a new creation.  A newborn babe, born again not of the corruptible, but the incorruptible seed, the Word of God. ( 1 Peter 1; 23)

Listen to what Nicodemus says in reply: “ how can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.”

Notice the first word Nicodemus uses:  how.  How not why.  Ask a teenager to do something and he/she might reply : ‘why?’ – Which speaks of rebellion, which usually  is the start of an argument. Or they can answer how- which implies I will do it, show me how- teach me how to do it. After all we had to be taught how to mow the yard, do the laundry, make up our beds, etc.  This is the role of parents for children.  This is why God chose to identify Himself as our Father which art in heaven. The person who realizes and says with great humility- I know no good thing dwells within me is a person who is humble. The Pharisees thought highly of themselves. This is why Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went down to the Temple to pray. This parable compared two extremes- the confident self-righteous Pharisee and the despised, humbled tax collector. The Pharisee depended on his good works, his keeping of the law.  The tax collector does not plead his good works, he pleads for the mercy of God. Jesus said the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee who exalted himself, but the man who humbled himself.  Nicodemus has humbled himself to come to Jesus seeking advice and teaching. He has a teachable spirit.  The seed of the incorruptible word of God is about to be planted.

Realize the impact of this conversation. It is the most important conversation ever held. It contains the most well known verse of the Bible and the most profound truth. Let’s listen in as John did that night Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews came to see Jesus. Jesus is about to answer the question of Nicodemus and the question of every doubter- How can one be born again?

Jesus answered:  “ Verily, verily ( I tell you the truth) no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Now to be in the Kingdom of God is to belong to God; to be part of His rule, His reign and His domain. Paul tells us we are transferred from the “ kingdom of darkness, ruled by the god of this world, into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” This same one John told us is the Light of the World. Out of darkness into light occurs at salvation.   Jesus saw in Nicodemus’ heart a hunger and emptiness of a man who wanted so desperately to please God and be accepted by God.

What does Jesus mean when He tells Nicodemus and us, we must be born of the water and the Spirit.  Does being born of the water, mean our first physical birth?  I think it is obvious we must be born the first time, which is out of the water of our mother’s wombs, into the kingdom of this world. Does it mean baptism of water?  No baptism of water cannot save one. None of the Old Testament Saints who are in heaven today were baptized in water. Baptism denotes death in the New Testament. But I believe Jesus is telling us there are two factors involved in the 2nd birth, water and the Spirit. Water is a symbol of the Word of God. In John 17, Jesus prays, “ Sanctify them through the truth; thy word is truth.” In John 15, Jesus says, “ you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”  I believe to be born again from above, to be cleansed of all your sins, the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God applied and believed in our heart.

Again let us go back to Genesis 1, where John began his Gospel calling Jesus the Word of God who was with God in the beginning and who was and is God . “ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and in darkness and the Spirit hovered above the face of the waters”. There it is the Spirit and water. There I was in darkness, my life without purpose, void, empty.  The Spirit was hovering over me. Then came the light- God spoke and said let there be light. John the Apostle told us Jesus, the Word God became flesh and dwelt among us. In Him was life  and the life was the light of men.

Now let’s go back to what John the Baptist told the delegation of priest sent from the Sanhedrin who ask who he was and why was he baptizing Jews as well as Gentiles.  John the Baptist had been the phenomena of the day, drawing huge crowds.  His reply to the delegation of priests would have been brought back to the Sanhedrin, perhaps Nicodemus was even with them when they went to question him, but he undoubtedly heard the report of what  John the Baptist said, “  I baptize with water, but there comes after me One who will baptize you with the Spirit. This man on whom the Sprit comes down on and remains will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

John the Baptist’s baptism stood for repentance.  There is no regeneration without repentance they go together. No repentance, no new birth. No new birth, no entering the kingdom of God. Cannot enter it, cannot see it, that is understand it. The Spirit of God used the Word of God to bring light into darkness in the creation account. This is exactly what occurred in my life and yours when you were born again. When we say we have been born again, we are compared to a baby, a new infant which desires the Word of God like a new infant desires milk.  But also think about this- a newborn infant has no past, only a future.

When were born the first time physically, we inherited from our parents, our ancestors. We were born in the flesh. Jesus tells us, “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh…”  We inherited the sinful nature. God de also made man to be inhabited by God.  We were created by Him and for Him.  The human spirit was designed to be inhabited by God. After the fall, when sin came into the lives of Adam and Eve, the Spirit departed. God does not intend the change the flesh, the old nature. You do not put new wine in an old wine cloth.  The old nature is at war with God and the new nature, which is God in you. “ The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” ( Romans 8)

“…That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “  When you and I were born in the flesh, we entered this physical world.  A world which are told is under the control of the devil. We received a physical body which allowed us to identify with the physical environment through our five natural senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  This is how we sense and understand our physical world.  Notice we call these our natural senses, because they allow us to associate and identify with the natural world. We are referred to in Scripture as the natural man, also known as the old nature when we get saved.   We are told in I Cor. 2, the natural man cannot comprehend, cannot understand spiritual truths, for they lack the Spirit to reveal those truths to them.  When one cannot understand something , we use our natural sense of sight to describe this as ‘ not being able to see.’  In other words they are as we were before the new birth- spiritually blind.

Here is the bottom line- we are born lost. In bondage to sin, imprisoned by our old nature which cannot be redeemed. But when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, we become a new creature. Our sins are cleansed, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives to indwell us and seal us.  A new life has begun.

Jesus then tells Nicodemus:  “ Marvel not that I said you must be born again.” Then He proceeds to give a second illustration of the work of the Spirit as He compares it to the wind. One cannot see the Spirit, and one cannot see the wind. Nor can one tell where it comes from.  Weather forecasters try to predict and forecast where the wind will blow, where a hurricane will reach land, but they do not know.  The action of the Spirit on the soul of the sinner and the saint is like the wind in the natural world. As the branches of the tree are moved and reveal the movement of the unseen wind, so are the thoughts , words and deeds of a person’s life evidence of an invisible force at work in their lives.   The wind can be soft and gentle in a child’s heart and mind or it can be  tornado which makes one fear and seek shelter.

The Spirit had been stirring the heart and mind of Nicodemus and he knew he had to speak to this man called Jesus. As Jesus spoke to him, Nicodemus began to realize, here he was this teacher of Israel, this religious man, who had no peace.

Jesus , who is the Greatest Teacher ever, continues with this lesson of life eternal. He tells a bewildered Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthy things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”  We realize the natural things of earth, including birth, how nature reproduces after its own kind, how the wind, which we cannot see, blows,  how the seed dies in the ground to germinate and bring new life, were all pictures of something spiritual and heavenly.

What does this mean?  Jesus was talking a man who had  knowledge of Scripture. Jeremiah predicted a new creation would be given; Ezekiel said God would take out your old sinful heart of stone and give you a new one.  And there were many more statements about a new birth and a new life.  Jesus would later tell people the Scriptures testify of me.  Jesus is saying the Scriptures testify of me, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the prophets, and Nicodemus as a teacher of the do not understand these things.

Nicodemus’ problem is not what he does or does not do; nor is his problem what he knows or does not know- his problems is what and who he is .  A lost man trying to keep the law to attain acceptance from God.   Jesus is about to give Nicodemus and us the source of salvation.  It is interesting after this encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and his disciples will go down to Samaria, where he will tell a woman who clearly does not have the knowledge of Scripture that Nicodemus has, about the source of salvation.  The conversation will revolve around water and the One who is the source of a spring of eternal water.

Here Jesus tells Nicodemus the source of salvation.  “ No one has ever gone into heaven, except the one who came from heaven, the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

I am going to stop there for John 3: 16 deserves our full attention.

I believe  Nicodemus became a believer, but not at this time. But I believe the full truth of what Jesus said came to Nicodemus when Jesus was crucified, nailed to that cross and lifted up, that it all came together for Nicodemus.   We know Nicodemus would accompany Joseph of Arimathea when he asked Pilate for the body of Christ.

Gospel of John, Chapter 2: The Wedding

Gospel of John, Chapter 2: The Wedding

Let me go back and give us a refresher as to what has occurred in the Gospel of John so far.  In John’s telling of what happened with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, he established a time line which can be confusing. In verses 19-27, John tells us this is the record of what happened when the delegation of Jews came to ask John the Baptist who he was.

Jesus had actually been baptized over six weeks ago by John the Baptist. We area of John the Baptist’s account of this baptism in both Matthew and Luke.  We know the dove which represented the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and remained on Jesus. The dove represents the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Spirit would come upon individuals, but would not remain.  Again let me take you back to the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 1, the Spirit is described as hovering over the waters. Then in the story of Noah, we see Noah send out the dove from the ark. But the dove found no place to light and rest upon, but now the Spirit has alit on Jesus and remained with him.  Jesus had then been led by the Spirit to be tested and tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. This is recorded in Matthew 4.  John ends this account of John the Baptist’s encounter and investigation by the priests by telling us: “this all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing”.  John then gives us an account day by day for the next few days which will lead us to the wedding at Cana.   John tells us the day after the encounter with the priests, John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God. (We can then assume Jesus has returned from his 40 day fast and encounter with Satan.)  John and Andrew follow him. We read in John 1:43, the day after Andrew and John had spent time with him, Jesus calls Phillip to follow him. Phillip invites Nathaniel to come and meet Jesus, who Phillip now claims to be the One Moses wrote about. Their encounter leads to Jesus revealing to Nathaniel he, Jesus, is the ladder on whom he will see angels ascending and descending.  The ladder Jesus referred to was the ladder Jacob had seen in a dream and the ladder reached down from heaven to earth.

(A word about angels ascending and descending:  we know from the story of Job, the angels come before God to report. Therefore we can assume angels are ascending and descending between heaven and earth.  We know there are angels who guard children (Matthew 18); minister to believers, (Hebrew 1:14) are assigned over nations, as we read in Daniel)

Now as we begin Chapter 2, we are told on the third day they attend a wedding in Cana.  This will be Jesus’ first miracle.  He has with him six disciples:  Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip and Nathaniel.   Three words are used in the New Testament to describe what we call miracles:  miracles ( dunamis/dynamite) meaning powerful, mighty works; wonders, something supernatural, which produces wonder among those who witness it; and signs, meaning there is a significance deeper meaning to these mighty works.

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding; his last public miracle was at a funeral, the raising of Lazarus. The first miracle or sign at the wedding in Cana is connected with one of life’s gladdest moments, a new beginning. The last is connect with one of life’s saddest moments a funeral.  Yet if we are the ‘bride of Christ’, Jesus tells us we will never die.

Moses’ first miracle in Egypt was to turn water into blood. The law was given by Moses. The first miracle of Jesus is to turn water into wine. Wine is associated with joy.  Jesus was full of grace and truth. Jesus was fully God and fully man; never less than God, never more than man. He was completely balanced.

We also read Jesus’ mother was in attendance also. John never mentions the name Mary in his gospel.  We believe the Bible is divinely inspired. Omission of the name of Mary may have been part of the divine inspiration.  There were already errors taking root in the church. Perhaps one of the early ones was worship of Jesus’ mother. We know to this day, the Catholic Church reveres Mary and prays to her. She is believed to have been immaculately conceived and a perpetual virgin. She is referred to in Catholic Church as the Virgin Mary. Sometimes called the Queen Mother 0f Heaven.  Prayers are said to her in hope of her influencing her son to act. Some of the error arises from the “seed of the woman” passage in Genesis 3 and Paul’s reference to the first Adam and Christ as the last Adam, thus Mary must be the last Eve.

Notice the situation in which the first miracle occurs at a wedding.  Having run out of wine, the mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no wine.”  Jesus rebukes her gently: “Woman, what have I to do with you? Mine hour has not yet come.”  All of her life, Mary had endured suspicion due to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. She knew who Jesus was and how he was conceived. Perhaps what Mary wanted was for Jesus to display a miracle which would prove he was who she said he was.  As we read the passage we will see his miracle was not made public as the master of the banquet did not know where the wine came from. If Mary wanted Jesus to perform a public miracle to clear her of suspicious circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, it did not happen. We must remember Jesus is our High Priest, we can approach directly. He is the One Mediator between God and man.  He is the only name under heaven by which we can be saved.  No one comes to the Father except by Jesus.

We believe the miracle, unknown to the attendees, was to bring joy to the wedding. After all, it was God who established the institution of marriage and family.  The other reason Jesus performed this miracle was to reveal his glory to his six new disciples. They were convinced and we read –“his disciples put their faith in him.”

