Archive for June, 2008

The following is a sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church on the morning of June 22, 2008.

Who do people say Jesus is?

Some think He was a good teacher?  Or a Prophet of God?  Or a legendary figure who is larger than life?

What does the world around us believe about Jesus?

More importantly… what do you believe about Jesus?

The answer to this question is of the utmost importance…

John 2:23-3:15 (ESV) – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 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. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Our text here today picks up early in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus was new on the religious scene in Jerusalem.  He was performing miracles and standing up against the abuses which took place in the temple and he drew a lot of attention from the people.

We are told here that when He was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast… “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing”.

We don’t know for sure what “signs” John is referring to.  However, the Greek implies that He was continuously doing signs which declared to the world who He is.  And many believed in Him… but what did they believe about Him?

This is an important question, because notice that, although they believed in His name, He did not entrust Himself to them.  It is the same verb in verse 24 as in verse 23.  Literally “He didn’t believe Himself to them…”  In other words, although they believed something about Jesus… He didn’t believe in their belief.

This tells us something right off the bat about believing in Jesus, namely that it is important that we get it right.  What we believe about Him is important, because it is possible to “believe” in Jesus and yet not be saved.

The people described here believed in His name, but He did not entrust Himself to them.  Why not?  Because Jesus knew all people and He did not need anyone to tell Him what is inside of people, because He already knew.  He knew what was in their hearts even better than they did.  He knew exactly what they believed about Him and He knew that it was not a saving faith.

What did they believe about Him?

What is necessary for Jesus to entrust Himself to someone so that they might be saved?

We find the answer to these questions as we continue on into chapter 3

Most Bible translations begin verse 1 with the word “Now.”  It is the simple Greek conjunction δ… and it implies that what follows is connected to what precedes it.  In other words… what we see in John 3 is a continuation or explanation of what we have just seen in chapter 2:23-25.

Here we meet a man named Nicodemus and we are told 3 distinct things about him: 

1)      We are told that he was Pharisee.  This was one of the strictest religious sects among the Jews.  They were diligent students of Scripture, although they entirely missed the point of the Law.  They held firmly to the belief that it was possible to keep the Law of Moses and, therefore, be saved.  In other words…like many people we encounter today… they thought it was possible to be “good enough” to earn their own way to heaven.

2)      On top of this, we are told that he was a “ruler of the Jews”, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin council.  He was part of the ruling class in Israel.  This is slightly unusual for a Pharisee.  There were some Pharisees on the Sanhedrin council… men like Gamaliel (Acts 5:34)… but most of the rulers among the Jews were Sadducees, who were the more liberal theologians of their day.  Nicodemus was not just a religious man, he was an important man.

3)      In addition to this, in verse 10, Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.  Don’t miss the definite article there.  He is “the” teacher of Israel.  This implies that he was a well-known and highly respected Jewish theologian and Bible teacher of his day.

Nicodemus is an important individual in Jewish religious life coming to see Jesus with questions.  But notice how he comes to Jesus.  He comes to Him “by night.”

There has been a lot of ink spilled over the significance of this little phrase… “by night.”  What is John getting at here?

It could imply that Nicodemus was coming to Jesus in secret.  He didn’t want anyone to know he was visiting him.  Perhaps he was afraid of the consequences if someone found out that he had come to see Jesus.

It could be that Nicodemus was just seeking a private audience with Jesus.  After all, Jesus was constantly surrounded by people and… by coming at night… he could avoid the crowds and discuss theological matters with Jesus privately.

Or this could be symbolic.  When John speaks of “night” in his gospel… it is typically a metaphor for being in spiritual darkness.  Could it be that John is saying that Nicodemus is just like those who believed something about Jesus… but were not saved?  Is he saying that Nicodemus is still in darkness when he comes to Jesus?

It is hard to know for sure, although there is probably some truth in all of these interpretations.  However, it is clear that Nicodemus is still in the dark regarding who Jesus is, because notice how he addresses Jesus as “rabbi.”  This is pretty amazing in and of itself.  Nicodemus is one of the premier theologians and Bible scholars of his day, yet he addresses Jesus as a peer… calling Him a “Teacher come from God.”  In other words, he believes that Jesus is a prophet… a messenger of God… because there is no way a person could do the signs Jesus was doing unless He was from God.

