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The following is a sermon preached on Sunday morning October 12, 2008, at Sunnyside Baptist Church.

How has Jesus loved us?  How has He demonstrated His love toward us?  The prophet Isaiah, writing hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, gives us one of the clearest and most powerful descriptions of the love which Jesus has shown for us.

Isaiah 53: 3 (ESV) – 3 He (the Servant of Yahweh… Jesus) was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

This is the way in which Jesus Christ has loved us.  He suffered for us.  He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement… the discipline… the punishment… for our sins fell upon Him.  By His stripes… by His sufferings… we are healed from our sinfulness.  When God the Father looked down from heaven upon His only begotten Son as He hung upon the cross with our sins laid upon Him… it pleased the Lord to crush Him.  He died for us… so that we might be forgiven.  He was crushed so that we might be saved forevermore.

This was not an accident.  This had always been the intention of Jesus.  He willingly suffered this agony for us.  He knew what He was getting into when He left heaven and took on humanity and walked among us.  He tells us in Mark 10:45 (ESV) that “… even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He came to die.  He came to give His life for His people.

How much must He love us?  There is an old chorus which we sometimes sing in church which goes something like this… “O how He loves you and me.  O how He loves you and me.  He gave His life.  What more could He give?  O how He loves you.  O how He loves me.  O how He loves you and me!”

He has demonstrated His love toward us through the greatest possible expression of love… He laid down His life for His friends.  He did this in order to save us.  This is what it cost to save us.  It cost the very life and blood of Jesus Christ.  This salvation is a free gift… bestowed by the sovereign grace of God upon all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Have you repented of your sin?  Have you admitted your sinfulness before God?  Have you turned from your sin and are you trusting in Jesus Christ to save you and reconcile you to God?  If so… then you are a Christian… a follower of Jesus Christ.  If so… then you are a child of God… born of His grace… bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You have a relationship with your Creator God as Heavenly Father.  And with this new relationship comes certain responsibilities.

We have looked at these responsibilities over the past few weeks and we have seen that love lies at the heart of virtually all these responsibilities.  That is appropriate because love lies at the heart of this relationship with God.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16.)

We are to reflect something of this love in our relationship with God and others.  First and foremost, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt 22:37-38, Mk 12:30.)  God must be first and foremost in our affections.  We love Him… and we seek to draw near to Him through being obedient to all His commands.  As we do so, this same love begins to flow out of us to others.

Secondly, we are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39.)  This means that we are to love and take action on behalf of all those God brings across our paths.  This even extends to those who are our enemies (Matt 5:43-48.)  We are to love those who oppose us and persecute us.  We are to pray for them and do good to them and speak well of them, because, in doing so, we reflect something of the character of God.  By loving our enemies, we demonstrate in a powerful way that we are different than the world around us… and we are something like our God… a God who loves His enemies and does for them… even choosing to save some through the death of His Son.

But there is one other responsibility of love which belongs to us as Christians.  We are commanded to love one another.  And not just a little bit.  We are to love one another with the most powerful expression of love possible.  We are to love one another as Christ Jesus has loved us.  Listen and hear the command of Jesus…

John 13:34-35 (ESV) – 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 15:12-14, 17(ESV) – 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you… 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Jesus begins by stating, “A new commandment I give to you…  Jesus had reinforced the Old Testament commands all throughout His ministry.  He didn’t come to do away with the commandments of God in the Old Testament… He came to fulfill them (Matt 5:17.)  He came to do what no other man could ever do and that is to obey the Law of God perfectly and to earn the right to eternal life on our behalf.  This right to heaven is something which Jesus freely gives to all those who trust in Him.

But even though it is impossible for us to obey God’s Law perfectly, Jesus affirmed time and again that we have a responsibility to strive to live our lives in accordance with God’s Law.  We are to strive to live lives which are pleasing to God.  We have seen this over the past few weeks.  Jesus commands us to love God with all that we are.  Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  All of these were commands which existed in the Old Testament.  Jesus simply reaffirms them and gives us the correct understanding of how to do this in light of the world’s constant distortion of them.

But here Jesus says that He has a new commandment for His followers.  There is a lot that could be said about the “newness” of this command.  Suffice it to say that this command is new in light of new circumstances which are about to take place.  Jesus is about to ratify the promised New Covenant by His shed blood upon the cross (Lk 22:20.)  When God enters into new covenants with His people, commands typically follow (i.e. Exodus 20.)  Jesus is giving a new command to His covenant people as He prepares to go to the cross.

But more important for our discussion today is the fact that this is a “commandment.”  It is not a suggestion.  It isn’t something about which we have choice.  It is a “commandment” from the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It is a command which we must obey.

And this commandment is of the utmost importance to Jesus.  We know this because He repeats this command three times here in the same sermon (Jn 13:34-35, 15:12, and 15:17.)

Why would He go to such lengths to express this commandment?  Why does He repeat Himself three times here?  Because He knew that we would struggle with this.  He knew that we would fail to love one another the way that we should.  You don’t need to spend much time around any church before you realize how weak virtually all churches are in this area.  Sadly, we as Christians are more concerned with our own lives… our own jobs… our own hobbies… our own families… our own everything… to truly care about one another.  We are constantly being pulled apart… and we simply do not love one another the way that we should.  Jesus wants to make sure that we realize the importance of this commandment to love one another.  So in case we missed it the first time… He repeats a second time… and then a third time for good measure.

What is this new commandment?  To love one another.”  The Greek implies that we are to love one another continuously… all the time… without exception and without fail.  We are to feel affection for one another which leads us to take action on behalf of one another constantly.  This should characterize our lives.  As Christians… love for one another should mark our lives.

Notice very specifically that this is a command to love “one another.”  This is a command to love within in the Body of Christ.  We might think that the command to “love our neighbors as ourselves” would suffice here.  But Jesus has something else in mind.  The love that He demands of us within the Church is greater than to simply love “as much as we love ourselves.”  No.  We are told to love one another “just as Jesus has loved us.”

How has Jesus loved us?  I hope that we have seen a glimpse of how Jesus has loved us and demonstrated this love to us through our reading of Isaiah 53.  Jesus has loved us with the greatest possible expression of love.  Jesus sums this up for us in John 15:13… “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Is there a greater expression of love than this?  Of course not!  We all know that this is the greatest possible expression of love.  This is hard-wired into our psyches.  Whether we are a Christian or non-Christian, we understand that there is no greater expression of love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.  That is why we see this idea of self-sacrifice appear so often in our fiction and literature.

Have you ever read Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”?  The story tells us about a fictional man named Charles Darnay, who is caught up in the political upheaval of the French Revolution.  Although he has done nothing worthy of death, he is unjustly found to be guilty and sentenced to be put to death by guillotine.  In the end, a man named Sydney Carton, secretly drugs him and takes his place in prison, sending Charles out of the country with the woman they both love and he takes his place at the guillotine to be executed.   The book ends with Sydney uttering those famous words, “It is a far better thing I do now than I have ever done before.”  What makes this act so much better than anything else he has ever done?  This is the ultimate act of love.

Have you ever seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan”?  Why does the old man Ryan weep in the cemetery at the end of the movie?  Because he is remembering the sacrifice of others on his behalf.  Because he knows… and we do as well… that there is no greater love than that a person might lay down their life for a friend.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down their life for his friends.

Do you see what Jesus commands of us here?  It is awesome in its scope.  He commands us to love one another as much as He has loved us.  He commands us to have this same self-sacrificing love toward one another.  Now there are some senses in which we cannot love the way in which Jesus has loved us.  Jesus loved us and died as a substitute for our sin.  We cannot die on behalf of others in the same way.  But we can take the pattern of His self-sacrificing death and apply it to our lives as a pattern of how we are to love others. 

What does this look like?  The Apostle Paul provides some excellent commentary on this in Philippians 2:3-8

Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV) – 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Notice how Paul describes Jesus’ love for us.  He cared for our needs above His own.  He was willing to yield His own comfort and pleasure on behalf of meeting our needs.  He placed our needs above His own rights and privileges.  He was infinitely committed to doing whatever was necessary…indeed, whatever was possible on behalf of His friends for their eternal good. 

What does this look like for us today?  It means that we must think more highly of others than we do of ourselves.  We must seek the good of others above our own good.  This is not easy.  It will, at least, mean that we will be required to give up some of our time or money or energy or sleep or hobbies on behalf of others.  It means hurting… because it hurts to lay down your life for someone.  But if we care about them more than we care about ourselves, then we will be willing to hurt in loving others.

Jesus commands us to love one another… and to do so by laying down our lives for one another.

Why would Jesus expect this of us?  What is the point?  Jesus says there are two results of loving one another as He has loved us.

The first result is seen here in John 15:14… “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  Why is this so?  As we have seen, Jesus loves those who are His.  He loved us enough to give His life for us.  One of the ways in which we demonstrate our friendship with Him is by loving those He loves.  This is easy to illustrate in our human relationships.  For example, if you are a parent, then one of the most powerful ways for someone to demonstrate their love for you is to show love for your children.  By loving our children and caring for them and giving up on behalf of them, we experience a sense of their love for us. 

The same is true in our relationship with Jesus.  When we love one another and consider our fellow Christians as more important than ourselves and sacrifice on behalf of one another, then in some sense, we are demonstrating our love for Jesus.

This is only the first reason why we are to love one another.  There is a second reason given us here as well.  Jesus says that “By this all people will know that you are my disciples…  Through our love for one another, all people will know that we are followers of Jesus.

Think about this for a moment.  Notice what the text does not say.  It does not say that all people will be converted.  It doesn’t even say that all people will come to know who Jesus is.  It doesn’t say that all people will be saved.   But it does say that everyone will identify us with Jesus.  There is a sense in which our identity is lost in Him.  When we love one another as He has loved us… when we reflect something of what He is like in our relationship with one another… then the world knows that we are with Him.  When we love one another, then the world knows that we are His disciples.

I find this fascinating.  There are many different ideas being put forth today about how we as Christians should stand out in the world.  It is suggested that the world will know we are Christians by our morality, or our commitment to social justice or our conservative politics.  But this isn’t what Jesus says.  He doesn’t say that the world will recognize us as His disciples because of our morality.  He doesn’t say that all men will know we are His followers because of our commitment to social justice.  Or because of our conservative stance on politics.  Or anything else, for that matter.  Jesus says they will know that we are His disciples by the way in which we love one another.  Love within the Body of Christ will cause the whole world to sit up and take notice that we are with Him (Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Jn 13:31-38, 275.)

We have seen this on and off again throughout church history.  Tertullian (155-230 AD), one of the early church fathers, stated that the heathens of his day took notice of the fact that Christians loved one another.  Love within the Body of Christ caused the world to pay attention to the Church.  The Christians of His day stood out, because they reflected the love of Christ to one another.  However, in contrast, a couple hundred years later, Chrysostom (349-407 AD) would  make the opposite comment.  He said that nothing caused the heathen to stumble as much as the fact that Christians did not love one another they way that they should (Morris, NICNT, John, 633.)

Which one of these 2 extremes describes Christians today?  Does the world see us continually loving one another and sacrificing for one another?  Does the world look at us and know that we are Jesus’ disciples?  Or does our lack of love for one another provide a stumbling block to the world?  Does the world around us look at us and see nothing special?  Can they see Jesus in the way we love one another?

Notice that Jesus says they will know we are His disciples if we love one another.  Notice that this is a conditional statement.  If we love one another… then the world will know that we are His disciples.  If we don’t love one another… then the world will not know that we with Him.  Each of these commands has a conditionality attached to it.  Jesus recognizes that we will not always fulfill this command.  We are to strive for to live our lives in obedience to this command, but we will fall short of this command.  If we are honest with ourselves… then this command serves as another example of our sinfulness.  We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)  We all fall short of that which God demands of us.  That is why we need a Savior.  That is why Jesus died for us.  Even as Christians… born again by the Spirit of God to new life in Christ… we still fall short… and we still need a Savior.  This command should humble us anew and bring us all to the foot of the cross to confess our sins and ask that God will forgive us our sins, because Jesus died for us (I Jn 1:9.)

