John the Baptist Exalts Christ

Passover in Jerusalem had been a hectic time for Jesus and His disciples, so they left Jerusalem after Passover and went back out into the countryside. The crowds had been a constant reminder of how many people needed Jesus and His attention. He may not even have gotten a “night-off”, as Nicodemus, and who knows how many others came to see Him at night. I doubt, however, that Jesus really got a break, because people always managed to find Him. John the Baptist and his disciples were also in the area, preaching and baptizing. John affirms his role in preparing the way for the Lord while exalting Christ.

22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:22-36)

Jesus took some time with His disciples to train them for their part in His ministry. Even though Jesus took the lead, He probably allowed His disciples to do the actual baptisms, because as we see in John 4:1-2, (Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were.), even though baptisms were attributed to Jesus, He wasn’t actually performing them. I suspect that Jesus did the preaching and His disciples did the baptizing.

24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. John is giving us a time-line reference.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. We shouldn’t be surprised about a discussion regarding Jewish purification-customs coming up because many Jews were meticulous about their purification-rituals. What might have been practical in an urban-setting wasn’t always practical in the wilderness. Jesus also got into many disputes with the Pharisees about ritual-purification, because as we have seen in the past, if God hadn’t given enough purification-rules to suit the Pharisees, they made up more of their own. Jesus wasn’t meticulous about ritual-purification and I doubt that John and his disciples were either.

What is interesting is that somehow this debate prompted John the Baptist’s disciples to complain that the ministry of Jesus and His disciples was receiving acclaim: all were “going to Him” (v. 26). These disciples of John evidently saw Jesus and His followers as rivals and were disturbed by their success.

26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” Were John’s disciples jealous of Jesus, and did they expect John to be jealous of Him too? That certainly appears to be the case, but as John’s answer reveals, he was not only NOT jealous of Jesus, he was elated.

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John knew the source of his authority to minister, but he also understood the limits of his ministry. As if to pop his disciples “bubble“, he reiterated that he was NOT the Christ, merely a forerunner. Then he compares Jesus to the bridegroom who alone gets the bride.

I have been “best-man” twice for a close friend of mine, when he married Patricia, and when he married Phyllis, and he was my “best-man’ when I married Sandy D. As “best-man“, we were there for reach other and to support each other.

This marriage-metaphor is used throughout Scripture for “God and His people” or “Christ and His church“, God or Christ being the “bridegroom” and God’s people or the church being the “bride“. John was a friend of Jesus, the bridegroom, and he was elated at the upcoming “marriage“, that is, that many people were coming to Christ. John also knew that his tenure would be short, and even though he had been a “starter” for a while, he was already being relegated to the status of “bench-warmer“. John was, at-most, Jesus’ “best-man“. John knew his place in God’s kingdom, and we should too.

30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

As we will see, the reason for Jesus’ increase was not merely because He held a higher office than John. It is not that John the Baptist and Jesus were both merely men holding offices or roles that differed in rank, although Jesus’ office as Messiah was indeed greater than John’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner. Instead, Jesus had to increase in the eyes of others because He is God incarnate.

Even though John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and his coming had been anticipated for hundreds of years, as we see from the passage, he didn’t have a big-head. In fact, he could have written “Humility 101“. He knew that, in the grand scheme of things, compared to Jesus, he was a “nobody“.

That lesson has been lost on many of today’s high-powered teachers and preachers. It seems that they have even taken “Self-Promotion 101” in seminary. As I peruse the Twitter-verse, I can easily trace the journeys of several of the big-name teachers and preachers by their announcements about where they are going to be teaching or preaching next. Some of them are racking-up more frequent-flier miles than many businessmen. Maybe it is just my perception, but who are they promoting, themselves, or Jesus?

Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t have an agent or promoter, didn’t advertise, had no advance-team, and He rarely planned His next move in advance. As He moved about the countryside, He responded to ministry-opportunities as they appeared. Sometimes He moved in response to the actions of others.

My calling is to be a servant-leader, and I am elated when someone comes to know our Lord or to know Him better. It wasn’t about John, as this Bible study isn’t about me. Jesus Christ was his primary-focus as He is mine also.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John the Baptist and Jesus were not merely two God-empowered human-messengers, there was a fundamental-difference between them. While they WERE both human, Jesus was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, so His origin was from Heaven.

John then goes on to speak about the sources of their respective messages. While John’s message was from above, as was his commission, he only had limited knowledge. Jesus, who originated in heaven, spoke with divine-authority. Jesus was fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, so His message was much broader and more expansive than John’s.

Consider verse 31, which contrasts the one who is “of the earth” with the One “who comes from Heaven“. Here, being “of the earth” refers to those who have a strictly earthly origin, those who are only human and do not come from the presence of God Himself. It is not inherently bad or wrong to be simply human; indeed, it is a great privilege to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Nevertheless, human beings are limited creatures. They are finite in their understanding. Despite having been called to be a prophet by the Lord, John the Baptist was limited in what he knew and could proclaim. This was true of all of the prophets.

The same doesn’t apply to Jesus, the One “who comes from above“. While He was fully-human, with all of humanity’s non-sinful limitations, as God incarnate, He also possesses a divine nature. His origin is heavenly; that is, He comes from the presence of God. That which He reveals is not merely a testimony that He received from God, and then passes on to others; rather, the things of which Jesus speaks are things He has heard and seen as the second person of the Godhead (v. 32). As the second person of the Godhead, He possesses the Spirit without measure (v. 34). All other prophets has a gifting of the Spirit in a limited way; none of them possessed the fullness of the Spirit. However, Jesus is all that the Holy Spirit is in His deity and nothing is hidden from Him, according to His divine nature. The other prophets of God were not told everything, only what they needed to know. Sometimes they had to work to figure certain things out, and even then they didn’t know everything (1 Peter 1:10-11).

We see another interesting statement: “for He gives the Spirit without measure.” I believe that this statement was looking forward to the time when God would pour His Holy Spirit out on all believers, not just an “anointed-few“. Jesus was, at that time, the only person fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, but that was going to change, and soon.

35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. This statement points forward to the day when Jesus will be enthroned as “King of kings and Lord of lords”, but He must go to the cross first. While, in a sense, Jesus, in His deity, was God and Lord over all, it would not be fully-realized until after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back into heaven.

This statement also points forward to when Jesus would give the Great Commission: 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)Go” isn’t merely a suggestion, it is a command, and the authority we go in comes from Christ. As we go, we are to make disciples, and our message is to be the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John then reiterates this Gospel-message: 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The Gospel is incomplete without both the Good-News; “He who believes in the Son has eternal life;“, AND the Bad-News; “but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Without understanding the bad-news, we don’t know that we need the Good-News. We can’t add-to or subtract-from that Gospel-message, even though many Christians like to add to it. Salvation is by grace through faith, NOT grace through faith-plus, the “plus” usually being “works“. Jesus and John didn’t tolerate legalism then, and we shouldn’t tolerate it now.

Do YOU believe in Jesus?

In Christ,
Steve

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You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling council came to Jesus in the night with a question, and although he never actually got around to asking it, Jesus gave him considerably more of an answer than Nicodemus had bargained for. In fact, Jesus in His answer gave what many commentators believe is an example of His early preaching; a wide ranging explanation of how a person can be saved through the New Covenant He would make with Man. He will speak of many things in this conversation, and by the time it concludes He will have set out God’s plan for Mankind

Not all Pharisees rejected Jesus, as we see in this week’s passage. Nicodemus was a Jewish religious-leader who didn’t quite know what to make of Jesus, so he came to Him to have a wee chat. He was not just any “rank-and-file” Pharisee, rather he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the most-powerful religious-body of the day. He recognized that God was with Jesus because of the signs and miracles which He had performed. While other religious leaders were demanding more signs, Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus, the Man behind the signs.

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 have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to 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? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:1-21)

Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Was he afraid of being discovered and losing-face with his fellow religious-leaders? Did he come to Jesus at night because Jesus was too busy during the day? Was he walking in spiritual-darkness, as symbolized by his night-visit to Jesus, hoping to get some spiritual-illumination? Was Nicodemus trying to flatter Jesus with his opening-statement? We may never know, but Jesus changed the subject immediately.

Nicodemus opens the conversation with a statement; saying that “we” know that Jesus is from God for His miracles have confirmed the fact. The use of “we” is interesting, for it implies that as of this early date many, if not all, of the Pharisees had come to the realization that Jesus was the real deal, or, did Nicodemus have a mouse in his pocket?. In His reply, Jesus goes ahead to answer the question Nicodemus is working up to when He tells him that he must be born again.

Nicodemus didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t there just to teach and perform miracles, even though He did both. He was there to seek and save the lost, people who were spiritually-dead even though they were “religious“, like Nicodemus. Apart from Christ, we aren’t just “spiritually-sick“, we are stone-cold dead. Jesus also knew that His ultimate mission was to die on the cross and rise again on the third day. That salvation was what Jesus called being “born-again“. Nicodemus may have been looking for the kind of Messiah who would establish an earthly-kingdom, and not understanding that His kingdom was NOT of this world. Jesus quickly popped that bubble by saying “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? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

Nicodemus, as most people would do, took Jesus’ statement literally; it seems at first to be ridiculous, because he KNEW that a person couldn’t re-enter his mother’s womb and be physically re-born. Even though he was highly-educated in the Old Testament, and a teacher, he didn’t understand that the whole Old Testament pointed forward to Christ. All the rituals, all the sacrifices, while they had meaning, couldn’t cleanse a person from, let alone atone for their sin. Animal-sacrifices covered-over sin, but they didn’t atone for it. To atone for sin required a more-perfect sacrifice, a human-sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God. Only a human-sacrifice could atone for human’s sin.

