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John, Chapter 2, Part 1

John 2:1-2 – On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

Galilee

We now come to the narrative that contains the first public miracle which Jesus performed.  It occurs in Cana of Galilee, which was situated about six miles outside Nazareth, on the road to Tiberias. 

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not choose Jerusalem as the site of his first public miracle?  Why do you suppose that was the case?

Well, it certainly proves that Jesus was not simply seeking honor from men.  If Jesus had been looking only for earthly glory, then he would have ‘performed’ miracles for as many spectators as possible.  This would have best been accomplished in the crowded city of Jerusalem.

But miracles have nothing to do with Jesus trying to earn human honor.  Miracles are acts of mercy which display the love and power of God to mankind.  They are a confirmation of the gospel message. This is why we always see them in conjunction with the preaching of the word.  In this particular case, the miracle confirmed the divinity of Jesus to his disciples.  This allowed Jesus to earn the trust and allegiance of his apostolic team before embarking on a wider ministry.  It also brought relief to the bridegroom and his family.

Later on, at the appointed time, Jesus’ doctrine and miracles would spread to the city of Jerusalem.  In the meantime, they began inconspicuously among the humble people of Galilee.

John further reveals that Jesus and his disciples were invited to this wedding, while Mary is described as simply ‘being there’.  The common belief is that the wedding was in the family of Alphaeus, whose wife was Mary’s sister.  This makes Mary a relative.

As a relative, Mary was no doubt assisting with the wedding.  This explains why she calls on Jesus for help when the wine ran out.  If she was simply a guest, the lack of wine would not have been her problem.  We might be tempted to wonder why Mary didn’t call upon Joseph for help.  The answer is that scholars believe Mary was a widow by the time Jesus began his public ministry. 

John 2:3 – When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

This might be a good time for us to reacquaint ourselves with basic ancient Jewish wedding customs.  There were actually a number of steps in the marriage process.  We are only mentioning the highlights here, so if you are curious, please look for other resources on this fascinating topic. 

In biblical times, marriages were arranged by the fathers of the bride and groom.  The feelings or wishes of the couple were not normally taken into consideration.  It was not uncommon for the couple to meet for the first time at the wedding ceremony.  In some instances, the marriage contract was established when the bride and groom were still children, and held until they reached maturity. In any event, the parents would agree upon what amounted to a purchase price, and then establish a marriage covenant. 

Once the contract was agreed upon by the parents, the couple was betrothed.  At this time, the woman was considered legally married, although she remained in her father’s house.  She could not belong to another man unless she was divorced from her betrothed.  This explains why Joseph was going to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant before they were married (Matthew 1:18-20).

Eventually, after at least one full year, the next step would take place – the fetching of the bride.  In this step, the groom would go to the home of the bride and bring her back to his house.  (We see a reference made to this in the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25).  Two things should be noted in connection with step two.  The groom had to have a place prepared for the two of them to live before he could get his bride.  Also, it was the father of the groom who determined the exact moment that the groom went to collect his bride.

Step three was the actual wedding ceremony.  Normally, only a few guests were invited. 

The final step was the marriage feast, which could last for 7-14 days.  Lots of people were invited to the feast (many, many more than the marriage ceremony).  It seems to have many of the same elements that might be found at a modern wedding reception – food, lively music, special clothing, dancing and wine. 

Now, let’s talk specifically about wine. 

In Jewish tradition, wine is closely associated with the Sabbath.  According to Chabad.org, wine ushers in the onset of the Holy Day in a spirit of sanctity (Kiddush) and it marks the end/close of the Holy Day (Havdalah) as well.  Thus, wine marks the boundaries that separate the Holy Day from other ordinary days.   At a Jewish wedding, wine does the same thing for the new marriage – it symbolizes both the sanctity and separation of the marriage bond. 

In addition, wine is always associated with song and festivity.  As such, it is an integral part of joyous occasions such as Sabbath and marriage celebrations – both are not only to be observed, but celebrated.  Both actually represent covenantal, reciprocal love relationships!

Knowing this, we can imagine how unthinkable it would be for a host to run out of wine before the end of a marriage feast!  Not only would the host be mortified, but the guests would be insulted; a lack of wine would be seen as a show of disrespect to the guests. 

But sadly, that seems to be exactly what happened in this case. 

So we find Mary telling Jesus ‘They have no wine’.  What are we to make of this simple sentence?  Many interpretations have been given, but these are the three most common:

  • Jesus brought a number of disciples to the feast with him – too many for the short supply of wine.  Mary was actually asking him and his friends to leave the feast; this would preserve the already short supplies of wine.  Besides, if others saw Jesus leaving, they might decide the party is over.  If the party broke up early, the supply of wine would be sufficient. 
  • Mary was not asking for a miracle.  She was expecting Jesus to give a pious exhortation to the crowd, which would have supposedly relieved the shame of the family, while at the same time pacifying the insulted guests.  In this scenario, there is still a lack, but people accept it and hold no grudges against the host.  
  • Mary said this to Jesus because she had faith in him as the Son of God, and she believed he could (and should) address this need.  Even though Jesus had not yet performed a miracle, Mary had faith due to the extraordinary/divine circumstances surrounding his birth, the words Anna and Simon spoke at Jesus’ dedication at the temple, and the testimony given by the Baptist.  If Elijah could entreat God for a supernatural supply of meal and oil (I Kings 17:1-16), then surely Jesus could request a supply of wine.

John 2:4 – And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”

In our culture, the use of the word ‘woman’ seems to be a mild reproof against Mary.  We would likely interpret it as a sign that she was interfering in something that did not concern her. 

But we can quickly conclude that this was not the case.  ‘Woman’ is the same term by which Jesus addresses his mother when he was on the cross (John 19:26).  He also uses the term with Mary Magdalene after his resurrection (John 20:15), with the Samaritan woman (John 4:21) and with the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:28).  This address/title does not show any disrespect in the least.  In fact, it is actually a tender and compassionate way to address these women.    

So we know that Jesus addresses his mother with respect and compassion.  How then, should we interpret his answer to Mary – ‘My hour has not yet come’?

We need to understand that the ‘hour’ or time that Jesus refers to here is not to be understood in the context of his public ministry.  He is NOT saying, ‘It isn’t time for me to begin my public ministry yet, so no miracle is going to be performed, regardless of your need’. 

Actually, the opposite is true.  Jesus is concerned about every aspect of peoples’ lives, including the honor of the wedding host.  Jesus fully intends to intervene in this situation.

When he says ‘My hour/time has not yet come’ he is referring to the precise moment of his intervention in this specific situation. 

Shamed!

Let me explain it this way: Mary is obviously concerned about the social reputation of her relatives.  They are running out of wine, which is a social disaster of epic proportions.  They could be shamed for years/generations to come. 

In Mary’s mind, the best solution is for Jesus to create a new (and generous) supply of wine before the old wine runs out.  Her preference would be for the guests not to even be aware that there was an issue.  She wants a seamless transition between the wine provided by the host and the wine created by Jesus.

But if the miracle occurs this way, where is God’s glory?  If people don’t even know a miracle occurred, then what good was it?  How does it bear testimony to the love and power of God?  How does it identify Jesus as the Son of God, or confirm the gospel message?  The answer is, it doesn’t!

So when Jesus says ‘My hour/time has not yet come’, he means that the precise moment for him to take action and produce a creative miracle of turning the water into wine has not yet occurred.

As human beings, our timing is very often wrong.  We do things too early or too late.  But God is not like that.  He always does the perfect thing, at the perfect time, in the perfect way.   It has often been said that God is never late, but neither is he early!

Jesus will perform this miracle at the exact right moment: 

  • It will occur when people are aware of the need, and fully cognizant that they cannot fix the problem. 
  • It will occur when the miracle will confirm Jesus as the Son of God. 
  • It will occur when God will be glorified. 
  • It will occur when the disciples and others are there to bear witness to what they have seen. 

While Jesus is absolutely firm that he himself will determine when intervention will come (not Mary or anyone else), he also gives hope that the need will certainly be met.

I want us to pause here, and apply this to our own lives.  Isn’t it true that we are much like Mary?  We want God to meet our needs before they even become needs.  And much of the time, that is exactly what happens.  But sometimes, for reasons we may not understand right at the moment, we must wait.  Let me give you an example from my own life.

My truck was ‘totaled’ a few days before Christmas.  No one was hurt in the accident (thank you, Lord!), but it was an older truck and the insurance coverage was liability only.  This meant that I did not receive any money at all when the truck was destroyed.  But since I am still working, I need a vehicle of some kind to get to work.

I didn’t panic too much.  I was on vacation the week of Christmas and the week after, so my need for a car was there, but it wasn’t desperate (sort of like the wine that was low, but not completely empty).  Like Mary, I asked Jesus meet my need seamlessly, before it actually became a need (I wanted a replacement vehicle before I had to return to work).    But that didn’t happen.  I have been borrowing vehicles from friends and family members for almost two weeks now. 

So what will my attitude be?  Will I grumble and complain?  Will I accuse God of an injustice because I think he was late in meeting the need?  Will my pride rise up and make me bitter because I am forced to ask others for a favor?  Will I be cranky and mean with my spouse, children and coworkers?  God forbid!

I may not fully understand this situation, but I have the same assurances that Mary did – God hears my request, he understands my need and he fully intends to intervene.  He also knows the perfect time in which to act.   

The best thing I can do at this point is continue to pray, continue to praise him for an answer, and continue to look for the right vehicle.  By faith, I can give him the glory for helping me before I see that help actually manifest.  I can testify to all who will listen that God is in control and he will meet my need at the perfect time and in the perfect way. 

What about you?  Do you have needs in your life that you need Jesus to miraculously meet?  Are you fully convinced that God hears your request, that he understands your situation and that he is going to intervene at the exact right moment?  

John 2:5 – His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There can be NO doubt whatsoever that Mary fully believed Jesus was going to meet this need.  We see the evidence of her faith when she tells the servants to obey the instructions of Jesus, no matter how strange or unconventional they may seem! 

But do you notice the secondary issue here?  Mary peacefully submits to the timing of Jesus.  No matter how low the supply of wine was at that moment, she shut her mouth and accepted God’s providence without complaint.

This is another good lesson.  We too must accept God’s perfect timing. 

I believe that all of us would like to see some changes in our nation; we would like evil to be defeated and righteousness to reign in America once again.  No doubt, all of us are praying and working for change.  No doubt, we all believe that God is going to intervene in the affairs of this nation, and show forth his glory.  But frankly, I wish he had done it six months ago!  Sometimes I get frustrated because it seems to be taking forever!  This may not apply to you, but as for me, I need to trust not only in God’s power but in his perfect timing.  When the time is right, he will act. 

John 2:6 – Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

Washing with water was included under certain circumstances of the law.  But the tradition of the elders had created a whole false hierarchy of ceremonial washings for the people of Israel (surprise, surprise).  

Because of the traditions, the Jews had to wash their hands after any contact with Gentiles or their goods.  They had to wash before eating (Matthew 15:2).  They also washed their cups, dishes and tables (Luke 11:39, Mark 7:3-4).  This is just a small example of their ceremonial washings.

Obviously, a lot of water would have been needed for all the guests of a 7 day feast.  So the host provided stone water jars for the guests.  These jars were open (no lids) and they were never used for any purpose other than water for cleansing. 

While the exact measurement of the water is uncertain, no one denies that even by the lowest estimates, these jars held a huge amount of water.

John 2:7 – Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.

Here we see that Jesus takes care to ensure that the miracle he is going to perform cannot be denied.

  • As we already mentioned, the water jars did not have lids.  Therefore, no one could say that wine had been hidden in the jars; water was plainly visible in the pots.  
  • The jars NEVER held anything but water; no one could say that the jars had been used for wine in the past and people were noticing the after taste of something from the past.
  • The jars were filled to the brim.  This ensured that no actual wine could have been poured into the water, to give it the diluted taste of wine.
  • The servants were required to fill the pots as opposed to the disciples.  This ensures that Jesus and his disciples were not attempting to pull off some kind of trick.  The servants were well known to the hosts; they did not have the power or means to pull off a trick of this magnitude, nor would they have a reason to do so.  The servants actually become eye witnesses to the miracle – they know and can testify exactly what occurred.
  • The vast amount of water/wine made it virtually impossible for this to be a hoax.  Where would Jesus get that much wine?  How would he have transported it or hidden it?  How could he have placed it into the water jars without anyone seeing him?

