Who are “the Dead?”

Who are “the Dead,” in John 5:25-29?

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:25-29

Introduction:

Some of the passages we have read in the Gospel of John have required some thought, and even some “digging into the rest of God’s Word,” to arrive at a reasonable level of understanding. Some are very straightforward and clear. (John 5:24, which we read last week, is one of the “very clear” variety: No one need have any question about his or her eternal destiny, or how to have assurance of Eternal life.)  But: the next five verses do give cause for some careful thought and for asking some questions:

John 5:25-29

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. 26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

What is happening, here?

Taken as a whole, that passage could be pretty confusing: It rather sounds as though Jesus is planning a “preaching tour among the graves,” that some of the dead would hear him and live, that ALL would hear and exit the tombs and that the “good people” would have eternal life, and the “bad people” would have eternal condemnation.

There are several problems with that assumption:

  1. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is given unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.”
    1. (That pretty much excludes a “second chance.”)
    1. Luke 16:19-31 tells of a man who clearly “believed” from the tomb, and it did him no good at all! There was no “second chance.”
  2. Romans 3:12 says “there is none that doeth good: no, not one!”So, whatever we think about “good and bad” people means very little.
  3. Luke 23:42, 43 tells of a man who definitely did evil with his life, and was in the process of being executed for his crimes. But he placed his trust in the living Christ, and was given eternal life, as a gift.
  4. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says we are not saved by good works: that it is always a gift, and
  5. Galatians 2:21 says, if it were possible  to be justified (declared righteous) by works, then Jesus died for nothing!

So, perhaps there is more than one type of “dead” in this passage. Perhaps the preaching is not done “among the tombs,” but among the “dead.” That alone would make the last verse easier to understand, but there is still a problem with the “Works” issue. So, let’s examine the passage:

Who are the Dead?

The first question we really need to answer, then is “Who are the dead, to whom Jesus was calling at that time (and to whom He still is calling today?) The best place to find answers about questions in God’s Word is in God’s Word!  So, let’s see what we can find out about the “dead” to whom Jesus is “calling:”

  • Ephesians 2:1, speaking to the Gentile believers at Ephesus (and us!), says “You hath He quickened (brought to life) who were dead in trespasses and sin.”
    • They were dead in sin (spiritually separated from God. (Ephesians 2:11, 12)
    • Jesus brought them to life.
    • They were living believers when Paul’s letter reached them.
  • Colossians 2:13, speaking to another Gentile church, says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
    • They once were dead, but now were alive, through the forgiveness of all sins.
    • And we already saw that Ephesians 2:8, 9 says it was by Grace, through Faith.

So, from these passages, what answer can I give to the question, “Who are the Dead to whom Jesus called?”

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

We Were Dead in our Sins

The “dead” to whom Jesus calls are the unbelieving people of the whole world. We were all dead in sins until we heard the Gospel: we somehow heard the call of Jesus, over the noise of this dying world, and we placed our faith in Him, at whatever level of understanding we then had.

The Example of the Thief on the Cross:

The thief on the Cross was surrounded by the howling, mocking crowd, and filled with his own agony, as well, but he somehow saw the Holiness of Jesus and His Forgiveness and Love, and he repented of his earlier arrogance against God. He cast Himself upon the Mercy of the Living Christ. He died a short time later, just after Jesus did, and he entered Paradise with His Savior.

He was (literally) dead in his sins, and being executed for his crimes! He was dying as a condemned criminal. But: he heard the voice of Jesus, and lived! The only sense in which his condition differs from each of ours is the degree of immediacy: he knew he was dying and he had no hope of respite or reprieve. He was looking at Jesus face-to-face. He cast his only, desperate hope on someone he had only moments before been mocking along with the crowd. So, how does that compare with my own experience?

My Own Example:

  • Had I seen Jesus face-to-face? (Nope!)
  • Did I know for sure when I was going to die? (No, but I was pretty sure that I would die.)
  • Was I aware of my sin and the consequences of sin? (Theoretically, yes, but certainly not to the same degree as that man was. I had a growing conviction that I was a condemned sinner, and unable to please God.)
  • Did I know what Jesus could do for me? (In some ways I knew more than the thief on the Cross, but not much more: I knew that I was lost, and that Jesus was my only hope.)

How Did Jesus Call us to Himself?

Our individual stories vary a little, from person to person, but really only in the “details.”

For example, Abraham believed God and God declared him righteous (Genesis 15:6.) That is the core truth: God speaks, we place our faith in Him, and He declares us righteous.

In the New Testament, the believers heard the Gospel (the good news of the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus made for us: His death, and burial and resurrection,) and they believed God, that He was the true Savior, promised from the beginning of the world. And they were not only declared righteous (“justified,”) but were assigned a permanent position in the Body of Christ.

The only thing God names as His power to save us, the sinners, the spiritually dead of this world, is the Gospel of Christ. Romans 1:16 says “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the Power of God to save them that believe!” And it is the only thing so described in Scripture. He offers no other hope.

How does He call?

In Abraham’s case, He evidently called in an audible voice. (Abraham never saw a Bible.) In other biblical cases, He sometimes called in a vision, sometimes in person, face to face.(None of those people had a Bible, either, though some had seen the Torah scrolls.)

But after the apostolic age, increasingly, the primary way has been through the written Word of God. The epistles circulated widely during the first century, and there were tens of thousands of copies made, during the first few centuries. Each was laboriously hand-copied onto Papyrus sheets. Some of the copies were pretty poor quality, as the people who painstakingly wrote them out were only barely literate. But they valued the written Word enough to risk their lives for it, so they certainly were trying to be very careful. And, overall, the record is very good, partly because of the many thousands of surviving copies still extant today.

How did He call You?

So…in your case; did you hear the Gospel from a friend? Perhaps from a neighbor, or a family member? They were quoting (or at least referring to) the authoritative Word of God. They were not “making things up as they went.” Perhaps you believed on the spot: perhaps you required dozens of repeated contacts (as I did,) before you changed your mind (that’s called “repentance“) regarding who Jesus is and was.

Regardless of how the message came to me, it was through the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” And, of course, when we began this study in the Gospel of John, in the very first verses we found that Jesus is the Word! He is the Living Word. And, how you respond to the Written Word reveals the reality of how you respond to the Living Word.

How do we Respond?

Pastor Richard Banham once attempted to share Christ with an older woman, but she angrily replied, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Her response to the Written Word was utter rejection. Specifically, she utterly rejected the Gospel of Christ.

And God says that the Gospel, being believed in, is His only power to save sinners. Jesus calls, and they who “hear His voice” shall live. What does it mean to “hear his voice?” In John 15:3 Jesus told the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had already left) “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” But two chapters earlier, in John 13:10, 11, He had said they were not all clean, and it says he was referring to Judas Iscariot.

Judas “heard” all the same words the other disciples had heard: why was he not clean? Because he rejected what he was “hearing.” He heard the sound and understood the words, but he rejected the message. The other eleven “heard Him,” and received what He said as being from God. Jesus had “called to the spiritually dead” and some had responded in faith. Those who responded in faith were made alive. Those who did not believe, simply remained dead, unless (as in my own case) they later repented (changed their mind) and believed.

The Authority of Life and Judgment

26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.

Philippians 2:5-8 shows us that Jesus was the eternal God: He was God the Son, but He did not cling to that position with all its privileges. He was born into our world as a baby, grew up as a man, and lived out a perfect life before God. But, through all that experience, He never set aside His Holiness as God, nor did He set aside His wisdom.

He mostly chose not to use His limitless power, but He occasionally revealed it through the incredible miracles He performed. Though I am usually most impressed by His stopping the storm, the greatest miracle, of course, was when He raised the dead. He physically raised the dead on several occasions. The most exciting example was Lazarus, in John 11. In all these things he proved the truth of this verse. He has the authority of life, and of Judgment. He is specifically our Judge, because of His Humanity.  We are being judged by a righteous God who has lived with all the restrictions of a human life, and has been victorious. But He also is our Savior, offering a free pass through the judgment, by His Grace, through Faith.

But, What about the Graves?

Remember, He also mentioned “those in the Graves:”  What about them? He said, 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

So, all those in the graves when Jesus gives that final call, will come out! We can read in the book of the Revelation how that will happen: the call will first involve the righteous dead. The Old Testament saints are already with Jesus, today, but at that time, their old physical bodies will be raised, perfect and incorruptible.

The same goes for all the New Testament believers as well: their bodies are currently wherever they ended up. Some were buried, and were consumed by various creatures of the earth. Some were lost at sea, and digested by various types of marine life, large or small. Some were burned, and their ashes were blown away by the wind. But God will bring all of them back to life, to face eternity!

Job knew all about this!

In Job 19:25, Job said that he knew that “after his death, though worms would consume his old body, yet he would see his Redeemer face-to-face, with his own eyes and not another.” The fact is, at the resurrection, ALL those who are physically dead WILL come out to face Jesus, either as their Savior or as their Judge. All their bodies will be restored, regardless of what had become of them, and regardless of whether they are saved or lost. There are no exceptions.

But, the resurrection of the unrighteous dead is described in Revelation 20:12-15 They will receive their old body, eternally renewed, just in time to spend eternity separated from God! Jesus spent a fair amount of time and effort warning about this resurrection. In fact, He spent more time warning about the coming Judgment and the Lake of Fire, than He did telling us about what Heaven will be like.

(Christian preachers are often accused of “spending too much time preaching about Hell.” But, if they want to follow Jesus’s example, they will do it more, not less!) The Good News of the Gospel would not be good news at all, if it were not for the bad news of human sin and the coming judgment. (What do you think we are being saved from?)

But, What about the “good deeds?”

Jesus did say, “…they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.What “doing good” was he referring to?

In John 6:28, 29, the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” He answered, “This is the Work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

That is the only “good work” that results in salvation: placing your faith in His Sacrifice: Jesus’s finished work at the Cross.  In John 3:18, Jesus said, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Don’t We Need Good Works?

Are there “Good Works” subsequent to salvation, which might apply, here?  In a way, yes! Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created unto good works which He hast before ordained that we should walk in them.”

As long as we recognize that the only “good work” which can result in salvation, or affect it in any way, is the work which Jesus did for us at the Cross, then we can talk about the eternal rewards God promises for our obedience to Him after we are born again. But those rewards are not a gift: they are rewards. Salvation is truly a gift, given freely by Jesus.

Conclusion

We will talk about rewards at a later time. For now, I think it is enough that we understand that we were the “dead, who heard the voice of the Savior and responded in faith.” As we share the Gospel with others who also are dead in their sins, Jesus continues to call them, through His Word, inviting them to eternal life and to peace, and to joy.

And, eventually, (if the Lord’s return does not come first) we all will be among “those in the graves,” who answer the call to the resurrection of the just: to see our Redeemer face to face! We have that Blessed Hope, by His Promise!

Lord Jesus, fill us with Your Joy, as we contemplate the absolute security we have in You. Fill us with the knowledge that you have called us to be your voice, on earth. We are to call to the spiritually dead, and to offer them eternal life. Fill us with Your compassion for the lost, and send us to do Your will.

Eternal Life, Now!

Eternal Life is Available “Now!”

© 2022 C. O. Bishop

John 5:24 etc.

Introduction:

Last week we delved extensively into the fact that Jesus is the Judge of all the Earth: We camped out on the scriptural evidence that this statement is not “hyperbole,” nor a misunderstanding of Jesus’s words. He really is the Judge!

