Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas thoughts


I hope that everyone will enjoy some peace, contentment, and joy this Christmas. Enjoy the hustle, the bustle, the overeating and the singing. Enjoy the hugs and the merriment, the cinnamon and icing, and the "Oh, you shouldn't have," and all of the other things that make Christmas memories.

But be sure to pause at least once, and hold your dear ones close, and speak the name of Jesus. Lift up His name and praise the Father for sending Him, to live, to die, and to rise again. This is the message of Christmas; may we always remember.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

See you in 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Slowdown

One of the most well known carols is Joy to the World -- I hope that we will all try to share the joy of life in Christ with someone this Christmas!

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

John 3:16 -- The Present

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have everlasting life.



 I think that it's amazing that God planned for us to be focused on eternal life, in our studies just before we celebrate Christmas! Jesus told us "I came that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly." (John 10:10)   Eternal life was (and is) the aim of God's plan for all of us.

Everlasting life is not something we have by nature. If we get it, it is as a gift from God. It comes to us through the Word of Christ. Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." When He was here on the earth, He spoke the words of life. He taught the disciples to go out and teach in the same way that He taught. And He told them that others would come to believe on Him through those words.

When we hear those words of life, and yield to the drawing power of God, and then believe in Jesus, we receive Him into our lives. With Him we receive eternal life:
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
By believing in Him, we are united to Him just as a branch is united to a vine; His eternal life flows into us and we have everlasting life. This is life that we have now, not just in the future. 
 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (John 5:24)
And this is life which is a personal relationship with God. Jesus defined it that way when He prayed in John 17. It's a personal, intimate knowledge of God; it's a conscious experience so we can relate to Him. How can this happen? Remember in John 1:4? "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." Before we have eternal life, we don't see things too clearly. But in faith, in our new birth and new life, the "lights go on" and we can know Him and fellowship with Him.

This eternal life will not be interrupted at death. Jesus said "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11:25-26) 

This is the present that I referenced in the title of this post. This is the gift of God. Our infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God loves the world so much, that He gave His Son . . . to us, the sinful, undeserving inhabitants of this earth. To rescue us from the peril we face; we don't have to perish. We don't have to be separated from God. We can accept His plan, His gift, and claim eternal life in Him!

This is the message of Christmas. This is why He came. And I hope that we will praise Him with grateful hearts for His love!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John 3:16 -- The Process

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Today we'll study the process -- our believing in Him. Let's dig in!

Believing is how we can be linked to God. Yes, He loves the world and gave His Son, but that alone doesn't rescue us from peril; it doesn't take away the fact that we will perish. That takes believing, having faith in Him.
And it's an ongoing thing, too. My study Bible makes the point that all through John's gospel, the verbs are all in present tense. Remember what we said John told us in John 20:31?
"These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." 
So it's not a one-shot deal.....it's ongoing. It's day by day. Keeping on. Keeping Jesus as our focus, as the most important thing that we believe in.
Another step in the process of our faith, our believing, is being truly satisfied with all that God has done for us in Christ. In other words, if our believing is just head knowledge, as we noted recently, instead of heart knowledge, our faith is no different than that of devils who believe and tremble (James 2:19). True belief is a very powerful thing. It instills new affections in the heart -- we are no longer satisfied with the things that pleased us before. Our faith is satisfied by Christ, and He brings relief to our troubled souls.
We've been talking mostly about belief being a process that WE are responsible for, but our faith is a work of the Spirit, not merely our desires.  The Bible teaches us that the human mind is blind to spiritual truth, and the human heart is sometimes hardened to spiritual pleasures. So how can we be saved? How can this process of believing, having faith in Christ, actually start?

Here's the answer:
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." (John 6:44)
Jesus said that. He said these, too:
"All the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out." (John 6:37)
"No one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65)
Jesus' answer to our spiritual blindness and hardness of heart is that the Father draws us. He takes away the blindness and gives us spiritual sight. He replaces our hearts of stone with hearts that are soft and responsive to His leading. He does this through words of truth, like this verse, John 3:16. This one verse is reminding us of our peril (our sinful state), the plan (God's love and way of rescue), and today, the process of building faith in Him. Today we recall that faith in Him is an ongoing thing -- continuing each day. We recall that it is being satisfied with what God provides for us. And we can praise Him that He has drawn us to Him, so that we can be building our faith as we walk with Him.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

John 3:16 -- The Plan

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Yesterday we studied the peril that we are in because of our sin. Today let's dig in to the plan that God has provided, to rescue us from the peril we face.

The first two words of the verse tell us something powerful -- there is a God. The world began with God, and depends on God. And we are created in His image. He was there first, and then He made us like Himself and for Himself (Isaiah 43:7) and the meaning of my life is knowing God.