By the way, have you noticed that when God works miracles, he requires our participation?  For example, the man with the withered hand had to stand up and stretch out that hand (Luke 6:6-10).  The blind man had to go to the pool and wash mud off his eyes (John 9:6-7).  When Jesus fed the 5000, the disciples had to organize the people into groups (Mark 6:38-44).  In this case, the servants had to fill the stone water pots. 

Can you imagine the reaction of the servants?  They probably thought Jesus was nuts.  There was no shortage of water, so why would they need to fill these pots?  Besides, it was probably a lot of work to do so.  Nevertheless, they did as they were told and the miracle occurred.

Are you looking for a miracle?  What part has God asked you to play?  Have you done as he asked?

John 2:8 – And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.

Even though this was Jesus’ first miracle, there was no pomp or show associated with it.  He simply instructed the servants to draw the wine out and deliver it to the master, just as they would any other wine. 

Who was the master?  He appears to have had the responsibility of ensuring that all the guests had enough to drink, but that none of them became drunk and crossed over into disorder or indecency.  He was well acquainted with the custom of serving the best wine first.

John 2:9 – When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom…

Again, we see that there can be no conspiracy surrounding this miracle.  The servants who saw the water turned into wine did not have an opportunity to taste it.  The master who tasted the wine had no idea that it had been mere water just moments ago.  Both parties will give impartial witness; there is no way they could conspire to falsify the miracle. 

John 2:10 – and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The reaction of the master in this verse is actually comical!  I can picture his face in a grimace as the servant brings him a cup of what he thinks will be the worst wine (probably closer to vinegar than wine) imaginable.  I bet he takes the smallest sip possible, anticipating how bad it will be!

But then I can picture his jaw dropping open in astonishment as he realizes how incredibly good the wine actually is!  No doubt, it has better body, better flavor and better aftertaste than any of the other wine served at the feast.

Because he is so caught off guard, he gives us his true, unfiltered opinion– this is the best wine.  Not knowing where it had come from, the master gives the credit to the bridegroom.  But you and I know the true source of this miracle – Jesus our savior!

John 2:11-12 – This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.  After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

This miracle shows that God has great compassion for his people, in all aspects of life.  He is willing and able to assist us in everything that concerns us, whether great or small.

Not only did Jesus meet the need of this family, he also confirmed for his disciples that he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.  But let me make this distinction:  This miracle did not create faith in the minds of the disciples.  Rather, it confirmed the faith that the disciples already had. 

As we saw earlier, the disciples believed on Jesus when John the Baptist pointed him out.  They believed in Jesus after spending a night hearing what he had to say.  They believed without seeing any miracles at all; this miracle was a confirmation of what they believed.

On the other hand, we know that the religious leaders would see many miracles during the ministry of Jesus.  But these miracles did not give them faith.  Because they had already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they would not accept him no matter how many miracles he did!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Do you need a miracle in some area of your life?  I encourage you to believe God for what you need!  He is concerned about every aspect of your life, even things that seem small or insignificant compared to the problems of others.  He is even there if you are at fault (like the host who did not provide enough wine).

Let me offer you some relief:

How much time do we actually waste worrying and fretting?  We could relieve a lot of our stress if we just remind ourselves that God hears our requests, he understands our needs and he fully intends to intervene in our lives.  He also knows the perfect time for action! 

So give yourself some relief from worry and stress – let God handle your need at the perfect time, in the perfect way.

Let me offer you some strength:

Although you certainly can’t make your miracle happen, you will probably play a role in it.  Just as the servants had to draw out the water and serve it to the master, or the man with the withered hand had to stretch it out, God will also ask you to take a step of faith in order to claim your miracle. 

So be strong in your faith, and do as you feel Holy Spirit leading you!

John, Chapter 1, Part 5

John 1:35-36 – The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

We now continue our study of chapter one, in which John the apostle is giving testimony about the divinity of Jesus. 

John was an eye witness.

In our last post, John the apostle was relating an eyewitness account of the testimony of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist confirmed for the religious leaders (Pharisees sent from the Sanhedrin) that he himself was NOT the Messiah, nor a reincarnation of Elijah, nor another Prophet.   The Baptist described himself as simply a voice, crying out in the wilderness, paving the way for the Messiah.  

The Baptist also testified that when Holy Spirit landed upon Jesus in the form of a dove, it was a sign from God that he was the long awaited Messiah.  John the Baptist confirmed Jesus as the Messiah publicly a number of times. 

As we pick up in verse 35, we find that John the Baptist was standing with two of his followers.  We know that one of them was Andrew (verse 40), and as we mentioned in our introduction, it is quite likely that the second was John, who would later become the apostle John and the writer of this gospel.

As they are standing there, the Baptist watches Jesus walk by.  The Greek word for watch means ‘to attentively behold, to earnestly fix your eyes upon’.  In other words, it was not just a passing glance.  John knew he was looking upon the Messiah, the Son of God and the deliverer/redeemer of mankind.  John then proceeded to do what he always did – point others away from himself and towards Jesus, the Lamb of God.

John 1:37 – The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

The words spoken by the Baptist were clearly blessed of God – there had been no miracle, no flash of lightening, no angles singing; just a few simple words that created a hunger/desire within these two men to understand Jesus and his message.  That inward desire manifested itself in their actions – they immediately left John and followed Jesus. 

John 1:38 – Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”  And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), where are you staying?”

Don’t you just love the response of Jesus?  As soon as the two disciples began to pursue him, he turned to meet them.  He wasn’t too busy.  He didn’t have an assistant check their credentials or degree of religious training.  He didn’t require an appointment.  He immediately responded to their heartfelt desire to know him!  

Rather than putting them on the spot, Jesus speaks first.  His question (What are you seeking?) could be paraphrased this way – “What is your petition or request?  What would you like to tell me?  What would you like to ask me?” 

In essence, Jesus was inviting these men to open up their minds and hearts.  He wanted to hear their thoughts and ideas regarding the Messiah.  He wanted to know how they interpreted current events.  He wanted to converse and fellowship with them.  He wanted to open the scriptures and reveal the truth about Messiah.

In their response, they address Jesus as ‘Rabbi’, which is a Jewish title of respect or honor given to teachers of the law.  Although they do not yet recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of that law, they are willing to believe the testimony of John the Baptist, who points them to Christ.  At that point, they can discover Jesus for themselves.  

Their response to Jesus (where are you staying) indicates that they were ready to spend some time getting to know Jesus and his ways.  They weren’t in a big hurry to have an answer within a minute.  They were willing to open their minds and hearts and embark on a journey to find knowledge and truth.  

I believe Jesus is calling us to the same kind of relationship.  He has unknown depths of wisdom and knowledge.  He has answers to all of mankind’s greatest questions.  And he turns to us and asks, ‘What are you seeking?’  He is making us the offer of a lifetime – to embark on a close, intimate journey with him, as he reveals answers to the questions that are deep within our souls.  Does that sound like an exciting journey to you?  

John 1:39 – He said to them, “Come and you will see.”  So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

In the Jewish way of keeping time, the tenth hour refers to roughly 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  Since 6 pm was considered sunset, the disciples had a choice – either come back in the morning, or stay the night with Jesus. 

Before we go any further, let me ask you a question:  Have you ever put something off until tomorrow, only to find that tomorrow never comes?  Do you have a goal that you have always planned to accomplish, but you haven’t done a thing about it in the last 10 years?  If so, chances are you will never do that thing!

In this situation we see that the disciples could have put off meeting with Christ until ‘tomorrow’, but they did not.  They probably had busy lives, just like we do.  But they put aside their work, hobbies, friends, etc in order to connect with Jesus.  They were truly searching for spiritual answers.   

What a wonderful lesson for us!  Much to our shame, we often find reasons to put off spending time with Christ.  We often look for a ‘more convenient time’ (Acts 24:25) to research or consider spiritual matters.  And sadly, every time we delay, we miss out on an opportunity to fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit.  Furthermore, with the instability in our society today, we need to spend MORE time gaining wisdom from Jesus, not LESS!  

John 1:40-41 – One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 

John now begins to tell us how the disciples were gradually brought to Christ.  Andrew is one of the first to follow Jesus, and as soon as he hears about the Messiah, he brings his brother Simon (Peter). 

This is a common occurrence.  Once a person finds Jesus, they are so thrilled, delighted and amazed with him, that they cannot help but share this good news with others.  And so it goes… one invites another, who invites still another and Jesus accepts all of them, giving them the power to become sons of God (John 1:12). 

When was the last time you shared the good news with someone else?

John 1:42 – He brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John.  You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

When Andrew brings his brother to Jesus, Jesus immediately identifies him as Simon, son of John (your translation may say Jonah or Jonas).  Jesus also delivers a prophesy regarding Simon – his name would later be changed to Peter/Cephas. 

Let’s discuss this name change a bit further.  It is not uncommon to re-name a person based on a past event.  For example, when the patriarch Jacob wrestled with God all night, he was renamed Israel which means ‘he who prevails with God’ (Genesis 32:26-28).  Keep in mind that it was the event itself that prompted the name change; the event occurred first, and the name was changed afterward.    But in this scenario, Jesus is actually foretelling the future.  He declares that at some future time, Simon’s name will be changed to Peter. 

Currently, Simon is rash, headstrong, fearful and inconsistent.  But Jesus sees Simon not as he is right now, but how he will be.  Before the crucifixion Simon Peter denies Christ three times and flees from the scene of the cross out of fear.  He, along with the other disciples, hid in fear of the Romans (John 20:19).  But after the day of Pentecost when Holy Spirit filled Peter and the others, Peter transforms into the bold, consistent, fearless leader that Jesus knew he would become.

So, how do you view yourself?  Your spouse?  Your children and/or grandchildren?  Do you only see their current failures and struggles, or do you envision them as Jesus does – successful, productive citizens and spiritual generals in the kingdom of heaven? 

Your words have tremendous power (Proverbs 18:21).  So be sure to speak words of success, love and encouragement over your family every day.  Tell them not to give up or be discouraged; remind them that eventually they will overcome their current obstacles and be victorious.  Want to sow seeds of greatness into their lives?  Use your words to paint them a picture of their future success!

John 1:43-44 – The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 

Jesus recognizes that it is his time to leave Judea where he has been baptized by John.  No doubt there were those who wanted him to remain close to John the Baptist, hoping to see more and greater confirmations that he was the Messiah.  There were also those who would have wanted him to travel straight to Jerusalem, so that he could assume the public role of Messiah that they envisioned for him. 

But Jesus has other plans.  He is busy doing his Father’s will.  At this time, he is revealing himself as Messiah to those who will later become his apostles.  This is not the actual calling of these men to be apostles (you can read about that in Matthew 4:18).  It is simply the time in which they become fully convinced that Jesus is truly the divine Son of God and redeemer of mankind.

John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Phillip, fully convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, shares the good news with another friend of his – Nathanael (who is also called Bartholomew or son of Tholomew). 

What causes Philip and the others to be fully convinced that Jesus is the Messiah?  I think it is a combination of more than one thing.

To begin with, we know that Andrew and another disciple (most likely John) were originally followers of John the Baptist.  This tells us that they were spiritual seekers.  They were looking for truth and spiritual reform.  Religion was not just a thing relegated to some dusty corner of their lives; it was an integral part of who they were.  It affected their daily lives and the fortunes of their nation.    

Their search for truth led them to John the Baptist.  Because they followed John the Baptist, they witnessed John’s confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah.  This led them to seek an audience with Jesus, which resulted in an invitation to spend the night with him.  And during the discussions of that night, it is probable that Jesus opened the Old Testament scriptures (the Law and the Prophets) to them, showing that he was the fulfillment of all that had been prophesied about the Messiah. 

Once Andrew and John were fully convinced, they told the good news to Peter, who told Philip, who then told Nathanael.

So let’s ask ourselves this question:  Would any of this have happened to these men if they had not been actively seeking the truth?  Do you think they would have found the Messiah while sitting at home, complaining about the Romans and the taxes and the corrupt priesthood?  Do you think revelation knowledge of the Messiah would just have come to them as they read the evening news?   

What about us?  Are we actively seeking a fresh encounter with Holy Spirit in our own lives?  Do we spend time at the feet of Jesus, asking for wisdom to help us turn our nation around before it self-destructs, or are we just sitting around complaining about government mismanagement? Will we find the answers to our personal and national problems by listening to the news media?  