Jesus, on the other hand is speaking of an entirely different kind of life, a life that is entirely apart from this physical realm. This birth is of “water and the Spirit” rather than from flesh and blood. Keep in mind that from the OT Jewish point of view, a person is born into God’s Kingdom (earthly Israel) through physical birth. This is a shadow of things to come, for what will become reality through Christ is “rebirth” into the Kingdom of Heaven. This will be accomplished through water at baptism and the Spirit through the Gospel message ( cf. 1 Cor. 4:15 and 1 Peter 1:23 ). This kingdom is not a small and weak little nation that is living under foreign occupation, but a majestic and ultimately powerful kingdom headed by God Himself that will cover the entire globe forever. When we are born physically, we are born spiritually-dead, still-born, and this “rebirth” is not merely “resuscitation“, as Lazarus was not merely “resuscitated” in John 11, but totally-resurrected. God doesn’t do “spiritual-CPR“, as if we are in “spiritual-cardiac-arrest“, He makes us spiritually-alive. Spiritually, without Christ, we are “dead-men-walking“, spiritual “Zombies“.

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into 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 be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Verse 8 illustrates Jesus’ remark in verse 6: When something is born of flesh, you know where it came from, but something born of the Spirit is like something borne by the wind, you don’t know where it came from or where it is going, because our physical senses can’t quite perceive these things. Someone or something born of the Spirit can only be perceived by someone else who is born of the Spirit.

This answer reflects and emphasizes the fact that salvation, seeing the kingdom of God, is completely and solely the work of God. As we can’t be “reborn” physically, we also can’t become “born-again” by our own efforts. Nicodemus was a “good” man, a law-abiding Pharisee, but his own “goodness” could never gain him entrance into God’s kingdom. Only God, through Jesus Christ, was able to do that miraculous work.

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Poor Nicodemus is having trouble following this, and so would we in his place… and so does anyone who is not “of the Spirit” today. Jesus’ main point here is that He has been teaching the people about earthly things, and they haven’t believed… even though He has been telling them about things that He has witnessed. Thus, He has been giving testimony. In the same way, nobody can testify about heaven unless he has been there; Jesus has come from Heaven and is giving testimony of what He has seen, heard and knows for a fact. It’s as though Jesus was telling Nicodemus: “Come on buddy, you’re a teacher of Israel, you’re supposed to understand this stuff. If you didn’t know about it before, you’re supposed to be educated enough to recognize reliable testimony and believe it: stay with me here!”

Jesus, and His mission, were badly-misunderstood by even the most highly-educated Jews, because they disregarded the “suffering-servant” prophesies in favor of the “victorious-Lord” prophesies, not realizing that the “victorious-Lord” prophesies were for the far-distant future. They imagined the Messiah coming on a mighty-steed, leading a conquering-army, rather than on a lowly donkey.

Jesus then turns Nicodemus’ attention to an event during the Jews wilderness-wanderings. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;

The Bronze Serpent

4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”

6 The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Jesus continues to attempt to communicate with Nicodemus by using an illustration from Israel’s past that he would be familiar with. The Jews had grumbled against God – again, so God sent judgment in the form of poisonous-snakes. Once they repented, God ordered Moses to make a bronze-likeness of the snake and raise it up for all to see. When the serpent was lifted up before them and they gazed upon it in faith, they would live. If not… they would die. In the same way, Jesus will be lifted up before the people (on the cross). Jesus said that this event was a foreshadowing of His crucifixion. Those who look to Him in faith will live.

What symbol do medical-people use today? The Caduceus, which features two entwined snakes around a pole, topped with wings, has been adopted by many in the medical community. Do they see themselves as “saviors“?

This brings us to the best-known and most-loved verse in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” If we have any doubt about how much God loves mankind and His creation, this should put any of those doubts to rest. We know, from reading “the rest of the story“, that God will, in due-time, renew and restore ALL of His creation, including us.

17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:17-21)

Verses 16-18 are probably the most familiar part of this text of all to Christians; it is the very heart of the Gospel setting out just exactly the whole core of Christian Theology. God has sent His Son into the world to save Mankind from the consequences of rebellion against God. Those who believe Him will have eternal life; those who refuse will perish because they have already condemned themselves by their refusal. God loves all Mankind and genuinely wants them to be saved, but He allows them to exercise their free will on the matter: How will you decide?

John 3:16 also rules-out any form of “Universalism”, as is commonly-expressed in our society. “Good” people don’t automatically go to Heaven, nor do they become “angels”. If they weren’t trusting in Christ-alone for their salvation, Hell just claimed another victim, judged by their own unbelief.

The final verses of this passage use the illustration of “light”. Jesus is the light, the truth that shines in a dark world. The world has done evil, it has rejected the light; it has rejected the truth. Yet, if we do what is good, if we believe the One who was sent by God as the light of the world, we will move into the light and our testimony will light the darkness and the world will see that we are doing God’s work. Again, this is a thumbnail of the Gospel message at work in our lives. In the remainder of this chapter, John has set forth the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus. It is interesting to note that John (the author) has put these passages together in this way. First, you have the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus sets out the whole Gospel plan to a Pharisee, who presumably will report on it, and second, you have the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the Christ and about the Gospel as a third party validation. Jesus’ teaching, followed by a third party validation: John is pulling out all of the persuasive stops in this section!

Jesus came to save, not judge, but as we see here, those who fail to believe in Jesus have been judged already because they have rejected their only hope of salvation. I am sure that we all know people who range from simple-unbelief to outright-antagonism towards the Gospel. I have known people who are Pagans, Atheists, and even Luciferians, and the only way I could show the Gospel to them is by living it and loving them. The are proud of their ungodly-ways. Any attempts to evangelize them would be rebuffed, but they don’t reject love. We live in the light because Jesus has set us free from the darkness of our sin. They live in the darkness, hoping that God, if there is a God, isn’t watching their evil-deeds.

In Christ,

Steve

Cleaning House

Passover, the scene of our next event in the life of Christ, was one of the most important festivals on the Jew’s religious calendar. It commemorated when the Jews were released from their bondage in Egypt, and is also known as the “Feast of unleavened-bread“. So, we are going to take another side-trip into the Old Testament to look at this historical-event and why the Jews continued to celebrate it. It is also worth noting that Jesus was three years from the cross at this point in time.

The Last Plague

11 Now the Lord said to Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. 2 Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” 3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Furthermore, the man Moses himself was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 Moreover, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. 7 But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ 8 All these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves before me, saying, ‘Go out, you and all the people who follow you,’ and after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

The Passover Lamb

12 Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. 7 Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. 10 And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. 11 Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Feast of Unleavened Bread

14 ‘Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.

A Memorial of Redemption

23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped.

28 Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

29 Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. 31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.”

Exodus of Israel

33 The Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, “We will all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders.

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Ramses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. 39 They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.

Ordinance of the Passover

42 It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.

43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46 It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. 47 All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. 48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that same day the Lord brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

Consecration of the Firstborn

13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”

3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. 10 Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. (Exodus 11-13:10)

After 430 years in captivity, God sent Moses back to Egypt to lead His people out and towards the Promised Land. God had already terrorized the Egyptians with nine plagues, which had decimated the landscape and sickened both man and beast, when we come to this tenth and final plague, the Destroyer, or Angel of Death. No firstborn would be spared, from the family of Pharaoh to the lowliest servant, the firstborn of both man and beast would be killed. Even hard-hearted Pharaoh would be forced to succumb to God’s demands to let His people go.

However, before the children of Israel left Egypt, God ordered them to plunder the Egyptians and enabled them to do just that. They made an incredible haul of silver, gold and precious stone, much of which would be used later to build and adorn the Tabernacle.

God was going to spare the Israelites, but only if they did exactly what He told them to do. They were also to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt ever year perpetually, which brings us to the opening of our next scene.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority 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 took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:13-25)

Temple background:

Solomon’s temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and it had only been rebuilt after the Jews were allowed to go back to their homeland. Even though the new temple didn’t have the grandeur of Solomon’s original temple, it was consecrated in 516 BC.

Herod the Great, ever one to enhance his image and legacy, decided that Jerusalem needed a larger and grander temple, so he commissioned the building of a new temple on the site of the old temple. Even though the core of the temple was completed fairly quickly, the temple was being expanded almost constantly. This temple was still not finished when Jesus walked into it as our scene opens.

Temple layout:

The heart or core of the temple was the Holy Place and Most Holy Place, which were surrounded by the central courtyard where the Altar of burnt offerings was. Only Jewish men were allowed in this central courtyard. Adjacent to the central courtyard was the Women’s courtyard, which was open to all Jewish men and women. Surrounding the entire temple was a Courtyard of the Gentiles, which during that time, had become very much a flea-market. This is where Jesus encountered the sellers and money-changers.

