The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Four.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8).

Jesus made it exceedingly clear to not only Nicodemas but also to us that the new birth in Jesus Christ is brought about solely by the person and work of the Holy Spirit God. After over 40+ years of ministry, I have witnessed many people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ, sign conversion cards, and walk aisles to the front of a church auditorium among other acts. However, true conversion (being born again to saving faith in Jesus Christ) can only happen when the Holy Spirit quickens the sinner’s heart and soul through the preaching of the Gospel. It is only then that the sinner can place their God given faith (the ability to trust, commit, depend and worship) in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus said that there is a physical birth which is brought about by human means. Many of us have rejoiced at the birth of our children and grandchildren. That is a birth which is of the flesh. It belongs to the area of one’s physical existence and only one’s physical existence. Yet, we had nothing to do with our physical birth. It was brought about by our parents who conceived us along with doctors and nurses who birthed us. We were passive participants.

Jesus also said there is a spiritual birth which is brought about by the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit. Many of us have rejoiced at the new birth of our children, grandchildren along with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. That is a new birth which is brought about solely by the Holy Spirit. It belongs to the area of one’s spiritual existence and only one’s spiritual existence. Even the faith we exercise and place in Jesus Christ is a sovereign gift from Almighty God (Philippians 1:29; Acts 13:48; 2 Peter 1:1-2).

This new birth does not occur through the right use of pragmatic or other constituted means. The new birth is not guaranteed when there is the right lighting, the right message, the right invitation song and the right motivational statement(s) to lure an individual to make a decision for Christ. The new birth occurs only by the sovereign Holy Spirit who uses the preaching of the Gospel.

Romans 10:13-17 says, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

In his book, Living for God’s Glory, Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “The means by which the effectual call (to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord) comes is the gospel of God’s salvation in Christ applied by the Spirit. Paul told the Thessalonians that they were called ‘by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:14). John Calvin was fond of saying that there are two ministers preaching every sermon: the external minister, the ordained servant of God, who brings the Word of God to the ear; and the internal minister, the Holy Spirit, who moves the Word of God to the soul, convicting it, raising it to new life, and granting it to embrace Christ by faith.”

John Flavel concludes, “The external voice (of the ordained minister) is evermore ineffectual and successless when it is not animated by that internal spiritual voice of the Spirit to the heart.”

The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the Corinthians the following words: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:1-4).

As I write this devotional, I am recalling that approximately 24 hours earlier I had the privilege of leading a young man to saving faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Lord gave me the opportunity to do so, I remember that it was the Holy Spirit working through me, and in the heart and soul of the converted young man, that brought about such a miracle such as the new birth. We must never forget this. Otherwise, we many think that other external means are the real reason a person is converted.

Are you trusting in a commitment card you may have signed, a walk you took down an isle to the front of an auditorium, or some other act by which you believe you were converted? Rest solely in your repentant faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new birth by the Holy Spirit which enabled you to do so.

John Calvin writes, “Faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace.”

Another commentator explains, “Faith is something we “do,” but it is not a deed that merits a reward. It is something we can do only and solely when our hearts have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.”

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again! Part Three.

“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 4:4-5).

Most first-century Jews believed they would automatically receive citizenship into the kingdom of God because they were Abraham’s descendants (See John 8:12–58). To hear that something more was needed to see and enter the coming kingdom was a shock to many first-century Jews, particularly to the Pharisees who were known for their painstaking adherence to the Law of Moses.

As one commentator explains, “As a Pharisee, Nicodemus belonged to this group of particularly scrupulous Jews, and that probably explains, at least partly, why Nicodemus misunderstood when he heard that even he needed to be born again. After all, Jesus’ words in today’s passage indicate that being born again is required of all who want to become citizens of God’s kingdom” (John 3:3, 5).

Nicodemas was incredulous. He skeptically, and perhaps a little sarcastically, responded to Jesus that would he, an adult, need to be physically reborn in his mother’s womb to fulfill Jesus’ statement of the need to be born again? Nicodemas took Jesus’ words literally (See John 4:1-15).

However, Jesus began explaining to Nicodemas, and to us, the need for a spiritual rebirth that can only be effected by God. He indicated, what the late theologian Francis Schaeffer called a “true truth,” that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by this statement?