Matthew 7:7 – Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

My personal opinion is that we will never ‘stumble’ onto the answers we need for ourselves or for our nation.  It will take a definite effort on our part.  The good news is that Scripture supports the idea that God is found by those who actively seek him. 

Jeremiah 29:13 – You will seek me [God] and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.      

Let’s face it – what we have done in the past is not working.  Let’s turn to the source of all truth for the answers we so desperately need in our own lives and in our country!  

John 1:46 – Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Clearly, Nathanael had some preconceived ideas about Nazareth.

Generally speaking, Nazareth was not the most prized real estate in that region.  It was an obscure village of Galilee.  It was far away from Jerusalem, thinly populated, mountainous and wild.  It was surrounded by Gentile nations and the Jews considered it a wicked place.  To be identified as a Nazarene was an expression of contempt among the Jews.  All in all, they would be prone to immediately dismiss anything or anyone who came from Nazareth, including Jesus.

So we find that Nathanael could have rejected Christ based on his own preconceived ideas.  What preconceived ideas do you have about revival or Holy Spirit or the supernatural or angels or miracles?  Are these ideas preventing you from finding the truth? 

Nathanael took the time to ‘come and see’ before making a decision on the matter of the Messiah.  Can we do the same to spiritual things we don’t fully understand?

John 1:47 – Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

Our translation says that Nathanael had no deceit in him.  Your translation may say “guile”.  The root meaning is deceit, fraud or hypocrisy.  According to Jesus, Nathanael is exactly what he seems to be – a true Jew, who fears God and obeys his law. 

Jesus seems to be making a distinction here.  There were many Jews who boasted in their heritage.  Because they were physical descendants of Abraham, they considered themselves holy and accepted by God.  Yet, these same people were often hypocrites; far removed from the faith of their fathers.  Despite being children of Abraham, many of them would soon become bitter enemies of the cross.  

Thus, Jesus makes a distinction between those who profess to be Jews and those who are truly Jewish in their hearts.  The same distinction can be made of Christians.  There are those who claim to be Christians for one reason or another, but they are hypocrites who lack true faith, devotion and love.  On the other hand, there are also true Christians who have integrity of heart before God and man.  Let us always strive to be like Nathanael!

John 1:48 – Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”  Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Having never met Jesus before, Nathanael naturally wonders how or where Jesus could have known about his character.   

The answer Jesus gives Nathanael blows his mind!  Jesus says he has ‘seen’ Nathanael under the fig tree.  In the original Greek, Jesus refers to it as “THE” fig tree, not simply “A” fig tree.  Thus, it was not just any old fig tree, but a very specific tree, which Nathanael knew well.    

THE fig tree

Scholars speculate that the fig tree was the personal place of daily prayer and/or devotion of Nathanael.  It was the place he routinely went in order to commune with God.  We might refer to it as a personal prayer closet.  It was here that Nathanael released his thoughts, prayers, dreams, desires, motivations and secret feelings to God.

When Jesus declares he has ‘seen’ Nathanael there, he is clearly not referring to the act of physical sight (II Chronicles 16:9).  Jesus is saying that he had knowledge of all the prayers and communion that Nathanael shared with God.  In order for Jesus to know this, he had to be divine. 

John 1:49 – Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

The words of Jesus quicken Nathanael’s spirit.  He knows that Jesus has spoken the truth and that he actually is the Messiah, the Son of God.  And because of his understanding of the scriptures, Nathanael correctly proclaims him the King of Israel (According to scripture, if Jesus is the Messiah then he is also the King of Israel). 

While this is true, it also reflects the limitations of Nathanael’s thinking.  Jesus came not only to be the savior and king of Israel, but of the entire world – Gentiles as well as Jews!

John 1:50-51 – Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Nathanael had based his faith in the divinity of Jesus on one revelation – that Jesus knew what he had spoken to God in secret. 

But Jesus was going to furnish much, much more abundant proof than just that!  All of the apostles were soon going to witness vast numbers of miraculous events.  The blind would see, demons would be cast out, thousands would be fed, storms would be stilled, Jesus would be resurrected, and on and on and on.   

However, scholars are somewhat mystified by the exact words of Jesus here in the book of John. We can’t point to any specific time when Nathanael saw a literal vision in which heaven was opened and angels were ministering to Jesus.  Of course, this does not mean that this event did not occur (John 20:30).  It also does not mean that this particular event has yet taken place.  Perhaps Jesus is referring to something that will happen during his second coming.

One thing we can be sure of is that Jesus still desires to reveal himself, his power and his glory to his present day followers.  If we want to know Jesus in this way, all we need to do is seek him!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The scripture says that John the Baptist ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah; he pointed people to Christ.  No matter what our individual ministry may be, we too need to operate in that same spirit and power.

We don’t need to put on strange clothes, eat unusual food and separate ourselves from the world in order to do so.  All we need to do is live in a state of thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for us.  When we do, we will find that our conversation and our actions will automatically reflect what Christ has done for us and this in turn will open doors of opportunity for us to share that good news with others.  

I encourage you to meditate on the goodness of God and watch doors open up for you to testify about Christ.  

Let me offer you some relief:

God is not finished with you yet!  In today’s study we noted that Jesus knew Simon would one day become Peter; his character and spiritual man were going to grow and change.

Likewise, you are not going to be the same person next year that you are right now.  Neither are your spouse and/or your children.  So make sure you take the time to speak words of life, success and encouragement to everyone in your household, regardless of their current situation.  Recognize the potential in those around you, and sow seeds of greatness into your loved ones!    

Let me offer you some strength:

Today’s lesson demonstrates a biblical principle:  Those who truly seek will find.  Picture yourself in Andrew’s shoes as Jesus turns to him and asks, ‘What do you seek’? 

What do you want from the Lord?  Health?  Answers to problems?  A spouse or a child?  A financial breakthrough?  A spiritual gift?  

I am NOT saying that God is going to answer every prayer you pray in the manner in which you want.  But I am saying that God will communicate with you; he will give you answers to your questions, even if the answer is ‘no’.  So if you are seeking Him and his will in a situation, don’t give up!  Strengthen your resolve.  Stay in communion with Jesus until he reveals the answer to you. You’ll be glad you did!

 

 

 

 

   

   

John, Chapter 1, Part 4

John 1:19-20 – And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 

As John the Baptist preached his message of repentance, his fame spread from the region of Galilee all the way to Jerusalem.  From the nature of his preaching, people speculated that he was the long awaited Messiah (Luke 3:15). 

In light of this, it would have been the duty of the Sanhedrin, the great ruling council of the Jews, to examine John and determine whether or not he was the Messiah.  It is not unreasonable to assume that they wished/hoped that he was!   

But John is very careful not to take any of the honor or glory that belonged to Christ.  He clearly states, without the slightest hint of ambiguity, that he is NOT the Messiah the Jews are expecting to come. 

John 1:21 – And they asked him, “What then?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No.”

Why would the Jews ask the Baptist if he was Elijah? 

Answer: They were referring back to an Old Testament prophesy.

Malachi 4:5 – Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:

The Jews were interpreting this prophesy of Malachi literally.  They expected Elijah himself to rise from the dead, reappear upon earth and herald the coming of the Messiah. 

So, when the Jews ask John if he is Elijah, they mean it in the literal sense and thus he answers them correctly – ‘No, I am not’. 

Even though the Jews misunderstood this prophesy, it was still valid.  God did exactly as he said he would.  He sent his people a prophet (John the Baptist) who possessed and exhibited the same bold, powerful character and message of repentance as Elijah had. 

Pharisees

John’s ministry pointed people to the true Messiah, preparing them to receive the gospel message from Christ (Luke 1:17, Matthew 3:3).  Thus, he was the ‘Elijah who was to come’; he was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy.  Jesus himself confirmed this fact (Matthew 11:14, Mark 9:13). 

At this point, John has denied being the Messiah or Elijah raised from the dead.  So who is he?  Still seeking an answer, the religious leaders next ask if he might be ‘the Prophet’.  Although it is not certain who the Jews are referring to here, it may have been the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14) or the unnamed prophet referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15.  In either case, John now denies that he holds the prophetic office.

John 1:22 – So they said to him, “Who are you?  We need to give an answer to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

So far, John had answered their questions and told them who he was not.  He was not the Messiah, nor Elijah raised from the dead, nor any of the Old Testament prophets.  At this point the religious leaders are out of ideas, so they plainly ask John, ‘Who are you?   What account do you give of yourself and your actions?’ 

Again, this is not an unreasonable question.  The Sanhedrin was the ruling religious authority.  They did not allow or sanction people to be teachers of the law unless they had been fully trained.  Clearly, John had not been.  So they needed to investigate his situation.  Was he a prophet sent from God?  Was he the Messiah himself?  Or was he a mere man of no authority teaching religious doctrines?  

John 1:23 – He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John answers their question by quoting yet another Old Testament scripture/prophesy (His answer is taken from a portion of Isaiah 40:3.)  By doing so, John is showing that the scriptures were fulfilled in him; the foundation of his ministry was built upon divine authority.  John did not need the approval of the Sanhedrin; he was operating from a much higher calling.

When describing himself, John could have pointed out his great authority, given to him by God.  He could have described himself as the one who was specifically chosen for the high honor of heralding the Christ.  He could have used a number of high or lofty titles that brought dignity, respect or honor to himself.  But he doesn’t.  Notice that John refers to himself as merely ‘the voice’.  A voice cannot exist by itself.  It is dependent upon the person it belongs to.  So John assigns himself a position of humbleness, modesty and dependence upon God.  He himself is nothing; he is simply the voice of God.

John is a ‘voice’

What is the true purpose of a voice?  Isn’t it to communicate?  Your voice can send a message or sound an alarm.  It can also teach or encourage.  This shows how John sees himself.  He is a vessel that the voice or message of repentance flows through.  That voice sounds an alarm that people are dead in their sins.  It encourages them to repent and prepare the way for the Messiah who is soon to come. 

According to scripture, this voice ‘cries in the wilderness’.  Why is it described that way? 

The word ‘cry’ signifies earnestness and importunity.  John brings a sense of urgency with his message.  Sin is not a laughing matter.  It is not something to overlook or sweep under a rug.  It is something that must be dealt with immediately and completely, without delay; it must take place right now!  If the people were to find the true Messiah, they must prepare for his coming NOW.

‘Wilderness’ is often used to describe a place of barrenness or waste, a neglected or uncultivated region.  Spiritually speaking, man is in a wilderness of sin; as long as he is apart from God he experiences spiritual barrenness.  His life is disorderly or neglected and he is dead in trespasses and sin.  The connotation is that John’s voice cried out to people in their sinful, spiritually barren state and called them to a state of life and fruitfulness in Christ through repentance. 

It is also worth noting that a wilderness is often entirely uninhabited or very sparsely populated.  This was the kind of area where John preached.  In such a situation, you could not help but clearly hear his voice crying out. 

What about us?  In our busy modern lives, can we hear the voice of God calling to us?   If not, it might be time to retreat to a place of solitude, apart from the demands of the secular world for a time, so we can more clearly discern what God is saying to us.    

John 1:24-25 – (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

Did you notice that it was not the Sadducees or the priests/Levites who questioned the Baptist, but the Pharisees?  This makes sense because the Pharisees, more than any other sect of Judaism, were zealous for the Jewish religious rites.  They would never allow a rite to be added to Jewish worship except by the authority of the Messiah or a prophet.

In this case, it should be noted that Baptism was not a new rite in the Jewish religion.  When a Gentile wished to become a Jewish proselyte he was not accepted until he had been both baptized and circumcised.  These baptisms were never performed except by the express permission of the Sanhedrin.  In addition, Jews NEVER baptized other Jews because it was unnecessary – they were born into the covenant; they didn’t need to be added in again. 

So in the opinion of the Sanhedrin (particularly the Pharisees), John the Baptist was misusing the rite of baptism.  He was twisting it into something it should not be; he was using it in a new way.  The only way this would be allowable was if John was a prophet, or Elijah or the Messiah.    

But as we know, John has already plainly and forcefully denied being the Messiah.  He has denied being an incarnation of Elijah (in the sense the religious leaders understood it).  Likewise, he does not claim to be a new prophet who would have authority from God to make this change.  Therefore the Pharisees demand an explanation of why John felt his actions were acceptable. 

For those of us living some 2000 years later, the answer seems obvious.  Jews as well as Gentiles must become proselytes to the new dispensation of the gospel, which Jesus was about to introduce.  But this was not clearly evident to the Pharisees of that day.  

