January 25, 2009
This Epiphany season we’ve been examining the book of John’s Gospel. We’re heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Son of God. We’ve seen Jesus’ first miracle testify to His divine power. Today we hear the testimony of the great Teacher Himself.
May relief and peace fill your souls, from God our Father, and from His Son our Rescuer, and through the Spirit who makes Him known to our hearts. Amen.
Babies enter the world in a lot of different places. Some are born in hospitals. Others in birth centers. Still others at home, in taxicabs or even on airplanes.
But no matter what the surrounding details, babies must be born to enter the world.
The same is true when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. There is simply no other way to enter God’s kingdom other than being born into it.
Jesus teaches us what this means, how it happens and what follows spiritual rebirth in our reading from John.
Jesus, we are about to read your own Words again. Help us to perceive your meaning in every syllable. Open our ears and our hearts to your teaching. Make us good students to You, our greatest Teacher. Make us strong learners of Your love for us. Amen.
John 3:1-21 (NIV)
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
“THE ONLY WAY INTO GOD’S KINGDOM”
The Pharisees were used to being in control. Many of them had seats on the religious council called the Sanhedrin. By teaching they sought to control the people.
Even when it came to their personal relationship with God, they figured they were still in control. Their outward lifestyle of strict religiosity would ensure them a place in God’s Kingdom. Or so they thought.
The Pharisees were used to being in control, and they liked it.
That’s why it rattled Nicodemus so much to hear Jesus say, “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3b NIV).
What kind of control do you have in being born? None.
Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of darkness to get some information. He had approached Jesus like any Pharisee would have liked to be approached: with a good buttering up. He calls Him “Rabbi” or “Honorable Teacher”. He mentions Jesus’ work as proof that God was with Him.
But before Nicodemus can get any further Jesus drops the bomb on him, “You can’t get to heaven unless you’re born again.”
Jesus pitches Nicodemus this curve ball to jar him out of his controlling, outward focused, Pharisee thinking.
True religion is of the heart. It is a spirit thing, not a body thing. True religion is above all a faith thing, not a think of works.
You can imagine the furrowed brow of Nicodemus. “You just wait one minute”, he must have thought, “I made the choice to be a Pharisee. I have worked hard to obey the rules of God. I do all the tithing and the Temple stuff and the feast days and the fasting. Surely I’ve got a shot at seeing heaven. Don’t I?”
Jesus’ second pitch comes in hard and fast, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5b NIV). The important word there being “Spirit”.
God is the only one who can cause a woman’s womb to conceive and a child to be safely born into the physical world. So also, God is the only one who can cause a sinner’s soul to be reborn into God’s family. Reborn a saint.
“INDUCED BY THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST”
The human body usually keeps the womb closed up tight until the right time for a baby to be born. Then it releases a chemical which induces the mother into labor.
The message that all our sins have been forgiven because of Jesus is what induces spiritual rebirth into God’s Kingdom. The Good News of Jesus is the chemical which the Holy Spirit uses to bring rebirth to the sinner’s soul.
In the Bible it says,
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:13b-15 NIV).
That’s why Jesus was preaching to the people of Israel. They needed to know that God’s promised Savior had come. They had been duped by Pharisees like Nicodemus to believe in themselves and their own ability to make themselves acceptable to God. They needed to believe in God’s sent Savior, not themselves. So Jesus went preaching and teaching.
But the Pharisees did not believe God’s message. They had heard John the Baptist say repent and believe, and had not seen the need. They had heard Jesus’ preaching about turning away from sin and trusting in God’s promised Savior, but they had pushed His message away too.
Sometimes a mother’s body doesn’t respond to the special chemical that naturally induces labor. Doctors will then help the mother’s body into labor by giving her a synthetic version of that same labor inducing chemical.
Jesus does the same thing with the Gospel right here. Nicodemus needed spiritual rebirth. For his eternal good. For his earthly understanding. So, Jesus gives him a quadruple dose of the Good News.
“14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NIV).
Nicodemus would have known the story of the Bronze Serpent. When Israelites were traveling through the desert they complained that there was no food, and no water. They rudely suggested that the food which the LORD had miraculously provided for them was disgusting.