Festival Background:

Roman currency was not acceptable for money offerings in the temple, so it had to be exchanged for a more-acceptable currency, the Jewish shekel. Animal-sacrifices could also be a problem for people journeying into Jerusalem, so it as common for them to buy animals locally. The problem wasn’t with this commerce, but with where it was being carried-out, on the temple-premises. During these special feasts and high-holy-days, it wasn’t unusual for there to be upwards of a half-million pilgrims in town. The noise was probably deafening and the smell was even worse, not that the temple smelled like a bed of roses any time. It didn’t make for a worshipful-environment.

Our scene

Jesus, like most other able-bodied Jews, made that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and He didn’t like what He found there. The religious leaders, who should have kept commerce out of the Temple, hadn’t, and judging by their reaction to Jesus’ actions, may have even been getting kickbacks from the commerce. At minimum, they challenged His authority to throw the business people out of the Temple.

Since people would have traveled to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire, they would not have been able to bring animals for sacrifices with them and still be able to meet the ceremonial requirements for perfection. Having a marketplace right within the Temple (Court of the Gentiles) would have been quite convenient. At the same time, it would have been quite convenient for the priests who received a percentage from the sales. In addition, Temple taxes were required to be paid by the Jews in the coin of Tyre. Money changers were on hand to exchange other coins for the ones required for Temple taxes, sometimes at high fees: Clearly, Passover was a time for commerce in the middle of the National House of Worship.

Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and drove the traders out, overturning their tables and ordering all of the goods to be removed. Note that He did not harm the animals or confiscate the money; He was not doing this to cause harm, but rather to stop the desecration of the Temple. His whip was made of rope, not leather. It would have gotten a man’s attention, but it would not have caused anyone serious harm. The issue that Jesus reacted to here was not that running a market and engaging in commerce was a bad or sinful thing in and of itself, but that the Temple was not the place for such things. Remember, the Temple in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant was the dwelling place of God (in the Holy of Holies). The dwelling place of God, the place of His worship, was not to be taken callously and turned into a marketplace for personal enrichment; it was reserved for reverence.

Jesus was concerned with the purity and holiness of the Temple, His Father’s House, because worship was being disrupted by commerce. The quote referenced in verse 17, “Zeal for Your house will consume me”. is from Psalm 69:9. The Psalmist was consumed with love for God’s house, and so is Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God’s house as a house of prayer has interesting possibilities for us to consider. First, He certainly had a zeal for the Temple as a place of prayer, but a careful look at the Gospels will reveal that He is never portrayed as praying there. He is mentioned to be praying in the desert, mountains and Sea, but not particularly at the Temple. Of course, creative students will recall that the Temple in the OT is symbolic of a NT reality as mentioned several times in Hebrews. In the NT, many will say that the Temple represents the church, not a building, but the Body of Christ wherein He dwells through the Holy Spirit. It may be said that this approach is a bit of a stretch to apply to this passage, but it is interesting to ponder. What is clear however, is that His consummation took place at the time of His crucifixion, which was done for the forgiveness of sins that His people could be redeemed… and so that all peoples could be redeemed into the Body of Christ.

Naturally the Jewish leaders wanted a “sign“, something to “prove” that He had the authority to do what He had just done, as if they hadn’t already heard about all the miracle Jesus had already done. Jesus didn’t perform miracles “on-demand“, and they weren’t getting one from Him now. Jesus gave them a “sign“, but it wasn’t what they were expecting. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They were incredulous, because the only “temple” they could think of was the physical temple they were standing in, and it had been under construction for forty-six years. Jesus was already prophesying about His crucifixion and resurrection, something His disciples would only comprehend after-the-fact.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

Something to note in this final section is that many people believed in Jesus, but only because of the miracles He was doing. This is not unlike people following Jesus after one of His miraculous mass-feedings. Did they want the true Messiah, or did they want Him for what He could do for them?

Not much has changed. While the “health, wealth and prosperity” preachers gather huge followings, many churches where the Gospel is faithfully-proclaimed struggle to keep their doors open. Our Lord’s call to “Take up our cross daily and follow Him” is no more popular now than it was when He issued it. Denying ourselves for the sake of the Gospel has never been easy because it goes against the grain of our self-centeredness. That begs the question: “Do we want our reward now, or later?” As hard as it is sometimes, I’ll take my reward later.

In Christ,

Steve

Out With The Old – In With The New

This is the story of the first miracle of Jesus, which has no parallel in the synoptic Gospels, and it stands quite alone giving insight into the way Jesus and His disciples lived that many Christians love to ignore: Jesus drank wine. (Horrors!) Just for fun, compare this passage with Colossians 2:20 ff.

If this blows your mind, then let me quickly sum up this passage for you: Jesus performed His first miracle at Cana, where, for the first time His glory and authority was revealed, and His disciples came to believe in Him; let’s have a closer look…

As our next scene opens, Jesus and His disciples have been invited to a wedding. Wedding-celebrations lasted up to a week, depending on the resources of the family, and they were a time of feasting and drinking. This was often a community-wide event.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 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 that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:1-12)

The scene is set: Jesus, His mother (John never says “Mary”) and the disciples were there. This seems to have been three days after the calling of Phillip. No reason is given for the reason the wine ran out. Some have postulated that the attendance of Jesus and the disciples was the cause, but since John says that they had been invited, this seems unlikely. It would also seem that Mary was well known to the family involved here, since she so quickly took charge of the disaster. When she brings this social catastrophe to Jesus’ attention, His reaction is interesting: literally, “What’s it to me?” Notice that Mary seems to be aware that Jesus can remedy the situation easily; why else would she pass right over His question and tell the servants to do whatever He says? Jesus statement that His time has not yet come has troubled some commentators who haven’t noticed that, in John’s Gospel, John uses this wording to refer to the time of Jesus’ being glorified (by the cross) and not to His performance of miracles, in this case a rather mundane one, if indeed any miracle can ever be called “mundane“.

Running out of wine was serious-business, because either the guests had drank more than anticipated or those responsible for the feast hadn’t planned properly. Either way, there wasn’t a liquor-store in the neighborhood where they could buy more wine. They had a problem…

Mary knew what to do – ask Jesus to take care of their problem, but…

While we might recoil in horror that Jesus called His mother “woman“, but in that culture, it wasn’t disrespectful, demeaning or dishonoring to her. This was the way Jesus normally addressed women.

The next part of His response might also surprise us by its bluntness. “What does that have to do with us?” Jesus and His disciples were guests at this party, so the logistics of the party was not His concern. Jesus was also fully-aware of His mission on earth, and being the “divine-caterer” wasn’t part of the package. Yes, He did feed large crowds on a least two occasions, but that was out of compassion, not obligation. Jesus did NOT perform miracles “on-demand“, and His mother didn’t have any more say in His mission than anyone else. Even though Jesus told His mother that taking care of their host’s wine-problem wasn’t in His “job-description“, I don’t believe that it was a hard-edge rebuke either, as do some Bible-scholars.

“My hour has not yet come.” Whoa! What did Jesus Just say? What is this about His “hour“? As we will see, when Jesus refers to His “hour“, He is speaking of the time of His crucifixion…already… Keeping this party going is a foreshadowing of a much grander party which is to come; the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but He will have to die on the cross to make this grander party possible.

Was Mary forcing the issue when she said, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”, or was she expressing full-confidence that Jesus would provide what was needed? I believe that she thought that Jesus would do something, and that what He would do would be good.

The need for the stone water-pots takes us back into the Old Testament, specifically the Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law, which is detailed in Leviticus 12-15, touched virtually ever facet of their daily-lives. The religious-establishment had also added many rules and regulations of their own in addition to God’s laws. They also didn’t have indoor-plumbing or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted, so something as simple as washing one’s hands before eating or after going to the bathroom required water. Some people kept water on hand to take care of their purification needs, as did this family. Others had to go to the public bathhouse or other body of water to bathe, wash their clothes, and take care of other personal-care needs.

The total capacity of these jars would have been in the range of 120 to 180 gallons. It is worthy of note that Jesus used all of the jars and had them filled up completely; nobody could say that Jesus’ power was limited, nor could they claim that He just slipped some kind of magic fairy dust into them: they were full.

It may have taken many trips to the well to fill up those waterpots, but at Jesus’ command, they did. If they averaged twenty-five gallons each, that was one-hundred and fifty gallons of water, which was soon to become wine. That must have been some very good wine, because the headwaiter wondered why they had saved the best wine for last. We don’t know how far along in the feast that this event took place.

While Jesus always performed His miracles for the benefit of others, His primary purposes in performing miracles were to show His glory and to lend credibility to His message, to further-convince His disciples that He was who He said He was, the Messiah.

When the servants drew the “water” from the jars and served it to the master of the banquet, the master confirmed that not only was this wine, but it was the “good stuff”. This wasn’t some cheap “wino’s-wine“; this was “top-shelf-vintage“. It can be hilarious reading commentaries about these verses when the commentator goes on and on about how this was “obviously” not really wine but unfermented grape juice.

We should also see that Jesus was God over all of creation, which meant that He could create something from nothing or turn something into something else, water into wine. He will demonstrate His lordship over creation in many other ways as we progress through John’s gospel and His ministry.

One very important thing to note is that this miracle symbolized the coming of a new kingdom-order. The old ceremonial and sacrificial system was being done away with, symbolized by the water for purification, and Jesus was establishing a new kingdom-order, symbolized by wine, a symbol of the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus came both to fulfill the old law and to nullify it, which He did by His sinless life and atoning-sacrifice on the cross. We are beneficiaries of both His finished work and promised Holy Spirit.