Next we read that God has a Son. Especially at this time of year, this is a concept that we might rush through, but we should take our time. This is so amazing and so wonderful!
When Jesus says "only-begotten" He means to distinguish Himself from sons who are made or who are adopted -- the one being angels and the others being Christians. The angels were created directly by God, and Christians are "sons of God" by virtue of being adopted into the family, by being joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. And although it is difficult for us to comprehend, God's only begotten Son is God. And there never was a time when He was not with the Father. In this great mystery of the Trinity, He is equal to the Father, but is the Son. We read in John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
So he is the Word, the Son, and He is co-eternal with the Father. There is God, and He has a one and only begotten Son.
Jesus teaches us next that God loves. And because of that love, he planned a way for us to avoid the peril we studied yesterday.
Remember the verse that all the kids like to memorize, because it's so short? (Grin) I John 4:8 tells us "God is love."  And He "so loved" that He gave His son. He gave Him up for rejection and death.  John 1:11 reminds us that "He came to His own and His own received Him not." In fact, they killed Him, instead. And Jesus foretold this when He said, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You gave me to do." (John 17:4) So when the Father gave His Son, he gave Him to die -- His most precious treasure -- that was the plan. To give this powerful love, this gift, to undeserving sinners.
Perchance for a good man one might dare to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)
God's plan of love to rescue rebellious, sinful people like you and me, was to lift up Christ on the cross, so that all we have to do is look up in faith and be saved.  What an awesome love -- what an awesome plan!
The last part of the plan is in the word "whoever." God means for His Son to be lifted up before the world of sinners -- all sinners -- just the way that the serpent was lifted up on the pole in Numbers, because He loves the world; He loves the "whoevers" in this world.
He knows everything about us. We are in worse shape in His eyes than we are in our own estimation, but that doesn't stop Him. That's why He designed the plan.That's why He promises that whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.




Monday, December 16, 2013

John 3:16 -- The Peril

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

The first truth contained in this verse is awfully simple. I mean by that it's awful, and it's simple -- you and I and everyone in this world are in peril if we don't trust Christ.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's dig in!
What peril are we in? If we are unbelievers when we die, we will perish. Let's see what the Bible means about that:
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
Perishing means that we are still under the wrath of God, because of our sins, and because we have not trusted Christ to remove our sins. Perishing also means torment:
He will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  (Revelation 14:10)
The peril we face is not just being removed from this world, or not existing any more. It's actually continuing to live and exist, and being tormented by fire.  Not many people like to talk about that any more . . . they laugh at those who mention it, and call them hellfire and brimstone preachers....but it's true.
The peril we face, the "perishing" mentioned in John 3:16, is also separation from the glory of God. Paul describes it like this:
These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.  (II Thess. 1:9)
While we are here on earth, and when we go to heaven, we will see many ways that God reveals His glory. But in hell, the perishing will be cut off from all of his works and glory.
We don't like to be reminded of this, either: perishing is everlasting -- there is no way to reverse it. Jesus called it "eternal punishment" in Matthew, and in Luke He said there is a great chasm between heaven and hell, and that no one goes from one to the other.

So, we know that the peril we face is God's wrath; it's fiery torment; it's separation from God, and it does last forever. But why are all of us in peril?
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
And:
  "The wages of sin is death," (Romans 6:23)
So it's our sin that causes the peril, that brings us to the point of perishing. God is the most worthy, the only completely holy Person in the universe. His greatness and His value are infinite. All things are made by Him, have their beginning and ending in Him, and every person depends on Him for everything. We certainly owe Him trust, allegiance, love and worship; we should offer honor, respect and obedience because He made us and sustains us.It makes sense then, that if we reject Him, distrust Him, disobey Him, and just generally put other things before a relationship with Him, these are the ultimate in insults -- because He is the ultimate treasure.
John 3:16 is even more precious when you think about all of that!
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Slowdown

The Wexford Carol is featured this week; it's a reverent carol that is packed with so much meaning! Here are the words, and the video is below for a quiet Friday slowdown:

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day:
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God's angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
"Prepare and go," the angels said,
"To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you'll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born."

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the Babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by his side the Virgin Maid,
As long foretold, there was a blessed Messiah born


Thursday, December 12, 2013

John 3:16 - So familiar, so powerful

Is there a verse more familiar than this one?
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
I wonder if all of us memorized this verse at some point in our lives? Either as small children, or as a new Christian, or perhaps later in life, as a comforting verse.....

I think that one reason it is so familiar and so loved, is that it is such a wonderful summary of the gospel!
I approach this study with trepidation....how in the world can I add anything to all that has been said and preached about this verse? Perhaps I'll not be adding anything, simply reminding all of us of the power, goodness and mercy that is wrapped up in this small package!

It's God's providence, I believe, that brings us to this study at this time of year: the season that humans have selected to celebrate the coming of Christ in the manger. I hope that it will be meaningful for all of us.
Next week we will open up this verse, this beautifully wrapped package, and discover all over again, the peril we humans are in, the plan that God decided on to rescue us, the process of believing, and the present we will ultimately receive. Please pray with me that we will refresh our wonder and joy at God's love and mercy as we study.

See you next week!
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prayer requests


I'd like to open this post today for comments from anyone who would like to leave a comment and share a prayer request with us.

We are honored to be able to share together and to pray together -- recently there have been some comments of answered prayers, and we can all rejoice in God's mercy and providence. He truly cares about us, and wants to move in our lives. No matter what is happening, He never leaves us. He is faithful.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  II Corinthians 1:3-4
Please let us know if there is a matter that we can join you in praying about. Let us know, too, if you have a praise and an answered prayer. You never know the hearts you may encourage, by sharing with your sisters in Christ.