One interpretation is that Jesus was respectively referring to physical birth and then spiritual birth. This seems to be supported by the ensuring words of John 3:6 when Jesus continues to say, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The logic is that first comes physical birth and then spiritual birth. One must be born physically in order to be born spiritually. My Greek professor at Detroit Bible College took this position.

However, the more widely held interpretation is that Jesus was referring to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. In this view, Jesus referred not to literal water but to the need for “cleansing” (Ezekiel 36:24–27). When water is used figuratively in the OT, it habitually refers to renewal or spiritual cleansing, especially when used in conjunction with “spirit” (Numbers 19:17–19Psalm 51:9–10Isaiah 32:15; 44:3–5; 55:1–3Jeremiah 2:13Joel 2:28–29).

Therefore, as one theologian explains, “Jesus made reference to the spiritual washing or purification of the soul, accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the word of God at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26Titus 3:5), required for belonging to his kingdom.”

Dr. R.C. Sproul comments, That being born again refers to a spiritual change is evident from Jesus’ saying that to be born again is equivalent to being born of the Spirit (vv. 3, 5). The spiritual change required is no minor change but a complete transformation. The need to be born again indicates that one must be granted a brand-new nature. A new person, in essence, has to be created in place of the old. This refers to regeneration, the act whereby God changes us at the very root of our being so that we can believe.”

John Calvin comments, “By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature.”

Have you been truly born again? As we previously noted, no one is born a Christian. A sinner is born again by the Word of God through the ministry of the Spirit of God thereby enabling the sinner to repent of their sins and turn to faith in Christ and thus be converted. This results in the believing sinner living a new life for the glory of God. Have you been truly born again?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: You must be Born Again!

 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)

As John 3 opens, Jesus and His disciples are still in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. It is in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leaders regarding His authority in cleansing  the Temple, and the increasing number of people of following Him because of the signs He was doing (John 2:13-25) that a man comes to visit Jesus.

John 3:1 begins with explaining that there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees were one of four specific people groups in Israel during the life of Christ. The remaining three were the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. At this time, we will concern ourselves only with the Pharisees.

The title “Pharisee” most likely comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to separate” and therefore probably means “separated ones.” They were highly zealous not only for ritual and religious purity according to the Mosaic Law but also for their own traditions which they added to the Law. A licentious person, in relationship to God’s Word, takes away or ignores portions of God’s Word which prove uncomfortable. On the other hand, a legalist adds to the Word of God in areas deemed by them to be insufficient. The Pharisees were, in large measure, legalists. Along with Nicodemas, two other prominent Pharisees mentioned by name in the Scriptures are Gamliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3) and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; Philippians 3:1-6).

Nicodemas was a ruler of the Jews. The word ruler (ἄρχων; archon) means a member of the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body among the Jews—‘a member of the Council: the Sanhedrin. Nicodemas was an important man among the Jewish religious leaders. Yet, it is Nicodemas who takes the initiative to seek Jesus rather than summon Jesus to come to him.

Nicodemas comes to see Jesus at night. Why? Perhaps it was to avoid the crowd of people who were clamoring for Jesus’ attention (John 2:23-25). Perhaps by his coming to Jesus place of residence in Jerusalem by night, he would avoid the crowd and thereby have a one on one conversation with this increasingly popular teacher.

The other possible reason may be is that Nicodemas did not want to be seen by anyone. Already, strong feelings against Jesus were being felt by the Jewish religious leaders. This would only increase. Perhaps Nicodemas did not want any of his fellow Pharisees knowing that he wanted to speak with Jesus.

Regardless of the reason(s), Nicodemas meets Jesus. He begins the conversation by saying, ““Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

The title “Rabbi” (ῥαββί; rhabbi) literally means a Jewish teacher and scholar recognized for expertise in interpreting the Jewish Scriptures. One commentator writes, “Technically Jesus was not an acknowledged Rabbi of the schools, but Nicodemus does recognize him as such and calls him “My Master” just as Andrew and John did (1:38).” Nicodemas treats Jesus with a measure of respect.

Nicodemas goes on to say “we know” which may be a possible reference to the Jewish people in general or to the Pharisees in particular. The word know (οἶδα; oida) means to understand. Nicodemas is making reference to not only himself, but to others when he comments that there is a general understanding at this point regarding Jesus.