Now we must also notice Jesus performed his first miracle using what was available. After all God said to Moses, “what is that in your hand?”  (Exodus 4)  It was his staff, a stick- but God used the staff as a symbol of His divine power.

Jesus still uses what is available. There were six large water pots used for ceremonial cleansing. These water pots represented the Old Testament covenant of ceremonial cleansing. They symbolized Judaism and its rituals. They had now fulfilled their purpose.  This new wine symbolized a new creation, Christianity. Not a ritual or a religion, but a relationship which was full of joy, unspeakable, rich and full of glory.

It was also the beginning of signs designed to display the glory of Lord convincing the disciples to place their faith and truth in Him.

The water pots were filled with water to the brim. Jesus then told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the wedding banquet. Obviously, this required a step of faith by the servants.  But also there is a picture here of our lives as Christians. Paul refers to us earthen vessels, clay jars or water pots just like these.

We are commanded in Ephesians 5:  “Be NOT drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.”  We are those water pots. As we are filled with the water, the Word of God, we are to ladle it out to those who thirst for righteousness.  As I often say, “my duty is not to fill your cup, but empty mine.” We will read in John 4, of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus tells the woman if you knew who it was who asked you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would give you living water.”  The Holy Spirit wants to fill you with the Word of God so that you might ladle it out.

Do you see what we need?  We need a nation of John the Baptist who creates thirst for righteousness for someone they can trust to bring meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Where are these 21st century John the Baptists?   People need to hear the Good News.   The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people had been in a 400 year spiritual drought. John’s preaching was preparatory to the coming of Jesus. It struck a spiritual chord and renewed an interest in the Messiah who would make their nation great again. Has not our nation, America, entered into a spiritual drought?

There is only one Holy Nation; it is the Church the Bride of Christ. It appears to me, we have run out of wine – the honeymoon our country, America, enjoyed with the Lord Jesus in its early days has been replaced by a nation where everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  We have desecrated the very sacred institution of marriage and family the Lord created.   It is much like it was in the days of Noah, when man though of evil 24-7.  Our cities have turned into the Sodom and Gomorrah as it was in the days of Lot.  Jesus said in Matthew 24 we were to learn from the fig tree. “ Now learn from the parable of the fig tree; when the branch is yet tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh. So likewise when you see all these things, know that is near, even at the door. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, until all these thing are fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”(Matthew 24)

Where are we today as the church, the bride of Christ?  Are we like the church at Laodicea?  It was a wealthy church in a wealthy city. Their diagnosis:  lukewarm.  How does something get lukewarm?  It gets away from the source which made it hot. It takes on the temperature of its surrounding environment. Your hot coffee left to sit on the counter, becomes room temperature, lukewarm. Not fit to drink. Were it hot or iced coffee it would be fit to drink.  Lukewarm is a combination of apathy and neglect. Remember what the couple said on the road to Emmaus when the resurrected Lord revealed himself and then vanished? “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

JESUS CLEARS THE TEMPLE

If they had a local paper, this would have been the headline:  Jesus clears the temple.  We read in verse 13, as John is recalling things chronologically; the Jewish Passover is at hand.  We know the Passover is a feast celebrated even to this day as a commemoration of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.  It was celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan (March/April).  Jews from all over the Roman Empire came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was a national feast which lasted a week.

On Passover Eve, the head of each household cleansed the house and made sure to gather all the leaven in the house and remove it.  Yet no one thought of cleansing the House of God.  Jesus will take on the role as the head of the household to cleanse the Temple of leaven, which is a symbol of sin. Leaven puffs up dough. Pride, a sin God hates, puffs one up. He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

This will be the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It starts in Jerusalem, in the temple. He is making himself known through these “sign” he is the Messiah. But he will be rejected by the leaders of the Jewish faith. He came unto His own, but they received Him not. (John 1)

Now remember, the last Old Testament prophet Malachi tells us:  “See I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, a launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites.”

Gina and I were in Marrakesh Morocco several years ago on business.  We shopped in the ‘souks’ which were like kiosks. The area was crowded, dirty, and noisy with all of the haggling and bartering over prices and goods. We purchased a rug there in an event which we still recall to this day, which took about 3 hours to get the price we wanted.

I believe those souks, those crowded open stalls were much like what Jesus encountered when he came into the temple this first Passover of his ministry.  Here was supposedly a sacred structure being desecrated and turned into a market place. Today religion is a big business. The courtyard of the temple was where all of the business traffic was centered. There were at the time of Jesus, four courts.  These courts were: the court of the Gentiles, the court of women, the court of Israel and the court of the priests.  These had become places of business, the “souks’ the stalls and tables of the merchants.  Much like the flea market.

Oxen, sheep, and doves and other creatures generally used for sacrifices were sold here. There was a cattle market adjacent to the altars for convenience. All sacrifices had to be of approved animals.  The temple even had their own flock of sheep in which the purchaser of these were guaranteed acceptance as having no flaw.

All the pilgrims come for the celebration had to pay an annual temple tax.  Common currency could not be accepted, it had to exchanged for temple currency. This currency exchange was a profitable business and the temple received a percentage of all monies.

They had turned Passover into a profitable season of selling and exchanging and bartering. The Feast had brought great crowds into Jerusalem. It was a busy time for all types of businesses.  The Passover Celebration had become to them what Christmas has become to merchants today.

The Lord’s heart was moved at the sight of all this business traffic in His Father’s House, a House of Prayer. He fashions a scourge of cords for driving out the oxen and begins to overturn tables and drives them out single handed.  The disciples must be frightened at his actions. Jesus has taken on the “establishment”.  He has put himself in direct opposition of the Sanhedrin and their members. He has put them on notice. He has proclaimed Himself the Son of the Father, the Son of God.

His disciples would later recall the words of Psalm 69 which says of the Messiah: “Zeal for your House has consumed me.”

The Jewish Authorities were not long in reacting.  They wanted to know by what authority Jesus had done this.  They asked for a miraculous sign.  Paul would later say, the Jews demanded a sign.  We will see later in this chapter how there are those who came to Jesus because of his miracles, his signs.

Jesus said here is your sign:  “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” John looking back at this statement writes, he had spoken of his body. And of course we know when we get saved, the Holy Spirit enters into our lives and our bodies become the temple of the Holy Spirit. For as early as Exodus 4, we learn wherever God is – is holy ground. Even if it is a burning bush in the desert.

Next week we will listen to one of the most well known conversations in history. Nicodemus and the Lord Jesus in a one-on-one conversation.  So my invitation to you is like the invitation of Jesus- “come and see” what it was all about.  For it contains truths you want to know.

The Gospel of John, Chapter 1: Who Do You Think You Are?

The Gospel of John, Chapter 1:  Who Do You Think You Are?

Before we begin, let me share with you the reason, the purpose John wrote this Gospel.  He is an old man, the last surviving of the original 12 disciples who spent 3 ½ years with Jesus in his earthly ministry.  He had survived exile on Patmos and was living in Ephesus, where he writes about those years with Jesus. He tells us toward the end of his gospel why he wrote it: “ But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

Chapters 1-12 are about the Lord’s public ministry, his miracles, or “signs” as John often called them. In hindsight, looking back in the mirror of time, John is able to see what those miracles represented.

In chapters 13-21 John allows us alike no other gospel to see behind the public scenes to see the private ministry of Jesus with his disciples to prepare them for service after He has returned to heaven and the Spirit has come. This is a very special section for us believers.

It is a book which is filled with metaphors which allow us to visualize the attributes of the Lord:  the Lamb of God who takes away sin, the door, the sheep gate, the good shepherd, the ladder, the bread of life and many more which help paint a word picture of the Lord.  John is giving us word pictures with captions which allow us to visualize the Lord Jesus.  He is God with us, Immanuel. God in Flesh. God in man. God as man.

From the very beginning of creation, God revealed His desire to dwell with His people.  “But will God indeed dwell on earth?” asked King Solomon at the dedication of the temple in I Kings 8:27.  We know the glory of God filled the tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus 40. And on the day the temple Solomon built, God’s glory filled the temple.   God’s presence was revealed in His glory with a cloud which filled the tabernacle and the temple. But then His Glory departed we read in Ezek 9-11, as God’s glory departed from the disobedient children of Israel.   John tells us in his Gospel; the Glory has returned in the One and Only begotten Son, God the Son, the Son of God. He witnessed it as did others when Glory came down to earth in the incarnation. God became flesh.

THE WORD

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. “     Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word. Eternal not only means a future without end, it means also a past with no beginning.  He has always existed, no beginning, no end. Always has been, always will be. Go back to the beginning in Genesis 1, and what does it say:  “In the beginning God… Do you see that?  God was already there in the beginning, because He always has been.

Now let’s take this profound statement and realize what John is telling us when he calls Jesus, the Son of God, the Word.  Words are used to reveal to others our hearts and minds. God gave to man the gift of language.   When you fall in love you express that love in words spoken and written which reveal your heart.  Jesus Christ is God’s Word to reveal God’s heart and mind to us.  He uses words. Words are composed of the letters of the alphabet. We are told Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega- this is the first and last letters of the alphabet.

In Hebrews 1, we read:  “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…”  Jesus is God’s last word to us.   Jesus Christ of Nazareth was God in flesh.  God with us, Immanuel. He clothed his glory in flesh. But Jesus Christ, The Word, is God.   When Phillip asks Jesus to show him God the Father, Jesus said, Phillip have I been with you this long, and you do not realize God the Father and I are one  ‘ if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’   Now do you understand Jesus’ invitation to you:  Come and see. Come and see Jesus is who He says He is.

Jesus Christ is not a created being. He is eternal God who put on flesh, born of a virgin with a sinless nature. The Word became flesh by the miracle of the virgin birth foretold centuries before in Isaiah 7; 14.

Jesus told the Pharisees before Abraham was, I am.  He is the eternal Word which spoke the creation into existence.  He is the Creative Word.  He spoke and creation came into being. Paul tells us in Colossians 1- Jesus is the overall creation. “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

He is the Incarnate Word. Not a spirit, but flesh and blood body which many touched. He was God in flesh and now He is in a glorified body.  John lets us see his humanity: Jesus was weary; he was thirsty, hungry, wept, groaned, bled and died. After his resurrection He proved to Thomas and the disciples he had a body; although now a glorified body.   The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus came to reveal God to us. To reveal God’s glory to us. To reveal God’s love for us.  The Glory of the Old Covenant was a fading glory as the glory faded from Moses face. The religious Jews of Jesus’ day were blinded to the truth. Satan had veiled their mind. The veil is removed when one turns to Christ.  The law could reveal sin, but it could never remove sin. But the glory of the new covenant in Christ is one of an increasing glory we read about in 2 Cor. 3.

THE LIGHT

Light is a theme which runs through the Gospel of John. Light is one of the essentials for life: light, air, water and food.  Jesus is the Light of the World. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. He is the one who began life; he breathed life into the nostrils of Adam. He is the source of life. He is the Water of life. He is the Bread of Life. He is light, life, water and food. He is everything we need.

Light and darkness are recurring themes in John’s gospel. God is light. Satan is the power of darkness. People either live in the light of God or in spiritual darkness. Those who live in spiritual darkness love the darkness and their love of this darkness controls their actions.  We who are believers are called the lights of the world. We are spiritual lights, lamps in a world of spiritual darkness.  We are like streetlights in the night.

Now watch what God had done to prepare men to receive the light. John tells us there came a man who was sent from God: his name was John (John the Baptist) He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  John the Baptist was a witness sent by God to testify.  He came to bear witness of the Light.  A witness is not an attorney; they are called solely to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  John the apostle tells us John the Baptist was not the light; he came just as a witness to the light. Here is an eternal truth:  The true light who is Jesus Christ, God with us clothed in flesh gives light to every man was coming into the world.   Did you see that?  EVERY MAN- EVERY PERSON.   God has revealed Himself to everyone through the light of his creation.

John the Baptist had come like a herald proclaiming the Light has come into the world. The nation of Israel had been given many spiritual advantages from God. God had revealed his Word through them and from the very beginning God’s covenant with Abraham when God told Abraham he would make a great nation from Abraham’s offspring and God would bless them and all the people of the earth would be blessed through them. They were given the prophecies concerning the Messiah; they had been given the sacrificial system, the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  But they missed it.  How did they miss it?

