What Jesus DID: “Seven Works of the Master” (Part II) – John 4:46-54

Most of what happens in life is well beyond my comprehension. I don’t really understand how my microwave works. I get the basic concept, but I cannot (for the life of me) figure out how someone worked out all the mechanics.

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out how someone put together the string of information that invented the first pasta! Think about it! How did someone actually figure out that if you take the grain head from the wheat, let it dry thoroughly, take off the husk of the grain, grind the head into flour, add water, knead it, cut it into small strips, lay it out in the sun to dry, take the dried material and boil it for a brief time – you will have “al dente” pasta?

These things amaze me. Think about it. Men and women can blast other men and women to the moon or up to a space station. We can engineer the combinations of DNA strands in a “Petrie dish” to change physical characteristics of our offspring. We can store 100,000 pages of text on a silicon chip the size of a finger tip. We can dive deeply enough to explore the depths of the ocean with an unmanned submarine and fly a mission thousands of miles away from an unmanned drone to shoot a missile at a small group of men hiding out near a cave. Much of what we can do most of us cannot truly understand. So I need to ask you…

What does “faith” really mean in a time like ours?

Does it mean that someone knows how it works, and I should just accept it and keep learning? Ever since I was young in my faith, I have heard people say that I just needed to “accept some things by faith” as if that was supposed to satisfy the curiosity of all, and be the end point of the discussion
when something could not be readily explained. Yet, I kept asking, “Is that really what God intended me to do?” Is faith a last refuge, a “cop out” for things that Christians don’t know or haven’t searched out? Am I supposed to turn off my mind and simply trust whatever I am told about God that cannot seem to be explained? I know now that is not at all the case.

In the Bible, faith is not about whether you can explain the “how” of something or not. Faith, in essence, is the absolute trust that the world is not how it appears, but how God says it operates in His Word. It is a “Biblical world view.” When I accept Jesus by faith, I accept that God’s record of Who Jesus is and what He did was both correct and accepted by the Creator. When I walk by faith, I walk in the light of His Word and see the world as He proclaims it to be. Yet, my belief isn’t without evidence at all.

I believe in a Creator because I see the product of organization all around me, and I know that billions of years won’t create structure and organization exacting enough to make a strand of DNA morph into an aardvark while another morphs into a zebra. The heavens proclaim organization, color, beauty and design. Design requires a designer in every area I can grasp.

At the same time, we are called on to “believe” and “have faith” in our God, so I ask: “What does it look like to truly believe?”

That is our subject for this lesson, “What Jesus Did.” In John 4, we are going to encounter a man who modeled belief because he trusted the word of Jesus so fully that he rested when others would have run. In the verses of John 4:46-54, the writer revealed a second miracle performed by Jesus. Part of that group of events John collected in his account. Remember, John’s gospel included seven miracles, each recalled so that a reader might know more of Jesus, believe in His claims, and have life through that belief, according to John 20:30-31. John offers us a lesson that is unmistakable, if understood in context. He taught:

Key Principle: I demonstrate true faith when I change my life to conform to what God said.

The story recorded in John’s Gospel (4:46-54) is a profound and yet simple story – but it requires you know something of the geography of where Jesus lived and traveled. The key to the entire story is contained in the details of time and distance between two ancient villages, set in the hills of lower Galilee. I have walked the path between these villages, and though neither is a living town today, the ruins can be identified and still mark the places. The ancient roadway is still a trail along the edge of the hillside, since roads tend to remain in place for millennia. People purchase and cultivate both sides of a roadway, but no one owns the road, so they tend to stay in the same place.

In the case of this path, the steep incline rose from Capernaum (a village that was in the Jordan Rift Valley north of the Sea of Galilee) up through the Arbel Pass to ancient “Khirbet Cana.” To walk up the path is no less arduous than can be traversed in an eight hour journey (plus or minus a few minutes). That same path in reverse direction is a mere five and one quarter to five and one half hours journey (because it drops downhill).

Jesus was around the Sea at Capernaum, and people knew Him there, but it wasn’t YET a big part of His ministry. In the early part of the ministry, He was in Nazareth, went to John’s preaching by the Jordan, made His way to Jerusalem for a time, and then began to announce His ministry throughout the towns of the Galilee region.

Let’s drop in as an observer to the happenings in Cana some two thousand years ago…

John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” 49 The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Look closely at the text. There are two things you should note before you take a “deep dive” into the scene:

First, the places are mentioned. Cana was the location of Jesus, but Capernaum was the location of the sick boy.

Second, the time of the healing was given. Did you notice the “seventh hour” in verse 52 was the hour that Jesus healed the boy according to verse 53?

The text can be broken into three simple parts:

1. A desperate man came to Jesus (4:46-49).
2. A believing man trusted Jesus (4:50-52).
3. A household demonstrated faith and belief (4:53-54).

First, we need to examine the account of the man that came to Jesus (4:46-49).

It is clear in the account that a man who lived in Capernaum heard the reputation of Jesus based on His previous works or in some way knew Jesus casually, but now found himself in desperation because of his sick son (4:46-47). Though Capernaum means “village of comfort,” in this story the man was nothing close to comfortable. Let’s summarize the things we know about him based on the account:

• He knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (John 4:46a).
• He was faced with a heart rending problem beyond his ability (John 4:46b)

Note that his “problem” led him to seek Jesus, and meeting Jesus met more needs than he anticipated.

That is often how it works. Ask people who walk with Jesus how they met Him. They may tell you about a background problem that led them on the path to the Lord. Problems can break down our sense of self-sufficiency. They can unmask our true vulnerability.

Desperation opens our hearts to make us willing to take our need to Jesus and abandon self-reliance. Giving up my falsely constructed sense of control is at the heart of accepting Jesus.

Before we skip past the detail, look at the identity of the man who came seeking assistance. He is called “a royal official” as the English translation for the Greek word basilikos. Basileus is the term for a king. This related word is the term for something or someone from a royal line. The weight of the word is not in reference to their job, but rather their “standing” in the community. This guy was a “somebody” in the celebrity category.

Though deemed important in rank, the man didn’t send one of “his people” to Jesus. Rather, he climbed the steep path some twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana. With the pictures of his son playing like a video loop in his mind, the man cared little about any humiliation of asking for help, nor was he fixed on any social difference in status between Jesus and himself. His son was facing death. He couldn’t stop it any other way. There was nothing else more important on his mind.

When you read the nobleman had to lower himself to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and itinerant preacher, don’t forget this truth: There is no home into which sickness and sorrow cannot enter – and when it does it reduces our man-made social divisions. Stand in the hospital and watch. Rich and powerful break down just like poor and needy when sickness strikes and death nears.

Crisis led him to Jesus. Crisis reduces arrogance and allows a man of standing, wealth and power to humbly kneel. For some of us, that crisis was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Notice how the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (John 4:47).

If you read the Scriptures thoroughly, you will note the man’s humility is part of what led Jesus to help. God resists the proud, but gives undeserved help to the humble. Jesus responded in two ways:

First, Jesus told those around Him that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE (John 4:48).

We need to consider these words carefully. Jesus’ reaction (on first reading) does not seem loving at all – it sounds almost heartless and cold. It sounded like He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you don’t believe.” Why take a seemingly desperate man and “hold out on him” like that? The answer is not as complicated as it may appear. Remember, this is another story to show that Jesus knows the heart of man (as John noted back in John 2:24-25).

This man was far from home. He couldn’t see his child. Jesus could claim to heal him, but the man wouldn’t be able to immediately check. Jesus was stating there was an opportunity there, not rejecting the man’s request. He was going to heal the boy, but the key to the story is what happened NEXT.

At the same time, Jesus DOES understand how manipulative people can be. We will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. We ask desperately for the healing of our child, but when it’s done no commitment to Him or His message remains. We will use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to submission to God.

Consider the forces at work when people say: “If God is a healer, then why are there sick children in the world? If God is peaceful, then why do wars happen? If God loves, then why do bad things happen to good people?”

Behind these questions there is the desire to see God prove himself by taking these evil things away so that we will all believe in him and live happily ever after.

The problem is when God removes these problems it usually doesn’t end with the whole room following Him. The problem is based on a false premise: that people would believe and kneel if God did something about our troubles.

Think about it: There are plenty in our world who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, plenty who have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Yet plenty of those people do not have a relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives.

Our relationship with God must not be simply based on his ability to heal us or perform other miracles for us. Our faith must leave this world’s way of thinking and take on a Biblical world view, solely based on surrender to the Word of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus make it easy for the man?

In our modern American lifestyle, we often act as though life should be easy. Ease, in fact is not always what is best for us. A faith that doesn’t challenge us is a faith that is not worth having. True faith requires of us a change. Real faith comes from God, as Ephesians tells us – and not from within ourselves. Yet, it results in surrender to Jesus’ role in our lives, not simply the solution to the immediate crisis.

A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle to remove the old king!

Second, Jesus told the man that he could trust in His Word alone.

He said: “Go, your son lives,” (John 4:50a). He didn’t even say He healed the boy! He merely said, “Go home. He’s ok!”

Yet, the man changed when he encountered Jesus:

At first, he was clearly panicked by the delay and distance (things he could observe with his eyes and heart) and tried to get Jesus to understand the immediacy of the need when he said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49). After Jesus spoke, the man clearly believed the word so thoroughly, that he exchanged panic for trust (John 4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…

Next we need to examine the man and his apparent “trust in Jesus” (4:50-52).

Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight according to John 4:52) and yet did not return home the same day. The text is clear the man encountered his slaves “the next day.” How could this be? He came with panic in his heart and yet stayed from one o’clock in the afternoon until the next day to journey down the five and one half hour path to his home? The key to the change is the word “BELIEVED” in verse 50.

The man believed. The man trusted the word of Jesus. He exchanged SEEING for what Jesus TOLD HIM – “Your son is alive and well.” He rested in that promise overnight. He ceased striving to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

It was in his going, not in his arriving that he received the assurance that his faith had been rewarded.

A single act of faith led to a life of faith. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to follow Him from his home to new land that he had never been. His decision is described in Hebrews 12:8, “he went out, not knowing.”

Here is the key: I truly believe God’s Word only when I accept the Word as it is stated and change my life to conform to what it says I should do and become. I change my behavior. I rest in the words and see life through them. I don’t keep seeing as others see!

That helps us understand the “full grasp of belief.” The man’s household believed by the end of the account (4:53-54). What does that mean?

Notice two important changes that occurred in the heart of the man after his initial trust was confirmed by the facts on the ground:

• The man trusted in Jesus’ words, but that trust was confirmed in his life as he walked in those words (4:53). He didn’t require proof, but he got it as he believed.

• The seed of that man’s belief became a testimony that when shared sprung up in a tree that sheltered the whole family, and they all believed together (4:53b).

A profound testimony can produce great faith in those who observe your changes. It is hard to refute a life surrendered and changed by Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority… The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

As we examine the story then, what is faith? It is seeing the world as God says it is, not as my eyes say it is. It is accepting HIS WORD as the authority on what truly happened and what will happen.

It begins when I admit my need. The truth is that my senses are limited and can produce a faulty conclusion.

The other day I was driving and I wanted to make a left on Thunderbird Road coming from The Home Depot. My wife was in the car and it was raining. I looked first to my left – no one was coming. I looked to my right – no one was coming… or so I thought. I began to pull out and my wife said, “Stop, stop! There’s a car!” Blocked by a blind spot on the car at that angle and by my wife’s lovely head, I totally missed the view of the car. I was responding to what I saw, but not what was truly there. I was boldly proceeding as if I knew what was there, but I did not truly see things as they were.

That is how many of the people we know live today. They are proceeding confidently and ignoring blind spots.

Faith is the ability to see the truth. Since Jesus is the truth, and speaks the truth – it is the ability to see “through His eyes.”

Akin to faith is the Biblical word “BELIEVE” (επιστευσεν from pisteuo: to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust. Belief is only truly seen in change (as James notes). It is “the convincing of the mind and heart that leads to a willful surrender to the conditions of that truth accepted.” When Abraham believed that God would send him a son — he built a nursery. The belief was not complete until the actions accompanied the faith confirmed the change in authority over the life of the man of faith.

Sometimes, it even takes time to find out if the surrender is real:

A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, he should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was He? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves and come to church every Sunday. This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is Thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded. Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing. (Sermon Central Illustrations)

Her surrender was not real, though her amazement was. She was amazed at first that God could and would act on her behalf. If our encounter is with amazement alone, it will fade.

God isn’t looking to amaze you if it doesn’t change you.

If our encounter led us to true surrender – we will ever be changed and marked by our walk with Jesus. Jesus is looking for surrender to Him, not an applause line from an amazed admirer.

Jean Francois Gravelet, also known as “The Great Blondin,” was the first tightrope walker to appear at Niagara Falls. On June 30, 1859 the rope was fully in position to cross the falls. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Blondin started the trip that was to make history. As he began his ascent toward the Canadian shore, he paused, steadied the balancing pole and suddenly executed a back somersault. Never content merely to repeat his last performance, Blondin crossed his rope on a bicycle, walked blindfolded, pushed a wheelbarrow, cooked an omelet in the centre and made the trip with his hands and feet manacled. And then, he announced that on August 19 he would cross the gorge carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. (Source: http://www. niagarainfo.com/historic.htm)

Harry Colcord demonstrated what we are referring to as “Biblical belief.” He didn’t just have the faith to know that Blondin could make the trip; he acted on that faith in allowing it to change HIS future.

In that same way, Jesus invites us to crawl upon His back, and to surrender control to Him for our lives and future. He will walk us through Heaven’s gates. Nothing less than crawling on is what He seeks.

Here is the truth: I believe God’s Word when I change my life to conform to what it says. His Word isn’t meant to inform me; it is meant to change me.

What Jesus Did: “The Seven Works of the Master” (Part One) – John 2:1-11

Unless you have been living under a rock or away on an isolated island vacation with no TV broadcasts, you are probably aware that the U.S. has been alight and buzzing with recent testimony before our Senate Judicial Committee as it met in session for the purposes of presenting or declining a candidate for the vacant seat on our Supreme Court. As powerful lobbies and political factions collided before our eyes, Americans saw the worst attributes of power players seep out in a drama that captured some of the largest ratings on American TV. At the heart of the issue are accusations from decades past, and deep concerns of many who, in unrelated personal stories, have sadly faced criminal abuse in their lives that was not resolved justly. To get to the heart of the facts, a few selected testimonies were paraded in front of us, while much happened behind closed doors and we were left without enough to bring a factual conclusion, but got enough to tarnish everyone who was involved. Toss enough slop around a room carelessly and the whole room will end up covered – and they did.

This isn’t a political seminar, so relax. I don’t have to take a side here, and the truth is: my vote doesn’t count in this exchange.

It is fair to point out the Bible requires “corroboration of testimony” before any public accusation against leaders without such evidence. That protection has been historically enshrined in our civil laws – but the idea clearly emanates from the Bible itself (cp. 1 Timothy 5:19).

With the very same voice, I want to say without qualification the Bible supports real tenderness for those who have been victims, and every attempt should be made to be sure we care for the hurting as best we can (cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

In the end, I simply argue that one cannot find the truth in a process that is not specifically designed to get to it, and one will not find the truth when power players are at work to bend the information in different ways for pre-determined causes. In short, we’ve been set up to fail here.

We won’t know for sure (this side of eternity) what happened long ago between these people (if anything) by the methods used in this process. I would suggest that by looking deeply into the hurting eyes of a victim as they pour out their fragmented memories on TV you will learn little of certainty. Conversely, we will not ascertain facts solely by judging the full-throated defense of a professional judge who is a trained lawyer, since he argues for a living.

What seems very much at the heart of the main issues of our day is how we can find the truth… and why truth really matters!

That is what we need to talk about. Where and how do we find truth?

If these proceedings have shown us anything, they clarified a weakness in teaching people to distinguish between deeply held “gut-level opinion” and carefully “cross-checked” evidence.

Some honestly believe they can tell if someone is telling the truth by their demeanor as showed on a flat screen TV; but I think that is at best naïve.

• I want to examine evidence. I want to know truth based on verified evidence – just like everyone else.

• I want every victim of crime to be consoled that one day, even if not in this life, every abuser will stand before God, and the Lord will not decide based on their demeanor. “He Who is the Truth” will speak definitively in judgment.

• At the same time, I want every person who has faced false and stinging words employed to harm their reputation to remember, God said not to bear false witness, and those who speak lies will also stand before the Judge of truth.

What a great setting to introduce a subject we will be following for the next few months. The title of our series exposes the simplest part of the idea: “What Jesus did,” but it doesn’t offer the richness of the texture to what we are going to deep dive into. We are going to look at the evidence of what Jesus DID to offer testimony and substance to what He claimed about Himself. We are going to go back into things that happened in the past and gather the testimony of verified deeds.

We are going to follow the evidence that has been combed over for centuries, and listen to the words of those who saw Jesus in action, and judged His character and personal claims by His deeds.

As with every search in our modern times, we should also anticipate there will be much distraction. An anonymous Amazon book reviewer offered this on a book about Jesus. He wrote:

Each year as we approach Christmas and Easter, we are inevitably greeted at magazine racks by news journals trumpeting the “latest scholarship” on the “historical Jesus.” The fact that very little of what appears ever has lasting scholarly value seems of little concern to the journals in question. The attraction of the sensational and the scandalous governs media coverage in our age and any “scholar” who claims things about Jesus Christ that ordinary Christians would find disturbing is enticing to a cynical media looking for a “story” – even if the views promoted lack any credibility with the vast majority of experts in the field…

That reviewer nailed the sentiment that we have a hard time getting to the truth in an age where people value their presuppositions and conclude as much based on flimsy opinions as they do by carefully entertaining the eyewitness testimony.

Long ago, the work of a pastor at Ephesus (today in western Turkey) named “John the evangelist” offered a series of testimonials about Jesus’ activities in the first century. His account gave selected events with a specific stated purpose that he included near the end of the work. John recorded that purpose and wrote:

John 20:30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Listen to his words carefully. He selected events to help us truly see, believe and have life.

John was interested in his readers. He wanted them to know what Jesus said (so he included seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the work) and he wanted them to grapple with what Jesus DID (so he included seven miracles of Jesus) as well.

Recently we listened to a series of teachings on what Jesus said. Now we examine the accounts of what He did. These are seven miracles including:

• Changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).

• Healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).

• Restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).

• Multiplying the resources of the loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).

• Shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).

• Giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).

• Raising up the dead body of His friend Lazarus at Bethany in Judea (John 11:1-45).

Each of these seven events were recalled to offer clear evidence that Jesus is Messiah, God’s Eternal Son and sole door to God. Don’t forget what is at stake! John also wrote:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

If that record is accurate and Jesus was speaking the truth, we are forced to conclude that knowing Him provides the one and only door to our Father in Heaven. In that case, Jesus isn’t one of many paths, He is THE WAY. John wanted us to know that truth by knowing accounts of His works.

Let’s start our investigation early in the account…

Here is what I think you will see:

Key Principle: Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

Look with me at the first of these seven stories found in John 2:1-11. See if you can pick out what the account tells you about Jesus that will change you.

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother *said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

Put on your detective hat and let’s look at this account from a wedding at Cana to see what we learn about Jesus and how He can give us life.

Don’t skip the details, because the Word of God didn’t:

The Setting:

The opening two verses provide both the cast of characters at the event, as well as the specific setting of it.

First, the text opened with a timing note: “on the third day.” There is an old Jewish wife’s tale that Tuesday was the best day to get married. Many in Jewish circles still echo that. It wasn’t actually part of the Bible or of the Talmud, but some held the “ideal day to get married is Yom Shelishi (Tuesday, or the “third day”) because in the Creation story, the phrase “ki tov” (for it is good) is used twice on that day. Halachot (Jewish laws) and common customs existed regarding getting married on particular days, months, seasons and even parts of the month, but there was no specific law regarding marriage on any day other than Shabbat (the Sabbath). At the same time, this account is often quoted in an historical way to show the old custom. Here is the bottom line: It was likely a Tuesday the events unfolded. The idea that this follows “days” from chapter one doesn’t seem to really fit the time.

Second, the text offered a place: Cana of Galilee. This was no small town (like Nazareth) but it was a town along the rim of the Beth Netofa valley system in lower Galilee, in a low lying place where reeds were (at one time) probably harvested for the making of roofing materials. (The term Cana is “reed”.)

Third, the text offered a list of people: the mother of Jesus (2:1), Jesus and His disciples (2:2; we presume the five He got from John the Baptizer in the previous chapter which were: John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and Simon Peter). Included in the account were also servants of the master of the house (2:5), a headwaiter and a bridegroom (2:9). I take it the list of people to corroborate the events, then, was at least ten people, perhaps more. It was a public party, and the disciples clearly learned of all the background events according to their response in verse eleven.

The Problem:

The story recounts more than an embarrassing moment – it records a disaster.

