Thursday, July 31, 2014

Born of Man—Born Again from Above (John 3:1-8)

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:1–8, ESV)

Jesus did not entrust Himself to those who believed in the works He was doing because He knew their hearts. This is what we read in the previous three verses. Here is an example on one of those individuals. Nicodemus, who we read was a ruler among the Jews, came to Jesus quietly by night to talk with Him. From his words we know that he believed Jesus to be someone special, that Jesus was a teacher sent by God. This was proven by the signs that Jesus had been showing them (miraculous things). Anyone who could do these things must be sent by God, because apart from God moving these things would not be possible. To Nicodemus the signs validated the messenger and endorsed the message, and he wanted to find out more.

We don’t know if Nicodemus said anything else along with this, but we do know that Jesus responded to Nicodemus’ statement with an answer that neither confirmed nor denied what Nicodemus had said. Rather, Jesus spoke to the need of Nicodemus’ heart—that he needed to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. As a Jew, Nicodemus had been looking forward to the coming Messiah who would usher in this new millennial kingdom, but the condition that Jesus put on Nicodemus entering that kingdom threw him for a loop. There is no way that he could reenter his mother’s womb. What was Jesus talking about with this new concept of being “born again?”

Jesus did not miss a step, having baited Nicodemus curiosity, and He began to explain to Nicodemus the difference between being born of the flesh and being “born again” of the Spirit.  Reinforcing this rebirth as a condition of entering the kingdom of God, Jesus said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “Born again” literally means “born from above.” Jesus was not telling Nicodemus that he had to be born of flesh like he was years before, but that he had to experience a new and different kind of birth, one that did not come from fleshly relations between his mother and father, but from God above and the working of His Spirit. As humans we are given life in our bodies, but this life is subject to the certainty of death. As those saved by the Spirit of God, we are given a new life that never dies and which will endure forever.

Being born of water and Spirit is not a reference to the two different forms of birth (flesh and Spirit), but a statement of the cleansing necessary for individuals to be given new life in the Spirit. Jews knew about cleansing. This was something established by God before sacrifices could be offered. It was required of them by God before the priest could enter the Most Holy Place. It was required in their traditions before someone could enter the temple after having been with someone who is unclean or who may have touched that which was unclean. Ceremonial cleansing was a regular part of the devout Jew’s life. But Jesus was telling Nicodemus that his real need was not this form of cleansing, but a cleansing that was full, permanent, and complete.

The writer of Hebrews tells us in terms that the Jews would understand, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:22–28, ESV)

Jesus was the One who had come to cleanse. He was going to do it fully and permanently. Inseparable from this cleansing Jesus was also going to give new life to all who believe. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)

There was more said that night which we will continue to look at in later posts, but these words which were true for Nicodemus as true for all mankind—“You must be born again!”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Believing and Being Changed (John 2:23-25)

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23–25, ESV)

In the verses immediately previous to these we looked at Jesus turning over tables and chasing the moneychangers out of the temple as part of the events that marked the beginning of His ministry. These events would continue and His fame would grow until three years later when He entered Jerusalem again on the back of a donkey where He would again enter the temple and cleanse it. Clearly as we read through the gospels we find that many people were hearing of Jesus and His reputation. The word of His signs and miracles were continually drawing people to Him, even if they didn’t really know who He was. Here at the beginning of His ministry we read that significant numbers had begun to believe in Him because of the signs that He was doing. And as we progress through the next several chapters of John (and the other gospels) we read of Jesus encountering in personal ways some of those people, people that had heard, were impressed, and yet did not really understand.

These verses serve as a transition from the miracle at Cana and His dramatic actions in the temple toward these individual encounters. Based upon what John said in these verses, we can only imagine what other signs Jesus had done in their presence in order to cause people to believe. But in these verses we also read that the belief of these individuals may have been something different than the saving belief that we read about in Bible, a belief that Jesus speaks to in John chapter 3 when He visits Nicodemus at his home. These people (in general) may have believed that He was special and possibly even more, but they did not universally believe in such a way that their hearts were changed. Sure, there must have been some, but it was not the overwhelming case such that Jesus would fully entrust His welfare into their hands.

Being God-man Jesus knew more about them than what people saw on the outside. He did not need anyone to tell Him about them, to share their intimate details, to explain to Him what made each of them tick. Jesus did not need an introduction to the heart of man, because He knew what was in man. As we will see in later verses, He knew details which others did not know or they themselves knew He had no reason to know. Jesus had a special understanding of man, and He knew that He came because man was lost and that man needed Him as their heart-Changer and life-Giver.