This is the same reason given for the belief of those described in John 2:23-25.  They believed the signs Jesus was doing.  Nicodemus does as well.  Just like them, Nicodemus sees the signs and believes something about Jesus, but He isn’t believing rightly in Him.  He thought He was simply a good teacher… a prophet of God…

Isn’t that what most people today think about Jesus?

If you asked people on the street about who Jesus is… most people would say that He was a good teacher.  They might confess that He was a messenger from God, but not much more.

What a person believes about Jesus is of the utmost importance, because those who do not believe in Him as He truly is are not saved.

But notice here that something is necessary before a person can believe rightly in Jesus.  Something mysterious and miraculous must take place first.  Jesus tells this teacher of Israel that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Unless there is a miraculous new birth which takes place… a person cannot “see” the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is the full experience of the rule and reign of God.  It is to enter into His presence and experience the blessing of God for all eternity.  In John’s gospel it is pretty much the equivalent of eternal life.

Unless one is born again… he can’t even “see”… or begin to experience what those blessings are.

Nicodemus is confused by this, but he is not quite as dumb as he seems here.  He recognizes that Jesus is speaking figuratively, but he doesn’t quite get what Jesus is saying.  So in verse 5, Jesus describes this new birth in greater detail. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There are different interpretations of this verse and I’m not going to bore you with all of them, but there are a couple of points which are quite clear here in the text about what Jesus is saying…

First of all, whatever being born of water and the Spirit is… it is the same thing as being born again, because the two phrases are in parallelism with one another.  This is important, because it tells us that Jesus is talking about a single rebirth here… not multiple births by water and then by the Spirit.

Secondly, this is something which Jesus thought Nicodemus should have understood.  We know this, because, in verse 10, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not getting His point.  This leads me to believe that Jesus is talking about something present in the Old Testament.  In fact, it seems that Jesus is speaking of the New Covenant promise which is recorded for us in Ezekiel 36:25-27

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV) – 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 In this passage, God promises to sprinkle clean water on His people and cleanse them from all their sin.  He also promises to give His people a new heart… a new inner man… and all this would take place when God would place His Spirit within us.  The result of this would be an entirely new creation… a person wholly dedicated to God.

This is what it means to be born again… to be transformed by God… to be recreated by the power of His Spirit in our lives so that we can be set apart to God forever.

Why is this necessary?  Because naturally… we are all inherently sinful and defiled…

Genesis 8:21 (ESV) – 21 …the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth…

Ecclesiastes 9:3 (ESV) – 3 …the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Romans 8:7 (ESV) – 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV) – 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Jesus is explicitly clear that there is nothing we can do to cause ourselves to be born again.  It is solely the work of the Holy Spirit… “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 with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

There is a play on words here in the Greek.  The word translated “wind” is πνεμα in the Greek.  It can also be translated “spirit.”  Jesus is likening the work of the Spirit of God to the presence of wind.  We can’t see it… but we can feel it.  We don’t know where the wind comes from. We don’t know when it will come or when it will go away. 

This is how the Spirit works in causing people to be born again.  He is completely sovereign in this work.  He blows where He wishes… when He wishes… and how He wishes… and nothing that we do can change that.

But when He comes, He causes those who are in the night of unbelief to be born again, cleansing us from sin and creating within us a new heart… a new will to know and serve God.  He re-creates us, so that we can see and enter into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

This is the same thing which Paul is talking about in II Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (ESV) – 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Naturally… in the flesh… we are blind to the gospel and we cannot see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.  And the devil works over time keeping us that way.  It is only when God moves in creative power and causes His light to shine in our darkened hearts by His Holy Spirit that we can finally see Jesus for who He is and begin to believe rightly in Him in order to be saved.  Apart from this… no one can be saved.

Nicodemus doesn’t get this yet.  How can these things be?”

Jesus rather strongly rebukes him here.  It is as if He is saying, “How can you not understand this?”

These things are absolutely true… and Jesus assures Nicodemus of this.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you… (plural in the Greek… meaning Nicodemus and those like him)… you do not receive our testimony.” (verse 11.)

This is not speculation.  Jesus has seen this and knows this.  But “you”, Nicodemus, and those like you, do not receive this testimony.