But we also pointed out what had gone before: in John 3:14-19, we saw that He is also the only Savior offered: and that faith in Him was the only requirement for salvation.

There is a persistent pattern of human thought, however, suggesting that the “eternality” of “eternal life” is somehow dependent upon me, rather than depending on the Eternal truth of the Eternal Word of the Eternal Judge of all the Earth. Do you see the flaw in that reasoning?

There is nothing eternal or even reliably “long-lasting” about my works, my attitude, my thoughts, or my “Aptitude for Good.” If my eternal destiny is in any way dependent upon my persistence, my faithfulness, or any other human attribute, then I literally have no hope.

What Does Jesus Say?

Ultimately, I want to depend upon what Jesus says, in this and any other concern. Even in the Old Testament, we are instructed to set aside “self-help”, and our “do-it-yourself” plans and schemes, because “All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We are told to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

So, it was no great surprise to hear Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was a good man and a righteous man, by all human standards, and specifically by Orthodox Jewish standards) that he could not hope to enter heaven without being born again. But it was quite a shock to Nicodemus! He needed some explanation: and that explanation is what we read in John 3:14-19.

We saw Jesus standing as God’s only solution for the Sin of the Human Race, just as in Numbers 21, the bronze serpent on the pole stood as God’s only salvation from the deadly snake-bites.

We saw that whoever places their faith in His sacrifice at the Cross will not perish, but have eternal life. Finally, we saw that the faith was not only the requirement for eternal life, it was the only hope for eternal life: that those who do not believe in Him are already condemned: but they still have the option to change their minds (that is what “repent” means) and believe in Him.

What else does Jesus Say?

In John 6:29, Jesus says the only “work” God is looking for in regard to salvation, is to believe in Him. And He said this in answer to people who were definitely looking for something They could do to please God. They were not looking for what seems to us an “easy way.”

But Jesus completely “leveled the playing field” for all people, by making faith the only requirement: You see, Faith is a choice! Faith is a choice that anyone can make, and it is always by the person’s own free will. I cannot force anyone to believe anything: they have to choose. Nor can I prevent anyone from making the choice to believe something. This is the ultimate in “Human Rights and Freedom:” The right to believe.

Who draws us to believe?

In John 6:44, we read that “No man can come unto me except the Father draw him.”  That is what Jesus said, and I believe it without question. But I join with it what He said in John 12:32, regarding His own agency for faith: “And, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.”

This passage, along with a variety of verses in both Old and New Testaments, teaching that the Father and Son are at least on the same team, and evidently so nearly the same person that we can’t tell the difference, collectively assure me that every single human is being “drawn” to believe.

Does Jesus “Reject” Anyone?

Well, there are plenty of human commentators who adamantly insist that “if we sin enough or if we sin badly enough” (or some other such failing) then, in spite of His ‘gift of eternal life,’ God will definitely kick us out!” Odd…that does not seem to reflect well on the nature of either a gift, or the integrity of the One who gave it, since He describes it as “eternal.” (Last time I looked, the word, “eternal” meant, “It will last forever!”) But what does Jesus say about this idea?

John 6:37 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” “In NO WISE…” If you have come to Him in faith that His blood is the full payment for your sins, then under no circumstances will He cast you out!

Personal Example:

I had a long-running conversation with an elderly woman who absolutely believed that if she failed to “hold up her end of the bargain,” then God would renege on all His promises and condemn her. I knew she had a number of children, some adopted, so I asked her under what circumstances would she quit caring for and renounce her children. She was adamant that her love for all of them was unconditional, and that under no circumstances would she disinherit or disown her children. So, I asked “Why do you think that you are a better parent than God is?”

She was shocked, and insisted that she had said no such thing. I reminded her that she had said that if she wasn’t “Good” enough, or if she “Sinned” too much, then God would deny her a position in His family. That seemed to silence her for a while…she had to reconsider what she believed. Sometime later, she affirmed that God’s promises were solid…and that her salvation was secure. She died in peace, knowing that Her Savior was with her.

In John 10:27-30 Jesus says, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one.

That is quite a statement!

What truths can we find in this short passage? Here are seven to consider:

  1. My sheep hear my voice (faith? Romans 10:17)
  2. I know them (regardless of what other people think of them. Romans 14:4)
  3. They follow me. (This is what should characterize all believers. There have been and will continue to be exceptions.)
  4. I give unto them eternal life and They shall never perish.
  5. Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
  6. No man can pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
  7. The Father and I are One.

Possibly someone might see this differently, but, let’s have a look at those seven statements:

  1. Jesus counts His sheep as those who hear His voice…those who believe Him…take Him at His Word. I can see this in Genesis, where it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And, in the New Testament, we find that his nephew, Lot, was also counted righteous: Why? Surely not for his works: he was such a mess that even his sons-in-law didn’t believe him. Evidently it was also by faith.
  2. Jesus knows His sheep, even when others do not. Lot, again, is a prime example; but there is a whole list in Hebrews 11, which, taken one by one, turn out to be a fairly rough bunch of people.
  3. As a rule, these people follow Jesus. To one degree or another, they see Him as their true Lord. There are so many counterexamples, that it is actually hard to find one which really fulfills this. The best two I can come up with are Daniel and Joshua. But, in Romans 7:17  and in Ephesians 4:22-24, we get a hint of how God may see this: In Romans seven, Paul points out the sharp distinction between the old and new nature… and that God no longer sees your old nature as “you.” He is only working with the new nature, making no attempt to straighten out the old nature: it is incorrigible, irreparable and unredeemable. God says so.
    In Ephesians 4:22-24, we see how God sees your new nature: It is created in His likeness, in righteousness and true holiness. From that viewpoint, every single one of His sheep “follow” Him! It is just that every single one of them also has an old sin nature, and that old sin nature will never follow Jesus!
  4. Jesus gave us eternal life, and He says that means we will never perish. Whatever “ifs, ands, or buts” people try to add to this promise, it all adds up to “I don’t believe Jesus!” If I try to add, “so long as you keep walking with Him.” then I am negating His promise. If I even add “So long as I keep believing.” I am negating His clear promise. Think carefully before you try to change His words. This is a serious issue.
  5. No man can pluck them out of my hand. (That includes you, my friend: I have heard people say, “They can’t ‘pluck you out,’ and He won’t ‘cast you out,’ but you can surely ‘jump out!’” (Sorry: Romans 8:39 says “no created thing can separate me from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” I’m a created thing. I can’t do it, either!)
  6. No man can pluck them out of my Father’s hand. This sounds redundant, until you consider the mental image of two hands, enclosing the otherwise helpless soul. We are completely enclosed in the Grace and the Faithfulness of God!
  7. The Father and I are One. There’s the bottom line: Jesus, as God the Son, is so completely in unity with God the Father, that their purpose is completely united…and both of them insist that we are safe in Christ!

What relief and what peace, I can feel, knowing that my security in Christ is not dependent upon my feeble attempts to walk with Him!

 When is it available? NOW!

So, here in John 5:24, Jesus makes an amazing promise which covers my past, my present, and my future. The question may still arise as to when that promise will be fulfilled. I have actually had people read this promise out loud and (whether consciously or unconsciously,) add a word, changing the tense: They read it, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my voice and believeth on him that sent me, will have everlasting life and will not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

How very different that is from what the promise actually says! Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my voice and believeth on him that sent me, has everlasting life and will not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

Do you see the difference? One idea promises “pie in the sky when we die.” That leaves open to the imagination all the possible restrictions and caveats and possible failures on our side. The actual promise offers eternal life now. It goes on to guarantee that that person will never be condemned by God. And it concludes that this person, through that single act of faith has permanently been transferred from death into life! And the person who is making the promise is the Eternal Judge of all the Universe! He just got done explaining that one, in the last verse!

Just in case you think I am “stretching the scriptures,” here in John 5, let’s turn to the back of our Bible and read 1st John 5:11-13.

11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Not only did He make the promise that you can have eternal life now, but He states that He wants you to know you have it! We have frequently heard it taught that “you can ‘hope,’ but you cannot ‘know‘.”

Jesus says you can know that you have eternal life and that He wants you to know it!

Believe His Promise and Rest in Him!

Lord Jesus, teach us to rest in You, knowing that Your righteousness has been imputed to us, and that Your Grace is what saves us, and that our faith, regardless of how weak and faltering, was all you required in order to begin walking with You. Give us the faith to rest in your promise and to follow you more faithfully.

Jesus: The Judge of All the Earth

The Judge of All the Earth

© 2022, C. O. Bishop

John 5:15-23

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Gospel of John, and we have come to a place where a fairly heavy doctrinal question is posed: “Who are we really dealing with in the Person of Jesus?”

In the context, here, Jesus had healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda, and the man had responded by “turning Jesus in” to the Jews…probably the religious rulers. So, in verses, 15 and 16, we catch the initial sense of “what is happening.”

15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. 16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

The man identified Jesus as being the one who had healed him (more specifically, the one who had told him to take up his bed and walk) and we see that the immediate response of “The Jews” was to persecute Jesus and seek to kill him. I always have inferred that the passage referred to the religious leaders, but, as I read it over again, I see that it does not specifically say that. It just says, “the Jews.”

However, we want to remember that this happened in Jerusalem, and the Jews in Jerusalem seem to have had a different response than did the Jews of smaller cities and villages, as a rule. And Jerusalem was ultimately the key response for the entire nation. Bethany received Jesus as the Promised King and Savior, but Jerusalem clamored for His death!

The Initial Accusation

So, the first accusation they made was that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. This is apeculiar thing, as He seemed to deliberately heal on the Sabbath to further challenge His accusers. The word “Sabbath” means “rest!” And Jesus was giving the sufferers Divine Rest, through the healing He provided.

He delivered them from the bondage of their illness, paralysis, or demon-possession, and He gave them rest! In Hebrews chapter 4, we will eventually see that Jesus is our Sabbath: And, having received Him as our deliverer, we now “labor to enter into His Rest,” on a day-by-day basis.

Jesus did not try to explain any of this to His accusers. He simply stated His claims and continually demonstrated His authority. What incredible authority; to speak and cure paralysis! To speak and cast out demons (who recognized Him and called Him by name!) To speak, and raise the dead! To speak, and calm the storm! And their only response was to try to kill him! What an amazingly wrong-headed response! It was bad enough that they continually argued against Him, but to want to kill the only one who had the power of life seems incredibly short-sighted!

Jesus’ Reply, and the Second Accusation

Jesus’ spoken reply to His accusers made them even more determined to kill Him:

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

You see, now they really thought they had him cornered: He was convicted by His own words! They correctly understood that He was claiming Deity. He was not saying, as a person today might say, “My Heavenly Father (in contrast to my biological or human father) is watching over me.” They correctly understood that He claimed to be the Heir, God in the flesh!

The odd thing to me, there, is that in their own Scriptures they had that express promise made to them. In Isaiah 7:14, God said that “The Virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel.” The name, “Immanuel” literally means “God with us!” That sounds like a pretty precious promise, to me!

So, if someone came along, claiming to fulfil that promise, wouldn’t the logical response be to “check His credentials?” There were lots of prophecies they could turn to, to check Him out, but they did not bother to do that. They just assumed He was lying, and they attacked Him.

19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

He pointed out the illogical character of their response, saying, in effect, “Look at the Works!” He later said, “if you don’t believe my words, believe for the sake of the works!” He showed that the works themselves had to come from the One who had the authority to heal! At the very least, they should have been able to see that He was sent from God.