The brand new disciples, who had responded to the testimony of John the Baptist, and then to each other’s witness, saw for the first time, that Jesus was more than a man who had been blessed by God: He had a power that no mere mortal possessed, and they put their faith in Him. This would also be the reason for His future miracles; to confirm His true identity and the authority by which He taught.

One of the cardinal rules of interpretation of the Bible is that you must set aside your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions and let the text speak for itself. When you are confused or feel that you have come upon a contradiction, there are various things you can do to figure out what the meaning is. Here are two easy ideas: You can usually do a word study and find out what is going on. In addition, a close examination of the complete context will also aid in determining what the text is teaching. After this has been done, if the Bible turns out to support your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions: Marvelous. But where it doesn’t, your presuppositions, opinions or traditions are wrong. In this case, if you are bound and determined to say that Jesus would never allow the serving of wine, you have two problems to deal with: First, the Greek word used here is “oinos“; which happens to mean “wine”. The Greek word for grape juice is “tnyx“. Why would John, “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit“, make such a “writing error”? Second, note what the master of the banquet said in verse 10. Does that even remotely indicate that they were dealing with grape juice? Does it sound to you like what he would say if the wine was watered down to less than 50% wine? A better question would be,Was Jesus trying to get everyone drunk?” The text does not tell us that Jesus had everyone’s glass refilled, it tells us that the master of the banquet, the only one we know for sure that was aware of the problem got a sample. We don’t know what the other attendees did after that, or if they even became aware that the wine was gone. We do know why Jesus performed the miracle, however.

Yes dear believers, this is the point, and all of the silly business of trying to explain away the wine only draws our attention away from the majesty of our Lord.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

Jesus had already made Capernaum His “headquarters“, maybe at the home of Peter and Andrew, so that was His next stop. By this time, His entourage already included at least four disciples plus His family, and there was no “Motel-6” or “Days-Inn” to stay in. Other Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law at his home in Capernaum.

It appears that Mary was already a widow by this time, with kids still living at home, because there is no mention of Joseph in this scene, and Mary will reappear at other times throughout Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:31-32). It would have been a serious social faux-pas for Mary to show up at the wedding without Joseph at her side. His sisters may have already been married-off by then, because girls got married much younger than boys in that culture. Whatever the case was, the family was together during the wedding and for a short time afterward.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

Calling Disciples

John now turns his attention to Jesus, specifically the beginning of His earthly ministry. Jesus starts by calling disciples, men who will learn from Him and accompany Him in His ministry. His first followers began as followers of John the Baptist. None of them had angelic messages or voices from on high; they simply reacted to the person of Jesus Christ. Why is that noteworthy? Because that is exactly how you and I are “called”. I’ve never met a person who claimed that they was a follower of Christ because they had experienced a personal audience with an angel, prophet or indeed God Himself. They simply reacted to who Jesus is.

35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated 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 Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42)

As a preacher and prophet, John the Baptist had attracted a group of loyal-followers, disciples. John knew that he was only the “forerunner“, the “herald” for the coming Messiah, so far from being “possessive” of them, he pointed them to Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples took the hint that they should follow Jesus instead of John. One of them was Andrew, and some Bible scholars have speculated that the other one was John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, particularly since John never mentions himself by name in his Gospel.

John’s story of the calling of disciples begins in verses 35-42; taking it as a whole, we see two main components, the first being John’s testimony that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.” This is the confession that marks the difference between a world that is lost and a follower of Christ. The second aspect is the response of the two disciples of John who heard it: they followed Jesus. Notice however that their initial following of Jesus was literal in the sense that they were going to go where He went as opposed to give Him their lives. When Jesus saw them he simply asked them what they wanted, a question that He would ask many over time. The two did not give a great theological reply; they just wanted to see where He was staying, maybe to have a chance to talk with Him later. Jesus gave them a classic reply, “Come and you will see.”

Evidently Andrew, in his “off-duty” time, was a disciple of John the Baptist, because as this scene opens, Andrew wasn’t out fishing but was with John the Baptist. Andrew, while not mentioned in previous scenes, had probably heard quite a bit of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. Thus, when John said “Behold the Lamb of God“, he was prepared to find out more about this man named Jesus.

Heeding John’s testimony, Andrew and the other disciple went with Jesus and spent the rest of the day with Him. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (the “tenth hour“, according to first-century Jews’ reckoning of time), so the disciples began what would become a lifetime of discipleship. Hospitality customs were such that someone who was providing a room for the night to a visiting Rabbi would also open their home to whoever was with him.

Andrew, while he never rose to be in the limelight with Peter and the other leading Apostles, can be seen as the “great-introducer“, and he starts with his own brother, Simon. That he had already accepted John’s testimony about Jesus, that He was the Messiah, is evident in what he told Simon, “We have found the Messiah”. Even though the religious leaders would assess them later as being “uneducated men“, they knew more than the religious leaders gave them credit for.

In truth, this is the matrix for all personal evangelism: Someone hears about Jesus and they want to check it out. Our approach is “Come and see”. In the case of our text, they arrived at Jesus’ lodgings at around 4 in the afternoon. Time in the Gospels is reckoned more or less as a twelve hour day from roughly 6 am to 6 pm. The tenth hour would be about 4 pm. During their visit, Andrew goes off to get his brother Simon, who comes along to see Jesus. Andrew was now certain about the identity of Jesus. Jesus, in verse 42 tells Simon that he will be called Cephas. Note that the synoptic Gospels record this name change roughly in the middle of Jesus’ ministry; is this a conflict? It is not a conflict because Jesus did not change Simon’s name to Cephas; He only said that he will be called by that name: future tense, it will happen someday. As we will discover later on, Peter’s new name came with a new occupation.

Perhaps the most important thing Andrew ever did as a disciple was to introduce his brother, Simon, to Jesus. Simon, as is well known, would go on to serve a foundational role in the establishment of the Christian church, and that is foreshadowed here in Jesus’ renaming Simon as Cephas or Peter. Aramaic was the common language of first-century Jews in Palestine, and Cephas comes from the Aramaic word that means “rock”. Peter is from the Greek word that means the same thing. Jesus would again identify Simon as Peter, the Rock, later in His ministry (Matthew 16:13-20), but this record in John’s Gospel that Jesus identified Peter as the “rock”, as having a key role in the disciples, long before Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. He would be essential for laying the foundation of the church by preaching on Pentecost, by being the instrument through whom God worked to convert the first Gentiles to Christ, and by writing part of the New Testament (Acts 2:10; 1 and 2 Peter).

We have noted that Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, does not play as large a role in the foundation of the early church as does Peter. Yet, it was through Andrew that Peter first met Jesus.

The next section takes place on the next day as Jesus moved on and in the process came upon Phillip. He simply said to him, “Follow me.” Phillip’s response was immediate: He followed Jesus.

43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of 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 any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to 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 and said to 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 and said to him, “Because I said to you that 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 the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

Jesus began calling disciples with Philip, who later found Nathanael. It isn’t recorded what their occupations were, but whatever they had been doing, they forsook and started following Jesus.

Why was it important that Philip was from Bethsaida? Bethsaida was a small fishing village, so it is likely that Philip knew Peter and Andrew. As we will see, Jesus and His disciples formed a tight-knit community.

The “bait” Philip used was their knowledge of the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets. As was common in that culture, Jesus was referred to by who His “father” was and where He was from. Nathanael was naturally skeptical; “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, because Joseph was a carpenter and Nazareth was a sleepy-backwater town in Galilee with no real significance. It isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, unlike Bethlehem.

The New Testament tells us clearly that Nazareth was an insignificant, even despised town. Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth, as is evident by Nathanael’s response when Philip told him about finding the Messiah, Plainly, Nathanael could not believe that the promised Savior would come from such a humble locale. It’s kind of like Minco, Oklahoma: Nowhereville! Nathanael, it should be noted, is likely the same person as Bartholomew, who is listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels.

Funny, it is interesting that the Son of God should be from “Nowhereville”, and He was born in a stable, to an unwed teenager, while on a road trip, and He died on a cross, naked and penniless. There is no worldly appeal to Him; there is only who He is to draw a person closer. Philip’s reaction is a classic: “Come and see”.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, we see an interesting statement, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael wasn’t just a nominal-Jew who just went through the motions in his worship. Rather, Nathanael knew and was trusting in God’s promises to provide a Redeemer for Israel.

48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” How did Jesus know Nathanael? Jesus was God-Incarnate, God in the flesh, and He revealed some of His supernatural knowledge to Nathanael.

Based on what Jesus had just revealed to Him, Nathanael made an incredible statement, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Nathanael immediately recognized that he was standing before the long-promised Messiah, and Jesus promised that what Nathanael had just witnessed would pale in comparison to what he was going to witness later on, the glory of God.