As a teen-ager I had some internal struggles which very few people knew. My measure of myself in some ways was based upon being better—constantly better. And my standard for that better was often found in comparison to others. In this search I tried Transcendental Meditation, and found it to be empty. It gave me none of the answers I was looking for. And as I sat there repeating a mantra over and over again, hoping to attain the things they promoted as benefits, I realized that the answer I was seeking really was not in me. I did not know exactly where that answer was, but I knew it was not in me. During that time I was also doing some creative writing, including a fair amount of poetry. There was one poem in particular that described the cry of my heart (written in 1973).

Clutching, grasping
Trying to find
That everlasting
Peace of mind.

Thinking, groping
Always hoping
There to find
That everlasting peace of mind.

Giving, Taking
Flying free
Never catching
You or me.

In one ear; out the other,
There to find
Always another
Of that kind of everlasting peace of mind.

I wanted a peace that would last, and I was not finding it. This was in 1973. In 1974 I invited myself to church with a friend, and the pastor that day was speaking on Psalm 139 and a God who knew absolutely everything about me. He was a God who knew every word on my tongue before it was ever formed. He knew when I sat down and when I rose up. He examined my paths, and the Bible told me that He was going to enclose me before and behind and keep His hand on my shoulder. There is so much more in this psalm that struck me and rung true to the cry of my heart. That day I went home knowing that I wanted to know this God who created me and wanted to have a relationship with me. It was then that the things I had learned about Jesus made real sense, and I did something more than believe. I made the choice to turn my life over to Him and trust Him to care for me, to save me, and to give me new life. 

Because I believed in Jesus and trusted Him for my salvation, I began to realize more and more just how much God loved me and has given me the privilege of having a relationship with Him. Because Jesus paid the price for my sins I have been made to be at peace with God. He has no charge against me that was not settled by the shedding of Jesus' blood. And because I am at peace with God I can now live with the peace of God. The cry of 1973 was answered by the faith decision of 1974. This did not mean that I never was to struggle again, but it did mean that in my struggles that I knew God was present with Me, giving me the strength to move forward. And when I did sin, didn’t trust, or tried to walk apart from Him, I know without a doubt that He has never done that with me.

As I read through the Bible and I read about peace, I know that there really is a peace that goes beyond all human understanding or comprehension. Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding [comprehension], will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)

I am so thankful that He showed Himself to me, and that He impressed me in such a way that I entrusted myself to Him!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Destroyed and Rebuilt—Just as He Said (John 2:13-22)

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 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; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 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.” (John 2:13–22, NASB95)

Starting with the end of today’s passage we find that the disciples remembered this particular incident spoken of here, and they finally understood what it was that Jesus had said years a few years before. “Oh, so that’s what He was talking about.” The advantage of understanding is priceless. Because of Jesus’ words being brought back to their remembrance they believed the Scripture which Jesus had spoken along with the words of His own shared at that time.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to believe something that you don’t understand. This is where faith is so important to us. The disciples moved forward with Jesus, not understanding every word He said, but rather having the confidence that He indeed was authoritative and accurate. Because of that they could trust Him even with that which they did not grasp for themselves. I can only imagine the number of curious things that they tucked away as they walked with, watched, and listened to Jesus.

Here Jesus had gone to Jerusalem with His disciples at Passover time. As they approached the temple court a disturbing sight awaited them. Due to the long distances that people traveled it was often difficult for them to bring their sacrificial animals with them, and so they had grown accustomed to purchasing them once they arrived. Recognizing their need, the merchants had become opportunistic and greedy, and the moneychangers who took the travelers’ coinage and converted it to the appropriate silver for the temple tax were abusing the situation with exorbitant rates of exchange. They had taken what was to be an act of contrition and worship and turned it into an opportunity to get rich. They had defiled the process as God had given it, and Jesus went about setting things straight. He made a whip (a powerful one), and He proceeded to overturn their tables and drive them out of the temple area. He told them to take their business elsewhere. This is not where it belonged.

I can only imagine how shocked people were, both the merchants and moneychangers and Jesus’ disciples. We read that His disciples remembered that the psalmist had written (psalm 69:9) about this consuming zeal that Jesus evidenced. I can only imagine how memorable this was. Of course, not everyone was amazed in the way the disciples were. Those who stood to profit from these business endeavors had a different opinion, and they questioned Jesus as to by what authority He had done what He had just done. “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” They wanted to know His credentials. Who gave Him the power? What proof does He have of that authority? They wanted to know just what it was that He thought He was doing and on what grounds should they listen to Him.

Jesus’ response baffled them. He, speaking of Himself, told them that if they destroyed “this temple” that He would raise it back up again in three days. Of course, by the time of the writing of this gospel His disciples knew exactly what He was talking about. He was talking about His own body, which is exactly what they did when they crucified Him. And just as Jesus said, He resurrected Himself on the third day. Imagine being the disciples when this event came back to their memories. Jesus had told them exactly what would happen, and it happened exactly as He had said. Jesus had told them that the Jews could and would take action against Him, but their actions would not prove victorious. The authority by which He came was not that of man, but that of God.