Obviously, Mary was (in some way) linked to what could seem to us as an embarrassing faux pas, but it was much more than just a slight to the guests in that time and place. This problem had deep and powerfully enduring consequences. Middle Eastern society, both then and now, is steeped in a culture that expects certain social obligations to be met in the community. One of them is the notion of “reciprocal hospitality.”

Let’s say last year because you celebrated a feast at my child’s wedding where we fed you lavishly and had all the wine you cared to drink, you are expected to do the same for me when I attend your son’s marriage feast. Failure to respond in kind comes with severe social consequences. The marriage will be labeled a disgrace, and there could well be a lasting social stigma on the couple and even the children of that union. In some circumstances, such a breach of hospitality could have brought a lawsuit for damages by the family of the bride, since this part was in the hands of the groom’s family. The hired steward of such a disaster would probably never work another celebration in that community again.

This was no small incident, and when the wine ran out early, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3).

Don’t miss that Near Eastern culture is also quite a superstitious culture in many ways. Even though God gave His Word to the Jewish people, if you know their history and writings, there is no shortage of reference to what amounts to “omens” and “signs” that move them. Paul referred to that tendency when he wrote:

1 Corinthians 1:22-24: For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Bear in mind that marriage feasts were intended to be the most joyous of community occasions for a village. In the Hebrew world, wine personified joy, plain and simple. In the poetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures, wine is most often a symbol of God-given joy:

Psalm 104:15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.

Judges 9:13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’

Isaiah 55:1 Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

The point is that wine represented JOY and the lack of it stood to condemn this couple and their new home. You don’t want to be the couple that started marriage with the omen of joy that ran out. It doesn’t bode well for you or your children. If the local crops fail next season, plan on getting blamed.

Now look again…

The phrasing isn’t completely clear, but I want you to consider a reasonable way to look at the detail of the text. There is an indication in verse one and two that Mary was already at the feast, at the time when Jesus and His disciples arrived on the third day. Since wedding feasts were often seven day events, John may have recalled that Jesus and the disciples (who were in fact invited) didn’t get there until the end of the week long feast. The point is, the wine seemed to be a sufficient amount until additional people showed up. The steward made a judgment call and didn’t get additional resources during the week, because he thought they had enough to get through the end of the feast. With more people, the lack of supply quickly became apparent.

Part of the text recalled a personal interaction between Mary and Jesus.

John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Obviously, the discussion was truncated. We don’t know all they said to one another. If the words recorded were the whole conversation, it was just plain weird. We assume John cut off the unnecessary parts of the interaction, but it is interesting he included Jesus’ objection. He did it, I believe, to show that Jesus was being pressed to do things to confirm what Mary was told about Him at the time of His conception by the angel Gabriel,
and at the times when God intervened on Jesus’ behalf as a child. Mary seemed sure that Jesus could fix the problem because Mary believed Jesus was the Promised One.

Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that He was not going to be “outed” by the agenda of anyone beside His Father. This was part of His objection when Satan wanted Him to jump off the southwest pinnacle of the temple in the temptation (Mt. 4).

In any case, out of respect for His mother and her faith in Him, He apparently agreed to deal with the crisis. Mary left the scene with two great statements:

• First, she gave the servants the best words offered in the New Testament: “Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it.”

• Second, she left apparently totally trusting Jesus, and didn’t return to add additional input. She trusted Him, and she rested in His ability. That is a wonderful reminder to all of us who have wrangled with Jesus after we have prayed.

The Heart of the Miraculous Account: Water was changed into wine.

Verse six shared the scope of the miracle by offering us the vat size and number of containers. There were six stone pots, each containing between twenty and thirty gallons. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine seemed like a lot of libation to get through to the end of the feast – but that wasn’t the KEY DETAIL that changes your thinking. Obviously, Jesus provided enough for all that they needed to celebrate, and what they needed to start their own label for the next year!

Yet, don’t neglect to look at WHAT KIND OF POTS they were.

If you believe the detail of the ritual purification pots was just incidental, it is because you aren’t looking at the story the way a Jewish person would. Ritual purification was, and is, at the heart of observant Jewish life. The
elaborate rules regarding ritual purity and impurity are deeply embedded in the Hebrew law.

The noun “ṭumah” (defiled or unclean) is used some forty times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible to denote ineligibility for different services. The adjective tamei (טָמֵא) (impure) is all through the text of the Hebrew Bible.

These were people that wanted to please God by collecting the rain water in the required stone vessels, so that every impurity of life could be symbolically washed away. Do they seem like the kind of people who CARE about symbolic things? Of course, they do.

Consider the volume of the pronouncement of what Jesus did when He took THAT WATER and transformed it to wine. The account ended with a commentary:

John 2:11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

We see in the story that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family. He knew family was important, since He established the family to begin with. Yet, remember our key truth…

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

• Jesus didn’t offer them INFORMATION on where to get more wine.
• Jesus didn’t give them an EDUCATION on why they should plan better in the future.
• Jesus didn’t pull the crowd in and offer EXPLANATION of why the steward could not have known His boys would arrive late.

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

He understood the longing of that family to have their impurity washed away – so God brought them Jesus. What He brings is more than they could understand, ask, think or expect.

• If you are reading today for scintillating information (something new you hadn’t heard before) – you are willing to settle far too low for what Jesus can bring you.

• If you would be satisfied with more education about the Word today, you are far too easily pleased.

Jesus wants to take your longings and completely, utterly, entirely and unreservedly transform them by His touch. He can make plain His GLORY and offer you something from Heaven.

He transformed their longing into something far beyond what they could have expected.

He made the ordinary into the extraordinary when it was set aside for His exclusive use. The water put exclusively under the control of Jesus was transformed into something greater than it could be without His Word.

Don’t miss that. Don’t overlook that many people will file into a church today looking for Jesus to fix the plumbing leaks of their life. They had a break-up with one they love. The bills rolled in like a tsunami and they are under water. Their health is failing them. An injustice against them hasn’t been settled and unfairness seems to be winning. They will pull together their list, their tears, their pain – and they will file into a church and wait for God to fix their problem. Yet, what God wants to give them is so much more. He wants them to encounter the powerful transformation of Jesus’ Word.

He doesn’t want to wash them with their saved up water in their old stone pot – He wants to transform their water and satisfy their thirst with something they have never tasted before!

He wants to fill them with something made in Heaven – not a religious ritual cut from a stony hillside and carefully calibrated by men.

Jesus is the timeless transformer. He is so passionate to show you Who He is, He actually came in the flesh bringing transforming power to you.

As I close, I want to echo the words offered by Billy Graham a few years ago, before he entered the presence of the Savior on February 21, 2018:

• There is no doubt that our generation suffers from moral uncertainty. We have a great deal of levity, but little real joy. There is searching on the part of young people for fun, but little real happiness. There is a great deal of canned laughter on television, but it is empty and hollow.

• We are zealous for freedom, but we are weak in our worship of God. We boast over military strength, but our television screens show that it is brutal in application.

• We have everything, but possess nothing. We seek knowledge, but lack understanding. There is plenty of struggle upward, but we continue to sink lower.

• As John Steinbeck said, “Our civilization needs the panic of a great crisis to shock it out of its Pharisaism.”

It is time for you to take your stone pot, set aside for washing to find a sense of cleanness – and let the Word of the Savior transform it.

If you don’t know Him as Savior, today is the day you can ask Jesus to take your life from you and commission you to follow Him. If you DO know Him as Savior, you have tasted of the sweetness of His ability to transform your life. What pot hasn’t been given Him? That one is still just plain water…

Resurrection Sunday: “The Evidence” – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 21-22

Resurrection Sunday is a time of celebration every follower of Jesus anticipates. I think it is easy to say this is the single most significant day on the calendar of Jesus followers. Each year on this Sunday we recall some stories of a forty-day period of time that took place in and around Jerusalem some two thousand years ago – all that began with a sad trip to a cemetery just before sunrise on the Sunday morning following Passover, during the days of Unleavened Bread. When you hear the report put that way, it doesn’t sound all that compelling… but if you will allow us a few moments of exploration from the Christian Scriptures, you will easily see why those days are remembered to this day.

At the heart of the assertions of Jesus is the one where He claimed to be the One and only way to the Father in Heaven. Jesus openly exclaimed He was ONE with God. He claimed to SPEAK for God. He claimed to be the EXCLUSIVE DOOR to God. If those claims are found to be true, they cast aside literally millions following other religions and other truth claims about the afterlife and reduce truth down to one option. That sounds pretty heady, and such a claim requires more than just blind acceptance.

Just because His followers have long bought into those claims – that doesn’t prove them. Many who live in our time do not agree. Let me politely but pointedly ask: “What are the chief evidences for those claims?” The evidence couldn’t matter more when you make claims that affect the life, death and eternity of someone! Let me illustrate in a small way, if I can:

Anyone in our country who was alive or even semi-conscious in the 1990’s knows the face of OJ Simpson. Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and later was endowed with the nickname “The Juice.” He was a talented and accomplished American football running back, a well-known broadcaster, a Hollywood actor, and now he is inmate number 1027820 at Loveland Correctional Center in Nevada. He is serving time as a convicted armed robber and kidnapper. In the eighties, Simpson rode high in public life and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Retiring from football, Simpson began new careers in movie acting and TV football broadcasting. In 1994, Simpson was dramatically chased and arrested after the body of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and that of her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered. A lengthy and internationally publicized trial (referred to by some as a “circus in court’) followed. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but the families of the victims filed a civil suit against him, where the court eventually awarded them a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson for the victims’ wrongful deaths. Because the threshold of evidence in civil court was considerably less than that of the criminal court with a jury, American jurisprudence found him both innocent and guilty. In one court, there was insufficient evidence to convict. In the other, there was more than enough and he was held liable. In both cases there were counter stories, but in the final analysis, it is still not completely clear what exactly happened. The point is that evidence matters. What the court allowed submitted mattered. The threshold of judgment used matters.

If you cut out half of the evidence from submission at trial, the verdict will probably change. If you require every submitted testimony to match “word for word” in order to be included as part of the case, the verdict will likely change.

This is one of the great problems with how people evaluate the Resurrection claim.

It is a fact that some who looked at the evidence presented of the Resurrection have concluded that Jesus was not raised. Some call it a hoax. Others simply dismiss the record as old and religious – inherently unreliable. The challenge of the Resurrection message is this: it is incredibly hard to believe a dead man was raised if we don’t see proof. What evidence should be offered? Clearly a missing body is not enough. The chief evidence of the Resurrection cannot be merely an empty cave. It cannot be merely a few witnesses of some unexplained events. That is enough to keep a conspiracy theory alive… but not enough to change an Empire.

I submit to you the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection is overwhelming, if you allow us to include all the key evidences and you are fair with their examination. The Gospel writers tell us of an empty tomb, but they tell us much more. In fact, they leave us with this truth…

Key Principle: The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

The evidence for the Resurrection was found in changed hearts and transformed lives of thousands who remained steadfast in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution to deny what the claim.

Go back to the beginning of the story…The Bible records many post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. The collected accounts stand squarely against the idea of some “mass hysteria” or that His followers cleverly fabricated evidence concerning the risen Jesus. They go to that first Sunday morning, to the earliest appearances recorded to have been on the first day of the week after the Passover in what we celebrate as “Resurrection Day.”

Before we look at the story, it is worth thinking about what would have been the “normal” course of events for one who died as a Roman criminal, as Jesus did in the first century story.

Most Romans were cremated after death. Jews, normally rejecting cremation, buried in an “articulated burial,” that is, they buried the whole body in a shroud in the ground. They didn’t all get their own hole, but rather a hole was opened to place the body into a plot where others were buried beneath them. Through the past of humanity, most people were “gone without a trace” of them. Jews prepared a body for swift decomposition by spicing and wrapping a body in degradable oils which caused the body to break down faster.

Jesus was in a borrowed tomb. He didn’t belong to the 5% of the wealthiest that had rock-cut rolling stone tombs, and His family tomb would have been in Nazareth or Bethlehem – certainly not in Jerusalem. The fact is, the women who went to spice the body after they borrowed Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, thought His body would be placed in the ground at another spot. God interrupted their plan.

Four Writers Blended

Because there are four accounts, I took the time to piece together all four and carefully connected the sequence of the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. It appears to be this:

The Soldiers

It was the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Matthew’s account recalls the first people to know something was wrong were the guarding soldiers. A severe tremor shook the ground, and the stone was dislodged and seal broken on the tomb. After being paralyzed with fear, the guards apparently fled the scene. The tomb had likely been sealed with a large stone that was “cork-shaped” and wedged into position, as opposed to a massive rolling stone. The archaeologist Urban C. Von Wahlde pointed out for the readers of Biblical Archaeological Review a few weeks ago:

It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.

The Women

A bit later, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and a few other women brought spices and came to the tomb having left home while it was still dark, but arriving just after sunrise. They were discussing how to unseal the tomb (Mark 16:3) when they arrived and discovered the stone already moved. The women entered the outer chamber where the body should have awaited spicing, but the body was not there (Luke 24:2). About that time Mary Magdalene decided to go and tell Peter and John something was wrong, for the body of Jesus had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1-2). After she walked away from the ladies, Jesus’ mother and the other women stepped outside the tiny chamber, shaken by the missing body and the open tomb. It didn’t make sense! Something attracted them, perhaps a light flashed inside the chamber, and Mary and the women looked back inside and were greeted by two angels who appeared inside the preparation chamber where the body once lay (Mark 16:5-7).

Initially they fell down before the angels because of their terrifying brightness (Luke 24:4-5), but after a recovery time, they composed themselves and were instructed to go and tell the disciples what had transpired. Further, they were to tell them to meet together, and in a few days journey to the Galilee as Jesus had previously told them (Matthew 28:4-7). The careful explanation of the need for the Crucifixion and Resurrection helped the women to understand what they had just passed through, and why it was essential (Luke 24:7-8). A little while later, the women departed while pondering all the words that were spoken and offered no words for passers-by, for they were utterly astonished at what they just encountered (Mark 16:8). They returned to the disciples with the angel’s message (Luke 24:9-11).

Mary of Magdala

During the time the angels were instructing the women at the tomb, Mary Magdalene (who had already departed) started toward the disciple’s common chamber, but slowed because she was apparently overtaken in emotion. She began to weep and sob. There had been so little time for grief, and she didn’t want to upset the others. While she cried, she was approached by a man she thought to be the gardener and talked with Him for a few minutes. Jesus revealed Himself to her and she grabbed Him and cried for joy! After a few minutes with the Savior, she ran to the men to tell them she saw Jesus (John 20:13-18).

At the Disciples’ Chamber

Staying away from sight in Jerusalem, the disciples were hurting and trying to figure out what the Crucifixion meant for their future. The women returned from the tomb astir from the scene and rattling off the words of the angels. Mary Magdalene returned claiming she saw the Lord in person. It all sounded like nonsense; some of the disciples decided to add a rational voice to the mix.

Peter and John at the Tomb

Peter and John chose to run to the tomb and see for themselves. They arrived at the tomb and saw the grave wrappings, but no body (Luke 24:11-12). They apparently left without seeing Jesus or an angel, and Peter went to his own lodging (not back to the disciples gathering) perplexed by the scene (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until much later that day the Lord chose to show Himself to Simon Peter, without the other men around (Luke 24:34).

At the Temple

Likely in the temple precincts, the soldiers of the temple guard reported what they saw at the tomb. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, the captain of the guard decided it best to pay a sizeable bonus to the men to withhold their account and begin a false story about “body theft” at the scene (Matthew 28:11-15).

On the Road

On a road leaving Jerusalem to a nearby hot spring, (Emmaus or Hammat mean “hot spring”) two disappointed men journeyed to the house of Cleopas (one of the two) and were joined by a stranger who seemed “out of touch” with the sadness of the past few days. Cleopas invited the man home and He shared the meaning of the events (Luke 24:13-35). When He prayed, they knew it was Jesus, and He disappeared from them. They reported the scene back to the disciples.

The Twelve

By nightfall that Sunday of the Resurrection, the news was spreading. Some were saying Jesus had risen. Others were saying (because they were paid to spread the news) that His body was stolen. Mary Magdalene saw Him, but the disciples (apart from Simon Peter) had not. Jesus came to Peter, but we have no information as to what happened between the two of them. The men gathered in a room to try to discern the next steps, and Jesus appeared to the ten of them who were present. (Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-24). Thomas was missing at the time (John 20:24). Jesus asked to eat with them, and shared with them the meaning of the events of that week.

Over the Next Month

Jesus came again to the men some eight days later, when He appeared while Thomas was with them. The Master had a conversation with Thomas in front of all the others (John 20:25-28). The men were told to leave Jerusalem and go to the Galilee, probably back to Capernaum.

A few days later, Jesus again appeared. Over the next month, He was seen a number of times. On one occasion, the eleven were assembled privately on a hill where Jesus had previously instructed them to gather, and Jesus met them. He offered to them the words of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-19). Other accounts tell of a few times Jesus met individual followers like His half-brother James and some others (1 Corinthians 15:7). On some occasions He met large crowds and was seen of them – like the five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6). Another important occasion is recorded to help us see how Jesus mended the fractured group of disciples when seven disciples met Him after fishing on the Sea (John 21).

His final appearance was forty days later… Jesus then appeared again in on the Mount of Olives before the disciples (Lk. 24; Acts 1) at the Ascension.

Those are the accounts.

There were virtually no rich people, no people of profound political influence, no incredibly famous first century people who were included in the story. Jesus was seen repeatedly, and taught a number of recorded lessons – but no one of influence was a part of the whole account. That begs the question…

“How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the Roman world?”

Three hundred years later, all the Empire proclaimed Jesus as their true King! How could such a message spread? Consider what we DO have…

First, the tomb guards knew the truth; for they saw what happened at the tomb was not by human hands (Matthew 28:1-4).

Even though the enemy planted early counter-stories, the message would not die.

Matthew included both sides of the story of the guards. First, he reported what happened:

Matthew 28:2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

A few verses later, he made clear how a counter story was started:

Matthew 28:11b “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.

These men were Roman guards, but likely attached to the local High Priest. That wasn’t a unique arrangement. The Romans tried to intertwine their authority structure with the local one. The bottom line was this: they were told to lie. Money changed hands. They knew what happened, and they knew what they were told to say. Which do you think lasted until THEIR death bed? In the end, if the men had any sense and thought what they saw could help them in eternity, the lie wouldn’t last. As the message of Jesus spread, the widespread stories about His appearances led people to suspect a cover-up. Like many seedy such affairs, the truth won out.

Second, the women who loved Jesus knew the truth; for two angels carefully explained it to them (Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:7-8).

How could one explain Mary, the mother of Jesus, moving from such painful despair, to peaceful confidence right after His death? She changed because she saw something. She had confirmation that He was the very One Who was promised by the angel at the beginning of the Gospel story.

Even though the scene of the Crucifixion, with its gore and disgust, made little sense to people at the time, the truth fit the prophecies. Can you not see how Mary would read these words and think of the hours spent with her little boy, long before she saw Him wince at the piercing of the nails. She knew these prophesied verses:

53:1 “Who has believed our message? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground…3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief …4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Those words came from a prophet seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Mary knew them. She knew the troubles would come. She knew because she heard the whole prophecy given to her. Do you remember? She was walking, so long ago, with Joseph into the Temple. Jesus was a baby in her arms. An old prophet named Simeon stepped out and said over the baby:

Luke 2:34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary knew Jesus would bring about change. She knew her heart would be broken. She knew God would unmask the cruelty of her religious leaders and her political superiors. She DIDN’T know that God would demonstrate life-giving power like that of the Resurrection! She heard about Lazarus, but now she saw this power for herself. Her eyes dried. Her confidence returned. Her ears listened and her heart was full. Her Son was not dead!

Third, Mary Magdalene, who followed and honored Jesus knew the truth; for she saw, touched and spoke with Jesus (John 20:13-18).

Even though it seemed like the followers of Jesus were abandoned by God, He would show them tenderness and care and help them keep going. She grabbed Him, and He told her that He had a mission to complete from His Father in Heaven. She came that day expecting to wash Him, placed on His broken and lifeless body the spices. She came to mourn. She came to finish something. Then she met Him. He wasn’t done! He had things to do, and she needed to get busy.

Imagine the posture she had walking toward the tomb early that morning. Imagine the sadness in her heart, the redness in her eyes. Imagine the bewilderment as she tried to discern what, if anything, was the forward plan? BUT… then she saw Jesus! She grabbed His robe. She heard His voice! She KNEW He was alive. The gate of her walk changed. Her smile returned. Her heart was mended. Anyone who saw her later that day saw a new woman… Her Master was STILL at work!

Fourth, the traveling Cleopas and his friend knew the truth; for they visited with, and prepared to eat with Jesus in their home (Luke 24:13-35).

Even though it seemed like none of the events worked toward a bringing people to God, it could all be carefully explained if people would listen to Jesus. Cleopas got a front row seat to God’s seminar on the need for the death and new life of Jesus. Imagine finding a follower who was in the city, but didn’t seem to know what happened! As people scurried about, the man must have walked unconscious of the day. How could that be? Yet, the stranger Cleopas met on the road didn’t seem to have a clue about his sadness. Here is the thing: the man knew the events – but he didn’t agree that they were sad ones.