They were blinded to their own Messiah in spite of all the signs Jesus would perform to show them who he was. Why did so many of them reject him?  We are told Jesus came unto his own, but they did not recognize him.   There is a key here in this description of Jesus as the light of the world. He is described as “the true light.”

The true light is the original light.  They had with all of their rituals and ceremonies and man-made laws and self righteous – become content with their copies of the true light. Which is what all the sacrifices and holy days were a symbol of.

They had the temple, Moses and the law, the sacrifices and were content with those. And for their religious leaders, it was their source of power, prestige and wealth and they were satisfied with their exalted positions and did not want them changed.   Jesus tells us exactly what the problem is:  “This is the verdict, light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3; 19)

Now John let us know Jesus came to his own, the Jews, but they did not recognize him. He was not what they expected. He was not important, rich, powerful, king-like or from a well known family. He was a nobody.  A carpenter’s son from Nazareth.  He could not be their Messiah, their King. He was the most unlikely candidate.  He was judged by his outward appearance and a resume which spoke of mediocrity. He could not be their warrior king like David and overthrow the Roman Empire who was over them. The word, Messiah, means anointed one. To them the Messiah would be an anointed person with oil.  A king, a priest, a prophet. We will see Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit.

The Jews were looking for a messenger, someone like a Moses who would confront the Roman Empire and bring them to their knees. The Jews were looking for a king who would make Israel and Jerusalem great again.  Jesus had to come first as a Redeemer, before He comes the 2nd time as a Ruler.

But John makes it clear, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and they had seen the glory. They had seen the light- the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father full of grace and truth.

JOHN THE BAPTIST

Now the attention shifts for a moment to this important character who had but a brief time on the stage of history, John the Baptist. He had a phenomenal ministry for a short time. He was attracting large crowds coming out to hear his preaching and calling for repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord.   The Pharisees, the religious leaders came out to question him, who he is… which really to me means they were saying ‘ who do you think you are?’  John is baptizing Jews as well as Gentiles for repentance.  This delegation of Pharisees are there to see if he is a threat to them. John has created fervor, a revival of sorts and a renewed interest in the coming of the Messiah. His preaching was powerful and the leaders of the temple could not ignore him.  Are you the Christ?  Are you Elijah? Are you a prophet? Then who are you they asked after he replies no to each question. John the Baptist tells them, “I am the voice of one in the wilderness calling in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord.  John the Baptist then tells them there is one coming after him whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and said, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  John the Baptizer is given the high honor of baptizing the Lord Jesus Christ. It memorialized as we are told in the Gospels by the Spirit coming down on from heaven on Jesus in the form of a dove. We also read in the Gospels John heard a voice from heaven say “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”  There is the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.   The great question of the Old Testament was voiced by Isaac on Mount Moriah, “Where is the Lamb?” (Genesis 22:7)  And Abraham answered, “God will provide Himself a lamb.”  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was there in the Jordan River.

John was baptizing a baptism of repentance. The immersion in the water was a symbolical cleansing sins.  But what can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10 tells us the blood of bulls, and goats could never take away sin. Not the ordinary blood of a lamb, but the precious blood of the Lamb of God, which Himself provided. Jesus was not baptized for sins, for he had no sins.  It was a foreshadowing of his death, burial and resurrection.

The next day John the Baptist points out Jesus to his two young disciples, John and Andrew and tells them: “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

What takes place next is a conversation and interaction which would change their lives forever. Turning around Jesus asked them, “What are you seeking?”  Is this not the question of life? What are you seeking in life? Where are you looking?  What have you found?  How is working for you?

ANDREW’S ANSWER

When Jesus asked the two young men what they are seeking, Andrew answers- “Where do you live?”  Was he too overcome to ask a more in-depth question?  Perhaps startled by Jesus’ turning around and inquiring what they were looking for- or maybe it was a natural question.  After all when we meet someone new, we ask “where are you from?” We ask, especially men, some standard questions:  what do you do- meaning what kind of work do you do. This allows us to know what their income level is, their education and background. We are forming an opinion of where this person is on the economic, social status and are they level with us, below us or above us.

We just talked about judging last week. Yet we judge by outward appearance, and by: where one lives, their physical appearance, their speech, their education level, economic status. Is this not what happened with Jesus? And his disciples?  After all the privilege of birth opens doors. The sons and daughters of the rich, famous, and powerful have doors opened for them and opportunities others do not.   Remember what Paul wrote: “The Jews look for signs, the Greeks looked for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

Jesus’ answer to Andrew and John is His invitation to all:  “Come and see”.

So begins their journey which will travel with them in the Gospel of John. We will put on their sandals and walk with them through the next three and ½ years and we will see Jesus up close and personal. His public ministry and his private ministry. We will hear from Jesus his plans for us, his prayers for us and his love for us.

2 Corinthians 13: BLESSED ASSURANCE

2 Corinthians 13: BLESSED ASSURANCE

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God; Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” (Blessed Assurance, Fanny Crosby)

Do you have assurance?  “ Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith; tests yourselves.”  Paul asks in closing his letter to the believers in the Corinth church to examine themselves to see if they are ‘in the faith.’  Today we end our study in these two letters of Paul’s to the church in Corinth, which is as applicable today to the church and believers as it was when Paul wrote it centuries before.  How can that be? That something written long ago can be so applicable 20 centuries later? It is because the truth and truths of the Bible last forever. Man does not really change, new inventions, trends, and fads, cultural changes are nothing new, and they just use new technology to commit the same old sins.  Same old lies dressed in the political correctness of tolerance.

Today, the politically correct word is tolerance. One of the scriptures used most often by those who disagree with Biblical truths is: “Judge not that you be not judged.”  As if this verse taken out of context from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives one a free pass to live anyway they want to live. That truth is relative and their truth is as good as your truth.  “What gives you the right to judge”, the unbelieving world asks the believer who disagrees with them on what is right and wrong.

I like what Francis Beckwith, Christian Author, said after sharing at an open meeting on media’s responsibility for broadcasting of programs that contain sex, violence and obscenity and the impact it had on society. In other words, Beckwith was calling upon the media to judge itself.  A distressed young woman in the audience asked him the question:  “Who are you to judge?” This is what our culture has come to believe of Christians and those who oppose or disagree with their lifestyle, actions, beliefs and words.

Beckwith answered her: “I certainly do have a right to make moral judgements. I am a rational human being who is aware of certain fundamental principles of logical and moral reasoning. I think I’m qualified. Your claim that I have no right to make judgments is itself a judgement about me. Your claim, therefore, is self-refuting.” (“ Relativism, pg. 12, Beckwith & Koukl, Baker Publishing.)

Now if you read the whole Sermon on the Mount, you will see in the preceding chapter, Matthew 6, Jesus talks about the hypocrites, the Pharisees.  Jesus is implying we are not to be hypocritical judges, for God will judge us by the same standards. These self-righteous Pharisees had a beam in their eyes while attacking and judging another with a speck in their eyes. Jesus says rid yourself of the beam first than help your brother remove the speck.  In the same passage, Jesus tells us not to give to dogs what is sacred or cast our pearls before swine. Jesus tells us watch out for false prophets, and the only way to know a false prophet is to know the absolute truth by which we are to judge.  He tells us to judge another professed believer by their fruit. We are also told not to judge others by outward appearance. So Jesus did not tell us not to judge or examine. He gave us specific do’s and don’ts.  In Matthew 18 Jesus further instructs us how to deal with sin in the church.

So Paul is simply asking them to do what they have been doing to him. They have been examining him to see if he was who he said he was.  Now Paul says they should examine themselves to see if they are in Jesus Christ. Are they really and truly saved? What does real faith look like?

COUNTERFEITS.

There used to be a television game show called, To Tell the Truth, where 3 people would all claim to be the same person. This person had done something remarkable. The panel was read a brief biography of this person and their accomplishment and then the panel questioned the persons to see which one was telling the truth and which of the other two were imposters, counterfeits.

Paul challenges us to do the same.  So let me first like the television show share with you the elements of a true believer, a Christian who possesses genuine, real faith.

Here is our defining description of real faith:  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.”  (Hebrews 11: 1)   This description tells us faith is in the present tense.  “Now faith is.” It further tells us faith exists in the area of the unknown, unrealized hope and unseen, uncertain future.  The enemy of faith is doubt. Doubt creates worry, anxiety and fear. These question the object of your faith. It is not your faith which is of most importance. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. The most important thing is the object of your faith. What or who is your faith in?  Paul said examine and see if realize without any doubt Jesus Christ is in you and you have placed your faith in Him. “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Paul tells us the Holy Spirit testifies we are in Christ and He is in us. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

Peter tells us we desired the Word of God like a newborn babe desires milk. 1 Peter 2. Do you desire the Word of God?  The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to grow your faith. It is the source of faith- “now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” And who is the Word?  Jesus is the Word of God. He is the way, the truth and the life.

Paul tells us we are new creatures and old things have passed away and are passing away. Sin no longer controls you. You have been changed and are changing. This is the progressive work of sanctification, carried out by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. Have you been changed from the inside- out?  Do you have a new perspective of life? New Morals?  A New Master? A new mandate?

John wrote: “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how WE KNOW THAT HE LIVES IN US: WE KNOW IT BY THE SPIRIT HE GAVE US.” (I John 3: 23, 24)

Real faith is simple faith. Children can believe it. It is not complicated. “John 3: 16 is as simple as verse as there is. We all know it.  In Romans 10 Paul tells us exactly what we must believe and confess:   “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart you believe and with your mouth you confess and are saved.”

The Gospel we believe is simple and has three elements. “ For what I received ( the Gospel) I passed on to you as of FIRST IMPORTANCE: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and then He appeared to Peter and the twelve. After that He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time.” (I Cor. 15)  The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. Notice how all inclusive it is:  it is for everyone who believes. It is also exclusive- Jesus made this claim:  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.  It is the narrow gate and the straight way, unfortunately few enter in.

God has done everything. His Grace has provided what we need, all we need. “For by Grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared, ( ordained) in advance for us to do- to walk in.”  (Ephesians 2” 8-10)

Are you involved in the work God has prepared for you to do?  Are you bearing fruit?

Real faith trusts God, not self. Proverbs 3 says trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He shall direct your path.”

Examine yourself continuously.  Question your motives, your decisions and actions. Grade according to the key- the absolute truth of God’s Word.

Now Paul’s goal was not for you to doubt your salvation. But to examine it. To see if your actions and all the areas of your life were in accordance with the Word of God.  Are you walking in the Spirit with your eyes on things above?  Or are you walking the world with your eyes on the things of the world?  It is a balancing act and the Lord knows how to keep us in balance. The Holy Spirit is like our GPS which tells us which way to turn and when we turn the wrong way, He warns us to re-route- to turn around and get back on the straight and narrow way.

Will we become sinless? No. But we should sin less; we should be experiencing victories over sin.  We are in pursuit of holiness. We are in training. We should be making progress. It takes time. We see this in the stories God has chosen to share with us in His Word. Abraham made wrong turns, as did Adam and Eve and remember who their Father was, and where and how they lived.

David was the apple of God’s eye, and yet David committed some horrific sins. All through the Bible God allows us to see how He works in the lives of those who place their trust in Him. They were imperfect, flawed people, marred by sin.  This is why God sent Jeremiah down to the potter’s shed to see how God takes our lives in these earthen clay vessels and re-shapes them. How He will put us in the refiner’s fire to burn off the dross. Peter says these fiery trials have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-, may be proved genuine and my result in praise glory and honor- when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1)

“Blessed assurance Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest. I’m in my Savior happy and blest.

Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with His glory. Filled with His Love. “

Perhaps you are out of fellowship with the Lord. It might be sin in your life, of which you need to repent, and remember repentance means a change of mind which results in a change of direction.

Maybe you have disappointed yourself and the Lord with some of your actions.  Peter certainly knows what it is to disappoint the One he loved so much. Peter had denied he knew the Lord three times on the night the Lord Jesus was arrested.

The last chapter of the Gospel of John, chapter 21 is about Peter’s restoration and reconciliation. Peter needed to know, just as you need to know you can start over again.

Restoration begins with repentance. Repentance is not remorse. We have two parallel stories of remorse and repentance with Judas and Peter who both betrayed the Lord Jesus. Remorse is sorrow for your sin. Repentance is a desire to change, to turn around. The enemy wants to destroy you as surely as he destroyed Judas.