If we are a Christian and we are convicted by this command… then what we can do?  How can deal with our sin in this area?

Begin with confession.  We should all acknowledge our failure to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  Confess this sin before God and trust that He will forgive us and cleanse us from this sin.

Then spend much time meditating on the love which Jesus has shown us.  Jesus laid down His life for us!  He died and was buried and rose again so that we might be saved and reconciled to God.  Ponder the greatness of His love for you!  Praise God for this every day!

Something tends to happen to us as we meditate on the cross.  We become more loving people.  John tells us in his first epistle that love is from God (I Jn 4:7) and we only know what love is through the cross of Jesus Christ (I Jn 4:9.)  As we ponder the love of God in Jesus Christ… we come to understand love and manifest this love to others. 

I would urge you, Christian… spend much time pondering the love of God in Jesus Christ… and pray that God will bring forth this same love in your relationships with one another.  And may your whole community come to know that you are His disciples!

 

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday morning, September 28, 2008:

Scripture is abundantly clear that “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).  God is a holy and righteous God… and we aren’t.  He is morally perfect… and we aren’t.  He never sins… and yet rarely does a moment go by when we don’t sin.  And this means we are in trouble, because sin is detestable to God.  It is an abomination to Him… meaning it smells bad.  He is angry with human beings because of our sin.  But because of His great love which He had for the world, God sent His only Son, Jesus, who lived the perfect life we could never live, earning the reward of heaven for us… and who died for our sin upon the cross… who was buried and rose again the third day so that we could have victory over sin and death and hell.

God did all the work to save us.  To receive this free give, God expects us to repent of our sins and trust in the work which God has done for us in Jesus in order to receive this salvation.

Have you done this?  Then you are a Christian.  You have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  You have entered into a new relationship with God through Jesus… but now what?  What does God expect of us in the Christian life?

Last week, we looked at the first responsibility in the Christian life which is to love God with all that we are.  Today we will look at a second responsibility of our relationship with God… and it involves the way in which we love others.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 22:34-40

Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) – 34  But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38  This is the great and first commandment. 39  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In context, this event takes place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and a lawyer… an expert in the Law from among the Pharisees… has come to Jesus in an effort to trick Him by asking what he thinks is an unanswerable question, “What is the most important commandment?”  The rabbis in the first century argued about this and couldn’t seem to come to a consensus.  But Jesus is not stumped.  And in answering this question, Jesus tells us the two most important responsibilities in the Christian life.

As we saw last week, Jesus makes it abundantly clear here that the great and foremost… or first… commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and (as recorded in Mark 12:30) with all our strength.  This comes first.  This must precede everything else in the Christian life.  If we get this wrong, then we will get everything else wrong. 

Why is that?  Why must love for God come first?  Because this provides the motivation for everything else in the Christian life.  When we love Him… when we feel a deep-seated, all-encompassing passion for God… we are drawn nearer and nearer to Him and we express this inward affection toward God in our outward actions.  Loving God with all that we are means that we will willingly do all that we possibly can to nurture and strengthen this relationship.  We will be drawn into conformity with His will.  What is important to God will become more and more important to us as we come to love Him more and more.  As our love for God deepens, we will seek to do that which strengthens our relationship with Him and reject anything which could harm this relationship. 

We see this all the time in our earthly relationships.  For example, I love my wife dearly.  She is more important to me than anyone else on this planet.  Because of this, I greatly enjoy spending time with her.  I’m not required to spend time with her.  I want to spend time with her.  I don’t want to do anything which might hurt our relationship.  If I love her… if I truly love her… then I will live my life in such a way that our relationship is nurtured.  For example, I will not commit adultery, because the fleeting pleasures of sin do not compare with the ongoing relationship I have with the woman I love.  Now I don’t always do everything perfect in my relationship with my wife… just ask her… she’ll tell you… but my love for her should lead me to want to live my life in such a way that our relationship grows stronger.  Love drives us to do that which will build up the relationship and it drives us to avoid those things which will tear down the relationship.

The same is true with loving God.  If we love Him with all that we are… if He is the most important Person to us in all the universe… then we will naturally seek to draw nearer to Him.  We will want to do that which strengthens our relationship with Him.  The Christian life is not intended to be a list of do’s and don’t’s… it is a love relationship with our Creator God.  When we love Him passionately, then we instinctually do that which pleases Him and avoid that which hinders our relationship with Him.  We don’t do this perfectly, but our love for Him will drive us to do that which is pleasing to Him.

This is why loving God with our whole being is the first commandment.  It must precede everything else, because it provides the motivation for everything else God expects of us in the Christian life.

The first commandment also provides us with an understanding of the other responsibilities which God has laid upon us.  Notice how Jesus says that the second commandment is “like it” (μοιος.)  The second commandment is similar to the first.  They are not exactly the same, but they are alike.

How are these two commands similar?  They both involve love… which we defined last week as an affection which leads us to take action on behalf of another.  Both of these commands require us to have love for others and do something about it.  Both of these commands require us to feel affection for another and take action on their behalf. 

But although these commands are similar, they are also different in two distinct ways. 

First… the object of love is different.  The first commandment involves love for God and the second involves love for our neighbor. 

The second way in which these differ is to the extent to which this love is to be expressed.  We are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.  We are to love God with all that we are as a human being.  But we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

So, with this said, we are going to look at two things in this message:  What does it mean to love someone “as we love ourselves”?  And who is our neighbor?

The second commandment is like it… “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  What does it mean to love someone as ourselves? 

Let me start out by telling you what it does not mean.  Some preachers in recent years have taken this to be a command to love ourselves.  We hear it said all the time… if you don’t love yourself, then how can you ever love anyone else?  That is not at all what Jesus is saying here.  He is not commanding us to love ourselves, He assumes that we already love ourselves, because we all do.  In fact, Scripture never commands us to love ourselves.  When love of self is specifically mentioned (as in II Timothy 3:2), it is always mentioned as a negative trait.  We don’t need to be told to love ourselves… we all love ourselves.  Probably more than we should.   We are all inherently selfish and self-serving.  Scripture says that naturally we all seek our own wants and needs over the wants and needs of others (James 4:1-2, Rom 3:10-18.)  Loving ourselves comes naturally and that is not hard to prove.  For example, why are people trampled to death in fleeing from burning buildings?  Because we love ourselves and we strive to flee impending doom.  We all seek to provide for our own needs (even if it is at someone else’s expense.)  Even suicide is ultimately an act of self-love.  It is seeking an end to our own life despite the ramifications on the world around us.  It is desiring an end to our own suffering and not caring how that affects others.

We all love ourselves… every one of us.  This isn’t something that we need to work at.  It comes naturally.  This is not to say that loving ourselves is always bad.  I just think it is important for us to note that this is not the command here.  Loving ourselves is not something we need to strive for.  This is something we already do.

So think with me for a moment.  Remember… biblically, love is more than a feeling.  It is an affection which leads to action on behalf of another.  So, if we love ourselves, then how do we express that love for ourselves?  What do we do as a result of our love for ourselves?  Let me suggest three ways in which we express love for ourselves:

1)      We look out for ourselves. 

We take care of ourselves.  We see to it that we get enough food to eat.  We make sure that we stay warm at night.  We can’t always do this as much as we would like… sometimes we can’t provide for ourselves, but we certainly try to take care of ourselves.

2)      We value ourselves. 

None of us have a perfect self-image, but all people who are fairly emotionally healthy tend to see themselves as people of worth.  We recognize that we have value in and of ourselves.  Often we fall into sin here and begin to think that we are actually more important in the scope of the universe than we actually are.  But no one who is healthy thinks they are truly and utterly worthless.  Even when we do things that we shouldn’t do… even when we fall on hard times… even when we make the worst of mistakes… we still believe that we have value.  We still recognize that we have some significance in the universe.

3)      We want what is best for ourselves. 

We never hope that things will go badly for us… do we?  We never think, “Gee, I hope I don’t get that raise at work.”  Or, “I really wish I would get audited by the IRS this year.”  Instead, we seek our own joy and happiness.  No one consciously goes looking for their own unhappiness.  Sometimes we unintentionally sabotage ourselves in our pursuit of joy, but no healthy person intentionally goes out of their way to pursue what makes us unhappy.  Ultimately, loving ourselves means wanting what is best for ourselves.

There are probably many other ways in which we could describe what Jesus means by loving ourselves.  But let’s just take these for a moment and plug them back into the context of Matthew 22:39.  Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor “as ourselves.”  We are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  We are to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.

This means that part of loving our neighbor as ourselves is to look out for their needs.  We must provide for their needs.  This doesn’t just mean just hoping things work out for people.  It means taking action to provide for their needs.  When we are hungry, we feed ourselves… if we can… because we love ourselves.  When we are cold, we warm ourselves… if we can… because we love ourselves.  If we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, then we will do the same for them.  We will look out for their needs.  We will feed them when they are hungry.  We will clothe them when they are naked.  We will provide for their needs to the best of our ability.  Now, we can’t always meet everyone’s needs… just as we cannot always meet our own needs… but we should demonstrate the same commitment to meeting the needs of others as we do for ourselves.

If we are going to love our neighbors as ourselves then we must see our neighbors as people of value.  Regardless of the mistakes they have made… regardless of where they are in life… regardless of their needs… we should see them as people of worth… made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and crowned by Him with glory and honor (Ps 8:1).  Even if they don’t look like it or act like it or smell like it.  We should treat them as people of dignity and worth.

If we are going to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves then we should want the best for them.  Love demands that we seek the joy and happiness of our neighbor…after all… that is how we love ourselves.  We should not simply provide for the basic needs of others, we should seek the very best for them, because that is how we love ourselves

Do you see the radical nature of this command? 

This runs contradictory to our very nature.  We naturally want what is best for us and we don’t want to be bothered by others.

This runs contradictory to our culture.  We live in a culture which is very selfish.  We are conditioned to always ask the question “What’s in it for me?”  We are constantly told to “look out for Number 1”!  We are being told all the time that we need to work hard to love ourselves.  But the problem is, most of us are working so hard at loving ourselves that we never have the time or energy or interest in loving others.

Does the thought of loving others this way make you feel uncomfortable?  It does me.  This is devastating to my self-righteousness, because I know that I don’t do this well.  I don’t even come close.  I fail here all the time… and I don’t like that.  Naturally… in my sinfulness… I want to find a way to wiggle out of this command.  Surely God doesn’t expect me to love everyone like this?  If I can only narrow the field so that my “neighbor” is simply my family and closest friends, then maybe I can get close to meeting this expectation.  So the question arises… who is my neighbor???

Jesus is quoting from Leviticus 19:18 here, which reads…

Leviticus 19:18 (ESV) – 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Notice that “neighbor” is in parallel with “the sons of your own people”… meaning fellow Jews.  And this is the way in which most Jewish rabbis would have taken this command.  They would say that this is a command to love those among the people of God.  Therefore, if we were to apply this thinking to our modern context, then this would be a command to love within the Body of Christ.  This is, of course, true and commanded by God, although, as we will see weeks to come, the love we are commanded to have for one another is something different than what we see here.  But Jesus is saying something much more than simply love the people of God.  The term translated “neighbor” is the Greek term πλησίον, which literally refers to something or someone which is near to you.  Literally, Jesus is saying that we are to love anyone who crosses our path with this type of love.  Not just our family.  Not just our friends.  Not just the people of God, but anyone who crosses our path.