The death of Jesus, as gruesome and horrid to watch as it was, offered life to the dead. The Lamb died, but the followers could now live. This was not an end; it was a new beginning. God gave access directly to Him apart from the Temple, the priests and the altar of burning flesh. The Lamb died, once for all.

Fifth, His disciples knew the truth; for Jesus appeared to them to answer their questions and eat a meal with them (Luke 24:36-48, John 20:19-24).

Even if it felt like there was no one who could carry the movement forward, Jesus had a plan. At first it was just Peter who saw Him. Then James the half-brother of Jesus met with the Risen Savior. By nightfall, all the Disciples save Thomas (who must have kicked himself for being busy and missing the meeting) saw and heard the Risen Master. He ate with them. He had the marks of death, but the look, feel and sound of life! The movement wasn’t ended… it was just the beginning!

Finally, great crowds of followers knew the truth; for the Lord especially appeared again to show Himself to them (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus appeared to the crowds a number of times to validate the message that He was alive! He didn’t want the whole proposition to rest merely on a handful of encounters. He was public about His power. People saw Him. They learned from Him again…but that only explains the encounters. That isn’t the whole story….

How did the message of a rag-tag band of Jews reach the whole Roman world? If it weren’t by people of influence, how did the message spread?

In short, it spread by means of people who were so certain of what they saw, no one could talk them out of it – no matter the bait or the threat to them.

First, the people were changed by encountering the Risen Jesus.

Years ago I shared with our study a story about a woman who had a son fighting for his country. One day, much to her horror, the War Department chaplain showed up and her door and told her never to expect him in her arms again. He was gone. Her heart was broken. Friends began to gather, when another chaplain showed up and asked to speak to her alone. She sat out of the porch, a house full of friends inside. The chaplain told her that her son was, in fact, alive. He was part of a prisoner exchange that was to take place two days hence. She could not tell anyone or her son and the whole of the exchange, would be uncovered and perhaps scrapped. To save his life, she could not let on her son was alive. In days, he was home. Newsmen came and stood on her front steps as she told the story and said: “The hardest part was continuing to appear to mourn when I knew he was alive!” I have never forgotten that story! It is hard to mourn when you know the truth. Dear ones, the Son is alive. He is alive INDEED.

Second, His followers clung to one another and shared all that Jesus taught them.

Perhaps at no other time in Christian history did love so completely characterize the church as it did in the first years. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!

Justin Martyr wrote:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement of Rome described the believer:

He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.

Third, each follower felt responsible to share with anyone they could the life changing truth of the Risen Savior!

When a plague devastated the ancient world in the third century, Christians felt themselves the only ones qualified to care for the sick (since it only carried the risk of physical death).

Read the history of people changed by encountering the message of Jesus, and His transforming power. They reached their neighbors…

• They did it by caring for the sick.
• They did it by helping the poor.
• They did it by intense learning and searching of the Word.
• They did it by living out the truth in their families.
• They did it by offering Him their lives.

Let me close with a story that may help illustrate what I am saying… It isn’t a new story, but it makes plain what Jesus does in a man or woman who meets the Risen Christ.

Theodorot was a fourth century bishop from Syria, and he wrote a number of commentaries and stories. One of them was the incredible story of a monk named Telemachus…President Ronald Reagan told the story at a Prayer Breakfast in 1984, and since he was a better story teller than I will ever be, I will just quote his version:

[There was a] monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance – [his name was] Telemachus, [he lived] back in the fourth century. Then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome, and believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot. It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths, and he followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” and his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Coliseum. As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” They thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first, they were amused. Then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body, and as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Coliseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Coliseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Never again, did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult, “In the name of Christ, stop.”

In a few years, the message of Jesus went from being despised to being accepted. How?

It happened when people LIVED the change Jesus made in them. It happened when the truth that He conquered death led them to listen to what He taught them, and become unashamed to testify, despite the tainting and persecution. The evidence for the Resurrection was not primarily found in an empty cave, but in changed hearts.

Following Jesus: “Famous Last Words” – (Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 19)

Because I am privileged to shepherd people, I have often been in the room of one when they are leaving the body and entering into eternity. The last words they utter aren’t always brilliant or meaningful, but sometimes they tell us something about the person that uttered them. Consider some of these as they lay dying.

Some people show what was most significant to them in that moment. For instance:

Joseph Wright was a linguist who edited the English Dialect Dictionary. His last word? “Dictionary.”

• Composer Gustav Mahler died in bed, conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was, “Mozart!”

• Nostradamus still showboating his supposed predictive ability exclaimed, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” He was right.

• Convicted murderer James W. Rodgers was led in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

• When Harriet Tubman was dying in 1913, she gathered her family around and they sang together. Her last words were, “Swing low, sweet chariot.”

• The poetess Emily Dickinson’s last words were, “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

• But I found particularly touching and dedicated to his craft, the words of surgeon Joseph Henry Green who was checking his own pulse as he lay dying. His last word: “Stopped.”

For some people, their last words may well show their attitude toward life and the people they shared it with:

• Composer Jean-Philippe Rameau objected to a song sung at his bedside. He said, “What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune.”

• As Benjamin Franklin lay dying at the age of 84, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin’s last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

• Actor Michael Landon, best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven, died of cancer in 1991. His family gathered around his bed, and his son said it was time to move on. Landon said, “You’re right. It’s time. I love you all.”

• John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

• Humphrey Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall had to leave the house to pick up their kids. Bogart said, “Goodbye, kid. Hurry back.” Not quite, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” but close.

• Charles Gussman was a writer and TV announcer, who wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives, among other shows. As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. When he daughter reminded him of this, he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered: “And now for a final word from our sponsor—.”

• Actress Joan Crawford yelled at her housekeeper, who was praying as Crawford died. Crawford said, “Damn it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” (adapted from mentalfloss.com)

It isn’t a stretch for us to recognize that people can utter important things as they leave this earth. The same was true of our Savior. In fact, if you examine the words He spoke from the Cross (as recorded by the early Apostles and Gospel writers) you will note one significant truth…

Key Principle: The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

It is important for us to remember that our view of the death of Jesus 2000 years later is very different from the view they had that Friday long ago. The people around the Cross likely had little concept of what they were seeing.

• Some, no doubt, thought a “trouble maker” was being “put down” and peace would follow.

• Others who were more politically minded may have felt this was just one more in a long series of injustices that unjustly punished their people by an occupying force.

• Some close to Jesus likely had broken hearts over the terrible personal loss as Jesus hung dying.

All of the things people felt as they watched Jesus suffer grossly seemed very real to the people on the scene, but they were but a pale view of what was truly happening.

God was effecting full payment for the sin of mankind by exacting the price of a perfect sacrifice. Few, if any, could have really understood the work, despite God’s long standing promises to offer this gift.

In this lesson, we want to look at two passages that describe the day of the Crucifixion. First, we want to see the people who gathered and consider what they saw of the event (though we have already admitted they were likely all missing the point). After looking at those standing around, we want to consider the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and what they revealed to those who listened then, and those who will listen now…

Go back to the edge of the walled city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and stand amid the olive tree grove watching a public execution early one Friday morning. Who was there? What were they doing? What were they like?

Take a moment and turn to Matthew 27, and you will see them…

Hard to miss among the crowds were the Roman soldiers:

The words introduce them almost as a natural part of the city, though they were nothing close to “natural.” Matthew recorded:

Mt. 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him…33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34 they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. 35 And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Look at these men! Like many people in our world, these soldiers:

• Exuded confidence and felt they were important people handling considerable power that felt no need of God in their lives (27:27).

• Seemed totally unfeeling toward Jesus and took no time to consider His life or claims (27:27b-29). HE was irrelevant to them.

• Shoved Jesus where they wanted Him (27:33), gave Jesus what they wanted Him to have – and thought nothing of it all (27: 34).

• Grabbed from Jesus what they thought they could get (27:35), and then were content to stand back and watch Jesus (27:36).

• They didn’t mind placating other people’s weak needs for a leader – but they didn’t feel they needed one! (27:37)

You know people like these guys. They are people who think they are powerful, God is irrelevant or inconvenient and they can handle things without Him. They own life. They live perfectly within the illusion of control, nearly limitless youthful energy, and nothing ahead but a future they forge with their own hands. God could get nothing they weren’t willing to give, and they weren’t interested in hearing what He wanted from them. They see only what they know. Theirs is not the world of nursing homes. They don’t do sickness and hospitals. They have life by the tail…

Then the dark days come.

Reality knocks, power wanes, the new kid is now climbing the ladder and is about to get your corner office. Health fades. The self-sufficiency illusion begins to fade. They get closer to the end than the beginning of life. Their strength can no longer get them what they want. People stop listening; stop following. Throughout life they thought they could “handle God”. They weren’t thinking of the future when the ride neared its end.

Matthew spoke of others at the scene. Some were forced into being there…I am thinking of Matthew 27:32. Take a look…

Compelled to be a part was Simon the Cyrene:

Matthew reported: Mt. 27:32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.

He is not unknown to historians of the New Testament. We could easily compare this to Mark 15:21 and read about his family as well.

Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

Every indication in the narrative leads us to the conclusions that:

• Simon was not intentionally trying to find Jesus, nor follow Jesus – but Jesus was thrust into his path.

• Simon was abused by virtue of some blatant racism and mistreated out of prejudice.

• The experience changed him and his family. They followed Jesus and his children became leaders among the believers. Mark declares that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus- two well known Christians of the first generation of followers after the Cross. Many believe (though it is impossible to know for sure) one was referred to at the end of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in:

Romans 16:13 “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.”

Perhaps you know someone who was passing through life abused by others, bruised, and perhaps even the subject of racism or other gross injustices. They weren’t looking for Jesus, but suddenly they saw Him crushed unfairly in front of their eyes. They found in Him One who understood their pain and was intimately familiar with their inner hurt. They were compelled to follow Him, and they took others with them because of their testimony.

Maybe that isn’t a story close to you. Maybe it took MORE for you to really grab hold of Jesus. Maybe you were just too busy to stop and really seek Him. You were more like those in Matthew 27:39…

Mocking Shoppers:

Matthew set the Cross before a busy street scene outside the city wall…

Matthew 27:39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Jerusalem was at its busiest at Passover. Many people were:

• So busy with the holiday season they really couldn’t stop and listen to the truth when it was right in front of them!

• Even without examination, they were sufficiently sure that what they hadn’t carefully considered wasn’t true or worth the time – so they had no need to carefully consider it.

• They hurled accusations at One they did not understand and did not honestly care enough to carefully consider His claims.

All the people of this group thought they were busy doing important things. They thought they knew enough (having picked up “seeds” of moral truth along the way), but they knew only enough to do what they wanted. In the end, they urged Jesus to save Himself – the very opposite of what they truly needed. They needed Him to die for them – but they didn’t take the time to understand God’s Word beyond the sound bites – so they didn’t know it.

I can’t help but notice the…

Temple leaders:

Matthew offers a brief nod to their mocking of Jesus as they piously stood in judgment:

Matthew. 27:41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Isn’t that the way those who prefer religion over God look at things? They were:

• Religious men, “professionals for God” dressed in easily identifiable by their garb. They didn’t blend into the crown – they were better than that!

• They had a system that worked out to care for all the eternal issues, even though it was not in step with God at all. They didn’t walk intimately with Him, and there were times the coldness of their heart showed in the cruelty of their lips.

• They accused Jesus of impotence (while He patiently suffered – “cannot save Himself”).

• They accused Jesus as making false claims (“king”, “trusts in God”, “delights in God”, “Son of God”) but did not show the hearts of those who would desire brokenness and intimacy – for that is not the religious way.

Surely you have met them. A bit of theology mixed with a bit of homespun morality and “poof” – there is a religious mind made up to teach you what God SHOULD want – even if it isn’t what His Word says concerning what He DOES want. It usually has a misshapen Jesus Who fits into their already preconceived notion of righteousness. For the religious mind, God must fit their theology – and He must do only that which they deem important. There is a thick skin of the heart that religion forms – often making it impossible to touch the tender heart of God – or have Him touch us.

Move away from the crowd for a few minutes and move closer to the Cross. Luke 23 includes half of the words of Jesus at the Cross….We need to listen closely for the last words of a dying Savior. He has something to reveal. He will tell us why He came. He will explain what His life meant. He will also make clear what His death would accomplish.

Meet Jesus at the Cross. Listen to His words… whoever you are.

This was the place of finality. It didn’t seem like it. It looked like another injustice, another tragedy, another loss. That KEPT happening long past the Romans…. but this was a place of finality despite the appearance. The Cross was the dramatic signature event where Divine character and compassion overcame the consequence of human sin. It was the place where eternal love was demonstrated in temporal sacrifice.

Jesus went to the Cross in order that we, through his death and the marker of the acceptance of the payment at the Resurrection might have a permanent and personal relationship with God. In the weakness of His body, Jesus brought us the POWER of God to save us.

When Jesus followers speak of “the Cross”, we’re not thinking a rough piece of wood attached to a stump of tree and chained together; it is much more than that. For us, “the Cross” is our family “shorthand” expression for the death of Jesus.

The Cross is the place “where Heaven’s love met Heaven’s justice”.

On that Cross, Jesus spoke. Seven times His words were recorded in history.


Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It is not out of character that Jesus cried out to the Father in Heavene to “Forgive them.”

Was He referring merely to the soldiers who stripped Him and nailed Him to that tree? Was He asking on behalf of mocking shoppers who passed by? Was He asking on behalf of those pious but pompous religious slanderers? Did His call for forgiveness include Pilate who sentenced Him?

Jesus forgave all of those who had no idea what they were doing. It was for their forgiveness the plan was being fulfilled.

• He did it for every professor or religious teacher who hated Him.
• He did it for the men who bribed Judas for a false testimony.
• He did it for every disciple who cheated on Him and lived out fear instead of faith and self instead of service.
• He did it for the ones who promised they wouldn’t deny Him and did, and for the ones who yelled, “Kill Him!” because they lacked any sense of the One about whom they spoke.
• He did it for Pilate and for every person in power who is deluded enough to believe that power in this life translates into power in the next.

Jesus called for the Father to forgive them all… What does this tell us?

It revealed a wonder from the Cross. There is forgiveness. There is MORE than temporary abatement of God’s wrath that was available in the blood of bulls and goats. There is complete forgiveness in ONE sacrifice.

Here is the truth: Only the One paying the price can truly reveal why He is doing it, and part of what He told us is that He wanted the Father to forgive the guilty by means of the payment of the Perfect.

Jesus wanted forgiveness for all who have lived a life for self. Can you honestly say you haven’t? I can’t! The old Negro spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I was. So were you. So were many who never stopped to think about it. What is clear from the words spoken from the Cross is this was a place of profound forgiveness.


Dr. Luke picked up more important and revealing words from Jesus on the Cross…

Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The first word dealt with the world, but the second dealt with one needy and perishing criminal. Isaiah promised the One coming would be “numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Jesus was. He was placed between two men. One derided him for not getting them all free. The other identified his own guilt, and turned to Jesus humbly. He knew what He needed and He identified Jesus as able to provide the forgiveness He had proclaimed for those around Him.

Jesus promised the man “Paradise” the English version of an ancient Persian word for a “planned and walled beautiful garden”. Persian kings were noted for offering friends the opportunity to walk in their lavish gardens. Jesus promised a filthy criminal, blood stained, with profuse odors of fallen humanity all about him – the opportunity to join Him in the garden of His Father.

What does that tell us?

The man offered Jesus nothing but putrefaction. There was nothing of fortune, fame, power or pleasure the man could offer Jesus. He gave Him nothing but himself – and that was all Jesus needed to make the promise of Paradise!


John 19:26,27: Jesus said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple ’Here is your mother.

Jesus was not removed from our human experience. He was fully God, but fully man as well. His relationships here were not just “His ministry” they were dear to Him on the highest level of emotion. What do I mean? His mom mattered.

Sure, He taught us that “compared to our love for God, our relationships of this world – mother, father, sisters and brothers, children and even spouses – are a distant second. That didn’t mean He didn’t value them. It meant He placed His Father first, and we are to do the same.

In Israel, I make the point to my traveling students that Jesus’ relationship with His family wasn’t as positive as many people dream. It was hard for Him to do the will of His family and clan, and do the will of His Heavenly Father. That brought tension. At the Cross, He reached across the divide of those who struggled to get together in life, and He connected the broken relationships at the place of reconciliation.

This Third Word from the Cross is about relationship – and that is what began the whole story of the Bible. God desired to express relationship. That is why He created. He is relational, and He desires that connection with us. Jesus didn’t discount the value of our love and emotional attachments here.


Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Darkness fell on Jerusalem that lasted three hours and as the sins of the world, the awful legacy of the man’s mutiny was laid upon Jesus. Paul later noted:

2 Corinthians 5:21:”He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

In the same way the scapegoat of the Hebrew Scriptures was forcibly banished from Jerusalem, so our Savior bore the sin of the world alone – literally. Theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote it this way:

“Christ’s self-emptying was not a single act or bereavement, but a growing poorer and poorer, until at last nothing was left to Him but a piece of ground where He could weep and a Cross where He could die.”

We need to keep this word “forsaken” in mind. When Jesus promised He would never leave you nor FORSAKE you – this must be contrasted to the way He paid for our sin. He was alone so that you and I will NEVER have to be again. His Spirit will be our companion here, and in His presence we will know union of a magnitude unknown in this life. Alone is not a Christian idea, nor a Christian word – not now and not in the time after time to come.


John 19:28: “I thirst.”

When the Psalmist prophesied that our Lord’s punishment would be graphic and torturous, he wrote:

Psalm 22:14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

The idea of payment in blood was no more a theological and theoretical exercise to Jesus than it had been for bulls and goats for generations. This was punishing suffering of body for cleansing of souls.

Why include Jesus’ request for something to drink? After taking literally thousands of people along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, I am convinced it was to help with a huge problem with Jesus followers. We tend to see Jesus in theological terms and not as an actual man. God addressed that by reminding us the same pains we feel, he felt. Sin is costly. His death was real.


John 19:30: “It is finished.”

Hanging on the tree, forcing breath in utter agony, Jesus’ body was poised against the darkness. His broken body still offered a voice that carried from that rocky hill and pierced through the skies of Heaven and the depths of Hell as He cried, “Tetelestai… the Greek term for “It is finished!” Jesus cried out to end a long cycle of sin and blood. He paid everything necessary in His death. His work was done.

• The atonement blood of animals was no longer necessary.
• The unanswered mutiny of man was now reversed by a new Adam Who died for any who believe what God has said.
• There is no work we must do, no class we must pass, no power we must muster – He did all.

Ours is only to believe. We need nothing more, but can offer absolutely nothing less. We must believe, or the death is without profit to us. To walk with God, we must trust Him, and believe He is Who He says He is. We must trust what Jesus has done. No man comes to the Father but by the Son. In Him, it is all finished.


Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This final exclamation of Jesus from the Cross was a quotation from Psalm 31:5. David wrote the words in a time of tremendous conflict, and simply showed that he trusted God with everything. Jesus paid for sin and knew God would deal with His dead body. He would see the Father in a matter of moments. Any fear of death, natural to the state of a man, was offset by an overwhelming trust in His Father in Heaven.

That is what the Centurion did at the Cross when HE trusted Jesus. Matthew reminds us:

Mt. 27:54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!

That is what the thief on the cross beside Jesus did when He trusted Jesus for salvation.

Luke 23: 39 “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are some who come to Jesus only minutes before they die. Though they did not love and serve Him in this life, their life was not a waste. Jesus knew that our present existence in this body is but a short preface to a never-ending eternity. Because that is true, then thief’s life was not wasted; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise!

Strip away all the noise and listen to the words of the Savior to the thief. Jesus trusted the Father, and He called all others to trust HIM.

• He demanded we get past the covering mechanisms of selfish pride.
• He called us to set aside our sarcasm we use to cover deep hurt over how life has worked out. We are all called to trust Him, and in Him we will find mercy.

Jesus said all He needed to say.

The last words of Jesus from the Cross tell us both His life’s meaning and His death’s purpose.

I am frankly glad that this life isn’t all there is. If it were, I would never be able to face the utter unfairness and the incomplete brokenness I see here.

Emma Reynolds from Australia published a story two days ago that explains what I am trying to say. She wrote:

When she took Nolan to the hospital for the last time, after he had battled cancer for more than a year, he had not eaten or drunk anything in days and was continually vomiting. On February 1, the oncologist sat them down to hear the terrible truth. The four-year-old’s cancer had spread and large tumours were compressing his bronchial tubes and heart just four weeks after open chest surgery. The cancer was no longer treatable. The anguished mother walked into her son’s room, where he was watching YouTube.