Do you see what Jesus is getting at here?  It doesn’t matter that they believe Jesus is a good teacher… or a prophet from God.  That isn’t enough.  They must receive to themselves the full testimony about who Jesus is… and that is only possible if God first does a work of re-creation in them.

This is foundational to the Christian life.  If a person doesn’t get this… which Jesus calls “earthly things” in verse 12… then they will never be able to understand “heavenly things”… which is what Jesus seems to be describing in verses 13-15

Notice in verse 13, Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man” and He states that He has descended from heaven.  Jesus seems to be equating Himself with the Son of Man described by Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV) – 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

It is hard to imagine that Nicodemus didn’t get what Jesus was driving at here.  They have just been talking about the kingdom of God and then Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man… the One who receives the kingdom of God in heaven.

The tough part for Nicodemus to understand would have been how Jesus could be the Son of Man, since the Son of Man is described as being divine…

1)      He rides on the clouds which in the Old Testament are referred to as being God’s “chariot” (Psalm 104:3.)

2)      He approaches the throne of God… fully worthy in and of Himself to be crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords…

Jesus… standing before Nicodemus… veiled in human flesh… is claiming to be God Himself… descended from heaven.  And if that wasn’t startling enough, He says that He descended in order to be “lifted up.”

When Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” in John’s gospel, it is always a reference to the crucifixion (Jn 3:14, 8:28, 12:32, 12:34.)  And John 12:34 makes it clear that this imagery was understood by the people as referring to death.

Do you see how amazing these “heavenly things” are?  The Son of God… has left His heavenly abode… and is willingly giving up His life on a cross on behalf of sinful people like us.  That is amazing!!!  No wonder if a person doesn’t believe in earthly things… like the work of the Spirit of God to bring new life to dead sinners… then how could a person believe such an amazing thing?

But no matter how hard it is to believe this, it is of the utmost importance, because whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

Jesus gives us a powerful illustration here of what it means to believe in Him by referring back to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness in Numbers 21:4-9

In this passage, God punished the Israelites in the wilderness for their sin by sending fiery serpents among them.  They bit the people and many died.  This is a picture of God’s justice and holiness and His hatred against sin.

But God also demonstrated His grace to them.  He provided a way of salvation for them.  He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole and those who would look upon it in faith would be saved.  Not that there was anything magical in the serpent itself… God was the One saving them… but they had to “see” it… they had to look upon the serpent lifted up and have faith in the God who had given them this sign of His grace.

Jesus says that those who look upon Him as the Son of Man… very God of very God… who died upon the cross for our sin… and believe in Him alone… they will be saved forevermore.  They will enter into the kingdom of God and enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

Notice that this offer of salvation is held forth to all… “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”…

But only those who “see” Him as He truly is will believe in Him as He truly is… and this is impossible apart from the sovereign work of God by His Spirit in causing us to be born again.

Did Nicodemus experience this new birth?  Did the Spirit of God blow upon Him and open His eyes to see the Son of Man lifted up for his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but we do see Nicodemus two more times in the gospel of John…

1)      In John 7:45-52… he sticks up for Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin Council…

2)      And more importantly… in John 19:38-40… he and Joseph of Arimathea take the body of the crucified Son of Man and bury Him after He had been lifted up…

Did Nicodemus trust in Jesus to save him from his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but more importantly… have you trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin?

What do you believe about Jesus?

Do you believe that He was simply a good teacher?  A prophet from God?  A legendary figure who is larger than life?  Or do you believe that He is the Son of God who left heaven to die for your sins upon the cross?

Have you been born again?  Has the Spirit of God blown across your heart and made you a new creation in Christ Jesus?

If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ to save you, then I urge you to do so.  Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  Confess your sin and turn away from your sin and plead with God to save you based on the work of Jesus Christ.  Do this and be saved for, apart from Him, you can never enter into the kingdom of God and receive the gift of eternal life.



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Pastoral ministry is incredibly difficult.  The challenges are insurmountable in our own strength.  The discouragements are many.  Having worked in a high stress field (i.e. criminal justice)… I can assure you… there is nothing quite like the stress of pastoral ministry.