John 1:26  – John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,

John freely admits that he uses water baptism for a new purpose – to reveal the nature and necessity of repentance.  But neither the water nor the Baptizer has any power to cleanse from sin.  They can only prepare the hearts and minds of the people to turn towards the Messiah, who was even now among them.

John probably turned the world of the Pharisees upside down with his statement.  Think about it – he was not the Messiah, but the Messiah had come.  He had already been born and grown to adulthood.  He was standing by, ready to be revealed.  Although the religious leaders couldn’t pick him out of the crowd, he was there

In some ways, this is a sad commentary on the religious leaders.  They, of all people, should have had their hearts and minds trained to look for the Messiah.  In theory, they should have recognized him well before any of the common people.  But they did not. 

Can we stop and examine ourselves for just a minute?  Scripture tells us that where two or three believers are gathered together, Jesus is present.

Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. 

Yet, how often do we gather in church to participate in religious rites and ceremonies, but we fail to recognize the Spirit at work among us?  Are we sensitive to the presence of Jesus in our midst, or are we as blind as the Pharisees?  

Furthermore, when we see him, how will we react?  Will we be as the religious leaders, telling Holy Spirit how he can and cannot move in our midst?  Will we attempt to restrain him or resist him or even rebuke him, if he does something that does not meet our expectations?

Or will we be as the true disciples, surrendering to the power and anointing of the Spirit, willing to be part of something new and/or unexpected, even if we don’t quite understand it fully? 

If we really want the Spirit to move in our midst as we claim, then we have to give him authority to move as he pleases, and we must submit.  This was a major issue for the religious leaders back in Jesus’ day.  They did not want to surrender their authority to Jesus; because they did not submit to him, they missed all that God had in store for them.  Let’s not be like that!

John 1:27-28 – even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John turns the focus from himself and his ministry to the object that he is there to reveal – Jesus the Christ. 

The latchet of a sandal was the string or thong by which it was fastened to the feet.  To unloose them was the role of a servant.  By his statement, John indicates that he was unworthy to perform even the lowest menial task for the Messiah. 

This is a true demonstration of John’s humility.  John was well known and loved among the people.  Thousands came to be baptized and hear him preach.  He had followers of his own.  He was highly respected even among the political leaders of the day. 

The religious leaders were jealous of the crowds that John attracted, but John doesn’t care.  His only desire is to tell everyone that there is one in their midst who was far superior to him; one who is worthy to receive all praise and glory for he is the promised Messiah.

John 1:29 – The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

A day or at least a night has passed since John spoke to the Pharisees.  They have had a chance to consider his answers.  But before they can ask any further questions or take any action, they find John pointing out Jesus of Nazareth and likening him to a lamb.

  What does the scripture tell us about lambs?

  • During the Passover feast, a lamb was killed and eaten by the Jews to commemorate their deliverance form Egypt (Exodus 12:3-11). 
  • Every morning and every evening a lamb was offered in the temple as part of the daily worship and sacrifice (Exodus 29:38-39).  
  • It was prophesied that the Messiah would be like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). 

But Jesus was not just an ordinary sacrificial lamb.  He was the Lamb of God; a sacrifice appointed by God to take away the sin of the world, and reconcile men to God! 

The significance of the word ‘world’ was certainly not lost on the already astonished Jews.  In the daily temple sacrifices, only the sins of the Jews were laid upon the sacrificial lambs.  But the Lamb of God was different – he would take away the sins of both Jews and Gentiles.

Isaiah 53:6 – All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Another interesting point is that John the Baptist uses the present tense in describing the removing of sin – Jesus ‘takes away’ sin.  Because it is in the present tense, it denotes a continuous act.  Every day, multiple times a day if necessary, Jesus takes away our sin by his blood.  He removes the guilt and punishment of sin from every believer.  He also frees us from the power and dominion that our sin held over us.   

John 1:30 – “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

This is actually the third time John’s audience heard these words.  They were spoken in verse 15 and (partly) in verse 27.  Here, as before, John makes note that he was born on earth before Jesus, yet Jesus was far superior to him in every way.  Jesus was divine, existing long before his incarnation.

John 1:31 – “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water that he might be revealed to Israel.”

What are we to make of the phrase ‘I myself did not know him’? 

First, let’s consider some background.  John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus.  John’s mother Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were cousins (Luke 1:36).  John and Jesus were about the same age with John being just a few months older. 

It is possible that John and Jesus knew each other before John Baptized him.  If that was the case, then when John declares ‘I myself did not know him’, he must be referring to the fact that, although he was acquainted with Jesus as a devout and holy man, he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  John may have suspected that to be the case, but he had to wait until God identified him with a sign from heaven.

But scholars favor the second scenario – that John and Jesus had never met.  Could this be possible, considering they were related?  Yes, it could.  In those days, there was much less travel; it was expensive and often dangerous.  There were no phones, no internet and no zoom.  There were no cars or buses.  John hung out in the wilderness region of Hebron, wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts, while Jesus was raised in Nazareth.  So it is entirely possible that the two were not acquainted and that John did not know Jesus by sight.

Why does it matter anyway?

If a friendship or even an acquaintance existed between John and Jesus, the religious leaders may have been suspicious of a plot between the two to name Jesus as the Messiah.  They would certainly refuse to accept John’s testimony about Jesus.

But, if John doesn’t know Jesus, then his ministry can only be based on a word/command that he received straight from God himself.  This means John’s message has divine authority.  It did not come by his own design (or a conspiracy between he and Jesus), but by inspiration of Holy Spirit and the command of God.  And if God is speaking through John, then the Messiah has truly come!

John 1:32-33 – And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

The Messiah is the one on whom the Spirit of God descends and rests.  This was not John’s idea; this was the true sign of the Messiah that God had revealed to him.  The visible sign of the Spirit descending on Jesus served several purposes. 

  • First, it was a confirmation for John.  He did not need to fear making a mistake by endorsing the wrong person as the Messiah.  Because John could be absolutely certain that Jesus was the Christ, it gave him great boldness in his witness.   
  • Second, it publicly identified the Messiah to the world.  While the crowds looked on, Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended from heaven and rested upon Jesus.  John emphatically points this out to the people.  Thus, God himself announces and endorses the Messiah.  There is no need for an agreement or approval from the religious leaders.   
  • Third, the anointing of the Spirit prepared/equipped Jesus for his mission and ministry.  As you recall, Jesus he did not embark upon the wilderness temptation until he had been anointed by the Spirit (Matthew 3:13-4:1).  Scripture tells us that God gave Jesus the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). 

 Let’s pause for a minute here.  Jesus was not the only one with an assignment from heaven.  God also has something for each one of us to accomplish in this life.  And he empowers us to complete that assignment in the same way – through Holy Spirit!

What is the nature of your current relationship with the Spirit?  Do you fellowship with him each day?  Can you hear him speaking to you?  Do you turn to him for guidance and revelation?  Do you allow him to fill you with boldness and power?  Have you accepted a heavenly prayer language from him?  Has he given you a gift for the edification of the body of Christ? 

Jesus had a divine nature, but even he did not try to complete his assignment without the assistance of Holy Spirit.  How much more do you and I need him?

John 1:34 – “And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Once the Spirit descended upon Christ, the heavenly sign was completed and John the Baptist was fully convinced that Jesus was the Christ.  He was just as fully convinced that Jesus was the divine Son of God who existed before the foundations of the world.  Because he was convinced, he couldn’t help but bear witness or testify to this truth. 

As we mentioned in our introduction, the apostle John provides seven different witnesses in his gospel that all testify to the divinity of Jesus.  John the Baptist is the first of the seven.

 Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

In this chapter, the apostle John gives us the witness of John the Baptist that Jesus was the divine Son of God.  But not everyone was happy to hear the good news. 

As we saw from this brief account, multitudes of common people were excited about Jesus.  When convicted of sin, they repented and readied themselves for the coming of the Messiah.

On the other hand, the religious leaders were not excited.  They wanted to keep their status in society and their religious authority/power.  They never even considered the fact that they were sinners.  In their pride and arrogance, they set themselves up against the Messiah.

So… although both groups heard the same message, some embraced it while others rejected it.  This is a pattern we find all throughout the scriptures. 

You may find this to be true in your own life and ministry.  As you step out to do what God has called you to do, those you minister to will be forever grateful.  These people will be a tremendous encouragement to you in your ministry. 

But there will also be those who dismiss both your ministry and your message.  They may even actively oppose you, as the religious leaders of John’s day did.  So let me offer you some relief for that situation – you will never be accepted 100% of the time by 100% of the people.  The key is to keep your eyes on Jesus and do the work he called you to do; he will take care of your detractors.

Ministry is never easy.  God often calls us to do something that seems impossible.  If we could speak to John the Baptist today, I think he would confirm that!  So you’re going to need strength, determination, wisdom, finances, open doors and a multitude of other things in order to fulfill your mission.  But that is not problem – God has provided his precious Holy Spirit to guarantee our victory, if we will only depend upon him, just as Jesus did!   

John, Chapter 1, Part 3

John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word became flesh:  John has devoted the opening segment of his gospel to proving that Jesus the Messiah is one with God the Father and God the Spirit; he is divine.

He now goes on to show that the Word/Speech was also human; the God of all creation allowed himself to be born in a human body.  By the power of Holy Spirit, he was birthed through the body of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:30-35, Matthew 1:23).  This was predicted extensively in the scriptures – Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53, etc.

Here again, we find that John makes a statement that is so simple anyone can understand it, and yet so profound, even the most mature believer could meditate on it for years (and the scholars could write millions of words about it)!

Why does John use the term ‘flesh’?  Do you find that odd?  Why wouldn’t he say the Word was made ‘man’?

The answer is that the term ‘man’ implies a body that houses a sinful, corrupt human nature.  But Jesus was neither corrupt nor sinful.  His divine nature was not transformed into human nature when he became a man.  Instead, as we have noted above, he remained divine but fused that divinity with a soul and a body when he walked the earth.  If you wish to study this concept further, please look around for other sources.  As mentioned above, scholars have written thousands of pages to try and explain the mystery of this divine truth. 

Rather than trying to fully explain this concept, let’s just appreciate it… the God of the universe, the one who created all things, left the glory and splendor of heaven and permitted himself to be limited by a body of flesh, for the purpose of restoring fellowship with mankind!      

And dwelt among us:  The literal interpretation used here would be ‘tabernacled’ among us.  Think back to what you learned in the Old Testament.  The Israelites constructed a temporary dwelling place for God, called the tabernacle.  At times, God’s glory and presence (his Shechinah glory) was manifested in that place (Exodus 40:34-35, I Kings 8:10-11, Ezekiel 10:4).  John uses this expression to describe the incarnation – the manifest presence of God condescended to dwell in a tabernacle or temple of flesh.   

What else do we know about the tabernacle?

It was a temporary structure.  ‘Tabernacle’ is never used to signify a lasting structure or habitation.  In the same way, the body of flesh that Jesus dwelt in was only a temporary residence for his eternal divinity. 

The Old Testament feast of tabernacles or feast of booths was a celebration held in temporary structures.  This points to the fact that during his time on earth, Jesus celebrated or enjoyed fellowship with his disciples.  He lived, ate, worked, and conversed with them for several years.  During this time, he provided the fullest proof of his divinity (the working of miracles) but yet the clearest proof of his humanity.

And we have seen his glory:  Though he was housed in a body of flesh, the divine nature and glory of Christ were evident to anyone who looked for them.  His divine glory was evident at the transfiguration, in the miracles her performed, in his suffering during at the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross, and in his resurrection and ascension.  This glory was further proof that God had come in human form.    

Glory as of the only Son from the Father:  In our culture, Jesus would be referred to as an ‘only child’.  This means that he is the only true son of God the Father (we are the adopted sons and daughters of God, born again through the Spirit).  He is the only person born of a woman whose human nature did not come by the ordinary means of birth.  Instead, he carried the divine nature given to him by his true Father – God.  As such, he is above every man, angel or other created being (Hebrews 1:1-5).  His glory and majesty are equal to God, because he IS God.  

Full of grace and truth:  This phrase is a very rich and full; we could meditate on just this one aspect of Christ all day long!  

Grace refers to the love and mercy of God which he exhibited by sending a redeemer to save us.  Truth refers to the revelation and fulfillment of the plan of salvation.  Until the time that Christ was incarnated, the promise of redemption/salvation was just that – a promise; a future reality that millions and millions of people looked for.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made under the old dispensation of the law.