In John chapter 9, we see that this precise argument was raised by the man who had been born blind, and whom Jesus healed. He said, “No man can do such things unless God is with Him! From the beginning of the world, it has not been heard that a man received sight who had been born blind!” And, again, the response of the Jews was only to accuse the man who was healed, and to cast him out of the temple, rather than confess the strength of his argument. They were not willing to see Jesus for who He truly was, even when confronted with irrefutable truth.

Jesus went on to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son:

20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. 21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

He described the Love relationship between the Father and the Son, and further said that the miracles were about to increase, specifically so that they should “marvel”—be filled with amazement. And raising the dead was what he said was coming up.

Now, they had not yet seen Jesus raising the dead, but He offered a preview, of what was going to happen: speaking to those who were His sworn enemies, He offered the resurrection! He claimed the authority to raise the dead at will. What proof could He give of that authority? They would see the proof, but, so far, He had not done such things. In John 11, he publicly raised to life someone who had been dead long enough to begin to decay. And, in John 12, their response was still to want to kill him!

If someone who has already demonstrated that He could heal people who were completely wrecked by disease, makes the claim that He can raise the dead, He should at least be given the opportunity to prove His claim. But that was not their response. Nor is it the usual response today. I have had someone declare to me that if they saw someone raised from the dead, they would have to believe. But, in Luke 16:31, Jesus said that is not true, either: He said that “if they will not believe Moses (God’s prophet…God’s Word) then they would not believe, even if they saw someone raised from the dead.”

The Universal Response

So, what is the usual response of Humanity to God? We see in scripture that the Jews’ response was not unusual for the rest of the World either. So, we should be cautious about condemning the Jews for their response. Jesus taught that very few would actually enter in by faith…that most people would choose the path toward destruction.

Keep in mind that their response is by their own choice. Even in the Old Testament, God says that the voice of Wisdom calls to the simple and the foolish, to turn from their ways, and also that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But the depravity of the Human race is universal. Our egos war against God, by nature.

In Psalm 14:2, 3, God said, The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

We want to “re-write” such a passage to say, “…not very many…” but God says, “No, not one!” Collectively, we have rejected God. He has pursued us with His Grace and Love and Kindness and attempted to reconcile the World to Himself. Also, that passage from Psalm 14 is quoted verbatim in Romans 3:9-12.This is not an “Old Testament problem.”

God’s Solution

God saw that Human reasoning and Human “wisdom” would never result in a right relationship with God. (1st Corinthians 1:21 says, for after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” ) So, He chose, before the foundation of the World, to receive a specific group: those who would respond in faith to the Good News of God’s Grace.

Jesus said in John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He gave Himself as the “magnet” to which people would either respond in faith or not. Some may respond with indifference. Others may be “attracted,” but still unwilling to believe, because of the offensive nature of the Cross. Some may respond in ridicule, saying that the entire message is utter foolishness. Still others may respond in anger, claiming that they are “Good People!” They see no need for a Savior and are insulted that we would suggest they need one!

But, still others will respond in faith, choosing by faith to lay their hands upon God’s chosen sacrifice, and see Him as their only hope. Faith is a choice. To those few who choose to believe God, He gives eternal life and eternal forgiveness of their sins.

So, Jesus has named Himself as the one through whom the resurrection is to be had. He has named Himself (back in John 3:16-18) as the only Savior, and said that the only requirement is faith. He said that those who believed in Him (as their Savior) would not be condemned, but that those who refused to believe were already condemned, specifically because they do not believe. But what else does he say, here in John 5:22, 23?

Jesus, the Judge of all the Earth

From Human perspective, we have been told that God is the eternal Judge: and so He is! But we frequently fail to consider the triune nature of the Godhead. John began to investigate this truth, way back in John 1:1 – he said that “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now, in any other context, that statement alone is contradictory—paradoxical: Something (or someone) cannot be with another being, and simultaneously be that other being.

So, we had already begun to see that this “Word” who was later identified as Jesus, was in some mysterious way to be seen as being God, Himself. That is an important point to grasp. Later on, Jesus brought it to everyone’s attention that only God can forgive sins, and that, while a human may say “your sins are forgiven,” it becomes the ultimate in “cheap talk” unless they can prove that they have the authority to forgive sins. So, He proved His authority to forgive sins by demonstrating His authority to heal a paralyzed man. (He simply spoke, and healed him!)

But what else does that suggest about Jesus? If He has the authority to forgive sins, does He not also have the authority to not forgive? That makes Him the Judge! And Jesus confirmed that truth, in the next two verses; also warning the hearers of the consequences of unbelief:

22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

Here are four points to grasp from that statement:

  1. God the Father does not judge.
  2. God the Son does judge…and all judgment has been committed unto Him.
  3. The goal of God is that people will honor the Son as they honor the Father who sent Him.
  4. Whoever does not honor Jesus in the same way as the Father, does not honor the Father!

Where does this leave the people who say that they believe in Jesus, but see Him as somehow less than God in the Flesh? Many people say they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but deny that He is God. This is a stumbling block to all the cults: they want to appear to honor Jesus, but they balk at admitting His deity. And, the person they are dishonoring is the one who is their Judge.

Old Testament Evidence

What evidence do we have that I am not just misinterpreting Jesus’s words? Genesis 18:25 sees Abraham pleading with God in the Flesh (to whom he had just served lunch…beef, bread, butter and milk…and who had eaten it) and addressing Him as “the Judge of all the earth!

Well, so long as I see that person as God (and it is) there is no information there to support what Jesus said…except that, there is one more New Testament passage that caps it: John 1:18 says “No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” So, yes, that was God, but not God the Father!  Abraham called God the Son “Judge of all the Earth!”

If I compare the two passages, where Jesus claims to be the only Judge, and where Abraham called Him that to His face, then I begin to see that the person the Jews were hating and seeking to kill, was literally:

  • God in the Flesh
  • The only Savior who would ever be offered on their behalf, and
  • The Eternal Judge before whom they would stand if they rejected His offer of peace.

It is hard to imagine being so hard-hearted as to not see the joy of the people Jesus healed, and to not hear the pure wisdom He taught. But to be confronted with the reality of His authority, and to deny it as though he were only a political rival, seems insane. And yet, that is where we all have stood, originally, and it is where the vast majority of the world still takes its stand, today.

How can we apply this truth?

So, what can we do with this knowledge? If we have already received Him as our Savior, then perhaps it will remind us of the importance of daily seeing Him as our Lord: our Master. Perhaps it can give us greater drive to share with others our hope of redemption, our only hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

Remember that evangelism is nothing greater (nor less than) one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food and shelter. We came to Christ as beggars, condemned and unclean. He gave us a new life, completely holy before Him. But we still have nothing, outside of what He gives us. So, we offer that gift freely, without any condescension… we are just saved sinners ourselves. We aren’t looking down our noses at anyone. But the one we serve is the true Master of all things…the only Savior and the Eternal Judge. Take it seriously and pass that Grace to others!

Lord Jesus, change our hearts to truly see You as the only hope for the world, and more specifically, the only hope for every individual sinner in the world. Help us to see through Your eyes, and care with Your heart. Make us to serve as Your hands and feet and to speak as Your voice.

Finding Comfort and Joy in Christmas

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year


© C. O. Bishop

All in reference to Luke 2, comparing with other scripture.

How do we really feel about Christmas?

To those of us who have recently lost loved ones, and to those of us who suffer from depression, or have experienced the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s the very worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that “Santa Claus is coming…” and it is all these unfulfilled expectations that cause the feelings of disappointment, grief and depression that frequent the holiday season for many people; especially those grieving the loss of loved ones. There is a reason why police and emergency medical personnel refer to this season as the “suicide season.” There are more self-inflicted deaths in the country during this season than at any other time of year. And it is increasing as our nation has turned it’s collective eyes away from the Christ who is the person of Christmas, and the source of real joy.

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those who are responsible really meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and we have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today….

The Birth of Christ:

Let’s go back and consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, in fact. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. There was no tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed…” the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it very often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did arrive, remember; they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of that first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked to have her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone like that to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? Do you think a stable would have been his first choice as a place for his young wife to give birth? And the shepherds? They still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. They got no day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or whatever. Just… great joy. Why??

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand all of it? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (He was!). But they also thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their later disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

So, What was the Promise?

We have forgotten what was really promised, and how we are to take part in it. There is no promise to us, that we will “live lives free of pain.” Quite the opposite: God says that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) Not what we really hoped to hear, is it?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God prescribed a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of the Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent. We discover later, in the New Testament, that the plan was actually laid before the Creation: God knew what was going to happen, and He prepared in advance.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given right about 400 years before his birth), so that if they were actually reading and studying God’s Word, they pretty much knew all that was supposed to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today, though (as we do) they had all the information.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little lambs were “pointing forward” to the One True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some understood the intent; though most did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about being the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation, for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that number who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve” (Judas Iscariot) and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother. (We don’t know the names of the few who stayed and watched, but He does.)

He was lent a tomb by a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea) who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his close disciples, and on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily. And He promised to return in the same manner: PhysicallyBodily.

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised soon return.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised, personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father. We trust in Him to do all things well. We trust in Him to give what is best, even when we think things ought to proceed in a different way.

How do we Receive that Promise?

How can we take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his Word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God: He is never going to give up on me, even if I fail miserably in my attempts to serve Him. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. There are some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest in hope, assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—it is not “seasonal” at all. We simply have to choose to rest in that gift, rest in His character, and to experience the peace, hope and joy He brings.

So, to each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish you a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.

What Happened at Bethesda?

What Happened at Bethesda?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 5:1-18 compare John 9:34-38

Introduction:

Last week, we talked about the situation (John 4:46-53) in Cana, where a man’s son was healed from 16 miles away, and another in Mark 5:21-43 where a woman was healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a child was raised from the dead. We were able to see that the healings happened by the will of Jesus, and often in company of the faith of the sick person…but not always. (The little girl’s faith was never in question: Jesus told her father to believe, but only commanded her to “get up.”)

So, in the next chapter, there is a strange situation: Jesus went to the pool at Bethesda, where it says that there was a “great multitude” of people seeking healing.

In the situation in Mark chapter five, we decided that the reason only the one woman was healed was that she alone had come there for healing, in faith that touching the hem of Jesus’s robe would provide her with healing. We observed that none of the others were there for that purpose, except the man to whose house Jesus was going, in order to heal his daughter. OK…that seems evident, because Jesus confirmed that “thy faith hath made thee whole!” But at Bethesda, there were many present: and evidently every single one was there because they believed that if they could get into the water FIRST after the angel disturbed the waters, then they would be healed. So what actually happened?

What actually happened at Bethesda?

1After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

So, the first and most obvious question would be “Why heal just the one guy? They were all there in faith, right? And Jesus never even confronted that particular man about faith: just whether he wanted to be healed.”

And my next question would be, “Why that particular guy?”