That observation or understanding is declared in what effectively is a cause and effect statement. Nicodemas observes that Jesus is a teacher come from God. The word teacher (διδάσκαλος; didaskalos) means an instructor. However, Nicodemas says that Jesus is a teacher who belongs to and originates from God alone. On what basis does Nicodemas make this observation? It is on the basis of the signs Jesus was doing. Nicodemas correctly concluded that Jesus must be from God for only such a person could be doing the things that Jesus was doing. So far, so good.

However, Jesus interrupts Nicodemas with the following statement: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What does Jesus mean by this statement and why would a religious man such as Nicodemas need to hear it.

We will seek to answer this question when we meet again, Lord willing, tomorrow. Until then, I encourage you to read Ezekiel 36:22-38, Ephesians 2:1-7, James 1:18 and I Peter 1:1-5.

Theologian J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Let me leave you with this thought. No one is physically born a Christian. We must never have the idea that just because we, or our children, are born into a Christian family that this means we, or they, are automatically Christians. What is necessary is for a person, even one born into a Christian environment, to be born again.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: The Heart of Man.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25)

John Calvin once said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”  Calvin did not originate the statement because it is a biblical truth of which we all must be aware.

Genesis 6:5 says, The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Mark 7:20-23 says, And he (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Galatians 5:16-21 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

John 2:23-25 is but a brief section in the Gospel of John and easily overlooked.  This is because it occurs immediately after Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews following His cleansing of the temple in John 2 and immediately prior to Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemas in John 3. However, these three verses, which conclude John 2, indicate not only the nature of the human heart or soul, but also Jesus’ awareness of its fallen condition and fallen man’s need of a spiritual rebirth, or regeneration, which Jesus will speak of to Nicodemas.

Jesus is attending the Passover Feast (See John 1:13-22). There are two verbal expressions mentioned in John 2:23-25. One concerns the actions and behavior of the people who witnessed the signs which Jesus performed. The second concerns Jesus’ reaction to the actions and behavior of the people who witnessed the signs He had performed.

The text does not specifically tell us what “signs” Jesus did. The word “signs” (σημεῖον; semeion) means an event with a special meaning. It refers to a miraculous type of occurrence. (See (Matthew12:38; Mark 8:11; Luke 2:12; 21:11, 25; John 2:11; Acts 2:19; 7:36; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 1:22; 14:22; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 2:4; Revelation 19:20).

Jesus displayed this miraculous power among the people and they “believed in His name” when they saw (θεωρέω; theoreo) or observed the signs He was doing. The word “believed” (πιστεύω; pisteuo) means to trust in, commit to, depend upon and worship. The reader is left with the potential understanding that these many, unidentified people became converted and true disciples of Jesus Christ.

However, the text then goes on to describe the reaction by Jesus to this act of believing by the many because of the signs He did. Jesus did not entrust Himself to them: that is the many who believed. Why?

The word “entrust” is the same word in the Greek for believe. Jesus continuously did not trust in, commit to, depend upon or honor the people who ostensibly or apparently trusted in Him. Again why not?

The text provides us the answer; “because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” The word “knew” (γινώσκω; ginosko) means to have knowledge of and to understand. Jesus understood what was fundamentally within the soul of man: an idol factory. Christ perceived everything which is in man which is concealed from others. Jesus knew and understood that these people did not belong to Him.

John Calvin goes on to explain that, “Christ had not given such a sign as the Jews demanded; and now, when he produced no good effect on them by many miracles—except that they entertained a cold faith, which was only a shadow faith—this event sufficiently proves that they did not deserve that He should comply with their wishes.”

Calvin continues by saying, “Yet this was not a pretended faith by which they wished to gain reputation among men; for they were convinced that Christ was some great Prophet (Deuteronomy 18) and perhaps they even ascribed to Him the honor of being the Messiah, of whom there was at that time a strong and general expectation. But as they did not understand the peculiar office of the Messiah, their faith was absurd, because it was exclusively directed to the world and earthly things.”

Calvin concludes, “It was also a cold belief, and unaccompanied by the true feelings of the heart.”

Jesus was on His guard against such people. Christ did not regard the many as genuine disciples but rather regarded them as volatile and unsteady. In other words, not everyone who professes Christ, then or now, possesses Christ.

Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.”