John 1:15 – (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)

The event described in this verse probably occurred at the time when Jesus made his first appearance among those who came to be baptized by John the Baptist.  As we mentioned in our introduction, many scholars believe that John the apostle was a follower of John the Baptist before he met Christ.  Therefore, he could be relating an event that he himself saw.

This quote from John the Baptist could be paraphrased this way: “It is proper that Jesus should be honored and respected above me, because he is a person superior in nature to me (he is divine).  Though he was born (in the flesh) after me, he actually existed before me (because he is both divine and eternal).”

John 1:16 – For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Back in verse 14 the apostle John said that Jesus was full of grace and truth.  He now points out that every believer receives from that abundance.

Think of it this way:  Suppose you were starving, you went into a restaurant, and you were seated at an enormous empty table that would seat 10 people.  A server came up and gave you a menu.  But before you could even see all of the choices, the manager showed up with a platter overflowing with a huge steak. 

You are happy and thankful beyond words!  But after only two or three bites of meat, the manager returns with a plate of potatoes.  Then he brings salad.  Then bread and butter.  Then two different kinds of vegetables.  Then some coleslaw.  Then a plate of different fruits.  Next thing you know, the table is completely full.  Every kind of food you could ever want is on that table. There is an abundance – more than you could ever eat. 

Or what about this:  You are in your garage, trying to restore your broken down old car.  But you are missing the tools you need, so you call the local parts store.  The manager sends a truck to your house and delivers a torque wrench.  You are delighted.  But before you can even open the hood of the car, he also places a set of screwdrivers on your workbench.  As you are considering the screwdrivers, he adds a socket set.  And some ramps.  And a hammer.  And a cordless drill.  And an air compressor.  Before you know it, your garage is full.  Every kind of tool you could ever want or need is in your garage.

These are examples of ‘grace upon grace’.  In both scenarios, Jesus is the manager.  He has complete authority over the vast fountain of resources that God (the owner) possesses.  

Now, let me ask you this:  Does the phrase ‘grace upon grace’ sound stingy to you?  Of course not!  The phrase includes an element of abundance – it isn’t just a single instance of grace, it is layer after layer after layer of added grace.  It includes things that you don’t even know that you need yet! 

By definition grace is divine favor; it is a gift from God that we do not deserve or earn by works.  It is also true that the fullness of the supply is constant – God never runs out.  Yet, some Christians live without an abundance of grace.  They don’t seem to have all that they need.  Why is that?  It is because the power to receive grace increases with use or diminishes with neglect, depending on what we do with it:     

Matthew 13:12 – For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever has not, from him shall be taken away even what he has.

Grace upon grace begins with salvation, but also includes wisdom, love, the ability to live a holy life, provision, protection, power, open doors, the ability to forgive, creativity, strength, peace, sanctification and many, many other things.  It encompasses anything and everything that you need as a child of God.

What do you need?  A plate of provision?  A funnel of forgiveness?  The oil of joy?  Ask the Lord for it, then begin to use what is already at your disposal, no matter how small it seems.  In due time, you will find grace upon grace.  You will come into what you need.    

The expression ‘grace upon grace’ also implies superiority.  The grace given to Christians under the gospel is superior and more abundant than that given under the Law.  So let’s rejoice and be glad that we live in the gospel dispensation.  And let’s exercise the grace we have, that we may obtain more!  

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Here John calls attention to the difference between Moses and Christ.

Think back to what you know about the giving of the Law.  When the children of Israel left Egypt, God brought them to Mt Sinai.  There, the people were to meet him at the mountain.  God showed up in a thick cloud accompanied by darkness, thunder, lightning and an earth quake.  The people had been warned not to even touch the mountain, or they would perish.  Great fear was upon all of the people.   

Mt. Sinai

Moses climbed to the top of the mountain to meet with God.  At that time, God gave him the law to pass on to Israel.  Thus, the law truly did come from God to Israel through Moses. 

The law had value.  It was the covenant between God and Israel; they were his chosen people who enjoyed the highest level of God’s favor, protection and communion that was possible at the time.  The Law pointed out sin.  The Law, by its rites and ceremonies, pointed to the future dispensation of grace.  It contained types and shadows of the greater future covenant, when the Messiah would come and make atonement for sin once and for all. 

So while the law did a number of good things, it was still limited.  Its laws and rites were actually a burden to those who had to live by them.  Furthermore, The Law had no power to save or redeem from sin.  I think it can best be described as a precursor to grace – it effectively established that you sinned, and it put you under a sentence of death and condemnation.  Then it pointed to the one who could actually redeem you, the coming Messiah.

Hebrews 10:1 – For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

By contrast, Jesus the Messiah came to earth bringing or exhibiting both grace and truth. 

He did not come with thunder and earthquakes, striking terror into his followers.  He came meekly and mildly, as a baby born in a manger.  He came as a man; as the Son of God in human form conversing and teaching his disciples by doctrine and example.  The burdens of the law were abolished under the gospel when Jesus made permanent atonement for our sin.  In exchange, we are to perform the reasonable service of loving God and our neighbors.

So while those under the law had the promise of what was to come, those under the gospel can actually experience grace and forgiveness! 

Therefore we can say that Jesus brought truth.  This truth stands in opposition to both pagan beliefs and the law because it is the substance or reality of all those things prefigured by the law.          

John 1:18 – No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

How does the apostle John use the word “seen” in this verse?  He is not denying that Moses (and others) saw manifestations of God at different times (Judges 13:22, Exodus 24:9-10). 

The word ‘seen’ is used in the sense of knowing or being intimately acquainted with.  John is pointing out that Jesus, the Son of God who existed with God before the world was formed, clearly knew his Father.  Jesus had an intimate knowledge of God which neither Moses nor any other person ever had. 

Since Jesus alone is intimately acquainted with God in this way, he is the only one qualified to reveal the will, nature and purposes of God to mankind.  The fullest revelations of who God is and what he plans to do are revealed in Jesus Christ and the gospel message.  This work is further carried on by both the written word and Holy Spirit.

Let me give you some encouragement:

Do you realize just how much God loves you?  He sent his only Son to die for you!  And Jesus was on board with that plan, despite the fact that he had to pay the price for your sin!  What a wonderful topic of meditation this week as we celebrate the Christmas season!

Let me give you some relief:

As Jesus revealed, there is nothing you can do that he cannot or will not forgive! 

Even though you may have stumbled or fallen, life isn’t over yet!  The only way Satan can have victory over you, is if you quit or give up.  So repent, change your ways, and get back in the game (Proverbs 24:16). 

Let me give you some strength:

Do you need a boost in your spiritual walk this week?  Then meditate on the first chapter of the gospel of John.  Let your mind consider all that God has done just for the purpose of making himself know to YOU and fellowshipping with YOU.  You will discover that he you are so precious to him, he was willing to give his very best to reach out to you.  

So in the midst of your Christmas celebrations this week, take some time to stop and consider the grace and truth that Jesus brought to earth all those years ago!   

MERRY CHRISTMAS !

  

  

John, Chapter 1, Part 2

Welcome back.  We are in the midst of a very profound and majestic discourse of the divinity of Jesus as written by the apostle John.  In the prior verses, John calls our attention to the fact that Jesus was one with God the Father (and the Spirit) before the universe was ever created. 

The scriptures also tell us that the mystery of man’s redemption by the Word incarnate (Jesus the Messiah), was hidden in God before anything was created (Ephesians 3:6-9).  Thus, we can be assured that the Father, Son and Spirit were all agreement regarding not only the necessity, but the process/method of reconciling man to God.  Again, this was all known to the Trinity before they even brought the universe into existence.

Can we stop for a minute and make this personal?  It is one thing to paint this picture in broad strokes and say that the Trinity purposed to save mankind before he was created, but it’s much more personal than that.  Truly, the Trinity was in agreement about rescuing YOU from sin and death.  God so intensely loves YOU, that he planned to perfectly and completely redeem YOU before the foundations of the world were laid.  When God looked at time, he saw YOU there.  He saw that he had breathed the breath of life into YOU, but an enemy had you in bondage.  In his great mercy and compassion, he did not leave you to that fate.  He himself, in the person of the Word, came to take sin upon himself.  How great is the love of God toward YOU!  How far are his ways past understanding!

My opinion is that when we get to eternity and we have a chance to see the whole design and scope of the plan of redemption, it will blow our minds!  It is also my opinion that our existence in eternity will be an everlasting witness of the love of God, to any and all other life that God has created.

John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

We ended our last post by pointing out that Jesus is both life and light.  He illuminates our spiritual darkness and shows us the way to eternal life.

Light is always self-evident – it makes itself known.  Suppose you were in a completely dark forest, so dense and thick that you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face.  That darkness would be overwhelming.  But I guarantee that if a lightening bug passed by, you would see its glow!  Why?  Because even the most minuscule light overcomes the darkness that surrounds it.  This principle is true both in the natural realm and the spiritual realm.  In fact, it has some pretty profound spiritual significance.

Man is in a state of spiritual darkness, which began when sin entered the human race in the Garden of Eden.  But the light of God has shined through that darkness ever since.    

Romans 1:19-20 – …since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Here are just some of the ways in which God has manifested himself or shined his light in our spiritual darkness down through the ages: 

  • God created each person with an innate sense that there is a God, and He gives us a desire to find Him. 
  • God has given us a conscience that we might know there is right and wrong and therefore an ultimate eternal judge of our actions. 
  • God revealed himself through his chosen people, Israel. 
  • God’s countless miracles attest to his existence.  Creation gives evidence of God’s existence.  
  • God revealed Himself to us through the ‘types and shadows’ of the Old Testament. 
  • God spoke to man through his prophets. 
  • God preserved the sacred scriptures for us, in which we find His promises of the redeemer.    

Ultimately that Redeemer, the Word, the true light, came to earth in fleshly form.  And God used John the Baptist to call our attention to that light.

John 1:6-7 – There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.

As you probably already know, John did not perform any miracles.  He never claimed to have dreams or visions.  His calling was simple:  He was a messenger sent from God to us (Malachi 3:1).  His purpose was just as straightforward:  He came to provide a witness and testimony that Jesus was the Messiah – the Word made flesh; the light of the world.

Through John, God began to herald a change that was about to take place.  The astonishing era of grace was about to unfold.  The Messiah had come and through him all of mankind (Jew and Gentile alike) could be forgiven and welcomed into the presence of God, the source of all light. 

This raises a question – If light reveals itself, then why did God send John to bear witness about Jesus?    

The answer is that mankind loves darkness and willfully closes his mind and heart to the light of God.  John was like a kind of spiritual night watchman, who went around town calling out that dawn was breaking; it was time for people to arise, shake off spiritual slumber, and begin to live in the light.

John 1:8 – He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

John preached a message of repentance from sin.  By awakening people to the reality of their sin and depravation, he prepared them to receive the light of the gospel message and come to faith in Christ. 

This should be abundantly clear to each one of us, as we consider our own conversion experience.  At some point, all of us were happy living in sin and darkness.  But one day, someone (a modern-day messenger of God) shared the gospel with us and because of the conviction of Holy Spirit, we became acutely aware of our sin.  That awareness or knowledge of our sin caused us to seek and accept the forgiveness of Christ. 

You would never have sought that forgiveness if you weren’t fully convinced that you needed it.  And you didn’t know you needed it, until someone told you.  This was why God used John the Baptist to bear witness about the light.  It is the same reason he still uses righteous men and women today to spread the gospel message.    

To avoid any confusion or controversy, the apostle John makes it very clear that John the Baptizer was NOT the actual light.  He was like the star that guided the wise men to the manger.  He is the friend of the bridegroom, not the bridegroom himself.

John 1:9 – The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Jesus is the true light (John 9:5, II Corinthians 4:4).  He is not a fallible, uncertain or dangerous guide.  He is the perfect, true, reliable anchor of our faith.  He is the rock upon which our salvation stands.  He is the source of all gospel revelation, which banishes spiritual darkness, error and ignorance from our lives. 

John now reveals another staggering truth – no more will divine revelation be restricted to a select group of people.  The light will be diffused upon Jew and Gentile alike; upon people of every tribe, tongue and nation.

Isaiah 49:6 – And he [God] said, It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.

God does not exclude anyone from his forgiveness or his kingdom. But there will always be men who choose to exclude themselves from it.  They choose to close their eyes to the truth and reject the light.  They choose to reject/ignore Holy Spirit conviction when it falls upon them, and thus reject the salvation that Jesus provides for them. 