So, God sent venomous snakes into the camp and many died. When the remaining people repented, God told Moses to make a snake out of bronze and lift it up on a pole. Everyone who looked to that bronze serpent would be healed.
In the same way, all would see Jesus lifted up on a cross. He would be crucified and abandoned by God the Father so that the punishment for sins would be drained out on Him. All who look to Him in faith are spiritually reborn and will live forever.
“16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).
In this expression of the Good News, Jesus emphasizes that it is because the Father LOVES the world that He did something to save it. He did the unthinkable, giving His Son to suffer in the sinner’s place.
“17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him“ (John 3:17 NIV).
There are many prophesies about the Savior in the Old Testament. Some speak of a suffering servant of God. Others speak about His glorious and powerful return on Judgment Day. The Pharisees got these mixed up. They thought that when the Messiah appeared it would be with great outward power to free Israel from the tyranny of Rome.
Jesus sets Nicodemus straight. This first of the Son’s visits to earth would not be to judge and condemn, but to save.
Have you ever noticed that even though Jesus wields huge power in His ministry, He never once uses it to destroy or hurt anyone? Even the people who hate him and try to kill him don’t get blasted. He walks past the people in Nazareth who wanted to throw Him off a cliff. He escapes the grasp of the angry Pharisees in the Temple grounds. Most obviously, He lets Himself be condemned by Pilate. Scourged by soldiers. Nailed to the cross. All with no lighting bolts of retribution.
Because this is not the visit of judgment. This is the visit to win and offer forgiveness. This time, the Son has come to save.
“18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18 NIV).
The only condemnation that accompanies the Son of God on this visit is self condemnation. Those who push the Father’s Gift away condemn themselves. Those who trust in the Father’s Son will never be condemned by God. They have been born into His holy family.
Do you want others to be reborn? Do what Jesus does. Induce them to rebirth by dosing them with the Good News. The Holy Spirit will be with your message. He will watch over the birthing.
“THE BEGINNING OF A NEW LIFE”
Babies are funny looking when they are just newly born. They’re all little and scrunched up, wrinkly and trembling. Their little eyes are all squinty.
Of all the changes that must be a shock to them, the light must be right up there at the top. Nine months in darkness, now bam! Brilliant light everywhere!
You ever notice how much newborns just stare at things. When they’re not sleeping of course. They just look. Observe. Take in the visual data that is streaming in through their eyes.
It’s the same way with the reborn sinner. For the sinner who born into the light of Jesus’ family, there’s a lot to see.
It can be a bit frightening for the growing Christian. In the light sins are right out there for everyone to see. For the Christian doesn’t hide sins, but holds them out so that God can take them away. We confess our sins openly, fully confident that because of Christ, our heavenly Father will forgive.
We live by the truth, not by lies. We come into the light, not hang back in the darkness.
The Christian lifestyle is one that shows that God is alive and active in their life. A lifestyle of seeking to live a godly life, and asking God’s forgiveness for every failure along the way. And there are lots of those.
The lifestyle of the spiritually dead is very different. They seek no forgiveness for God’s Son. They see no need. They refuse to come into the light because the guilt and shame of sins they love would become visible.
Jesus frankly told Nicodemus:
“19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21 NIV).
Every child born into this world is a miracle. Each child born into this world sings glory to God. Each person reborn spiritually gives glory to God even more.
Nicodemus experienced spiritual rebirth. We don’t see it in our reading for today, but in John chapter 19 it says,
“38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:38-42 NIV).
“…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:21 NIV)
In the light of day, in full view of all his fellow Pharisees, Nicodemus showed that God was at work in his life now.
We have been reborn by the Holy Spirit. By the waters of Baptism and the Word of Jesus. We have been shown the love which the Father has for us. Our new life has begun. A life lived not for ourselves, but to God.
May the Holy Spirit continue to work in our lives. Leading us in the light. Showing others the way to God’s Kingdom.
Not through religiosity and outward show. But through inward faith in the Christ of God.
I invite you to pray with me.