Me: Poot, it hurts to breathe doesn’t it?
Nolan: Weeeelll…. yeah.
Me: You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you baby?
Nolan: (looking down) Yeah.
Me: Poot, this Cancer stuff sucks. You don’t have to fight anymore.
Nolan: (Pure Happiness) I DONT??!! But I will for you Mommy!!
Me: No Poot!! Is that what you have been doing?? Fighting for Mommy??
Nolan: Well DUH!!
Me: Nolan Ray, what is Mommy’s job?
Nolan: To keep me SAFE! (With a big grin)
Me: Honey … I can’t do that anymore here. The only way I can keep you safe is in Heaven. (My heart shattering)
Nolan: Sooooo I’ll just go to Heaven and play until you get there! You’ll come right?
Me: Absolutely!! You can’t get rid of Mommy that easy!!
Nolan: Thank you Mommy!!! I’ll go play with Hunter and Brylee and Henry!!

Nolan slept for most of the next few days. His mother made sure things were in order. “I cannot explain to you what signing an Emergency Responder ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order for your angelic son feels like,” she wrote.

When he woke up, Ruth had his things ready to go home for one more night together. But her son was still putting others first. “He gently put his hand on mine and said ‘Mommy, it’s OK. Let’s just stay here OK?’ My 4 year old Hero was trying to make sure things were easy for me …

“So in between sleeping for the next 36 hours, we played, watched YouTube, shot Nerf Gun after Nerf Gun and smiled as many times as we could. An hour or so before he passed he even filled out a ‘Will’! We laid in bed together and he sketched out how he wanted his funeral, picked his pall bearers, what he wanted people to wear, wrote down what he was leaving each of us, and even wrote down what he wanted to be remembered as … which of course was a Policeman.”

At 9pm, while watching Peppa Pig in bed, Ruth asked if she could leave Nolan for a shower. “He said ‘Ummmm OK Mommy. Have Uncle Chris come sit with me and I’ll turn this way so I can see you’. I stood at the bathroom door, turned to him and said ‘Keep looking right here Poot, I’ll be out in two seconds’. He smiled at me. I shut the bathroom door. They said the moment the bathroom door clicked he shut his eyes and went into a deep sleep, beginning the end of life passing. “When I opened the bathroom door, his Team was surrounding his bed and every head turned and looked at me with tears in their eyes. They said ‘Ruth, he’s in a deep sleep. He can’t feel anything’. His respiration was extremely labored, his right lung had collapsed and his oxygen dropped.

“I ran and jumped into bed with him and put my hand on the right side of his face. Then a miracle that I will never forget happened…. “My angel took a breath, opened his eyes, smiled at me and said ‘I Love You Mommy’, turned his head towards me and at 11:54pm Sgt. Rollin Nolan Scully passed away as I was singing ‘You are My Sunshine’ in his ear.”

Nolan loved his family and friends with a fierce devotion, and brought people from across the world together, Ruth said. “He was a warrior who died with dignity and love,” she added. Alongside the bereft mother’s heartfelt letter to her son, she shared a memorable photo of Nolan lying on the bathroom floor, showing how her son was too terrified to leave her side even when she showered.

“Now I’m the one terrified to shower,” she wrote. “With nothing but an empty shower rug now where once a beautiful perfect little boy laid waiting for his Mommy.

Jesus died to give all of us the opportunity to see the world healed, sin destroyed, and death rendered inoperative – because He gave eternal life. Won’t you trust Him? This isn’t all there is. It truly isn’t!

Mother’s Day: “The Mother of the Perfect Child” (Mary in the Gospels)

Mothers-DayToday we openly thank God for the one person in life that was most used to form the body we live in – our mom. We celebrate the office of mother, even if some of us lost mom long ago to eternity, and even if some of them were not all they could have been in our lives.

When a first child leaves the womb, two people are born. First, there is the baby. Second, there is a young woman who leaves being all that she was, and becomes a mom. She faces painful challenges bringing the baby into the world, and those pains are but a tiny reminder of the pains she will have in her heart over her life as she cares and nurtures her child, desperately trying to prepare them to face a world that is not always hospitable and kind. Let’s admit it: Motherhood is both a blessing but it is also an incredible challenge!

I remember someone relating the story from another Pastor about a mom he saw in the market:

This dear mom was pushing a shopping cart through “Stuff-Mart.” Her daughter was riding in the shopping cart but continually screeching and screaming. Apparently there was something the child wanted and mom denied the request. The mom kept offering words in a soothing voice: “Now Calm down, Ellen. It will be all right, Ellen. It’s almost time to go home, Ellen.” One of the checkout clerks observed the scene and how the mother remained calm in the face of the child-storm. To encourage the mother, she said: “Ma’am, you are to be commended! I am amazed at how patient you are with little Ellen.” The Mom looked up from the child and said to her: “Lady, I’m Ellen!”

We would be kidding ourselves if we tried to project motherhood as some kind of state of loving bliss. If you hang out with moms, you know they can have the angelic voice of one who whispers Brahms’s lullaby to a baby drifting into sleep, but can shout down a crowd at a baseball game when her child is at bat. Being a mother includes developing a range, both of abilities – and of octaves and decibels.

Year after year, motherhood changes. It is always in a state of change…because a child grows and changes how they relate to their mother. Someone wrote:

• At age 4, we say… “My mom…. can do anything!”
• At age 12, …”Mom doesn’t know Everything.”
• At age 14, …”Mom doesn’t know Anything!”
• At age 18, … “Mom is out of step with the times.”
• At age 25, ….. “Well, mom…. knows a few things.”
• At age 35, …… “Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.”
• At age 45, …… “I wonder what mom would say ……about this?”
• At age 65, …. ” I wish I could talk ….. with my mother.”
(Original author unknown).

In some ways, motherhood is a test to learn to see the unseen. Good moms develop great intuition. In my experience with the two women I have known best – my mom and my wife (the mother of my children) I know this: It is difficult to get something past mom. There is an old saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”

Let’s talk about Mary

Today I want to look briefly at the story of one of the most famous moms ever to live on the planet. Her task was unbelievably difficult. She was the mom of a perfect child, but she wasn’t a perfect mom. She appeared in about a dozen passages in the Gospels, and they reveal a truth that I trust will be an encouragement to you in this lesson. Here is the truth of God’s Word…

Key Principle: God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

We have much material on Jesus’ mother. Mary was specifically mentioned in a dozen scenes in the Gospel accounts.

What Mary Became in Church History

Though obviously a wonderful woman used of God, it is important to recognize that Biblically speaking, Mary was a part of the fallen human race, not somehow born immaculate (without the curse of the sin nature) and not given the ability to somehow remain sinless throughout her life. In fact, in the “Magnificat,” the song recorded in the Word, she sang the word, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” I think it is fair to say the familiar national salvation (a staple theme of her people) seemed to include a personal need to be rescued in her words.

Titles for Mary like “The Door of Heaven”, “The Queen of the Apostles, Confessors and Martyrs” or “Queen of Heaven” and the like appear nowhere in the Bible. They are a later invention of what appeared to be a wayward church that eclectically bonded fertility cults of ancient Rome into the traditions of Christianity. If you take the time to search the Scriptures carefully, you will find that Mary never magnified herself, but pointed ever to her Lord. Further, the early record of the Book of Acts doesn’t place her as some kind of door to eternity, but as part of the group of early Jesus followers. Let us satisfy ourselves with this portrayal of the mother of Jesus: she followed the words of her Son who that man has access to God only through Him and His work (John 14:6).

Who Mary was as seen in the New Testament

Just over half (seven) of the stories that are prominent in her life include the early Gospel accounts in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 and the pre-ministry “growing up” experience of Jesus. Most of these were events are very familiar to most students of western culture because of the artistic renderings of the Renaissance – and are well-studied parts of most students of the Gospel accounts. We talk about them, sing about them, and occasionally, like in this lesson, stop to consider what the snapshots teach us:

The Annunciation

Take a moment and consider the lessons from the earliest record of Mary in the text, the story of the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38) when Heaven broke into the life of a young woman and Mary was told by the angel Gabriel Messiah would be born through her womb. Luke recorded:

Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. …34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In that snapshot of this young woman, we see several important traits that God viewed with great favor in a woman. We cannot claim we don’t know what makes God happy – since He made it clear both by instruction and in models. Here are a few things you may notice about her:

• Verses 26 and 27 show us that she appeared to be at the wrong stage of life to be used by God for the task to which she was assigned. Unmarried virgins don’t normally get tapped to be mother to God’s promised ones. Yet, verse 28 makes clear God wanted to use her. She was God’s choice.

• Verse 29 and 30 remind us that she didn’t feel emotionally prepared to take on the task God assigned – since her first responses were perplexity, pondering and fear. Yet, verse 31 makes clear that God has a plan. She was God’s called.

• Verse 34 and 35 clarify the fact that she wasn’t gullible. She didn’t just take what made no sense and flitter off in fanciful belief. She questioned how such a thing could happen. Her faith needed more than fanciful promises – she needed facts. Yet, verse 37 explained that God was at work. She promptly listened and prepared to be obedient. She was God’s container.

To people who don’t know God, the idea that we would surrender even the most intimate parts of lives seem like an affront to our freedom and individuality. That is because they define absolute freedom as selfishness, whereas the Bible defines freedom as the opportunity to become what we were made by God to be. Mary knew that. She wasn’t perfect, but she was used by God because she willingly INVITED Him to do so. Let me ask you something. Has God heard from YOUR lips words like: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” as you invite Him to use your life, your choices and your things? If not, that is the place to begin!

The Visit to Elizabeth

Next, Luke recorded Mary’s journey shortly after her pregnancy to visit her second cousin Elizabeth (Lk. 1:39-45) near Jerusalem. Her song that followed was later termed by the church as the “Magnificat” (Lk. 1:46-46) and may be the only portion of Scripture actually stemming from her own heart – perhaps composed by her and passed to Luke for publication. Some scholars think this was the fruit of her pondering in her heart the truths shared by Gabriel. Mary’s song is about what she learned about God!

She praised God for WHO GOD IS in the giving of the great gift. That is the heart of one who has met and experienced God. She praised God for HIS UNIQUENESS.

God is HOLY. Never does the Bible say God is love, love, love. Never does it say God is light, light, light, truth, truth, truth, mercy, mercy, mercy, wrath, wrath, wrath. But it does say that He’s holy, holy, holy.

To “be holy” means to be separate – utterly distinct from all others – unlike any other. Mary understood this according to the record of her ancient lyrics. She knew God was distinct.

1. She proclaimed that His PERSPECTIVE is unique – He is an “All-seeing God” (1:48a). God saw Mary differently than anyone else in her day.

Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

In truth, no one and no place is God forsaken, He misses nothing on earth… and He rates IMPORTANCE in an entirely unique way.

From where God sits, people are measured:

• By their surrender, not their victories.
• By their brokenness not their power
• By their belief what He says, not their influence in what others do.
• By their giving, not their accumulated wealth.
• By their compassion, not their accomplishments.

Truly, God’s view is not man’s view, and God’s measure is not man’s measure.

2. She understood His PATIENCE is profound (1:50).


Consider this: God observes and recalls those who are faithful in their worship and walk – so be not weary in well doing! Yet, even more…

  • God is faithful even when His people do not obey Him.
  • God is faithful even when they turn their faces to other agendas that are not His.
  • God is faithful – because that is an essential part of His nature.

3. She proclaimed that His POWER is unique – He is an Innovative God (1:51a).

Luke 1:51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

We must constantly recall that God is not limited to the options we can see or even conceive of! (God loves to make surprise endings!) He can and does reverse the normal order of things!

4. She recited that His PROMOTIONS are unique – for He is a Just and Gracious Judge (1:51b-52).

Luke 1:51b “…He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.

God is ready to bypass those who are proud but elevate those of humble estate. This little story on the dangers of PRIDE made me smile: Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”

5. She made clear His PROVISIONS are unique – He is a Merciful God (1:53).

53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

Isn’t it true that God fills those who hunger but have been left by another unsatisfied (cp. Ps. 107)? It is the one who does not count on themselves to provide fulfillment that receives serenity from God!

6. She loved the fact that His PROMISES are unique – He is a Faithful God (Covenant-keeping God, 1:54-55).

Luke 1:54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy. 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

God always does what He promises, no matter how long it takes or how hard the circumstances. He overcomes the ages and the dark clouds. He gets it done… EVERY TIME! He promised a Messiah would be:

• An actual man – not just an age or movement: (In Genesis 3:15, He said the seed of a woman would be wounded by the enemy, but crush the enemy’s head.)

• A tiny village: Micah 5:2 promised His coming to Bethlehem of Judah

• A specific lineage: God promised Messiah through Abraham’s loins (Gen. 22:18 “In your seed will all the nations.”)

• In that same way, God promised a specific kind of mom for Messiah: Isaiah 7:14 He would be born of a virgin.

Mary celebrated God’s promises because Mary trusted God’s direction. May I ask you: “Are you truly looking for God’s direction in your life?” If you are, have you been asking Him for it, or inviting His approval of your own self-made plans? Can you honestly celebrate where you are going, because God is taking you there?

The Birth of Jesus

I wish we had opportunity in this lesson to deal with Mary from the infamous story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, where she plays an obvious star role. (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 2:1-7). The visit of the shepherds on that very night was no doubt an important authentication of her thoughts to help settle her.

Let us simply recall this one well-established fact from verses you have known since Linus recited them on the TV Christmas special for us: God placed Mary in a very uncomfortable and easy to be misunderstood position in order for the Holy One to bring about His plan. Let no one pass by that story without recalling this truth: When you surrender to God your life, your plans and your body – your comfort is part of the package. Many are willing to follow Jesus as long as He leads them to swift victory, easy riches, and fulfilling relationships. The question is this: “Does God have your permission to lead you into the uncomfortable places to serve Him?”

The Presentation of the Baby Jesus

A fourth story is told of Mary when she took Jesus for His first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when He was just over a month old (Lk. 2:22-38) for the Baby’s presentation and her purification. A month of living with the family of Joseph, who likely still struggled to believe Mary and Joseph’s word that the Baby was implanted by God’s Spirit gave way to the story of a trip that validated the Child’s identity through the prophetic voices of the elderly Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:22-38).

Simeon said: 2:29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed, the text recorded. Was she amazed that God was doing what He said through Gabriel? I don’t think so. I believe she was amazed that God was busy telling other people what He told her. Call is one thing; blind confirmation is yet another. Mary learned that when God called her, comfort may fleet away for a time, but God has a way of adding strength and confirmation in what He called you to do.

Let me ask you to do something as you seek God and believe He has given you direction. Spend intentional time with wise people who know God well. God’s direction and confirmation will more often be found in the voices of God’s friends – not in places that do not acknowledge Him. Are you taking the time to listen to the confirming voices of wise saints of God? You should.

The Visit of the Magi

Mary’s fifth appearance can be found in the story of the visit of the Magi (Mt. 2:1-12). Do you remember the story of the time when the Baby Jesus was an older infant or perhaps even a toddler, still living in Bethlehem, and God brought astrologers from the east seeking the new “King of the Jews?” God provided through the gifts of the Magi the means for Joseph and Mary to take the journey to Egypt when the time came.

We cannot take apart the verses in this brief pass over Mary’s life, but can we not readily see the truth: Where God guides, God provides? His provision may come from afar, but that is not something too tough for God. How long will we worry and not seek God for guidance and provision? The Magi are a good reminder that our answer comes from God, not our resources. He can supply in ways we cannot imagine. Would I be off base if I suggested that Mary probably didn’t think she would get such a visit the day before it happened, nor did she know what God was preparing for her. A journey was coming, and God was bringing in the money to pay for the ticket.

The Flight to Egypt

Obviously the next (or sixth) story where Mary appears is that very story of the Holy Family’s evacuation to Egypt. Joseph’s obedience to the warning he got from a dream pressed him to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-18) with Mary and Jesus.

Here is a story where momma needed to follow daddy’s fervent following of God’s direction. Men, she could do it because he didn’t lead her in rash and selfish ways. Ladies, she did what was hard – and isn’t that lesson enough? It isn’t easy to follow a man in a marriage – but in God’s economy that is what a marriage produces – people who submit to one another and listen as God tugs the heart of your partner!

Losing Jesus at the Temple

The seventh story was the tale of the family’s visit to the Temple when Jesus was near His “coming of age” (Luke 2:41-52) – an uncomfortable account of the time Jesus was left behind by His parents. The story began with simple words that remind of an important principle:

Luke 2:41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast…

Can you see it? The words “every year” capture the principle. Mary and Joseph consistently came to worship together as a family, year after year.

“Big deal!” you might say. After all, it was only an annual thing. Actually, it wasn’t. There were three times they needed to come to Jerusalem to keep up with the command of Deuteronomy, or they could pay a stand in for that purpose. That isn’t the point. I could say something like: “One hour and a half a week!” and you would feel differently about it. The point is this: Worship and obedience to God’s Word was a priority that drove their choices That is either true of you, or it is not.

Personally, I find it difficult to accept as authentic those who claim a vibrant faith but don’t show it in their life choices to obey the Scriptures. I am not able to determine who has real faith – but I am able to see who has no clue how to show it if they really do have faith. For instance: How FRUSTRATING it is to see those who post in social media a wonderful “Jesus is Lord!” statement, and then follow it up with posts that show blatant profanity and ungodly actions as “liked”. Consistent choices of honoring God produce children that know the appearance of true obedience. If you raise them perfectly, they may NOT follow God, but they will see that such a walk is possible and choose whether or not to follow what they have seen. Remember, we don’t do right to get the results we want – we do right because it honors God.

People do wrong often because they don’t know what the pattern of doing right truly looks like. If more parents did right consistently, more children would have a fighting chance to make a good choice. You never choose comfortably from a menu if you have never seen the product. Good choices normally have to be modeled first – and Mary and Joseph accomplished that well.

Motherhood is an opportunity to live the Word and model a life. Mothers can leave a wonderful imprint on the lives of their children.

Four pastors were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Scriptures. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple, yet beautiful English prose. Another liked the New International Version because of its modern language. A third preacher liked the “Message” Version even better and felt more relevant teaching from a simple paraphrase. For a while in the little debate, the fourth pastor was silent. When asked to express his opinion he replied: “I like my mother’s translation best.” The other ministers asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He replied: “Oh Yes, she certainly did! My mother translated the Bible into her everyday life and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.

The balance of the stories capture views of Mary during the ministry of Jesus. They include the wedding at Cana (#8), the Saviors’ spurning by Nazareth (#9), His refusal to meet Mary and His brothers (#10), and the shattering day she watched Jesus suffer on the Cross (#11).

After the Gospel accounts were ended, rounding out the dozen actual or inferred appearances, there is a mention of Mary after the Resurrection of Jesus, as one who was binding together the followers of Jesus after the Ascension. She was one of those devoted to prayer and unity in the upper room (Acts 1:14) who heard Peter’s call to replace Judas and begin to organize the group.

All of these stories are powerful but our time is limited. Let’s look for a few moments at one more brief account – this one at the wedding scene in John 2, where we can gain some insights into Mary the MOTHER.

The Wedding at Cana

The eighth account of Mary in the Gospels came from the early period of the ministry of Jesus, when He performed the first recorded miracle of John’s Gospel – turning water into wine (John 2). Look at the beginning of that story for the interaction between Jesus and His mom:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Look at the description of the event, and it will be apparent that there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was already in attendance when Jesus arrived with His first followers (2:1). Jewish tradition suggests that weddings were most often set on the third day of the week, when God said twice in the Creation account, “It is very good!” This day has been considered the “double good day” perfect for marriages.

This was the first introduction of Mary in the Gospel of John, but she was well-known to the people to whom John was regularly preaching. John understood the encounter at the Cross to mean that he was to care for her for the rest of his days. At Ephesus the “House of Mary” tradition is relatively recent, but the notion that John and Mary were attached in a familial way at the Cross is an old one.

Jesus and His family and friends were all invited (2:2), but Jesus was delayed and arrived (apparently) at the end of the customary seven day wedding feast. It was due to His late arrival and the fact that He did not come alone the host ran low on wine provisions. When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.

Jesus got there and there was a problem. It was Mary his mother’s problem, or at least she felt it was her problem…Watch in the text what she did. She identified a problem and then she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. Now I realize that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Yet, think carefully about what the story can show us about the way we, as believers, act toward Jesus in our lives and with our problems.

Did you notice the text doesn’t reveal that Mary dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty? In fact, she didn’t even consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus.

Can I ask: “Did you ever do that?” Did you ever decide that you knew what God SHOULD DO about something and then tell Him how it would honor Him? She was a good mom, but not a perfect mom.

Yet, here should be a note of warning… We dare not tack Jesus on the plans we have. We are called to make Him our Master, not our Holy errand boy. We don’t tell Him – He tells us! I recognize the problem of her being his mother makes this lesson more strained than many, but I trust that you recognize the tendency of a believer to fit God into his plans, and not wait on God to direct the plan. Have you ever wondered: “Why didn’t she ask Him?” I think the reason she didn’t ask is a familiar one – because she is like all of us who believe we have a plan so good that even God should recognize it.

She wasn’t perfect, but she was willing to be used by God. Remember the key principle of this lesson…

God can use anyone who is willing to be used. Even the mother that bore a perfect child wasn’t a perfect mom – but God used her mightily.

I don’t know what you remember of your momma. I don’t know if, like me, you think of screen doors banging in the summer time, the wafting aroma of cookies or bread out of the oven, or the smell of our potato soup on the stove. Those, in my mind, are the smells of love and acceptance, protection and being loved.

Mom made home that way. Few things are more powerful than the tears and the prayers of a mother. Few things are more tender than a mother’s hug. Few things are more healing than mom blowing on a skinned knee. Mom doesn’t have to be perfect to be just right for us. Sometimes it is their ornery nature that we cherish the most…

A little girl was sitting and watching her mother wash the dishes at the kitchen sink. She looked closely at her mom and noticed that her mother had several strands of grey hair sticking out that she never saw before. Inquisitive, she asked: “Why are some of your hairs white, mom?” Mom replied, “Every time you do something wrong one of my hairs turns white!” Looking across the room, she smiled and asked “If that is true, then why are ALL of Grandma’s hairs white?”

Happy Mother’s Day (2016)

Following His Footsteps: “Learning to Listen” – John 11

Julian TreasureAuthor of the book “Sound Business” Julian Treasure knows something about listening. He wrote a book that wasn’t the story of an audio recording studio, nor was it a “how to” book on business practices – it was a book about the need for people to learn to listen in our modern world. Recently, he presented a TED talk in which he observed: “In a world that is filled with noise, we spend 60% of our time in communication listening – but we aren’t very good at it. We retain, on average, about 25% of what we take in. We subconsciously use “tricks” to get meaning from the sounds we hear. For instance:

• We use “pattern recognition”. In a crowded room, we may hear someone mention our name and we look – because we recognize that pattern above the ambient noise of the room.

• We learn to “block out” constant sounds, like the noise of a subway when listening to our friend talk as we walk sit in the metro on our way to work.

• We use “filters” that are encoded by language, culture, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations and intentions – most of them without any conscious thought. They shape how we receive visual and auditory information.

• We can even close our eyes and use sound to “place ourselves” in the size and space of a room. We are intuitively aware of our location and the number of people around us.

Julian offered a warning that “we are not learning to listen as well as we should”.

There are reasons, he posited. First, as man developed abilities to “record” what was being said – first in writing, now in audio and video – the “premium” on accurate listening diminished. Second, as the cacophony of voices, signs, visual and auditory information was increasingly streamed at us – we became too tired to listen well. As a result, we can easily become impatient in this loud climate, listening for “sound bites” over longer oratory. In addition, the “art of conversation” can quickly be replaced by “personal broadcasting”. The net effect is that we are becoming desensitized. Advertisers know this. Our media companies have become a stream of “sensations, shocks, revelations, furies, scandals and exposes” – simply because media has to scream to get our attention.

I found it interesting that Julian noted that “Listening is our access to understanding,” because that was exactly what I discovered in the text for our lesson in John 11. Let me suggest that without conscious listening we don’t truly communicate at all. What is true in the physical world is also true in the spiritual world – we need to learn to listen. As we study a familiar story from God’s Word today, we will see this clearly…

Key Principle: Mature believers learn to listen to God’s Word and pick out the truth from the noise around them.

In our last lesson, we saw five temptations from Luke 18, the last of which was “Becoming Befuddled” – addressed by Jesus in Luke 18:31-34 with the words:

Luke 18:31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” 34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

We noted that there is a temptation for followers of God is to be selective in their hearing and assumptive in their conclusions – but God wants us to know what He said and let the truths sink deeply inside us. If we cut up His Word into “fortune cookie sized sayings” and string them together without context – we may be believed by those who hear us, but we become unreliable witnesses of the King. Truly we must recognize that speaking from the Bible is not the same as teaching what the Bible says. Lifting quotes and stringing things together without a grasp of context won’t teach people how to LISTEN to God and pick out what He is saying.

Selective hearing seemed to be a problem as Jesus faced His last winter of earth ministry. By Spring, He would be crucified and raised. For now, He was the Teacher – and He was trying to get His followers to become good listeners. It helps that the end of John 10, just before the account we are about to study, shares that some people DID her Jesus and recognize Him as the One promised – because they knew John the Baptizer’s ministry before Him.

People Turning toward Jesus

John’s account recalled: John 10:40 Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, 41 and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” 42 And in that place many believed in Jesus.

This little reference reminds us that people were following Jesus, in part, because of what they HEARD about Him from John before the Baptizer was beheaded. John’s testimony, when matched with Jesus’ consistency of life and message, led men and women to see Him as the Lamb of God that was promised – but they weren’t sure what that meant in practical terms. They didn’t recognize the serious implications of the Lamb – that He would be killed and His blood would become payment for sin. Still, it shows some were listening…

Followers that Didn’t Listen

At the same time, some of those who were closest to Jesus didn’t seem to be able to really hear Him.

Word came that one of Jesus’ dear friends from Bethany of Judea was taken ill. His disciples heard Jesus’ words, but didn’t recognize His knowledge of the situation. John recorded: John 11: 1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

When Jesus heard the news, it appears He understood what the Father had planned. Lazarus was sick, but the end of the story was going to point to Jesus and exalt Him. His certainty is clear in verse four. The disciples heard the same news, but had no idea what was in store for them. Jesus delayed going to Bethany – but the disciples likely interpreted that as mere prudence. John recorded in John 11:6: “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

His followers heard Jesus’ words, but didn’t grasp His explanation of the situation. When He made the plan to go near to Jerusalem again, they objected:

John 11:8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

Their question was reasonable, don’t you think? “Master, are you sure that is wise?” There are a number of problems with the question – the first of which is the One to WHOM the question is addressed! If Jesus makes a plan, who are His followers to question Him? Isn’t that JUST LIKE US though? Jesus said: “Love your enemies.” We reply, “Really, Lord? Do you have any idea what He did to me? Do you know how WRONG he has been? Jesus quietly smiles and nods: “Yes, Randy. It may surprise you to know that I knew all about it even before you did.” I look down – I am doing it again!

Look at Jesus’ reply. It may take a minute to catch what He said. He replied: “There are a set number of daylight hours. If you stick to walking in them, you won’t stumble in the dark.” In other words, “I have the time. They won’t get me yet.”

Some people can’t hear very well – and that is their chief problem with following God. Years ago, I read about a man who had a terrible hearing problem. One day he and his wife were driving through southern US states. They were pulled over by a state trooper who asked the woman if she knew how fast she was driving. The husband barked at her, “What did he say?” The wife replied, “HE ASKED IF I KNEW THAT I WAS SPEEDING.” Looking at the driver’s license the trooper said, “I see you’re not from around here.” The wife said, “No we are from Jacksonville.” The husband, annoyed that he couldn’t hear shouted, “What did you say?” The wife told him, “I SAID WE ARE FROM JACKSONVILLE.” The state trooper then commented, “You know, the meanest man I ever met was from Jacksonville.” The husband again interrupted, “What did he say?” The wife replied, “HE SAYS HE THINKS HE KNOWS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY!”

The disciples were suffering from physical hearing loss – but they were still wondering why Jesus wanted to put Himself in danger (not trusting that He knew exactly what time it was), they heard Jesus’ words, but they didn’t understand His diagnosis for the situation.

John 11:11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

The problem is, when we start off believing God doesn’t have the whole situation well under control, we find ourselves unable to really listen closely to all His other words! Jesus tried to make clear that there was a purpose to going to Bethany that outweighed their thoughts of danger – and the disciples naively informed Jesus that His visit would be counter-productive. After all, if Lazarus was asleep – that was GOOD FOR HIM. Jesus had to make it even clearer… “HE IS DEAD. Now, let’s go!”

That made even LESS SENSE to disciples that were already worried about the outcome of such a visit. If their friend was dead, that was sad – but there was no point to walking into a trap to see the outside of a tomb and hug friends that lost their brother. It isn’t that such a thing wouldn’t be good – but really, should they risk their lives for it? It is clear that even though they heard Jesus’ words, but didn’t trust His control of the situation. You can hear it in their muttering…

John 11:16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

There is an upbeat response to the Master’s plan. “Fine! If you insist on this fool-hearty errand, I guess we will go and all die together!” Have you ever followed Jesus like that? You DID what He told you – but not with a heart that flowed with confidence in what He was doing!

I want to take a moment, while we are thinking about Thomas’ gloom, to pay closer attention to something. Often in Bible teaching, I find myself making a point about the way we, as followers of Jesus, really don’t measure up. It isn’t because I don’t feel there are many who DO know how to follow the Savior. I have, in my life, met a number of incredible believers – men and women who have inspired me and really shined as an example. I make the points concerning our failures because we live in an “out of balance” world. We live in a culture that insists on telling us that we are really good at things we really aren’t – we are victims of things that we really aren’t.

I love that the Bible is filled with characters that are shown, warts and all. Thomas can’t be herein mistaken for a man of great faith, can he? He decided to DO what Jesus said, but not without a heart so full of doubt that a bit of it spilled out his mouth. I find these moments a bit encouraging – as if we aren’t the first generation of people who wanted to follow Jesus, but may not have it all together. It was like that from the beginning. What Thomas lacked, what we all so often lack, is simple “faith”. We have made the point repeatedly in our study of the Bible that “faith” is “God glasses” – it is seeing things THROUGH the Word of God and not as my eye would see without the “world view” of His Word. Faith, truly comes from HEARING. More accurately, faith comes through LISTENING.

• When we don’t recognize God’s knowledge of the situation – we think we have to get worked up, come to Him and “make Him pay attention” to the troubles we see (as in Habakkuk’s case).

• When we don’t listen to His Word closely enough to grasp His explanation of the situation – we fill in His absolute truth with our flawed and fluffy interpretive filling, much of which is derived from flawed thinking.

• When we don’t carefully listen to His Word, we conclude that we know better what would help in the situation – and we question God’s direction.

• When we don’t trust the control God has of over our lives and our world, we easily become cynical and negative, like Thomas did.

Followers that Learned to Listen

We have seen crowds that believed because they listened to John the Baptizer, and we have seen close-up disciples who acted like they were obedient, but weren’t really listening. Now, look closely at the story that is at the heart of the account – and pay close attention to some followers that learned how to listen to Jesus…

John 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Jesus arrived, probably at Ein Shemesh, the spring in the valley east of the village. Most caravans stopped there to get water before coming in to greater Jerusalem – the villages of Bethany, Bethpage and the leper colonies on top of the Mount of Olives. Martha came out to meet Jesus, while Mary received guests on behalf of the family in mourning. Martha’s words were telling: “Jesus, you are too late. If you had gotten here sooner, Lazarus would have been healed.” Jesus told Martha that her brother was not GONE, he would be raised. The problem is, the “Last Day” was a long way away – and Martha loved Lazarus. Jesus asked her a pointed question: “Do you believe that I hold the power of life and death?” Martha made clear that she believed Jesus was Messiah, as well as the Eternal Son of God who put on skin to become man. John remembered:

John 11:28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept.

It is interesting to follow the story and see that Mary had the identical set of feelings about Jesus’ arrival – disappointment and brokenness. Mary sobbed. She missed her brother. She wished Jesus had come before. Even though Mary was the one who sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha tended to the work of the house, it was to Martha Jesus shared the deep truth concerning Himself. With Mary, He just cried.

There are times when theology and the words of the learned are not what is called for – rather the shedding of tears. Jesus saw her heartbreak. Jesus saw her doubt. Jesus didn’t cry for Lazarus – He was about to see him again. He cried because the sorrow of His followers touches Him. Don’t forget that. You never cry alone – you have a Savior Who knows what hurts you and cares about every bit of it.

As strange as it is to admit, even the people who were standing by Him really didn’t understand what Jesus was really doing. The text says:

John 11:36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Stop that think about that. Apparently, because of Jesus’ many healings, it was clear to people that the Master had power over disease and could break a fever. The issue now was that Lazarus wasn’t SICK, he was dead. As the munchkin said in the Wizard of Oz: “He wasn’t merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.” Four days was long enough to get even those caught up in the theology of “soul sleep” to see no hope. Where ever the “spirit of Laz” was, they all thought it was a place Jesus couldn’t touch.

It is difficult to tell if the Hebrew tradition of the “Shemira” existed already in the time of Jesus, but clearly it was accepted within a few hundred years after Jesus, and may be in view here. The tradition refers “guarding the body of a deceased person from the time of death until burial. In Israel “shemira” refers to all forms of guard duty, but outside of Israel the word is used almost exclusively in regards to the religious ritual of guarding the body of the deceased. It was mentioned in the Talmud (Genesis Kabbah 100:7), that the soul hovers over the body for three days after death, so the “shomrim” sit and read aloud comforting Psalms or the book of Job. They are also encouraged to meditate and pray, but are prohibited from eating, drinking, or smoking in the shemira room out of respect for the dead, who can no longer do these things. Other Jewish writings explain that while shemira is good deed but not a commandment, it was a “minhag” or custom.

If the practice was accepted in an earlier form, as some have suggested, the fourth day was beyond the time that anyone believed the soul to still be available for comment – Laz was gone. Personally, I see little evidence that the tradition extended back that far, but that teaching continues to float around, so it is worth addressing the possibility.

Go back to the scene with John’s record, and this time pay close attention to the “hearing and the “listening” that is recorded. What we are watching for is BELIEF, listening with ears that are changed by what they hear:

John 11:38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Right there is the momentary hesitation, the doubt that Jesus knew what He was doing. To doubt, God adds more revelation…

John 11:40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Martha could hear in Jesus’ voice the confidence that everything would be alright. There could be only two paths – obedience or mistrust and disbelief.

John 11:41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

Jesus thanked the Father that He always heard Him, and that He was about to hear Him that day. Lazarus heard Jesus and responded. The onlookers heard Jesus and obeyed – unwrapping Lazarus. Now look at the last part of the story…

John 11:45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Some who saw it now believed that Jesus was Messiah. They now heard the voice of Jesus with a different ear – ready to follow and obey it. One Who was a mere curiosity now became a Master and Commander. When Jesus is truly believed – He demands to be followed, to be obeyed.

Hearers with Cold Hearts

Not everyone who heard about the events of Bethany were open to changing their position concerning Who Jesus was. John finished the tale with some clear words about others who HEARD about Jesus’ work, but had no intention of LISTENING to Jesus’ voice.

John 11:46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life. 54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. 55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

Step back and consider what we have seen in the passage.

• First, we saw the crowds at John’s old preaching ground. We saw people who heard ABOUT Jesus from John, watched what He did, and began to follow Him. We can call them the CONVICTED and following.

• Second, we saw some disciples who were CLOSE to Jesus in proximity – hearing His voice daily, but not truly trusting that Jesus knew what He was doing. They were negative and cynical, like Thomas, but they were there. We will call them the CONFLICTED and following.

• Third, we saw close friends who loved Jesus, but who hadn’t learned that He was not just a great friend and wonderful Teacher, but Master over life and death – powerful Sovereign Prince Who could call on His Father the King. We will call them the CONFUSED and following.

We saw people who heard an accurate report about the power of Jesus to request from the Father a new life for Lazarus and receive it – yet all they could see is WHAT THEY WOULD LOSE if Jesus took over their hearts. They were not wrestling with WHO Jesus was as He made that plain in front of them – they were wrestling with the place THEY held in their own heart as master and commander. We will call them COLD and fighting.

What kind of listener are you?

Pastor Jerry Flury wrote: “Husbands are notorious for being poor listeners. We are all familiar with the scene of a husband reading the newspaper while his wife is trying to talk. His response is “Yes, dear. U-huh. Mmmm. Is that so?” But we all know he’s not really listening. Suddenly she pulls down the paper and says, “Have you heard a word I’ve said?” He went on to write…Two men were talking one day. One of them said, “My wife talks to herself a lot.” His friend answered, “Mine does, too, but she doesn’t know it. She thinks I’m listening.” Too often, we feel that we are listening to what God is saying to us but we really hear only what we want to hear.”

It isn’t the AMOUNT of revealed truth we hear that makes the real difference, it is the amount we learn to LISTEN TO that make a difference. Some are following, but aren’t convinced that Jesus knows what He is doing. Mature believers learn to listen to God’s Word and pick out the truth from the noise around them. It is also true that we haven’t heard if we haven’t listened.

Some are fighting. You don’t want God to tell you how to live. Remember, God knows our hearts. I call on you to stop and consider Jesus today, so that you will truly be prepared to HEAR HIS VOICE. The Scriptures call Him:

• The Chief Cornerstone: (Ephesians 2:20) – the One who holds together His people.

• The Firstborn over all creation: (Colossians 1:15) – He occupies the rank and pre-eminence of a first-born son over all things, the most exalted rank in the universe, above all others.

• He is called the “Holy One”: (Acts 3:14; Psalm 16:10) – Christ is distinct in His nature, and by His death, we are made holy and pure before God.

• His is called the Judge: (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:8) –He was appointed by God to judge the world offering the rewards of eternity.

• He is called King of kings and Lord of lords: (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16) – He is Supreme over all authority, over all kings and rulers, and none can prevent Him from accomplishing His purposes.

• He called Himself the “Light of the World”: (John 8:12) – Jesus said those who trust in Him have their eyes opened by Him and walk in the light.

There are more than one hundred other titles, but He is also called:

• The Alpha and Omega: (Revelation 1:8; 22:13) – He declared Himself the beginning and end of all things.

My question is simple. Will you hear Him? Will you LISTEN to what He has said?

Following His Footsteps: “Aiming at the Wrong Target” – John 6

target1Did you ever have an embarrassing moment that just wouldn’t go away? Olympic athlete Matt Emmons can sympathize with you, I’d bet:

Matt Emmons was just focusing on staying calm. He wishes he had been more concerned with where he was shooting. Emmons fired at the wrong target on his final shot, a simple mistake that cost the American a commanding lead in the 50-meter three-position rifle final and ruined his chance for a second gold medal. Ahead after nine shots and needing only to get near the bull’s-eye to win, Emmons fired at the target in Lane 3 while he was shooting in Lane 2. He had cross-fired — an extremely rare mistake in elite competition — and received a score of zero. That dropped Emmons to eighth place at 1,257.4 points and lifted Jia Zhanbo of China to the gold at 1,264.5. “On that shot, I was just worrying about calming myself down and just breaking a good shot, and so I didn’t even look at the number,” said Emmons, 23. “I probably should have. I will from now on.” (Washington Post: Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming at Wrong Target – Monday, August 23, 2004)

Wow, that had to be tough! I took some consolation in the fact that it was a “second” gold metal – no sense in being stingy. At the same time, to lose because he aimed at the wrong target had to be one of those moments he relived a few hundred times in his mind. There are others in sports with such embarrassing moments, and they are rumored to have started a “club”:

Minnesota Vikings “iron man Jim Marshall” played an NFL-record 282 consecutive games at defensive end. Yet, it will likely take a miracle for Marshall to lose his grip on his other notable mark: the most negative yardage accumulated on a single play in NFL history. On October 25, 1964, in a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards with it the wrong way into his own end zone. Thinking that he had scored a touchdown for the Vikings, Marshall then threw the ball away in celebration. The ball landed out of bounds, resulting in a safety for the 49ers. Marshall later received a letter from Roy Riegels, infamous for a wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl, stating, “Welcome to the club”.

Let’s all agree that we cannot win a game or a medal if we don’t aim in the right direction. While we are on the same page of agreement, can we also recognize the spiritual truth as well? Let’s say it the way John did in John 6…

Key Principle: To gain eternal life we must focus on accepting Jesus and what He did for us, not the other distractions that draw our eyes away from Him.

For some, the point of the Gospel – a relationship with Jesus – is obscured by other diversions. The passage suggests five. There are people who seem to be…

Desiring the benefits, but not a relationship with the Lord.

Some people want what God can DO for them – but not God Himself. Consider this account:

John 6:22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but [that] His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

Jesus made His way out to the disciples walking on the water, and that wasn’t intended to me a display, but a way He could get home to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples saw Him, and He entered the vessel –but that didn’t seem to be the original intent of the walk. Jesus wasn’t trying, even after the fact, to make His walk a matter of public witness. The fact that Jesus was there, and the fact that they all saw the disciples leave without Him gave rise to the question in verse twenty-five: “How did you get here?” Jesus cut through the question, and drove the discussion to their true desire. The people weren’t really asking about HOW Jesus got there – they wanted to know if He was going to continue to “make lunch” for each gathering. They didn’t come with the need for a healing, but they could always use a free lunch.

Jesus’ warning is valuable even generations later. He told them: “Don’t labor for the physical fulfillments, but rather place your hungers in what I can give you in the spiritual fulfillment of eternal life.” The Savior knew and openly expressed that God gave to Him some who were marked for a relationship with Him.

In 1922, a woman named Rhea F. Miller wrote a poem. In 1932, while struggling over some enticing offers to use his voice for financial gain, a copy of that poem was placed on the top of an organ in a family home in New York by a worried mother. Seated at the organ was a 23-year-old musician named George Beverly Shea. Shea read Miller’s poem and the words on the paper brought deep conviction. George took the time to set them to music. As he played the finished product and sung each word, George’s mom tearfully encouraged him to sing the new song in church the following Sunday. Those words are known to Christians in much of the world:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather have His than have riches untold; I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands, I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand. Refrain: Than to be the king of a vast domain, And be held in sin’s dread sway; I’d rather have Jesus than anything – This world affords today.

Life’s prize for a true Christian is not wealth or fame or worldly acceptance – the prize is Christ. The center of his faith is not deep self-understanding or calming inner peace – it is intimacy with Him. The pattern is not found in the popular and the successful of this world – but the Savior who gave Himself for others. The goal is not temporal accomplishment – for all will quickly fade when standing before the One whose Majesty is unparalleled in the Heavens. Paul understood this when he wrote: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Yet the gain was not simply embracing the long departed family of earth, nor entering a Heavenly home of delights set by a street of gold – rather it is standing in the clarity of the light emanates from the Son, with no need for any other light. The prize to the Christian is a life with Jesus. Since that is true, we must tailor our appetites to long for that, and not for peace, acceptance, wealth or fame. These tasty morsels of earth will be bland in tasteless above in the banquet halls of Heaven – offering nothing but distraction from the beauty, majesty and wonder of our Savior at the wedding feast.

Yet, even today, in the presentation of Jesus to lost men and women, we often hear those who make the presentation about inner peace, self-fulfillment or even riches. There have always been those who came to Jesus, but didn’t want Him – they wanted a “fix” for some problem. When He didn’t deliver in the time and way they hoped, they wandered off – because they didn’t come seeking Him.

Hungering a list to perform, not a relationship to cherish.

In that same way, Jesus showed another distraction people fall into…

John 6:28 Therefore they [the men speaking to Jesus] said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.

Notice the question they asked Jesus in verse twenty-eight. They were not asking for relationship with the Son (which is what Jesus just told them they needed). They asked how they could “work the works of God” – as if the works would substitute for a relationship. Jesus’ answer was the beginning place of relationship with Him – belief that He truly came from God and was on the mission He made plain in His speaking.

If one would come to Jesus to invite Him to be Savior, he or she must believe that Jesus was sent from God, and can deliver on the desired salvation because God has ordained the work of the One Who was called “Savior”. Without divine sanction and origin, Jesus was a good man Who desired to bring a message of the need a love for God and fellow man – a message He could do little to secure beyond pointing out the needs. If He is Who He claimed to be – the Eternal Son of God with power over sin and God’s appointment to pay fully for its darkness – then His mission needed to be embraced for His identity to be recognized. Jesus made the point that it was not enough for one to seek a list of works and fulfill them – the answer was found in the authorized connection between the Father and the Son.

Let’s be clear: If Jesus was sent from God, He existed before His birth in Bethlehem (as is clear from the teachings of the Apostle Paul in places like Colossians 1 and Philippians 2). If He was sent from God, the work He accomplished could secure the salvation He promised. If He was not from God – He was a well-meaning impostor. Jesus made clear it was not essential to begin with lifestyle changes and lists – it was essential to begin by believing that Jesus came from the Father, and His mission was approved by the Father. The issue was this: Jesus either came and fulfilled what God desired for redemption, or He did not. Jesus made the point that belief in that connection was the beginning point of receiving Him.

This is where the believer and the non-believer divide in our understanding. The world has, for the most part, been willing to see Jesus as a “good man” – but not as One Who was connected to God in the way that He described Himself to be. A Jesus of a manger in Bethlehem, a baby soft and cuddly is a threat to no one. Forgotten is the Jesus Who cleared the Temple in zeal – unless it is reformed to show how He hated “religious” people – which wasn’t really the point of the story. Forgotten is the Jesus Who gave Sinai’s law – for the Jesus “on the street” let the adulteress go – an ever understanding One who “knows our failures”. In essence, the Jesus of “pop culture” is a caricature of the One in the Bible. The One Who stands above all, the name at which every knee should bow and tongue confess as Master is not the Jesus on the street of America. Sadly, He is not the Jesus in many churches anymore, either. Our modern approach to Jesus has been to make Him more of a friend, a guidance counselor, a toothless chaplain – ever seeking to make our performance in life more successful and our heart during the journey more at peace. Though that isn’t the Jesus we need – it is the Jesus many want. Jesus told these men from the beginning the “divine connection” and Father’s initiative in the work was an essential understanding that put one on the road to recognizing His true mission.

Worshiping the men, but not their Master.

If you keep reading, yet another distraction from truth is mentioned…

John 6:30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.

The men made clear they had expectations of Jesus’ performance – they wanted to compare His works against those done before – particularly by Moses in the wilderness. In verse thirty, they called on Jesus to offer another “free lunch” like He did when they followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They pressed Him: “What WORK will you perform?” They continued: “Our fathers got bread from Heaven, in fact, the Scriptures say that HE gave them bread to eat.” In their words, they quoted Psalm 78, but misdirected the pronouns of the verses.

Psalm 78:19 said: “Then they spoke against God; They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? 20 “Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, And streams were overflowing; Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?

At that point, the “he” pronoun sounded to many like MOSES who struck the rock – yet the He that caused the rock to yield water was the Lord – not His servant. The passage continues in the Psalms:

Psalm 78:21 “Therefore the LORD heard [ not the striking of the rock, but the complaints of the people] and was full of wrath; And a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger also mounted against Israel, 22 Because they did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation. 23 Yet He [God] commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; 24 He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven. 25 Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance.”

Generations later the people still apparently ascribed the work to Moses more than God. Jesus made that clear in His response – it WASN’T MOSES that gave you food in the wilderness – that came from Heaven!

People have the tendency to look at the servant of God and give him or her the credit for what God Himself does. We bring a message of truth, but the truth is not ours – we are the messenger not the source. A few chapters into the Book of Acts, people were seeking the shadow of Peter and John to fall on them – but these men made clear they had Jesus to give others – and there was nothing better. We must expect people to follow people before the message they bring – but as they mature they should not remain in that state. They should grow up and place their allegiance in the Lord above – or their faith will torque into a man-centered religious expression.

Hungering for temporal satisfactions, not eternal solutions.

At the core of many people is a distraction by a “here centered” life. Take a look at the words of Jesus…

John 6:34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” And later in… 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

At the heart of the problem of belief is a hunger for fulfillment and success in the wrong place, and a blunted view of what is real, lasting and truly fulfilling. We see life on earth the center of all, and the “afterlife” as some addendum. Yet, this life is short, and the next is eternal – or the message of Jesus is a sham.

Jesus said He is the bread sent from Heaven – the needed element of sustenance. He said the Father had given Him some to follow Him. He said it was His Father’s plan He followed – and that those who followed Him would have eternal life, being raised up on the last day. He claimed the bread, once consumed, would give eternal life and make Him not die. Yet, Jesus was speaking of spiritual life and brought the antidote to sin sickness. His effort was not to fill our stomach, but to fill our heart, our spirit. The problem is simple: One who is looking for a full stomach will miss the offer of a full heart. Many people want “salvation” but they mean it in a “this world” sense. The fact is that we quickly recognize the dangers of a disease to the body – but not to the spirit. We “get” why Ebola is a scary disease – but not why sin is a much worse problem – because we focus on the wrong world.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in her book The Heart God Purifies wrote this: “Most of us have become so familiar with sin that we no longer see it as a deadly monster. Sin is more dangerous than wild bears, more deadly than blazing forest fires. Ask Nebuchadnezzar, who lost his mind because he refused to deal with his pride. Ask Samson, who was reduced to a pathetic shred of a man because he never got control over the lusts of his flesh. Ask Achan and Ananias and Sapphira, who all lost their lives over ‘small’ secret sins.”

Pastor Jonathan Fallwell noted in a broadcast email yesterday that: “While Ebola destroys the body, sin destroys the inner man, which means it separates us from God and sends us in a spiritual tailspin. We see it in our culture, which has become obsessed with sinful behavior. Imagine watching virtually any modern television show or ad in the context of the cultural climate just 40, 30, even 20 years ago. Tragically, America has adopted a tolerance and acceptance of sin and it does not appear that this trend will soon end.”

Jesus was trying to get the men to realize that they were looking for food to get through the day –but He was offering food that would get them through eternity. It is hard to grasp God’s objective when the view of it is blocked by temporal hungers.

Perceiving a good man, not recognizing the “God-man”.

As He spoke Jesus encountered another reaction that was rooted in disbelief and distraction…

John 6:41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life.

The men who heard Jesus recognized Him as the son of a family they knew. They didn’t say the name of “Joseph” and “Mary” out of derision – they were a good family. Yet, they were from Nazareth (as far back as anyone cared to remember) – and Nazareth was a LONG WAY from Heaven. How could Jesus point to the Heavens and claim He was anything more than a good man who came to do good works and bring happiness to hurting people. A few healings and miracles were not enough to prove that He was anything more than a good guy with a social conscience in their view.

Yet, Jesus was not unclear about what He intended His life to be and to mean to others. He made clear that His Father was drawing people to Him, and others would turn a blind eye. He made clear that He alone had seen the Father, and that belief in Him was the necessary belief that brought life. The people were ready to see Him as a good man – but not as the One Who came down from the Father to bring life eternal – the fully God and fully man eternal Son of the Holy One. He simply said: “I am the bread of life – I am what you need. Me. Nothing else will give you life.”

Look at the words of Jesus in verse forty-seven: “He who believes has eternal life.” Believes exactly “what” is the question. Jesus made the careful point that one must believe that He is the One sent from God Who has seen God, and knows what God requires.” That is the heart of the matter. Jesus either paid the price for sin knowledgeably – or He did not. He is either from God, or He lived in a dream or delusion. What a man or woman concluded about Jesus’ coming, purpose and work made the difference between life eternal and none – according to the words of Jesus as recorded by John.

Fixating on the image, but missing the point.

The longer I preach, the more I sympathize with the last problem…people fixate on an image or illustration of a message, but seem to miss spiritual point being made. Take a look:

John 6:52 Then the Jews [began] to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us [His] flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard [this] said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 “[What] then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

Jesus used an image of His body as “manna from Heaven”. In verse fifty-two the people didn’t grasp how they could “eat His flesh”. Strip away church history and the layered theologies of generations with the debates over “consubstantiation” (the doctrine of many of your Lutheran friends that the substance of the bread and wine “coexists with the body and blood of Christ” in the elements of the Eucharist) and “transubstantiation” (The liturgical view, as with your Roman Catholic friend) that the bread and cup at the mass undergo a “conversion” of the substances into the actual body and blood of Christ while the appearances of bread and wine still remain). Go back to the Jewish village of long ago – and recall the dramatic ways Jews were taught never, never, never to INGEST blood. Eating blood was worse than having a ham for dinner.

Jesus told them they needed to “eat His flesh” and the Jews rejected outright the image. Even the disciples told Him: “Nobody is going to listen to that!” Jesus’ answer reveals what the disciples and other listeners were doing with His point – obscuring what He was truly saying. He simply replied: “You guys are stuck on the flesh and missing the spiritual point of the whole illustration!” The flesh, food and eating wasn’t what Jesus was literally talking about – spiritual ingestion of an inner relationship was the point of the saying! He said: “The flesh profits nothing!” In other words, “I am not talking about baking me into your bread – I am talking about spiritual truth!”

How well I understand this comment. In the middle of a series from the Word, I may search for a personal illustration that opens a window to an elusive idea. Let’s say I tell you about the time I went skiing in the Pocono Mountains – and broke all the fingers on my left hand above and below the knuckles – all the way across. That is a true story, and the skiers among us may snap back from wandering in the message to hear about the incident. Those on the staff who like poking fun at me because I am no sportsman will listen intently. It will become the source of several jokes for future staff meetings. Sadly, whatever I was trying to illustrate from the text will quickly be forgotten. Illustrations to aid learners are important, but people can get caught up in the images. I see it all the time.

Let me be clear: Jesus doesn’t want you to EAT HIM in any physical sense. He doesn’t need to mystically add His blood to your communion wine. The bread we eat, if measured under a microscope after any priest of Pastor prays will still be, in every microscopic way, bread – nothing more. Jesus wasn’t telling people they needed daily bread blessed by a priest into becoming His body to go to Heaven.

Sin is of the heart. You don’t need to do anything to rebel against God in your heart. Greed is of the heart. Lust is of the heart… and so is salvation. It doesn’t come in a wafer – it comes in surrender to the Savior in the heart – and that was His point. The rest of the deep theology, for centuries, has served only to obscure the point and remember only the illustration.

Our permanent relationship with God in Heaven came at a price Jesus paid for us! The picture of intimacy and transformation from within was graphically offered, but not easily understood.

• Disciples then, and now, must see Jesus in His place – Who is Jesus?
• Disciples must understand where real life is – Where does Jesus fulfill us?
• Disciples must understand that only believers will get it – What does Jesus require of us?
• Disciples must understand that God enables the process – How does a believer find the truth?

Until we understand the place of Jesus, and recognize that reality is primarily in the spiritual realm (the physical is a reflection) we don’t understand the core of His message. When those truths are accepted and we change our lives to conform to the truth, God opens new doors to us.

Three Responses to Jesus (6:66-71)

Look at the responses to Jesus:

Some left to seek fulfillment elsewhere (6:66). John 6:66 “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

When Christianity is about Christ, and not about self-fulfillment, some people leave – because they weren’t there for that reason to begin with!

Some remained and understood He had the truth (6:67-69). John 6:67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Some stayed but weren’t real (6:70-71) John 6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.

Yet, not all that left were lost forever (some would later return). Note that not all that stayed were truly “with the program” – Judas was sitting right there!

The response that was essential was inner surrender to Who Jesus is, and acceptance of what He does for us in our place.

Adrian Rogers told years ago of a man from Romania named “Josef”. He and Rogers were talking about the difference between “commitment” and the word “surrender” as preachers used them. Josef made an important distinction that is worth noting as we close: “When you make a commitment, you are still in some limited control no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, study the Bible, give his money, to make automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he or she chooses to do, they commit to it. It is a renewable quantity… Yet the term surrender is considerably different”, the man said. “If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that individual what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told.” The key word concerning Christ is surrender, not simply commitment.

We are to be the slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We must recognize that we come not to train Him to meet our desires better, but to be trained to find our sufficiency in Him. I would argue that we have enough commitment in the church today… we may lack a sincere understanding of surrender!

To gain eternal life we must focus on accepting Jesus and what He did for us, not the other distractions that draw our eyes away from Him.

Following His Footsteps: “Rising Star” – (Mt. 4, Lk. 4, Jn. 4)

risingstar1“The hardest part was at the very beginning!” said the young pop music star. “I came along before there was an ‘American Idol’ show, but just after the big record labels were already losing to the digital market of iTunes and Napster. That window was very hard to get started in this business!” the young woman complained. Truthfully, I didn’t know who she was, but her interview caught my attention on the TV set above my head. Of course, the fact that my flight was going to be delayed and my sandwich was utterly uninteresting may have also had something to do with my interest in her interview. I watched the whole exchange and then my mind drifted. Getting started… sometimes that really IS the hardest part. My mind faded back to my home:

My hedges need clipping, but to do it I’d have to get the clippers and the cord out and drag them through the hot backyard in the Florida summer sun… I think that can wait!

I really need to start this diet and drop off these extra summer pounds that came from writing for hours in a chair, but to do that I have to get the stuff to make those morning breakfast shakes in the cupboard, and besides… there is a pan of brownies in the kitchen that shouldn’t go to waste…

I need to paint the woodwork upstairs, but in order to do that I will need to check in the garage on the pan and brushes, and that garage is a mess. I am not sure where the paint is, and that is going to be another fiasco to get the right color…

Anyone who wrestles with themselves to get things done knows that starting isn’t easy. It takes commitment, and you have to believe that it is both important and able to be accomplished. Today’s lesson is about the beginnings of the public ministry of Jesus – the “getting started” in crowd teaching, healing and shepherding. Jesus was stepping out of the shadows into center stage in some Galilee villages. After Nicodemus was taught by Jesus to see life in a new way, and the Samaritan “woman at the well” in Sychar found that her life was not empty and useless – Jesus made His way back to the western lower Galilee, to the region where He had grown up years before. The first interviews were concluded, and Jesus was now working with growing crowds and a handful of disciples that John sent his way. Jesus needed to make His message known, and back it up with significant works to show His power. Four short passages recall this time of ministry, and each offers a view that includes different problems and different reasons to believe in Jesus and His message.

Key Principle: Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a religious control or a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

The short passages found in both Matthew’s Gospel and that of the Gospel of Mark tell us the same thing about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – it began with public preaching. Jesus was not simply some philanthropist – He was a public preacher.

Preaching: Preaching repentance and Kingdom preparation (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:14b-15).

Note the two records and what they offer us about the message of the Savior at the outset:

Mt. 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mk. 1:14 “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

First, Jesus’ preaching was, from its beginning, about BEHAVIOR, not simply about Pharisaism or “world peace.” That is a more important point than we may have believed in time past, because people in our country have been consistently told otherwise. Listen to the words of the text – Jesus said four things if the two accounts are taken together:

The time had come: God has a plan, and He unspooled events to coincide with His purposes. God chose a time when a portion of Judah had been returned to the ancient homeland of Israel. He chose to send Jesus into a time when a singular language gripped much of the western world. He offered His Son when the Roman Empire – a politically contrived power – was blending many languages, cultures and cultic worship forms into one cohesive unit around the Mediterranean. He picked a moment in the timeline of human history that He knew would work the best for His plan.

Repentance was necessary: Meeting God is always on His terms. Jesus didn’t tell people to “fix themselves”, but rather to turn away from their self-determined path and follow Him. That “turnabout” is the meaning of the word “repent” (meta-noeo). The implication is that change must come. As long as one believes they can apprehend God by their own seeking, the need for a Savior is tiny. If one doesn’t see themselves as “lost” they seek no Savior. The requirement of repentance was this: Know you have a need and that you cannot find it within, or in any religious system you currently possess.

The Kingdom was near: Where the King goes, the kingdom follows. The Jesus of the New Testament was the “Eternal Son of God” involved as the very agent of Creation (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the “expressed image of God’s person” (Hebrews 1). Because He was the promised King that would one day sit on the throne of David, the Kingdom was near. It would be enacted, first spiritually and later physically… but God always delivers His promises.

It was time to believe in the Good News: The coming of the “Perfect Lamb” that John the Baptizer made clear “came to take away the sin of the world” was very good news. The system of atonement was never-ending with death and bloodshed – a graphic reminder of sin and the payment in blood and death. The message that Jesus’ sacrifice, as gruesome and horrible as it was made, was the total payment was very good news. Sheep and goats applauded along with their human owners! His death was their life – and that was good news.

As long as people believe they can earn God’s forgiveness through religious or philanthropic deeds, they will maintain their own control over their spiritual destiny, and therein is the lie. God has a plan, and God provided the Lamb when it suited Him to do so. The message came with the King – the Kingdom was coming next.

Power: Healing long distance (John 4:46-54).

During the early days of His preaching, Jesus returned to Cana (sometime after He had turned water into wine at a wedding). People were excited to have Him back, and I am sure He had plenty of invitations for upcoming parties! John’s Gospel recorded:

John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” 49 The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives “; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

By including this short episode, John offered us the opportunity to observe the happenings in Cana, and recorded a story that can easily be broken into three simple parts:

The Encounter with Jesus (4:46-50a): the official left Capernaum and traveled up the steep climbing road to Cana. He met Jesus and explained his need, and Jesus obliged and told him the child was healed.

The Trust in Jesus (4:50b-52): the second half of verse fifty began with the simple statement that “the man believed”. The truth of that belief was illustrated in his journey home.

The Full Grasp of Belief (4:53-54): as the healing of his son was made plain, the man knew how to connect his son’s change to Jesus’ words.

Let’s move into the verses and examine the “encounter with Jesus” (4:46-50a). Though the man was a “royal official”, he was also a father. This desperate dad heard of the reputation of Jesus and sought out a rescuer for his child. We know three things about the man. First, the man knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (4:46a). Second, the man was faced with a heart rending problem he could not care for (4:46b). Third, the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (4:47).

The troubles of his son led the man to abandon any sense his self-sufficiency and seek Jesus. He was an official, but he was unwilling to mask his vulnerability. In a way, his son’s plight became the source of a great blessing from God, but it was found only when desperation opened his heart and made him willing to take his need to Jesus, abandoning self-reliance. The man had to traverse both the steep upward path from Capernaum to Cana and the humility of the social difference in status between Jesus and himself. Under normal circumstances this reach “downward” would have been unthinkable. This nobleman had to “lower himself” to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and now roaming preacher.