Sometimes this is harder than others.  We tend to be drawn to some people more than others.  Let’s face it… some people are easier to love than others.  None of us have to stir ourselves up to act in love toward our children and grandchildren.  But what about the homeless guy down the street?  Or the boss who treated you real bad?  Or your former spouse?  These are people who cross our paths, therefore they are our neighbors.  Jesus says that we have to love them as much as we love ourselves.

Jesus makes this abundantly clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.   We all know the story right?  A Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is mugged and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest and a Levite… the religious elite of Israel… both passed by and saw him lying there, but they had more important things to do and they left him there for dead.  But along came a Samaritan… an enemy of the Jewish people… and when he saw this man who crossed his path, he felt compassion for him.  And, despite their cultural differences… despite their ethnic animosity… he stopped and took care of him.  He bandaged his wounds and put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him and paid for him to stay at the inn even after he had to leave.

Do you remember Jesus’ point in telling the parable?  It was an effort to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29.)  He was refuting an effort to wiggle out of this command. His answer was that our neighbor is more than our friends and family… more than the person who is like us… our neighbor is anyone and everyone God sovereignly brings across our path, even if they are people we find personally distasteful.

The point Jesus seems to be trying to make is that rather than spending our time trying to identify whether or not God intends for us to love this person in front of us, we are to concern ourselves with being a loving person to all those God puts in our path… whether we find ourselves naturally drawn to this person or whether we find them distasteful.  We are to love all those God brings into our lives to the same degree that we love ourselves.

When I come to this passage of Scripture and I see that I am commanded to “love my neighbor as myself”, I want to find a loophole.  I don’t do this well.  None of us do.  I fail at this.  All of us fail at this.

That is why we need a Savior.  Jesus died for all our sins… including the sin of not loving others as much as we love ourselves.  When we come to passages of Scripture like this, we should not only see what God expects of us, but we should see how much we fall short of the glory of God.  And this should drive us to the cross.

Maybe you are here today and you have never trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin.  Then I would point you to this passage of Scripture and I would say, “Do you love your neighbor?  Do you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself?  Do you succeed in loving all those who cross your path as much as you love yourself all the time?”  If the answer is no, then you are a sinner and the consequence for that sin is death.  Not just physical death, but spiritual death and separation from God for all eternity in hell.  That is what all of us deserve, because none of us succeed in this.  Not me.  Not you.  None of us.  We are all sinners.

But Jesus bore the punishment we deserve for our sin when He died on the cross.  And He rose from the grave victorious over death and hell on the third day.  And God promises us that if we repent of our sin and begin trusting in Jesus to save us from our sin, then we can be forgiven and God will freely give us eternal life.

Have you repented of your sin?  Are you trusting in Jesus to save you from your sin?

Maybe you are a Christian here today.  You have repented of your sins and you are trusting in Jesus to save you in the Day of Judgment.  Then this is what God expects of you.  He expects us to love those He brings across our paths as much as we love ourselves.  This isn’t easy.  We won’t do it perfectly.  But we must strive for this.  Why?  Because this is pleasing to God… and we love Him… and we want to nurture our relationship with Him by striving to be and do all that He expects of us.

How do we do this?  How can we grow in love for our neighbors?  It is not easy, but let me offer a few suggestions for how to apply this to our lives…

First… we must all work on our love relationship with God above all else.  Everything else flows from this.  If we don’t love God, then we can’t love our neighbor.  Loving God with our whole being results in a softening and changing of our affections toward others. 

Therefore, if you want to love others as God expects us to, then strive to know Him more.  Seek Him in His Word.  Spend time alone with God in prayer.  Spend time in fellowship with other Christians and come to know Him more and more.  Meditate on the love of God for you.  Never forget how God has loved you… a detestable sinner… at great cost to Himself.  Remind yourself every day what Jesus has done to save you.  As we grow in our affection for God, we will begin to reflect His character more and more in our lives and we will love those around us as God demands of us.

Secondly… we need to learn to recognize our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am so self-absorbed that I don’t even notice those who are in need all around me.  Sadly… to my shame… sometimes I do see them, but like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, I ignore them out of my own selfishness.

Think about all the of people God brings into our lives…friends… family members… coworkers… people in your neighborhood… people at church… the guy down at the ball field… the waitress at the restaurant… the guy who bags your groceries.  How many are there?  Too many to count. 

The fact that God brings them across our path makes them our neighbor.  We can’t meet all the needs of every person we encounter, but we must love them to the best of our ability.

I would urge you to take notice of the people God brings across your paths.  Be on the lookout for them.  Begin to think about them as your neighbor… as someone God has brought into your life so that you could show His love to them.

Third… draw near to those God brings near to us. It is hard to love someone we don’t really know.  We can show mercy to people in need that we don’t know, but it is hard to really love them as much as we love ourselves.  To do that, we must get to know them. 

Spend time with the people God sovereignly brings across your path.  Get to know them on a personal level.  Know their wounds… know their needs… learn about them so you can care for them.  We won’t really be able to love those we don’t draw near to.

Fourth… be a neighbor to those God brings across your path.  Reach out and meet their needs.  Take action on their behalf.  Do something for them.  I know this gets messy.  I know that it will cost you… your time… your money… your energy… your hobbies and entertainment.  It will cost you… perhaps dearly.  But ask yourself this, “How can I pour my life into theirs?”

This isn’t easy, but if we are Christians, then we don’t have a choice.  This is not an optional part of the Christian life, this is the second responsibility which God demands of His people.  This is a command from the sovereign God of the universe to all of His people of all time.

Finally… when we fall short of this expectation which God has laid upon us, we need to come back to the gospel and confess our sin before God and turn away from our unloving attitudes and trust in Jesus to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.  The Christian life is not about being perfect.  It is about loving God and loving others and trusting in Jesus to save us when we fall short.

I urge you… as a Christian… to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  This is the great and foremost commandment.  Then love the people around you… as much as you love yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the expectations of God for us in the Christian life.

 

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday, September 14, 2008.

Do you believe in hell?  It seems like very few people do anymore.  And no one… virtually no one thinks they will end up there.  A study conducted in 2003 showed that less than 1% of Americans think they might go to hell.  Could it be that is because no one talks about hell much anymore? 

I remember as a kid hearing pulpit pounding, fire and brimstone sermons by old Baptist preachers on a regular basis.  And I remember being scared to death (not literally) that I might go to hell.  But no one seems scared anymore.  Could that be… at least in part… because no one talks about hell anymore?

Today we come to a passage of Scripture which contains probably the best-known and most-loved verse in all the Bible… 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.” (Jn 3:16.)  It is not a verse which we typically associate with hell, but that is probably because we don’t think through the whole context of this verse.

What does this passage really teach us about God?  What does it teach us about ourselves?  What does it teach us about Jesus?  What does it teach us about heaven and hell?

John 3:16-21 (ESV) – 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Now in most of our Bibles this is in red letters, which implies that these words were spoken by Jesus.  However, most scholars don’t think that is actually the case.  It is clear that somewhere in this passage, the Apostle John stops recording the words of Jesus to Nicodemus and he begins offering some commentary on Jesus’ teaching.  For technical reasons, I think John’s commentary begins right here.  For example, Jesus never speaks of Himself as “the only Son” (τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν).  However, Jesus does speak of Himself as “the Son of Man” (τν υἱὸν το νθρώπου) as in verse 14.  Therefore it seems like what follows here are the explanatory words of John and not a quotation from Jesus.

Either way… whether these are the words of Jesus or the words of the inspired Apostle John are irrelevant… because this is the very Word of God to us.

As we look at this passage today, we are going to see three things…

                                                            1)      We will start with some bad news…

                                                            2)      Then we will see some good news…

                                                            3)      Then we will see how we should respond to this news.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish…” (Jn 3:16.)  “Perishing.”  We don’t talk much about “perishing.”  It’s kind of an old fashioned word.  The Greek term is πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi) and it means to be destroyed… or to be lost… or to disappear.  Most importantly… it means to come under the judgment of God for our sin.  It speaks of the consequences of our sinfulness.

Over and over again, Scripture affirms that “perishing” or “death” is the consequence of sin…

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV) – 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV) – 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

Romans 6:23 (ESV) – 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Death.  Destruction.  Perishing.  This is the consequence of our sin.  That is what John is talking about here. 

But what is this perishing like?  To answer that question we have to look beyond this passage of Scripture and see how God describes the consequences of sin elsewhere. 

In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that those who perish… those who face the judgment of God for their sin… will be cast into a place “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  It is a place where the fire never goes out… a place prepared for demonic beings… but used by God to judge sinful people as well.

Several other passages describe for us in detail what the experience of “perishing” will be like…

Revelation 14:10-11 (ESV) – 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) – 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”  (also Mark 9:43-48.)

The imagery here is of an ancient garbage dump.  There was a valley outside of Jerusalem called Gehenna, where the city’s garbage was burned.  This was also the place where the dead bodies of those who were unclean or foreigners were disposed of.  I know this is disgusting, but it is important to understand the imagery here, so that we can grasp the full significance of what it means to perish.  As the bodies decomposed, they would be infested with maggots… worms.  But eventually the bodies would decay completely and the maggots would die.  But not here.  Those who perish will be always decomposing.  They will be forever falling apart at the seams… deteriorating always… because their worms will never die.

In Matthew 8:12, Jesus describes this experience as being cast into “outer darkness.”  This probably implies loneliness.  Those who perish will not be comforted by others in their torment.  They will suffer alone. And this suffering will be great.  In this same verse, Jesus says that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who are perishing.  How much pain must you be in to grind your teeth forever and ever?

This suffering… this agony… this “perishing” will never end.  Not only do most of these passages I just mentioned speak of the eternality of “perishing”, but this passage here in John does as well.  Notice how “perishing” is contrasted with “eternal life.”  If the life described here goes on forever… then this perishing must last forever as well.

Let the full weight of this sink in.  This is awful.  But this is what we all deserve.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)  We have all failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength.  None of us love our neighbor as ourselves.  We have all lied and stolen.  We have all coveted what others have.  We are all sinners.  And the wages of that sin is death (Rom 6:23)… perishing.  This is what we all deserve.  I deserve it.  You deserve it.  Our spouses deserve it.  Our children and grandchildren deserve it.

And that is clear here in this passage.  In verse 16 we see that if God had not intervened and sent His only Son into the world… we would all perish.  In verse 18 we read “whoever does not believe in Him… meaning in Jesus… he is condemned already.”

That describes all of us naturally.  None of us are born believing in Jesus.  As we saw last week, unless there is a supernatural work of God causing us to be “born again” then we cannot even “see” the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3.)  Unless God does something miraculous in us… we can’t even begin to believe in Jesus.  Naturally… we are all condemned already.  We are all on our way to perishing.

This is all very bad news.  But don’t blow it off.  Let it sink in.  Because unless we realize the full depth of the bad news… we won’t really appreciate the beauty and grace of the good news.  The diamond never appears as beautiful until we see it held up against a black backdrop.  It is only when it is contrasted with a dark background that the true brilliance of the diamond shows forth.  The same is true here.  Until we see the blackness of the bad news, we cannot fully see the beauty of the good news.

And the good news is that “God so loved the world…  This is an amazing statement.  God loved the world.  Not just a few people in some remote part of the world.  Not simply Jewish people… but all types of people… men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  God’s love extends out to all.

But even more amazing is that God loves the type of people found here in the world.  You see, when John speaks of the “world” it is always a reference to the sinfulness and rebelliousness of human beings.  The world hates God and wants nothing to do with Him (Jn 15:18.)  Yet God loved the world anyway.  And this is no mere emotion.  It wasn’t that God simply had some warm, fuzzy feelings about the world.  No!  His love for the world resulted in Him taking action on behalf of the world.