It should be further noted that once we have accepted Christ as savior, Jesus makes us lights as well (Matthew 5:14).  We are to let our lights shine, so that God may be glorified and draw sinners to himself. 

How is your light shining?  Is it bright and bold?  Or has it become a bit dimmed as of late?  This might be a good time to examine yourself and see what you can do to add fuel to your spiritual fire.

John 1:10 – He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

Jesus was always ‘in the world’.  As discussed previously, He existed before the creation, He was active in creation and He continues to breathe life into all creation.  If he didn’t, everything would collapse and die. 

But what John refers to here is clearly the incarnation of Christ – the time when he took upon himself a body of flesh and dwelt among us for the purpose of redemption. 

During that period of time, the world did not ‘know’ Jesus.  In other words, the people of that generation either did not understand that he was the Messiah or they refused to acknowledge it.  Regardless of whether their ignorance was accidental or intentional, the end result was the same – mankind crucified him (I Corinthians 2:7-8).  

John 1:11 – He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

Who or what does John refer to when he says Jesus the Messiah came ‘to his own’? 

In this case John is referring to the Jewish people or the nation of Israel.  They were God’s chosen people, set apart for his purposes.  As you know, God entered into a covenant agreement with Israel.  Part of that covenant declared that God would bless the entire world through them (Genesis 26:4).  That promise was fulfilled when Jesus the Messiah (the Word/Speech) was born through the Jewish lineage (Matthew 1:1-16).  Therefore, the Jews were his own people.  

We have clear evidence in the scriptures that Jesus did exactly what John claims – he ministered or revealed himself almost exclusively to the Jewish nation during his incarnation.

Matthew 15:24 – But he [Jesus] answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

(It was only after the coming of Holy Spirit that Gentiles were admitted into the family of God. See Acts chapter 10).

If any nation of people should have accepted Jesus as Messiah, it was the Jews!  They were God’s covenant people.  They had all the promises and prophesies that identified the Messiah.  They lived in expectation of his coming.

Yet, the scriptures supply vast evidence that, in general, the nation of Israel did not receive or accept Jesus as Messiah (Luke 17:25, Acts 4:9-11).  It’s almost unbelievable!

However, we should not judge the Jews of that generation too harshly.  Mankind as a whole is a fallen race which loves darkness/wickedness.  Chances are that if we had been the generation that was alive when Jesus came to earth we too would have chosen to crucify him!

Furthermore, the apostle Paul clearly outlines in the book of Romans (see chapter 11), that rejection of the gospel by the Jewish nation is the result of a temporary spiritual blindness, which God used to open up the gospel message to the entire world (the Gentiles). 

Romans 11:11 – I say then, Have they [Israel]] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy.

God has not rejected his people Israel (Romans 11:1-2), even though they rejected him.  At the present time, God’s love for Gentiles is creating jealousy in the hearts and minds of the Jews.  One day, at the perfect time, He will bring them back into fellowship with himself. 

John 1:12 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

During the incarnation, the vast majority of Jewish religious leaders and common people rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  They rejected the light, truth and spiritual revelation of the gospel message.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there were some who did believe, and put their faith in Christ.

 And there is more good news – people who formerly rejected him can still be touched by the gospel, if they allow its truth to penetrate their hearts and minds.  As long as a person is living and breathing on planet earth, they can change their mind and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.  So don’t ever stop bringing the names of your unsaved loved ones before the throne of Christ!  With God, all things are possible! 

Those who respond to Holy Spirit conviction and repent of their sin are given the right or privilege (your translation may say ‘power’) to become a child of God. 

This is the highest privilege that can be given to us!  Before we met Christ, we were slaves to sin.  We were under the curse of God.  We were children of the darkness/evil one and the only thing our father could bestow upon us was death and destruction.  

But now that we have placed our faith in Christ, God has adopted us as sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-6, Ephesians 1:5-6)!  We are no longer slaves to sin; we have freedom in Christ.  We are no longer under the curse, we are blessed by God.  We have God as our Father and we are co-heirs with Jesus in the kingdom of God.

John 1:13 – who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

In John chapter 3, Jesus makes it very clear to Nicodemus that there are two kinds of birth – physical and spiritual. 

The Jews had placed their faith in their natural/physical birth along with the bloody rite of circumcision.  According to their thinking, since they were born Jewish, and since they were circumcised, Abraham was their father and they were automatically included in the family of God (John 8:37-41).  To some degree, this was true under the Law. 

But as we noted in our introduction, John is writing his gospel around 95 AD.   The era of the law has passed.  Men are not admitted to God’s family through the law or their lineage or by circumcision.  Spiritual birth can only come by the will of God, and His will is that all men will be redeemed through the blood of Christ.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

As a child of God, you have full access to the throne of God.  Don’t ever stop mentioning the lost before that throne!  Even though you may not see the results right now, God is at work in the lives of those you pray/intercede for.  So no matter what, don’t give up!   

Let me offer you some relief:

As a child of God, your past sins have been washed away.  If God does not hold them against you any more, why would you?  Cast off the shame of those old sins; don’t let guilt keep you from actively participating in God’s kingdom.

Let me offer you some strength:

As a child of God, you are a light or messenger of the gospel, just like John the Baptist.  So let that light shine brightly!  Be confident and secure as you share what God has done for you.  Remember, it’s your job to share, but it is Holy Spirit’s job to quicken the hearts of those around you who still need to find Christ.   

 

John, Chapter 1, Part 1

Introduction:  Welcome back, readers!  We are about to embark on a study of one of the most beloved books in the canon of scripture – the gospel of John! 

This book is for truly for everyone.  It is written in plain, uncomplicated language, but at the same time it is dignified and profound.  On one hand, it is simple enough for a newborn in Christ to digest.  But on the other hand, even the most mature believer finds it deep and complex.

WHO:  Despite some modern day criticism, early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius and others) are in COMPLETE agreement that the gospel of John was written by John, brother of James, who was one of the twelve apostles.  His parents were Zebedee and Salome (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40).

John was probably born in Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee.  In his early life, he and his brother James worked for their father in the family fishing business.  These are the brothers that Jesus referred to as the ‘sons of thunder’ because of their tempers (Mark 3:17).

John most likely had what we would call a ‘middle class’ or ‘upper middle class’ upbringing.  His father’s business was profitable enough to have paid employees (Mark 1:20).  His mother Salome is later described as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and provided for his needs (Matthew 27:55).  She also purchased spices to embalm his body (Luke 23:55). 

Furthermore, at the crucifixion when Jesus asks John to care for his mother Mary, the scripture records that John brought her into ‘his own house’ which indicates he was not destitute by any means. 

We also find that John was known to Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:15) – further indication that John was probably a well known figure and a man of some means.   

Many feel that John was originally a disciple of John the Baptist and that he was the unnamed partner of Andrew as mentioned in John 1:35-40.  Eventually, he becomes the disciple closest to Jesus – ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’.  John is believed to be the youngest of the twelve, becoming a disciple around the age of 25.

John was obviously an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus.  He was also in the ‘inner circle’ of Jesus along with Peter and James. As such, John saw things that most of the other disciples did not.  He was a witness to the transfiguration of Jesus.  He was present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  He was allowed to witness the suffering/torment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was present at the trial of Jesus and he was chosen to care for Mary, mother of Jesus, after the crucifixion.

WHERE AND WHEN:  After the ascension of Christ, John remained in Jerusalem for some time (Acts 1:14, 3:1, 4:13).  We know he was sent to Samaria to preach the gospel with Peter (Acts 8:14-25) and he was present at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  All this agrees with the history recorded by the church fathers, which asserts that John lived in Jerusalem until the death of Mary (15 years after the crucifixion).  Afterwards, he settled in Ephesus, living there from 70 to 98 AD.  His gospel was most likely written in Ephesus, between 85 and 90 AD.

From Ephesus he was banished to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian, where he wrote the book of Revelation.  Later (after the death of Domitian in AD 96), John returned to Ephesus where he too died, not long after his return.  Tradition claims that he is the only apostle to die a natural death.

RELATIONSHIP TO THE OTHER GOSPELS:  John’s gospel stands apart from the synoptic gospels in a number of ways. 

For instance:

  • John’s gospel does not contain any of the parables of Jesus. 
  • While the synoptic gospels chiefly report the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, John writes about events taking place in Judea. 
  • While the synoptic gospels stress the public discourses of Jesus, John stresses the private interviews Jesus had with his disciples. 
  • While the other gospels reveal what Jesus did, John delves more deeply into why he did it.

There are a couple of reasons for these differences.  One is the late date of writing.  While the other three (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were all written before 70 AD, John’s gospel was written much later (85-90 AD).  By the time he writes his account, all of the other apostles (including Paul) are dead.  Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed by the Romans and the Jews have been dispersed throughout the surrounding regions.  About 50 years have passed since the birth of the church, and even at that early stage, Satan is attempting to introduce false doctrines into the church.  The world was a completely different place when John wrote his gospel! 

Also, while John could have written another gospel covering the exact same material as the others, Holy Spirit led him in a new direction – to prove that Jesus was the Son of God.  Thus, his gospel does not need to cover the basics found in the other gospels.  Accordingly, we find no genealogy, no record of birth, no mention of boyhood growth, no record of baptism, no mention of either the wilderness temptation or Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane.

Instead, John’s account goes back to the beginning of time, when Jesus was one with the Father and Holy Spirit.

While John’s gospel is very different from Matthew, Mark and Luke, it should be noted that his gospel does not contradict the others; it supplements them, giving us a richer and fuller picture of Jesus and his ministry. 

WHY: We know that none of the four gospel writers gives us an exhaustive account of everything Jesus did (John 21:25).  Rather, each author was moved by Holy Spirit to reveal certain truths in their writings.  Naturally, they choose events from the life and ministry of Jesus that reflected these truths.

One of the main truths or points that John is making in his account of Jesus is this:

John 20:31 – But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.

Specifically, John presents seven miraculous signs, seven ‘I am’ statements and seven eye witness accounts for the purpose of convincing his readers that Jesus is the Son of God. The point of understanding that Jesus is the Son of God is so we can believe on him and find salvation.

Another one of the awesome aspects of John’s gospel is that it emphasizes the Father-Son relationship between God and Jesus.  In John 14:7-9 we are assured that anyone who sees Jesus has seen Father God.  This is God at work, revealing himself to us through his Son. 

When Jesus healed people, he was revealing God’s desire for us to be whole.  As Jesus displayed compassion to the hurting, he revealed that God is touched by our troubles and he greatly desires to show us his compassion.  Because Jesus raised people from the dead, we can be sure that it is God’s ultimate desire for us to live and not die. 

As we study this book, one of our focuses should be to understand how Father God views us and how he wants to deal with us. 

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am ready to get started!    

John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the Beginning – Hmm… We’ve heard this phrase before, haven’t we?  Where was that?  Right – the first verse in the bible:

Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Right off the bat, John goes straight to his main focus – Jesus as the Son of God.  Let me explain.  Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus; this draws the reader’s attention to the physical beginning of the savior’s life on earth.  Mark begins his gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist, pointing the reader to the precursor of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Luke also begins his gospel with the birth of John the Baptist – again, drawing our attention to the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry on earth in human form.

But John draws our attention to the beginning of time.  Before the Roman Empire.  Before the Israelites became a nation.  Before the birth of Moses, Abraham, Job or Noah.  Before Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden. 

Before all of that, before the very foundations of the earth were set in place, before anything was created, Jesus (the Word) existed.  Therefore, he cannot be created; he is eternal.  And since there is only one Being that is uncreated and eternal (Yahweh), Jesus must therefore be divine.  He is God.

[Here in the very first verse of this gospel, we find an example of what we alluded to in our introduction – This gospel is simple enough for a new Christian, yet deep and complex enough to challenge a mature believer!]

Was the Word: ‘Word’ or ‘the Speech’ is the name that John gives to the one who existed before creation, but afterward took on a body of flesh and walked this earth (John 1:14, I Timothy 3:16).  Obviously, he is referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

But why use the term ‘Word’?  Think of it this way:  Word(s) or Speech is the method that we use to communicate with each other.  It is the way we make our will known or convey our thoughts to others.  Jesus is the method or way that God communicated his divine will to mankind.

Word(s) or Speech is not only the way we make our will/thoughts known, but the way in which those in authority carry out their will.  God’s plan for the ages has been carried out by his Son, Jesus. 