When the skeptical Nathaniel first meets Jesus he is surprised by what Jesus knew about him. His reaction was to believe what Phillip had told him, and he responded in faith. Jesus has an interesting reply to Nathaniel’s expression of faith: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Jesus begins His final comment in this chapter with “Truly, truly I say to you” the first of 25 times in this Gospel to introduce an important statement, and then proceeded to make a statement that reminds us of Genesis 28:12, Jacob’s ladder. “…you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This statement gives the commentators some trouble, but my take is that His disciples would see that Jesus was directly connected with heaven, speaking for heaven and being of heaven. Jesus and the Word cannot be separated. This is also His first use of the title “Son of Man”, which will become His favorite way of referring to Himself. In calling Himself the “Son of Man“, Jesus was affirming His full-humanity, which was necessary for Him to become our Sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God.

Once again, we see one man, Philip, once he was called by Jesus, going out and finding another man, Nathanael. As Andrew introduce Peter to Jesus, Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Isn’t our calling to introduce people to Jesus?

Fishers of men

We now go to Matthew 4:18-22 to pick up the call of the four fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John:

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

The Sea of Galilee is an inland lake which is about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. In other parts of the New Testament, it is also called the Lake of Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberius. It is fed from the North by the Jordan River, beginning at its headwaters, and drains out to the South through the Jordan River to the Salt Sea (Dead Sea). Many of the events in the life and ministry of Christ took place along the Sea of Galilee. Because it is ringed by mountains, it is well-known for its violent storms.

Even though Jesus had met Peter and Andrew before, we now see Him call them to be His disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were commercial-fishermen, so they left a lot behind when they started following Jesus. We are told later on that Peter had a family, so following Jesus was not trivial. Matthew, or Levi, was a tax-collector before Jesus called him, so he left a very lucrative occupation behind (Matthew 9:9-13).

We should note that “Follow Me…” is not merely a “suggestion“, it is a COMMAND. Could they have blown Him off and said “We’re not interested”? They could have, but they didn’t.

Note that Jesus doesn’t recruit His disciples and “fishers of men” from the religious intelligentsia but from ordinary people from ordinary walks in life…people like us.

“God doesn’t call the “qualified”, He qualifies the called!”

The cost of discipleship…

19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)

Discipleship has a cost, as His first disciples quickly found out. Discipleship also has a cost for us, because, even if we aren’t called to leave our old occupation behind, we certainly do have to leave our old lives behind, including our old sinful ways of thinking and our old sinful ways of living. Whatever the cost of discipleship is, our heavenly-reward will make it all worthwhile.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

Tempted By Satan

Even though it is not mentioned in John’s Gospel, another important step towards beginning His earthly ministry was when Jesus was tempted by Satan. So, we are going to take another brief side-trip into the other Gospels and pick up that event. The ministry of Jesus has begun… or has it? He has been baptized by John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended upon Him in “bodily form” and the Father has spoken; now He has one more hurdle before He begins; He must be tempted, and in a sense, “tried” or “proven”, much as gem-stones and precious-metals are assayed for their purity and quality. Was He the “real-deal”? Did He have the “right-stuff”?

Satan tempts Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”

11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

*********************************************************************************

4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ 11 and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

There are a couple of things to note right from the get-go. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, but He was also led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t go into this “unarmed”, because besides being empowered by the Holy Spirit, He had a comprehensive-knowledge of Scripture. His journey into the wilderness was reminiscent of the Jews forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and while the Jews failed their test miserably, Jesus passed His test with flying-colors.

Jesus’ three temptations correspond to temptations common to us today: lust of the flesh, hunger of all types; lust of the eyes, or covetousness; and pride, lust for power.

Turn a stone into bread – The Spirit leads Him out into the desert (Wilderness) where He is to fast for 40 days, just as Moses and Elijah have done before. This is the first of several parallels to Israel’s past in this section. After 40 days, Jesus is terribly hungry, and in this we see His humanity in full force, after He was proclaimed by His Father to be the Son of God. Taking advantage of the situation, the devil comes onto the stage… Because Jesus was fully-human, it was natural and normal that He was hungry, so knowing Jesus’ hunger, the devil points to a stone and tells Jesus to turn it into bread to ease His suffering. Notice how Satan begins this temptation; “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Satan begins by questioning Jesus’ true-identity as “the Son of God”. Is He who He ways He is?

Of course you’ll recall the ruckus among the Israelites in the Wilderness about their lack of food which demonstrated their lack of faith in the God who had so recently rescued them from Egypt in spectacular fashion. Unlike the Israelites, Jesus’ faith does not bend at this point. Satan tempted Jesus to use His creative-powers to satisfy His own hunger, which He refused to do. That He could have turned a stone into bread is not in question, but He never used His powers for His own self-gratification. Every time He used His creative-powers, it was for the benefit of someone else. He turned water into wine at a wedding. He multiplied loaves and fishes to feed hungry crowds at least twice. He also made breakfast for His disciples after His resurrection on the day that He restored Peter. All of those events, while clearly-displaying His power, were for the benefit of others. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament in response to this temptation.

Jesus was the “real deal”, the true “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), and stands in stark contrast to the Israelites, who had short memories and wanted God to prove Himself over and over in the Wilderness.

You can fly – Satan also tempted Jesus to see if God would really keep His promise. Had Jesus flown that day, it might have been a grand-spectacle, and while it might have jump-started His ministry, it would have violated His relationship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was not about to use His power and position for His own personal ends, rather He came to be a servant-leader in humility and self-denial. He never had a “road-crew” to make sure that He had a “proper-pulpit” to preach or teach from. He used whatever He had available. When Satan quoted and misapplied Scripture from the Old Testament, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture also.

Become king of the world – Satan shows Jesus all of the world’s kingdoms and offers them to Jesus, if He will only worship Satan. Is the entire world Satan’s to offer? Is a renter authorized to put a property up for sale? Satan was tempting Jesus to bypass the cross and become an earthly-king. The really interesting aspect of the offer is that it would have brought Jesus to His destiny in a sense, while bypassing the cross, for in being the king of all nations, every knee would bow to Him. The irony of Satan’s offer is that Jesus already owned everything in the universe, and once His mission was finished, God the Father was already going to hand the reins of authority over to Him, so earthly-glory wasn’t going to hold a candle to His heavenly-glory, and when He returns, every knee WILL bow and every tongue WILL confess that He is Lord. Jesus once again fended Satan off by quoting Scripture from the Old Testament. In His denial, Jesus has passed another test that the Israelites had failed in the Wilderness, for He refused to bow to another god, while they had not only bowed to other gods, they had actually manufactured gods to bow to.

Could Jesus have failed the test? – Since Jesus DIDN’T fail the test, we will never know if He could have. He was tested so that He can understand our tests and temptations. Those were not the only temptations He faced. There were several times when adoring-crowds tried to make Him their king, but He passed on those as well. Probably His most intense test was in the Garden as He faced the cross and all the suffering that went with it. He did go to the cross, and He endured both the physical-agony and having the full wrath of God for our sins poured out on Him.

In the final verse, Luke tells us that Satan withdrew in favor of a more opportune time, and indeed, we will encounter him again and again in the story. When all of this was completed, Jesus returned to His home town to kick off His public ministry, no doubt to cheers from His friends and family.

Or not.

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter that Jesus withstood these temptations from Satan?

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus has been tried and tempted by everything that we will ever confront, so He understands all of our trials, temptations and struggles. We won’t ever face anything He hasn’t faced and conquered already, so as our great high priest, He is ever-willing to come alongside us to help us face and conquer our trials, temptations and struggles.

Today – While it may be tempting to sell one’s soul to Satan in exchange for earthly-fame and fortune, both of those “rewards” are short-lived, while the consequences are eternal. Many aspiring entertainers have sold their soul to Satan, become shining-stars, and met untimely-deaths.

Satan is still in the business of tempting believers today, because he loves nothing better that to trip us up, tarnish our reputation and cause us to mangle our fellowship with God and other believers. Whether it is lying on one’s income-tax return, perpetrating a shady business deal, or falling into sexual-sin, the results are the same. We become less like Christ and more like Satan. Satan has tripped me up with sexual-sin way too many times. No, I don’t walk on water or commune with angels.

Satan has also infiltrated the church in far more insidious ways. As he tried to tempt Jesus by quoting but misapplying Scripture, he has also gotten church leaders to twist and pervert Scripture by preaching as “gospel” lies from the pit of hell. Many of them have been taught those lies in Bible college or seminary. Unfortunately these lies sound so “right” that many Christians believe that they are true. John the Apostle has given us a stern warning about believing everything we hear from pulpits or read in books. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

God has promised to supply ALL of our needs, but not necessarily all of our “wants“. In the Lord’s prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread“, and even though that may not include steak, God WILL provide for our needs. Trust God for your needs and trust God to help you resist temptation. Jesus understands our temptations and stands ready to help us because He was also tempted.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

John Baptizes Jesus

Jesus was about to begin His public ministry, transitioning from being a carpenter to being an itinerant Rabbi, but were a couple of important things He had to do first. He couldn’t begin until He was “initiated” and had completed His “testing-period“.

No account of the life of Christ would be complete without His baptism by John the Baptist. As we saw last week, John the Baptist alluded to this event in John 1:31-34, so we are going to take a wee side-trip into Matthew 3 to pick up that narrative. We will follow that next week with Jesus’ temptation by Satan from Luke 4:1-13, before resuming our progress through John’s Gospel.

John the Baptist’s ministry…
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’”

4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 3:1-5)

John’s baptism was unique because he was calling for Jews to be baptized, not for ritual-purification, but as a symbol of spiritual-renewal. Jews used a ritual known as the “mikvah” whenever they were ceremonially-unclean. Gentiles also went through the mikvah when they converted to the Jewish faith.