Out of love for the world, God “gave His only Son…  His “only Son.”  This speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus.  This speaks of the preciousness of Jesus.  God didn’t just give an angel or a cherubim or seraphim.  God gave the only One like Him… His only Son… very God of very God.  God gave His beloved Son on behalf of people who had sinned against Him and rejected Him.

What does it mean that He gave His only Son?  Verse 17 tells us… “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  He gave Jesus by sending Him into the world… not in order to condemn the world, but He sent Jesus to bring salvation.  Jesus Himself makes this clear in Luke 19:10

Luke 19:10 (ESV) – 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The interesting thing in that verse is the word “lost.”  It is the Greek verb πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi)… the same word we have here translated “perish.”  He came find the ones who were perishing… those who were already condemned… and to save them.  God didn’t send Jesus on a “seek and destroy” mission.  He sent Him on a rescue mission.  This was a mission that would ultimately cost Him everything, for Jesus said…

Mark 10:45 (ESV) – 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A price had to be paid to save us from our condemnation.  We might say… someone had to pay our fine.  Some had to “perish” for us.  And Jesus is that Person.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV) – 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

God entered human existence in His only Son, Jesus, so that He could perish on our behalf and we could be saved from perishing.

But the good news is even more than the fact that we can avoid “perishing.”  No.  We can have “eternal life”.

What does it mean to have eternal life?  It is the exact opposite of “perishing.”  Whereas perishing is experiencing torment forever and ever as a consequence of our sin… eternal life is experiencing the blessings of God forever and ever.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of this anywhere in the Bible is found in Revelation 21:3-5

Revelation 21:3-5 (ESV) – 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This is eternal life. 

1)      It is being with God forever.  It is Him being our God and we being His people for all time.  Despite our sin… it is being reconciled to God and being in His presence forevermore.

2)      It is no longer experiencing pain.  God will wipe way every tear.  There is no more mourning or crying or pain.

3)      It is being set free from the power of death.  No longer will we live in fear of death.  Because it is gone.

4)      And so will be all “the former things”… everything that is fallen and broken and sinful on this earth.  It will all be no more.

5)      Because all things will be made new.  Including us.  Our bodies and souls will be made new and incorruptible (I Cor 15:52-53.)  Whereas those who perish will be deteriorating for eternity… we will be imperishable… incorruptible… perfect in every way forever and ever.

This is good news!  Despite our sin, we can escape from perishing and be freely given eternal life, but only if we respond rightly to this news. How must we respond to this?  We must “believe” in Jesus.  This is by far the most important verb in this whole passage.  It occurs 4x here.  In verse 16, it is those who believe in Jesus who will not perish, but have eternal life.  In verse 18, it is those who believe in Jesus who are not condemned, while those who do not believe in Him are already condemned.

This is more than simply believing facts about Jesus.  It means to actively trust in Him.  It means to come to Him in faith and rely upon Him to save us.  This is made clear in verses 19-21.  Light has come into the world and this Light is Jesus.  But naturally people love darkness rather than light, because our deeds are evil.

Picture with me for a moment being alone in the middle nowhere.  It is night.  It is dark.  There are no man-made lights anywhere.  The night sky is veiled in clouds.  There is no moon.  There are no stars.  There is no light period.  You are surrounded by inky blackness.  You can’t even see your hand in front of your face.  You are alone and covered in blackness.

Then suddenly you are bathed in brilliantly white light.  The light is streaming down from a helicopter overhead and you are completely illuminated by this light.

Is this good news?  Or bad news?

It depends on your situation.  If you are lost in the wilderness, then this is good news.  It means you have been rescued!  You are saved!  This is good news.

But if you have just escaped from prison and are on the run for crimes you have committed… then this is bad news.  You have been found!  You will not escape.  There is nothing but an even greater judgment awaiting you.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (Jn 3:20.)

Those who are still actively living in sin… running from God… seeking their own will, rather than the will of their Creator… they will run from the Light.  They will flee from the presence of Jesus.  Because they don’t want to be caught.  They are trying to escape.  They don’t want their sin exposed.  They don’t want to face the humiliation of repentance.  They would rather run.

But you can’t really run from God.  One day everyone will stand in His presence and all wicked deeds will be exposed and we will perish forever, unless we humbly come to Jesus in faith, repenting of our sin and pleading with God to forgive us because Jesus died for our sin.

This is what it means to “do what is true.”  This refers to responding rightly to the Truth… which is Jesus Himself.  Those who come to the True Light…Jesus… know the truth about who they are… that they are sinners.  And they know the truth about who Jesus is… that He is the Son of God who was died and rose again for their sins.  And they act appropriately.  They repent of their sins and trust in Jesus.  This is what it means to “do the truth.”

Those who know the truth and respond rightly come running into the arms of Jesus… “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Notice carefully what this says.  This person comes boldly into the light… not for his own gain… but so that everyone can see what God has done in Him.  In the final analysis, we all deserve to perish forever because of our sins and if you are saved… if you are trusting in Jesus alone to save you… then one day it will be clearly seen what God has done in you… to the glory of His love and grace.

It’s no wonder that John 3:16 is one of the most memorized verses in all the Bible.  But it isn’t enough to simply know this verse.  We must understand the truth contained here.

1)      We must understand the bad news… we are sinners who deserve to perish forever.

2)      We must understand the good news… that Jesus is the only Son of God who died for our sins, so that we could be saved and have eternal life… all because God loved the world and sinful people like us in it.

3)      And we must come to the Light… we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus… and receive the free gift of eternal life.

Notice that there are only two types of people described here… those who are perishing and those who have eternal life.  Those who are condemned and those who are saved.  Those who run from the Light and those who run to the Light.

Which type of person are you?

Are you one of those who is fleeing from Jesus?  Or have you come to Him?

Are you drawing nearer to Jesus… or are you drawing nearer to perishing?

There is a heaven to be gained… and a hell to be shunned.  And where we spend eternity is solely based upon our relationship with Jesus.

Are you trusting in Him?

Is so, then my challenge to you is simple.  Remember these things.  Don’t forget them.  Remember the bad news.  Remind yourself every day that you are a sinner who deserves to perish.  Remember the good news.  Remember constantly how much God loves you and what He has done to save you.  And may your whole life be about others seeing clearly what God has done in you.

 

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on the morning of September 7, 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 right on the heels of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem.   He was new on the religious scene in Jerusalem, performing miracles and standing up against the abuses which took place in the temple.  And this didn’t go unnoticed.  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”.

What signs is this referring to?  We don’t know for sure.  It could be the cleansing of the temple, which we saw last week was prophesied by both the prophet Malachi and Zechariah (Malachi 3:1-4, Zechariah 14:21), but we can’t know for sure.  None of the gospel writers tell us any of the signs which He did in Jerusalem prior to this.  But we are told here 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?

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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The following is a sermon preached on Sunday morning at Sunnyside Baptist Church on August 31, 2008.

The worship of God is a serious matter… isn’t it?  I believe the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets it right in the first question…“What is the chief end of man?”  The answer…“To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  In other words…we are created to worship Him… and to assist others in worshipping Him by making Him known.

Yet it is so easy to fall short of this.  How often are we more concerned about what we want in worship rather than being concerned solely for the glory of God alone? How easy it is for us to pollute the worship of God by seeking our own selfish desires… our own selfish gains.

Doesn’t this mar the name of God?  Doesn’t this pollute the worship of the living and true God?

What should our response be to this?  What should our response be to selfishness in the name of God?

I think we will see quite clearly in our passage of Scripture today what Jesus’ response was to those seeking their own selfish gain in the worship of God.

John 2:12-22 (ESV) – 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 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.

We are told that Jesus went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and disciples… where He stayed for a short while.  This seems to have been His “base of operations” while He was in Galilee. 

Although this may be something of a bunny trail, it is interesting that here we have a mention of Jesus’ “brothers.”  Mark also speaks of the brothers of Jesus.  In fact, Mark gives us their names (and tells us that He had sisters as well)…

Mark 6:3 (ESV) – 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”…

I know that there are some who try to say that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus and that these are “cousins” of Jesus, rather than half-brothers.  But the Greek won’t support that.  The term here is δελφός…brother, not νεψιός… cousin.  This isn’t the major point of the text, but it is important for us to notice.  Jesus had brothers and we will see them again later in this gospel and we will learn that they did not fully believe in Him as the Messiah… at least at this stage in the ministry of Jesus.

 Jesus went down to Capernaum with His family and His disciples, but He didn’t remain there long before He had to make a trip to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

We talked about the Passover a couple of weeks ago when we looked at John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), but we would do well to refresh our memories again today.  The Passover was one of the most important religious celebrations of the whole year to the 1st century Jew.  It was a time when the Jewish people remembered the way in which God had delivered them out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  You remember the story… Pharaoh repeatedly refused to let the Israelites go and God brought judgment down upon them… 10 plagues in all… culminating in the death of the all the firstborn among the Egyptians.  But in pouring out His wrath on the Egyptians, God provided a way for the Israelites to be “passed over” in judgment.  They took a lamb… a spotless lamb… a lamb without any blemish… and they shed its blood.   And the blood was spread on the door frame of the house.  And when the angel of death passed by and he saw the blood on the door posts, he passed over that house.  They were saved because the lamb’s blood was shed for them.

The Passover feast was the time when all the Israelites would remember what God had done that night.  And ultimately it wasn’t an option whether they wanted to remember this or not.  God had commanded them to remember this feast and to do so every able-bodied adult male was required by the Law to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast (Deut 16:16.)

There is a theological point to be had here.  It tells us something about God.  God expects His people to remember the salvation that He has provided for us.  In fact, it tells us a little more than that, doesn’t it?  He demands that we remember His salvation.  God commanded the Old Testament saints to gather together and remember the salvation which God had provided for them during the Passover and other religious feasts celebrated annually.  As New Testament Christians, we gather together and specifically remember the salvation which God has provided for us when we partake of the Lord’s Supper (among other times as well.)

How often do we take the time to stop and remember what God has done to save us?  How often do we stop to simply meditate on the gospel and worship the God who gave His only begotten Son to save us from our sin?

God expected every Jewish male to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate their salvation and worship Him.  Think about how this would have impacted the city of Jerusalem.  It is estimated that the average population of Jerusalem at this time was somewhere between 120,000 to 200,000 people.  But during Passover, the population would swell to over 3 million people (New Bible Dictionary, “Passover.”)

Picture this for a moment.  Think about what that would do in the city of Jerusalem.  It would be overflowing with people.  There wouldn’t be enough room for everyone.  Wouldn’t all the room rates at the local inns go up?  Wouldn’t you expect the price of food to spike as well?  When there are that many people around, there tends to be a lot of opportunities to make money.  Even though this was intended to be a time when God’s people would come together to remember the free gift of their salvation, there were still those who were concerned about making a buck.  More on this in just a minute…

Jesus is obedient to the Law of God.  He travels to Jerusalem in order to remember the way in which God had delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and, when He arrives, He enters the temple.

Now what was the significance of the temple? 

The temple was the dwelling place of God among His people.  It was the place where God’s glory dwelt in a very real, observable sense.  When someone wanted to draw near to God… they went to Jerusalem.  But not just Jerusalem… they ascended Mount Zion and entered the temple.  This is where people would come to commune with God.

Which leads to the second purpose of the temple… it was the place of worship.  If fact, in the Old Testament, it was the only appointed place where acceptable worship could be offered to God (i.e. Deut 16:5-6.)  Jerusalem was the place where God chose for His name to dwell and the temple in Jerusalem was the only acceptable place to worship God.