What about your heart? What about your faith in Christ? Is your faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the empty tomb? Or is your faith a moralistic, therapeutic deism in order to make your life here on earth as comfortable as possible?

Consider your answer very carefully.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: The Demand for Signs.

“So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)

Jesus’ cleansing the temple, especially during the Passover season, was a pretty bold move on His part. The Jewish leaders (“the Jews”) were none too happy. Very likely these “Jews” were the temple authorities or representatives from the Sanhedrin. As you may recall from John 1:19, the Sanhedrin were the main governing body of the Jewish nation at this time. While under the greater governing authority of Rome, this group of 70 (comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees) were responsible for the enforcement of the social and religious laws of Israel. They ultimately became Jesus’ main adversaries.

These Jews wanted to know on what basis Jesus had the authority to cleanse the temple of the money changers and the sellers of animals. They asked Jesus for a “sign” of authority by which to support His actions. As we have already noted from John 2:11 and the account of Jesus’ first miracle, a sign referred to a display of God’s power. The Jews demanded that Jesus display some miraculous sign that would give credence to His actions.

Such a demand by the Jews indicated their unbelief. The Apostle Paul commented about this Jewish fixation on signs in I Corinthians 1:20-25 when he writes, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Jesus’ response to the Jews was not to comply or give in to their request for a crass display of supernatural power. Rather, Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews did not understand that Jesus was referring to the temple of His own body and His subsequent resurrection following His crucifixion. They literally thought Jesus was referring to the actual temple structure.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “They (the Jews) wanted proof that Jesus had the messianic authority to remove the merchants from the temple. Christ did not give them a sign immediately; instead, He gave an enigmatic response that they would destroy “this temple” and in three days He would raise it up (v. 19). Clearly, the Jewish opposition did not understand Jesus. (In fact, even the disciples did not get our Lord’s meaning at first because John 2:22 says that they did not understand Jesus’ saying until His resurrection.) The Jews thought Jesus was talking about the physical temple in Jerusalem, which had taken forty-six years to build (v. 20). In fact, the temple was not even really finished in Jesus’ day because work on it would continue off and on until AD 63, some thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But John inserts an explanatory comment in verse 21: the temple of which Jesus spoke was His own body. Thus, we see our Lord identifying Himself as the new and true temple. The old covenant sanctuary was going to be superseded by a new temple, even Jesus Himself, in whom His people are being knit together as a true sanctuary for God (1 Peter 2:4–5). Christ is the temple, and all men are commanded to come to Him in order to worship and serve the one true God.”

John Calvin comments that, “Jesus refuses to them (the Jews) the sign which they demanded, either because it would have been of no advantage, or because He knew that it was not the proper time. Such compliances He occasionally made even with their unreasonable requests, and there must have been a strong reason why He now refused. No greater approbation of the divine power in Christ could be desired than His resurrection from the dead. But He conveys this information figuratively, because He does not reckon them worthy of an explicit promise. In short, He treats unbelievers as they deserve, and at the same time protects Himself against all contempt. It was not yet made evident, indeed, that they were obstinate, but Christ knew well what was at the state of their feelings.”

What signs, if any, have you ever or recently, asked of God? Even with a sincere heart we need to be cautious to base our faith on an additional miraculous sign other that the singular one given in Scripture: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This event is the believers singular hope and confidence.

Dr. Sproul concludes, “Many Christians are eagerly expecting the day in which the physical temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt. Today’s passage, however, tells us that the only temple we should be looking forward to is the temple that is Christ’s body, which we will see in the new heaven and earth. The temple pointed to Christ and it is fulfilled in Christ and His church, so let us love Christ and His people.”

Let me encourage you to read Hebrews 9-10.

Soli deo Gloria!  

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: Cleansing the Temple, Cleansing the Church!

“After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:12-17).

Following the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Jesus, Mary His mother, Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-3) and His disciples went back to Capernaum. John then records that it was the spring of the year since the Jewish Passover was at hand. As fitting for a faithful Jew, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The Passover, commemorating the festival instituted the night before Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12-13), was one of three annual feasts of which every male was to appear before the LORD at the Temple. Exodus 23:14-17 says, “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (i.e. Passover). As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.”