Would John the Baptist be welcome in your church?

John baptizes Jesus
13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he recognized that Jesus was the one person who had no need for repentance. but in order to “fulfill all righteousness“, Jesus had to be identified with His people as the bearer of their sins (2 Corin. 5:21). Ultimately John’s baptism pointed to Jesus, for only Jesus’ death on the cross, which He called a “baptism” (Luke 12:50), could take away sins. Jesus’ identification with His people included His baptism and death, His anointment with the Spirit, and His victory over temptation.

God’s kingdom (His sovereign rule in salvation and judgment) is defined by His righteousness. Jesus teaches the perfect righteousness that God requires (Matt. 5:20, 48); He also secures God’s righteousness for sinners. His baptism points to His death as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28) and shows the perfect obedience in which He fulfills all righteousness (Jer. 23:5, 6). Remission of sins and the gift of righteousness are received through faith in Jesus Christ (8:10; 23:23; cf. 21:32). Those who lack God’s righteousness, but hunger and thirst for it, will be filled (5:6; 6:23). Jesus calls those burdened with a load of self-righteousness to find their rest in Him (11:28-12:8).

To Fulfill All Righteousness?
That statement, which came from the lips of Jesus, would seem almost like an oxymoron, and yet that was the reason He gave to John the Baptist for requesting baptism. The sinless Son of God was “fulfilling all righteousness” by being baptized? How could that be?

Sit back, relax and buckle up for the tour, as we try to discover what He needed to be done with that act. The journey begins back in the Old Testament, where God gave Moses the instructions for consecrating priests. I also want to touch on why our own baptism should be such a wonderful, deeply-spiritual event.

As 21st century Christians, most of us haven’t been schooled in the Law of Moses. We know and understand the moral law – the Ten Commandments, but those are but the tip of the iceberg for a 1st century Jew. They were also schooled in and bound by the ceremonial law, which impacted virtually all facets of life. In a previous lesson, I mentioned circumcision and its importance and impact. Besides keeping the moral law perfectly, Jesus also kept the ceremonial law to the letter. I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to read the Pentateuch, because in my teaching and writings, I try to keep and portray a holistic view of the Bible without imposing 21st century culture on my interpretations.

Something that fails our understanding of worship in the Old Testament is how intimately-tied the Ceremonial Law was to their worship. God had called the children of Israel to be “set-apart“, a people who were markedly-different than their neighbors, and that included in their worship. We don’t quite “get” the difference between someone being “ceremonially-unclean” and something being “bad” or “wrong“, so it is quite easy for us to conclude that something which made a person “ceremonially-unclean” was “wrong”. Was it “bad” or “wrong” for a woman to have her monthly-period, or for a couple to have sex? Of course not, but both made them “ceremonially-unclean“, as did child-birth, which meant that they couldn’t participate in tabernacle or temple worship until they had gone through the necessary “purification“. (Leviticus 15:16-24) The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law were known collectively as the Law of Moses.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Jesus came to fulfill and keep both the Moral Law AND the entirety of the Ceremonial Law. The Law Giver came to be the perfect Law Keeper

According to the law…
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 22:21-24)

There were no shortcuts in fulfilling the whole Law. Everything was done how and when it was supposed to be done, because Jesus was a “complete” Jew. In spite of being “hick-town” Jews, Galileans, Mary and Joseph were very conversant with the Law and kept it meticulously.

Circumcision is just another “medical procedure” to us, but it was the Rite of Passage to a Jewish boy. It visually-symbolized his inclusion in God’s covenant people, Israel. Jesus could not have been proclaimed to be “The King of the Jews” while He hung on the cross if He had not been circumcised.

Thirty years old…
Why did Jesus wait until he was thirty years old before he began his public ministry? (Luke 3:23) Priests and Levites were not allowed to enter temple-service until they were thirty years old. (Numbers 4:34-37)

Priestly consecration…
God gave very specific instructions to Moses regarding the consecration and installation of priests:

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve Me as priest.” (Exodus 40:12-13)

His baptism…
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Even though Jesus was not anointed with oil after His baptism, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, which the oil symbolizes. Jesus, in His baptism, fully identified with His people, and willingly took on His role as our High Priest. As the water of baptism symbolically cleanses away sin, so Jesus, in entering the water of baptism, symbolically took upon Himself our sin and pollution.

Jesus – our High Priest…
Jesus was not descended from the priestly line of Aaron, the traditional Jewish priestly line. He was from the tribe of Judah, so He became a priest by special decree. “For it evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:14-17)

To fulfill all righteousness?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus, who is the eternal Word, laid-aside His divine glory and divine prerogatives, and became a human-being, a man, so that He could live the life we can not live, one of perfect obedience to His Father, and died the death that is rightfully ours, so that we may be clothed in His righteousness. He fulfilled ALL righteousness, because we can not do it for ourselves.

Why does it matter?
To come into the presence of God, we must be perfectly-holy, and a “clean-slate” isn’t good enough. Had Jesus only died for our sins, we would, at the moment of our salvation, be restored to a “pre-fall” condition, but the rest would be up to us. We must be righteous before God, which means that we must live a perfectly-holy life, but we can’t muster that for even one minute. Only by Jesus’ perfectly-holy life can His perfect-record become ours. When Jesus “fulfilled all righteousness“, He did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, make us righteous before God.

The Priesthood of all believers…
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Baptism – our priestly consecration…
The 21st century church has forsaken the rich symbolism of baptism in the early church, and most people would be incensed if they had to strip naked in public and be baptized nude. Believers in the early church had no such cultural hangups, because they were thoroughly versed in the ceremonial practices of the Jewish faith and didn’t have the conveniences which we take for granted.. We miss out on the richness of the baptism rite, which was meant to symbolize, or reproduce, the consecration and anointing of priests in the Old Testament.

The putting off of the old garment symbolizes putting off the old man, our old, pre-believer self. The washing with water (baptism) symbolizes being cleansed, purified for holy service. The anointing with oil symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Putting on a new, clean garment symbolizes being covered with the righteousness of Christ. It symbolizes a complete transformation, because once a priest, always a priest…a perpetual priesthood, under our great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even if we haven’t gone through the whole baptism rite, we must understand what our baptism symbolizes – becoming a kingdom of priests to our God and Father.

Have you been consecrated for holy service?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Why Does Jesus’ Humanity Matter – To Naturists?

Most Christians have at least some vague idea about why Jesus’ humanity matters to them, at least in terms of their salvation and redemption, but even they don’t have a clue about its implications for their attitudes towards the human body. As a result, wherever Christianity has spread, cultures that had little need or use for clothing have been “textilized”, naturists are often discriminated against, and naturism may even be criminalized.

Why does it matter? It matters because our ethical and moral standards come either from the Bible (God), or from our culture, and where our cultural ethical and morals standards deviate from the Bible (God), we can’t have it both ways. Keep in mind that our laws are derived from our culture, not the other way around. Case in point; “Same-sex marriage“, in the US, didn’t become legal until it had become more-or-less “culturally-acceptable“. That is only one example of where our cultural ethical and moral standards have deviated significantly from the Bible (God). Many countries, and/or their political subdivisions, have “anti-nudity” laws, not because it is forbidden in the Bible (by God), but because it is culturally-unacceptable. How did it get that way?

There is a huge theological-disconnect between what the Bible says and teaches about our bodies and what Christians believe about our bodies. Beginning all the way back in Genesis 2, Christians have perverted what the Bible says to fit their own narrative, their own cultural-qualms:

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.(Genesis 2:25); This statement does not idealize nudity, but shows why humans must wear clothes. With the Fall came a tragic loss of innocence (together with the resulting shame). When people’s minds are enlightened by the Gospel, they understand their moral frailty and practice customs of dress that shield them against sexual temptation. (from the New Geneva Study Bible)

When prominent Bible scholars begin their interpretation of the Bible that deeply in their “culturalhole“, it is highly-unlikely that they will begin to fill that “hole” with Bible truth, at least with regards to nudity. I don’t find that application in that passage, or for that matter, anywhere else in the Bible. It was based on what was “culturallyacceptable” to the commentator.

Moving forward through Genesis 3, the first seven verses recount the Fall, Adam and Eve’s subsequent shame, and their attempt to hide their shame behind “fig leaves“. Who, or what, were they hiding from? They were hiding from God (v. 8), but can a person hide their shame with “fig leaves“? People have been trying to hide their shame with “fig leaves” ever since.

God asked an amazing question in Genesis 3:11; “Who told you that you were naked…?” Where did this amazing new knowledge come from? “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Did the “fruit” impart that new knowledge? Not likely, because the “fruit” is not a “Who“. That “Who” can only point to the Serpent, Satan, the Deceiver, the Father of lies. Who else would have been interested in perverting God’s image in mankind? Certainly not God. He called His image-bearers “very good” (Genesis 1:31). It is notable that God didn’t join-in in condemning their as-created (naked) bodies.