Third, it was the place where atonement was made for sin.  It was the place where sin was taken care of.  The pious Jew recognized that they were a sinner and they knew this needed to be dealt with.  And for this to be accomplished, something had to die on their behalf for them to be saved.  The temple was where the sacrifice would die.  The temple was the place where the sacrifice would be presented before God.  The temple was the place where sin was dealt with.

This was a holy place.  It was set apart to God for His glory.  It was a place which was intended for God-honoring purposes alone.  It was intended to be a place where humble, repentant sinners would come to worship the God of their salvation. 

Yet this is not what Jesus finds at the temple in Jerusalem.  When He arrived there, instead of humble worshippers seeking forgiveness of their sins, rejoicing in the God of their salvation, what He finds is appalling to Him.  In the Court of the Gentiles, there was a multitude of animals… oxen, sheep and pigeons or doves.

What were these animals there for?  They were on sale.  Worshippers could get their sacrifice for the Passover right there in the temple.  One-stop shopping.  Buy your sacrifice… take care of your sin… all in one fell swoop.

Now this business had begun some time before in an effort to assist people who were traveling great distances to Jerusalem.   They didn’t have comfortable cars and trailers and freeways in order to make travel easy.  Most of them had to walk.  And anyone who has ever taken children on an extended road trip knows how difficult it can be.  Can you imagine having to bring along the family sheep as well?  So a business sprung up outside Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley where worshippers could purchase an animal for their sacrifice.  Now there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but as things often do, it continued to morph into the sinful thing which Jesus found this day.  You see… if it was convenient to buy your animals just outside of Jerusalem rather than bring them over the road, then it would be even more convenient to purchase them right there on the temple property.  It made things much easier.

But there was also another ulterior motive for moving things inside the temple.  It was easier to control the business, for there in the temple, it would fall under the sole authority of the chief priests.  And they had a good system for making money here.  All sacrifices offered to God had to be “without spot or blemish.”  To do otherwise was sinful and forbidden by God (Deut 17:1.)  In other words, the sacrificial animals had to be perfect.  If they weren’t… then the priests would refuse to offer them on the altar to God.  There is some evidence to suggest that the priests would simply judge many of the animals brought “from home” to be blemished and, therefore, unacceptable.  Unless, of course, you purchased one of their fine, spotless animals right there on the temple property.  They kind of had the corner on the market.  And things were pretty profitable for them.

And this wasn’t the only way to turn a profit in the temple.  There were the moneychangers there as well.

The Law demanded that every male over the age of 20 pay a ½ shekel temple tax (Exodus 30:13.)  Now it was debated as to how often one had to pay this tax, but the Sadducees, who controlled the temple, interpreted this to be a ½ shekel tax every year.  And they were pretty nit-picky about how you paid the tax.  You couldn’t just pay it with any old coin. It had to be paid in Tyrian silver coins, because of their high level of purity.  Now these were not the typical coins which most people used in day-to-day business.  So, in order to pay in Tyrian silver coin, the common coinage of the day had to be exchanged.  And you could get this done right there in the temple for you… for a small fee, of course.  It is said that the moneychangers charged a fee of approximately 12 ½ percent to perform this transaction (F.F. Bruce, page 74.)  12 ½ percent so that a person could honor God and provide for the needs of His temple.

Do you see what was going on here?  People were getting rich off the worship of God.  Jewish people and some Gentile God-fearers traveled from all over the ancient world to celebrate their salvation and worship the God who had delivered them.  They traveled from all over the world to come to the one place… the only place in all the world… where they could seek the forgiveness of sins.  And people were there to greet them.  Not in an effort to point them to God.  Not in an effort to assist them in understanding God and seeking salvation from their sin.  No.  People were there to make a buck off of them.  People were there to take advantage of the humble, repentant sinners as they strived to worship God.

Unfortunately this hasn’t gone away.  There have always been unscrupulous people trying to get rich off those who are honestly and humbly seeking God.  Whether it is through the selling of indulgences in the days of Martin Luther or televangelists today,  promising prosperity and financial blessing in this life…if only you will send in your “seed money” to their ministry.  People are still trying to get rich off the worship of God.

And God is not pleased by this.  In our text here, Jesus is infuriated by this.  Here we see Jesus in the fullness of righteous anger.  In fact, His zeal has caused many people to pause, because we tend to think of Jesus as this soft, mild-mannered, even feminine teacher who walked around barefoot and hugged children.  Now it is true that Jesus was abounding with grace.  The mercy of God flowed from Him upon virtually everyone He encountered.  He was full of grace… but He was also full of truth (Jn 1:14.)  He is the holy, holy, holy Son of God in human flesh and He will not tolerate unrepentant sin in the presence of God, especially, as in this case, when it takes advantage of the poor and the weak. 

He makes a whip out of cords (probably the cords used to tie up the animals) and He drove them all out of the temple.  Many commentators will say that he only used the whip to drive out the animals, but notice carefully what the text says… “He drove them ALL out of the temple.”  In context, this seems to mean, not only the animals, but those selling the animals and the moneychangers as well.  He forced them all to leave.  He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and dumped out their ill-gotten gain.  And He speaks specifically to those who were selling the pigeons or doves, “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.”  Why does He speak specifically to the sellers of pigeons or doves?  If you remember in the Old Testament, if you were particularly poor and you couldn’t afford to sacrifice a bull or a lamb, then you could offer a pigeon or dove as a sacrifice to God.  These men were taking advantage of the poorest of the poor among the people.  There is some evidence that they were selling pigeons worth roughly a nickel (in our modern economy) for approximately $4 each (William Hendriksen, John 2:14.)  They were getting rich off of those who had next to nothing.  They were taking advantage of the poorest of the poor.

Notice that Jesus does not tolerate them.  He tells them to get out and take their wares with them.  The temple is not to be a house of trade.  It isn’t a place to do business.  It isn’t a place to earn money.  It is the place to worship God and seek the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus is extremely passionate about this.  He is zealous for the glory of His Heavenly Father and the sanctity of His worship.  And the disciples, seeing this, were reminded of an Old Testament passage found in Psalm 69:9… “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  The original verse reads “Zeal for your house has… past tense… consumed me.”  But here they reinterpret this verse, rendering it “Zeal for your house will… future tense… consume me.”  This passion for the glory of God and the sacredness of His worship will devour Him… it will eat Him up… it will be His undoing.

This is so true.  Although some see Jesus as only cleansing the temple once during His earthly ministry, it seems more likely that Jesus cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and those who sold sacrifices both here on two separate occasions… once at the beginning of His earthly ministry… and again at the end of His ministry (i.e. Matt 21:12-13) (see D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary, 177-178.)  After this second cleansing of the temple, the religious leaders decided that Jesus was too dangerous to be left alone.  He had disrupted their business.  He had hit them in the pocket book too many times and they wouldn’t tolerate that anymore.  So they plotted in earnest to kill Him (Mark 11:15-18.)  This zeal… this passion… for the worship of God would ultimately lead to His crucifixion.

Should we be any less zealous for the pure worship of God?

Now we need to be careful here.  We must remember that Jesus is the divine and sinless Son of God in human flesh.  He knows all things.  He sees the heart of man perfectly…something we can never do.  He is without sin in His anger and zeal.  We should take care before we rebuke people as Jesus did here, because we don’t always know the whole story and we are never without sin in ourselves.

But we can certainly turn and examine ourselves… can’t we?  Do we seek selfish gain in the worship of God?  Do we take advantage of others in the name of God?  May it never be!  God forbid that we should be a stumbling block to anyone who is seeking to enter into the presence of the living and true God!

We, too, should be zealous for the glory of God and His worship.

Jesus was zealous for the glory of God and His worship and it would consume Him in time.  But, here, the religious leaders in Jerusalem are not quite sure what to do with Him yet.  So they come to Him and ask Him a question, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?  This is a fascinating question.  Notice that they don’t deny that the temple needed cleansing, but, instead, they basically ask, “What gives you the right to do it?

You see, there are passages in the Old Testament which speak of the Messiah cleansing the temple and making the worship of God right again among His people…

Malachi 3:1-4 (ESV) – 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me (i.e. probably a reference to John the Baptist.) And the Lord whom you seek (i.e. the Messiah) will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant (i.e. the Messiah) in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 

Zechariah 14:21 (ESV) – 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.

Now, in part, this speaks of things which are yet to happen… things which will take place when Jesus Christ returns to this earth in glory and power to take possession of the earth which is His rightful inheritance from God the Father.  But this was fulfilled in part right here.  Jesus cleansed the temple.  Like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap, He washed it and made it pure.  But only for a moment.  It would go back to its perversion and that is why Jesus would be forced to cleanse the temple again in a couple of years.

But don’t miss the Messianic implications of what Jesus did here.  The religious leaders certainly didn’t.  They were expecting a Messiah to come and purify the temple and the worship of God.  And this man shows us out of nowhere and cleanses the temple.  It had to be in the back of their mind that this One might be the Messiah.  So they ask Him for a sign… something which will clearly demonstrate to them that He has the right to cleanse the temple.

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t give them a sign, but He promises them a sign to come…“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  This statement would come back to haunt Jesus later.  At His trial before the Sanhedrin Council, they would accuse Him of threatening to destroy the temple (Mk 14:58.) But notice carefully, Jesus doesn’t threaten to destroy the temple.  He says they will do it.  The religious leaders will tear down the temple.  And the word which Jesus uses for “temple” is different than the word we have seen back in verses 14 and 15.  The word here is ναός (pronounced naos), not ερός (pronounced hieros.)  It refers, not to the temple complex as a whole (ερός), but to the sanctuary itself.  In many ways, they had already destroyed the external courts of the temple by allowing them to be used for sinful purposes.  They had polluted the temple complex so that it was no longer honoring to God.  But the worst is yet to come.  Jesus is speaking about them destroying the holiest of holy places… the very place where God’s presence dwelt.  They will obliterate the presence of the glory of God in their midst and Jesus Himself, as a sign, will raise it up again in three days.

They don’t understand what Jesus is saying.  They think He is referring to the actual temple itself.  But He is referring to something else.  He is referring to His own body.  He is the true Temple of God.

1)      After all, He is the dwelling place of God among humanity…

Isn’t this what the Apostle John has already told us in the first chapter of His gospel?

John 1:14, 18 (ESV) – 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.  (See also Col 2:9.)

2)      He is the place… the only place where God is worshipped. 

Remember, back in John 1:51, Jesus made the following statement…

John 1:51 (ESV) – 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus is referring to Jacob’s dream at Bethel, where he saw a ladder extending all the way to heaven (Gen 28:11-17.)  Jesus says that He is Jacob’s Ladder.  He alone connects heaven and earth.  The only way into the presence of God the Father is by Jesus.

3)      He is the One… the only One… who can make atonement for our sin.

He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”!  (Jn 1:29)  There is no answer to our sin problem apart from Him. He alone can forgive our sin.

Do you see what Jesus is doing here?  He is saying two very distinct things:

1)      He is saying in no uncertain terms that He replaces the Old Testament temple. 

Everything that the temple once was in the Old Testament is now replaced with Him.  God not only dwells among humanity, but He has taken on humanity. We no longer come to a place to worship God, but we come to a Person… Jesus… in order to worship God.  We no longer have to offer sacrifices over and over again, for Jesus has offered Himself… once-for-all… as a sacrifice for our sin.  He is our Temple.  He is the place where we commune with God.  He is the place where we worship.  He is the place where our sins are forgiven.  He is the One we are to be zealous for. He is the true Temple of God.

2)      But He is also predicting His own death and resurrection. 

He is stating that they will destroy Him… the true Temple.  But that won’t stop Him, because He has authority and power to raise Himself from the dead.