Holy Spirit, through Your preserved Word You have given us rebirth. By that same word build strong faith in our hearts. Christ, be ever our only hope. Our sure hope. Our life. Amen.
January 18, 2009
Last week in our study of John, chapter one, we heard John the Baptist declare that Jesus is both the Lamb of God and the Son of God.
This week we continue our study of John’s Gospel in chapter two. Here we will hear the testimony of Jesus’ first miraculous sign: water changed into wine.
Greetings. May you all fully realize the joy of the Father’s forgiveness though the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who comes by the message of Jesus. Amen.
Though I only saw the back of it in my rearview mirror, the sign must have said “Bump”. What it should have said was “Chasm”.
I was driving down the empty South Dakota highway in the middle of summer. The road crews had been out in force, but now they were done for the day. Without a flagger on the side of the road, I totally missed the warning sign.
When my big Chevy Citation shot out into the void of space, it hung for a moment and then pounced onto the grooved cement of the highway’s foundation. Sparks flew from the rusty muffler that cushioned the car’s fall.
The road crew had removed part of the highway’s surface, down about 8 inches I would guess. Though, in the rearview mirror the drop off looked more like a foot.
Since I wasn’t driving a Ferrari, it was pretty funny – for a moment. Then I saw the cement wall ahead and the meager packed dirt along it’s edge that was supposed to put my car back on the surface of the roadway. There wasn’t enough time to stop. I figured my muffler was gone for sure.
With a jarring jump, I was back on the painted surface of the highway - muffler intact, thank the Lord. That car was ugly enough. It didn’t need to sound ugly too.
The signs on the side of the highway are important because they points us to things that we need to see. The sign can be bright, shiny and new, or old crusty and worn. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s seen and understood. You see, the sign doesn’t matter as much as what it points us to.
In our sermon reading for today, the “sign” of water changed into wine grabs our attention. It points us to Jesus and says, “This Man comes from God.”
Holy Spirit, as we approach your Word today give us a humble spirit so that we consider them with care. Help us to understand everything that You reveal about Jesus in this part of your Word. Build our trust in Christ through this time of meditation. Amen.
John 2:1-11 (NIV)
1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
“SOMETHING ONLY GOD CAN DO”
As any wine maker will tell you, making wine isn’t all that hard to do – but it takes time. When you buy wine at the supermarket, you there are no dry mixes. It can’t be mixed up from a powder like Kool-Aid.
The yeast needs time to eat up the fermentable sugars in whatever fruit juice is being used. Then the wine needs time to clarify and for all sorts of chemical reactions to take place. The wine might be SAFE to drink before it has been properly aged, but it won’t be GOOD.
For the average human being, making water into wine takes months, sometimes years. For Jesus, it took but a moment. And we’re not just talking about a bottle or two. We are told that Jesus had the servants fill six stone water jars up with water. Each jar held 20-30 gallons. That adds up to at least 120 gallons of wine. That much wine would fill about 605 standard size wine bottles.
And this wasn’t just a quantity of wine, this wine was of the highest quality. It was of such noticeable quality that it shocked the master of the banquet when he tasted it. He called for the groom and expressed his disappointment that this prize wine had been saved until this late time in the feast. “You have saved the BEST till now”, he said.
Wine in an instant. Lots of wine. Really good wine. All these details point us to the power of God. That power was at work in this Man, Jesus. That much was clear. Now, was it because Jesus was God’s prophet? Or was there even more to it?
Because we have the New Testament of the Bible we know that Jesus was able to do this miracle, not just because He was God’s prophet, but because He was God Himself. Son of Mary, yes, but also the very Son of God.
“CONCERN FOR GREAT AND SMALL”
This first miracle was astonishing to those who realized what had happened. But overall, this first of Jesus’ miraculous signs was subtle. It was not done out in the open for all the people to see. Jesus simply drew the dots, if you will, and let the anyone who saw connect them.
Jesus’ mother Mary had been invited to the wedding. So had Jesus and His disciples. While they were celebrating the wine ran out.