But the Jews didn’t get it. Their response indicated that they thought He was speaking of the physical temple in which Jesus had just overturned the tables, beat the merchants, and chased them away. They scoffed at Him pointing to how long it had taken to build the temple in which they stood—forty-six years, and He had the nerve to think that He could rebuild it Himself in three-Ha! I’m sure that even His disciples, based upon the wording of the passage, likely understood His comment like the other Jews. But the difference is that they followed after Him as disciples while the others stood against Him as accusers.

Ultimately every single one of us comes to a point that we have to decide what we are going to do with the person of Christ. Are we going to hear of His death, burial, and resurrection and scoff at it in unbelief, or are we going to hear, understand, believe, and respond? I am so thankful that God has opened my eyes to understand His Word and to know the truth about His Son. I am so thankful that having learned about Him that I then believed and trusted Christ for my salvation. I am so thankful that because of His resurrection I have been given new life as well. I am thankful that this new life is not one based upon fifty-seven years of hard work (insert your own age), but one given because Jesus’ temple (body) was destroyed, buried, and raised again on the third day according to the Scriptures. I am thankful for these things knowing that no matter how hard I might have tried there is absolutely no way I could have built a temple acceptable to God. I am so, so thankful that Jesus has done this and made me acceptable to God and that His Spirit enables me to live as an acceptable sacrifice as I obediently give myself back to Him in obedient worship.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, NASB95)

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NASB95)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vessels of Purification into Vessels for Glory (John 2:1-12)

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 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, 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.” This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. 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, NASB95)

By this point a lot has happened; Jesus’ baptism by John, 40 days of fasting and then testing, the introduction to four men who would become His disciples, and now a chance to attend a wedding with His mother and these new disciples. We know nothing of who was getting married other than the wedding was happening in Cana of Galilee, which was the home of Nathaniel. We don’t even know with any certainty where Cana was located geographically except that it was in Galilee, probably not far from Nazareth. It might have been about nine miles away where the ruins of the village Khirbet Qana are found today. The wedding was probably going along great, until a major failing for such a significant social event occurred—they ran out of wine. These celebrations were generally not as they are today where the event begins and ends within a few hours, but they might have lasted for an entire week. So, running out of wine, especially early on, was a big deal.

When the wine ran out Mary came to Jesus and told Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus responded with words seem to question why He was being told this news. Was He being expected by His mother to do something about it?  It is here that we can be reminded that Mary knew who her son was—the Son of God. When I’ve read Jesus' response over the years I’ve thought about those times when I have asked similar questions, but with a different motive. Jesus knew why He had come, and He was focused on that purpose. When I’ve asked the question it has generally been from the perspective of not wanting to get involved or thinking that it’s not my responsibility.

But Jesus’ mother persisted with her expectation that Jesus would solve the problem, by instructing those at the wedding to do whatever her son said for them to do. She had every confidence that He could and He would step in to save the wedding celebration from disaster. As I think about Mary’s response, I also am challenged to consider how I respond to situations which do not seem to affect me or be up to me. I’m given cause to pause and consider whether or not this is really true, or an excuse to walk on the other side of the street (so to speak). I am so thankful for the lessons that God has been teaching me throughout my life and for those that He has brought around me as examples. Stepping aside is not to be our norm as Mary demonstrated through her interaction with her son, and the Son proved her to be right.

God intervened into man’s rebellion by sending His Son. Here, His Son, stepped into a disastrous situation as a guest to save that which was out of His host’s control. That’s what His mother knew He could do, and that’s what she expected that He would do. Mary knew her Son. Of course, Jesus listened to His mother and gave instructions to the servants at the wedding. He told them to take these massively huge stone containers, which were set aside for a special purpose—purification, and they were to fill them with water. This was not a small task considering how many there were and how much water they held. I can’t imagine them filling these with 120 or so gallons of water unless there were a large number of servants, but they did just as they were instructed. When they were finished Jesus told them to draw out some and take it to the headwaiter. Tasting the water, now wine, the headwaiter you would have thought would have been ecstatic over the problem being solved. But he appeared to be perplexed.The wine was not just ordinary wine, but was wine of the highest quality, and the headwaiter thought that the host was being miserly for serving the cheap stuff first.