Let's pray.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

John 3:10-15, Snakes, Part II

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Today we are continuing our study of this passage. I hope that if you are joining us and have not read Part I, that you'll take a moment to check out that post and then re-join us.
Yesterday we read the passage in Numbers that Jesus was quoting from, and I'd like to refresh our memory of those verses. The serpent on the pole, that Moses lifted up, was for people who'd been bitten -- they had poison in them, and without intervention (divine intervention) they would perish. The snakes in the camp were sent by whom? By the Lord. Why? Because of their sinful ingratitude and their rebellion against Him. God chose to rescue His people -- all they had to do to be saved from His wrath was to look at His provision, His way of rescue, hanging on a pole.

Jesus, lifted up on the cross, is the source of our rescue today. He rescues us from the poison of sin, and from God's wrath. He is the source of our eternal life. If we dig a little deeper, we will see that Moses was not the rescuer -- but he did lift up the snake. Who lifts up the Son of Man on the cross? If we look over further in John's gospel, he tells us in chapter eight that Jesus said it was going to be the Pharisees. Are you surprised? Look:
Jesus said to them,"When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He." (John 8:28)
We can see from the thirteenth verse of that same chapter, that He was talking to the Pharisees. So the Pharisees will lift up the means of rescue, just as Moses did. And God will save His people.
Here is the part that we don't like to look at. We want to think of Christ in our usual way. It upsets us to think about what happened on the cross......remember in Numbers? The snakes were awful; they were evil; they were killing people. And the snake on the pole is an image of God's judgement on the people. So it was with our Lord:
"For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Corinthians 5:2)
And again in Galatians:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." (Gal 3:13)
We don't like to think about it, but on the cross, Jesus became like that snake; He was the embodiment of our sin, and of our curse. The sins of the world were laid upon Him. In becoming sin for us, He took our sins away.
When the people looked up at the snake, lifted high on the pole, they were rescued. The poison was taken from their bodies; they lived instead of dying.
What Jesus gives us from the cross is eternal life. Our sin and God's wrath are both removed --praise God! We are now His children and will never die, but live forever with Him in joy.
The message of the new birth is that in looking to the cross, and accepting God's mercy, we can have life, and that more abundantly!


Monday, December 9, 2013

John 3:10-15 Snakes really can be good things, Part I

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
  
I'd like for you to think with me for a moment. Many times in the scriptures, our Lord is compared to different things . . . He is the Vine, the good Shepherd, the Lion of Judah, and many more. Did you know that in this passage He is comparing Himself to a snake? Whoaaaah. No, I haven't lost my mind. (Grin) Let's dig in!

You'll remember that Nicodemus is a Jewish leader that came to Jesus in the dark of night. Jesus told him that he must experience a new birth - a spiritual re-birth, in order to enter the kingdom of God. And He tells him that the Spirit is going to be the One who enables him to do this . . . free as the wind, He comes and goes, and He is our helper in order to have the faith we need.
Nicodemus still doesn't "get" it.
What happens to you, when people don't understand you? If you try and try to explain something to someone, and they still look at you with a deer-in-the-headlights expression, how do you react? What would you have said to Nicodemus?
Would you have been frustrated? Irritated? Would you have said, "Oh, forget it!" and given up?
Oy. I'm talking to myself here, since I have done those things. 

But our Lord patiently keeps trying. In fact, He does what we should do when this happens: He shifts gears. 
He what?
He shifts gears. Look at the verses before verse thirteen. He is talking to Nicodemus like a teacher, or like someone who wants to witness about the new birth -- like you and I should do. He is explaining from that perspective. You can see, in verse thirteen He begins talking about Himself, as the Son of Man, Who came from heaven to do something that makes the new birth possible. 
Before verse thirteen, Jesus made three really important points about the new birth -- it's spiritual (not physical), it comes from the work of the Spirit, and it is difficult both to understand and to be explained, without the Spirit's assistance. 
In verse thirteen, though, He talks about why He is the one Who can offer the heavenly explanation for this re-birth. 
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  
He often referred to Himself as the Son of Man, and He is saying to Nicodemus (and to us) "the reason that I can give you a heavenly explanation is that I came down from heaven. I was in heaven with the Father, and I will tell you why I am here."

There are more obstacles to our entering the kingdom of God than our need to be born again. Nicodemus needed to understand that, just as we do. Something has to happen to remove the wrath of God regarding our sin -- He is holy, and we are sinful. (Check out John 3:36, and we'll see the problem.) He cannot release the power of the Spirit to cause us to be born again, until something happens to take away His seeing our sin. And that is what the Son of Man came to do. 

Now, here is where we start to talk about the snakes -- I bet you wondered when I would get back to them, right? Jesus picks a story from the scriptures to explain what He came to do. It was a story that Nicodemus, as a learned and ritualistic Jew, would be very familiar with; it may shock us though, that He chose it to describe His ministry and work.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

A snake? Really?

Here is the story, to refresh our memories:

 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against 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 worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.  (Numbers 21:4-9)

We know that many prophesies pointed to the coming of Christ, and to His death and resurrection, and to His making us His children. But it does seem shocking to compare Him to that snake.