So, let’s look at the facts, as laid out in the scripture, and try to discern what happened:

  • There was a pool called Bethesda, meaning “House of Mercy.”
  • At certain times an angel went down and disturbed the water in that pool,
    • People try to make this just a “fable,” or a “superstition,” attempting to explain by natural means what happened at Bethesda. The scripture does not allow for that possibility: It flatly declares that an angel did disturb the water, and that whoever jumped in first after that disturbance, was healed. We do not have the option to say that it was just a subterranean spring that occasionally “burped” and disturbed the water. We do not have the option to say that “the healings were psychosomatic.” God says they were real, and that it was an angelic action, not geological. He also says that whatever disease they had, the healing was available. To deny any of this is to deny God’s Word. Further, if it had not been observably true, then there would not have been a crowd there, knowing that only one would be healed each time. (Sad, really.)
  • There was a great multitude gathered there… a crowd of people, all believing that, if they could just be the first one into the water, they could be healed.
  • Jesus asked one man, who had been there a long time, “Do you want to be healed?”
    • That seems a rhetorical question: he wouldn’t be there if that was not his desire: But Jesus did ask. However, there was no question regarding faith. Nor did God mention anything about his faith or lack of it. Jesus just questioned his desire, and the man responded as to why he was not getting healed. (He could never get there first, because he couldn’t walk, and had no one to put him into the water.)
  • Jesus commanded the man to “ Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” And the man didn’t question it: he just obeyed! (Odd thing, here: there was no “walking and leaping and praising God,” in this account. There is not even a mention of gratitude, or joy.)
  • Finally, It was the Sabbath. (This may actually be the key fact in the whole account.)

What was the Result?

10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.

It was completely predictable that the other Jews (especially the scribes, pharisees, priests, etc.) would accuse the man of breaking the sabbath: even the common man was aware of this law. They seemed especially good at accusations of this kind. And rather than saying, “Yes, I know! I was just healed after 38 years of paralysis! I will go to the priest and bring a sacrifice!” he shifted the blame to Jesus, saying, “The one who healed me told me to carry my bed!”

So, they wanted to know who told him to carry his bed, not, apparently, who healed him. But, as it happened, he couldn’t tell them because he himself had never focused on Jesus even enough to recognize him, let alone get his name so he could thank him properly. He just plain didn’t know! And that didn’t seem to bother him very much, until found that he couldn’t point him out to the accusers. What an odd response to having been granted instant relief after 38 years of disease! I am grateful to get well after being sick for even a few days!

The “Second Chance” Meeting

 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

The man had a “second chance to get to know Jesus,” there in the temple: Jesus found him again, (notice that it is God who seeks us, not the other way around: see Romans 3:11) and He told him, in essence, “you need to get your priorities straight, so something worse doesn’t happen to you!” (Was Jesus threatening the man? No: the man evidently did not have a saving faith at all, and Jesus was simply warning him of the coming Judgment.) Bear in mind: There was another (later) healing where the healed individual also did not know who Jesus was, but it was because he had been blind from birth, and had never seen anyone, let alone Jesus. And when Jesus found him, and identified Himself, that man fell at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped Him! (John 9:38)

So, what did this man do with that warning? He departed! He left Jesus, and found Jesus’s enemies, and pointed out Jesus to them! (Real gratitude, there!) Now, nothing more is said about this man. I can’t tell you what ended up happening to him. Did he later repent and become a believer? We are not told, and I will not speculate: But his responses seem to be those of an enemy, not a grateful recipient of a blessing. Keep that in mind.

How did the Jews Respond?

16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

Their response was not, “seek to question Him as to His authority, and investigate whether He was, in fact, the Messiah:” Nope! Their first response was to try to kill Him! And they were persistent about it, too. This response occurs repeatedly during Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Notice, also, that the priorities of the Jews did not include finding the One who could heal them of all diseases, but rather seeking to kill Him, because he healed on the sabbath day. (How strange!) It specifically says they initially sought to kill Him because he had healed on the sabbath. This actually comes up over and over, in the Gospel accounts, and this particular incident just seems to be the “opening round.”

How did Jesus Respond?

17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

Jesus simply stated the source of His authority: “My Father!” We are going to see this challenge made to them over and over, as well. All the religions of the World run head-on into this barrier: The Deity of Christ! And what is their response?

 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Even more vehemently, they now desired to kill Jesus because He claimed to be deity! Consider: We might simply have thought that Jesus was “claiming God as His Heavenly Father,” as anyone might say today. But they understood that the issue went much deeper: Jesus was not claiming to be “A” child of God. He was claiming to be “THESon of God. And they knew it! They also knew that if it were true, then He was quite literally equal with God, as the Heir!

Isn’t it interesting, that in the various parables where Jesus talked about a King, or a landowner, sending emissaries to receive the tribute due Him as the owner of the land, the people beat those emissaries, stoned them, and killed them. But when He sent His Son, they said, “This is the heir! Let’s kill Him, and then WE will own the land!” (What?? How do you figure that? All that would do is make you all guilty of a capital crime, as murderers!)

But that was their response! And the parables were referring to these very people whose forefathers had killed the prophets God sent, and who now sought to kill Jesus, the author of life and healing, as well as the ultimate authority in the Universe!

Now: do I understand the Trinity? Nope! I freely admit that I do not! Isaiah 9:6, 7 tells me that “the Son … shall be called…the Everlasting Father!” And yet, Jesus said “My Father is greater than I!” I cannot make those two statements agree, by human reasoning: I would have to alter the truth to make them somehow “fit.” From Human perspective, it seems paradoxical, at best. But both statements are clearly taught in the scripture, and both are equally true. I am not required to understand them, nor to explain them: but I am required to faithfully teach them. And, I do not have the authority to change the truth of God, to make it more palatable to human reasoning. God says it, and it is true. Deal with it! (And, next week, we are going to see just how far the Authority of Jesus reaches.)

I happen to believe that Jesus “handpicked” that man at Bethesda, knowing how he would respond. The Jews were only beginning to see what they were up against: The conflict began right here in John 5! (But then…)

How Should We Respond?

I doubt there is any chance that any of us will respond to Jesus in the way the man at the pool of Bethesda did, or at least not to the extent that he did. And I think there is even less chance that any of us will respond with the animosity that Jesus’s enemies displayed.

But I do think that we should take a lesson from the sharp contrast between the response of the man whose sight Jesus granted, and the one who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The one wanted to know who Jesus was, and immediately gave Him worship, let alone ordinary gratitude! He saw Him as God in the Flesh! The other showed zero gratitude, and only wanted to know who Jesus was so that he could shift any blame for his having broken the sabbath onto Jesus. What a contrast!

Now, it seems to me, that as God’s born-again children, those already redeemed from among the dead, and guaranteed Eternal Life, through the promise of God, our response ought to consistently be more like the man who received his sight.

I know that I tend to take for granted the blessings of God, and to not fully contemplate His supply, let alone the enormity of His saving Grace at the Cross. I want to respond in genuine gratitude, not with a casual, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then immediately forget what was done for us. But today is especially not a good time for any of us to take a casual attitude toward God: For one thing, we are in a time of social upheaval; of serious health threats, as well as the political turmoil of our times.

But, even more importantly, as we approach Christmas, it seems especially important that we not forget what that tiny child in Bethlehem came to do!  He didn’t just come to be a cute, precious baby. He didn’t come to just live a perfect life, nor just to be a perfect example for us, nor even the powerful teacher and prophet that the Jews were struggling to deal with: He came to die!

This was God the Son; Immanuel…”God with us;” the “Word made Flesh:” The Lamb of God, chosen before the foundation of the Earth for ONE eternal purpose: to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the entire Human race.He cameto satisfy forever the Holiness and Righteousness of God, by His blood at the Cross.

That is why we refuse to replace Jesus Christ with any of the World’s ideas about Christmas. But in the midst of that mental and spiritual conflict, we also need to “pull back” from the struggle and give our heartfelt thanksgiving and worship to the Christ who came to give His life for us. Are we thankful for healing, when it happens? Absolutely! Are we thankful for His abundant supply? Surely, we are! But apart from everything else, even when things are hard, we need to be thankful for Who He IS, as our God and Savior!

You see, even if the man at Bethesda was grateful to some degree (and it doesn’t appear that he was,) his desire to clear himself before other humans evidently superseded whatever gratitude he may have felt.

The other man, who had been born blind, went far beyond simple gratitude, and recognized Jesus as the Creator God. How do I come to that conclusion? He was a Jew: he knew the very first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve!” So, for him to offer worship, he had to be sure that Jesus was that one God! How did he know? It must have been by revelation: Jesus only called Himself the “Son of God” in that passage, but that man clearly made the correct connection: he had already seen the proof, and now he knew the source!

We know the source, and we are constantly seeing the proof! I hope we will learn to consistently respond in gratitude, worship and praise!

Lord Jesus, lift our eyes out of the pit of this world, above the dirt and struggle and bickering strife that we see daily in this life. Lift up our eyes to see You: heal our diseased spirits, the eyes of our hearts, and raise us to a clean worship and thanksgiving before Your throne. Fill us with Your Joy and Peace. Amen!

The Nobleman’s Son

The Nobleman’s Son

© 2021  C. O. Bishop

John 4:46-54; compare Mark 5:21-43; Proverbs 3:5, 6

Introduction

Once in a while (perhaps more often than we care to admit it) we encounter situations where we are praying, and it seems as though God is “not listening.” We are forced to either wait on His timing, in faith believing in His eternal wisdom and goodness, or fail to do so, and become frustrated and bitter.

Now, it is always possible that there is something amiss in our walk with God, and that he effectively really is not listening, as Psalm 66:18 warns that “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” But let’s assume for this conversation that there is no unconfessed sin. Is it OK for God to answer “No” or do we insist that the only thing qualifying as an “answer” is Him complying with our wishes? And what about “wait:”  is that also not acceptable? Of course, God reserves the authority to answer within His own will. And we still need to learn that humility and faith, to accept His will as the BEST answer.

Please Heal My Son!

In the account, here in John 4:46-54, there is a touching story of a nobleman, humble enough to come to where Jesus was, and approach him as a supplicant: not ordering him, or claiming some authority or reason for special treatment. Jesus was a poor, itinerant preacher, at that point: all this nobleman knew was that others had been healed by Jesus. He came in faith and humility, begging for help. 46Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, …And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.  47When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.

There are several points to notice, here:

  • The man was from Capernaum, but he approached Jesus at Cana. The distance is a little over 16 miles.
  • The man was a “nobleman”…we are not told his rank or office, or position…just that he was a nobleman. That is not a normal part of our lives, so it is hard for us to appreciate what it meant to that culture. (They had a caste system: we don’t.)
  • He had heard of Jesus, and knew that Jesus had already proven His ability to heal…and that now he was nearby… “only a 16 mile walk away!”
  • He came personally, not sending a servant.

But Jesus tested him a little, saying “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Now, notice that it is plural: the KJV “ye” is the plural “you.” He wasn’t accusing that particular nobleman personally: He was making a general statement about the Jews at large, and possibly the entire human race. We have a long history of unbelief.

So, Jesus was effectively testing the motives of the father. But the man didn’t quibble about the apparent indictment of unbelief; he only repeated his plea: Sir, come down ere my child die.

Jesus could have “heaved a sigh, rolled his eyes,” and started the long walk back to the fellow’s house: But He didn’t. He gave what was simultaneously the answer the man needed and  a chance for him to demonstrate the reality of faith.

50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.

What? He just said, “Wow, thanks, Jesus,” and headed back down the road to home? That is exactly what he did! I think I might have begged Jesus to come with me. I would likely have balked at such a command, too! (What?? I just walked sixteen miles to talk to you , and all you are going to do, now, is turn me around and tell me to go home?… that my son is already healed? Like, you don’t have time for me, or what? What kind of deal is this?”)