Why did God make “tunics of skin” for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)? The typical answer would be “to cover their nakedness“, but was that really the reason? God had already seen them naked (He created them that way) and promised a remedy for their shame (Genesis 3:15), so who were they going to hide from? In the intervening-verses, Genesis 3:14-19, God has cursed the Serpent, Eve, Adam, and finally the ground. The curse on the ground included “thorns and thistles” (v. 18), things that can tear and damage their skin. What if the “thorns and thistles” was the real reason God gave them clothes? That would make sense, based on the context, because they were still the only two people on the planet, they were a couple (Genesis 2:23-24) with the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), AND, they were being evicted from the Garden (3:23-24). God created the first PPC (Personal Protective Clothing). God also never “commanded” them to wear that clothing, and didn’t command anyone to wear clothing until He prescribed the Priest’s garments in Exodus 28, which were made in Exodus 39:1-31.

How many pastors would allow themselves to be consecrated as God told Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:4-9; 40:12-15)? They were stripped-naked, washed with water, and clothed from the bare-skin up – in public

So where does Jesus fit-in?

Jesus, as Creator-God, was the designer and architect of our human-bodies (John 1:1-4). He created, from the dust of the ground, the first two “prototypes” of our human-bodies, and He created them male and female (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7). That we have gender-distinctive body-parts is no accident, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. It was part of the plan, which included “be fruitful and multiply“, sexual reproduction, (Genesis 1:28). Mankind was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), which, in and of itself, bequeaths the human-body with incredible dignity. That man is God’s image-bearer is reiterated in Genesis 9:6, when God proscribed murder and prescribed capitol-punishment for murder. That is why all human-life is precious and any form of murder is wrong.

 

“God could not have been able to become man if he had not first made man in his own image.” – Herman Bavinck

 

That Jesus took on flesh (John 1:14), became a human, a man, bequeaths the human-body with even more incredible dignity.

Jesus, as male, a man, had the same gender-distinctive body-parts all males have, so men, don’t be ashamed of what is between your legs, because Jesus had one too. If hadn’t had a penis, He couldn’t have been circumcised (Luke 2:21). He also couldn’t have been the “Son of David” (2 Samuel 7:12–16; Matthew 1:1; Mark 10:46-48), “The King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2; 27:37) or the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Jesus was born into a time, place and culture, a culture that hadn’t embraced “bodyshame” (God hadn’t legislated it either), as we have, so He, who was perfect, had no reason to be ashamed of His body. So what did His culture look like?

God, in His law, commanded many ceremonial washings (baths) which observant Jews were obligated to do regularly (including every time a couple had sex, after a woman’s period, or a baby was born)…

There was no running water…

There were no indoor private restrooms or bathrooms…

Most homes only had one or two rooms…

Clothes were handmade and expensive…

There were no clothes washers or dryers…

People wore clothes when necessary and convenient…

Clothes and bodies were washed in any available place, river, lake or public pool…

Farmers, common laborers, fishermen and slaves often worked naked when it was warm, or they were doing dirty work, to preserve what little clothing they had…

The Greeks had built gymnasiums throughout the territories they ruled for physical training, sports and education… (The root word “gymnos” means “naked”)

After the Greeks, the Romans built public bath-houses throughout much of their territory. Everyone bathed and socialized nude…

The Romans crucified their prisoners naked and in public…

Jesus:

Born naked (all babies are born naked)…

Experienced normal puberty…

Baptized naked (mikvah)…

Washed His disciple’s feet naked…

Crucified naked…

Left the tomb naked…

As a carpenter, He probably frequently worked naked…

Did many other things naked which are not recorded in the Gospels, because He fully-kept the Law…

Once Jesus left home to begin His public ministry, He was essentially-homeless;  

As they were going along the road,  someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”  And Jesus said to him,  “The foxes have holes and the birds of the  air  have  nests, but  the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58)

Nobody batted an eye when they saw someone naked in public, because it was normal!

Most Christians would object to this scenario, claiming that it was a “clothed-society”, which it was, but the difference is that it wasn’t a “compulsively-clothed-society”. Nudity, even public-nudity, was no big deal, because everyone was nude in public when necessary. Naturists would have felt at home in that environment.

Surely, if God was incensed by “public nudity”, when Jesus walked the earth would have been the ideal time to crack-down on it, but He didn’t. If wearing clothes became a “moral imperative” after the Fall, God must have not gotten that “memo”. Even though the Apostle Paul was the most widely-traveled of the Apostles, and wrote over half of the New Testament, God didn’t clue him into it either, because there is nothing in the Pauline Epistles about not participating in the Greek gymnasiums or Roman bathes. That leads me to wonder where some people get their interpretations from…

After His crucifixion, Jesus was raised back from the dead – bodily. There was obvious-continuity between His pre-crucifixion body and His resurrection-body, as the marks of His torture and crucifixion were still evident and visible. Since He had left His grave-wrappings behind, He emerged from the Tomb the same way He was crucified – naked. He was still fully-human, and He still ate and drank.

At His ascension, Jesus did NOT leave His human-body behind. He ascended-bodily, taking our flesh and blood back with Him to Heaven, where He is the eternal God-Man. As God, He is NOT constrained by time, space and place, but as Man, He has many of the same constraints as we do.

A Christian’s hope for eternity is NOT as a disembodied-spirit living forever with God, but as a fully-embodied human-being living forever with God. While our spirits leave our bodies behind at death, in the resurrection, our spirits rejoin our resurrected-body as one unified-person, fully-human in every respect.

“A person has no-less human-dignity, “wearing nothing but a grin”, au naturel, than they do when wearing the “finery of royalty”. The “finery of royalty” only denotes “social-status”, not the person’s inherent-dignity.” – Steve

Final thoughts…

As a Christian, and a Naturist, as I study the Bible, I am often appalled at how knowledgeable Bible scholars, teachers and preachers pervert what the Bible says to support their own cultural qualms and whims. The Bible is supposed to be our “Gold Standard”, the lens through which we see and evaluate our culture, NOT the other way around. We must never evaluate and interpret the Bible through the lens of our own, fallen culture, but that is what far too many Christians do.

If you want to get a real “eye-full” of what God thinks concerning our bodies and sexuality, read the Song of Solomon. If it was illustrated, it would be at least X-rated, if not XXX-rated. Yes, it is that graphic, which means that it is graphic enough to make many “good Christians” blush, and yes, it IS in the Bible.

I am naked and unashamed in Christ!
Steve

What Is Our Only Hope? – Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters…

What is our only hope?

We are faced with a crisis of hope in America today. Fewer people have true hope than at any time in the past. Two or three people have committed suicide since this service began, and before it ends, several more will have committed suicide. Someone commits suicide every fifteen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. Suicide is the ultimate expression of hopelessness. Why are so many people living without hope?

We see hopelessness in divorce courts. Over fifty percent of the people who say “I do” will say “I don’t” sometime in the future. Those marriages may last for many years before they dissolve or just a few days as my most recent one did. Why do people say “I do” and then say “I don’t”? Why was there so much hope when they said “I do” and yet they are hopelessly broken when they say “I don’t“. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Why this epidemic of hopelessness? What has caused all this hopelessness?

Could it be that throwing God out of America has real consequences?

Could it be that when people say “I don’t want anything to do with God“, He gives them their wish and turns them over to the worst to torture themselves for all eternity.

The Bible will provide the answers people need, but only if they are willing to get acquainted with its Author. Are you living without hope? If so, I hope that you will stay tuned as we look at “What is our only hope? Why Jesus’ humanity matters“.

We are broken people, living in a broken world, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is far more brokenness in us than we would like to admit, which is why we act like we are “okay” even when we aren’t. We have learned to put on a “happy-face” even when we are crying inside because we don’t want those around us to know how broken we are. Only God can heal our brokenness and make us whole again, but we have to trust Him to do what we can’t do for ourselves. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a man so that He could bring us back into a right-relationship with God and with one another. He IS our ONLY hope.

We often ask “Where was God when…?“, and we can list a thousand-and-one events when God was seemingly-absent, but was He? If we don’t really know who Jesus is, we would be tempted to think of God merely as a detached observer, but we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Four major traumatic events are etched deeply into my memory, and beg the question Where was God when…?

Where was God when the Space Shuttle Challenger became a ball of fire?

Where was God when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed?

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell?

Where was God during the Pulse Nightclub massacre?

While I was somewhat “detached” from those events, every one of them left grieving family and friends behind, and I was deeply-shocked by them. The Pulse Nightclub massacre struck way too close to home, since I live fairly close to Orlando. Where was God when those events took place?

Getting more personal…

Where was God when my wife committed suicide?

Where was God when my brother Darrell died of cancer?

Where was God when my mom died?

Whether it is a major-event or a personal-tragedy, our deepest desire is to know that God cares, that He understands our pain and suffering. While we might think that God was “detached” from those events, as we will see from John 11, God was very-much present during and after those events. This should give us hope, both for the present, AND for the future.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In our era of instant-communications, we barely remember when all news from friends and loved-ones came by “snail-mail“, so it is hard for us to fathom that it could have taken several days for Jesus and His disciples to have found out about Lazarus’ sickness, but it did. At the end of John 10, Jesus had escaped Jerusalem with a price on His head and headed East to beyond the Jordan River where it was a bit “safer“. Jesus and His disciples were there when they heard the news that Lazarus was sick. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus was deeply-relational. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t merely “friends“; they were virtually “family“. Jesus’ love for them transcended “friendship“; it was a deep, intimate love, which was reserved for those who were closest to Him, such as John.