But Jesus is the Son of Man Who is lifted up on the cross, in just the way that the snake was lifted up. Let's look at just one example of His identifying Himself in this way:

‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’  He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’(John 9:35-37)

So when Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being lifted up, he is talking about Himself, and His own crucifixion. We'll talk more about this tomorrow......I hope you will join me!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Slowdown

"Mary's Little Boy Child"

Long time ago in Bethlehem
so the holy bible say
Mary's boy child Jesus cChrist
was born on Christmas day
hark now hear the angels sing
a new king born today
and man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day
trumpets sound and angels sing
listen what they say
that man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day

While shepherds watch their flock by night
they see a bright new shining star
then hear a choir sing
the music seemed to come from afar
now Joseph and his wife Mary
come to Bethleham that night
then find no place to born the child
not a single room was in sight

Hark now hear the angels sing
a new King born today
and man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day
trumpets sound and angels sing
listen what they say
that man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day

By and by they find a little nook
in a stable all forlorn
and in a manger cold and dark
Mary's little boy was born

Hark now hear the angels sing
a new King born today
and man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day
trumpets sound and angels sing
listen what they say
that man will live forevermore
because of Christmas day

Thursday, December 5, 2013

John 3:1-10, the new birth, part III

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

The last things that we noted yesterday were the ideas that our new birth is because of our connection with Jesus, and that we are connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith.
“Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4)
So today we look at our final study of this passage, and I would like for us to consider this -- the new birth is not an improvement to ourselves, it is the creation of a new "us" that is forgiven, cleansed, and is being transformed!
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What is He saying here?
Some denominations say that this is Christ's way of referring to natural birth (water) and spiritual re-birth (Spirit). Some say that He is noting the need for baptism. I'd like to look at this a little more simply -- sometimes the straightforward way of interpreting things is the best!

Can I ask you to bear with me, and turn in your Bible to the Old Testament? Check out Ezekiel 36:24-28 . . . well, instead of waiting for you to do that, let's just read it together:
 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
In this passage, Ezekiel is prophesying what God will do for His people. They were in exile, in the country of Babylon. They were longing for a word from God, just as we do today. And these words have just as much to do with us, under the new covenant, as they had to do with them. The ones that will live in the "land that I gave to your fathers" are the ones that will be cleansed -- and so, too, the ones that will live in the kingdom of God are the ones that will be cleansed and created anew.  There has to be a cleansing -- if our old self was completely obliterated, the whole concept of forgiveness would be irrelevant; there would be nothing from the past to forgive! But God will instead cleanse us and forgive us for those past sins, and let us remember them as a testimony of His grace and mercy.

The Bible tells us that our old self is crucified (Romans 6:6) and that we are to consider ourselves dead (Romans 6:11) and "put off the old self" (Ephesians 4:22). This means that there is an old nature, an old character, an old way of doing things, that needs to be radically changed. So our guilt will be washed away in the new birth, and cleansing with water is a lovely picture of that process.
We should pay close attention, though, to the passage in Ezekiel -- we're not done with that yet! It speaks of a new heart and a new spirit . . .
That heart of stone is the dead heart that was unfeeling and unresponsive; it's the heart we had before the new birth. We could respond with passion to lots of things, but our hearts were stone cold toward the truth and beauty of Christ, the glory of God, and the path of a holy life. Well, that has to change if we are to see the kingdom of God, so God takes out the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. That word doesn't just mean muscle and blood -- it means a responsive, living, feeling heart, soft to the touch of the Father. In the new birth, our dead, stone hearts are replaced with ones that are alive and know the worth of Jesus.
That new spirit is the working of the Holy Spirit to give shape and character, yes, even godliness, to our new heart. The scriptures compare our hearts and spirits to a lump of clay in the Potter's hands, shaping it to fulfill the potential He sees.

So, the new birth is not a religion, it's a new life. It's a supernatural life that is connected to Jesus by our faith in Him. And it's our receiving a new heart and spirit, that is being daily transformed to be more like Him.
The way that we experience all of this is through faith; I'd like to invite any who read this, and who have not yet received new life in Christ, to receive Him as the sin-forgiving, transforming Savior of your life.

We'll be studying more about this in the coming weeks, but if you have a question about becoming a child of God, and receiving Christ as your Savior, please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond to your questions. Or you can access the "What is Salvation?" page here at the blog, and read more there.




Wednesday, December 4, 2013

John 3:1-10, the new birth, part II

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

In verse 2 of our passage, Nicodemus says, " 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.”In other words, Nicodemus knows that in Jesus he is witnessing genuine divine activity. He confirms that Jesus is from God, and is doing His works.
But what happens in the new birth is not only confirming the supernatural in Jesus, but experiencing the supernatural inside yourself!
Webster defines "supernatural" as departing from what is usual or normal, and "as of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God." 
The fact that Nicodemus saw the signs and wonders, was amazed at them, and gave Jesus credit for being from God, didn't save him. You see, you don't need a new heart to be amazed....our old, fallen nature is all that is needed for that -- and the old, fallen nature is perfectly willing to say that the worker of the miracles is from God. After all, the devil himself knows that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:24).  So, Jesus is telling Nicodemus, "you haven't yet found the key to the kingdom!"
The new birth is supernatural, not natural. It is a departure, as Webster says, from the norm. The flesh is what we are naturally (verse 6) and the Spirit of God is the supernatural Person who brings about the new birth. He is not part of our natural world -- He is above nature, and He is supernatural. He is God.
So to experience the new birth we must take in, we must internalize, we must experience the supernatural in ourselves -- we must be born again. God in the Holy Spirit must come upon us and bring our new life into existence. Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  I think one of the things that John wants us to "get" is that Jesus is the life that the Holy Spirit gives to us. Union with Jesus Christ is the way that we experience this new birth.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
“These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31
We can see that there is no spiritual life, no eternal life, apart from our connection with Jesus and belief in Jesus. In the new birth, we are united to Christ; He is life.  In the fifteenth chapter of John, we read that He is the vine and we are the branches. Our connection to Him is our life.  That new life makes a vibrant faith possible. Our faith in Him is a vital part of the new birth. We will continue our study of this passage tomorrow -- I hope you'll tune in.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

John 3:1-10, the new birth, part I

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

I think that one of the most important things that we can "get" from this passage is that the new birth is not a new religion, not new rituals, but a new life.