Isn’t it just like our God to answer far more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine?Jesus’ mother knew He could help and He helped amazingly. He took vessels set aside for purification and turned them into the finest offering for the celebration. I don’t want to go too far in putting meaning into this miracle that may not be intended, but as I thought on this event—the first miracle of Jesus—this is how I was impressed. I am awed at how God takes our vessels sown in dishonor and turns them into vessels of honor for His glory, and the source for this happening was the same source that the water of purification was turned into fine wine of celebration. This reminds me of the great hope that I have of a life given to me and made righteous with the righteousness of Christ. One day even I will be presented with all of the other believers in our glorified bodies to our Lord at the wedding feast of the Lamb. This also reminds me of why we regularly join together at the communion table as believers in remembrance of Him, what He has done, and the hope that we have. Isn’t it so fitting that the symbols of communion are the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine (or in many cases grape juice)!

These verses conclude by saying, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him….” What a beginning!!!

Friday, July 18, 2014

“Follow Me”—And So They Did (John 1:43-51)

“The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 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.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 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.” 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, NASB95)

So far Jesus has met Andrew, his brother Simon who Jesus called Peter, John, and his brother James. These verses introduce us to two more men who would soon be named among Jesus’ twelve disciples. This time, rather than being followed by disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus found Philip. We don’t know if Philip had heard of Jesus before or if Jesus had heard of Philip. What we do know is that as Jesus was heading to Galilee he found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Presuming that Philip did follow Jesus as he was directed, we read that he did not follow him alone. Like Andrew and John, Philip went and found another, Nathanael who is commonly thought to be the same person as Bartholomew (listed among the twelve in the other gospels).

And as Philip found Nathanael he told him that they had found the person about whom Moses and the Prophets had written. In saying this he immediately followed it by identifying who it was that he was speaking of—“Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Hearing this Nathanael responded somewhat critically, as if questioning that Philip could possibly be correct in his identifying the Christ. He responded, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  In John 21:2 we read that Nathanael was from Cana, which is a town in Galilee, and Galileans did not look well upon the people of Nazareth. As such it was quite natural for Nathanael to question that the One who they had been waiting on could possibly come from such an insignificant place.

Later in John 7, Nicodemus is spurned by the Pharisees as they slurred anyone who might be from Galilee. “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” (John 7:52, NASB95) As the Pharisees looked down on Jesus and by association, Nicodemus, so was Nathanael initially responding with the same doubt to Philip’s excitement. And similarly, as Nicodemus told the Pharisees to not judge a man until they hear from him and know what he does or is doing, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (John 7:51), Philip told Nathanael to “Come and see.”

Nathanael accompanied Philip back to meet Jesus. As they approached Jesus had words for Nathanael just as He did for Simon, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” These two men had never met, and yet Jesus seemed to know something about Nathanael. He knew that Nathanael had an open heart and was willing to consider Philip’s claim. At this Nathanael questioned just how it was that Jesus knew him. Jesus’ response was even more astounding, saying “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” We don’t know what it was about Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, but Nathanael knew what Jesus meant by His response. Jesus had proven himself to Nathanael with His greeting, and Nathanael responded by agreeing with what Philip had said—“Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” With just a few words Nathanael was moved from one who questioned if anything good could come from Nazareth to one who acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God and the long anticipated King of Israel. He had made the connection and believed.

Jesus told him that if this simple response made him believe, then he was going to see much, much more. He would see greater things than he probably would ever have imagined. Jesus added, “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.” Ezekiel wrote in the first verse of his prophecies that he had seen the heavens opened and that he had seen visions of God. And Jacob had a dream of a ladder set upon the earth on which angels were ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12-13), and at the top of this ladder Jacob saw the Lord God Almighty standing above it. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see those things for himself.

Turned from doubter to believer, Nathanael joined Philip in following after Jesus—the Christ, sent by God to save and to reign. These six men (so far) had come to know Jesus as the Son of God, and had begun to follow after Him. One of those six, Simon Peter, later wrote, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:” (2 Peter 1:1, NASB95) … “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:11, NASB95) Peter had come to know Jesus as fully God, the Son of God, our Savior and our Lord. Because of His gift, Peter wrote, we have “…granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature….” (2 Peter 1:3–4, NASB95) It is because of Christ Jesus that we have been granted entrance into the His eternal kingdom and so, so much more. Jesus Nathanael that what he had seen up to that point was just a drop in the bucket, and He makes those same promises to us. All we have to do is believe that He is the Son of God who died, was buried, and rose again to forgive our sins and give us new life, call upon God to do this for us (ask), and then watch what He does as we follow Him by the same faith by which we were saved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

John’s Disciples—Jesus’ Followers (John 1:35-42)

“Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 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, NASB95)

After His temptation Jesus returned to Galilee where John the Baptist was with two of his disciples, one of whom is named (Andrew) and the other is not named. The one not mentioned by name is presumed to be John, the future apostle and author of this gospel record. It was not inconsistent of John to point to himself anonymously, in the third person, or as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (See John 13:23-25; 18:15-16; 19:25-27; 20:2-10; 21:4-8, 20-24). In fact, he never does mention himself by name in his gospel, other than to identify the writer of the gospel as that disciple in its closing words. “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:24–25, NASB95)

Recognizing that this second disciple of John the Baptist was John the author of the gospel it would easily explain why John includes these details which the others don’t. So, John (we’ll go with him as the second person) and Andrew were standing with John the Baptist when he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Hearing John say this, his two disciples began to follow Jesus. This does not mean that they then became Jesus’ disciples, but that they merely followed Him surely to find out more about Him.