I have no biological siblings, but I have a few dear friends who have become “family” to me. We care about each other on a far-deeper level than mere “friendship“. Maybe you have some of those too.

Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, but He didn’t respond immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days. Oh, He could have spoken the word and Lazarus would have been healed immediately, but He didn’t. He waited until after the funeral. Jesus tells us why He waited in verse 4, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. Jesus wanted her, and us, to realize that God doesn’t operate on our time-schedule. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. However, she still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family. It seemed that death had still gotten the last word…

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” This is the reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she was willing to risk believing His claims and lay skepticism aside. She knew that, standing before her, was the ONLY person who could alter the course of history, who could make their family whole again. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Why? Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could He confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

When we look at Martha, she is almost angry at Jesus because He allowed Lazarus to die. Had He gotten there sooner, He could have healed Lazarus, rather than allowing him to die. Mary approached Jesus with pleading-humility, falling at His feet. Why did Jesus answer Martha rather harshly, while He entered Mary’s grief and broke out in tears?
Jesus demonstrated both “sides” of His personhood, that He is fully-God, and at the same time, fully-human. His deity allows Him to claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” , while His humanity allows Him to enter into our pain and grief.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but that may have been in deference to His friends.

35 Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it should cause us to pause and rethink our doctrine of Christ. He was God, enshrouded in human-flesh.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

When Jesus walked up to the tomb, He didn’t have a look of glee on His face. No, He had tears in His eyes, and righteous-indignation in His heart, because Sin, the Fall, and the Curse had robbed Him of one of His dearest friends. As Creator-God, He never intended for Lazarus’ story, or anyone else’s story to end this way, in death. We are created to live, not to die.

Was He already starting to feel the icy-jaws of death close around Him? He knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, He would have to die for the sins of His people. In order to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral, He would have to be buried too, and only by His own glorious resurrection would He be able to secure Lazarus’ resurrection. He was only a few days away from the cross…

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and see His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. I lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there. My dad died in 2013. My friend Liz lost her mother in 2015 and her father this year as well as her best friend. I lost my mother in April.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus was, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummy-style“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

We can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:1-45)

Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? Only by becoming human, one of us, was He able to live the life we cannot live, die the death that we deserve in our place, and be resurrected that we may be resurrected. God had to become a man, so that man could be brought back into fellowship with God.

A prominent theologian, who is the son of a prominent theologian, recently had to resign all of his positions in disgrace because he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, AND, he had a minor child with him. The arresting-officer wasn’t swayed by who he is and what he has done prior to that time, because in the eyes of the law, he had violated the law. The judge might be lenient on him, but he won’t get off Scott-free. Thus it is when we stand before God. Regardless of how “good” we may have been, we were born sinners, and regardless of how “minor” our sins may have been, we are guilty before God, and there is NOT any “plea-bargaining“. There is ONLY on plea that holds up in God’s court and prevails, and that is the blood and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Had God not become human in the person of Jesus Christ, there would NOT be any acceptable plea. We would ALL be guilty before God.

That was the way it was with the Apostle Paul. Paul, then known as Saul, was a Pharisee who was zealous for the Law of God, yet he rejected the very Messiah he had longed for all his life. He also rejected and persecuted the very faith that had grown up around Christ and His teachings. When the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t confront him about the “good” that he had done, but about the EVIL he was doing. Paul was guilty before God, and he needed a new heart and a new life-direction. Acts 9:1-7 recounts his conversion.

His humanity also matters because He experienced everything that we experience, pain, sorrow, loss and grief, so that when we experience those things, He can share in them with us. When I lost my mom, as painful as it was, my supreme-comfort was that she is in the presence of God, and that Jesus shares in my pain, sorrow, loss and grief. I don’t travel this road alone. Jesus is with me every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul gives us even deeper reason to believe in Jesus’ true humanity:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Jesus had not truly become a man, He could not have died on the Cross, and He couldn’t have been raised from the dead. All of these events are absolutely-vital to our salvation. Paul ends with these words; “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The Heidelberg Catechism opens with these beautiful words:
Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul,
in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

For those who are in Christ, we are kept by the Lord and Creator of the cosmos. Jesus didn’t abandon His earthly-body when He ascended back into Heaven. He is living at the right hand of God the Father as the eternal God-Man, as fully-human as we are.

Is Jesus your Savior and Lord? I pray that He is, but if He isn’t your Savior and Lord, tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor are you even guaranteed your next breathe. We all have an appointment with death, but we don’t know when that will be. As I was working on this message, one of my elderly neighbors took her last breathe. I had seen her outside that morning. Only God knows her eternal-destiny. The only way for you to be certain that, when you die, that you will meet your Creator in peace, is by humbly acknowledging your need for a Savior and committing your life to Christ. He died that you might live, and He lives that you might live with Him forever. May this be your day of salvation. Jesus is waiting for you…

In Christ,
Steve

Up A Tree

Jesus was on His final march to Jerusalem when He encountered Zaccheus – up a tree. While Zaccheus needed to come down out of that tree to meet the Savior, Jesus would soon be nailed to a tree to purchase the salvation He so freely-offered. Two trees, two very different symbols.

Jesus was almost always surrounded by a crowd, His disciples, His other followers, and of course, His detractors. As we often see when Jesus encounters a “sinner“, His detractors are quick to point out His “lapses of judgment“. If Jesus is so “holy“, why does He associate with “sinners“?

He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

Jericho was only about 12 or so miles from Jerusalem, as the crow flies, but there was some pretty “rough” country (mountains) between them, so it would have made a convenient “rest-stop” on the way to Jerusalem.

Would Zaccheus have been satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, or was he really looking for much more? Based on his actions, I suspect that he was probably looking for more, maybe even MUCH more, but maybe he didn’t even know what he really wanted. Whatever he was hoping for, he got far more than he could have ever imagined. He certainly wasn’t concerned about his own “dignity“, because if he had been, he would have never “ran on ahead“, let alone “climbed a tree“. Those things were VERY-UNDIGNIFIED, particularly for a “mature” man. Who else in the Gospels did something equally “undignified“? (Luke 15:11-32)

Whatever Zaccheus was hoping for, he had to climb a tree to even get a glimpse, because not only was Zaccheus short, as a tax collector, the crowd wouldn’t have even thought about making a way for him. He probably had gotten a few elbows to the gut as it was before he finally broke away from the crowd to run on ahead. So, even though it was highly “undignified“, he ran on ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree. He was that desperate to see Jesus.

Imagine his shock and surprise when Jesus stopped right under and called him by name. “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus just invited Himself to Zaccheus’ home. We often wait and hope for an invitation to someone’s home for special holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but Jesus just took charge of the situation. What would our response be if Jesus invited Himself into our home? Zaccheus was thrilled. And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.

 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Why should we NOT be surprised that there were some in the crowd who complained that Jesus went to the home of a “sinner“? There were Scribes and Pharisees lurking in the crowds during most of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and they were definitely unhappy that Jesus would associate with “sinners“. Even His own disciples had a certain amount of disdain for some of the people He hung-out with.

What kind of “sinner” was Zaccheus? He was a much-hated “tax-collector“, and not just any “tax-collector“, he was a “Chief tax-collector“. He had gotten rich, not only from his own thievery, but also from the thievery of those he employed. Quite often those taxes hit the poorest people the hardest because they didn’t have any money to “spare“. Tax-collectors were the lowest of the low-lifes in that culture because they were employed by the Roman government to do their dirty-work, and they were considered “traitors“, particularly because they were Jews.

Jericho was a particularly-lucrative place to be a tax collector because it was at the crossroads of a couple of important trade-routes, so they caught travelers both coming and going. Zaccheus had gotten very rich on ill-gotten gains.

Things still haven’t changed, have they? The “church” still refuses to seek the “lost“, to minister to the “low-lifes” in our communities. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, the “church” still expects people to come to it, rather than to go to them. If Jesus was here today, He would minister to “unacceptable” people, and the Church has been called to do likewise. Jesus would minister to bikers, tip a cold-one in a biker-bar, minister to street-walkers and go into brothels, things that would raise the ire of most “good-Christians” today. Yes, He would even minister in Cypress Cove, as I have been called to do.

Zaccheus’ response to Jesus’ ministry showed that he was a changed man. 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” The Old Testament law required restitution, but Zaccheus went above and beyond what was required in the law. Because the poor had been hit the hardest by Zaccheus’ greed, he promised to give half of his possessions to them. Salvation should bring with it a changed-heart, and wherever our old life has tainted our thoughts and actions the most should come the most change in us. Sadly, that is not always the case…

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. While Zaccheus was a Jew, thus a biological “son of Abraham“, without faith in the Savior, his kinship with Abraham availed him nothing. He could only become a true “son of Abraham” by faith, which he did.

10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” While much has been said and written about Jesus’ purposes on Earth, we don’t get any clearer picture of His overarching purpose than this brief statement from His own lips. Throughout His earthly ministry, He told many parables about His relentless search for what is lost.

I spent many years in Search and Rescue, so “seeking and saving the lost” has a special-significance to me. Those missions were particularly-critical when the “lost” was a child. We pulled out ALL of the stops, even enlisting the aid of helicopters and the National Guard if necessary. There was as much relief and rejoicing in finding and saving a lost child as there is in Heaven when one who was “lost” is “rescued” by Christ. We should rejoice too when someone comes to saving faith in Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria!