The Gospel of John: What Kind of Love?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God; specifically God the Holy Spirit. The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.

“So Loved.” I love the Greek language. It is so precise and consistent in its grammar and spelling. This is so unlike the English language which tends to be inconsistent at best and frustrating at worst.

One of the ways Greek is precise and consistent is, for example, in its meaning of the word “love.” In the English language, the word “love” can refer to and mean a whole host of things. We love our pets, our children, spaghetti and meat balls, our favorite sports team, our favorite actress or actor, etc. With this one word we can express our love for God and country, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet: as depicted in an advertising slogan several decades ago. Personally, I drive a Buick.

The Greek word for love is different. It is important for us to understand what the precise meaning for love is as found in John 3:16. In fact, there are several words in the Greek language which are translated into our one English word “love.” What are they and what is kind of love to which Jesus is referring?

First, there is the word eρως; eros. It is from this word we derive our English word erotic. Eros refers to sexual desire and attraction. This is the kind of love which God approves solely in the confines of heterosexual marriage. I’m sure we can see at a glance how much our culture is saturated by the notion of erotic love and how perverted it has become in its definition and expression. However, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

Another Greek word for love is στοργή; storge. This is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity, family members or people of whom you are related. An example is the natural love and affection a parent has for their child. However, we can also see that this love is being perverted within our culture and even being rejected as parents are abusing and killing their children. But again, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

A third Greek word for love is φιλία; philia or phileo. This is the love between friends as close as brothers and sisters in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. We all have people in our lives of whom we call them our “best or close friends.” The English word Philadelphia comes from this Greek word. In fact, the City of Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love. Yet, this is not the Greek word for love used in John 3:16.

Finally, there is the Greek word ἀγαπn; agape. This is the highest and noblest love. It is a self-sacrificial love of the will. Therefore, it is a love which seeks other’s needs and not its own. It is a love not based upon one’s feelings but rather a resolute decision and act of one’s will. This is the love found in John 3:16. This is the love God possesses as an attribute of His character and displays as a behavior completely inherent within His being.

The Apostle Paul describes agape love in I Corinthians 13:1-8a. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Paul also explained that agape love is the type of love a husband is to have for his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Paul also wrote that this is the kind of love of which God loved sinners in Romans 5:7-8. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Apostle John describes agape love in I John 4:7-11. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Echoing the words of I John 4:7-11, Jesus will continue to teach in John 3:16 exactly who are the objects of the Father’s love. We will examine this when next we meet. In the meantime, meditate upon the words of the following hymn by Stuart Townsend.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,

His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –

His wounds have paid my ransom.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: A Vast Amount of Divinity.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Theologian J. C. Ryle writes, “Look at the well-known text which heads this page. Its words are probably familiar to your ears. You have very likely heard them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have you ever considered what a vast amount of divinity this text contains? No wonder that Luther called it “the Bible in miniature!” -and have you ever considered what an immensely solemn question arises out of this text? The Lord Jesus says, “Whosoever believeth shall not perish.” Now, reader, DO YOU BELIEVE?

I love Ryle’s phrase, “A vast amount of divinity” in referring to John 3:16. The phrase refers to the subject of the verse, God, and His work in bringing people to salvation. It is not often this verse is used to emphasize God’s sovereignty, but rather the stress is often placed on man’s ability to come to Christ in and of himself. Let’s unpack this verse word by word and not only see what it says, but also what it means.

“For God.” From the outset, Jesus informs Nicodemas (remember the context) that the person who is responsible for regeneration and the salvation of sinners is no one else but God the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). The word God (θεός; Theos) refers to the One, True God of heaven and earth. This is the God who is the subject of the entire revelation of Scripture.

Jesus said in John 17:1-3 that, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The great Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards writes in his sermon “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence”, “The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the “river of the water of life” that runs, and the tree of life that grows, “in the midst of the paradise of God.” The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.”

Meditate upon what Edwards has written. It may not be Scripture but he certainly captures the essence of what Scripture teaches about God.