The key we need to see, here, is very simple:

  1. Jesus did answer! He said that “the man’s request was granted,” and then,
  1. The man believed Jesus! And,

And we can see the long-run result of the whole exchange. The man was hiking back down the long hills to get to Capernaum: it was sixteen miles, descending more than 1000 vertical feet. (Cana is at 330’ above sea level: Capernaum, at the Sea of Galilee, is about 690’ below sea level!) …which reveals that he had walked 16 miles uphill to find Jesus!)

And we read, in the following verses, 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth.52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.

53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.

There was nothing more to say: He had all the “proof” he would ever need. He told his household, (his family, the servants, etc.) what had happened, and how Jesus, instantaneously, from miles away, and never having met (let alone touched) the sick son, had healed him. He could now testify that at the time Jesus said, “thy son liveth,” the son had begun to mend, and was healed. The result? The entire household believed in Jesus.

Now: did Jesus actually do what the man expected? No! Remember what the man asked: he asked, twice, that Jesus “Come down” and heal his son. But Jesus saw the man’s heart: he wasn’t looking for special treatment (“Come down so I can brag to my neighbors that I’ve got a celebrity in my home.”) Jesus saw that his only desire was to save his son. So, He granted the man’s real desire, and simply ignored the side-issue of “taking a hike with the guy.”

The real desire of the nobleman’s heart was granted. The means by which it was granted became irrelevant: He thought Jesus would “obviously” have to go to Capernaum to grant his petition. But Jesus demonstrated His true authority: He could command from any distance and accomplish His will!

Mark 5:21-43…The Woman with the “Issue of Blood.”

This story is a “story within a story.” A ruler of the synagogue ( named Jairus) had come to Jesus asking for healing for his little daughter, who was near death. As Jesus went to his house, a sick woman intersected his path, in the middle of the crowds following Him.

The woman had suffered a bleeding problem for 12 years, and had spent all her money on doctors, and only got worse. Her spiritual life was affected, as well as her health, since, with such a disease, she was ceremonially unclean, and could not go to the temple at all. But she somehow discerned in her own mind that “Jesus held healing for her,” and that, if she could just touch the hem of His garment, she would be healed! (How did she come up with that idea? We are not told, but personally, I believe God told her, prompting her to act in faith.)

So, she pushed her way through the crowd, and finally got close enough to touch him. She did not “grab onto Him,” or try to “cling to Him” in any way: She did exactly what she had planned…she touched the hem of His garment. The result was that she was instantly healed, and the bleeding stopped. She was able to feel the instant change: she knew she was healed;  and she was “making her getaway,” when Jesus turned around, saying “Who touched me?” (It turned out that He had “felt it too!” He felt the power go out of Him to heal her and evidently wanted her to publicly bear testimony to that fact.)

But she evidently thought she was in trouble…she was afraid to speak up. Everyone else (including the disciples,) thought He was asking a ridiculous question: they said, “Everyone is touching you! We are packed in this crowd so tightly that everyone is jammed against you: How could you ask such a thing?” But Jesus kept looking around to see who it was.

Then the woman came and fell at his feet, scared to death, and confessed that she had touched Him and was healed. He not only did not scold her, but He congratulated her for her faith, and sent her home, happy, healthy, and blessed by Jesus!

But this raises the question…if everyone was touching Him, why were healings not just “leaking out in all directions?” The answer to this question is very similar to that of the question ,“Why was Judas not cleansed by the same words that cleansed the other disciples, in John 15:3?” In Judas’s case, it was very simple: he did not believe those words!

In the woman’s case it was a little more obscure: she had come to Him specifically for the healing she believed He offered, but was afraid to approach Him directly, so she tried to reach out by faith and just touch his robe. Sure, there were others touching Him: but everyone else was just “there:” They had conceived no such plan, and they only wanted to “be where the action was,” so to speak: “Hey, man! Jesus is gonna go heal the Rabbi’s daughter! Let’s go watch!” It was entertainment. It was exciting! They wanted to get close to the show! But this woman, having been healed, was only trying to get away. Jesus wanted to make sure she got the full effect of His blessing: He called her back so that He could verbally confirm her faith.

(And then, yes, He went and raised up the little girl who had evidently died in the interim. And the result was that his message was validated by His miraculous works and people were drawn to Him.)

What about Today?

God wants us to reach out by faith and “touch His robe,” so to speak: He does not guarantee physical healing, although evidently, He had prepared her heart for just such a thing, and she acted in faith. But He does offer us eternal life by an even simpler manner: “Look to Him for Salvation—believe His promise and receive eternal life!” You don’t have to “force your way through a crowd,” nor can you “sneak up on Jesus.” He has been “knocking at the door of your heart” from the day you were born, offering you spiritual healing and peace. He offers eternal Life as a gift, beginning the moment you believe His promise; and it will literally last for eternity.  He has never rejected anyone who approached Him in that way: John 6:37 says, “…he that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out!”

Does He promise “physical comfort and safety?” No, as a matter of fact, He doesn’t! He says, “These things have I spoken unto you that in me ye might have Peace: in the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.”

Does He promise “a life free from suffering?” No; as a matter of fact, God promises almost the opposite: Philippians 1:29 says, “…unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake.” (“Come and suffer?” What kind of invitation is that?!)

Well, in fact, Hebrews 11:36-40 describes a group of people who believed God and died without having received the promise they were expecting; but it specifically stated that God had something better to offer…and that is what they got in place of the promise they had looked forward to. These people were tortured, they were stoned to death, and some were sawn in half…all their goods were confiscated, so that they were literally destitute of all their belongings including food and clothing. And God’s comment regarding these suffering saints is that “the world was not worthy” of them.

What about Us?

Last week we commented that It is OK to pray and die!” These who suffered martyrdom are prime examples of that principle. It is also OK for God to answer “No, My Child!” when we beg for release from our pain and turmoil. However, He does offer His Peace in the midst of the trials and pressures of life.

I remember a young woman named Jeannie Nance, who had been engaged to be married in 1974 (as I recall.) She was physically present, and standing there watching, when her fiancée’s plane crashed, and he was killed.

Her immediate response was to praise God, just as Job did, knowing that God had made an irrevocable choice, and that she, in turn,could either rail against Him or accept His will, along with His Grace and Peace. She chose to believe God, and she was filled with His Peace, as a result: and she went on to serve God with her life.

I only met her after the fact, and only because she began Bible School at the same time I did, in 1975. But God had another man for her, named Dennis O’Keefe. Dennis and Jeannie served together as missionaries for 35 years in the Philippine Islands. Their lives will count for eternity, and they have no regrets, regardless of all the costs and trials of their service.

Can I always respond in faith? Perhaps a better question would be, “Do Ialways respond in faith?” And, the answer is, “No!” Sometimes I am fearful or even angry at God, and He has to re-teach me the same old lesson: (Proverbs 3:5, 6) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding! In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.”

If you can learn to trust God, and to lean on His Grace, then, regardless of the circumstances, you can experience His Peace, and know His blessing.

Lord Jesus, draw us along to grow in our faith and to trust Your Grace in all things: whether life or death, whether Joy or Grief; whether in good times or bad. We know that You are the Master in all things. Teach us to live as Your disciples.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18;

Introduction:

We are called to thanksgiving and prayer, throughout the Bible. It is important to realize that the call to thanksgiving is in spite of circumstances, not because of circumstances. The call to Prayer is similar, in that we are not guaranteed to get what we want: We may be those who ask, but it is God who replies. And, because we ask in our ignorance, and our relative blindness, He, in His sovereign knowledge and infinite wisdom, sometimes must refuse our request. We must remember that His knowledge, His wisdom and His purpose not only all are higher than we can hope to understand, but also all are better from the perspective of eternity.

In ancient Israel, particularly in Judah, even after the nation had been split by bad leadership, occasionally a king, desiring the mercy and blessing of God for his nation, or, desiring the direction and protection of God, for an upcoming challenge or threat, would proclaim a National day of Prayer, and usually a fast, as well. As far as I can recall, in every single case, God answered those prayers; not always in the way they had hoped, but He always answered.

He has left those histories for us to learn from them, but we don’t want to “learn the wrong lesson,” so to speak: There were a few to whom God gave special authority, and what came out of their mouth really was His will, and it really did occur. It was not that they were “special saints,” but that God put them in a special position. Moses called for the ground to split and swallow up some rebels in the camp: and it happened exactly as he said. But it was for God’s purpose, not that of Moses. God uses miraculous intervention, as a rule, to draw attention to and to validate His message: and Moses, right then, was the messenger of God.

Thanksgiving was Part of the History

The times when God stepped in and rescued Israel, at least for the moment, usually resulted in national giving of thanks. But they soon forgot the blessing, and began to grumble again, or, worse yet, they turned to other gods, the heathen idols of the nations around them.

We have the history of Numbers 21:5-9, when they were scarcely out of Egypt, and were already forgetting the Salvation that was poured out upon them while the Judgment was being poured out on Egypt.

They grumbled and were very ungrateful toward God, failing to appreciate His supply in their lives, and He sent Judgment on them in the form of venomous vipers, migrating across their desert path, and killing many of the people. But God used even this calamity as an opportunity to demonstrate His Grace, in a prophetic “picture”—the bronze serpent on the pole, represented the judgment for their sins, and God’s solution for sin: The Cross, where our sins were judged forever, and Jesus’s blood served as the eternal satisfaction for God’s Justice and holiness, for the sins of the Whole World, forever! In regard to that particular history, Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the Wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

So, even our ingratitude and our unbelief are under the blood of the Cross.

In Romans 1:21, we see the nature of God’s judgment for sin: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened.

Humans fail to recognize the authority and Grace of God. We fail to Give Thanks…and because of this, our hearts are darkened, and we fail to see the truth that, when God’s reply to our prayer is “NO,” it is just as worthy of thanksgiving as when He gives us the desire of our hearts. We need to thank Him for His wisdom and grace in those times, too.

What about Prayer?

In Luke 18:1, Jesus taught that we “ought always to pray and not faint.” The apostle Paul reiterates this command in 1st Timothy 2:1-4, saying that we are not only to pray for ourselves and for one another, but for unbelievers as well, and especially for national and civic leaders, so that we might reap the benefits of “a quiet and peaceful life.”

Today, we live in the only nation in the history of the world which was originally founded upon specifically Christian values, and grounded in the whole truth of God’s Word, the Bible. It was not founded upon greed, or nationalism, but upon humility and public awareness of our utter dependence upon the Almighty Creator God. Perhaps the unbelieving world around us has forgotten this, but we as believers have no excuse: We are to remember; we are to pray, and we are to give thanks, regardless of the circumstances.

We live at a time when those Christian values upon which our Nation was founded have largely been set aside as “old-fashioned,” or “outmoded,” or “irrelevant for the realities of today.” However, the Word of God will stand for all time and Eternity, and does not depend upon the opinions of humans for validity. The Law of Gravity will cease to exist before God’s Word will fail to be relevant. In Ps 119:89, the psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” In light of eternity, the values of the humans of today are merely a passing aberration, while the values of God are the principles upon which the very Universe is founded.

The Prophet Daniel was ordered by a heathen king to cease praying to his God: he immediately went to his balcony, opened the doors, and in public view, prayed toward Jerusalem, as was his habit. You know the rest of that story, from Daniel chapter 6: Daniel “spent the night at the zoo,” as it were—specifically, in the Lion’s Den. But in the Morning…in the morning, he was released, and his enemies took his place. He had been under the protection of God—they were not…(It was feeding time at the zoo!)