It was when Jesus arrived at the Temple that He drove out the sellers of animals and the moneychangers. Why did Jesus do this? The sellers provided a service to worshipers, enabling them to travel the long journey to Jerusalem without having to haul their sacrificial animals with them. In the same way, the moneychangers served the people by enabling them to trade their currency for shekels, the only money in which the temple tax could be paid.

One commentator explains, These activities in themselves were not wrong; the problem was the locale in which they were conducted. They made worship impossible in the temple courts, for the ruckus of animals and commerce certainly is not conducive to a reverent atmosphere. The scene prompted the disciples to recall Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (v. 9). In that psalm, David was opposed by those who disdained his respect for true worship and for the temple. The parallels with Jesus are clear, for He encountered opposition for His cleansing the temple (John 2:18–22). Like David, Jesus was opposed for being zealous for God and His worship.”

Another commentator however explains, “During the celebration of Passover, worshipers came from all over Israel and the Roman Empire to Jerusalem. Because many traveled large distances, it was inconvenient to bring their sacrificial animals with them. Opportunistic merchants, seeing a chance to provide a service and probably eyeing considerable profit during this time, set up areas in the outer courts of the temple in order for travelers to buy animals. The money-changers were needed because the temple tax, paid annually by every conscientious Jewish male 20 years of age or older (Ex. 30:13–14Matt. 17:24–27), had to be in Jewish or Tyrian coinage (because of its high purity of silver). Those coming from foreign lands would need to exchange their money into the proper coinage for the tax. The money-changers charged a high fee for the exchange. With such a large group of travelers and because of the seasonal nature of the celebration, both the animal dealers and money-changers exploited the situation for monetary gain (“den of robbers”; Matt. 21:13). Religion had become crass and materialistic.”

As I sit at my desk writing this devotional, it is the Tuesday morning of Passion or Holy Week, 2018. In another five days it will be Easter Sunday. One of the things I have observed, particularly this year, is the emphasis by churches to host activities, like Easter Egg Hunts, either the day before, or in some cases, actually on Easter Sunday morning as part of their Resurrection Sunday activities.

Easter Egg Hunts and other church sponsored activities, much like the situation in John 2, are not wrong in and of themselves. My family has participated in such activities for years, but not as part of the Sunday morning Easter celebration. When anything is promoted instead of the worship of the One, True God, be it Easter Egg Hunts, blow up bounce houses, church fund raisers, or pony rides for every child who comes to church, it is not conducive to a reverent atmosphere. Why do churches continue to do such activities? Why did I when I was a younger man in ministry?

Perhaps, Dr. Steven J. Lawson says it best in his book The Kind of Preaching God Blesses when he writes, “Lamentably, the church has been taken captive by the deadening influences of worldly mantras such as crass pragmatism, self-sufficiency, positive thinking and the like.”

Pastor and author Dr. John MacArthur explored this trend in his book Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes like the World. He observes, “There seems no limit to what modern church leaders will do to entice people who aren’t interested in worship and preaching. Too many have bought the notion that the church must win people by offering an alternative form of entertainment. Evangelicals everywhere are frantically seeking new techniques and new forms of entertainment to attract people. Whether the method is biblical or not scarcely seems to matter to the average church leader—or church goer today. Does it work? This is the new test of legitimacy. And so raw pragmatism has become the driving for in much of the professing church.”

Dr. Michael Horton, in his book Christless Christianity writes, “The church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and even well-liked that it mirrors the world itself.”

The late Dr. R.C. Sproul succinctly said, “Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it – in His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”

I particularly recall an individual remarking to me once that preaching should be no longer than ten minutes. Their reasoning was that people’s attention spans can’t tolerate any message from God’s Word longer than that.

May our zeal, much like the psalmists and our Lord, be for Word of God and worship which is in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Puritan commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “If God be our Father in heaven, and it be therefore our desire that his name may be sanctified, it cannot but be our grief to see it polluted.”

We should be grieved to see the church polluted by false worship, entertainment activities, pragmatism and bad theology. And when we see such things, let us work to improve them, or remove them, insofar as we are able.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: A Wedding in Cana.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.” (John 1:1-12).

What was the purpose of Jesus performing miracles? The purpose of the miracles in the Gospel of John was to show that Jesus is God in the flesh. The Apostle John records seven miracles that Jesus performed with each one pointing to a particular aspect of Jesus’ deity. Jesus did not perform miracles to first and foremost alleviate suffering or to become a popular healer to which many people would follow; although that is what happened. Jesus’ miracles revealed who He was and is: God!