Restoration begins with repentance which provides reconciliation with the one whom you have wrong. Making amends with the one you have hurt and disappointed.

The start of the earthly journey the disciples experienced began with a simple reply to Andrew and John’s following Him the day John the Baptist pointed out Jesus and said, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They followed Jesus. Let those three words sink in. He asked them, what are you seeking? This is the question of life isn’t it? Andrew asked, “Where do you live?”  Jesus invites them and us on a journey with the same invitation:  “Come and see.”

Follow me and I will make out of you, what I created you to be.  There in this relationship with the One who created you- you will find your purpose for life. All things were created by Him and for Him and they are all sustained by Him.

Purpose is to life what the skeleton is to one’s body. It is the foundational support. Without is your life falls apart.

The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is life giving, life changing and life sustaining. We know life is in the blood. And the Blood of Christ runs through this Holy Book like a scarlet thread. This why the Word of God is alive- the Blood of Christ brings life to this book and it is why it never grows old or fades. It is the bread of life for all who hunger; it is an eternal spring for all who thirsts.   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Jesus knew who He was He came to reveal who we are.

He wants you to know- that you know, that you know- you are His and He is yours.

The enemy wants to cause the believer to doubt for this renders one ineffective.

Jesus longs to gather you as a mother hen would her chicks. What are you waiting for- run to His open arms like the prodigal did to his waiting father, who ran to him. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.

Experience the Blessed Assurance!

 

 

 

 

 

2 Corinthians 12: The Crown of Thorns

2 Corinthians 12: The Crown of Thorns

Paul reveals something which happened to him 14 years before when he was caught up into heaven. What is amazing, is Paul had never told anyone about this. Today we have books written and movies made about people who supposedly  died and went to heaven and returned.  Paul had not spoken of this for fourteen years.

Now Paul describes this occurrence and speaks of himself in the third person, which rabbis often did.  He says he went up to the third heaven, which he calls paradise. We know when Jesus ascended we are told he passed through the heavens.  The first heaven is the canopy, the atmosphere we live in where the sun shines and  storms occur, but all the conditions we require for life are provided. The second heaven is beyond this atmosphere into what we call outer space, where the stars and planets exist. Man has explored a part of this and even walked on the moon.  This second heaven is so vast, we do not know where it ends or if it ends, but beyond this is the third heaven, paradise. Here God lives and Jesus in a resurrected body is seated above all  authority , power and dominion, and every title that can be given , not only in this present age, but also in the one to come.

Paul was caught up to there and heard inexpressible things that man is not permitted to tell. Then something unexpected happens:  Paul was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming conceited, prideful because of the surpassing revelations he had seen and heard. The thorn in the flesh was given Paul, an affliction which caused him to suffer. Paul says this thorn, this affliction was given to him by Satan to torment him, buffet him. Thorns speak of pain.

One of the great mysteries of all times is evil and why God allowed it to come. God allowed evil to enter the world as a result of sin. Having made man in His own image, man had the freedom to choose, to decide. God told Cain when Cain was upset and angry because his offering was not accepted that sin was crouching at his door. Cain had to master sin or sin would master him, God told him.

The combination  here is baffling:  paradise and pain; suffering and glory.  But they belong together and God’s story from the beginning has plainly told us this truth and shown it repeatedly in the stories of mankind.  We even read about this in 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul talks about the grace God had given the church in Macedonia. Paul then describes the work of God’s grace in that church: “ Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”  Did you get that?  Their overflowing joy came out of the most severe trial. Their rich generosity came out of their extreme poverty.

The secret of knowing God’s complete sufficiency and extreme grace is in coming to the end of self. Once we reach the point we will stop seeking sympathy for our difficult situation or ill treatment, because we will recognize these things as necessary conditions for blessings.

How do you respond to the storms, the sickness, and the “thorns” in your life?  Do you get bitter and blame God?  Do you endure it in your own strength, until you are completely drained? Do you   grow angry with God when He does not heal you from your sickness?  Paul is allowed to go up to heaven, either in his body or in a vision, he was not sure. But it was the most amazing experience he had ever had. What great heights he was lifted to- the things he heard and saw. And then back to earth he was given an affliction, a thorn.  Paul pleaded with the Lord three times, he begged him to remove this painful affliction from his life.

I think of Jacob whose life had never been the same after his sons returned home with his bloodied robe of many colors to report Joseph and been attacked and killed by a wild animal. We know they concocted this story while selling their 17 year old brother into slavery. Jacob was never the same after that day.  He had lost his Rachel, the love of his life. His sons for the most part were a disappointment to him. Then comes a severe famine which sends his sons to Egypt to find grain or face starvation. We know the story of how their brother Joseph, is unrecognized by them. He accuses them of being spies and hides their money back in their sacks of grain. Joseph keeps Simeon captive until they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin.  When told of all this, Jacob proclaims with great sadness and grief:  “ Everything is against me!”  We know how the story ends. And Joseph and this story gives us great insight into how God uses evil and controls evil.  Joseph said, “ But as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is to this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50)   Interesting observation, when Jacob thought everything was against him was actually when God was doing everything for him. If God is for us, who or what can be against us?

The story of Job allows us to see in to the third heaven how God controls evil and uses it for his glory.  We realize Job was  never given an explanation for why this happened. But we are not to live by explanations but by God’s promises. Paul writes in Romans 8: 28: “ And we know that all things works together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Sometimes we cannot see or understand how some of these painful things can benefit us. In fact, Paul pleaded three times for this thorn to be removed.

2 Corinthians 12: 9a is  the turning point:  “ But then He( Lord Jesus) said unto me…”   Do you know what the Lord Jesus has said unto you?  Do you know what He has promised you?  I believe this insight Paul is about to receive was a turning point in his ministry. Paul could then with confidence write from a prison in chains, “ Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result  it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” ( Phil. 1)

God uses pressure to generate spiritual power, the same way a turbine uses the friction of the gears to generated electricity. Wheels within wheels working to create power.  Opposite forces also keep us in balance, just like opposing forces keep our earth in orbit. God uses adversity to strengthen, purify and grow our faith.

Paul wanted the thorn, the affliction removed. The use of the word ‘pleaded’ tells us Paul was imploring, urging,  and even begging for relief.  It is encouraging to me to know Paul wanted the affliction removed, and even greater encouragement is my High Priest, the Lord Jesus who can empathize with our situations for He, too pleaded in the garden three times with His Father for  the cup could be taken from Him.  Could they find another way to accomplish His will? Could they find an alternative method, a substitute.  So I can ask for the problem to be removed, the pain to go away, to be healed from the sickness.  But in the end I must want God’s will , not mine. God is not going to remove Paul’s thorn, He is instead going to use it to transform Paul until Paul sees the thorn as a gift from God.  It was not meant for evil, but for good, for the saving of many lives.

THE END OF SELF.

Ever come to the end of self- the end of trying to do something which you cannot in your own strength do?   We sing , “ I surrender all- all to Jesus , I surrender.”  Surrender means you give up completely. Surrender is more than commitment, commitment is often  a function of self will .

I fought a battle with alcohol for 14 years. Completely defeated and no longer deceived that I could quit drinking I decided to end my life rather than go on living that way. On September 16, 1977 I straddled the rail of a balcony on the 10th floor fully intending to end my life. I had come to an end which the enemy who had deceived wanted me to come to.  Death is the wages of sin and separation from life.   I pushed back from that rail and fell on my knees and ask the Lord Jesus to save me.  I was an alcoholic and ironically, the AMA has recognized alcoholism as a disease.  To which I would add , as is all sin, a disease.  It is the disease of mankind.  It ends in death.  On that day, almost 40 years ago, I came to end of self. And looking back the end of self was the beginning of a new life.  For Jacob it appeared everything was against him,  and it all added up to the cumulative effect, that nothing good could come out of this. He was completely broken. I was broken that September morning  in 1977. Brokenness is God’s requirement for maximum usefulness.

To admit one is powerless opens the door for an amazing truth Paul is about to have revealed to him.  Jesse Ventura, former Navy seal, former professional wrestler and former governor of Minnesota was once asked in an interview what was his view of Christianity. To which he replied, “ Christianity is a crutch for the weak.”   He did not realize how close he was to the secret we are about to learn about weakness.

The Lord’s answer to Paul is the answer to us in our time of despair in troubling circumstances. For as surely as the Lord said unto Paul, He is saying unto you in even your darkest hours. He has promised you and me, He would never place more on us than we can bear, but will make a way to stand up so we can bear it.

Here is what the Lord is saying to you:  “ My grace is sufficient for you.”  This is the amazing grace we sing about.  This is God’s provision for us. It is always sufficient and it is manifold.

His grace is sufficient for your ministry. Paul writes, “ He ( the Lord) has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant.” 2 Cor. 3

His grace is sufficient to meet our material needs. “ And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Cor. 9

If His grace is sufficient to save us, surely His grace is sufficient to keep us and strengthen us in our times of need.

His grace is a strengthening  grace:  “ When I am weak, I am strong.” ( 2 Cor 9)

So the Lord’s first answer to us when we seek the removal of a problem, a thorn in our flesh, He tells us His grace is sufficient. And one of the reasons for the thorn is to make us realize our limits. To understand in the spiritual realm, spiritual power comes from Jesus and it comes when we realize we are powerless.

The second part of the Lord’s answer to Paul, which is also our answer to life’s thorns is equally important:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I can see the expression of joy on Paul’s face as the deeper insight comes to him.  The thorn is a gift. Accepting the thorn in your life as a gift, allows God to accomplish the purpose. Paul accepts the gift and realizes, “ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong. “

On September 16th, 1977, as I have often said, I went down on my knees a sot, I rose up a saint. A new creature. I was led to call AA that morning and attend my first AA meeting in the basement of a church in Nashville.  It was only minutes away from my hotel. When I arrived, I heard them read the 12 steps of AA.

The first three steps were all I heard for they spoke so loudly to my situation, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. Here are the first three steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

This is what had just occurred in my life. I had  begun the journey of sanctification. It is a journey all believers are on. I refer to myself as do others who have been afflicted with the thorn of alcoholism, as a “ recovering alcoholic.”  The fact is what I really am is what all believers are- “ recovering sinners”. The only way we recover is to realize we are powerless over sin and self. And come to believe a Power greater than ourselves can deliver us and restore us.

Now there are 12 steps in the AA program of recovery. I begin to work on the subsequent steps. But looking back in rearview mirror of time, I can see how it works. It is an ongoing daily process. This is why we were encouraged to take it one day at a time. But let me share the last two steps of this ongoing process.

Step 11:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.

Step 12:  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Is this not what we are supposed to be doing?  Of course it is. The Lord has equipped each of us with spiritual gifts to enable us to perform the work He has ordained we walk in.

APPLICATION:

  1. The spiritual is more important to a dedicated believer than the physical.
  2. God knows how to balance the burdens with the blessings.
  3. Not all sickness is from sin but for God’s purpose.
  4. Something worse than sickness is sin, and the worst sin is pride.
  5. Physical afflictions, life’s thorns, need not be a barrier to effective Christian service, but a gift to enable us to depend completely on the Lord for His Strength.
  6. We can always find rest in the Lord. Come unto me all you who are weary and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

Remember, the Lord knows what it is to despair. He knows what it is to not have to deal with the thorns. But it was thorns which trapped the ram which God provided for Abraham in place of Isaac for a sacrifice. And it was my Lord Jesus who wore a crown of thorns on Calvary that day He took my place.  Even though He despised the shame, he endured it for the joy set before Him. The joy of becoming the author and finisher of my faith. Amen!!

“ The city was Jerusalem, the time was long ago. The people called him Jesus, the crime was the love he showed. And I’m the one to blame. I caused all the pain. He gave Himself the day He wore my crown. He could have called His Holy Father and said take me away. He could have said I’m not guilty and I’m not going to stay. I’m not going to pay. But he walked right through the gate and then up on the hill. And as HE fell beneath the weight, He cried, Father not my will!  And I’m the one to blame.  I caused all the pain. He gave Himself for me, the day He wore my crown.”    My crown of thorns.

2 Corinthians 11:

2 Corinthians 11:

I want to finish this section of 2 Corinthians 10 first and then begin the first part of chapter 11 as they fit together.