Also, although there is no way most of us would know, in the Targums (translations of Hebrew scriptures into Aramaic for the benefit of Jews who no longer understood Hebrew) the phrase ‘Word of God’ is frequently substituted for ‘Jehovah’.  John may have had this in mind as he wrote.  

Was with God:  This expression denotes intimacy.  John reveals that Jesus was with God in the beginning; he was intimately united with his Father and being of the same essence and nature, he shared in God’s divine glory.  Jesus is therefore a Person distinct from the Father, but of the same essence and nature with God.  Simply stated, the Word (Jesus) was and is God.

The Word was God:  John wants to make his point very clear – Jesus existed with God, but he was not an inferior being in any way.  He is not a second God, nor is he god-like.  HE IS GOD.  His both divine and eternal.  He is in mutual communion with Father God and Holy Spirit.

There is no stronger proof or declaration in all of scripture that affirms Jesus the Son is equal to the Father.  We see that Holy Spirit moved upon the apostle John to make this point irrefutable.

John 1:2 – He was in the beginning with God.

While this sounds a bit repetitious, it is nevertheless very important.  John once again confirms these vital points, so there is no room for error or misinterpretation:

 Jesus (the Word/Speech) existed before creation.  He is eternal. Jesus (the Word) is one with God.  He is divine, having the same essence and glory as the Father.

By stressing these points, John refutes a number of false doctrines that had crept into the early church which suggested that the Father existed before the Son or that the Father and Son were diverse in nature and will, or that the Word in the beginning was not the same as the Word by which all things were made. 

John 1:3 – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John now uses the proof of creation to once again establish, beyond any doubt, that Jesus is God.  Essentially John’s reasoning goes like this:  Since He who made all things is God, and since Jesus made all things and nothing was made without him, therefore Jesus is truly God.In other words, Jesus is not merely an instrument of creation.  He did not receive delegated power from the Father.  He, along with the Father and Holy Spirit are coworkers in creation.

Let’s take a closer look at John’s statement in this verse.

All Things:  This means, well, all things!  This expression cannot be limited to any part of the universe; it expresses the thought of everything that exists.  This includes living things like plant life, people, animals, angels and other beings.  It includes all material realms, regardless of whether or not we know of their existence.  It includes powers and dominions; things we can see and things we can’t (Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:2).

Were made through Him:  The original word for ‘made’ comes from the verb ‘to be’.  It signifies to create or form from nothing.  Don’t miss the significance of this – God did not take raw materials that he found lying around and make something out of them.  He, Jesus and the Spirit literally created the very molecules which made up every part of creation.  They formed the universe and everything in it from nothing!

Without him was not any thing made that was made:  When we compare this phrase with the prior phrase, we find they actually say the same thing. 

One phrase is stated in a positive manner:  All things were made through Him.

The second phrase expresses the same thought, in a negative manner:  Without Him was not any thing made that was made. 

This is a very common method of writing among the Hebrews.  They use both positive and negative statements to confirm their point of view.  When they state something in this way, they are attempting to call significance to it. 

John 1:4 – In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

In Him was Life:  All throughout the scriptures, God is referred to as the ‘living God’ because he is the source or fountain of life.  God has infused (breathed) this life into his creation (Genesis 2:7).  Not only did God create life, but he sustains it – without him, all living things would instantly decay or be reduced back to nothing.  In other words, they would die. 

We can’t help but notice that the same is true in the spiritual realm.  Without Jesus, mankind is dead in trespasses and sin.  But through him, we are a new creation, having eternal life.

I John 5:11-12 – And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.

John concludes that the source of both natural and spiritual life is God, and since Jesus is God, he possesses these same attributes.  He is able to give us eternal life.

The Life was the Light of men: How does light assist us in daily life?  It allows us to see things with clarity and it prevents dangers which result from a state of darkness.  A good example of this would be a light house.  The light shines on the coastline at night, allowing the captain of a ship to clearly see the shoreline.  It reveals rocks and other dangerous obstacles that would otherwise be hidden in darkness. 

Light can also represent knowledge or understanding.  Have you ever seen a cartoon where a person with an idea has a light bulb over their head?  The light bulb represents a new idea or a new understanding.

Jesus the Messiah is called the light of the world (John 8:12, Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:15-16).  He is our teacher, imparting knowledge and understanding to mankind.  By his light, we are made aware of spiritual darkness and danger.

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:

As John pointed out, God is the author of life.  The scriptures are full of examples of his resurrection power.  Do you have things in your life that need to be resurrected or brought back to life? Have you been trying to breathe life into them yourself, without any results? 

These could include things like your marriage, your health, your finances, etc.  If that is you, I encourage you to seek God in prayer.  Ask him to breathe his breath of life into your situation and give you relief.   Find scriptures that speak to your situation, and pray them over yourself.  

Let me offer you some strength:

Are you going through a difficult time right now?  Here is something to consider:  John tells us that Jesus was with God and Holy Spirit before the foundation of the world.  The scriptures also tell us that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit knew the ending of all things before the beginning or creation of the world.

This can only mean that God sees you and your problems, right now!  He knew you would be in your current situation.  He is right there with you, longing to draw you close to him.  His Spirit is standing by, eager to lead you to victory.  So don’t despair and don’t focus your eyes on the circumstances.  Declare the Word of God over your life.  Declare victory in your situation.  Be assured that God is going to bring you through that valley and into a land flowing with milk and honey!

Galatians, Chapter 6, Part 2

Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Welcome back readers!  We are in the middle of the final exhortations of Paul to the churches in Galatia.  We just examined verses 8-9, in which Paul lays out some very clear and far reaching spiritual principles. 

Paul has revealed to the Galatians that whatever a person sows/plants, that shall he also reap.  We noted that this principle applied to the immediate context of the chapter which was support of the local church.  We also noted that God’s laws of sowing and reaping apply to every aspect of life (spiritual and temporal).  Verse 9 applies to both as well. 

Let us not grow weary in doing good – Sometimes, we grow weary.  Let’s face it:  There is a lot of opposition to Christian views, ideas and plans.  There are countless people to be won to Christ.  There is an overwhelming need in the world for food, clothing, medical care, etc.  And often there is a lot of ingratitude in those who benefit from our charity.  At times the problems of our day seem so immense and overwhelming, that we can become weary.  We can be tempted to just ‘walk away’ from the needs of the world and focus on our own lives and families. 

The truth is that if we try to meet these needs within our own abilities, we will fail.  We will certainly become discouraged, run out of resources, lose our patience and simply give up.

But if we walk according to the Spirit, our heavenly Father will make it possible for us to continue in the ways of righteousness. 

  • He has unlimited strength (Isaiah 40:31). 
  • He has unlimited resources (Haggai 2:8, Psalms 50:10). 
  • He has unlimited wisdom for solving problems (I Kings 4:29, Ecclesiastics 2:26). 
  • He is the one who pours out his Spirit to convict sinners and bring them to Christ (John 16:8).   

And He is eager to give us all that we need to be victorious in this world.

If you are experiencing ‘combat fatigue’ in your Christian walk, take some R&R time – shut yourself away with God and let him renew you!

For in due season–Again, we find that God’s spiritual law is plainly evident in the physical realm.  We all know that if we plant peas, there is a season of waiting before the vegetables are ready for harvest.  If you actually read a packet of garden seeds, it will tell you the approximate number of ‘days until maturity’, or the average time it takes to reap a harvest. 

So it is with good works/loving our neighbor/doing God’s will.  We sow as we are able and as God leads.  We may not see much happening, but we can be sure that God has an appointed time for the harvest to manifest.  That harvest may manifest itself here on earth, or we may not see it until we get to heaven.  But either way, God rewards those who sow into his kingdom.

We will reap if we do not give up – Do you see the significance of this part of the verse?  We are guaranteed a harvest.  In the natural realm, that doesn’t always happen.  Any number of factors (drought, floods, extreme temperatures, pests, etc) can rob a farmer of his entire harvest.

But in God’s economy, our efforts always produce results.  Every time you pray for revival, seek a move of Holy Spirit, weep before the Lord for the problems of our nation, use your money to spread the gospel, help the needy, love your neighbor, etc, you are sowing to the Spirit. And you WILL reap a harvest, either in this life or the life to come.  The key is not to give up – to stay in faith until you receive the promise. 

The scriptures are full of wonderful examples of this principle.  Let’s examine one of my favorites – the case of Caleb. 

As you know, he and Joshua were the only two spies who believed that God would give Israel the Promised Land.  They sowed seeds of faith and victory into their community and into their own lives.  After Israel rebelled against God, it appeared as though Caleb would not reap anything for his efforts.  But, hallelujah, that was not the case!  God preserved Caleb for 45 years, until he could reap his harvest! 

Joshua 14:10 – And now, behold, the LORD has kept me [Caleb] alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the LORD spoke this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old.

Can you imagine waiting 45 years for a harvest?  Do you think that Caleb had plenty of opportunities to quit?  To complain?  To become weary?  To be bitter?  To believe he was too old?  You bet he did!

But he didn’t give up, and he didn’t give in, despite the appearance of his circumstances.  He stayed in faith, knowing that you can never lose a harvest in God’s economy – eventually, in due season, you will reap.

Joshua 14:12 – Now therefore give me [Caleb] this mountain, of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.

Joshua 15:14 – And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak.

Caleb is an excellent example of a person who understood that he would reap his harvest in due season, if he didn’t give up.  If you haven’t read his story in a while, check it out in Joshua chapters 14-15.  What other biblical examples of ‘not giving up’ can you think of?  How about some examples in your own life, or the life of someone you know?

Galatians 6:10 – So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

There are several truths apparent in this verse:

God does not expect any one person to meet the needs of the entire human race.  Instead, he will present every believer (including you) with distinct opportunities to do good.

You can expect these opportunities to pop up all throughout your life.  They may come at unexpected times, or in unexpected places, so be on the alert for them, because they are coming!

As we all know, it is possible to miss an opportunity.  For example, the children of Israel missed their original opportunity to take the Promised Land.

Numbers 14:22-23 –Because all those men who have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness…and have not hearkened to my voice;Surely they shall not see the land which I swore to give unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:

I am sure that was a missed opportunity that they regretted for the rest of their lives.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any missed opportunities in my life.  So pay attention to the Spirit!  Maintain an intimate, ongoing relationship with him.  If we are living by the Spirit, and we are actively looking for occasions to do good, he will direct us to the specific opportunities that have been set aside for us to accomplish.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

Do you remember the New Testament parable of the good Samaritan?  If not, you can refresh your memory in Luke 10:30-35.  In this parable, a priest and a Levite both missed the opportunity to do good to the Samaritan, because they didn’t consider him to be their ‘neighbor’.  They didn’t realize that representatives of God should be doing good to ALL men. 

In our case, we need to be aware that we could be called upon to do good to literally any man or woman on the planet.  This might include an adversary; someone who has belittled, bullied or mocked us for our faith; someone we don’t think is deserving of help; someone of the opposite political party; someone with different religious beliefs; an illegal alien; or even a person caught up in sin.  It isn’t our job to judge. If Holy Spirit leads you to an opportunity, take it!

When opportunity knocks, don’t hesitate – open the door immediately!  If God has spoken to you about doing a good work don’t put it off until a time that seems convenient for you, or when it most benefits you, or when you get the most recognition for it.  Timing may be of the essence in the situation; we should always be ready to do the will of God immediately. 

We should especially watch out for opportunities to minister to our Christian brothers and sisters.

Since God has made it our duty to do good to others, he will make sure we have the opportunities to do it – so watch for them. 

Galatians 6:11 (ESV) – See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Honestly, it’s kind of funny how the smallest or most obscure verse can cause such a difference of opinion among scholars!

This is one of those verses.  Let’s compare the translation above (English Standard Version) with the King James Version:

Galatians 6:11 (KJV) – Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Now, compare the two verses and ask yourself this question:  What does the word ‘large’ refer to?  Is it the actual size of the writing in the letter, or does it refer to the length of the letter itself?

Apparently, it can be interpreted either way in the original Greek.  But no matter which interpretation you favor, the meaning is substantially the same. 

Paul has written this letter himself.  This was not his normal method of operation.  Usually, he dictated his letters, only signing them at the end (Romans 16:22), or sometimes personally writing the salutation of the letter (1 Corinthians 16:21).