As they proceeded after Jesus, Jesus turned and spotted them and asked them what they were looking for or, “What do you seek?” They responded by calling Him teacher (Rabbi) and asked Him where He was staying. They obviously wanted to know more. John the Baptist had been speaking of the Lamb who was to come, and now these disciples were being told that this man was that Lamb, and they wanted to find out more. Jesus invited them to come along, and John tells us that they stayed with Him the rest of that day.

As it approached about 4 p.m. (the tenth hour where the Jewish day began with dawn), Andrew left to find his brother, Simon, and bring him to meet Jesus. His greeting to his brother clearly declared the conviction that Andrew had realized that day, saying, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). Simon went with his brother, and when Jesus spotted Simon, we read, Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”

At this point we have two disciples of John the Baptist and a brother who have met Jesus, and their lives were changed forever. As we proceed through the gospel records we find that after Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s arrest He found Andrew and Simon and called them as His own disciples. Mark records for us, “As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Mark 1:16–18, NASB95) And then we read in the next verses that he added two more brothers. “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.” (Mark 1:18–20, NASB95)

John the Baptist would not be released from his physical imprisonment, but his legacy continued as two of his disciples were the first ones mentioned in Scripture as being called by Jesus along with their brothers, taking four fishermen and turning them into “fishers of men.” And as we progress through the next verses we find that Jesus continues to gather those around Him who would comprise those later selected as the twelve.

“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18–22, NASB95) 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jesus was Tempted—The Word Prevailed (Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11)

“Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:12–13, NASB95)

The next sequential event following Jesus’ baptism is not recorded in the gospel of John, but is found in the other three gospels. Mark spoke of this event—the temptation of Jesus the most succinctly. Matthew and Luke’s accounts provided a great deal more detail. We will focus on Matthew’s account for today’s study.

“(1) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 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.” 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, 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.’ ” 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; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.” (Matthew 4:1–11, NASB95)

Following His baptism by John and the Holy Spirit landing on Him like a dove, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for a purpose, and that purpose was to be tempted by the devil. Clearly we read that this temptation was not of God, but allowed by God for God cannot tempt anyone to evil. It is against His very nature, and He cannot do that which He is not. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:13–15, NASB95)

And this is what Satan tried to do. His goal was to get the Son to take His eyes off of the Father and look to Himself for the answers to temptation. But Jesus did not come into the wilderness alone. He was not abandoned by God to fend for Himself. Luke tells us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and as such He was listening to and following the Spirit’s leading in His life. God the Father had purposed that the devil would be given an opportunity to tempt the Son, and God knew that Jesus had what He needed not to succumb to those temptations.

The tempter (the devil, Satan) was given three shots, and he was given these shots at Jesus not when Jesus was freshly coming from His baptism and newly indwelt by the Spirit. No, he was to tempt Jesus 40 days later when Jesus had fasted and had become hungry. The temptations came when Jesus was at His physical weakest and presumably the most vulnerable, giving the devil his best shot.

But as we see, not one of the tempter’s enticements proved successful to turn Jesus’ eyes. The first temptation was an attempt to appeal to Jesus’ hunger by using His power as the God-man to turn stones into water. The devil knew Jesus could do this if He chose. But Jesus’ response was to quote a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3 which in full reads, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB95) Jesus not only quoted this Old Testament scripture, but He did it in the context of recognizing that even His hunger was according to the will of His Father. God was able to provide food and He was able to withhold food, but the greater nourishment to our souls is found in His Word which Jesus used in response to His tempter.

So, with the second temptation the devil quotes Scripture himself, by quoting Psalm 91:11-12. And of course Jesus again responded with the Word. He did not challenge the correctness or the context of Satan’s words, but He gave him a contrasting response by again quoting Deuteronomy (6:6). Just because God might intervene with His angels, does not mean that we are to test Him to do so. The context of the Deuteronomy quote is that we are to worship God alone and follow His commandments. Jesus knew, even as the Son who had come at the will of the Father, that He was humbling Himself to the very will of the Father. He was not going to use His own standing as God to intervene in that will being accomplished.