“And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete (fulfilled, KJV).”  2 Corinthians 10: 6

The question you must ask yourself is-   are you ready to punish every act of disobedience?  Are there areas in your life which are either questionable, or sinful?  But you are not ready to punish those acts of disobedience.  The walls of resistance built up in our minds are like the walls of Jericho and to have victory in the battle they must be pulled down.  What are these walls in your mind? They are reasonings that are opposed to the truth of God’s Word. The question the Holy Spirit asks of you is the same question Jesus asked the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be made whole?”  (John 5)   Sometimes we want to hold on to a pet sin, or attitude which is wrong.

*Once the walls of the mind have been torn down, the door to the heart is open.

SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY

Jesus warned his disciples not to pattern their leadership after that of the Gentiles. This teaching came as a result of James and John asking Jesus to put them in the positions of power and authority at this right hand and left, when He established His kingdom.  Jesus them what spiritual authority was all about. He said “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise their authority over the people. Not so with you. Instead you must be a servant and whosoever wants to be great must first be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”  (Mark 10)

Paul said his authority was to build them up not tear them down.   Paul wanted to use his authority given to him by the Lord to build up the church.  The Judaizers wanted to use the church to build up their authority.

Paul says these men measure and compare themselves with statistics and with other churches. Baptists are known for measuring the success of their ministry with the “three B’s” – baptisms, budgets and buildings.  The bigger – the better.

In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus measured the churches by a different standard. To the church in Smyrna, Jesus says: “I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich.” (Rev. 2:9) And conversely Jesus measures the church at Laodicea:  “You say I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 3: 17)

The Judaizers were using a false measurement. They were measuring external activities rather than internal transformation.  All the Judaizers belonged to a mutual admiration society and used the same standards of external measures to measure their success. They boasted of their success.  If we would be honest, most people look at the big ministries, and want to know and copy what they have done in order to duplicate their growth. Not all of it is bad, but it is very difficult to carry a full cup.  The praise and flattery and recognition that come from growing big ministries can create a ‘big head.’

TRUE MEASUREMENT

Paul suggests three areas of measurement to measure our ministries by the will of God. In verse 13, Paul says we will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us. I am not competing with other Sunday School classes, and West Jackson should not be competing with other churches. We are competing with ourselves. God is going to judge me and measure my success based on the field of service He has assigned to me on the basis of the gifts and opportunities He, the Lord has given me.  

Can you imagine at the Southern Baptist Convention how the bi-vocational pastor of a church of 100 members is made to feel when comparing himself and the church he serves to the mega- churches?  Will he ever be asked to speak to the national meeting about church growth? About how to build large Sunday School classes?  Yet the Lord has put him there in this seemingly unimportant field.  And based on the measures others use, he must feel like a failure. 

The other true measurement of a ministry is that God is being glorified.  This may not be known until we are before the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ where our works will be tested for rewards. Many a pastor and teacher who never had the large churches, the big budgets, but were faithful in little, may well be recognized for the faithfulness to glorify the Lord, never complaining while toiling in the field they were assigned as humble servants.  Those who received praise of men for their successful building of large congregations and beautiful buildings and wrote and sold many books may see some of their works burn up.  For their motive was to be seen and recognized as a leader in their field.

Now this leads to another true measurement- can the Lord commend me for the work I have done with the gifts He has given me, in the field He has assigned me to work.  The word, “approved” used in verse 18 means to approve by testing. There is the future testing at the Bema, but there is current testing in the present. God permits difficulties in the local churches in order that the work might be tested and approved.

These difficulties can come in various forms- financial difficulties, false doctrine, proud leaders who want to run the church, and the challenge of change.  If we stay true to our calling, trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean to our own understanding, God will direct our path. The ministry will survive having become purer and stronger and most of all, God will be glorified the most!

CHAPTER 11

Now beginning in Chapter 11, Paul wants to convince them of his love for them and out of his love and jealousy for them, wants to warn them of false teachers. Here Paul compares the love he has for the church at Corinth as loving father of a daughter about to be married. Paul is using a picture of a proud, loving father presenting his pure daughter to be the bride of Christ.

So as their (the church at Corinth) “spiritual father” he wants to make sure the bride to be keeps herself pure for her husband to be, the Lord Jesus.    

PAUL’S CONCERN

Like any parent, Paul is concerned for the welfare of his children. Viewing the church at Corinth as his spiritual children, Paul‘s role as father is to raise them up in the fear of the Lord and present them pure to the Lord Jesus. His concern is they remain faithful and pure while engaged to the Lord Jesus.  So we must keep ourselves pure as we prepare to meet the Lord, Paul’s fear is they be deceived as Eve was deceived in the Garden by the serpent. He speaks of his cunning and how he leads minds astray.  Remember, every sin starts as a thought. So Paul’s focus is on the mind for Satan is a liar and wants us to listen, and ponder in our hearts, entertain the idea of temptation, which will if not taken captive will lead us into sin.  James tells us “each one is tempted when by his own evil desire; he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown gives birth to death.” *(James 1) If we look at the deception of Eve we see the steps of this deception:

1.     Satan questions God’s word (Has God said?)

2.     He denies God’s word. (You shall surely not die.)

3.     He substitutes a lie for the truth. (You shall be as gods.)

Satan is an imitator. He copies what God does and then tries to convince his offer is better than God’s. Satan says the chief end of man is to enjoy himself and lead a life of pleasure.   This enemy of your souls claims he provides greater enjoyment, pleasure and a better life. He is the ultimate smooth talking salesmen with a marketing plan for his product which uses false advertising in order to convince you.    He reduces the risk, which in turn, increases the interest. After all, if I can enjoy this sin without consequences, why wouldn’t I enjoy it?  But there is the hook. For although we have the freedom to choose and make our own decisions, we are not in control of the consequences and results. Then, we discover the consequences of sin are under the control of God. Sin when it is full-grown gives birth to death.   As I have told you before: sin will take you further than you wanted to go; keep you longer than you wanted to stay and cost you more than you wanted to pay.  

Judas wanted to return the money to the chief priests for his sin- but there is no money back guarantee from the father of all lies. He lied to you in order to get you to sin against God. Satan hates you. He hates God. He is out to attack God so he attacks God through us.

Satan uses false teachers who offer a false gospel, which is no gospel at all. It is usually a mixture of law and grace, of truth and lies. But there is only one Gospel and only one Jesus. There is only One Spirit, One Faith, One Baptism, and One Lord.  

A DESCRIPTION OF YOUR ENEMY

Just as they will publish pictures of criminals wanted for crimes and often warn us if we see this person, call 911 and do not approach them for they are considered armed and dangerous.

We must be able to recognize these who the enemy uses to aid and abet him in the crimes he commits.  We are told by the Lord Jesus to “watch and pray.”  We are told to be alert and vigilant for our enemy goes about seeking whom he may destroy.

Those two men in the small town in middle Tennessee, who recently apprehended those two dangerous escaped convicts, offer a real life example for us.  These men were warned ahead of time. They knew how dangerous these two men were.  They were armed and they were on guard and alert. They had a description of them. They were also a close knit community ready to help one another. They were in a way a description of what the church is supposed to be and do.

Here is the description of these men who are false apostles, deceitful workers masquerading as apostles of light.  They claim to have special revelations. They are often gifted speakers who can speak with the tongues of angels. They claim they want to glorify God, but their personal gain is by capturing converts to a false gospel. They promise a life of prosperity and a Christian life superior to what others teach in the true gospel. Notice how infrequently they speak the name of Jesus Christ.

They are not empowered by the Spirit of God; they are energized by the spirit of the enemy, called the Prince of Power of the Air.  And they love to use the air waves of television to spread their gospel, which is not a gospel at all.

They disguise themselves, because Satan never appears in his true character. They appear as well dressed, handsome men, or attractive women, who say they represent Jesus Christ. They do not mention or condemn sin, because that “hell-fire and damnation” of those old time preachers is a turn off and this is the 21st century. They speak of prosperity and possessions, wealth and health are yours if you believe.  When one does not find what they said they would find- they tell them it is their faith which was not strong enough.

They have redefined the meaning of the abundant life.  Although Jesus said “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Go back to what Jesus said about leadership: ‘whoever would be great among you must be your servant, whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all.’   See if this describes their ministry and their lifestyle. You shall know them by their fruit.

2 Corinthians 10:

2 Corinthians 10:

“Now, I Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ- who in presence am lowly, (timid, when face to face with you NIV), but being absent am bold with you. I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. “NJKV

Understand Paul is writing to a divided church, some of which were resisting his teaching and authority. A church being seduced by false teachers. Paul is addressing those who say Paul writes boldly from a distance, but is timid and backs down in face to face confrontation.  Paul is saying to those who are on his side I may not have to be bold toward some of you, but I expect to be bold toward some who think we walk and live by the flesh, or world standards. Paul is saying I am prepared to do battle and my weapons are not carnal, but mighty in God. They are spiritual weapons for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every pretension that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.  True spiritual power is a combination of meekness and gentleness as exhibited by the Lord Jesus.  In Matthew 11, Jesus says come unto Him and take His yoke upon you and learn from Him for I am gentle and humble in heart.

The false teachers and Judaizers who were dividing the church and attacking Paul were men of impressive personalities, great speakers, clever with words, and appeared to be intellectually superior. They used these skills as weapons to make people believe they knew more than they really did. Their personalities were overbearing, and their high-minded attitude of intellectual superiority intimidated people.  We see these types of personalities on the nightly news, we read their opinions in the daily papers, and our response to them is anger and if we will admit it- hatred. We despise them.  Yet Paul is speaking of this battle we are waging, tells us the first thing we must do is recognize our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, gains the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in high places.

THE BATTLE

Paul tells us this is spiritual warfare and requires spiritual weapons. This conflict began in heaven, in the spiritual realm and spilled out on to earth.  What we observe in the physical realm began and is influenced by the spiritual realm. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us this truth which we are very prone to forget: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.”  Now in battles, the opposing forces establish fortified places- strongholds or fortresses as base of operation from which to launch their attacks. The four fronts on which the enemy attacks are plainly seen:

  1. Personal.
  2. Family.
  3. Church.
  4. Society

LOCATION

So we have established by God’s Word the battle is in heavenly places but impacts our lives on these four fronts. Let us see what the Word of God tells us about these heavenly places.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1: 3)  Do you see where all your blessings are?  This is where your spiritual weapons which are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds are.  In that same chapter in verse 20 we read:  “That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when he raised Him up from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given not only in this present age, but also in the one to come.”  Our Lord Jesus is above all and in control over all.    Now so far I have probably not told you anything you do not already know. But perhaps are reminding you of what we have available to us. Now one more truth about the heavenly realms:  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus….”   I know you have always heard – you cannot be in two places at once- but we can and we are.  You must put your mind on things above- not on the things on earth. You need a heavenly mind-set. Why? Because the enemy is going to attack your mind.

Next we must realize where the battlefield is and what is at stake. The battle is for your mind, this is the battlefield and we must learn how to use the weapons of spiritual warfare. Our job as Christians is to destroy strongholds.   So one of the most important things we need to learn and teach others is how to guard, strengthen, and renew our minds, because the battle for sin always starts in the mind. Every sin begins as a thought.

THE CAUSE OF THIS WAR

Do you know what the cause of this spiritual war was? The battle was and is for glory.  Lucifer was a created being, an angel. And the Word of God tells us there are levels and types of angels. Lucifer was an anointed cherub.  A cherub angel is like the honor guard of God, the King. They guard His Honor, His Glory. This is the responsibility of the cherub angels to proclaim and protect the glory of God. Lucifer was the highest ranking cherub angel. Angels were evidently created with volition, the ability to choose. Lucifer coveted God’s glory and wanted it for himself. We read of his rebellion and the subsequent revolt that followed. We read of this in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. In Isaiah 14, we read the motivation and cause of this war in which we were all born.  Lucifer said in his heart: “I will ascend to heaven. I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High.

We know Lucifer and the angels who followed him (1/3rd) were cast out of heaven to the ground. Here is a lesson to learn from this fall of Lucifer, the highest ranking angel, who even today is called the prince of power of the air. And John tells us the whole world; (society) is under his influence.  Here is the lesson- one can control one’s own decisions, but God is in control of the consequences.

The battle is ongoing.  Children born in certain parts of the world are born in war zones where two forces are at battle.  In Israel the battle is ongoing between the people of Palestine and the people of Israel.  And we are born into a war zone, a battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil.