Perhaps the wedding couple was poor. Perhaps they were simply unprepared. Either way, it would have been a very embarrassing thing to run out of wine in the middle of the celebration.
Jesus’ mother was troubled when she found out that the wine had run out. Mary knew what it was like to be in a potentially embarrassing and hard to explain situation. She had once found herself pregnant without ever having slept with a man. Mary knew what it was like to have to make do with what little she had. The cradle of her firstborn Son had been a straw-stuffed feed trough. Mary knew what it was like to do without. While we don’t know for sure why, the Bible doesn’t mention Joseph after the visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve. It is quite likely that Mary was now a widow.
Yes, Mary could put herself in the wedding couple’s shoes. She could understand their predicament. And searching her mind for solutions, it didn’t take her long to think of her Son. Jesus could do SOMETHING about this wine situation.
I’m curious as to what exactly Mary expected Jesus to do. It’s hard to say. From Jesus’ response to Mary it certainly seems that she expected Him to do something extraordinary. Something miraculous. Something that would reveal who He was and who His true Father was.
In response to Mary, Jesus said,
“Dear woman, why do you involve me? …My time has not yet come” (John 2:4 NIV).
Even from the tender age of twelve Jesus had been concerned with doing what His Heavenly Father had put Him here to do. Jesus was dedicated to carrying out the plan which would bring sinners forgiveness, and save them from an eternity of sorrow.
Now a full grown man, Jesus was just as focused on His Father’s plan. And He knew that right now was not the time or the place to reveal His identity in an outward show of His astounding power.
In His voice we hear a gentle rebuke, but a rebuke all the same.
“Dear woman, why do you involve me? …My time has not yet come” (John 2:4 NIV).
And yet, even though she had overstepped her bounds a bit, Jesus did not dismiss His mother’s concern altogether. Though His higher concern was carrying out the Father’s plan in just the right way, Jesus was also concerned with responding to His earthly mother. Yes, Jesus was sensitive to the small problem that this wedding couple had unknowingly bumped into.
So, with grace and eloquence, Jesus found a way to do it all. He satisfied His mother’s request. He provided a lasting gift for the wedding couple. And He did it all in an unpretentious way. Jesus’ first miraculous sign showing Himself to be the Messiah was a quiet, hidden miracle.
If only we could imitate our Savior in this. If we could have the wisdom and grace to kindly listen – even to words spoken out of turn. If we could take all words – even the words of blustering fools and diligently wring out the value from them. If only we too could ponder what our Heavenly Father would have us do, and then faithfully do that - regardless of what others are saying and doing. May God give us the wisdom and grace to imitate Christ in this way. To listen, to evaluate, to find the Father’s will and to do it.
“SEEKER OF TRUE DEVOTION, NOT MERE APPLAUSE”
In the Gospel of John, John calls seven of Jesus’ miracles, “signs”. He considers these miracles of Jesus to be more than supernatural occurrences. John considers them to be like bright blinking arrows pointing to Jesus. They point to Him and announce, “Clearly, this Man does the works of God. Now listen, for His words come from God also.”
Sadly, not all who saw these signs believed what they indicated. In John 12 it says,
“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37 NIV).
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together and discussed all that Jesus was doing.
“’What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him,’” (John 11:47b-48 NIV).
Jesus could have perform that first miracle in Cana in a way that stole the spotlight form the bride and groom. He could have performed this astounding miracle so all could see His unlimited power as the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t for two reasons. First of all, He knew that wouldn’t be the right way to reveal Himself to the world. That wasn’t the Father’s plan. Secondly, while drama and sparkle would get Him fame and applause, that wasn’t what Jesus was seeking. Jesus wanted people to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. He wanted true devotion, not people to come to His show.
Jesus knew that true devotion is not produced from the mere seeing of miracles. True devotion springs from faith. And faith comes from seeing and believing what the miraculous signs of Jesus point to.
This is the Messiah. The promised Savior. The Son of God.
That’s why your voice has power. When you talk about your Savior to friends and family, your voice has real power because it can serve as a sign that points to the Savior.