After His resurrection, the disciples remembered this and they believed the Scripture, meaning the Old Testament passages which predicted His coming, death and resurrection.  And they believed the words which Jesus had spoken. 

1)      They came to believe that He is the dwelling place of God among men.  In Him, the glory of God dwells for people like us to see.

2)      They came to believe that they could worship God only through Jesus.

3)      They came to believe that Jesus is the only One who can take away their sins.

Do you believe this?

Do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God?

Do you believe that He alone can connect you God?  He is THE Way and THE Truth and THE Life… no one comes to the Father, but by Him (Jn 14:6.)

Do you believe that He alone can forgive your sins and grant you eternal life in the presence of God?

As we bring these various lines of thought together, I really have just one question for us… “Are we zealous for the Temple of God?  Not some building in some faraway place that may or may not be rebuilt some day, but are we zealous for the True Temple… the living Temple… Jesus Christ?  Are we passionate about His name and His glory?  Do we strive to keep His name and His worship pure and holy?  Are we willing to go to great lengths to see His name exalted and His worship expanded over the earth?  Are we willing to be consumed…wholly consumed… in an effort for His name to be lifted up… pure and holy… unblemished and unstained forever and ever?

In contrast, are we ever guilty of seeking our own selfish desires as we gather together to worship Him?  Are we ever more concerned about what we want and what we can get out of worship than in exalting Him and assisting others to see Him high and lifted up?

Are we zealous for the true Temple of God?

Are we zealous for the name and glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday morning, August 24, 2008.

Have you ever done something so bad… so wrong… so sinful… that you just wish you could wash it away forever?  For many of us, the sins of our past haunt us.  They are always with us.  For many of us, the shame of our sin never seems to go away.  I know that, as I look back over my life, there are things that I have done of which I am utterly ashamed.  To this day, when I think about them, all that old shame and guilt come rushing back to me.  It’s like I’m back there at that moment.

How do we move beyond this?  Is it possible?  Is it possible to have our shame and guilt and condemnation removed forevermore?  Is it possible for our sin to be replaced with joy?  Yes!  It is… in Christ Jesus.  Praise God for our Savior, Jesus Christ… the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and replaces it with the joy of our salvation.  This is part of His job description as the Messiah.  He takes away sin and judgment and shame and replaces it with blessing and joy through His own death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb.

We see this clearly in John 2:1-12.  This is probably a familiar passage to most of us.  Most people, even those who don’t attend church, are familiar with the story of how Jesus turned water into wine.  But this passage is more than just a story about Jesus helping out at a wedding.  This is an incredibly rich passage of Scripture which shows us something of the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ and His role in replacing the shame of our sin with joy.

John 2:1-12 (ESV) – 1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

We are going to begin our study today by looking at the end of the passage first rather than starting at the beginning.  Look at verse 11

John 2:11 (ESV) – 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

This is the first of Jesus’ “signs” (σημεον  in the Greek.)  John is particularly fond of this word in his gospel.  While the other gospel writers will often speak of Jesus’ “miracles”, John prefers to speak of these miraculous events as “signs.”  Why?  Because for John, these miracles were more than simply displays of power.  They described who Jesus is.

What is the purpose of a sign?  It points beyond itself to something greater.  For example, let’s say we were on vacation and wanted to take our family to picnic on the beach.  We pack up the blanket and the food.  We load the kids in the car and we travel down the highway.  Then we see the sign which reads, “Beach – 7 miles ahead.”  How many of you would stop and say, “Here we are, kids!  Time to get out and have a picnic by the sign!”  Of course not.  We don’t want to have a picnic by the sign.  We want to have a picnic at the beach!  That doesn’t mean the sign is not important.  The sign is very important, because it points the way to the beach.  Without the sign, we might get lost and miss the beach altogether.

This miracle described here is a sign.  It should tell us something.  As we study this passage of Scripture, we should be looking beyond the miracle to something greater than the miracle.  In fact, we are told here that this sign “manifested His glory.”  It revealed something of the greatness and glory of who Jesus is and what He has come to do.  This is important, because, if we miss this, then we will miss the point of this passage.  We aren’t intended to simply hear an interesting story.  John expects us to look beyond the events of the story and see something about Jesus.

Now the symbolism here is pretty rich.  To get the full sense of the sign here, we are going to have to draw from several different places in Scripture.  But no matter what we are looking at today, always keep in mind this question, “What does this show me about Jesus?

With this said, let’s go back to the beginning of the passage and unpack the details of this sign… “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples” (verses 1-2.)

Notice how John specifically gives us the timing of this event.  It was “on the third day.”  If time allowed, I would walk you through the time sequence in detail, but if we begin in John 1:19, we see that 7 days pass here (Note: “the third day” is inclusive, therefore the events described here occur 2 days after the events in John 1:43-51.  See D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary, pages 167-168.)  Most scholars see here an echo of the creation account in Genesis 1-2.  In 6 days, God created everything, but then, as we move into Genesis 2, we have the first mention of something being “not good.”

Genesis 2:18 (ESV) – 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

In all of creation there was not a helper suitable to Adam.  There was no one he could share his life with.  So God stepped in to fix the problem.  He made things good again.  And He did so by providing a suitable helper for the man.  He made woman… like man, but O so different from man.  A helper suitable to Him.  And by doing so, He provided a source of joy for the man… a joy which is quite unlike any other… the joy of the marriage relationship.

In this passage in John, we see much the same thing.  Something is not good and God is taking action to fix what is wrong in the world.  He is taking action to remove the problem of sin in the world He has created and it all culminates in Him provided a Bride for His Son a bride.  And the result will be joy for all involved.

It is not a coincidence that on the 7th day there was a wedding in Cana.  It is at this event… a wedding… echoing the events of Genesis 1-2… that something of Jesus’ work would be explained to His people.

Weddings are typically times of joy.  Sometimes this is more so than others.  We have all been to those weddings where we have a strong sense that this is not a healthy relationship and this can cause us to feel emotions other than joy.  Sometimes weddings evoke bad memories in us… memories of broken relationships in our own lives and this can be painful.  But, typically, we associate weddings with joy.

That was particularly true for 1st century Jews.  There was hardly a more joyous occasion than one’s wedding.  Most people were dirt poor in 1st century Palestine.  They struggled from day to day to make ends meet.  But not so at their wedding.  Jewish weddings were times of great celebration.  A person’s whole family, all their close friends and probably the whole village in which they lived would come to the wedding.  They would drop everything in order to celebrate the happy couple.  There would be food and dancing and… yes… the wine would flow freely.  And the bride and groom would be treated like royalty.  And this celebration would typically last for a week at a time.

It would be hard to think of an event in Jewish life in the 1st century which was more associated with joy than the wedding celebration.  This is why Jesus often spoke of the future blessings of His kingdom like a wedding feast.  In many different ways throughout Scripture, the Church is called the “Bride of Christ” (Eph 5:25-32, II Cor 11:2, Rev 19:7-8, Rev 21:2.)  Those who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus are set apart to corporately be His Bride.  We are joined to Him in a one-flesh, inseparable relationship forever and ever.  And yet we are still waiting for the final consummation of this relationship.  We are waiting for the wedding celebration.

This is what Jesus is speaking of in John 14…

John 14:1-3 (ESV) – 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

This is wedding language.  The bridegroom would enter into a betrothal relationship with his bride-to-be.  Then he would go away… back to his father’s house… where he would build a place for him and his bride to live.  When all was complete, he would return and get her and then the wedding celebration would begin.  Then the time of joy would begin in earnest.  And when the celebration was done, he would take her back to their new home forever.

Jesus likens Himself to a Bridegroom (see also Matt 9:14-17) and we, as Christians, are His Bride.  He has done everything necessary to prepare a place for us in heaven with Him.  He suffered and died in our place to take away the shame and condemnation of our sin and He is coming again to receive us to Himself, where the wedding celebration will never end.

But notice that here, at this wedding in Cana, there is a problem.  Something is not good.  They have run out of wine.  I know we probably wouldn’t think of this as much of a problem today, unless we were throwing a wedding at a frat house, but this was a real problem. 

It is hard for us to catch the full significance of this without understanding a little bit about the culture and the expectations for the wedding ceremony.  The bridegroom was responsible for providing all the supplies for the wedding.  Everyone else pretty much showed up and simply enjoyed the festivities, but it cost him dearly in order to marry a wife.    The bridegroom was responsible to provide everything… all the food and drink for the 7 day celebration… and to run out would be a serious cause for shame in this culture.  He would be seen as not a good provider for his family.  If he couldn’t even throw a sufficient wedding, then how would he take care of his wife and family?  He would be the laughingstock of the whole village.  Even more than that, there is some evidence that he could actually be sued by the bride’s family for breach of contract if he didn’t give her an appropriate wedding (D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary, page 169.)  This man could be financially ruined before his life with his new bride even got started, all because he ran out of wine at his own wedding celebration.

So there is a practical problem here which needs to be resolved.  But remember this is a “sign.”  It displays the glory of Jesus.  Therefore we should be looking for an even greater significance here to the lack of wine.  In order to understand the importance of this “sign”, we need to look at a little biblical evidence regarding the symbolism of wine in Scripture.

There is no question that the wine spoken of here is fermented wine.  However, Jewish wine was not nearly as strong as our alcoholic drinks today.  They would greatly dilute the wine with water to anywhere between 1/3 to 1/10 of its full strength (D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary, page 169.)  In other words, although this wine was alcoholic, it was not as strong as wine or beer which is commonly consumed in our country today.

If we trace the theme of “wine” throughout Scripture then we find, without question, that, more often than not, Scripture warns us against the excessive consumption of wine.  Here are a few examples of these warnings:

Proverbs 20:1 (ESV) – 1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.

Proverbs 21:17 (ESV) – 17 Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

Proverbs 23:29-32 (ESV) – 29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. 31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. 32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.

In Isaiah 5:11-13, drunkenness is at the heart of why the Israelites fell into sin and were judged by God.  The Apostle Paul explicitly says that those who are prone to drunkenness will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21.)

Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say.  When Scripture speaks of alcohol, it typically refers to it as something which leads to foolishness and sin and judgment.  But with this said, it is not uncommon in Scripture for wind to function as a symbol of the blessing of God upon His people.  It is often seen to be a symbol of joy.

Psalm 104:14-15 (ESV) – 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

In fact, God promises that He will give His people wine if they are obedient to Him…

Deuteronomy 7:13 (ESV) – 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.

Deuteronomy 11:13-14 (ESV) – 13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.

And nowhere is this symbolism more common than when the Old Testament prophets speak about the Messiah and the kingdom of joy and blessing which He will bring.  Listen to the Prophet Amos as he describes the blessings which will accompany the Messiah…

Amos 9:13-15 (ESV) -13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (See also Joel 3:16-21 and Jeremiah 31:7-14.)

And these blessing are not exclusively for the Jewish people…

Isaiah 25:6-9 (ESV) – 6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”    

God promises great blessing upon all peoples in the day when the Messiah comes and the joy of this blessing is symbolized by hills flowing with an abundance of wine.

Having all of this background is important if we are to understand what is happening here.  The wine has run out.  The symbol of blessing and joy from God has dried up.  Who can fix the problem?  Mary thinks she knows who can fix the problem.  It seems that she had responsibilities of some type here at the wedding.  And she wants to make sure that the bridegroom… who was probably either a family member or close friend… isn’t shamed.  So she comes to her eldest Son, Jesus, and asks Him to fix the problem.

Did she expect Him to do a miracle?  Probably not, since verse 11 tells us that this was His first miracle.  So why does she tell Him this?  Because it seems that she is a widow (i.e. Joseph is never mentioned after the events of Luke 2) and Jesus is her eldest son.  He is the One she would look to in times of need.