The first thing that John makes sure that we understand is that Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and a ruler of the Jewish people. The Pharisees were the most rigorously religious of all of the Jewish groups. The Pharisees probably started out just wanting with all of their hearts to obey God, but along the way they became slaves to the Law, and to the parts of the Law that they added. They became very legalistic and judgemental of others, too. They went from wanting to be righteous, to being self-righteous, which is not a good place to be.
What does Jesus tell this man devoted to his religion?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (verse 3)
And then, much more personally in verse 7:
"You must be born again.”
 So John is making the point here for us: All of Nicodemus' religion . . . all of his studying and discipline and keeping of the law . . . cannot replace the need for the new birth.
What Jesus said that Nicodemus needed, and what all of us need, too, is not religion but new life. In one sense, Nicodemus is alive. Like us, he is breathing, feeling, thinking, acting, and asking Jesus a question. He is a human being, like us, created in God's image. But Jesus is saying that he is dead -- there is no spiritual life in Nicodemus. He needs life in Christ, not more religious activities or rituals. He is spiritually unborn.
Remember what Jesus told a man in Luke 9:60? The man told Jesus that he wanted to delay following Him so that he could bury his father. Jesus said, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead." That means that there are physically dead people who need burying, and there are spiritually dead people who can bury them. In other words, Jesus was thinking in terms of people who walk around on this earth with much apparent life, but who are dead.
In Jesus' parable about the prodigal son, the Father says, "This my son was dead, and is alive again." (Luke 15:24)
Nicodemus didn't need religion; he needed spiritual life. What happens when we are born again is that life comes into being that wasn't there before! New life happens at the new birth!
I hope that all who read these posts have experienced that new birth -- we'll study more about this tomorrow.



Monday, December 2, 2013

John 3:1-10 The new birth, introduction

There was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 Now he came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?"

This week we will begin to study one of the most important chapters in the gospel of John; it is one of the chapters that people turn to again and again, and memorize portions of it, too. I pray that it will be meaningful to all of us.

What is the new birth? What is being "born again"?
We hear those terms used so much -- sometimes so casually. Let's dig in and make certain that we know what John wants us to know. Remember why he is writing -- he wants us to "get it." To understand that Jesus is God, that He came to save, and that John wants to show us His glory.

Jesus was speaking to all of us when He talked to Nicodemus. Nicodemus wasn't a special case -- we must all be born again or we will not see the kingdom of God. We will not be saved; we will not be part of God's family; we will not go to heaven.

Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees, the most religious Jewish leaders. Jesus said to them (you can read this in Matthew 23:15 and following) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. . . . You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
So even the most religious among us must pay close attention to the new birth, being born again.

I'm sure that was a little shocking to Nicodemus. And it may shock people today. They may think, "Well, I am a good person. I give to worthy causes, and try to help others. I even go to church every Sunday."  But are we born again?
What Jesus says about the new birth confronts all of us with our hopeless spiritual condition, apart from the grace of God. Before the new birth happens to us, we are truly spiritually dead.  Even the most generous and ethical among us are still morally selfish, and spiritually rebellious, not accepting God's mercy. And we are legally guilty before the law of God, and in front of His holiness. When Jesus tells us that we need to be born again, He is telling us that our present condition is corrupt, guilty, and hopeless without His help. Oh, we don't like to hear that about ourselves. Nicodemus probably didn't like it, either.

Another thing that may shock people is that the new birth refers to something that is done to us, and for us; it is not something that we do.  Being independent and self sufficient and achieving things is what cranks a lot of human beings' tractors. They are proud of their accomplishments, and rightly so. But the new birth is not something we can achieve alone.
In I Peter 1:3 we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again."
You see, we do not cause the new birth -- God causes it. Any good things that we do are a result of our being born again; they are not the cause of the new birth. So, it's not in our control, and it makes us confront our helplessness and dependence on God. 
Some of us are not happy campers with those thoughts.

So, as we begin to study the new birth, let's focus on these verses and learn what John wants us to know. Let's keep this in mind, as well:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
God loves to magnify the riches of his life-giving grace where Christ is lifted up in truth. I pray that we will learn more, praise God for His mercy, and that perhaps some who not yet born again, may accept God's gift of eternal life.
See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Slowdown


I hope that you will bear with me today as I repeat one of my favorite hymns, in one of my favorite arrangements.
Truly we are blessed, and we lift our hearts and hands to Him from Whom those blessings flow!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thursday -- Happy Thanksgiving!


"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name." 
1 Chronicles 29:11-13

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday, Thanksgiving week


In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.  Isaiah 12:4

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.  Psalm 28:7

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday, Thanksgiving week


I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. Psalm 7:17

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  I Timothy 4:4-5

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday, Thanksgiving week


Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.  Psalm 95:2-3

I'll be taking this week off, for the Thanksgiving holiday. All this week I will have posts that focus on thanking God for His many blessings.
I hope that you and your families and friends enjoy a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday slowdown

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voices, let us sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beams,
thou silver moon that gently gleams,
Refrain:
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
that givest man both warmth and light,

Dear mother earth, who day by day
unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise him, Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
let them his glory also show:

And all ye men of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care:

And thou, most kind and gentle death,
waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
and Christ our Lord the way hath trod:

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, Three in One: 

Refrain:
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!