Pastor John Piper writes, “The gospel is ultimately about God. He alone is the author and goal of salvation. The good news of John 3:16 is that God is the chief end of the gospel. He so loved the world not simply to give us forgiveness or eternal life but to give us something even greater—Himself.”

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: For God so Loved the World.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Dr. Burk Parsons writes, “We see it everywhere. From bumper stickers to billboards, from T-shirts to tattoos, from old faded church signs to spray-painted signs along country roads—John 3:16 is everywhere. As such, some Christians have become complacent about the simple truth of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Some think it’s just for children, some think it’s too elementary, and some perhaps think it’s doctrinally beneath them to spend time studying such a simple verse in depth. But in John 3:16 we find both the beautiful simplicity of the gospel and the glorious depths of the gospel. John 3:16 is not just for children to memorize in Sunday school; it is for the greatest biblical scholars and theologians to examine, and it is for every Christian to contemplate daily as we rest in the sovereign, gracious, and sacrificial love of God.”

Following my conversion to Christ is October of 1974, I soon thereafter followed the Lord in Believer’s Baptism. The evening of my baptism, October 31 of ’74 to be exact, I quoted John 3:16 as my verse of assurance of God’s love for me and my security in Jesus Christ. It was one of the first verses of Scripture I memorized. I have since come to understand that John 3:16 is one of the foundation verses of Scripture regarding the sovereign grace of God.

However, I have also discovered that many believers in the church use John 3:16 as a push back to Reformed Theology in general and the sovereign grace of God unto salvation of sinners in particular. They deny that sinners are radically depraved, in need of God’s unconditional grace, of His particular electing pardon, His effectual calling by the Holy Spirit and the eternally security He gives to believers in Christ.

Whenever I have been asked about the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, John 3:16 is often used, like a trump card in Euchre, by those to whom I am speaking who refute God’s sovereign grace and uplift the free will of fallen man. Yet, if we truly unpack John 3:16 as a single verse, along with view it within its immediate preceding context, we get a much different perspective but accurate interpretation.

Dr. Parson concludes, “As I fought against Reformed theology more than twenty years ago with all the free will I could muster, I firmly believed that John 3:16 was directly opposed to Reformed Theology. But I finally came to see that John 3:16 is at the very foundation of Reformed Theology. In John 3:16, we find every tenet of Reformed soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) in its most basic form. For those who want to understand Reformed theology, they can begin by striving to understand John 3:16. And for those who have studied the depths of Reformed theology, may we never become so sophisticated that we cannot boldly proclaim John 3:16.”

More to follow!

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: Jesus’ Witness.

“Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:9-16)

Faith, or believing, is something we “do,” but it is not an act or effort that merits a reward. It is something we can do only when the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts or souls. This work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for us to understand what really is the nature of saving faith.

Faith is not some ability that sinners engineer independently of God. On the contrary, Jesus said in John 3:3 that being regenerated (born again) by God was absolutely necessary in order to believe the gospel.  Therefore, our faith in Christ is not only unmeritorious by its very nature and definition, but also by its very origin.

However, fallen human beings do not want to believe they are unfit for heaven, let alone unable to do anything about their lost and fallen condition. Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “A person must be changed by God; the disposition of his heart, which by nature does not want to do God’s bidding, must be altered by God the Holy Spirit.”

Nicodemas is a prime example of the need for regeneration. For even though he was a religious leader in Israel, he failed to humanly grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus was not just another Old Testament prophet who had died and gone to heaven and now returned to earth. Rather, Jesus is the One, True God who descended from heaven.

Jesus, in referring to Himself, then instructs Nicodemas that as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so too would the Son of Man be lifted up. Dr. John MacArthur explains, “This is a veiled prediction of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus referred to the story from Numbers 21:5–9 where the Israelite people who looked at the serpent lifted up by Moses were healed. The point of this illustration or analogy is in the “lifted up.” Just as Moses lifted up the snake on the pole so that all who looked upon it might live physically, those who look to Christ, who was “lifted up” on the cross, will live spiritually and eternally.”