If you are in pastoral ministry… or considering pastoral ministry… or want to understand some of the hardships and trials of pastoral ministry then read the following article by Barry J. Maxwell.  Here is an excerpt:

“God has designed ministry to kill you. It killed Jesus and it will kill us. Paul spoke of his ministry perhaps more in terms of dying than living (2 Cor 4.11-12; Gal 6.17; Phil 2.17). He even lumped his concern for the churches in with the pain of imprisonments, beatings, starvations, drownings and muggings (2 Cor 11.23-29). Therefore, the pangs of discouragement are the sounds of a man giving his life away for God’s people. It’s the sound of man making his home in a cemetery, hoping that today will be the day life springs eternal. God will make sure Jesus is the only one left standing in the battle royal for souls.”

You can read the whole thing here http://barryjmaxwell.blogspot.com/2008/06/stoking-dimly-burning-wick.html

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Dr. Russell Moore has posted another extremely insightful (and convicting) article on the state of modern evangelicalism.  With exacting precision, he dissects the tendancy of Christians today to put cultural ideals before Biblical mandates where the family is concerned.  Although he is speaking specifically about Southern Baptists in this article… they are not alone in this.

You can find the article here http://henryinstitute.org/commentary_read.php?cid=470

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Follow this link to Justin Taylor’s blog and read the following Puritan poem.  It will be well worth your time.  You can find it here http://theologica.blogspot.com/2008/06/christs-righteousness-and-continued.html

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1 Thessalonians 5:16 (ESV) – 16 Rejoice always,

This is such a short statement by the apostle Paul that it is quite easy to simply read over it… nod in agreement… and move on.  But have you ever really thought about the significance of this command?  God demands that we rejoice… and not simply once in a while, but all the time.

Are we, as Christians, joyful people?

I must confess that often I am less than joyful.  It is a true struggle for me.  I tend toward what the older theologians used to call being “melancholy.”  I spend far too much time in that place which Bunyan called “the Slough of Despond” in his classic allegory of the Christian life, “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  I tend to be acutely aware of the ravages of a sin-filled world, not to mention the ever present and insidious sin within my own heart and flesh and this can often lead me into being spiritually downcast.

Does this describe you as well?  Most of us have, at one time or another, struggled with this.  So how do we fight for this?

Psalm 42-43 have become very precious to me personally, because I believe that here we find the answer.  If this is a struggle for you then I would encourage you to read both Psalms (most scholars seem to agree that they were probably one Psalm originally) and look for what the Psalmist says about our attitude in the midst of despair.  But for our purposes here today, look specifically at Psalm 42:5 (which is repeated again in 42:11 and 43:5):

Psalm 42:5 (ESV) – 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation

Notice three things:

1)      The Psalmist is talking to himself.  He is asking himself why he is so downcast.  Why is he in the depths of despair?  He seems to recognize that he should be experiencing joy, but he finds himself in that melancholy state… in “the Slough of Despond.”

2)      But notice the answer… it is found in God.  “Hope in God.”  Wait on Him!  Trust in Him!  Rely upon Him.  No matter how bleak the situation seems.  No matter how gloomy the dark night of the soul may be… hope in God!

3)      Why?  “For I shall again praise you.”  The Psalmist is absolutely certain of future deliverance.  Maybe not in this lifetime, but certainly in the everlasting life to come, God will deliver His people from every trial and tribulation, God is “my salvation and my God.”

What is the solution to joylessness?  It isn’t simply “bucking up” and being happy. The solution is to seek God passionately…

Psalm 42:1-2 (ESV) – 1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Rejoicing always is the result of habitually walking in close communion with God… seeking His face… remember His presence… and holding fast to the hope of salvation which is found in Jesus Christ.

Hope in God and rejoice always!!!

For more information on this topic, read the recent posts by C.J. Mahaney, Jeff Purswell and Joshua Harris over at the Sovereign Grace Blog.  You can find them here http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Fighting-for-Joy.aspx , here http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/Shift-the-Ground-of-Joy.aspx and, for pastors, in particular, here http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/The-Pastore28099s-Joy-2b-Church-Members.aspx.

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There is an excellent video clip of Mark Dever summarizing the gospel and the importance of discernment in the Christian life.  It is only about 3 1/2 minutes long and it is worth watching.  You can find it here http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/06/mark_dever_on_doctrinal_discer.php

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Jon Bloom has a great post over at the Desiring God blog contrasting the views of Jesus and Buddha on happiness.  You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1274_jesus_and_buddha_on_happiness/

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