Imagine an old sign on the side of the road. It’s been there for years. It’s faded. It’s got some bullet holes in it and a sticker or two on it. But it says, “Stop”. And when people see it and understand what it means, they stop.
When you tell people about how everyone on the planet was born a sinner and was doomed to hell, but then God’s Son became one of us to win us forgiveness for us, and lead us to heaven – that Gospel is a sign which lights up like neon and points to salvation.
Each of you has your own witness to bear, your own sign to hold. You know how God has had mercy on you. And you can talk about that easily enough. Your sign might not be perfect, but if it points to the Savior, its good enough. That’s what counts. He’s what counts. And His Holy Spirit will work through you when you hold up His cross for others to see.
In Cana, the disciples who had recently joined up with Jesus saw the sign of water to wine. They understood what that sign pointed to. Because it pointed to Jesus as the Son of God, their faith was built stronger. This man WAS from God. This man IS from God. He is our Savior.
I invite you to pray with me.
Holy Spirit give us eyes to see the miracles that Jesus is still doing in the lives of His people. Father, give us the honor of pointing others to Your Son with every part of our lives. Jesus, be near us today and every day. Hear our praise. Direct our lives. Remake us in Your image, dear Savior. Amen.
January 11, 2009
January sixth marks the beginning of the Church season called Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “striking appearance”.
During the season of Epiphany we will be examining the first seven chapters of the Gospel of John. There we will see the ways in which Jesus, the Son of Mary, was revealed to be also the Son of God.
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of the “Jesus Seminar”. Let me tell you a little bit about them. The Jesus Seminar is a group of around 150 people with advanced degrees in Bible study, religious studies or related fields.
In 1993 they published a book called, “The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”.
Basically, they color-coded the Bible by voting on its verses using different colored beads. If they thought Jesus actually said what was quoted in a passage, then they cast a red bead. If they thought Jesus said something like the passage, they cast a pink bead. If they thought that Jesus didn’t say what was in the passage, but it contained Jesus’ ideas, they cast a grey bead. And if they believed that Jesus most certainly did not say what the passage included, they cast a black bead.
The result was a thoroughly shredded version of the Bible. Scholars of this type should be stripped of their titles. They are more interested in reading the mysterious and invisible words between the lines, than they are in understanding what the actual words of the Bible say and mean.
Today, in our sermon reading, we hear a much better testimony. John the Baptist testifies there, and because God wanted people centuries later to hear what John said, the Holy Spirit has preserved his words for us.
May the Holy Spirit preserve us also from ever growing so arrogant and faithless that we place our own judgment and imagination above the solid, God-preserved Word of the Bible.
Holy Spirit, as we approach your Word today give us a humble spirit so that we consider them with care. Help us to understand everything that You reveal about Jesus in this part of your Word. Build our trust in Christ through this time of meditation. Amen.
John 1:29-34 (NIV)
29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
“THE LAMB OF GOD” (v29)
The Passover is still celebrated by people of Jewish descent. It commemorates the final plague that God sent on the people of Egypt which caused Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free.
God had told Moses that He was going to pass over the land of Egypt and kill the first-born of every family. The only way to escape this plague was for a family to butcher a healthy lamb, and use its blood to mark the doors of their houses. If this was done, God assured them that death would not enter their houses in that night of terror and judgment.
The people who crowded the banks of the Jordan river to hear John the Baptist speak knew all about the Passover. Ever since they were little children they had celebrated it. Many of them had probably gone with their fathers to purchase the lamb for their family.
Each family had its own lamb. Its life would help them remember how God had spared and freed their ancestors so many years ago.
John’s statement must have filled these people with wonder and awe. As Jesus approached, John pointed to him, saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NKJV).
When the families of Israel brought their lambs, one was required for each family. But when God the Father brought His Lamb for the sacrifice, only One was required for the whole human race. Jesus was that Lamb.
Note that it does not say that this Lamb takes away the “sins” of the world, but the SIN of the world. God views the sins of mankind as one colossal S-I-N. Each individual sin of ours was a brick in the wall separating us from God, but God’s Lamb has demolished that wall completely.