The seven miracles John records, in reverse order, are as follows. (1) Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead displaying that Jesus has power over death (John 11:17-45); (2) Jesus heals a man blind from birth displaying that Jesus is the light of the world (John 9:1-41); (3) Jesus walks on water and stills a storm displaying that Jesus is master over nature (John 6:15-21); (4) Jesus feeds the 5,000 displaying that Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:1-14); (5) Jesus heals a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda displaying that Jesus is master over time (John 5:1-17); (6) Jesus heals a nobleman’s son displaying that Jesus is master over distance (John 4:46-54); and (7) Jesus turns water into wine displaying that Jesus is the source of life (John 2:1-12).

When we meet Jesus and His disciples in John 2, they have been together for approximately three days. As they were journeying around the Galilean countryside, a wedding was held in Cana of Galilee, Nathaniel’s home town. In our day, weddings, and the subsequent reception, usually occur over the span of several hours. During Jesus’ day and in the Jewish culture, weddings and receptions occurred over the span of several days; perhaps a week. Jesus, His mother and His disciples attended the wedding. Perhaps, it was a family member or a good friend’s wedding.

I like this comment. “The setting was a wedding attended by Jesus, His disciples, and Mary His mother (2:1–2). Because both Jesus and His mother were invited to the celebration, the marriage was probably a family affair; one of their relatives likely was getting married. We should also note that in the first century, weddings lasted longer than they do today. The celebration could go for as long as a week, and the guests would stay for days. That Jesus would attend such a lavish party says something about the goodness of such events. Certainly, Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial (Matt. 16:24), but this does not require an austere lifestyle that has no place for fun or festivities.

Financial responsibility for the wedding festivities were the groom’s. To run out of food and drink would be a major embarrassment. Everything was prepared in order for this to never happen. However, at this particular wedding in which Jesus, His mother and disciples were invited, the wine ran out.

Let’s discuss the matter of drinking wine or alcohol. Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The wine served was subject to fermentation. In the ancient world, however, to quench thirst without inducing drunkenness, wine was diluted with water to between one-third and one-tenth of its strength. Due to the climate and circumstances, even “new wine” fermented quickly and had an inebriating effect if not mixed (Acts 2:13). Because of a lack of water purification process, wine mixed with water was also safer to drink than water alone. While the Bible condemns drunkenness, it does not necessarily condemn the consumption of wine (Psalm 104:15Proverbs 20:1Ephesians 5:18).

When news of the wine shortage became known to Mary, she went to Jesus to see if He could/would do something. Jesus’ response was respectful to Mary but also firm. He wanted her to realize that His purpose in coming to earth was not to alleviate embarrassing situations or to simply relieve people of social and physical suffering. Rather, His purpose as Messiah was to fulfill the mission the Father had given to Him (Mark 10:45). His phrase, “My hour has not yet come” refers to the crucifixion (7:30; 8:20; 12:23-27; 13:1; 17:1). Jesus’ mission was the redemption of sinful souls and not just the replenishing of wine for a party.

Nevertheless, in displaying that He is the source of life, Jesus turned water into wine. It indeed was better wine than what had already been served.

John makes an editorial comment in vs. 11 when he writes, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” The word signs (σημεῖον; semeion) refers to an unusual occurrence which has a special meaning. John uses the word here to refer to a significant display of power that indicated to people a deeper reality that can only be understood with the regenerated understanding of God given faith. John was indicating that miracles were not ends in and of themselves, but rather pointed to a greater meaning.

Do you regard Jesus today as simply a miracle worker who you call upon to do your beck and call? Ask God to forgive you of this blaspheme and to recognize that Jesus’ miracles displayed that He is God and worthy of worship, even if He does not perform a miracle.

Additionally Jesus, as our Lord and Savior and His willingness to celebrate a wedding and even to receive gifts (John 12:1–8), shows us that Christian discipleship is not incompatible with enjoying the nice things in life. We are called to be generous and to be willing to give our all for Jesus, but we may also enjoy all of the good gifts He has made and to which He has entrusted to our stewardship.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: A Disciple of Jesus, Part Four.