It is worth remembering that when we speak to people who are “at the top of their game” that there is no home into which pain, sickness and sorrow cannot enter. The most accomplished athlete, the most popular celebrity – every person lives within fragile bodies and in a fallen world. Our power, glory and strength can be reduced in the turn of a single news cycle of events. With the wrong word, we can watch our popularity recede faster than our hairline. When a person speaks in arrogance, it is often because they are not yet far enough along the journey – but their day will come. Troubles and pains, sickness and death – these realities humble every man or woman who isn’t senseless. It is for that reason we should look beyond arrogance and anger, and see a person within.

Jesus met the official, and listened to his need (4:47) but His initial response did not seem helpful. Jesus said that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE. (4:48). Is that strange? Jesus’ reaction did not sound loving at all – is seemed cold. He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe.” Why take a seemingly desperate man and hold out on him like that? The answer is not as complicated as it may appear. Remember, this is another story in the string of John’s narrative, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman – and each illustrate an earlier statement of that Gospel: “Jesus knew the heart of man” (John 2:24-25). Jesus knew how manipulative people can be – especially those who have been in positions of power. Most of us can readily admit that we will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. When the miracle is something as pure as healing for a child or when the miracle or God intervention is something else. The sad truth is, though, when it’s done we will show no commitment to Him or His message – but will move through life in our own plan and strength. Many of us need to admit we use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to full submission to God.

God has an objective in the troubles of our lives – but it may surprise us. His objective is our trust in Him in all times and circumstances. People say: “If God is a healer, then why are there sick children in the world? If God is peaceful, then why do wars happen? If God loves, then why do bad things happen to good people?” Behind these questions there is the desire to see God prove himself by taking these evil things away so that we will all believe in Him and live ‘happily ever after.’ The problem is reframed and God’s goodness is questioned – not our submission to Him based on what He has already done. In this scenario, God left Himself cloaked and refused to do what was necessary to make us believe. Our disbelief then, is HIS FAULT… but the problem is framed over false logic. Think about it: There are plenty who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, a roof over their heads. Yet many of those people have no relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives. Our relationship with God cannot be simply based on his ability to heal us or perform other miracles for us. Our faith must leave this world’s way of thinking and take on a Biblical world view, solely based on surrender to the Word of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus make it easy for the man? In our modern American lifestyle, we often act as though life should be easy. Ease, in fact is not always what is best for us. A faith that requires no effort is a faith that is not worth having. Faith takes effort because it requires a change on our part. It comes from God, Ephesians tells us – and not from within us. A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle removed the former king!

Jesus told the man that he could trust the Word alone – “Your son is made well.” (4:50a). What is clear on close inspection is that the man changed when he encountered Jesus. Panic fled away. The ‘need to trust only what he could see’ left him… as he exchanged panic for trust (4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight – 4:52b) and yet did not return the same day. The text is clear the man encountered his slaves “the next day”. How could this be? He came with panic in his heart and yet stayed from one o’clock in the afternoon until the next day to journey down the five and one half hour path to his home? The key to the change is the word “BELIEVED” in verse 50.

The man believed. The man trusted the word of Jesus. He rested in the promise of Jesus overnight. He “ceased striving” to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

Sometimes, it even takes time to find out if the surrender is real: A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, He should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was He? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves… This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded. Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing. (Adapted from Source: sermon central illustrations).

Her surrender was not real, though her amazement was. She was amazed at first that God could and would act on her behalf. If our encounter is with amazement alone, it will fade. If our encounter led us to true surrender – we will ever be changed and marked by our walk with Jesus. Jesus is looking for surrender to Him, not an applause line from an amazed admirer. In the royal official, He got a surrendered heart.

Problems: Facing hometown rejection (Luke 4:16-31a).

Luke 4:16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” 20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” 24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. 31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath;

Four observations struck me in this story:

First, it is interesting that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to conflict (Matthew 4:1-13) and ONLY THEN to fame, when the temptation to fulfill a mission for self-motivation had been clearly defeated. (Matthew 4:14). Jesus was not taken off His mission or message by the affirmation of the crowds, but He understood the need to remain on message regardless of the response (4:22-24).

Second, Jesus established a reputation of teaching that caused others to take him seriously (4:15), but only after they had observed His life (cp. 2:52). His life was marked by the commitment to worship and the Word (4:16).

Third, Jesus’ understanding of both His mission and of the crowds was bathed in His knowledge of the Word, and the examples of Elijah (cp. 1 Kings 17:9ff) and Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-14; 4:25-28). He framed the situation and the response to it from Biblical examples – because that was the source of truth.

Fourth, Jesus responded to opposition with strength and surety (4:29-30) neither harming the opposition, nor acquiescing to them. It is not necessary to “win” a discussion that uncovers people in conflict with God (or even the notion that He exists). You must strive only to be clear and not be derailed. We should concentrate on speaking Biblical truth with grace and show patient love toward the dissenting voice. It isn’t our job to make people believe in God or the goodness of His plan, but to show how belief works out in the practice of our life. Their heart is ultimately their responsibility.

Prophecy: Settling down by the Kinnereth (Mt. 4:13-17).

There is yet one more short passage that captured the landscape of the start of Jesus’ preaching, and it is found in Matthew 4:

Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES – 16 “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The summary statement in verse seventeen was at the heart of the first part of this lesson – that Jesus came “out of the gate” with a message of repentance. Our second story reminded us that submission was a non-negotiable point in Jesus’ work. His time in Nazareth illustrated that Jesus was undeterred in His presentation – He would not be led by family or follower – but by His Father and the mission given to Him from above. This last portion reminds us that the mission was not a new innovation, but a long expressed prophecy. Jesus was following a path that was revealed to prophets long before His birth in Bethlehem.

What appeared to be a REJECTION in Nazareth was a signal to move to Capernaum near the Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee). Matthew 4:14 made clear this was NOT a simple choice – but the fulfillment of a designed work that was already stated. Think about that for a moment. God made a plan, and even the choice to move “home base” was a part of that plan.

Was not the arrest of Jesus part of that plan? How about the striking of the face of the Savior by wicked men? Was the Cross itself part of that plan? Listen to words about the Savior written seven hundred years before His birth:

Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.”

Here is the point: What looked like a spontaneous rejection of his neighbors was part of a bigger plan. What appeared to be a failure to reach people with a message of love was also part of that plan. Jesus’ life was pre-scripted and pre-revealed in prophetic narratives. His earth ministry wasn’t about self-choice, but about following His Father’s plan… and so is yours. You have few plans to make… you have paths to follow. You do not know what they are – so you must trust the One who does.

There is an old story about a potato farmer who had a son. The farmer was old, but the son young and strong. The son was accused of theft and thrown in jail – and the old farmer was heartbroken. It was time to break up the hard ground to plant the potatoes – if he didn’t do it soon the year would be lost to the crop. He wrote a letter to his son and expressed anguish that hard times were at hand. His son wrote back: “Dad, don’t dig up the potato field…that is the place where we stashed the loot!” Within hours, a team of policemen were digging the entire field searching for the proceeds of the theft. Finding nothing, they went home. The next day, the young man wrote from his cell: “Dad, that was the best I could provide to get the ground broke up, and as I have said all along, I didn’t steal anything. I hope they got the place ready for you.”

The young man cared for his father’s need in a way that no one expected – but he was working a plan. That was the same story we read in the Gospels. There was a man accused as a criminal, beaten and executed…but that wasn’t the story. The truth was that God provided something they didn’t understand in a way that they didn’t expect. That is the kind of God we serve.

Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

• Jesus is the answer. He created me, and He insists that I yield to Him – and He is right.
• Jesus is the answer when those closest to me are hurting, and I take their need to Him.
• Jesus is the answer when people want to use Him to fix their problems, but want to deny His right to choose when, where and how He works.

He was the answer when His coming was announced three thousand years ago, and He was the answer when He came two thousand years ago. He is still the answer today.

Jesus will be the answer when believers are assaulted by academics, scoffed at by cynics and beheaded by evil men. He will be the answer when the church is hated, and when it is removed. He will be the answer when Israel is brought under the full weight of human hatred. He will be the answer when He comes in the clouds and they “look on Him Whom they have pierced”. He will be the answer when His mouth opens and destroys the best weaponry of the world’s military machines. Jesus WAS, IS and IS To COME – as the answer to the human need.

Following His Footsteps: “The Candidate” – John 3 and 4

the-candidate_lRobert Redford has played some famous roles, but none bigger than the Oscar winning performance in the 1972 movie called “The Candidate. In that role, Redford starred as a lawyer (and son of the former California governor) who was convinced to run against a senatorial incumbent who faced no competition. Even those who asked Redford to run anticipated a dramatic loss, so the candidate was able to run with frankness and integrity in order to demonstrate a new brand of politics. When people realized they preferred a fresh, young and honest looking face – the campaign became serious. Thirty years have passed, but the issues in that election were none other than: abortion, environmental issues, and access to health care. The Candidate demonstrated that it wasn’t simply WHAT the man said, but HOW the man said it. Someone quipped: “If you can fake sincerity, you will have the world as your friend!” We are thinking about The Candidate in this lesson, because our text in John’s Gospel offered some early interviews and reactions to Jesus as He began to become known.

Key Principle: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! The gospels reveal that Jesus was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners. He answered them all with sincerity and knowledge of their real need.

John 3 and 4 tell four stories that can easily be “paired” into sets – private interview followed by public endorsements. When you see that we are looking at two chapters of the Bible, it can seem daunting, but these four stories are actually very familiar. In addition, they follow a pattern – a private interview followed by a public story – two times. As you look deeper, you will note that in John 3, these were done in the context of mainstream Judaism, in John 4 they were in the context of a fringe group known as the Samaritans. Let’s look at the stories briefly. One of the four stories we covered in a recent lesson, so we will lightly touch it:

The first story was an “interview” – a private discussion: Nicodemus the Pharisee talks with Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:1-21).

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever [d]believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the [f]only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

The record of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is the first interview of the Savior (in the Gospel of John) by a trained theologian. The exchange is offered in two parts. First, John included the context – time and people involved. Second, he included the dialogue. That exchange had three sentences offered by Nicodemus, together with the answers of the Savior, which were longer than the questions.

Look at John 3:1 closely. Don’t forget the context in the story of the Gospel of John: this story of Nicodemus was set up by the penetrating truth offered at the end of John 2:25 “…He Himself knew what was in man.” This story seems to be placed in the text as an illustration of Jesus reading the heart of an important man of His day. Don’t overlook that John 3:1 is short, but PACKED with information that helps the rest of the exchange make sense. John recorded:

There was a “man of the Pharisees” – this was a man of PEDIGREE of PUBLIC (if not also private) PIETY. Nicodemus held a distinguished religious position – but position doesn’t make one live eternally – and this man suspected something was wrong.

He was “named Nicodemus” a name which meant in Greek “conqueror of the people” or “the people’s champion (victor)”. His name suggested the intent his parents had for him was him to be popular – but popularity in the here and now does not solve the issue of afterlife.

The next phrase remarks: “ruler of the Jews”, which offered a statement of obvious POWER and PRESTIGE in the community – but power and prestige on earth doesn’t translate into security for a moment after the last breath on earth.

The subject of the exchange was clearly about being “born again” – but what did that mean? Clearly this new birth was not about human accomplishment – it was something God did through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being born again was explained by Jesus as an intervention from God that leads to a TRANSFORMATION by God… That supernatural act was not given because of a pedigree – for no degree could get a man right with God. It was not a matter of religious reform or behavioral practice – because Nicodemus was already living righteously as best we can tell from the story. This “born again” experience was something brought from above – a transformation accomplished by the work of God.

Consider the three statements of Nicodemus that were recalled in the Gospel account. Each reflect common assumptions that still plague people and keep them from understanding salvation by Grace:

Statement One: “Externals are accurate barometers of internals”. That seems to be the implied idea behind John 3:2 “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” First, the statement is untrue. Ask Moses’ brother Aaron (a story from Exodus 7) as the eighty year old Moses and eighty-three year old Aaron saw Pharaoh’s black magic men make snakes just like God did. Sadly for the magicians of the court, Aaron’s serpent ate all of theirs – leaving them “staff-less” in the end! The fact remains that in the Bible, JUST BECAUSE A MIRACLE TOOK PLACE, DID NOT MEAN GOD INITIATED IT. Nicodemus assumed that the externals were accurate proof of internals.

Statement Two: “Spiritual transformation occurs because of physical activity.” John 3:4 offered these words: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Note how consumed the Pharisee is with the ability of the man to DO something to change the outcome of his standing with God. Here Nicodemus offered the mistaken assumption that SPIRITUAL CHANGE OCCURS BECAUSE OF PHYSICAL CHANGES ONE MAKES. In the atonement system, a man or woman’s participation was NOT designed to make them think they “participated” in God’s work of forgiveness, but that is the message many took away. Many who followed the Law of God ended up believing the way to change the INSIDE was to change the BEHAVIOR on the OUTSIDE. Did you ever hear a joke about people entering Heaven. They begin like: “Three men died and were standing at the pearly gates…” We have all heard these kinds of jokes and though they may bring a smile to our face, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into Heaven. That wasn’t the message of Jesus. The problem is that by nature, we want to earn and then deserve God’s favor. That isn’t the Gospel – because the message of the New Testament is that you cannot make any effective installment on the payment for sin.

Statement Three: “Only what I understand can work!” That seems to the message behind John 3:9: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” It would have sounded like a reasonable question in the tect, but Jesus’ answer showed that it was nothing of the sort. Nicodemus was assuming that in order for things to be true, they had to fit into his considerable knowledge of the spiritual world – and that wasn’t true at all. His assumption seemed to be, IF IT DOESN’T FIT MY UNDERSTANDING, IT MUST BE NONSENSE! Jesus poured it on at the end with a rather detailed reply to his question.

Jesus each question Nicodemus offered…

Answer One: “Total transformation is needed, and that isn’t from the outside.” In John 3:3 we read Jesus’ response to the idea that externals are reliable barometers of internals: “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Savior offered words that set Nicodemus back on his heels – that one can ONLY see the kingdom if they are REBORN. Technically speaking, a baby doesn’t CAUSE their birth – and though the pass through the birth canal – no one observing closely in the birthing suite at the hospital would think they were in charge of the event. A man or woman needed to START LIFE AGAIN – this time as a newborn all over again. The point of the statement that “only by being born again” is this: Nicodemus, you must totally rethink your premise. Entering the Kingdom is NOT by conforming to a set of rules, reforming your lifestyle to a certain set of rules… it is being transformed by a process YOU DO NOT CONTROL!

Answer Two: “The new birth is a spiritual reality, but no less real than physical birth.” In John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This was a three point response: First, two types of birth are necessary to be in the kingdom – a physical birth and a spiritual birth. You are not born spiritually WHEN you are born physically. There is no special class of “child of believer” that exempts them from the later spiritual new birth experience. No one is physically born right with God.

Second, the two births are distinct from one another. The spiritual birth is LIKE the physical, but not the same thing.

Third, those born of the spirit are compared to the wind – the effects of wind can be seen without the work of the wind being displayed. It is the nature of religious people to look for ways to observe God’s hand. Ironically, whole church movements that began with an emphasis on the work of the Spirit have found themselves tilting quickly into a theology that emphasizes blessing in the physical world… even though Jesus said they were not reliably connected – at least in appearance.

Answer Three: “God will not negotiate this requirement!” In John 3:10 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? … 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The answer Jesus offered was this: First, a true teacher of God’s people should understand transformation by the Spirit is required! Second, this was not a theory, nor an option (3:11). Third, failure to grab the transformation blocks other truth from your heart (3:12). Fourth, Jesus was the only source of this transformation (3:13). Fifth, failure to get behind this message will block your ability to lead others to eternal life (3:14-15). Sixth, Jesus came to SAVE men (3:16-17). His message was God’s MERCY AND GRACE. Seventh, the sole basis of judgment is belief in Jesus’ Word. People could choose not to believe and live in the darkness of their own controls! (3:18-21).

Here is the truth: Jesus wanted a learned man to come away from the interview with one clear message: “You need a total transformation that I control.” That reminds me of the old story of someone who asked revivalist preacher George Whitfield, “Why do you always preach “You must be born again?” He replied, “Because you must be born again!” The interview completed, the message was clear – Jesus didn’t come to offer us a list of reforms – He came to offer new birth, a total transformation of a life submitted to His care.

The second story was of a public endorsement: John the Baptizer commended Jesus (John 3:22-35).

Since we looked at this passage a few lessons ago, we need not give it much more time and space – but stop briefly and consider how John’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry affected Jesus…

The Gospel writer recorded: John 3:22 “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized … 27 John … said… 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. … 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John recognized Who Jesus was, and was unafraid to endorse Him publicly – in spite of the fact that people may decide to stop showing up at the Jordan to see John and his disciples. John’s logic: “It doesn’t matter – He is above all and before all.” Let’s say it in simpler terms that any believer can learn to respect: “Jesus first!” The truth is that Scripture records that John laid down his life long before his head was placed on a platter or his neck on a chopping block. He laid his life down when he decided that Jesus’ glory was worth living for – and that is inherently Christian teaching. A theology of personal abandonment and Christocentric glory is the very essence of the first century disciple’s life choices. Jesus was clear to those who wished to get on board with His gang: “Unless they were willing to take up their cross daily, laying their lives down – they could not become His disciple.

Here’s the truth: Jesus isn’t willing to share the stage with His followers. Either we get the fact that He is Lord and we are His servant – or we don’t recognize the paradigm of discipleship that Jesus offered. A Christian message that is oriented to offering us temporal benefits – a happier life, better relationships, more money in the bank, a better job – all these are not specifically Christian at all. Ask the believers who just fled from Mosul if knowing and loving Jesus guaranteed a happy life and peaceful experience? We have to stop repeating nonsense and get back to Christian teaching the way Jesus framed it. HE is what we get from surrender. Where HE leads is what will bring HIM glory. My best good is found in HIS plan for HIS pleasure. Christianity cannot be about self-aggrandizing and self-affirmation or it isn’t Christianity at all. John understood – and John laid down his life. Jesus said that is the kind of man who will LIVE because he died to self.

The third story was yet another private interview: The Samaritan woman at the well met Jesus (John 4:1-29).

A third story can be found in the beginning of John 4, and we again find ourselves looking at a personal interview – this time with a Samaritan woman. How different than a Pharisee! She was wounded by life and covered the wounds with theological discourse. On second thought: “Was she actually that much different than Nicodemus?” Here is the record:

John 4:3 He [Jesus] left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, … 7 There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She *said to Him, “[b]Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman *said to Him, “[c]Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” 16 He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman *said to Him, “[d]Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” …28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?….”

It is easy to divide the story into three parts, as John recalls the events: First, the Setting (4:1-6), second, the Exchange (4:7-28), and finally the Results (4:29-42).

The interview lasted for only a short time, but the woman appeared to move from broken to hopeful. How did that happen? Look again. The woman spoke six times in the passage – five of them to Jesus. In the five direct statements, there was a progression to her thinking. Often, when people are confronted with the direction that Jesus offers, they place “road blocks” – objections to the uncomfortable truth – yet Jesus knew how to deal with her objections.

Let me offer a simple observation. Nicodemus was an example that no one can become so great as to rise above the need for the Savior. Yet, the Samaritan woman (a page later in the story) was a great example that no one can sink below the rescue of the Savior, either!

The Samaritan woman raised some common objections to Jesus and His message:

First, there was a doubt of intention: What does Jesus really want from me? (4:9) Clearly the woman was stunned that Jesus as a Jew would ask her as a Samaritan for something to drink. Yet, on more careful examination, it appears that she was not only asking why a Jew would speak to her, but she was exposing a very basic reaction that many people have when Jesus reaches out to them. The Gospel offers life, but it also requires something of them. Without submission of the will there is no real salvation. Jesus began ASKING FOR HER TO DO SOMETHING FOR HIM. The simple act of giving a drink to Jesus was an act of obedience – an act of trust.

Second, there was a sense of unworthiness: How can you deal with someone LIKE ME? Many people carry the misconception Jesus came for, and spent His time with religious people in clean and tidy places. That is not the Jesus of the Gospels. This woman knew prejudice and rejection – and she wasn’t living with someone who valued her highly – which is why she came midday alone to get water! Jesus’ answer was direct to her – You are worried about who you are and what I may really want. Both are the wrong focus. If you refocus on Who I am, you will find a gift is awaiting you! (4:10). Yet, in order for her to receive the gift, she needed to THIRST TO KNOW HIM!

Third, there was doubt of His ability: Jesus made an overt claim that He had something to GIVE the woman, but she couldn’t see how it was possible for Jesus to deliver on the promises (4:11). She chided, “You don’t think you are greater than our fathers, do you? (4:12). Wrapped in her question is one of the oldest forms of objection to Jesus and His message. She wanted to compare Jesus to other great men, and didn’t see how He could claim to offer more than other men of seemingly greater stature could offer. Jesus’ answer was again direct and overt – I am not one among many. That is the wrong conclusion. Jesus said, in essence: “I have the gift and the ability to deliver it.” (4:13-14). It will surely accomplish satisfaction beginning within and flowing outward. It is superior to anything offered before, and it will deliver the ultimate and final rewards.