But Jesus’ response to her tells us that something has changed in their relationship.  He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  Literally, “What is that to Me and to you, Woman?  Now this isn’t quite as rude in the original language as it sounds in English, but it is odd.  To call her “Woman” would be something like calling her “Ma’am” today.  It’s not rude.  But it isn’t necessarily the way a son talks to his mother.  The rest of the phrase, however, is almost a rebuke.  What is that to Me and to you…  It is as if He is saying, “What is there between you and me to lead me to do this?

This is subtle, but it is important.  The relationship between Jesus and His earthly mother has been redefined.  He doesn’t simply act in order to please His mother.  He has a higher responsibility.  He must obey the will of His Heavenly Father, for He is the Messiah… the Savior of God’s people… and fulfilling those responsibilities are of the utmost importance to Him.

This becomes clear in his next statement.  He says, “My hour has not yet come.”  When Jesus talks about “His hour” in the Gospel of John, it is always a reference to His death and resurrection (Jn 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27, 13:1, 17:1.)  So what is He saying?  He is referring to Himself as the Messiah.  And what will the Messiah do?  He will bring blessing and joy to God’s people… so much so that it could be said that the mountains will “drip sweet wine” (Amos 9:13-15.)  But the time for Him to pour out this blessing upon His people had not yet come.  The cross and the empty tomb had to precede this.  A price had to be paid for sin.  The debt we owe God for our wickedness had to be paid in full.  Jesus had to die and rise again to new life, victorious over our sin and our hell and our condemnation, before He could heap these blessings of joy upon us.  The time had not yet come for Him to bless His people with the joy of heavenly wine.

Did Mary understand what He was saying here?  Probably not, but John the Apostle did.  That is why He calls this a sign.  It is intended to show us that Jesus is the Messiah… the One who turns water into wine… the One who brings joy and blessing to God’s people despite our sin and shame and condemnation.

In order to do this, Jesus had to overcome our moral uncleanness and the condemnation which we deserve as a result of our sin.  And the way in which He performs this sign makes this clear.

Notice that there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification.  Pious Jews were constantly washing themselves and anything they touched.  They were very conscious of the fact that God is a holy God.  They were very aware of the reality and presence of sin.  And they understood that these two things cannot peacefully coexist.  And when sin butts up against God… sin loses.  The one who is unclean will be judged by God.  And so they were always trying to wash away their uncleanness.  They were always trying to cleanse themselves from their sin.  They were constantly trying to be set free from the shame and condemnation of who they really are… sinners apart from God.

They were right in their understanding of who God is and how sinful they were, but they were wrong in their idea of what to do about it (see Mark 7:1-4.)  Ritual washing was an important part of the temple rituals, but it was never commanded of people in everyday life.  That is not to say that it is a bad thing to wash our hands before we eat and to drink out of clean cups, but these things have nothing to do with our cleanliness before God.  Water can’t wash away our uncleanness.  Water can’t take away the condemnation that any of us deserve because we are sinners.  In fact, this whole system of belief in Judaism was rather oppressive.  The person was always running around to clean themselves and it was never enough.  You could never be clean enough.  But you had to keep trying.

Can you picture how disheartening that would be?  You shouldn’t have to think too hard, because people today do this all the time.  This effort to cleanse ourselves from sin did not go away at the end of the 1st century.  People today still run around trying to cleanse themselves from sin.  People still try to “outdo” their bad with good.  But nothing we can do will ever wash away the stain of our sin.  Nothing we do can ever remove the shame and condemnation of our rebellion against God.

Even Christians fall prey to this. How often do we seek to earn our own righteousness, even though we know better theologically?   Do you ever feel like God won’t bless you today because you didn’t read your Bible this morning?  Do you ever feel guilty because you missed church last week?  Or maybe you think…if I didn’t pray about something… then God won’t be there to provide for me in my time of need?  None of these things are bad to do.  In fact, we are commanded to constantly renew our minds in Scripture (Rom 12:2) and to pray without ceasing (I Thess 5:17) and to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together for worship and mutual edification (Heb 10:23-25), but none of these things can take away our uncleanness before God.  None of these things can remove the condemnation which I deserve because of my sin.  None of these things can give me the joy in the presence of God that I so desperately desire.  Only Jesus can do that.  Only He can take away the stain of my sin and the shame of my uncleanness.  Only He can make me right in the presence of God.  And in doing so, He brings about an abundance of joy in our lives.

Notice how Jesus replaces the old system and its condemnation and shame with joy.  He tells the servant to fill up the stone water jars with water and they are quick to obey.  Then he tells them to draw some out and take to the master of the feast.  Notice something, they filled the water jars to the brim and now it is all wine.  There are no water jars left to wash in.  The time for washing is over… and the time for joy has come!

They draw out some of the wine from the water jars and take to the master of the feast who makes fun of the bridegroom, saying, “Most people serve the best wine first, then, when the guests have had too much to drink and they don’t really care anymore, then you serve the lesser wine.  But you have done the opposite.  You saved the best wine for last.”

I find it interesting that the bridegroom doesn’t correct him.  He doesn’t seem to know where the wine came from, but he isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

This brings us to the end of the passage, to the verse where we started our study today, verse 11… “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  This miracle is more than simply a demonstration of the power of Jesus.  It is a sign intended to reveal His glory.

How is the glory of Jesus seen here?  What does this sign declare Him to be?  He is the Messiah… the promised Savior.  He is the One who would remove the uncleanness from among the people of God.  He is the One who would lift the condemnation of sin off the people.  He would transform the law of God… which brings nothing but guilt and judgment… into joy.  He is the One… the only One… who, despite our sin, can give us the joy of the blessings of God forever and ever.

How would this be done?  Through His death upon the cross and His resurrection from the grave on the third day.  He would bear our sin and our shame in His body on the tree and He rise again victorious, so that we could have an eternal life of joy with Him.

The disciples saw this sign… and they believed in Him. 

These blessings don’t come automatically to all people. We must trust in Jesus as the Messiah in order to receive these blessings of salvation.  And not everyone believes in Him. 

Notice that some people didn’t even see the sign.  The bridegroom and the master of the feast had no idea what had taken place.  No one told them what had happened.  No one shared the sign with them, therefore they could not believe in Him.

Some people saw the sign, but they didn’t believe.  The servants knew what happened, but despite this amazing sign, they didn’t believe in Jesus.  They didn’t trust in Him, therefore they didn’t receive the blessing of His joy, because they didn’t receive the removal of their uncleanness and condemnation.

As we have studied this passage of Scripture, I pray that you have seen the sign.  You have heard about Jesus… the only One who can save you from your sin and give you everlasting joy.

Are you trusting in Him?  Are you relying upon Him to save you in the day of judgment?  Are you trusting that He will do what He has promised and remove the shame of your sin forever and replace it with joy in the presence of God?  He died for the sin of His people and He rose again the third day so that His Bride could have an eternal life of joy with Him.

Are you trusting in Him?

The disciples did.  They saw the sign and they believed.

How about you?

Do you ever feel haunted by the shame of your past?  Does the guilt of your sin weigh heavily upon your soul?  Do you long for joy, but you cannot seem to get past the stain of sin upon your life?  There is hope to be had in Jesus.  He is the Savior.  He can and will remove your shame and replace it with joy.  This is true no matter who you are.  Come to Him in repentance and faith.  Cry out to Him.  Trust in Him.  He died for your sin and He will replace it with everlasting joy. 

Maybe you are a Christian, but you still struggle with the shame of your sin.  The answer is still the same.  Come to Him in repentance and faith.  This is the essence of the Christian life.  Turn from your sin and trust in Him… and He will transform your shame into joy. 

1 John 1:9 (ESV) – 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Hope in your Savior, Jesus Christ…the Messiah.  He is the One who turns water into wine and He is the One who turns sin and shame and condemnation into joy!

 

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Are you a Christian?  If so, do you remember the first person who invited you to come and see Jesus for yourself?  What were they like?  How did they talk to you?  More importantly for our discussion today… how were they related to you?  Were they a family member?  Or a friend?  A coworker, maybe?  Or a teacher?

Most of us were invited to come and see Jesus for ourselves by someone we knew.  This is the way most people come to faith in Jesus.  Not all, but most.  In fact, studies have shown that this is the way in which most people come to believe in anything (i.e. “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcom Gladwell.)  Most beliefs… whether religious or not… begin with people we trust sharing ideas with us… which we then consider… and then we make a decision for ourselves.

This in no way diminishes the sovereignty of God in salvation.  God is sovereign the salvation of sinners (see Matt 11:25-27, Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:3-6, etc…), but He does so through means.  Typically the means which God uses to call others to Himself are people… His people… people like you and me… sinners saved by the grace of God found only in the cross of Jesus Christ… who go out and invite the people around us to come and see Jesus for themselves… so that they too might be saved through Him.

With this said… I would encourage you to begin thinking about all the people you know who have never repented of their sin and are not trusting in Jesus.  Most of us know more people who need to be introduced to Jesus than we think. 

1)      How many friends and family members do you know who are still on the broad path that leads to destruction?

2)      Are there people in your neighborhood who have never trusted in Jesus?

3)      Do you have coworkers or school mates who have never heard the gospel?

4)      How about those you share hobbies with?  Your golf partner?  The person you play video games with?

5)      How about the people you engage in business with?  The waitress at the restaurant or the clerk at the convenience store where you buy your coffee?  Are they Christians?

6)      What about people in your ministry circle?  Is there anyone there who needs to hear the truth about Jesus?

7)      How about those people who enter into your life for a brief period of time only to depart and you will never see them again.  How many of them need to be introduced to Jesus?

How many people do you know who need to know who Jesus is? 

How committed are you to sharing Jesus with them? 

Are you intentional about sharing Jesus with them?

As we are going to see today, this is typically the way in which people come to faith in Christ… someone shares with them who Jesus is… they come and look more closely for themselves… and they come to faith in Him.  Then they go out and do the same thing.  They go to those they are connected with and share Jesus with them… and the process continues.  They tell two friends… and they tell two friends… and so on and so on and so on…

John 1:35-51 (ESV) – 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Our text here begins with John the Baptist, a man sent from God to announce the coming of the Messiah so that people might believe in Him (Jn 1:7.)  Here we see John refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (v. 36.)  This is John’s way of describing the work which Jesus came to do.  He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sin.

Sin is a terrible offense against God and it is punishable by death and eternal judgment.  And there is only one way for us to be escape this judgment… someone must suffer the consequences of our sin.  And the only One who can suffer on our behalf and save us from our sin is Jesus.  He died for our sin upon the cross, paying the fine which we owe God for our crimes against Him (I Cor 15:3-4), so that our sin could be fully bought and paid for and we could be reconciled to God and have eternal life with Him.

John announced this to the world by referring to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb which God Himself provided for sinners.  But notice that he seems to be speaking very specifically to a couple of people.  Two of his disciples are standing with him.  One of them we know is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.  The other one is the subject of speculation.  Many throughout the history of the church have thought that he was John the Apostle for a couple of reasons…

1)      First of all, he isn’t named and John has a tendency to never cite his own name.

2)      Secondly, this whole passage has a lot of detail in it (such as the time when these two disciples came to see where Jesus was staying in v. 39.)  In fact, the kind of detail displayed here seems to imply that the author was a first-hand witness of these things.

Although I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it, I tend to think this other disciple was John the Apostle, the author of this Gospel.  But whoever this might be, one thing is clear, John the Baptist seems to be speaking intentionally to them.

Why would he do this?  What is he hoping to accomplish?  He is fulfilling his commission from God to point other people to Jesus.  And here we see that he is successful.  These two disciples of John leave their former teacher and begin following Jesus.