What a comforting thought that singular word is. Your individual sins, great and small, hidden and obvious, they are all included in that phrase, “the SIN of the world!”
Remember this when the false religions of the world say that you must bring a sacrifice to God and thus earn your own forgiveness. The Lamb of God takes away the SIN of the world. God has not asked for your sacrifice, nor can God accept it. God’s Lamb has already been offered. Through God’s Lamb, you stand forgiven.
“SUPERIOR TO JOHN” (v30-31)
Perhaps you noticed how our text begins, “The next day John saw Jesus”. On the previous day, an envoy of priests had come to ask John the Baptist if HE was the Christ whom the Bible predicted would come.
John was not hesitant to answer, “No.” His job was the prepare the people for the Christ. He was the forerunner. He revealed the people’s sins to them so that they would understand their need for the Savior who was about to be appear.
John understood his role in God’s plan. He was not the main event. To the envoy from Jerusalem he had said,
“…among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27 NIV).
In our text John says a very revealing thing about the Christ. He says,
“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1:30 NIV).
Jesus would indeed be revealed to Israel after John. But Jesus was not born before John. He was born six months later than John. How could it be true that Jesus was before John? You know of course. John is talking about the fact that the Christ was the Son of God who had existed from eternity. He was not created when He was conceived in the womb of Mary. He had always been, and was therefore ranked high above the messenger who prepared the way for His revealing.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Jesus is the rightful focus of the Christian faith. His is the destination of all the Old Testament Word. He is the origin of every New Testament teaching. He is greater than any messenger. He is the jewel in the center of all God’s communication to us. A Christianity without Christ at it’s pinnacle is a lopsided thing destined to topple. And any religion without Christ altogether is a dead and empty shell.
“IDENTIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT” (v32-33)
John the Baptist says in our text that the reason he started baptizing in the desert was so that the Christ might be revealed to the people of Israel. Luke 3:2 says it like this:
“2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:2-3 NIV).
When John went out to do what God had instructed him to do, he didn’t know who the Christ was for sure. But we do have reason to believe that he suspected that it was his relative Jesus.
Matthew records that when Jesus approached John to be baptized, John thought that Jesus should be the one baptizing him, not the other way around.
This was either because John suspected that Jesus was the One sent from God, or because John considered Jesus to be more pious than he, and thought it would be more fitting to be baptized by Him instead of the other way around.
When John finally consented and baptized Jesus, the sign that God had promised appeared to John. The sky opened up and a Dove descended through the air. It was the Holy Spirit in visible form. Fluttering in the air above the Jordan river, He settled on Jesus of Nazareth, just recently baptized. Now John had no doubt. This was the Christ. He had not come to John’s baptism because of personal sins, He came to be revealed to John and all Israel. This was the sinless Son of God!
But the sign of the Holy Spirit Dove had double meaning. Jesus had not been anointed with oil like a king or a priest. Jesus had not been merely anointed with water either. Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit would remain with Jesus throughout His ministry, working powerfully in the message that Jesus preached. Changing the hearts of sinners. Causing people to trust that Jesus was their hope for forgiveness and everlasting life.
And Jesus still pours out the Holy Spirit on people as they hear His message. In fact, it is only through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that anyone can come to know and trust in Jesus. As Romans 1:16 says,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
Just as the Holy Spirit identified Jesus as the Savior to John, so also today the Holy Spirit still identifies Jesus as the Savior to sinners in desperate need of His forgiveness.
“THE SON OF GOD” (v34)
In the last verse of our text, John the Baptist makes his clearest statement concerning Jesus. It can hardly be misunderstood. John declares,
“I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 NIV).
Some false teachers try to lower Jesus below God-status by saying that He was only a Son of God like the angels are called “sons of God” or sometimes even humans are called “sons of God” because they are God’s followers.
Clearly, Jesus is no angel. Nor is he just another follower of God. Jesus is the unique, singular Son of God. The only-begotten Son of God. The One who existed from eternity with the Father and became human only two thousand years ago so that our sins could be removed.
If John’s testimony is true, than Jesus is worth our utmost devotion. He is worthy of our daily, hourly, minute-ly, second-ly praise. For He was there in the silence of eternity before the voice of God said, “Let there be light”.