There is an interesting side note of this reference by Jesus to the Bronze Serpent of Numbers 21. While the bronze figurine was indeed approved by God, it was not meant to be used beyond what God had instructed. In other words, it was not to be used as an object of worship.

However, this is exactly what the Israelite’s eventually did, as revealed in 2 Kings 18. It was King Hezekiah who, according to 18:4, “removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).” 

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Originally preserved to commemorate God’s mercy to the Israelites when they were in the wilderness, (Numbers 21:6-9), this bronze serpent eventually became in itself an object of worship, hence an idol. This is why Hezekiah destroyed it.” 

Pastor Timothy Clothier writes, “We’re not given any more details regarding the Bronze Serpent.  We don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to keep around.  We don’t know if every year the nation would again look upon the serpent and remember what God did in saving them.  We don’t even know whether God told them to keep the Bronze Serpent as a reminder. What we do know, however, is that the nation of Israel quickly moved from true, faith based, worship of God Almighty to the ritual, or traditional, worship of a graven image. ” 

Pastor Clothier continues, “Am I suggesting that traditions in the church and our homes are idols and examples of us breaking the 2nd commandment?  Not necessarily.  What I am suggesting is that traditions can become the object of worship and we can, sometimes very easily, lose the point of why a tradition exists.  It is entirely possible to greatly enjoy the tradition and completely set aside or forget the truths that the tradition represents.”

Therefore, we must also never use the cross, or a depiction of the same, as an object of our worship. God and God alone is deserving of our adoration and praise. The purpose of such an illustration concerning Jesus is foretold by Jesus Himself when He says, “whoever believes in him (Jesus) may have eternal life.” The Bronze Serpent, much like the cross, serves as a type or illustration to point us to Christ and His substitutionary atonement. Nothing else.

Once again, we must not divorce what we are reading in vs. 9-15 from vs. 1-8. The ability to believe the gospel is because of the new birth. Unless regeneration occurs in the soul of the unbeliever, they will never come to faith in Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14). Or, to again quote Jesus from John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  

The inevitable push back by many believers to this doctrine of monergistic regeneration ironically is John 3:16. We will examine the reasons why next time.

Have you thanked God for sovereignly bringing you to new life in Jesus Christ by the person and work of the Holy Spirit? If not, do so today.

Soli deo Gloria!

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

Regeneration, or being born again, is a sovereign work of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3) a radical work or total transformation (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 1 John 3:9) and not just an addition to our salvation. The SOURCE of regeneration is Christ (1 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 1:3, 2:4, 4:24; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The AGENT of regeneration is the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). The INSTRUMENT of regeneration is the Word of God (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25) which precedes and causes faith (John 6:63-65, 1 John 5:1, Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13).

Theologian John Murray explains, “God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation (transformation) or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by Him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spoke and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. This, in a word, is regeneration.”

Regeneration is the communication of the new heart to sinners by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God in general, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular. Regeneration is a Christ-generated act of instantaneously communicating spiritual life to a person convicted of sin.

One commentator states that, “Regeneration is expressly denied to be of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man (John 1:13), and is ascribed to God himself. Not all men have faith in Christ; and those who do have it, have it not of themselves; it is the gift of God, worked out through the Redemption which is in Christ through the mighty operation of his Spirit, which is the fruit and effect of His invincible grace. This is because the natural man is wholly captive under the power and dominion of sin, and a slave unto it, and has neither a power nor will to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 9:16, “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

Ezekiel 37:14, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live…Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive [quickened us] with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

John 6:63, 65, “It is the Spirit who gives life [quickens]; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”…And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Titus 3:3-5, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

I Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,”

I Peter 1:22-23, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;”

I John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”

Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “No presentation (of the gospel) is plain enough to get through to a sin-clouded mind. No amount of conviction can open glazed eyes wide enough to see Jesus. No amount of love can break down a defiant heart. But we can evangelize in faith, looking to the Spirit of God irresistibly to call and regenerate our friends and bring  them to faith in Christ, we have hope.” 

May today we give all the glory for our conversion and new birth to God and to God alone on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Soli deo Gloria!

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!