Fourth, there was a distraction over benefits: The woman appeared to be ready to accept the offer made by Jesus, but Jesus knew she was not truly prepared. There was a hole in her heart, and He wanted to address it. She was distracted by the part of the offer that appeared to care for her problems, but she did not comprehend what Jesus wanted from her (4:15). Jesus peeled into her life to help her expose the deep secret that she was hiding. He asked her to go and bring her husband. This was a respectful request, especially if she was about to make a bold move to accept His claims and follow Jesus (4:16). The woman replied, “I have no husband!” She told a half-truth (4:17-18). She was a woman who both lived in pain, and as a result walked in hidden compromise. Here is the central issue – she wanted to add Jesus to a life of self-will and hidden impure behaviors. That is a wrong assumption. It is true that Jesus loves us. It is true that He came to save us. It is simply NOT TRUE that He is so longing for us that He will simply dismiss our desire to continue to walk as we choose – in sinful practices that are forbidden by God. Hidden sin robs us of full joy – and Jesus wanted her change to be honest.

Because we know that in the first century Jewish context, divorce was an issue of a man putting away a woman in most cases – it is likely that the woman’s history of marriages has more to do with stinging repeated rejection and not simply a life as a “loose woman”. She was evidently repeatedly judged deficient in some way by the men in her life. Rejection upon rejection appears to have left her desolate of self respect. She eventually shed the need to even have the appearance of a real marriage (4:18).

Charles Swindoll, in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life, tells the true story of a man who bought fried chicken dinners for himself and his girlfriend to enjoy on a picnic one afternoon. He was in for a surprise because the person behind the counter mistakenly gave him the wrong paper bag. Earlier, the manager had taken the money from the cash registers and placed it in an ordinary bag, hoping to disguise it on his way to the bank. But when the person working the cash register went to give the man his order, he grabbed the bag full of money instead of the bag full of chicken. Swindoll says, “After driving to their picnic site, the two of them sat down to enjoy some chicken. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken — over $800! But he was unusual. He quickly put the money back in the bag. They got back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then, the manager was frantic. The guy with the bag of money looked the manager in the eye and said, ‘I want you to know I came by to get a couple of chicken dinners and wound up with all this money here.’ Well, the manager was thrilled to death. He said, ‘Let me call the newspaper. I’m gonna have your picture put in the local paper. You’re one of the most honest men I’ve ever heard of.’ To which the man quickly responded, ‘Oh, no. No, no, don’t do that!’ Then he leaned closer and whispered, ‘You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife. She’s, uh, somebody else’s wife.’” Swindoll closes the story by saying, “Harder to find than lost cash is a perfect heart.”

Fifth, there was theological redirection: Jesus spoke resounding truth into the life of the woman, and she knew it. He opened her eyes to the truth about her own pain and made clear that He knew all about it. He peeled her heart to its core. She perceived He was a prophet. Yet, she was not ready to surrender to Jesus. She re-directed the conversation to theology and arguments over the place and nature of worship, emphasizing the difference between Jews and Samaritans (4:19-20). Jesus answered her and told her that she was essentially on the wrong issue. She was concerned with the PLACE of worship, and Jesus answered with the NATURE of worship (4:21-24). Getting caught up in any discussion that kept away the pressure on the woman to yield her broken heart to the Lord, no matter the value of the discussion, was a distraction.

Sixth, there was the voice of procrastination: “Someday I hope it will happen for me!” was the final objection raised (4:25). Many have raised it. “One of these days, when things work out for me, then I will be ready to commit to Jesus.” Jesus replied to the woman, “You are on the wrong timing!” The time for her salvation was the day Jesus beckoned. Later would be too late.

The fourth story was another public endorsement: The Samaritan Village validated the ministry of Jesus (John 4:39ff).

Before we finish with our lesson, one more short story is necessary to review – the reaction of the Samaritans to the woman’s testimony. John recorded:

John 4:39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. … 43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee…

Jesus chatted with one woman and the message of His life and ministry reached a village. The disciples went as a group to shop in the midst of the village and reached NO ONE. Why? The answer lies in the truth that Jesus did what they did not want to do. In order to bring about healing to the lives of others, we must first learn to become lovers of the unlovable…that is what our Savior did.

Years ago, in a moving short story by Elizabeth Ballard that was published in Home Life magazine (1976) the fine fiction writer wove a touching story that really helps set love in perspective. Who the story was based on in her life we shall never know. Here is the story:

Teddy Stallard was a young man who was turned off by school. He was sloppy in appearance, largely expressionless in class, and generally unattractive. Some would have called him “slow” – because he had a “dull look”. Often he sat in his school classroom staring into space, unresponsive and blank – which was an irritation to every teacher he ever had. Miss Thompson, who was known to have enjoyed bearing down her red pen — placed many a big red X beside Teddy’s often blank and mostly wrong answers. If only she had studied Ted’s school records more carefully. They read:

• 1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.
• 2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.
• 3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.
• 4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing along with a bottle of cheap perfume. The children snickered, but the wise teacher silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too. At day’s end, after the other children left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents.” He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude. The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them…especially the slower and harder to love ones…especially Teddy.

Surprisingly — or perhaps not surprisingly at all, Teddy began to improve in class. He eventually caught up with most of the students and excelled beyond a few. Graduation came and went and Teddy was gone into the world. Miss Thompson heard nothing from him for a long time. Then, one day, she received a note: Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Ted

Four years later, another note arrived: Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Ted

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Ted

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted’s mother would have sat. The compassion she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.

I love that story, and I am glad that Elizabeth Ballard wrote it. It isn’t bad to have our hearts tugged to learn an important lesson. Here is the truth: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! He was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners – but He knew the hearts of people – so He knew how to respond…and He still does.

Following His Footsteps: “Exposing the Secret” – John 2

closetThere are English expressions that are used by various movements in different times in history, and along the way they adapt in meaning. The phrase “out of the closet” was used by advertisers long before it was adopted by modern social action groups. More recently, as a surprise to virtually no one, this phrase has become the mantle of those who see themselves as “bravely stepping forth on issues of sexual preference orientation”. Yet, the phrase actually denotes exposing a long held secret. It was historically linked to the idea of “skeletons in the closet” – and denoted potentially embarrassing things kept hidden from view out of potential shame. I want to go in a different direction with the phrase as we tackle the next part of the ongoing series to follow the footsteps of our Master as we study the record of His life in the Gospels. I want to talk about how a secret identity of Jesus became publicly exposed.

Jesus’ miracle at Cana was like the moment Clark Kent went into the phone booth to shed his suit and emerge exposed as the super hero of the classic comic books.(I know, that is a terrible comparison, but the image might actually stick with you!)

Think of it this way… Jesus had a secret identity. His mother Mary knew what it was because an angel named Gabriel told her thirty years before. His stepfather Joseph knew it, because God told him in dreams thirty years before our story. The angels knew it, because they made the announcement at His birth. The enemy knew it, because he faced Jesus in a “temptation sparring match” in the Wilderness of Judea a short time before the events of today’s lesson took place. Yet the truth is that although many BEINGS in Heavenly places knew Who Jesus was – the Eternal Son of God living in human flesh –few PEOPLE who lived near Him knew the truth of Jesus’ identity. This lesson is about how Jesus stepped out of the shadows and showed Himself to be the fulfillment of God’s promise from centuries before… man’s Redeemer was eating breakfast next door to someone who was clueless of His presence!

The problem is that Jesus’ identity also led to a problem. If He is Master, then I have someone in charge of me… and no one likes that – now or then.

The passage for study is John 2, and it offers two essential lessons that set up the first steps of Jesus’ public ministry after His baptism by John in the Jordan River and after the temptation wrestling match was completed in the nearby Judean Wilderness. Jesus picked up His first five “would be” disciples, and then two stories unfolded:

• The first public miracle of Jesus (John 2:1-11). Jesus turned water into wine at a Cana wedding feast and showed that the ordinary could become the extraordinary – if it received the touch of the Master.

• The first public challenge by Jesus (John 2:12-25). Jesus walked into His Father’s Temple distracted by the commercial barkers and turn a bazaar into chaos while He showed that much becomes little – when God “weighs in” on religious nonsense.

Key Principle: Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.

It is important that we recognize this truth – because among those who do not both carefully study the narrative and believe it is historically valid – a common notion is that Jesus “slowly discovered” His place as the Son of God. Some “scholars” even express the notion that Jesus was never fully aware of it until after the Resurrection. In the more liberal circles of “Christian” thought, that is not even a debated concept – it has been accepted.

Not to pluck a phrase from our current political Benghazi discussion of our current news cycles, but here is the question of our lesson: “What did Jesus know and when did He know it?” We are not entertaining the debate that Jesus was NOT the Savior – that debate is simply answered by a faithful study of the Gospel accounts that were NOT fuzzy on such things…Our thoughts concern the challenge that Jesus was a benevolent and hapless rabbi that was unaware of some greater position He had. Does the Gospel reveal that? Not at all…

It is true that the Bible does not overtly state the moment at which Jesus knew that He was the Eternal Son of God sent to die as the “Spotless Lamb” for man’s sin. It is also true that He DID know those things. We read that later in His ministry Jesus fully expressed Who He was from eternity past, declaring: “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). Later, John recorded Jesus praying this way: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Clearly, if the Gospel record is true – Jesus knew His place. Our question is when did Jesus fully grasp that truth?

Some believers want to believe that He was consciously spinning planets while lying in a manger in Bethlehem – a view that I do not hold. Scripture does express that as a young child He was fully aware of His work, but He did feel an early need to be preparing as a boy to complete a work His Father in Heaven sent Him to complete by age 13. On a boyhood trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46). When his parents discovered Him there, He offered this question: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” (Luke 2:49-50). Luke made sure that in reading the account and reader would know that Jesus possessed information beyond what His parents could grasp. After the recorded incident, Luke noted: ”And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Let me suggest that though Jesus may well have known Who He was, his physical immaturity still lacked the completed ability to make all things clear to those around Him. He needed to grow physically, emotionally and mentally. Though He was cognizant by that time that He was fully God, He needed to become fully a man. Over the early centuries of Christianity, this subject was explored deeply and hotly debated by Church Fathers who were trying to understand the theology of the God-man.

Let’s accept the Biblical record that Jesus knew years and years before everyone else understood His mission and move forward with the story. What happened at the early stage of His ministry, then, concerned exposing the truth to those both near to Him and those in charge of the God’s people. The two episodes found in John 2 effectively do just that – and then they expose the way people responded to the message that God wanted to both SAVE then and RULE their lives. The first message is preached, loved and celebrated. The second truth (that of the rule of Jesus) is taught seldom and loved little – even by people who profess to follow Jesus. Somehow we have invented in modern Christianity a Sovereign Lord that leads us by following after our desires. That Jesus isn’t the one pictured in the Gospels.

First Miracle at Cana

We open the chapter with our first look at the miracle ministry of Jesus:

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw [some] out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it [to him]. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when [the people] have drunk freely, [then he serves] the poorer [wine]; [but] you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of [His] signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

John made clear:

• On the third day there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was there (2:1).
• Jesus and His first five followers were invited (2:2) apparently arriving at the end of the feast.
• When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.
• Over Jesus’ initial objections (2:4), she left Him with the servants and instructed them to follow all His directions (2:5).
• Jesus told the servants to take the six stone pots that held twenty to thirty gallons each and fill them with water (a stunning violation of their purpose of ritual purity collection – 2:6-7).
• Jesus then told them to draw out from the stone jars a cup and take it to the head cupbearer of the feast and have him sample it for the guests (2:8).
• The cupbearer was shocked and complimented the groom on his surprising stash of excellent wine (2:9-10).

While it is nice to know that Jesus liked weddings, and that Jesus would make a good vintner, why would such an event become important enough to record for posterity?

First, it is important that we understand that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family – His earth ministry wasn’t just about lofty theological debates and Satan hunting… it was about loving people and celebrating the stages of their lives with them. Though life is PRIMARILY about the eternal things – life here is a gift from God to be enjoyed, celebrated… it is to be lived. God is nowhere more present than in the room of people who love Him and each other and are falling on the floor laughing hysterically over something that won’t let go of their funny bone. God isn’t a prude. Anything you have ever enjoyed – He thought of. Any flavor you have ever savored – He created. Any beauty that has ever taken your breath away – He pulled out the brush an painted on the landscape. God is not just powerful and Majestic – He is personal and creative. He knows good coffee and can delight in the swirls of freshly stirred caramel sauce. Don’t you DARE make Him into some monastic prior with itchy clothing eating bread and water! There is no pleasure without the Creator of all things. Even in our fallen state, God’s joys still shine through. Let’s say it clearly: Jesus knows how to party!

Beyond that truth, we observe in the passage the truth that Jesus speaks, and the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. God isn’t into the light adjustment business – He is a total and complete transformer! When Jesus spoke forgiveness over your life, you began a transformation that is ongoing. You know the problems, and you encounter your own resistance – but let’s be honest… YOU KNOW YOU ARE BEING CHANGED. You don’t want all the things of the world you once did. Your tastes buds are already starting to salivate when you smell the fresh baked bread of Heaven. When people are really in a walk with Jesus – they don’t have to be convinced of transforming power – they are living it. Here is the really neat thing: someday soon the Heaven’s will open, the trumpet will sound, and the very molecules of my body will be transformed from earth’s smell of slow decay to Heaven’s fresh, new aroma of purity and life.

Jesus told the servants to bring the water pots – but He didn’t use water from a nearby well. He used water DEDICATED TO PURIFICATION in pots beside the house. He used something that was set aside for God’s holy purposes already. It was never “just a pot of water”, but a “purification pot” set aside for God to use.

Here is the truth: God uses what we give to Him to use. What is kept for us to use as we please is not surrendered, so it doesn’t get used in the marvelous display of transformation – because we don’t want to give it up. Some believers aren’t changing, simply because they are keeping the pots of water for themselves and not surrendering them to Jesus as He told them. They have their own religious pots, neat and clean, and their water is still just ….water. If we want transformation, we are required to surrender what we have to Jesus to get it. When they gave it to Jesus, He dramatically transformed into something outlandishly exquisite.

Don’t miss the story in the water pot. God’s intention for you is not that you become a raging and angry separatist – trying to whine your way into people’s ears. What pleases Him isn’t that you HATE, PROTEST and COMPLAIN. At the same time, God isn’t looking for you to become a tolerant conformist who measures what is TRUE by what is POPULAR. God wants ONE THING that will mark your life… He wants you to deliberately yield your life choices to Him, so that He can TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE in front of all the people in your life. Don’t worry – when he does – they won’t mistake the exquisite wine for bland water. When God gets hold of a life, people smell the aroma of life and taste the spice of truth. You don’t need a t-shirt, a bumper sticker or a campaign. Transformed lives are the best evangelism program any church will ever have.

While we are studying the story, let’s not pass over a problem that often occurs when Jesus is at work among His followers. Don’t forget that when Jesus arrived in Cana there was a problem. It seems like it was his mother’s problem, or at least she felt responsible for some reason… What happened next is a common problem believer’s will understand…she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. It is surely true that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Bu the truth is, many believers act exactly this way toward Jesus when they get into trouble. Do you see it? The text doesn’t say Mary “dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty”. She didn’t consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus. Can you identify with that? Did your prayer life ever sound like you were offering God sage counsel on how to fix things?

We need to be careful: We cannot tack Jesus on the plans we have already made and call that a surrendered life… it isn’t. Jesus is our Master, not our Holy errand boy. I love that Jesus honored her request, but I don’t want that to become my pattern in life.

First Challenge at Jerusalem

The story of the Cana miracle is always thrilling, because I want to be transformed and I love that God shows He can do it in dramatic ways! At the same time, the second story – the “First Cleansing of the Temple” (John 2:13-25) always changes the temperature in the room when I am passing through the study of John chapter two. It isn’t a happy time, but a serious time of challenge.

John 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated [at their tables]. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

The time came for the feast of Pesach (Passover) and He went to Jerusalem to celebrate it. He journeyed south to Jerusalem (about 80 miles as the crow flies – cp.2:13). “Passover” was so important we have some record of authorities that would repair the roads for the great influx of people … and whitewash the tombs so nobody would accidentally touch them and accidently defile themselves. Homes were cleaned, cooking utensils cleansed, and houses were removed of all leaven. Those living in Jerusalem were expected to put up out of town guests, so “dust bunnies” in every corner were removed. Fortunately, most homes were a simple plan and not very large.

• Jews celebrated deliverance from bondage in Egypt and Jews from all over would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their offerings. Animals were slaughtered, fat was burned, and blood was sprinkled on the altar. Meat was taken home, and eaten by the family in a stew. People stood in line to pay the “Temple tax” of a silver ½ shekel coin to pay for daily sacrifices through the year.

• This was the biggest event of the year. Jesus stood on to the south porch of the Temple, observing merchants selling animals and money changers hawking the crowds as the best rate providers. (2:14).

• It seems like the place sounded more like a Middle eastern open market than a place of worship and prayer, and that got under Jesus’ skin because it wasn’t what God wanted at all. He responded with open rebuke. (2:15).

• Some reports tell us that the High Priest’s family auctioned concession stands to the various merchants and money-changers … to the highest bidder. Merchants charged inflated prices for sacrifice animals, and inequitable rates of exchange for Temple bound coins.

When you read the account, don’t get the mistaken impression that Jesus “lost it” in a heat of the moment reaction. He didn’t fly off the handle. While He was walking around, observing the chaos, He carefully picked up some of the leather cords that were laying around … used to tie up the animals that had now been sold. While He was walking, He formed into a small whip.

Stop for a second and ask what Jesus would do on the set of the televangelist that is pleading for more money for a third of their airtime. I wonder if it is not worth asking if our generation has gotten off the path that He marked for us to follow. I wonder about the many Bible belt churches that look more like social halls and town clubs than hospitals for the spiritually wounded. Someone has said: “We worship our work … work at our play … and play at our worship.” I am not sure they are off base at all.

Jesus knew that God’s plan was for His House to be a house of prayer … a special place … a place of worship and praise. He called it: “My Father’s house” (2:16). He saw the people’s attitudes and actions – just like he sees ours. Did we sing that solo to get people to notice US, or to call them to worship HIM? Did we come because we wanted to seek Jesus, or because we thought the girl we want to date might be here?

The sadness is this: Jesus saw all the decorations of worship, but not the focus of worship! He called for UN-DISTRACTED worship of God. He plead for no ulterior motive – money, career, advancement, attention, affirmation…

Here is my simple question: Do we have Jesus’ zeal of heart (2:17)? Do we say, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord”? (cp. Psalm 69:9).

Jesus’ zeal was literally “eating Him up inside”. He had a PASSION for the things of God… We are passionate about our sports … our eating … music…our work. Are we that passionate about worship and prayer? He did, and He wanted others to have it as well. The authorities didn’t ask about the nature of His dispute, that wasn’t their issue. They wanted to know: “Who do you think you are to be doing this?” (2:18).

Their objection was John’s point in the narrative – that very question…”Who was Jesus anyway?” Jesus as God’s Son, was not willing for people to PLAY AT WORSHIP and feign a surrendered life before His Father!

Why didn’t they stand up to Jesus and kick Him out? There were certainly more of them than Jesus and his few disciples. That would come later in the story of the Gospel of John. For now, Jesus was operating with an authority that could be felt, and that made them hesitant! They knew this was not simply some mad man…. Emerging was a fuller picture of Who Jesus is.

He is loving, and He is tenderhearted. He is merciful and He is kind…. But that isn’t all He is. He is holy. He is just… and He doesn’t like people playing religious games and substituting them for a serious passion for God. When the situation called for assertive leadership He did not shrink back from the task. He didn’t “let it go.” HE answered with clarity and force.

Maybe a story will help:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis were set in a mythical world. That world was inhabited by centaurs, dwarves, talking wolves and beavers, fawns, and all kinds of creatures more familiar to ancient Greek mythology than modern reading books. In one installment Narnia was covered in an endless winter as the result of a cruel White Witch – a world desperately waiting for a terribly cold winter to finally end. The central character of this book, a talking lion named Aslan (who the author said represented Christ). He was both a ruler and a Savior-type.

Four children – Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter – ended up in Narnia and were educated by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who told them about Aslan. They learned that Aslan was the true King and the son of the “Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.” They learned that Aslan was a lion – not a man. When that truth was made plain, Susan said: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver replied, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just quite silly.” Then the youngest of the children, little Lucy, says, “Then he isn’t safe?” Mr. Beaver replied, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

I remember that quote, because I think it says it all! Jesus is not who people think He is, and He breaks the molds we make for Him! He is not safe – He is Sovereign… and our reaction to His place in our lives determines if we really are Christians, or just religious church tourists that are self-deluded. Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.