We have a “Morning” coming, too! The Apostle Peter tells us in 2nd Peter 1:19, that we are to focus our attention on the written Word of God as the only light in this dark world, “until the day dawns!”

King Jehoshaphat, under threat of an invading army, declared a national day of prayer and fasting, and God answered through a local prophet. The troops of Judah went to the battle, all right, but they were led by the national choir, singing, and praising the beauty of holiness. They were giving thanks in advance, and worshipping the God of their salvation! The resulting battle was fought by God alone. The people of Judah never lifted a weapon. And every single enemy soldier died that day.

Today we are still called to prayer, by God Himself. It is possible today, as always, in times of trouble, that some of the human leaders who may make that call are not believers, themselves. We should not be deterred from the privilege of prayer by those who do not know the God who answers prayer. Let us continue in prayer, undismayed. We also should remember that while prayer can “change things,” prayer definitely does not “control things!” Believers under fire are praying, but many of them die.

It is OK to pray and die!

An American missionary in the Philippines (Martin Burnham) was kidnapped along with his wife (Gracia Burnham) by Islamic rebels, there. They prayed daily for deliverance, and they prayed faithfully for their captors as well. But the day finally came when a firefight broke out between the national army and the rebel force. Martin threw his own body across that of Gracia, trying to shield her. Both were praying, but only Gracia came home alive. Martin was shot and killed, protecting his wife.

How do we respond to that sort of answer to prayer? Can I give thanks when the result was not what I wanted?

God’s Command

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!”

God says His will for us is that we should rejoice evermore, that we should pray without ceasing; and that in every circumstance we should give thanks.

Let’s look at that passage, point by point:

  1. Rejoice evermore,
  2. Pray without ceasing, and
  3. In every thing give thanks
  4. For this is the Will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

Rejoice Evermore

Notice that He did not say, “Feel happy,” or “feel Joyful!” He said “rejoice!” This directly ties into what Jesus commanded in John 16:33These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace: in the World ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” Joy is a choice: Habakkuk chose joy in the face of the sure knowledge that his nation was about to fall to foreign invaders in judgment as a result of Israel’s sin. He said, Yet will I rejoice in the LORD: I will joy in the God of my Salvation!” It was an act of the will, not a result of emotion. His emotion was grief at the collapse of Israel, but his choice was Joy!

Pray without Ceasing

This is a clear command, that, as Jesus commanded, we are not to give up on prayer: we are to “press on,” praying in the face of devastating news, in the hope that we will be delivered. And as the young Hebrew men under the threat of the furnace replied, “God IS able to save us: but even if He does not, we will not worship your idol!” They knew they faced death. They did not know that God was going to deliver them.

Martin and Gracia Burnham knew they potentially faced death, and did not know that only one of them would be delivered. But they prayed and they chose the Joy of the Lord in response to their trauma. Afterward, Gracia shared her story in a book: “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.” Perhaps we can learn from her example, and seek to find the “table” God has prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Perhaps we can choose to rejoice, in the presence of our enemies, by faith, because of His supply. Perhaps we can choose to pray faithfully, in recognition that His supply is perfect, even when we fail to understand it.

In Every Thing give Thanks

Notice that He does not say “for everything give thanks!” but “in every thing give thanks.” Martin and Gracia Burnham surely were not “happy and satisfied” to be the prisoners of a murderous band of Islamic terrorists…but they chose to rejoice IN that reality, rather than deciding that “God must have ignored their needs.” We are called to do that, as well.

Was I “happy” that my mother had an incurable disease? Absolutely not! But could I rejoice in her testimony and the legacy she left behind? Yes, I really could, once I quit whining and crying to God, insisting that He change His directive Will for the benefit of my desires. But it took a while. (We can grieve; that is OK. It is OK to hurt, but it is not OK to allow the hurt to make us bitter.) Mom simply graduated early. Odd thing: she was valedictorian in both high school and college. She was the eldest of her siblings and the rest all lived well into their eighties, while she died at 65. So, once again, she “graduated at the head of her class!” We were grieved to lose her, but she blessed all those around her, by the overflowing Grace of her walk with God.

Is Martin Burnham unhappy today with God’s decision to take him home and leave Gracia here? Nope! He is rejoicing before the Lord, as we speak! Is Gracia unhappy with His answer to prayer? Not today: at that moment, she was filled with grief! But she was healed of her grief, and once again walked in the sure knowledge of God’s Grace.

We are called to do the same: we are not told that we will always understand God’s will, nor, obviously, that we will always get what we desire. There have been times when I was certain that I was praying according to the will of God, but my hopes were dashed. There have been other times when I gave up hope, because of the circumstances, and God delivered, anyway.

It would be easy to “learn the wrong lesson,” here, and decide that “there is no point in praying, as God is just going to do His own will anyway.” But that attitude ignores that fact that we are commanded to pray; and, to “not faint”…not give up on prayer; and to “pray without ceasing:” How can it be within the will of God for me to disobey those clear commands?

The fact is, we simply have to admit that we do not know what is best. And, if we truly want what is best, then we need to subject ourselves to the will of the One who not only knows what is best, but desires to bless us to the utmost.

The final word in that passage is very personal: He says, “For this is the Will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

Don’t succumb to the temptation to “shuck that aside,” thinking, “Well, that was to the believers at Thessalonica!” Of course, it was! And it is also to you, personally, just like the rest of the epistles! Take this personally, and apply it to your life: the result will be a greater sense of peace and joy, as you learn to trust the Savior and Judge as your Shepherd and Friend.

Lord Jesus, please draw us close enough to you that we can feel your arms supporting us and hear your heartbeat for the lost around us, and be transformed into your likeness, sharing that care for the lost world.

This is the Condemnation

This is the Condemnation

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:17-21

Introduction

We have been studying through the Gospel of John, as most of you know: Last week and the week before, we twice read that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. And, we saw, briefly, that most people would reject Him anyway.

But the question comes to mind, “If all their sins are paid for, how can anyone be condemned?”

A partial answer, in the form of an analogy, was proposed last week, pointing out that Jesus wrote out a “check” in the amount of “Eternal Life,” to be deposited to the account of “Whosoever Will.” And we pointed out that, in order to have that eternal life, one does have to “endorse that Check” by faith. Each person has to respond personally, believing that Jesus’s blood is the sacrifice for their own sins…it is not just “generic.”

So, the next few verses (17-21) explain why people can still be condemned, even though Jesus truly has paid for their sins:

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

God’s Will: Restoration and Reconciliation

Verse 17 clearly states the purpose of God toward man at large: He sent Jesus “…that the World through Him might be saved.” The invitation is to “whosoever will!” (God so loved the world!) This is not a selective Grace, except in the sense that only those willing to “endorse the check by faith” will enter in. The invitation is there, but many refuse to heed the call to faith.

2nd Peter 3:9 supports this idea, saying that the Lord “…is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

1st Timothy 2:3, 4 says “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

As members of the Body of Christ, we have the general assignment to function as ambassadors of Christ. 2nd Corinthians 5:20 says that we are to function “…as though God did beseech you by us…be ye reconciled to God!” That is our collective job! That is our Job! We may all have different tasks, but the job is evangelism and discipleship.

During all the years when I worked at Gunderson, Inc. our collective goal, or “job” was to build high-quality railcars and barges. The Engineers, the supervisors, the forklift drivers, the painters, the welders, and even the janitors had that collective “job.” We all made our living by the successful pursuit of that one collective “job.” But all those different people had completely different tasks.

I’m pretty sure the nurses in the medical office did not really see their job as “producing rail cars.” The medical staff probably saw their job as being “to provide medical oversight and triage, to keep the crews healthy, and avoid liability lawsuits.

(Well…yeah!) But, had the company not been producing railcars, then their goal of providing medical oversight would have been a moot point. They would have had no one for whom to provide care! And the same is true for every other skill or discipline within the company. We did not sell paint—we sold painted railcars. We did not sell pieces of steel: we sold steel railcars, and we did not get paid for just shuffling pieces of steel around in the plant with cranes and forklifts: we were paid for the completed, painted, inspected and fully functional, brand-new, flawless railcar that went out the door after all the shuffling, welding and painting was done!

If anyone forgot that main goal, they rapidly descended into non-productive and even counter-productive behavior, squabbling amongst themselves, supervisor against supervisor, and department against department. That was highly unprofitable behavior, but it frequently went on for years, uncorrected.

We need to keep God’s purposes in mind: we do not want to be counterproductive, or unprofitable as believers. We want to behave in a manner that is profitable for the cause of Christ.

This is the Condemnation

So…if God’s will really is “…to save everyone,” why isn’t it happening? It turns out that God has an eternal standard: though He desires to save the world, His standard has always been to save “through faith in Him.” There has never been an exception. Every single person who has ever been salvaged from the wreckage of the Human race has been saved through faith in God’s plan of redemption. All the way from Adam to the thief on the cross, and all the way to the end of time, the statement Jesus made is true: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!

Jesus made it very clear, in verse 18, that “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

We may balk at what seems to be such a limited, narrow path, but in reality, this is the most “equalizing” prerequisite possible. It has to do only with a personal choice, not one’s personal ability or character. Gifting, skills, intelligence, physical strength, or emotional fortitude are not on the table: Wisdom and philosophical stance are not a factor. Wealth, health, or moral purity are never considered. Being perceived as “good” is not a requirement (again, witness the Thief on the Cross, or the Woman at the Well.)

One thing only has been required: that we “believe in Him whom God has sent.” The people asked Jesus, in John 6:28, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, in the next verse, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent!” Had there been any other prerequisite or any other agenda, He could have stated it right there; But He did not! The way was open to whoever would believe.

As the saying goes, this “levels the playing field,” more than anything else could do. Anyone can enter; because no one can “forbid you to believe.” And no one can force you to believe, so it is always a matter of coming by your own free will.

But there’s the rub: not all are willing! Jesus went on to say, “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

How do we respond to Light?

How we respond to the light of God simply shows the state of our heart. Even a true believer, if they are out of fellowship with God, may turn from that light, because it shames them: it hurts them to hear God’s voice, because they know they are not in fellowship.

On a human level, we may choose to avoid contact with someone whom we have wronged…or who has hurt us. I once was avoiding a man who I thought had behaved treacherously toward me, but he noticed my behavior and sought me out, saying, “Chet, are you avoiding me?” I confessed that I was, and I expressed my observation that he had been part of a group that had wrongly condemned me. But he explained that while he had been there, by invitation, he had not agreed with what was going on, and really wanted my fellowship. I accepted his words as truth, and fellowship was restored, at least to the point that I did not feel the need to avoid him.

J. Vernon McGee shared how the different animals in the barn at night responded differently to the light of the lantern when he walked in. The livestock knew they were about to be fed: they were the servants of the light, and the man who brought it. The rats on the barn floor ran for cover, fearing the light and the man who carried it, because they recognized him as an enemy. But the birds in the rafters mistook the light for sunrise, and began to sing! They knew nothing about the man who carried the lantern. They were responding to the light itself. Each response revealed character of the animal as it revealed their relationship with light.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.


Adam and Eve fled from the voice of God: they fled from the Living Word as He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day! They fled from the One True Light of the World. Why? Because they had sinned, and had instantly become spiritually dead! They fled the Light of God because they had become creatures of darkness…just like us! They regained a secure position with God through faith, as we see in the rest of that chapter. But we are their progeny by nature: every one of us was born with a sin nature, inherited from Adam.