The last temptation was the most nonsensical one when you really think about. Satan was given temporary dominion on earth, but even in that he was fully subject to the framing or limiting of his actions to that which God permitted. And Satan’s reign was also a temporary one, though he did not acknowledge it. God had already declared through the prophets that Satan would be once and for ever conquered at the coming of the Lord. This is the real irony, as it is Jesus who will return and cast Satan into the lake of fire and brimstone which was specially prepared for him. But Satan tried to tempt Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world. Of course Jesus responded by telling Satan to go away and quoting Scripture which again came from Deuteronomy (6:13). “It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 6:13, ESV)

At this Satan left, and we read that the angels did indeed begin to minister to Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews tells us why this time of tempting was so important as Jesus began His public ministry. “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14–18, NASB95) Later in chapter 4 of Hebrews we read, “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. 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. 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, NASB95)

Our Lord understands our temptations and He is able to make us victorious in those temptations just as He proved Himself victorious without sin. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95)

Success in temptation has nothing to do with our own ability. Just as Jesus did not rely on Himself but on God and the promise of the Word, so are we to trust God as we are tempted knowing as we read in this verse that “God is faithful.”

Several years ago I wrote an amplified response to this verse, and I will close with it here.

“There is no test, no trial, no temptation to sin, no pushing, pulling, prodding, or anything else that comes my way that makes me any different than anyone else. We all experience these things, maybe in different ways and at times to different degrees, but I am no different than anyone else.

“BUT GOD…. He is always faithful in all things. With every trial, test, or temptation—no matter how big or how small; with all of these things He has set a limit to them. He will not allow anything into my life beyond which He also has not given the ability to victoriously endure. With every single test, trial, and temptation He has provided a way of escape, and He will keep me from being crushed, and He will bring me out standing on the other side. This is true whether that other side is realized in this life or ultimately in His presence. This is a certain fact.

“Therefore, I will place my trust in Him and look not to the size of the situation, BUT to the size and faithfulness of my GOD.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Lamb Saves—Jesus Christ is the Lamb (John 1:29-34)

“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him [John the Baptist] and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”” (John 1:29–34, NASB95)

John had established before his questioners that he was not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet. He told them that he was a man sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Lord. And then the very next day John was shown the One for whom he was sent to make the way. He identified Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Here before them was indeed the Christ, and John knew that Jesus was eternally God—existing before John as fully God with the Father and Holy Spirit. He also knew that Jesus was God’s special sacrifice sent to once and for all pay the price for man’s sins. This was not to be a universal salvation in that every single man becomes saved, but a salvation freely given to those who believe and who call upon Jesus for that salvation. When Jesus shed His blood it was fully adequate to accomplish this for all of man in general, but was only to be appropriated to those who believe.

John was able to identify Jesus not because of a special glow or anything remarkable about Him as a man, but because John saw the third person of the Trinity—the Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove out of heaven. John testified to this fact. He had seen the Spirit descend on Jesus identifying Him truly as Son of God. As I reflect on these verses recording the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry we find at His baptism the fullness of God represented. The Son had come, sent and identified by the Father, and marked and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And as we talked about in the last post, even when we baptize believers today, we mark this special transformation in our lives (the forgiveness of sin and the newness of life) with our public baptism in the name of our One God manifest in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke also wrote about this special beginning, and from them we get some details that John [the apostle] did not provide. Matthew wrote that “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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.” (Matthew 3:13–15, NASB95) John recognized just how short he had come in relation to God’s perfect standard of holiness and in relation to the perfect nature of the Son of God. As such John tried to turn the table and have Jesus, who did not need to repent, baptize John instead. But Jesus stopped Him and told John that it was necessary for Him (Jesus) to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” Though Jesus had no unrighteousness in Himself He had come to take on Himself the unrighteousness of man, and in His baptism He was identifying Himself with this very purpose. Jesus had come to offer up Himself in death by His shed blood as the sacrifice for man’s sin, and he had come to demonstrate His power over that death by being resurrected to life demonstrating His power to give life back to man. This is what happens when the Spirit makes us a new creation at the moment of our salvation, and it is what is testified to when we follow ourselves in public water baptism. God intended that Jesus start His public work with the same act that we are commanded to do after we place our trust in Jesus for our salvation and identify ourselves with Him forever.

So, John consented to baptize Jesus. “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,” (Matthew 3:16, NASB95) Luke added that after His baptism that as Jesus was praying to the Father, the Father spoke and the Spirit came. “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”” (Luke 3:21–22, NASB95)

From that moment forward the gospels switch their focus. John was sent to point the way, and now the Way had come. Later in John chapter 3 we again find John continuing to testify of Christ. But in this passage there is an ominous clue of things that were to come for John. In this passage we read that he had not yet been imprisoned, as we read eventually happened to him in Matthew 4:12. And as we proceed through the gospels we find that John remained imprisoned, and while there he heard the stories of what Jesus had been doing. In Matthew chapter 11 John sends his disciples to affirm that Jesus was indeed the “Expected One” in the off chance that maybe he had made a mistake and was sitting in prison for nothing. “Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”” (Matthew 11:2–3, NASB95) Jesus gave John the answer He wanted to hear. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”” (Matthew 11:4–6, NASB95)