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The biblical definition for discipleship is to be a follower. In the Christian context, discipleship means to be a follower of Jesus. It means to not only follow Jesus’ teachings but also to emulate or mimic His character.

In Jesus’ day, discipleship entailed literally following one’s master. You followed him as he walked, you ate when he ate, you sat when he sat and you slept when and where he slept. We saw this in John 1:35-42.

In John 1:43-51 we see Jesus selecting two more disciples. Peter, Andrew and we assume John are already following Jesus. Jesus then finds Phillip and commands him to follow. The text tells us that Phillip was from the town of Bethsaida, which John mentions was the city, or hometown, of Andrew and Peter.

The text indicates, or at least implies, that Phillip was unhesitatingly willing to immediately follow Jesus. Additionally, Phillip appears to immediately and unhesitatingly go to his friend, Nathanial, and compel him to become a follower of Jesus also. Unlike Phillip, Nathaniel is a bit more reserved and skeptical of becoming a disciple of Jesus.

Nathaniel’s initial response to Phillip’s news that Jesus could be the Messiah was whether anything good could ever originate from the Town of Nazareth. Phillip’s reply was simple but profoundly wise. He said, “Come and see.”

Jesus’ initial comment to Nathanial was strikingly different than Nathanial’s. Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus, displaying His omniscience or supernatural knowledge (cf. v. 42), called Nathanael … a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false (dolos, “deceitful”).

One commentator explains, “Nathanael was puzzled as to how Jesus knew about him. Jesus said He knew exactly what Nathanael was doing before Philip came up to him; he was under the fig tree. This expression often meant to have safety and leisure (cf. 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zech. 3:10). Perhaps here the fig tree was a place for meditation (cf. comments on John 1:50–51). Psalm 139 elaborates on the theme of God’s knowledge of a person’s life in every detail.”

John’s text continues by saying, “Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)

Jesus’ response to Nathaniel is huge with Old Testament meaning and significance. Dr. John MacArthur writes, “In light of the context of 1:47, this verse most likely refers to Genesis 28:12 where Jacob dreamed about a ladder from heaven. Jesus’ point to Nathanael was that just like Jacob experienced supernatural or heaven-sent revelation, Nathanael and the other disciples would experience supernatural communication confirming who Jesus was. Moreover, the term “Son of Man” replaced the ladder in Jacob’s dream, signifying that Jesus was the means of access between God and man”

The title Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite self-identification. It was used mostly by Jesus, who used it over 80 times. In the NT, it refers only to Jesus and appears mostly in the Gospels (cf. Acts 7:56).

Dr. MacArthur continues by saying, “In the fourth Gospel, the expression (Son of Man) occurs 13 times and is most commonly associated with the themes of crucifixion and suffering (John 3:14; 8:28) and revelation (6:27, 53) but also with eschatological authority (5:27). While the term at times may refer merely to a human being or as a substitute for “I” (6:27; cf. 6:20), it especially takes on an eschatological significance referring to Dan. 7:13–14 where “son of man” or Messiah comes in glory to receive the kingdom from the “Ancient of Days” (i.e., the Father).”

Dr. R.C. Sproul comments, As great a sign as supernatural insight was, Jesus’ response to Nathanael was that he would yet see something greater: “heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50–51). Here we find an allusion to Jacob’s dream of a ladder joining earth and heaven (Gen. 28:10–22). Essentially, Jesus was telling Nathanael that He is the link between earth and heaven, that if a person is to ascend to heaven—attain salvation—he must do it through Christ Jesus (John 14:6). To see Jesus display supernatural knowledge was incredible indeed. But a far better vision is to see that Jesus is the way to salvation, the means through which we find eternal life. Many people saw Jesus do supernatural things in the first century, but fewer saw and believed in Him as the way to salvation. Things are not so different today. Many people view Jesus as a great man. Even some who are not believers have affirmed that He did miracles. But only those in whom the Spirit works will receive Him as Savior.”

Once again, John’s Gospel points us to Jesus as the eternal God of the universe. Our perspective of Jesus can be nothing less. Jesus’ actions in John 2 will begin to demonstrate this truth. Worship Jesus today as Emmanuel, God with us.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: A Disciple of Jesus, Part Three.

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The biblical definition for discipleship is to be a follower. In the Christian context, discipleship means to be a follower of Jesus. It means to not only follow Jesus’ teachings but also to emulate or mimic His character.