Don’t miss what God’s motives are as explained in Ephesians 3:  “ His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus.”  God’s plan and motives and His wisdom which is manifold is being revealed to not only the 2/3rd of the angels who stayed loyal to God but also being revealed to Satan and the angels who followed him.  God is displaying His glory through His manifold wisdom, power, authority, grace, holiness and justice.

In our lives personally, God wants us to use the mighty spiritual weapons to tear down any stronghold in our lives which take away the glory of God. Two instances come to mind of men who would have the glory that belonged to God – belong to them:  Nebuchadnezzar who wanted glory which belonged to God. As a consequence he spent 7 years crawling on his knees living like an animal. (Daniel 4)  And King Herod Agrippa who declared himself God. He was immediately struck dead, eaten by worms.

SATAN’S STRATEGY

We see the enemy’s strategy in the first temptation and sin which resulted in the fall.  In Genesis 3, Satan who can disguise himself even as an angel of light appears as a serpent. He tempts Eve by questioning God’s Word.  A strategy that uses today with great effectiveness. He questioned the Word of God in three areas:  Accuracy- Authority and Acceptability. He then tempted with: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride of life.  The rest is history.

Satan wants to establish strongholds in your life in your mind. A stronghold is a fortress the enemy has built. The enemies of the Christian are threefold:   the devil, the world he controls and our old nature, the flesh which walks according to this world. This is one of the reasons our God is One God in three persons to deal with the threefold enemy we face.  The word stronghold can also be referred to as a fortress. It is something the enemy has built in your life. This is the base of his operations which he uses to attack you at will. When you have an enemy who can take refuge in a stronghold and come out an attack you at will, you will not get anywhere until you tear down that stronghold. A stronghold is a partition the enemy has built in your mind where God’s glory is not present, is not allowed. This partition must be torn down, for whoever controls thoughts control actions.

Here he can launch an attack on the individual. How do we recognize the stronghold? A stronghold is an area which you have said; you cannot get victory over it. You cannot fix it and you cannot seem to yield it to the Lord. It is a mindset. He starts here with the individual, just as he did with Eve.  This then created the family problems that ensued as a consequence (Kicked out of Eden, Cain and Abel.)  Why the family?  By destroying the family the enemy seeks control of the next generation. As the family goes, so goes the church and as the church goes so goes the community, our society, our culture, our country. Passages in Daniel lead us to believe the enemy has control over whole nations.

TRUTH WHICH WILL SET US FREE

Paul is very succinct in what we must do. Although the strategies and weapons are not named in this passage, we can discover them in Ephesians and other places.  Here are the truths Paul wants us to know and believe:

  1. We are in a battle, a spiritual battle which has manifested itself in our lives. Since it is a spiritual battle we must NOT use carnal weapons, (weapons of the flesh) to fight spiritual battles. We must use spiritual weapons which have divine power.
  2. Satan attacks our minds to establish strongholds. He builds up partitions which block God and therefore God’s glory from that area. The stronghold is a mindset. We must recognize in that area the thoughts are the thoughts of our old nature which was deceived by the lies of the enemy. We must know the truth and apply the truths. For Jesus told us ‘if you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if the Son (who is the Truth) sets you free, you are free indeed. Recognize those thoughts and cast them down, replacing them with the right thoughts. ( Philippians 4)
  3. Strongholds, these partitions in your mind are established and built up to make you “double-minded”. And a double minded Christian is unstable in all his ways. We must be heavenly minded- put our thoughts on things above.

Our emotions only respond to what we think. Emotions come from the heart.  This is why the Bible tells us ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. ‘(Proverbs 23: 7) therefore, it makes sense whoever controls the thoughts of your heart, controls your emotions and determines how you feel.

Paul says we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Now we have an old nature, the flesh, which Paul tells us has a mind of its own. In Romans 7, Paul says the good things he wants to do, he does not do and the evil, sinful things he does not want to do, he does. He says it makes him wretched and he discovers this principle, every time he wants to do good, evil is always present.

THE WEAPONS OF THE FLESH vs. WEAPONS OF THE SPIRIT

What are these weapons of the flesh?  Manipulation, coercion, pressure groups, compromise, demonstrations, raised voices, clenched fists, violence, and riots. They happened in Paul’s day and they are happening in ours. These are the weapons of the flesh. And we see them wielded every day from the streets and in the schools, the college campuses right up to and including the halls of congress and the White House.   Carnal, worldly minds think they know more than God. They think of themselves as smarter, more sophisticated, more effective, and more powerful than God’s ways

If you are governed by the flesh, the old nature. These are the fleshly weapons employed to get things done.

Carnal thinking among Christians, true believers who have compromised their beliefs in the name of political correctness or tolerance are nothing new. They have always been a problem. The wisdom of the flesh is nothing more than man’s natural abilities opposed to God’s supernatural grace.

What are our weapons which are mighty in God?  Ephesians 6 tells us what they are as well as other scriptures also.  Ephesian 6 remind us we ‘wrestle not with flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness. ‘  Paul goes on the describe our spiritual weapons and armor:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation,  the Word of God and prayer.

Here is the clash- the Word of God, the truth, comes against the deceitfulness of false teaching. The breastplate of righteousness, His Righteousness comes against the image of success according to the world’s standards.  The simple Gospel comes against the smooth words of deceit which promise fulfillment, but leave one empty. The shield of faith is opposed by the perception of power which intimidates like a roaring lion. The Helmet of Salvation protects our minds against the world authority which would have us not speak of the Word of God in the public place, nor voice our opposition to sin and wrongdoing in the name of tolerance.

And the shield of faith is the largest and most protective piece of armor we have against the fiery darts of the enemy.   And when we have armed ourselves for the battle what do we do? Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Charles Stanley says we win all our battles on our knees in prayer.

Thoughts reap action; an action reaps a habit and habit reaps your character. And why is character so important? Because character reaps your destiny. Reject, tear down, and replace any thought which does not honor Christ in our thinking.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE

  1. Dress appropriately. Follow these steps.
  2. Put on the belt of truth first thing each morning upon rising. This belt Paul observed on the Roman soldiers who guarded him was a very important element. It was a leather apron, a girdle for his loins. Protective and functional. It held his sword and perhaps short dagger, also he used it to tuck his robe into it when he went into battle so he would not be entangled.  We are to set aside that which so easily entangles us and keeps us from running the race set before us.
  3. Next we put on the breastplate of righteousness. This is not our self-righteousness, but the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. It deflects fiery arrows. Those arrows of temptation to sin or give into wrong emotions, such as fear, hatred, self-pity, or dissatisfaction
  4. Put on the sandals of the Gospel of Peace. Roman sandals were comprised of thick soles with spikes for traction, so a soldier in combat could anchor himself in the ground and remain steadfast. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand.
  5. The shield of faith. Largest piece of armor which offered full body protection. With unwavering faith in Christ, we are assured of His protection, no matter what the enemy throws at us.
  6. The helmet of salvation. Our minds are protected when we put on the helmet of salvation and let this mind which is in Christ Jesus be our mind to give us wisdom and discernment.
  7. Then and only then can we take our stand and pray always with all prayer and supplication for all the saints

We are not go it alone.  We are to keep on learning, keep on leaning and keep on loving.

We come here each Sunday morning to keep on learning, leaning and loving.  To keep growing in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man.

If your teacher or preacher quits growing then you will quit growing and the church will quit growing.  We need teaching, preaching and training if we are to keep on learning and growing.

The only way we can have consistent victory over the flesh is to bring every thought into obedience to Christ. We must recognize carnal thinking, and take dominion over it, casting wrong thoughts down. Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing your mind.

Paul will address one of the problems of carnality which we will explore in next week’s lesson. Paul asks a very penetrating question which is a test for carnal thinking: “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?”

To be continued…..

2 Corinthians 8: The Treasure Principle of Amazing Grace!

2 Corinthians 8: The Treasure Principle of Amazing Grace!

Buried treasure is the theme of novels, movies and the dreams of everyone who ever watched a pirate movie or read, Treasure Island or the Count of Monte Cristo.  This fascination with buried treasure is nothing new, listen to what Jesus said:  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13: 44)

Can you visualize what Jesus wanted the crowd to visualize in this story about the kingdom of heaven?  Here is a man walking along the path beside the field and perhaps cuts across the field to get to where he is going.  As he walks with his staff, his staff sinks in the some soft dirt and hits something solid. The man, curious as to what his staff has landed on, drops to his knees to dig away the dirt and there it is- an ornate chest which he pulls up. Glancing about to make sure no one is looking, he opens the chest and finds- a buried treasure from long ago.  Now do not let the main point of the story get lost and miss the most important point:  this man went and sold all he had to possess this field with its treasure.  Notice it was ‘in his joy’; he gave up all he had for this.  He was exchanging the lesser treasure for the greater treasure. “A man is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep for that which he can never lose.” (Jim Elliot)

The treasure principle was a key part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 6 we read:  “Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break into steal. But store up treasure for yourselves in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus’ appeal for giving is not emotional, it is logical. He is saying by investing your treasures in heaven, you can enjoy them for eternity. He is enlightening our self- interest. He is directing us to give where we can enjoy it for the longest period and have great joy in the present as we anticipate future joy.  Right now our family is looking forward to a family vacation in a new spot, St. Georges Island.  We have made the necessary investment to secure this location for a whole week in July. I have joy in the present as I anticipate the future joy of being there with all my family for a week, doing all the fun things with the people I love the most.

Did you notice the treasure we lay up in one of these two locations is for us, for ourselves.  Jesus is called, “Wonderful Counselor”.  Here in this parable and in these verses, Jesus is giving us a life lesson about where to invest and store up treasure.  He is telling us the treasures we lay up on earth will not last.  He tells us laying up treasures, investing in temporary things is like my spending money to redecorate this rented vacation home – painting it, putting in new carpet, buying new furniture and lighting fixtures. In fact it is foolish and just plain stupid spending not only my money on this, but wasting my time doing all this work.   On the other hand, I want to make sure my family takes good care of this temporary housing.

Psalm 24 tells us “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Haggai tells us “the silver and gold are the Lord’s.”

Deut. 8 provides this insight:  “Remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”  And one last reminder: “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.” (I Cor. 6)

Did you forget, like we all do, you are living in the Lord’s world, in His house, managing His money which He gave you the ability to earn.  I am His steward managing His estate and wealth. He is extremely generous, allowing me to keep 90% of what He has given me the ability to earn.   He is the owner of everything, I am His steward. What I have just written is what Scripture tells us is true and it is also a picture of His Amazing Grace.

LIFE AND THINGS

Grace is often defined as -: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.  He created it all for us to enjoy. I enjoy all I enjoy in this world at Christ’s expense. What a costly investment He has made at Calvary where He shed His blood to pay for my sins. Peter said this blood of our Lord is more precious than all the silver and gold. (Gold by the way is used for paving roads in heaven.) Jesus shares a parable about a rich man in Luke 12 who stores up all his wealth in his barns.  He has to build new barns to hold it all. Thinking now I am set and have plenty of good things stored up for many years.  “I can take life easy: eat, drink, and be merry.  Jesus calls this man a fool in this parable, because that very night his life will end and who then will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.  Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body what you will wear. Life is more than food and the body more than clothes.”  Jesus is trying to tell us life is more than things. He says he will provide us with all we need if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  If you are worrying about things and life today, then you are not trusting Him.

We are told not to love the things of this world. Yet people, possessions and places are what we build our lives around these things. Jesus is saying I know you have need of these things but they can steal your love for Me.   Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the life.

Do you want to know what life is?  Jesus defined it for us:  “And this is life eternal, that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)   Knowing Jesus is the secret to what life is about and the right attitude toward things.  “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12)  This is materialism. And the antidote for materialism and worry is to know and serve the Lord. Invest your life in Him.  The more you know Him, the more you will love Him, and the more you love Him, and the more you love Him the more you will obey Him, and the more you obey Him , the more you will abide in Him and bear more fruit. In this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit. (John 15)  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This is the greatest investment you can make and brings the greatest joy now and forever.

We will receive our rewards in heaven which will last forever.  What are those rewards?  We will rule and reign with Christ. We will be put in charge of many things, including cities. We will receive crowns. Jesus is keeping track of all the things we do for Him and others, every small act of kindness will not go unnoticed by Him.  Paul said to the Philippians as he thanked them for their gifts to him, “not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking at what may be credited to your account.” There is an account book in heaven in which Jesus is crediting me for my rewards. They will be tested for motive at the Bema where rewards are bestowed. We will realize at that time, how much time, effort and money we wasted on things of no lasting value.