After John’s disciples had returned to give him Jesus’ response, Jesus began to speak to the crowds. While speaking Jesus affirmed John saying, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11–15, NASB95) Surely Jesus was not saying that John was Elijah, but He was saying that John had come to fulfill the promises of the Elijah prophecies. As the angel said to John’s father, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15–17, NASB95)

John had fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent, and as he sat in prison he had this confirmed by our Lord. John had not made a mistake. And knowing this he was eventually beheaded. Mark chapter 6 records for us that on Herod’s birthday Herod had John beheaded and his head delivered to Herod’s daughter on a platter as thank you behest at the urging of her mother in gratitude for her dancing to please her father. Once this was accomplished the daughter gave John’s head to her mother Herodia, and Jesus apostles were permitted to take John’s body which they then laid in a tomb. Following this they reported back to Jesus what had happened. “And He [Jesus] said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.”” (Mark 6:31a, NASB95)

John had come to proclaim the message of repentance and salvation, and in the end he died with the assurance and the eternal realization of just how true his words had been. The Lamb had given salvation, and He continues to do so today. John may have lost his head to gain eternity, but many, many more have held onto their heads and lost their lives.

“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.” (John 3:16, NASB95) 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

John Baptized with Water—Christ Baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:24-28)

“Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:24–28, NASB95)

This is the second half of the questioning of John the Baptist by the priests and Levites, which we read here, were sent by the Pharisees. Having established that John was not professing to be the Christ, Elijah, or the awaited Prophet, but a “mere voice” they now were pressing him for under what authority or for what purpose he was baptizing people. The first half of John’s response was that the baptizing he was doing was with water. Matthew added that John said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11, NASB95) John was sent to call people to repentance and to recognize that repentance by people aligning themselves with God and His forgiveness through water baptism. It was not the baptism that cleansed anyone from their sins, but it was their faith, and John was baptizing people in recognition of their heed to the call for repentance and turning to God.

These encounters with his questioners were recorded in all four of the gospels and each of them helps to paint a full picture of his response. This is especially so when we look to the second half of John’s response. We read in Luke’s account, “John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”” (Luke 3:16–17, NASB95)

John was sent to proclaim the One who was coming who was mightier, and as we read was even around at that time walking among them. John saw himself as very unworthy in comparison to this One, such that he was even unfit to untie the thong on His sandals. John knew that he was given an important task to point people to the coming Christ, and that when He came it was Him who had the power to baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. The One coming was truly the Son of God sent by the Father with the power of the Spirit. He was the One who had the power to forgive sins and to give life and even to take life. He was the One who was going to separate those who believed, drawing them to Himself, and those who did not, judging them to eternal separation through unquenchable fire.

John was not claiming to be anyone special, but on the contrary saw himself as one sent to proclaim the One who is. And in so doing he was sent to call people to repentance such that they would hear of the coming Christ and turn by faith to await Him.
Even today, as believers, we are commanded to mark our turning away from sin and to Christ by water baptism. Just as with John, this baptism did not save anyone, but was an outward statement of something that had changed on the inside. But it is also a baptism that believers are directed by Christ Himself to observe as we read in what we refer to as the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28. “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 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, NASB95) After having heard, and believed, and placed their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation we read the charge to make disciples who are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and who are then taught about following according to what Jesus taught. This is an enduring directive that extends past the life of the disciples, as we read “even to the end of the age.”

So, having been instructed to baptize what do we know about the process of baptism? There are a variety of forms which have been used by various denominations and in various settings, but the model of Scripture appears to be by immersion. When Jesus was baptized by John we read in Matthew 3:16 that Jesus came up out of the water. When the eunuch was baptized by Philip we read that they came up out of the water (Acts 8:36-39). And in Romans we have from Paul a description of the baptism of the Holy Spirit which John spoke of. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, NASB95)

Putting both the description of the baptism that occurs at the time of salvation by the Holy Spirit and the baptism of water which follows by obedience, we get the picture of the latter being a public demonstration of what has already happened on the inside. In this we are put under water to symbolize having had our sins buried with Christ, and we are then raised back up again symbolizing newness of life and that we are committed to walking with Christ. In being baptized we are making a public proclamation that we intend to walk with Christ for the rest of our days, and this is all done according in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (our triune God).