In Jesus’ day, discipleship entailed literally following one’s master. You followed him as he walked, you ate when he ate, you sat when he sat and you slept when and where he slept. We saw this in John 1:35-42.

In John 1:43-51 we see Jesus selecting two more disciples. Peter, Andrew and we assume John are already following Jesus. Jesus then finds Phillip and commands him to follow. The text tells us that Phillip was from the town of Bethsaida, which John mentions was the city, or hometown, of Andrew and Peter.

The text indicates, or at least implies, that Phillip was unhesitatingly willing to immediately follow Jesus. Additionally, Phillip appears to immediately and unhesitatingly go to his friend, Nathanial, and compel him to become a follower of Jesus also. Unlike Phillip, Nathaniel is a bit more reserved and skeptical of becoming a disciple of Jesus.

Nathaniel’s first response to Phillip’s news that Jesus could be the Messiah was whether anything good could ever originate from the Town of Nazareth. Phillip’s reply was simple but profoundly wise. He said, “Come and see.”

As one commentator explains, “The New Testament tells us clearly that Nazareth was an insignificant, even despised, town. Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth, as is evident in the response of Nathanael when Philip told him about finding the Messiah (John 1:46). Plainly, Nathanael could not believe that the promised Savior would come from such a humble locale. Nathanael, it should be noted, is likely the same person as Bartholomew, who is listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). Bartholomew means “son of Tolmai,” so his full name would have been Nathanael son of Tolmai.”

Jesus uses all kinds of people to be His disciples. He uses the timid, the shy, the brash and the bold. The key question is are you willing to follow Jesus no matter your personality? What is your answer?

Jesus also uses His disciple from, and in, humble circumstances. Are you willing to go where Jesus wants you to serve and do what He wants you to do in serving Him? What is your answer?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: A Disciple of Jesus, Part Two.

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The biblical definition for discipleship is to be a follower. In the Christian context, discipleship means to be a follower of Jesus. It means to not only follow Jesus’ teachings but also to emulate or mimic his character.

In Jesus’ day, discipleship entailed literally following one’s master. You followed him as he walked, you ate when he ate, you sat when he sat and you slept when and where he slept. We see this in John 1:35-42.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “The simplest definition of disciple is one who directs his mind toward specific knowledge and conduct. So, we might say that a disciple is a learner or pupil. The Greek philosophers—people such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—had disciples. Socrates described himself ultimately as a disciple of Homer, the person Socrates regarded as the greatest thinker of all of Greek history.”

Dr. Sproul continues, “Jesus was a rabbi and, of course, the most important peripatetic teacher and disciple-maker in history. Wherever He walked, His students would follow. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He chose particular individuals to be His disciples. They were required to memorize the teachings that He spoke as He walked. What’s more, people didn’t file an application to get into the School of Jesus. Jesus selected His disciples. He went to prospective disciples where they were, whether in the marketplace or at their place of work, and give this simple command: “Follow me.” The command was literal—He called them to drop their present duties. They had to leave their work, their families, and their friends in order to follow Jesus.”

In John 1:43-51 we see Jesus selecting two more disciples. Peter, Andrew and we assume John are already following Jesus. Jesus then finds Phillip and commands him to follow. The text tells us that Phillip was from the town of Bethsaida, which John mentions was the city, or hometown, of Andrew and Peter.

One commentator explains, “While Mark 1:21, 29 locates Peter’s house in Capernaum, John relates that he was from Bethsaida. Resolution centers in the fact that Peter (and Andrew) most likely grew up in Bethsaida and later relocated to Capernaum in the same way that Jesus was consistently identified with his hometown of Nazareth, though he lived elsewhere later (Matt. 2:23; 4:13Mark 1:9Luke 1:26).

The text indicates, or at least implies, that Phillip was unhesitatingly willing to immediately follow Jesus. Additionally, Phillip appears to immediately and unhesitatingly go to his friend, Nathanial, and compel him to become a follower of Jesus also. Unlike Phillip, Nathaniel is a bit more reserved and skeptical of becoming a disciple of Jesus. We’ll see why tomorrow.

Jesus uses all kinds of people to be disciples. He uses the timid, the shy, the brash and the bold. The key question is are you willing to follow Jesus no matter your personality? What is your answer?

Soli deo Gloria!