 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

John 2:23-25, It looks like faith

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.


There's an old saying, "If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck."Today we will learn that if it "looks like faith" it is not necessarily faith . . .

Yesterday we focused on the omniscience of Jesus in this text. Today we will study that there is a kind of faith in Jesus that He does not approve. Whoa. That is a big one. Let's dig in and make certain that we understand!
Today's study is a result of the omniscience that we focused on yesterday. John the gospel-writer notes that when Jesus looked into the heart of some of those who believed, he saw something other than the kind of faith that makes you a child of God. 
It seems to our finite minds that Jesus should be thrilled with the folks who see the signs and believe. But he’s not. Verse 24 says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because He knew all people.” This is not the way He treats His own sheep whom He calls by name. When Jesus withholds himself from them, he is saying that they are not believing in a saving way. They are not the children of God -- They are not doing what we noted in John 1:12.
Wait a minute! What's wrong with their faith; what is wrong with their believing? Let's check out the clues . . .

In the very next chapter (and don't forget, chapter divisions are a human, later-than-the-writing-of-the-gospel invention) we see Nicodemus coming to Jesus and saying:
"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” John 3:2
This is the kind of faith that Jesus sees in the people. It's a huge statement of faith -- it's what some Jews believe about Jesus; it's what Muslims and even some unsaved believe. Jesus is "from God" and what He does are "signs" of the power of God in Him.
It's very significant faith. But it is not saving faith.  We know from the rest of the story that Nicodemus (at the time he questioned Christ) was not born again. He was still spiritually blind, and only saw the signs -- they were so impressive that he concluded they must involve the almighty God.
Remember the clue in verse 23: "Many believed in His name when they saw the signs ...." Signs were meant to point people to the true Savior, the Son of God and what He stood for. But John is noting here that many saw the signs and did not see what they stood for.
Let's look at an example:
So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him”  (John 7:3-5)
Wow! The reason that his brothers wanted Him to go and do His miracles, was to get some attention in Judea! And that was because they did not believe in Him. Well, they knew He worked miracles....they could believe that. They were excited about it and wanted him to get the attention they thought he deserved. That, John states, is unbelief.  And here is how John clarifies it:
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” John 5:44
You see, deep down in their hearts (remember yesterday? Jesus sees our hearts perfectly.) His brothers loved the glory of man. They saw Him working miracles and not receiving much glory. They wanted attention for Him, and indirectly for themselves. They wanted Him, and themselves, to receive admiration.
Here is the bottom line: real, saving faith in Christ is an humble thing. It's what we do because we are broken, and need "fixing." It's not what popularity seekers or power-hungry people, or sign-followers do. You see, sign-seeking is not a good idea. Many people today scoot from one sign or wonder to the next. They look for the spectacular; if it's incredible, it must be from God, right? Then when the leader or worker has marriage problems or financial or legal problems, they are disappointed and disillusioned.
“False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”Matthew 24:24
Yes, they may do signs and maybe even miracles. And they will cause the sign-seekers to fall away from following Christ. They had faith, yes. A kind of faith. And that is what Jesus knew, and John is warning us about.
Paul tells us in Thessalonians:
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and lying signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”Thess. 2:9-10
In the last days before Jesus comes, there will be signs and wonders. Some of them will be real. And they will be lying - full of deception. Many who profess faith in Christ; a kind of faith, a faith that does not love the truth, will switch that faith from Jesus to another sign-worker who seems more impressive.....and they will perish in the end.

So, as we look at yesterday's study and today's, we need to ask ourselves: Is our faith based on a spiritual sight of the glory of the Son? Do we see Christ and His cross as compelling us to repent and partake of His life and follow His glory? Or are we only attracted to signs and wonders?

It's awe-inspiring to think that Jesus, who could see perfectly into the depths of every soul, and Who could summon angels to do His bidding, and Who could make things happen with a single word -- this Jesus knew what was in man (and woman). He chose when and where and how and why He would die. And He did it for us. He and His cross are the greatest glory -- if we believe on Him, the Lamb of God will take away our sins and make us children of God.
The greatest glory is that He is our Savior!  He lives, and makes intercession for us. Praise Him!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

John 2:23-25, our all-knowing Savior

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.


Remember when we began in John's gospel? We discovered that the reason for John's writing was to show the glory of Jesus, and to make certain that we "get it," that we believe in Him as God's Son and giver of eternal life.

Since we know that John wanted all of us to believe, these verses are a little bit awkward. What he is saying, is that Jesus knows what is in every heart, and He can see when someone believes in a way that is not really believing. Put a different way, Jesus has the ability to know every heart perfectly -- and that leads to an unsettling truth that some belief is not the kind of belief that results in fellowship with Jesus, and ultimately in eternal life. So, some belief is not saving belief.

Let's take this in two bites, shall we? Let's focus on the omniscience of Jesus today, and on the belief issues tomorrow.

The first part of this is "He knew all people." There is no person that is excluded here; and no part of our lives is excluded from His omniscience. He knows everybody, and then He also knows everything about everybody! Let this truth about our Savior sink into your heart.