John baptized with water to proclaim repentance in advance of the coming of Christ. We baptize with water today in obedience as we declare that we indeed have received the salvation which John said was there in their midst. In between, we have the coming of our Lord who came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Water baptism does not save anyone. But we are left with it, along with communion, as ordinances or commands from our Lord which we are to follow. Communion is done regularly, just as it marks our regular fellowship with each other in anticipation of our Lord’s return. Baptism is done once, just as we are we are saved just once and at that time made new creations in Christ. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sent to Tell—John Was and So Are We (John 1:19-23)

“This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”” (John 1:19–23, NASB95)

John the Baptist was the last prophet sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of His Son. John knew his purpose and he was diligent in carrying it out. He knew that he was not the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One of God sent to save the world of its sins. He also knew that he was not an incarnation of the prophet Elijah, who the Jews expected would come prior to the Messiah coming to establish His earthly reign.

Malachi was the last of the prophets before 400 years of silence leading up to the coming of John the Baptist, and he left the people of Israel with a great hope with his last words. “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6, NASB95) The last that these people had heard was that Elijah was going to come back just before the time that the Lord would return to establish His kingdom, and of course they wanted to know from John the Baptist if he was Elijah. And John knew that this was not his purpose. He was not Elijah and he knew it.

So, they continued to question John as to who he was and why he was sent. They asked him if he was the Prophet spoken of by Moses, who told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. ‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15–18, NASB95) In Acts 3:11-26 Peter also spoke of the coming of Christ and how He was rejected and put to death by the people. He spoke of the prophet spoken of by Moses and pointed to Jesus as being that prophet sent by God (See also Acts 7:37).

“No,” John replied to these questions. He was not the Christ, he was not Elijah, and he was not the Prophet. So, “Who are you?” they continued to ask. His answer was to quote the prophet Isaiah, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” He knew his purpose was to proclaim the One who was soon to appear to the people. He was there to prick the people’s hearts and ears such that when the Messiah did come they would know Him and receives Him. John was sent before Christ to tell people that He was coming.

We, ourselves, as we remain today have a similar purpose. As his ambassadors we are to proclaim that He indeed did come and that the promise of a Savior has been realized in the Son of God who is Jesus. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–21, NASB95)

This is true when people willingly receive us, and it is true when we are challenged such as John who eventually was beheaded for doing what God called him to do. Peter wrote, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, NIV84)

As John was sent before, so we are sent afterward—each of us to proclaim that God has sent His Son to save people from their sins and to give then new life.  “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5–6, NASB95)

Grace and Truth Realized—Jesus is that Realization (John 1:14-18)

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:14–18, NASB95)

Here we have the personal words of one who was with Jesus from John the disciple, and personal friend of Jesus. He was called by Jesus along with his brother James, who together must have been quite a team as our Lord gave them the name “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). After the resurrection of Christ, Mary Magdeline ran to John to tell him about what she had seen, and in this passage we read John’s own description of himself, “the one who Jesus loved” (John 20:2). John had the first-hand credentials to speak to the humanity of Jesus. He was there through everything from the point of His calling to Jesus ascending to heaven to remain until He comes again. And it was also John who was selected to be given the revelation of the things to come.

And it was John who wrote the Word (God the Son, Jesus the Christ) became flesh. Jesus took on the form of man and then He dwelt with them. He built relationships. He walked with them, ate with them, slept with them. He was fully with them, and He revealed Himself to them, and John was there at every step.

John was there along with his brother James and Peter when Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. Luke wrote about this event, “Some eight days after these sayings [Jesus speaking about His death and His call for them to take up their cross and follow Him], He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.” (Luke 9:28–36, NASB95)

John truly had seen the glory of the Lord and He heard to voice of the Father saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One, listen to Him!” John was also there in Acts 1 when Jesus was lifted up in a cloud and taken away from their sight, followed by, “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:10–11, NASB95)

John was a trustworthy eyewitness. He was a witness to both the grace of Christ shown to man and of the truth that He spoke. And as a witness he could verify the truthfulness of the words of the other John—John the Baptist. Together they were united in proclaiming that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God sent to save man from His sins. This is a salvation that none of us deserve, but is something that has been given to us freely at the expense of the Son. Jesus, because of His great love, paid the great price for our rebellion and freely gave us the gift of salvation. Not only did He give us salvation, but in doing so He gave to us new life—life that would never end and which would result in eternally abiding with Him and the Father.

God gave the Law through Moses, and man promptly proved that he could not keep it. But through Jesus God gave forgiveness for our transgressions of that Law. Jesus did not come to eliminate the Law, but to fulfill the Law. He met it in every way, and through Him we have been declared righteous with Jesus’ own righteousness. And as John the disciple, John the Baptist, and others physically saw Jesus, so have we been enabled to see Jesus, and through Him see God by the words recorded for us in Scripture. Paul wrote of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, NASB95)

And as people saved by faith in the grace of God according to the truth of the Word, we have been given the privilege and responsibility of being the present and visible testimony of God’s grace and truth though our own lives. John later wrote, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11–12, NASB95)

And Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95)