If John’s testimony is true, than our Creator has become our Savior, and we have nothing to fear so long as He is with us.
Man’s testimony is untrustworthy. Man can lie or be mistaken. This much is shown by the foul testimony of the 150 so called “Jesus Seminar” scholars.
The testimony of John is greater than the 150 Jesus seminar judges. His testimony was based on the sign God told Him would identify the Christ.
In a sense, John’s testimony is God’s testimony. For it is the Holy Spirit who moved John the Baptist to say it. It was the Holy Spirit who moved John the apostle to write it. It was the Holy Spirit who preserved it through the long centuries that stand between us and John so that we could hear it. And it is the Holy Spirit who still testifies to it’s trustworthiness in our hearing today.
May the Holy Spirit convince us all of the trustworthiness of John’s testimony, so that Jesus lives in our lives by faith. May our God enable us to make this testimony our own: Jesus is the Son of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
January 4, 2009
In this New Year, Peace be to you from God our Father, through the grace which comes from our Savior Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul was an amazing Christian. He has been called the greatest missionary ever. It is quite possible that he reached all the way to
But, even more amazing than his travel itinerary is the character that this man possessed. Paul considered it a gift to suffer for the message of Jesus (Philippians ).
Though surrounded by lethal dangers and pursued by murderers, he refused to stop preaching the message of Jesus (Romans -39).
In his later years Paul was imprisoned at
It was while he was imprisoned at
“12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians -14 NIV).
His own fellow Jews hated him for preaching Christ. Sometimes his message was greeted with ridicule and laughter. According to worldly standards Paul had nothing.
How then, did Paul keep his positive attitude? How did he stay un-poisoned by bitterness and cynicism? How could Paul give so much for Christ when he had so little to call his own?
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul tells us how in our sermon reading for today. In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Christians living at Philippi Paul reveals the secret of powerful Christianity.
Philippians 4:8-20 (NIV)
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
20To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul had peace in his heart, because Paul knew God was with him. Paul wanted the Philippians to have the same. He knew that they had God. They were followers of Christ. They knew that their sins had been forgiven through what Jesus had suffered on the cross. But Paul knew how easy it can be to forget just how much we have been given, when our focus is on the bad, instead of the good.
Certainly, there is a time for considering the evil in this world. It is not to be ignored. But Paul directs the Philippians, and us, to place primary focus on the good things that are happening around us. It is when we focus on the good that we begin to realize all the different things the gracious hand of God is doing right here beside us.
Someone once said, “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” How true it is. Human beings are much better at finding things to complain about than things to be thankful for. Our minds are far better at listing off the things we would like to have, than the things that God has already graciously given us. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the good things that God gives, until they are taken away.
Satan wants us to dwell on the ugly things in life. He would have us dwell on our failures and sins, instead of focusing on the Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus makes our failures work out for good and cleanses us from our sins by His holy blood. That’s why Satan seeks to keep our eyes off of Him and His blessings.
Satan wants us to plod along through life with our faces and our spirits down. Satan does not want us to look up in happiness to Christ who pulls us along toward His purpose. Satan does not want us to be reminded that each day draws us ever closer to the day when we will stand before Christ in Heaven. “Keep your face down” Satan says, “What do you have to be happy about?”
Paul says get your chin up. He directs us to have a positive attitude. Not a fake positive attitude that candies over the evils in life, but a heart that actually looks intently, seeking and expecting to find the good that God is working in this broken world. Paul directs us to peace through dwelling on the good.
Paul reminds us that God will continue to be with us as we focus on good things and follow good examples. God is with those who trust in Him.
At this time of year, that phrase, “God with us” reminds us of the name for Jesus that comes from Isaiah. “Immanuel”, which means, “God with us”.
Jesus is the greatest “good thing” from God that we might think about. He is the taker away-er of sins. He is the greatest Christian example that we could ever model ourselves after.
The Bible calls Him the “Prince of Peace” because through Him peace has been established between sinners and the Father above.