Do you know why people dread the thought of leaving this world?  It is because they have buried their treasure here on earth. And where your treasure is there will your heart be also.

So let’s look the guidelines Paul introduces us to for giving.

GOD’S GRACE.

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, (a great trial of affliction, KJV) their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. “

First thing to notice is the source of all of this is a result of the work of God’s Grace. This giving will be all of God’s grace.   It is an amazing combination of opposites.   Notice the great trial of affliction came from the Grace of God. Grace does not just remove trouble; it is grace which often brings trouble. “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fear removed.”

But out of this severe trial came overflowing joy.  This is the mark of grace, joy in the midst of trouble and affliction. It was these two working together which unlocked the combination to the treasure chest of generosity. Joy is rooted in grace, not in freedom from trouble. The more severe the trial the greater the joy.  This is the reaction of grace –when the trial is severe, the joy is abundant. Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame for the joy set before Him.  The joy was to be the author and finisher of our faith.

Notice the next two extreme opposites:  out of their extreme poverty welled up their rich generosity.  The grace of God brought affliction and extreme poverty. But it was the grace of God which produced out of these dire circumstances- overflowing joy and rich generosity. What we do in extreme afflictions in severe trials which bring extreme poverty is the key to all Christian living. Paul said he had learned to be content in those extremes. He knew what it was to have plenty and to have nothing. The Macedonians could have told Paul we are extremely poor, we cannot give you anything. In fact they could have grumbled and complained about all the problems they had.  But they did not complain- they did the opposite.

This response got Paul’s attention. Paul said “they did not do as we expected.”  Paul was not expecting this.  It reminded me of the man who came on the talent show who managed a cell phone store. There was nothing extraordinary about him, his looks, his personality, his life. He told Simon he loved opera and he would perform an opera aria for his talent. The look on Simon’s face said it all- a sneer of this will be good only for laughs as we humiliate this nobody. Yet when he opened his mouth and began to sing- it was a powerful rich tenor and it was all the more joyous because it was so unexpected.   Do we come to church every Sunday expecting something unexpected which produces great joy? Or do we come expecting nothing more than what we can do in our own power.  Our joy can rise not higher than our ability to produce circumstances which make us happy, which we confuse as joy.

Grace, God’s Grace is the source of joy. And it is the most abundant and overflowing when it comes from the most unlikely conditions which one would not expect it to come.

Paul reminds us in verses 8 & 9:  “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with your earnestness for others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Could it be what we want is more wealth and possessions? Yet statistics reveal on average the richer people are, the smaller the percentage of their money is given to charity.

Now here is what Paul was not expecting:  “For they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability.”  Have you ever given not as much as you were able but beyond your ability?

They gave of their own free will. They were not manipulated, or coerced or made to feel like they had to do this. THEY WANTED TO GIVE OVER AND ABOVE BEYOND WHAT THEY COULD GIVE.  They so loved God and were so impacted by His grace they wanted to do this.  God loves a cheerful giver. It was of their free will and out of a passion for God.  Grace results in this type of response. They begged to give more.  It is true; we love Him because He first loves us. He loved us and gave Himself for us.

Their giving was twofold. First they gave themselves to God. This is first and key. God went first; God risked not having His love returned. He gave Himself to us – so we should give ourselves to Him. Here is where we will find a treasure of greater worth – worth giving up all we possess, which we could not keep any way.  Second they gave of their possessions for the exchange was for the lesser for the greater; for the giving up of the temporary for the eternal.  And if that was not enough, it created joy and peace which surpasses our ability to understand or explain.

So where is your treasure?  We mentioned earlier our treasures are usually found in people special persons in our lives; in places- our homes, our favorite possessions.  These are producers of joy or happiness. Yet many of our possessions are temporary and are headed to Good Will or even to be picked up as trash.  Many of us are looking to downsize our homes, shed ourselves of possessions which fill our houses, attics and garages. Friends come and go, relationships change. The flowers of life fade, such fleeting beauty, but the Word of God and the souls of men last forever. Have you invested in the Word of God, storing it in your heart so you might share it with others? It never runs out and like God love, compassion and faithfulness it is new and fresh every morning.

Psalm 16: 11 “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

The church at Macedonia was a poor church consisting of poor people. They treasured Jesus above money. They treasured Him in their afflictions and in their poverty. And as a result they experienced great overwhelming joy and generosity.

For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

Jesus said lay up your treasures in a place_- heaven.

Find your joy in a person, Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, will and emotions. Then love your neighbor as yourself.

Love people and use things to express your love for others by giving out of your abundance of out of your poverty. Either way, you will discover it is better to give than to receive. Today people are lovers of self and of things and use people for their own selfish purposes.

Motive is key.  And God looks at your heart.

Paul says this of the Bema: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder and someone else is building on it.”

Everything you and I have as believers comes from God’s grace.   For by grace are you saved through faith.  And Paul tells us even the faith to believe was a gift.

Now we are building on the foundation laid for us of which Jesus is the chief cornerstone. Those works will be tested for reward.

We are cautioned by Paul “to be careful how he builds.”

What and where are you laying up your treasures?

What is being credited to your heavenly account?

What is your source of joy?   Is the joy of the Lord, the passion of your heart.  It was for this poor church at Macedonia. And their story is being told 2000 years later. A bunch of poor nobodies who in God’s eyes are a story worth telling and an example to us even today.

Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector. Yet he was looking for something that would satisfy the longing in his heart. He was wealthy but unhappy.  His position was one of power and wealth. He was in the eyes of the world – a “somebody.”  But he was a nobody until he met Jesus. He became a new creature. He found the treasure he was looking for and his life as changed from that moment on.

And his life which had been touched by the amazing grace of the Lord Jesus resulted in his giving. When Jesus comes to your house, you get changed and you turn the deed of your house and your possessions over to Him.

Did you ever notice Jesus borrowed so many things from others?  He borrowed a donkey, an upper room, food, and empty tomb. He had no home on this earth. No place to lay his head. Why did Jesus do this? Why did He live this way?

He gave it all for the joy of making us rich. Not financially rich, although some are able to be blessed with by the Lord with financial riches because they use them for His kingdom. They are like the servants given the talents to invest for their master.

God led the nation of Israel into the wilderness in Exodus to teach them He could supply all their needs. God gives us what we have. God gives us opportunities. He gives us abundance that we might learn the joy of sharing with those who have needs around us.

You cannot take it with you. But you can send it ahead.  You can also learn the joy of giving. Try it- discover the Treasure Principle it is more blessed to give than to receive and in doing so you are laying up treasure for yourself  which will never run out!

2 Corinthians 7: Two Types of Sorrow

2 Corinthians 7: Two Types of Sorrow

“Can two walk together, except they agree?” (Amos 3:3)  This Old Testament verse reminds us why we are not to be unequally yoked. But when the world pulls a believer back into sin, how does one get back into sync with God. Repentance.  This is what this lesson is about. How to get up when you have fallen and how to get back into step with the Spirit and walk by faith.

Of all the physical trials and dangers Paul endured, (the 195 lashes from the Jews, the beating with rods three times from the Romans, the stoning and all the other physical punishment), I believe the emotional pain and stress of unresolved differences with the church at Corinth were the most painful. Indeed, Paul’s greatest sorrow came from his lost brethren of Israel and his broken heart over broken relationships with fellow believers. Paul wanted reconciliation. He wanted what God wants, for all to come to knowledge of the truth.

Paul returns to his earlier statement in his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth and pleads once again, “Make room for us in your hearts.”  Paul wanted for the church in Corinth what he wanted for all believers. He wanted them to pursue holiness, to grow in their faith, and make progress in their sanctification process.  We must remember victory over sin is God’s will for the life of the believer.

Now before we go any further in today’s passage in 2 Corinthians 7, let us understand God’s purpose for guilt.  Guilt is an emotion. It occurs when we do something which violates our conscience. It causes us to regret what we have done and feel shame that we have done it. The Lord designed this emotion for us to experience responsibility for our actions, to move us to repent. Good guilt is an effective tool for prompting us to repent. It helps us correct our direction and get us back on the right path. This is why the Psalmist writes: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path.” (Psalm 119: 105)

Remember God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him, they might be saved. (John 3)   Going back to the verse in Amos: “Can two walk together, except they agree; means God wants us to agree with Him we have sinned. This is why we confess our sins to restore our relationship.   “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1) Victory over guilt begins with the clear understanding that Jesus Christ took all our sins, and shame (remember He despised the shame) to the cross and paid our penalty in full.   When we sin in the present, our relationship with God does not change, but our fellowship is interrupted. When we confess our sins, we agree with Him.  Then we can walk together in agreement. And now we are walking again in the right direction, because we have repented. Repentance always turns one from doing what is wrong to doing what is right.  God is faithful. God is a promise keeper. God is good. And God does not change. You will be freed of guilt. However, remember your sin can have consequences which can carry over even after restoration.

REPENTANCE

Since the Bible tells us ‘all have sinned.’  Then it is clear everyone needs to repent.  I do not know if you made any New Year’s Resolutions and if you did, how are you doing in keeping them?  One thing is for sure, when we look back over our lives, we all have regrets. Some of those regrets we have never resolved. They linger, and frequently plague us with doubts. If only I had… is the way they enter into our thoughts. Not being able to deal with unresolved guilt and regret can create sorrow. But in today’s lesson we learn there are two types of regret which come from two types of guilt and sorrow. What we want to explore and understand more fully is the good end of godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow and how to recognize the difference.

Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth were about the sin in the church as Corinth.  Their sins were no different from the sins we face in our church today in the 21st century. They were like a country and western ballad filled with ‘somebody done somebody wrong’ actions and of course there were people taking sides with and against others.  Paul addresses these issues and sins in a direct manner.  Now the church had taken offense with Paul and Paul was concerned he had been too harsh, although he spoke the truth.  The church was experiencing the “blame and shame” game which is as old as the Garden of Eden.   Guess who was behind all of that?  The enemy of our soul who loves to cause division, quarrels and fights among believers.

Even Paul had second thoughts about the letter and says he did not regret it, even though for a little while he regretted it. Ever have that happen to you?  You said something to someone or wrote something you thought needed to be said and then you wondered if you should have said it or written it.   Paul is depressed and distressed over this broken relationship over how bad the meeting went when he visited them. It was so contentious Paul decided not to make his planned return visit. Now Paul is waiting to hear from Titus whom he sent to inquire how the church was doing. In 2 Cor.2 Paul explains in his letter:  “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. “Paul said when he had not heard from Titus, in Troas, he had no peace of mind. When there has been an argument, a wrong action committed which caused a breach in a loving relationship, we are distraught until we can reconcile.  No wonder there are so many songs about love, and somebody done somebody wrong songs, they all have the same common theme, love hurts when it is not returned. Only love can break a heart and only love can mend it again is as true a lyric ever written.

Paul has returned to the theme of make room for us in your hearts. But notice in verse 2-4, Paul’s approach to make things better rather than worse and thus begin the healing process. Paul says he has a clear conscience he has wronged no one; corrupted no one; exploited no one.  Paul has a clear conscience.  But let interject, if you had also been wrong in this broken relationship, you need to start out admitting you were wrong.  This is taking the log out of your own eye before dealing with the speck in your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)  So if your conscience is not clear, this is the first action in reconciliation.

Now Paul says, “I do not condemn you.”  Paul affirms these believers. This is very important step.  You do not want to start out with harsh, angry condemnation of the other person. Jesus said, ‘let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.’

Paul then moves to tell them, “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged in all our problems.”  Paul did not say to these people he was ashamed of them and their actions. Paul aka Saul of Tarsus could look back at what he had done to harm Christians and realized if he could be forgiven and used by the Lord Jesus, so could anyone.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Paul had come to Macedonia and said: “this body of ours had not rest, but we were harassed at every turn, conflicts on the outside, fear within.” Does this describe how you feel some days?  You have conflicts on the outside and fears on the inside. Evidently Paul was running into trouble in Macedonia while at the same time he was fighting fears in his mind as he was distressed over the unresolved problems and broken relationships with the church in Corinth.  The great Apostle Paul was downcast. He was distressed, concerned about problems without and problems within- doubts about his actions.