Romans 5:12 confirms that, saying, “…through one man, sin came into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” The result is that, by nature, we were children of the darkness and, by nature, we fled the light.

But there came a moment in each of our lives where the light broke through upon us and we actually understood that light enough to consider the claim of Christ on our lives. John 1:4, 9 show not only that Jesus is that light, but also that He “…lights every one who comes into the world.” The light is for everyone, but we can’t see their hearts. We don’t know when they might respond, nor whether they ever will respond. That is something only God can see.

Drawn to God by the Cross

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and, in John 12:32, speaking of His impending crucifixion, He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He is the “magnet,” if I may use that illustration: all we see is a “pile of dust” on the floor. Some looks metallic, as it reflects light: some looks like dirt, and some is in particles so small they are impossible to characterize: but Jesus passes the “magnet of the Cross” over that dust, and regardless of all other properties, metallic or nonmetallic in appearance, only the “iron content” of faith responds to the magnet.

In general, other metals will not respond to magnets. Brass, tin, gold and lead have zero attraction to a magnet. Copper can affect the behavior of a magnet, but the magnet cannot pick it up. Plain dirt may have sufficient iron content to be picked up by a magnet, without our recognizing it by other means. Stainless steel, on the other hand, may have enough nickel in it to completely nullify the magnetic quality of the iron, though it still has very high iron content.

Only Jesus can see the hearts of people and know “who they really are” inside. All we can do is to present the “magnet” of the Gospel, and shine the light of the Word, and pray for God’s Spirit to make an impact in their hearts.

Coming to the Light as Believers

Coming to the Light is not a “one-time” experience: Initially, we “came to the light,” because we were drawn by Jesus, and we placed our faith in Him. Perhaps some portion of His Word shined on our lives and made us see a need. Perhaps initially all it did is make us angry, as we thought “Well, who are you to judge me…”

But then the Word continued to echo in our minds as we saw the truth of our guilt reflected in our own behavior, or, we saw it in someone else’s life, and finally realized that what we saw in their life was also true in our own. In every case, eventually we had a decision to make: we would either respond in humility and confession, seeing that God’s Word was true, and that we were truly lost sinners, or, we would reject the truth and turn away, perhaps claiming to have our “own” truth, or simply declaring that God’s Word is irrelevant.

But, as a believer, who has once come to the light, being drawn by the Savior, and having once been born again into the household of God, our position in Christ is secure. However, we still must choose how to respond to His light: We can see the green plants reaching for the sunlight: will we daily, moment by moment, seek His face, just as they so? Or will we treat His Word casually, indifferently…still preferring to stay in darkness, for the most part? We want His blessing, but not His dominion, and we fail to see that the one is not accessible without the other.

How we respond to God’s Word as believers is an indicator of our spiritual condition. God says we should hunger for his Word as a newborn child hungers for milk: He says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.” (1st Peter 2:2) Milk does not make a baby a baby: It makes a baby grow! They desire that milk as part of being a baby…if they reject it, we know there is something wrong!

We may be uncomfortable with some portions of God’s Word, because it points out things in our lives that are not pleasing to God.

Conclusion:

There is a story about a man who was very proud of the huge old oak tree in his front yard: It was centuries old, and was admired by all who passed by. He felt very privileged to have such a treasure near his house. But one day, he saw a squirrel run partway up the trunk and disappear: He was puzzled, so he walked closer to get a better look. Then he saw the hole into which the squirrel had vanished. He became worried, and called an arborist to tell him what was wrong. It turned out that his precious tree was hollow, and completely rotten inside: it was not only no longer an asset, but it threatened to fall and destroy his home. Finally, he sadly said, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel!

That is “rejecting the light!” That is what we are doing when we are offended by God’s Word. We wish we had not seen that light. But ultimately, like the man with the tree, we have to make a decision: Will we cut out the rotten parts of our life, which threaten all that is of eternal value, or will we go on enjoying the very temporary pleasure of cherishing that sin, whatever it is.

You see, we can do that same thing as the man with the tree: As a believer, you are secure in Christ. That is not the issue! Your position in Christ is secure forever: but your condition requires constant attention from God. He has to continually correct and “prune” our lives so that they do not develop fatal flaws which can render us useless to His service. We are in no danger of being rejected by Him, but we can certainly become unprofitable.

So, by faith, we make a choice to feed on His Word, respond in obedience, even when it is uncomfortable or runs counter to our natural inclinations and desires. And the result is that we grow in Godliness, as He re-shapes us into His likeness.

I’m grateful to see the Lord at work in each of your lives. I rejoice to see people voluntarily feeding of God’s Word, and growing closer to Him as a result. Let’s press forward together, and be transformed by His Word.

Lord Jesus, we see Your face in the scriptures, and we see our own faces reflected in its light. We realize that apart from You, we have nothing to offer a Holy God. Pour out your Spirit in our lives, and supply us the will and the ability to serve You.

In this Manner God loved the World

In this Manner God loved the World

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 3:16, 17

Introduction

Last week we considered Nicodemus, and the first teaching Jesus offered to anyone in the Gospel of John…we stopped with the story of the bronze serpent on the pole, from the account in Numbers 21:5-9. Jesus made it clear that the bronze serpent on the pole was a prophetic image of Himself, as He was offered up to take the judgment for our sins, and to give us eternal life.

In the next verses, possibly the most frequently memorized and recited verses among evangelical believers, Jesus reiterates the concept of salvation by faith, but this time He focuses on the source of that redemption: the Love of God.

John 3

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


God So Loved:” What does it mean?

Our first problem, here, is that we have a wrong idea of what constitutes love. We nearly always associate the idea with an emotional response, or a passionate response, or a tender feeling. But the Love that God commands and which He demonstrates in His actions toward us is actually none of the above: It is a practical response to the need of the Human Race. Yes, it is described and tender and compassionate, too, but the fact is, God’s Love is supremely practical. His Love is one of His two primary attributes, secondary only to His Holiness, as demonstrated in Isaiah 6:1-8 (Remember, the angelsdid not cry out, “Love, love, love, God is Love!” They cried out, “Holy! Holy! Holy is the LORD of Hosts! The whole Earth is filled with His Glory!”)

In fact, part of our problem in understanding this passage is in how we interpret the word “so:” in modern English, we think of this verse as saying, “God loved you soooo much!” …as if it were a statement of quantity or magnitude, when in fact, the meaning of the word “so” in this passage is “in this manner.” In fact, in Spanish, that is how it is actually translated: “Porque de tal manera amo Dios al Mundo…” (Meaning, “…in this manner God loved the World….)

So, let’s back up and see what we know about how God has continually manifested His love for the Human race, and how it culminated in His death at the Cross in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How does God show Love?

In the Creation?

In Genesis chapters one and two, we saw that God created a perfect world for the human race to live in, before He created the Humans. He didn’t just “fall in love with the baby chicks at the feed store” and buy a dozen of them, only to go home and realize He had no chicken-house. Nor was He as someone who “buys a St Bernard puppy,” and goes home to a tiny apartment, where no pets were allowed in the first place. He made perfect, complete preparations for our existence before He brought us into existence. That is wise, thoughtful, kind, and imminently practical!

In our Sin?

But it goes further: When His creation fell into Sin, His Holiness and His Righteousness had to be satisfied, so Judgment fell: it first fell upon the Serpent (whom we are told later was actually Satan, indwelling the physical snake), then upon the woman, and finally upon the man.

But within the curse upon the Serpent, in Genesis 3:15, there was a deeply-veiled promise of deliverance, The Prophecy was made by God that a Person would come, called the “Seed of the Woman,” who would undo the damage caused by the Serpent, and, in so doing, would complete the judgment on the Serpent. Adam believed that promise, and God responded to his faith by clothing Adam and Eve in the skins of slain animals…which was the first blood sacrifice.

We may think, “What a gory solution to the problem of sin!” But in Revelation 13:8, we find that God’s “preparations” went deeper than we could ever have imagined: Jesus is described as “The Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the Earth.” Notice that it does not say, “from the fall of man,” or anything similar. God, the Creator, knew before He created us, that we would fall into sin, and before he laid the physical “foundation of the earth,” He had laid the spiritual “foundation” for our redemption!

In fact, according to Ephesians 3:9-12, His eternal purpose included our redemption, so that before any portion of the Creation was begun, the plan was made for the redemption of believers, for the express purpose of demonstrating to the Holy Angels the manifold wisdom of God.

In the Flood?

Then He followed through on the promises, and maintained the Human race through all the attempts of Satan to destroy us through our own sin, corruption and violence. He showed His faithfulness and wisdom in the Flood, designing the perfect vessel in which to provide the salvation of the world: the Ark. We saw in our study of the ark and the flood of Noah’s experience that there were numerous ways in which the Ark was a picture of Christ, prophetically pointing, out in some detail, the character of the salvation He would provide. Meanwhile, the blood sacrifices had continued, all pointing forward to the Cross.

In the Passover?

The Passover underscored God’s Solution for sin, again, this time describing rather graphically the coming crucifixion of the Savior. And it forever separated the believers of Israel from Egypt. We have been forever separated from the World, by the Cross…and Egypt, in Israel’s experience,  was a picture of the World, for us to learn by it.

The blood of the Passover covered the sins of the believers at that time, but our Passover, the fulfillment of the object lesson of the Passover, is Jesus Himself, who completes the work of all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, taking away the very sins that the animal sacrifices could only cover. Jesus is our blood sacrifice for sin. And Jesus said that God’s Love was best demonstrated, right there at the Cross.

In 1st Corinthians 13:4-8, we see God’s description of the Character of that specific Love…what we call the “agapé” love. And when we read that passage, we see that every single descriptor, used there by God, is a verb: they are all action words. They have nothing to do with feelings: They have everything to do with acting on the behalf of another. In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater Love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And then He went, and He did just that!

At the Cross

So, what did Jesus actually accomplish at the Cross?

To begin with, He fulfilled what John the Baptist predicted: He took away the sins of the World. Not just the Jews, not just the Christians, not just “good people:” He took away the sins of the World! 1st John 2:2 assures us that “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world!

But, if that is really the case, then why is the world in such horrible shape? Do you recall what people had to do when they brought a blood sacrifice to God? They laid their hands on the head of the sacrificial animal, identifying themselves with that animal. They knew and admitted that they were guilty before God. And by faith, they transferred their own sins to the animal, so that the animal was to die in their place, as a substitute for the guilty sinner.

In the case of the Passover, every person in the household had to eat of that Lamb: It had to be a personal choice to believe in that lamb! The sins were taken away by Jesus’s blood poured out at the foot of the cross, outside the city gate. The way into the Holy Place was opened, shown by the fact that God tore the veil in the temple in half, from top to bottom, opening the way for anyone to see into and to actually enter the Holy of Holies. We are told in Hebrews 10:19, 20, that that physical veil actually depicted the body of Jesus, and that we are to voluntarily enter in, through that torn veil: His flesh!

This is why Jesus was able to say, in John 14:6, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” He was describing the open way for all believers: “whosoever will, let him come!” But, since most of the world rejects His sacrifice, for various reasons, the rest of the passage follows:

The Rest of the Story

 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Jesus clearly states that the purpose for His coming was so that the World could be saved through Him. But almost in the same breath, He explains that many would reject His offering, reject His blood sacrifice, and would still be condemned.