The God of peace is with us because He is at peace with us. Christ has made peace between the perfect God and wretched, daily sinners like you and me.
Dwell on this good. Dwell on all other good things. See God’s hand in your life, first in Christ, then in every other truly good gift that God gives you.
In verses 10-13 Paul describes how in addition to having peace, he also has contentment in Christ.
Paul expresses the extent of his contentment in verse twelve when he says,
“…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians NIV).
But Paul didn’t just talk contentment though, he also lived it. When Paul was preaching in
Paul was willing to live out of a suitcase for months and years during his missionary journeys so that he might bring the Good News of Jesus to more people.
Paul said he was content. Paul lived a life of contentment. Thankfully for us, Paul also identifies his source of contentment in our text. He says,
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians NIV).
That’s Jesus that Paul is talking about (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
That’s why Paul wasn’t afraid of going before that angry mob in
That same glorious Jesus that had appeared to Paul was still with Him, even though He was unseen. And He would not let any real harm come to Paul. Who could come between Paul and Jesus? Who could come between Paul and the Father in Heaven that Jesus had reunited Paul with?
Through faith in Jesus, Paul had become child of God forever. He had everything that he could ever ask for, and more. Paul didn’t even know what great adventures and glory awaited him in Heaven.
Paul’s cup was not half empty. It was full to the brim. No matter what his outward life was like, Paul’s inward life was full of strength and richness. Just like our lives are not made complete by the outward things that we have, Paul did not find fulfillment in the outward things that he had. Paul found fulfillment in Christ.
Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison in
In response to this Paul says, “Good. I’m glad that for whatever reason, Christ is being preached!” (paraphrase of Philippians 1:18). He goes on to say,
“…I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18b-21 NIV).
Paul knew that in Christ He had everything that He could ever need. If Paul needed millions of dollars for his ministry, God would provide it. If Paul needed nothing other than a box to stand on and a voice to speak with, God would provide it. If death came tomorrow by executioner’s sword, “So be it”, says Paul, “I’ve got Jesus, and He’s got me. And there ain’t no sword that can separate me from His love” (see Romans -39).
That’s strength through contentment in Christ.
Paul was able to live his life for Christ, because He was content in Christ. But Paul wasn’t the only Christian who found the ability to give because of Jesus.
The Christians from the city of
Contentment in Christ enables us to be genuinely generous. The poorest of people, if they are content with God’s care, can give in the most powerful of ways. The richest of people, if they are not content with God’s care, can give millions from their billions, and still not be generous in God’s eyes.
Remember the day when Jesus sat in the
Jesus saw her faith. She trusted that the God of this
Genuine generosity comes from the Christ contented heart. And we’re not just talking about offering generosity. We’re talking about the generous heart that sends the unexpected gift. Says the unasked for prayer. Lifts up the hand of support gladly with no desire for recognition. The Christ contented and generous heart says, “Jesus, I’ve got you. You’ve got me. What are we gonna do today?”
See how it all works together?
When we dwell on the good things that come from God, the greatest being forgiveness through Christ Jesus, then we have peace.
When we have peace with God, we can be content.
When we are content, then, and only then, we can wield the tool of powerful generosity.
It all flows from Christ. Christ works peace. Christ works contentment. Christ works generosity. And with these things, happiness tags along.
The secret to powerful Christianity is Christ. And it just so happens that the secret to untainted and lasting happiness is the same. The secret is Christ.
But you can’t just say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and expect it to work like a magic spell. If you want to live the powerful Christian life you need to sit at your Savior’s feet, and hear what He says. Hear it. Believe it. Live it as best you can, and know that the God of peace is with you.
Paul was a powerful Christian. You can be too.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians NIV).
That’s what Paul said to his friends in
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians NIV).
Maybe you need help finding the good in a world of bad. God will help, and give you peace as he does.
Maybe you need strength of faith so that you can rejoice through a hard time in your life. God will help, giving you strength through contentment in Christ.
Maybe you need a more complete contentment to ignite powerful generosity in your life. God will help, and will then work powerfully through you in the lives of others.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians NIV).
The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.