Jesus notices them here and asks them a question, “What are you seeking?  “What are you looking for?”  “What are you hoping to find?”  It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t know the answer to this, as we will see in a moment.  He knows all those who come to Him even better than they know themselves, but He seems to be forcing them to identify what it is they want. 

They respond by asking Jesus where He is staying.  This may seem a little odd to us, because we are unfamiliar with what was socially acceptable in those days.  When a person wanted to become a disciple of particular teacher, they would go and stay with that teacher.  They would become a permanent fixture in the teacher’s life.  Why?  Because they wanted to become like the teacher.  They wanted to “grow up” to be just like him.  And in order to do so, they had to know the teacher on a personal level.

They are very politely asking if they can become disciples of Jesus.  They want to get to know Him better, so that they can ultimately become more and more like Him.

Jesus’ response to them is beautiful… “Come and you will see.”  Notice that this is a promise.  And it is a promise of more than just seeing where Jesus was staying.  It is a promise that they will see Him and know Him more fully.

Remember for a moment who is speaking to them.   This is Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, who left heaven and took on humanity and dwelt among us, in order to die for us.  This is the One who is God Himself in human flesh.  Yet He invites them to come and spend time with Him.  And if they do so, they will come to know Him personally.

Do you want to know Jesus?  This promise is still true today.  Come to Him and you will see.  Come to Him honestly, with an open mind and an open heart.  Seek Him out in the inspired Word of God and He won’t turn you away.  He will reveal Himself to you.  He will open your eyes to see Him as He truly is.  He will forge an unbreakable personal relationship with you.  Come to Him and you will see!

These two former disciples of John came with Jesus and spent the remainder of the day with Him and probably the night as well.

What did they see that day?  What was that day like?  I won’t speculate as to the details, but whatever it was, it must have been truly amazing, because it settled all their questions.  When this day was done, they knew that this One is the Messiah… the promised Savior and King from the Old Testament… and the One who could save them from the wrath of God to come.

How do I know this?  Look at the transformation that took place in their lives, particularly the transformation which took place in the life of this one man, Andrew.

Whatever it was he saw, it excited him so much that he had to go and tell others.  We are told that he “first found his own brother Simon…  Notice very carefully that he “first” found Simon.  What does it mean that he “first” found Simon?  There are a couple of different ways to interpret this…

1)      It could be that that both Andrew and the other, unnamed disciple went out and found their brothers to tell them about Jesus, but Andrew simply found his brother first.

2)      Or it could mean that Simon wasn’t the only person that Andrew went and found in order to tell about Jesus.  He was simply the first one.

I think this second option is more likely.  And that leads us to another question.  If Simon was first… then who was second?  More on this in a moment…

Andrew first went and found his own flesh-and-blood brother and told him, “We have found the Messiah.”  And “he brought him to Jesus”.  The Greek literally says that he “led” (γω) him to Jesus.  This may imply that there was some reluctance on the part of Simon and Andrew had to drag him to come and see Jesus (A.T. Robertson, Jn 1:42.)  But Andrew was excited and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

What happens when Simon comes to Jesus is truly amazing.  Jesus begins describing Simon before He has even been introduced to him.  Jesus knows him.  He knows Simon’s character and He knows what Simon’s future holds.  And He immediately renames him… “You shall be called Cephas… Peter… which means “the Rock.”  Jesus knows that this man would come to be the unofficial leader among His followers.  This would be the man through whom the Holy Spirit would bring the gospel of Jesus Christ in power on the birthday of the New Testament Church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.)  This would be the first apostle to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11.)  This man would write sacred Scripture.  This man would one day die for the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus already knows all this… for He is the Good Shepherd… and the Good Shepherd knows those who are His (Jn 10:14-15, 27.)

This is Cephas… Peter… “The Rock.”  And how did he come to know Jesus?  Through the persistent witness of his little brother, Andrew… an ordinary man… a fisherman… who told his brother about Jesus and invited him to come and see for himself.  Think of the impact on the history of the Church which stems from this rather simple and ordinary event.  The world would never be the same, because a little brother invited his big brother to come and see Jesus.

We never know what God is going to do through our efforts to lead others to Jesus.  Sometimes we tell others about Jesus and they laugh at us and turn their backs and refuse to come and see.  Other times they listen graciously but then politely tell us they aren’t interested.  But sometimes God will draw some to Himself.  Some will come and see for themselves and who knows what God will do through them in the days to come.

Andrew is not the most well-known of the apostles, but it was through his average, ordinary invitation to his brother that the Apostle Peter was converted.  And I don’t think his evangelistic efforts ended there.

There is something interesting in the Greek text here in verse 43 which I think is significant.  Verse 43 says, “The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”  At least most English translations read something like this.  But that isn’t quite what the Greek says. The NASB translates this verse very literally and it goes like this, “The next day He purposed to go into Galilee and He found Philip.  And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Who is the “he” referred to here?  Most English translations think it refers to Jesus… but who has been doing all action up to this point?  Andrew.  Remember back in verse 41 we were told that Andrew “first” found his brother Simon and we asked who he found second.  I think the “he” referred to here is not Jesus, but Andrew.  I would suggest to you that Andrew first found Peter, but then he went and found another friend, a man named Philip   This is further supported by the way in which Philip is associated with Andrew and Peter in verse 44.  They are all from the same city of Bethsaida (see D.A. Carson, The Gospel of John, Pillar Commentary series, page 157-158 and F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 58.)

I think what we see here is Andrew continuing to tell others about Jesus.  After bringing his brother to Jesus, he goes and brings another acquaintance to Jesus.  And when he comes, Jesus invites Philip to “Follow Me.”

The whole point of this passage seems to be the way in which God works through the testimony of people to bring others to Jesus.

1)      It begins here with John the Baptist, proclaiming to a couple of his disciples who Jesus is…

2)      They follow Jesus and they come to believe that He is the Christ, their Savior…

3)      And they go out and tell others… who in turn come to Jesus and are saved…

Whether it was Andrew who invited Philip to come to Jesus… or Jesus Himself… the result is still the same.  Philip continues the pattern by going out and inviting his friend, Nathanael, to come and see Jesus.  He says “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  In other words, we have found the Messiah.  We have found the One who can save us forever from our sin.  And His name is Jesus.  And He is from Nazareth.

Nathanael’s response is dripping with sarcasm…“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?  Galileans were looked down upon by those from other regions in Palestine.  And apparently, Nazarenes were looked down on by other Galileans.  This tells us that Jesus didn’t come from the best of neighborhoods.  We might say that he grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks.”  And because of this, Nathanael seems to have a hard time believing what Philip is telling him.  “How could our Savior come from Nazareth?”

Have you ever had people scoff at you when you tell them about Jesus?  They just don’t get it.  It doesn’t make sense to them.  How could God take on humanity and die in our place on a cross?  It sounds foolish, doesn’t it?

But our response to sarcasm should be the same as Philip’s… “Come and see.”  The Greek seems to be a bit stronger than this, “Come (now) (present imperative in the Greek) and you will see (once-and-for-all) (aorist imperative.)

Notice two things…

1)      There is an urgency to his witness.  Philip urges Nathanael to come now and see Jesus.  It is as if he is urging his friend not to wait for today is the day of salvation.

2)      There is an urgency to his witness, but there is also a confidence.  “Come and you will see.”  Philip is convinced that if Nathanael will only come and look for himself, then he will learn what Philip and Andrew and Simon Peter have already learned… that Jesus is the Messiah… the Savior… the Son of God.

Nathanael accepts the invitation of his friend and he comes to see Jesus.  And just like with Peter, Jesus already knows him.  Behold an Israelite indeed in whom there is no deceit.”  In other words, there is no manipulation in Nathanael.  Despite his earlier sarcasm, he isn’t looking for the Messiah out of selfish motives.  He is what Israel is supposed to be… honestly and openly seeking the Messiah.

This positive assessment of Nathanael seems to catch him a little off-guard and he asks, “How do you know me?

Jesus responds, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.  Fig trees were a symbol of home and prosperity and the Jewish rabbis would sometimes speak of the fig tree as the appropriate place to sit and meditate on Scripture (Morris, NICNT, 167.) 

Could it be that Nathanael was meditating on Scripture when Philip called him to come and see Jesus?  If so, then what passage of Scripture?  I am speculating here, but could it have been Jacob’s dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven in Genesis 28, since Jesus will make reference to this in verse 51?

Whatever he was doing under the fig tree, he is amazed by this statement of Jesus.  And he is convinced.  He has come to Jesus and now he has seen for himself who Jesus is… “Rabbi, you are the Son of God… for only God Himself could know what I was doing before Philip called me.”  And “you are the King of Israel.”  In other words… you are my King… and my God. 

Nathanael has come to believe in Jesus because of what he has experienced in the presence of Jesus, but Jesus says there is more to come…“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  As I mentioned earlier, this is a reference to Jacob’s dream at Bethel in Genesis 28:10-17, where he saw a ladder extending up to the heaven and angels ascending and descending on it.

Jesus says here that He is that ladder.  Jesus connects heaven and earth.  He is the only Mediator between God and sinful men (I Tim 2:5-6.)  He alone can provide the sacrifice for our sin.  He alone can forgive us and save us from the judgment to come.  He is the only way to God (Jn 14:6.)  There is no other way into the presence of God in heaven but by Jesus Christ.

Do you want to know God? 

Do you want to be forgiven from your sin?

Do you want to have a future awaiting you in heaven?

Then you must go through Jesus.  He connects heaven and earth… and there is no way to God but through Him.

Some passages of Scripture are prescriptive, meaning they give us direct commands.  They tell us very specifically what we are to do.  But some passages are descriptive rather than prescriptive.  In other words, they aren’t commands in and of themselves, but they demonstrate to us the way things were or the way things should be.  This is what we have here.  This passage contains no direct commands to us.  It isn’t prescriptive, but it is highly descriptive.  What we see here is how Jesus began to have followers.

1)      It started out small… with only one person knowing who Jesus is… an odd prophet named John, a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

2)      Then two of his disciples began to follow Jesus.  They came to Him and saw for themselves… and began to believe that Jesus is the Savior.

3)      Then they told others… family and friends… and they came and saw for themselves who Jesus is… and more believed…

4)      And they told 2 friends… and they told 2 friends… and so on and so on and so on…

If you are a Christian here, then you are part of this chain.  You are way down the line somewhere, but… if you are a Christian… then this is how you came to be Christian.  Someone told someone… who told someone… who told someone… which eventually culminated in you coming and seeing Jesus for yourself… and seeing Him, you have believed that…

1)      He is the Son of God… God in human flesh…

2)      The Lamb of God… the perfect and only sacrifice for your sin…

3)      Your King…

4)      And He is the Only One who can bring us to God.

I would challenge you… if you are a Christian… to intentionally take part in this chain of witnesses.  Think about the number of people in your life who need to be introduced to Jesus.  Make a list of a few of these people and pray for each person on your list every day this week.  Think about how you can share Jesus with them this week?  At the very least, invite them to church next week?

Maybe this is the first time you have heard some of this and maybe you aren’t convinced that Jesus is all I say He is.  Fair enough.  I would say the same thing to you that Philip did to Nathanael… “Come and see for yourself.”  Don’t take my word for it.  Come to the Bible with an open mind and an open heart.  Begin by honestly praying something like “God… if you are there… show me who Jesus is.  Then begin reading here in the Gospel of John.  Read through it slowly and see who Jesus is and see what He has done.  When you are finished, start reading through the gospel of Luke.  Come and see who Jesus is.  Don’t take my word for it.  Investigate Jesus for yourself.  I believe firmly, if you come honestly with an open heart, wanting to know the truth, then you will see Him as He is.  But I would urge you to come now.  Don’t put it off.  Come now… and you will see for yourself who Jesus is.

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