Notice He says that whoever believes is not condemned (as He stated in John 5:24, they will never be condemned.) but that those who do not believe are (present tense) condemned already, because they do not believe in the Son of God.” (Not because they are such terrible, corrupt people, or because they are dishonest, or they swear a lot, or practice abominable things….but, because they do not believe.)

Jesus wrote a Personal Check

When Jesus died for you, He “wrote a check,” in the amount of “Eternal Life,” payable to “Whosoever Will!” And He signed it with His own Blood, at the Cross. That check is good! His divine account as “God the Son” has “eternally sufficient funds” to cover Eternal Life for anyone willing to receive it. But, just as a paper check has to be endorsed and cashed or deposited, the “check” Jesus wrote for you and signed with His own blood must be endorsed by faith, or it has zero effect on you.

If I never endorsed my paychecks (back before automatic deposit) they were still good, but their value had no effect on my life or the lives of my family: I could not spend their value, nor use their value, in any way, until I made it personal, and endorsed those checks. I did so by faith. The check was just a piece of paper with numbers and letters, until I signed it, and handed it to the person who could give me its value in money. But it worked, every single time!

Jesus’s “check” is good…it is not a paycheck, but rather, a gift! You cannot earn it or deserve it. And it still requires that you endorse that check by faith, today…in this life, and receive that value. It is not something you are to “just hold onto until you die, hoping you won’t lose it:” It is something for you to have today, and which, having once received it, you can never lose it! Jesus made the Promise, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life (present tense) and shall not come into condemnation (future tense,) but has passed from death into life!” (Past perfect tense: “ It happened at a past point in time, and has permanent effect on the future!”) And once you believe, it IS “automatic deposit!”

In Redemption

One of the things that happened at the Cross is that our sins were taken away. But another thing that happened is that we were eternally taken out of the Marketplace of Sin, with the intent that we are to be set free. That is what “redemption” means.

And the other side of that is that the Righteousness of Christ has been permanently deposited on our accounts. God now sees us as being literally “as Righteous as Jesus!” This is called the “doctrine of imputation.” It literally means the same thing as “posting to one’s account.”  You are no longer “spiritually bankrupt,” even if there may be times when you feel that way! The full value of the righteousness of Christ has been deposited to your account: imputed to you, as it says in Romans 4:1-25.

We have become the literal children of God: not as though we were some homeless waifs He pulled in off the street and cleaned us up a bit, and told us to “…just try to stay clean until suppertime.” No! He has made us His legitimate children through the New Birth in Christ, and we are eternally clean before Him! And, as we need a sense of purpose and direction, He has given us a job to do, working side-by-side with Him as His ambassadors, to lead others to Him!

In our Daily Lives

As we learn to walk with Jesus, and learn to trust His Grace, and learn to expectantly look to Him for our sustenance and care, we learn to see His Love in our lives.

He has “big hands,” and as we learn to look to Him, we begin to see “His fingerprints” in every aspect of our lives. We call this “learning to walk by faith.” We see His supply of “extra handsfuls” of blessing, just as Boaz ordered his servants to drop for Ruth. God supplies more than just what we “have to have to survive.” And He offers His Peace and Joy, along with His Grace by which to live.

Believers all across the world, in deepest poverty, and under heavy persecution, still find His Joy and Peace in their lives, because they are trusting in His character and His faithfulness, not their own precarious circumstances.

We need to learn that practice, here, as well, while there is still time for us to learn it.

Lord Jesus, train us up in faith, and teach us to learn your Peace and Joy, so that we can shine as lights in this ever-darkening world. Make us faithful servants and ambassadors of the eternal King.

Whatsoever He saith unto you, Do it!

Whatsoever He saith unto you, Do it!

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 2:1-11

Introduction:

We have looked at the Wedding Feast at Cana a couple of times now… we have examined God’s Purpose in Miracles, and we have examined what God has to say to us about marriage…but we still haven’t touched on two other important things. Verse 5 has a treasure for us, and verse 9 has a related treasure.

John 2:1-11

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew😉 the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.


We briefly pointed out, two weeks ago, that this is the only command Mary ever gave in Scripture. She is granted no special authority, though she enjoys a most blessed status as the Mother of the Lord: Even before Jesus was born, Mary’s older cousin, Elizabeth, recognized her as the Mother of her Lord. And the baby in her womb, six months along, leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. (Now, how do we know that he wasn’t just kicking? Or that he wasn’t startled by the noise, or something else that is commonplace and mundane? The way we know that it is true, is that when Elizabeth made this statement, she was filled with the Holy Spirit—under the Holy Spirit’s direct control: she was not speaking of her own accord! Luke 1:41-45 tells us the story:

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

All these things really are special, and joyful, but Mary also experienced great tragedy in her life. She was prophetically warned of that coming grief, when Jesus was only a few days old, by an old man named Simeon, in Luke 2:34, 35.

My point is that, in spite of all the blessedness and uniqueness of her position, she was never given any special “pull” with God, and no authority. She herself admitted her own need for a Savior, in Luke 1:47…She was a sinner saved by Grace, same as each of us. She did have the privilege of bearing Him, nursing Him, and watching Him grow to adulthood, to emerge as the Lamb of God! But no one prayed to her…no one crowned her “Queen of Heaven,” or any other such thing, and she would have been horrified to know that such things would one day be said of her. So, when she “nudged” Jesus, telling Him the party had run out of wine, she was banking on her special relationship with Him, but He let her know that the choice was His, not hers. So, she turned to the servants of the household and issued her only Command: “Whatsoever He says to you, do it!”

Whatsoever He says to You

Could that have any application in our lives? “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it?” Have you heard His voice? Can you read His Word, and not “hear His voice?” He is speaking, still today, if we are willing to listen. The Bible is literally the written Word of God. Jesus is literally the Living Word of God, and He is given that label more than once in the New Testament.

The Person with whom Abraham chatted while he fed Him beef, bread, butter and milk was Jesus, in one of His preincarnate appearances! Hebrews 11:3 confirms that the Word of God created the World. And Hebrews 1:10 records God the Father, speaking to God the Son, and confirming that God the Son created the Heavens and the Earth! How does that make you feel about the Bible, which is the black-and-white written representation of the Living Word of God? If Jesus is speaking to you (and He is) through the Word of God, doesn’t it follow that you should be deliberately taking time to read it, and to learn to understand it, so that you, like those servants, can do whatever He says?

Mary’s only command happens to also be the most frequent command in the Bible: “Obey God!” So, what might happen if we learned to walk with Him in obedience? Would everything just be happy and easy, like some people teach? Not necessarily!

Those servants obeyed: they hauled the water…a lot of it! And water is heavy! Scholars tell us that those stone pots each held between 20 and 30 gallons…and there were six of them: that means they hauled between 120 and 180 gallons of water, not knowing why they were doing it. Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon, so those poor servants, already tired from their work, were called to haul between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of water, not even counting the weight of the jars or water skins or buckets, they used to haul it.

And then, they dipped the water into the wine containers that they were to carry out to the ruler of the feast: they obeyed! But the next morning they were still lowly servants. Except that, something had changed: Those servants, and Mary, and the disciples, were the only ones beside Jesus who knew what had happened. There was a special blessing for them: a secret joy they shared. They had hauled the water, all right, but He had changed their water into wine!

Turning our Water into Wine

There are going to be some people who have a problem with this passage: I have personally known people who vehemently insisted that “It was grape juice! Jesus would never have created wine!” Their reasoning included the supposition that He was a Nazarite (as was John the Baptist), and couldn’t drink wine…but He said, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said he was demon-possessed: the Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and He is accused of being a winebibber and a glutton!”

Besides, in Psalm 104:14, 15 the scripture tells us that God provides food for us, and wine that makes glad the heart of Man” So, that is what Jesus was doing! The word here in John 2 is “oinos:” exactly the same word as in Ephesians 5:18 where we are warned not to be drunk with wine. (It was wine! Deal with it.) Now, I can’t easily relate to any of that because I can’t stand the taste of alcoholic beverages, for which I am grateful, as it means it is never a temptation to me. And there are many in our society and elsewhere who overindulge in alcohol and it is a huge social problem. And it has been since the beginning of time. Noah started a great tradition almost 3,500 years ago: He went for a long cruise on a ship and when he got off the boat, he got drunk…on wine! Sailors have been doing that ever since! (By the way, the Hebrew word for what Noah drank is “Yayin:” the exact same word used in the Psalm we just quoted.) So, the wine isn’t the problem: our propensity for misusing it is the problem.

Water to Wine?

So, how can this part apply in our lives? If we are a bunch of teetotalers (as I am) is there any application for us? Or is this verse just for people who like wine?

Let’s consider: Is Wine necessary for our survival? Of course not: it was given by God as something special to “make glad the hearts of men.” It is one of the thousands of things that God did not need to do for us, but He did it as a gift. (Yes, I understand the danger therein! Many of His gifts can be wrongly used…but we aren’t going there today.) But Water is absolutely necessary for our survival. So, why didn’t He just leave it at water? Why provide alcohol at all? He already explained that! It was to “make glad the heart of Man!” And that fits with the party Jesus attended.

Let’s back up to another story: In the Book of Ruth, Ruth and others were gleaning in the field of Boaz. They had a legal right to do so. The Law required that if the reapers dropped stalks of grain, they were not allowed to pick it up: it was left for the gleaners. And they could not reap the corners of their fields…that also was for the gleaners. But Boaz commanded his servants that when Ruth was near them, they were to drop extra handfuls of stalks of grain on purpose, so that she would have a good harvest! That was pure Grace! Was it necessary? No! The story of Boaz and Ruth is a picture of Christ and the Church! And Jesus does not just give us the minimum: He pours out His Love and Grace to those who love Him and who walk with Him.

That is what Romans 8:28 is about! 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

If we walk with God, and are looking for His “fingerprints” in our lives, we will learn to find them: He has big hands and He leaves His “fingerprints” everywhere for us to find, in answered prayer, in special Grace by which to overcome the trials of Life, and in the secret Joy of simply walking with Him in Fellowship. He turns our “water” into “wine!”

We thank Him for our daily bread, and humbly trust Him for our sustenance: but He invites us, in Isaiah 55:1, 2, saying “1Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

He says this is not going to be a barren relationship: He will provide joy to the believing heart and grace by which to live…even in hardship, in famine, in disease and even in death.

All we have to do is take personally the command, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it!”

Walk with Him…that is pretty much the bottom line. Micah 6:8 says, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

John 13:34, 35, Jesus gave us a new commandment by which to walk: “Love one another, as I have loved you!”

If you want God to turn the “water” of your survival needs into the Wine of His Joy, you need to learn to walk with Him, in faith and obedience. That is what those household servants did, hauling a half-ton or more of water, by faith. They filled those pots to the brim, it said. And their reward was the secret joy of having seen the first Miracle Jesus did in His earthly ministry.

The Joy we receive can often be shared…but still, only believers will receive that joy. You can share it with unbelievers and it will be a very strange thing to them. They may be attracted to that joy in your life and become believers, or they may accuse you of hypocrisy, as the pharisees did toward Jesus and the disciples. Either way, the Joy can be yours, if you are willing to patiently walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, lead us into a transparent walk with Yourself, and teach us to look for the Joy You supply in life. Open our hearts to the teaching of Your Word and the leading of Your Holy Spirit. Draw us along to see the transformation You have promised.