Then comes good news!  “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort You had given him. He told us about your (the church at Corinth) longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever!!”   God knows what you are going through- the burdens you are carrying, the sorrow you are experiencing. Remember it is God who has allowed this to happen. They are not accidents. God put us in this fire. God put us on His potter’s wheel. He has set the thermostat on the oven, and He will not allow you to be tempted or tested above that which you are able to bear. (I Cor 10: 13)   You may think you cannot bear it, but God knows what you are able to bear.  He is the God of all comfort. He is the God of Good News!

Now Paul can look back at what has happened and in his review he admits he knows his letter caused sorrow. He says I do not regret it. Though I did regret it… Paul regretted he had hurt them with his honesty. But Paul said he regretted only for a little while because it had the desired effect – ‘”not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. GODLY SORROW BRINGS REPENTANCE THAT LEADS TO SALVATION AND LEAVES NO REGRET, BUT WORLDLY SORROW BRINGS DEATH.” 

Paul introduces two types of sorrow or regret. Godly Sorrow and Worldly Sorrow.

The good end to Godly Sorrow is salvation. So here are Paul’s three points.

  1. Godly sorrow is good. It is a good hurt, it is good grief.
  2. Godly sorrow leads to repentance.
  3. Godly sorrow leads to salvation

What godly sorrow was the church at Corinth experiencing?  They were grieved over the way they had mistreated Paul and believed things of him that were not true. They had hurt Paul with their words and actions. They had sorrow and regret over their past sins and sin in their church. Godly sorrow is sorrow according to God. What grieves God, should grieve us. This is godly sorrow. It is a feeling of remorse over one’s actions which grieved God.  The opposite of godly sorrow is worldly sorrow, which is sorrow according to the world.

Worldly sorrow and regret is when you feel sorry for something you did because it starts to backfire on you and cause you pain, loss and perhaps humiliation. It is a reflex of a prideful ego. Pride regrets making a fool of itself. Fear regrets acts which jeopardize our comfort and safety. In other words feeling SORRY FOR YOURSELF. Worldly sorry ‘s focus is on one’s self. O woe is me. Godly sorry is sorrow because we have grieved and wounded God, not ourselves.

Godly sorrow comes to us and creates regret because the God’s Word puts its finger on sin in our lives. Worldly sorrow or regret comes not from God’s Word, but from man’s attitude and society’s attitude and praise of what the world considers important. Worldly sorrow or regret comes from not having the world think highly of us.  In other words, the word of man not the Word of God becomes the criteria by which we feel sorrow or guilt or regret.  This is worldly sorrow.

Godly sorrow leads to repentance and repentance leads to salvation.  This is what leads to salvation and it continues to save us from being entrapped by our false feelings of guilt.  Godly sorry causes a change in behavior which leads to a sense of freedom.

Listen to what Paul says this godly sorrow produces: earnestness, eagerness to clear yourself, indignation, alarm, and a longing, a concern and readiness to see justice done.

In addition, when any of us are headed in the wrong direction then experience godly sorrow which leads to a change in behavior, attitude and direction it encourages others.

Paul says to the believers I have complete confidence in you.  And it makes him glad.

REPENTANCE

To repent is to change one’s mind. How is repentance connected to salvation?  Remember John the Baptist came on the scene with the message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Jesus after His baptism and testing or 40 days in the wilderness began His ministry and we read in Matthew 4: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

When the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, Peter was preaching filled with the Spirit. We read: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:  God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all of you who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

To repent in relationship to salvation is to change one’s mind about who Jesus Christ is. To come to believe the one whom you have rejected is indeed both Lord and Christ.

In other words change your mind about what you think of Jesus Christ.  For as Tozer said, ‘what comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.’

We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves; it is a gift of God, not works lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2: 8, 9)

No one can be saved by works.  But we are His workmanship saved unto good works which God has ordained we walk in. (Ephesians 2: 10)

Repentance unto salvation results in good works.

So in closing let me set the stage for the next portion of Paul’s letter which deals with money and giving.

John the Baptist was calling people to repentance.  He then told them to “produce fruit in keeping with your repentance.”  They asked John the Baptist, “What should we do then?”

John answered: “The man with two cloaks should share with him who has none; the one who has food should do the same.  Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher, “they said, “what should we do? Do not collect any more than you are required to, he told them.  Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely- be content with your pay.”

Do you see what works godly repentance leads to?

  1. Everyone should share food and clothes.
  2. Tax collectors shouldn’t pocket extra money they overcharged people for.
  3. Soldiers should be content with their wages and not extort money from citizens.

Each answers involved or related to money and possessions. This was John the Baptist’s answer to what should they do to demonstrate true repentance.

Next week we will unpack the teaching about giving and generosity.

2 Corinthians 6 Part 2: Followership

2 Corinthians 6 Part 2: Followership

Paul says to the Corinthians, “we have opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding affections from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange- I speak as to my children, open wide your hearts also.”    Paul speaks a father to his children, who have robbed him of their love.

Last week’s lesson was entitled: Are you Sincere? Are we sincere when we say we love the Lord?

If the greatest command is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, then what happens when you rob God of your love, is your heart has become divided. The thief has stolen your love of God and replaced it with the things of the world.

I approached the pharmacy one rainy Saturday to pick an Rx. Just as I was walking up, they were closing the window and would be closed for an hour for lunch. I called to them to wait, I need to pick up a Rx. Sorry, and we close for an hour for lunch on Saturday. Pointed to the sign. I felt this was rude and disrespectful to me personally.  I was indignant. I was angry. I was frustrated. Can you imagine how Paul felt with all he had done for these people and they had shut him out?  Has this happened to you before?    Now imagine how much your Heavenly Father has done for you, all of the sacrifices He made for you and imagine how He feels when you shut Him out. When you do not return His love.

Thus comes Paul admonition to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. To be separate and come out from them. To not touch any unclean thing. Paul is not talking about isolation from the world; he is talking about separation unto God.  Paul is linking the reason the Corinthians are withholding love for him is they have divided hearts. They love the things of the world.

Do not take this to mean we are not to reach out to sinners.  For Paul has just told us we are to be ministers for reconciliation , that is to say, offering the peace with God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  We are to be ambassadors. An ambassador is loyal to the leader of the country he/she represents. Their loyalty is based on their love of the country and the one who leads it.   An ambassador follows his leader.

God is love. We cannot imagine how much He loves us. He created us in order to love us. He made us for love, gave us the power to love and it is  this same love of God’s which  sustains us, keeps the earth in its orbit, the stars in their place and the tides from overflowing.

As His ambassadors we are to follow Him.  Yet, it seems we pray to Him almost as if we expect Him to be following us and providing what we need and taking care of our problems.

Following Christ is the beginning and the end of what it means to be a Christian. Everything in between is measured by it.

FOLLOWING JESUS.

Following Jesus is not easy. To start with our old sinful nature loves itself. The world wants to conform us to love the things of the world. The Lord in His Sermon on the Mount told us the Way of Christ is hard to follow.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  (Matthew7: 13, 14)

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that Day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name? And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7: 21-23)  Those are scary, sobering verses.

Do you see what has happened to our culture?  Everywhere we look the traditions of our culture are being lost, replaced by a mindset of doing what is right in one’s own eyes. Our culture is unraveling before our very eyes.  Here in the beginning of the 21st century, we must realize the foundation for the 21st century was laid in the 20th century.

Now I understand why many people are doing what they do, for they realized something was missing in their lives which gave it meaning. But when we look at the world today, we realize the ‘lead-your-own-life’ culture is unhappy, dismal, disappointed and their frustrations are turning to anger and depression.

Paul told us in his letter to Timothy: “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness, but denying its power.”

Let’s look back at the call of the disciples from the combined accounts in Matthew 4 and Luke 5.

In the account in Matthew 4 read of his calling of the first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John.  Now John will tell us in the Gospel of John, how he and Andrew had been introduced to Jesus by John the Baptist, the day after John the Baptist had baptized Jesus. John the Baptist told them Jesus was the Lamb of God. They followed Jesus that day and spent time with Him and went home and told their brothers James and Peter they had found the Messiah. They spent some time with Jesus and then Jesus left, being led by the Spirit to fast in preparation for the beginning of His ministry. He is tempted by the devil and it is after spending 40 days in isolated preparation Jesus returns and begins His ministry and the calling of the disciples. By reading both accounts we learn Jesus comes by the Sea of Galilee as the Peter, Andrew, James and John are finishing a night of fishing. They are cleaning their nets, mending them and getting ready for the coming night.  They fished at night we learn from these accounts. They are getting off work and making sure all their gear will be ready when they return to go out that night. Jesus has a crowd following Him and Jesus asks Peter can he use his boat as a pulpit to enable the people on the shore to hear him. They agree and Jesus speaks to the group. Then in Luke 5 we read: “When he had finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon: “Put out into the deep water, and let the nets down for a catch. Simon answered, ‘Master we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  We read they caught a record catch, so large, the signaled for James and Andrew, their partners, to come help them and they filled both boats.

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus knees and said, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man. For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.” Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid, Follow me and I will make your fishers of men. So they pulled up their boats on shore, left everything and followed Him.”

I know you have heard this so many times in the invitation to come to Jesus. The preacher will often say, ‘invite Jesus into your hearts, into your life.’  Do you see in these verses what took place?  Jesus invited them into His life.  This is what He does; He invites you into His life. To share His life with you.

His invitation to us today is the same as it was when the two young me, John and Andrew asks him where He was staying, and Jesus said, “Come and See. “

When Christ called Peter, Andrew, James and John, He interrupted their lives in every way- their careers, their daily routines. To follow Him, meant a change of direction. To follow Him, meant to leave behind everything to physically accompany Him for the next three years of their lives.  In Matthew 4: 20, we read: “At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

What did those “nets” represent to these men? They represented their way of life, their careers, their way of providing a living, a lifestyle which they had probably learned from their parents.

These are our safety nets. They are our comfort zones. They are our nests.

Nets represent anything that entangles us, which keeps us from following Jesus wholeheartedly.

So we drop our nets and follow Him.  For a while, but the urge, the temptation to pick them back up again is strong. It is tempting. We controlled it, or thought we did.

I remember when I left the company I had worked for – for years.  Sometimes I would leave my house in the morning and before I realized it I was driving back to my old workplace.

We sing ‘wherever He leads, I will follow’.  But do we?

WHAT ARE THOSE NETS IN YOUR HANDS?

  1. People can be nets. Surely some of the people the Corinthians were fellowshipping with were old friends. But what if those old friends were not believers, and refused to believe, despite your witnessing. What if you found yourself laughing at their off-color jokes, laced with profanity and the Lord’s name in vain? Our children can be nets. I wonder what you would think if your children were called to the mission field, which would mean not only seeing them for months and even years, but also not seeing your grandchildren for years?
  2. Things can be nets. Things can be anything from our careers, homes, hobbies, exercise and any number of things which consume our time, money and thoughts.
  3. Our plans and dreams.
  4. Money can be a net.
  5. Secret sin can be a net.

Now the nets Jesus calls us from are not always sinful, or degrading. They can simply be things which capture our attention.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A FOLLOWER?

I believe this song captures it:

“All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him, I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.”

It is not a project you are committing to- it is a Person.

Henny Youngman was an old- time Vaudeville performer who had a long career.  He told one joke after another in rapid succession.

Here is one of his jokes:  “A fellow at work ask me the other day, “How is your wife? I said, “Compared to what?”

Comparison provides contrast and contrast provides clarity.

Compare anything Christ asks you to drop and ask yourself what this is worth compared to having Christ? Compared to Christ- no contest!

I do not know what you struggle with- but the Lord knows.  Whenever the temptation arises, do you try to resist based on fear of the consequences, guilt or shame?  Those are certainly truths to consider.

But…what if we avoided them because we love Jesus more than we love the indulgence of this temptation.

Would you choose _______________ over Christ?  Put in that blank whatever net is entangling you.

“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” Separated unto the Lord.

“Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters. (2Cor. 6: 17, 18)

“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”(2 Cor. 7:1)

Peter sums up what life lived without Jesus turns out to be “We have worked hard (toiled) all night and caught nothing.”

Ever feel like you have worked hard all night and caught nothing? The athlete, who wins the championship, finds the thrill soon wore off and they were emptier than ever before. The multi-millionaire who has accumulated a fortune, but lost his family due to neglect finds money a poor replacement for the love of others. They climbed the ladder of success only to find out they leaned it against the wrong wall

The secret to Christian living.  It is real simple.   “Follow Me. “It is here you will discover the meaning of life- in ‘followership” We were created to be followers.

What are those ‘nets’ in your hands?