What does it really mean? Well, it means that there are no complete secrets in your life. We might have succeeded in hiding something from everyone else on this earth. But we've not hidden it from Jesus. You are completely, totally known. There is not one slight part of your heart and your mind that is unknown to Him, now, and at every hour.


That means there is always at least one Person to whom we must relate, Who knows everything about us. We can look others in the face and know that they are unaware of some things about us. But there is One Who when we look Him in the face, He sees "through" us. When we speak to Him, it's as ones who are totally laid bare, totally known. What an incredible relationship to have!  No one else comes close, not our spouse, not our best friend, no one else. Just Jesus.

Because of this, we always have someone to go to, for help in knowing ourselves. That's one of the great longings of humans, isn't it? "Who are we?" "What is our nature?" "What sort of human being are we?" Jesus is the One who knows our heart perfectly, and can help us to understand ourselves.

Here is the most awesome part: we not only have someone who knows us fully, but who is willing to love us unconditionally -- in spite of what He knows! Jesus has a special covenant love for those Who trust Him. Look at how He prays to the Father in John 17:9:
“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
He is interceding for those the Father has given to Him. These are His disciples, His sheep, the children of God. These are they who are born again, those who believe, and it includes us if we have believed in Him and accepted His gift of salvation.
“To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”  John 1:12
If we receive Him, there will always be one person who will love us, knowing everything about us. We will be able to trust Him fully, and have joy in life with Him.



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Verses that speak to us


This week I'd like to invite all of our readers to take just a moment to leave a comment on this post in particular. Many times we study our Bible and find gems from God that truly bless and inspire us; we may find "just the right" verse to help us through a difficult situation.

Won't you share with us, if you have found a verse or passage to be helpful in the past week or two? You never know who might really need that verse or insight that you share . . .

Here is one that helped me through a difficult time this past week:
"Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed," he said. "Peace! Be strong now; be strong." When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, "Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength."  Daniel 10:19

Hoping to hear from you, too . . .


Monday, November 18, 2013

Concluding thoughts on John 2:12-22

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

In concluding our study of this passage, I wanted to focus for a few moments on two verses, seventeen and twenty-two.

I am sure that when this incident happened, there were onlookers who were puzzled, and wondered what in the world was going on, and why. John is our helper again, here, and tells us exactly why!

17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

What we find in these two verses are two signs proving that Jesus is not only someone who can perform miracles, but that He is the One promised to Adam, and He is the hope of every Jewish person since. Although they didn't understand at the time, these verses prove the Messiahship of Christ. 

Here is some background . . . there was a commandment for every Israelite man over 21 years old to pay a temple tax. We can find the rules for this in Exodus 31:12-16, and it's mentioned again in Matthew.   But they couldn’t use the "coin of the realm"; they had to use a special one, and they could only get it from the temple. Now, the money-changers in the temple knew this and they sold this coin for a huge profit. These money-changers were practicing extortion -- and right inside the temple!
Notice that He doesn't drive out only those money-changers, but He drives out all the animals, too. We can imagine Him standing for a moment inside the now-quiet temple, with His disciples looking on from a few feet away . . . his next remark is not lost on them -- it's part of a prophetic Psalm well-known to every Jewish person, whether young or old.

I'd like for you to pause and turn to Psalm 69 and read it carefully -- this is a Psalm of the promised Messiah. It details His suffering and the words of verse 17 are contained in it. So, as they looked at Him, standing in the temple, His disciples recalled that Psalm, and it bolstered their faith.

The others? The ones driven out? Not so much.
They asked Him, by what authority do You do this? You and I can't imagine asking this of Him, right? But they did. And His answer amazed them -- and provided yet another proof, one that would be remembered three years later, by the disciples. Here's what He said . . .


19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21But he spake of the temple of his body.

The people who asked Him that, must have looked at each other and rolled their eyes. They just didn't understand, and to them, His words seemed a little bizarre. But later, as John says, His disciples would understand that He meant it as a reference to His own body. Let's dig into the words, because there are some gems here for us if we dig!


The word that Jesus uses that is translated "destroy" is actually an imperative word in the Greek -- by that we mean that it's a command; it carries some urgency with it. He is not just prophecying what they will do -- He is actually commanding them to do it. 
Next, He doesn't just use a word that means "temple" even though it is translated that way. He uses another word that is quite specific -- it means the portion of the temple where sacrifices are offered....He is referring to the Holy Place!

OK, take a rest from digging and let's pull some things together. Jesus did something that reminded his disciples of Psalm 69. Then He called His own body the Holy Place, where atonement for sins would be found. Wow! They had asked Him for proof, for a sign.  He did more than that . . .


22When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. 

 In the midst of His ministry, in the midst of what must have been so frustrating and provoking, in the midst of what would be three years of people showing faithlessness and unbelief, He provided them with proof of His Sonship and His being the long awaited Messiah. And on top of that, He provided them with proof before they needed it . . . as all-knowing God, He knew that one day they would be huddled in a room, scared that the authorities would come and take them away to be jailed or killed, and that this would be something they would remember. It would be something to hang on to -- something they could believe in. They would go on to change the world for His glory.


We can see that they didn't "get it" right away, but they did eventually. What an awesome God to plan and provide salvation, and then to plan and provide proof for their fledgling faith!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday slowdown

Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.


See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.



I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.


Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.


Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.

Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.

O Holy Ghost,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.

Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

John 2:12-22, Part II

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

We paused yesterday and noted that there are some other scriptures that we need to look at. Here is one of them:
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I Corinthians 6:19-20
Wow! Every time that I read that, I am struck afresh and anew with the realization -- our bodies are temples of God! And that brings an added responsibility . . .we need to make certain that we honor God with our bodies.
Does Jesus need to cleanse our temples? Do we need to invite Him in with prayer, so that He can come in and cast out our sinfulness, and make our bodies holy again? Does He need to take the cords of life and make them into a whip of circumstances and situations that will get our attention, so that He can push sin out of our daily lives?
Here is another scripture that talks about the temple:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” I Corinthians 3:16-17
This is powerful stuff, too. We see here that not only are our individual bodies temples to God, but we (together) as the people of Christ are also a temple. So, when we gather together as a group of Christians, a sacred thing can happen -- He can be in our midst.  So let's not treat our gatherings as trivial or inconsequential -- He doesn't!

Each of us has sins that separate us from the close relationship that God wants to enjoy with us. We all have things in our lives that keep us from that special path that God has for us.  Here's the problem: we are used to them. We don't even realize they are there anymore, and we don't even see them as sin anymore -- they're just a part of our world.
We are like the ancient temple, and we have tables of sin that have wandered into our lives and we may not even realize that they shouldn't be there. Oh, and once the sin takes hold, it grows and grows. Probably when the tables in the temple began, they started out small, and few in number. But then they grew and grew, and soon there were sheep, cattle, birds, and moneychangers in a part of the temple that was supposed to be where people could worship!
I just can't picture trying to worship while being distracted by all those animals, can you? Well, that is the way sin in our lives can be. We allow it to grow and take more of the place where God should be. It makes our relationship with Him weaker and weaker. It keeps us from that one relationship that is the most important.
And we are unable to get rid of these sins and distractions by ourselves; we fail miserably when we try. Here's the good news: we don't need to do it by ourselves. Our Jesus, the fierce Jesus that we don't think about as often as the serene one, will take up His cords and cast out those things that need to be removed. Let's allow, let's invite Jesus into our temples, and let Him work in our lives. He can free us from those things that will keep us from Him.
He will cleanse us as He did the temple.
Thank you, Lord!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

John 2:12-22, Part I

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


Have you a favorite picture of Jesus? Is there a certain image in your mind that you equate with Him? Over the years, many artists and sculptors have tried to show what they think the Son of God looked like. Most of them are calm and serene; some are sad or thoughtful . . . not too many are angry, or show Him with a whip in His hand. We don't often think of Him that way. But that is what we see in this passage.

Got your shovels ready? Let's dig in!

There are many events in the life of Jesus that show up in one or two of the gospels, or even in three. But it is kinda rare for it to be reported in all four, with the obvious exceptions, of course being the crucifixion and the resurrection.  The cleansing of the temple is one that shows up in all four . . . with some differences. Maybe we should check this out.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus enters Jerusalem the week before He is crucified, and makes His way to the temple, where He chases the money collectors out. It happens during His last week on earth, and is actually something that speeds things along -- the teachers and the high priests realize that Jesus is not someone who can be controlled by them.
Here in the Gospel of John, we have a different sequence of events. Here the temple is cleansed at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It happens three years before His death and resurrection; it is one of the early things that shows His authority.

Now, there are two possibilities here (and I'm not unaware that this is NOT a big deal, OK? It's just an interesting thing to look at. It doesn't change anything, either way. What we can learn from the life of Christ is still there for us.)
One possible answer is that John is not remembering it correctly, and is mixed up on the sequence of events in Jesus' life. So, he writes about this happening much, much earlier in His ministry than it really happened.
I am not one hundred percent happy with that option, because of all the gospel writers, John is the one who knew Jesus best. He was the "beloved disciple," and one of the twelve that traveled with Jesus. He was with Jesus from the beginning.
The other option is that Jesus cleaned out the temple more than once. He could have done this once at the beginning of His ministry, and once at the end. If it happened twice, perhaps He was not as "out of control" as some indicate when they preach from this passage. Perhaps He was making a point -- making a point to His disciples, the leaders in the temple, and to those of us who learn from the scriptures now. Maybe it was an important point, so He made it twice.

If we come right down to it, I guess it doesn't really matter if it was at the beginning of His ministry, at the end, or twice. What matters is that we "get it." That we understand what He wanted us to see in this.
In those verses above, Jesus specifically identifies His own body in connection with the temple. Did you see that the disciples asked Him by what authority He cleansed the temple? We can see that they want to know, "how can we know that You are speaking for God?"
He responds with a rather cryptic answer; He is almost speaking in code, you might say . . . but our translator is John.
Jesus tells them that if the temple is destroyed, He will raise it again in three days. And John explains that He isn't really talking about the temple at all -- He is talking about His own body. And, He is talking about the fact that people will destroy His body, and He will raise it again in three days.
Jesus is predicting His own death and resurrection, something that will happen three years into the future. Three years from this particular time in His ministry.
You see, He knew from the very beginning what He was facing. He is talking about the power of Easter.
But He is also hinting that what He did in the temple is not just about the temple. We see a deeper meaning to His casting the moneychangers, sheep, and cattle out of the temple. They've taken God's house and turned it into a marketplace -- they've taken a holy place and found a way to use it to their own purposes.
Tomorrow we'll look at some other scriptures that will help us better understand what Jesus is telling us here.