By writing the entire epistle himself, he proves to the Galatians that this letter is genuine.  Not only that, it shows the great care and concern he felt for them.  Let’s be honest – Paul has a lot going on in his life.  He bears the responsibility of caring for ALL the churches.  Can you imagine the enormous number of distractions, problems and endeavors he was involved in?  And these were aside from his main duties to travel around, start new churches, preach the gospel and contend with the Jews over the law!  So for him to stop and invest so much time in writing this letter to the Galatians, it is clear that he has a deep love and concern for them and their spiritual welfare.

Also, it should be noted that because Paul wrote this letter with his own hand, it lends extra weight to the importance of what he discussed.  Because he had gone to so much effort to pen this himself, it must be important.  Therefore the Galatians should pay the strictest attention to what he has taught in the letter.  We should do the same! 

Galatians 6:12 – It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

At the close of his letter, Paul returns to the main evil that prompted him to write to the Galatians.  Namely, false teachers had fooled the Galatians into believing that they must be circumcised and keep the law in order to have salvation.

In his ‘closing argument’ Paul reveals the true motivations of these teachers.  They are not really concerned with the promotion of true religion or the salvation of others.  Their real motivation is to avoid persecution from their fellow Jews.  If they were to renounce the practice of the law and preach grace alone, they would expose themselves to the rage of the Jews – the same rage that caused the Jews to so furiously and relentlessly persecute Paul. 

Because they did not want any part of that persecution, they attempted to blend the Law with grace in order to keep both parties happy.  This led to the promotion of an evil and unnatural form of religion that robbed the blood of Christ from its true power and led people astray.

Galatians 6:13 – For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Paul also reveals the hypocrisy of the false teachers.  By adhering to circumcision, they obligated themselves to keep the entire law.  Yet, they are very careless in how they observe it. 

Another reason they want the Galatians to be circumcised (besides avoiding persecution) is so they can brag about how many converts they have made to their false Jewish-Christian sect.  We can’t help but notice that they desire to create an outward change in the flesh of these believers, as opposed to an inward change effected by the Spirit.  So while they claim to promote true religion, they are actually enemies of it! 

Galatians 6:14 – But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Paul now contrasts himself with the false teachers.  Unlike them, Paul has no ambition to glory in the Galatians as his converts.  He will boast only in the cross of Christ, which brings justification and salvation to all who believe. 

It is interesting to note that the cross was a stumbling block for most Jews:

I Corinthians 1:23 – But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

This is because the Jews attached feelings of shame and ignominy (public disgrace and dishonor; reproach) to it.  Paul, however, rejoices in the cross because the sacrifice made there is the foundation of grace/salvation.

Paul goes on to say that because of the cross, the world has been crucified to him and he to the world.  In this instance ‘world’ refers to the flesh or desires of this life. 

When Paul accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, his old nature was crucified with Christ.  He now considers himself dead to the fleshly desires of this world; he no longer cares for them or spends time pursuing them.  Meanwhile, unbelievers who continue to live according to the flesh have no love for Paul because they despise and condemn the doctrine of the cross. 

This is the opposite of what we find in the false teachers.  Their chief concerns were deeply rooted in the world.   They were interested in the number of followers they could amass, which would in turn earn them glory and privilege in this world.   

Galatians 6:15 – For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Under the law, circumcision was essential because it was God’s covenant in the flesh of his people.  Those who were not circumcised could not inherit any of the covenant promises. 

But under the gospel dispensation, neither the presence nor the absence of circumcision in the flesh justifies us in the sight of God.  Rather, we are justified or made a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) by the blood of Christ.  In the book of Romans, Paul refers to this as circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29).

Galatians 6:16 – And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Again, redemption is not through the law (circumcision); it comes through the sacrifice of Christ which makes us a new creation.  We must accept the sacrifice of Christ in order to obtain all the rights and privileges of a member of the family of God.

Any person who walks or lives their life as a member of the family of God will live/walk in the peace and mercy of God.

Notice that Paul refers to Christians as the “Israel of God”.  As you recall, the Jews were Israelites simply by virtue of their physical birth.  However, any person (Jew or Gentile) can become a member of the ‘Israel of God’ or ‘spiritual Israel’, by receiving and embracing Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel. 

Galatians 6:17 – From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is now coming to a close.  He has fully revealed the mind of God in the matter of circumcision (the law) and settled the controversy between himself and the false teachers. 

Those same false teachers have been a real pain in the neck for Paul – they practically destroyed the Galatian churches, they undermined Paul’s authority and they led people astray with their false doctrine.  In short, they created a real mess, which the apostle had to stop and clean up. 

But now, using his apostolic authority, he declares ‘enough is enough’.  He calls on the Galatians to return to the pure doctrine of the gospel, to separate themselves from those who led them astray, and to abandon the practice of the law.

Paul says that he bears the marks of Jesus on his body.  In other words, he is telling the Galatians that he already suffered (and continues to suffer) for the cross of Christ.  This was evident in the scars or wounds that he received as a minister of the gospel.  Paul had been beaten, stoned, placed in shackles and otherwise persecuted in a variety of ways.  These marks are proof of the afflictions he has suffered because of the cross; he implores the Galatians not to add to his suffering by abandoning the true gospel. 

Galatians 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.  Amen.

Paul’s closing prayer for the Galatians is that God would pour out his grace upon them; that God would guide them throughout life, strengthen them in their work, and encourage/comfort them in all the trials of life and even in the midst of death.  What a wonderful and affectionate prayer!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Are you laboring and sowing seed into the kingdom of heaven?  If so, you can be assured that you will reap a harvest – so don’t complain, don’t worry and most importantly – don’t give up!  That harvest is on the way!

Let me offer you some relief:

The Lord has made it our duty to help our neighbors and to do good works.  But before you panic, remember that no one person can help the whole world!  Holy Spirit will bring specific opportunities for ministry across your path.  If we live each day with an attitude of expectancy, we will surely recognize them when they appear. 

Let me offer you some strength:

I may not know you, but my guess is that you are not perfect!  Even though you and I are new creations in Christ Jesus, we still occasionally sin.  We are still sometimes blindsided by our enemy, just like the Galatian Christians were.  But that is not the end of the world.  Like the Galatians, we can be forgiven and restored in our relationship with Christ.  If you have fallen into sin, take it to the cross and leave it there!  Jesus will give you the strength to pick up the pieces and continue in your Christian walk.

Galatians, Chapter 6, Part 1

Galatians 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

This chapter contains the closing comments of Paul to the Galatian churches.  He speaks to them kindly, offering fatherly advice and encouraging them to watch out for each other spiritually. 

Paul plainly states that it is possible for Christians to be ‘caught’ in sin.  The actual root meaning for the word is exactly that – to be taken unaware or by surprise.

In other words, Christians do not plan to deliberately sin.  They set their hearts to purposely follow Jesus and his ways and to live holy lives that are pleasing to the Father (which is in opposition to walking in the flesh, as discussed in chapter five).

But in the midst of that, it is possible for a Christian to be snared by a sudden or unexpected temptation which they are not prepared for.  There are also cases where a Christian can be caught up in an episode of headstrong passion which leads to sin (we would call it ‘the heat of the moment’).  Paul is undoubtedly referring to some of the sins mentioned in 5:19-21 of this letter, which we covered in our last post.

When a brother does fall into sin, there are those in the church who can help.  These are the people who are ‘spiritual’.  They are believers who have overcome temptations because they walk according to the Spirit.  They are qualified to go along side the transgressor and bring him back to the ways of righteousness.  Paul does not say exactly how this is to be done, but a combination of council, prayer, accountability and changes in action/behavior may all be warranted. 

What Paul does make clear is that this restoration cannot be done in anger or with an attitude of harsh judgment/discipline.  The transgressor is to be restored with an attitude of love, patience and gentleness.  While his/her sin is totally unacceptable, we don’t need to martyr them in order to restore them.

The truth is that all Christians are liable to sin; anyone of us could be ‘caught’ in it at any time. 

I Corinthians 10:12-13 – Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…

Notice that the result we are looking for in these situations is to restore or bring our brother back into his former condition – living in a righteous relationship with Christ as a fully functioning member of the church body.  This is a type of spiritual healing.  If we try to heal through accusation, condemnation or harsh judgment, we are likely to make our brother’s injuries worse rather than better!

Keep in mind that our brother has been ambushed by the enemy.  It would be cruel indeed to treat him harshly when he is already suffering.  Rather, we should be moved by compassion and try to restore him with forgiveness.  But again, let us make the distinction that this directive of Paul refers to sins we are inadvertently caught up in.  It does not refer to instances of rebellion when we purposely choose to walk according to the flesh. 

We should be all the more willing to forgive and restore others in a spirit of meekness, when we consider that we too can be ensnared by our enemy and fail in our Christian walk.

Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This directive of Paul can be taken one of two ways.

If we interpret it in light of the former verse, then we understand it to mean it is our duty to nurse our fallen brothers back to spiritual health.  If they have fallen into a sin or error and recognize their mistake, their sin is undoubtedly a weight or burden on their soul.  At that point, we should come alongside them to offer comfort, forgiveness and restoration.  We should be there to assist them in accountability, so as to avoid future lapses. 

Alternatively, if we consider this verse to be a new precept or command from the apostle, then we understand it to mean that we should sympathize with our Christian family anytime they are under a trial or affliction. 

Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

This would include seasons of financial hardship, illness, bereavement, etc. Perhaps his instructions can best be interpreted as a mandate for us to support the family of Christ at all times! 

When we support each other and help bear one another’s burdens, Paul says we are fulfilling the law of Christ.  We cannot help but notice that he uses the phrase ‘law of Christ’ very strategically. 

Remember, the overall problem in Galatia is that some Christians have been led astray by false teachers, who have added the observance of Mosaic Law into the practice of Christianity.  But Paul has made it very clear that the grace of the gospel message does not include observance of the Mosaic Law.  The “law” that Christians need to observe is the one that Jesus gave us:  The law of loving one another/loving our neighbor. 

John 13:34 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

There is no way on earth that a person could fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law.  But Paul indicates that the law of Christ – the law of love – can indeed be fulfilled as we bear one another’s burdens and assist each other in our Christian walk (Romans 15:1-3). 

Galatians 6:3 – For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Paul is still cautioning believers to exercise tenderness and compassion towards brothers or sisters that have fallen into sin.  He now particularly cautions the rest of the body to beware of the sins of pride and conceit.  He intimates that having a high opinion of ourselves will cause us to judge/condemn others without pity or compassion and make it impossible for us to restore them to the body. 

So, let’s ask ourselves this important question:  What causes a person to think they are something, when they are really nothing?  Where does that pride come from?

The root of this pride can be found in the comparison of ourselves to others.  Let’s consider an example.  Suppose that a fictitious Christian name Alice looks at the life of another fictitious Christian name Bertha.  Alice notes that Bertha has committed several sins which she considers to be ‘big sins’ such as murder and grand theft.  Alice then looks at her own life.  She determines that her own sins are ‘small sins’ such as lying or gossiping.  So, when she compares herself to Bertha, she considers herself to be a superior Christian.  She further determines that because of her superior spiritual walk, she would NEVER commit the ‘big’ sins of murder or theft.  By comparing herself to others, Alice is opening the door for spiritual pride and deception to enter her life. 

We further note that Alice has used faulty logic to reach her conclusion.  The truth is that sin is sin.  All sin is repulsive in the sight of God, regardless of how harmless we consider it to be.

  • The truth is that ALL of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and ALL of us are saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8). 
  • The truth is that any one of us is capable of committing any sin (including murder) given the right set of circumstances.
  • The truth is that when we give an account of ourselves before God, there won’t be any comparisons with others.  We will be judged by our own stewardship (Romans 14:12). 

So, if we want to do any comparing, we need to compare ourselves to Christ alone.  When we do, we will realize just how sinful we are.  This will dispel any false notions of pride that we may have about ourselves. When we consider the reality of our own sinful state, it puts us in a position to restore our fallen brothers/sisters in a spirit of meekness and humility. 

Galatians 6:4-5 – But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Personally, I prefer the King James Version of this verse:

“But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden.”

Examine your own life!

Rather than comparing himself to others, each Christian needs to examine his own life and conduct in light of the word of God.  If he finds that he is on the right path, that the Spirit is producing fruit in him, that he is being made over into the image of Christ, and he has a sure assurance of heaven, then he has a true reason to rejoice.  He has found a source of pure joy in his life. 

Because the source of this joy/rejoicing is within himself, it cannot be taken away.  No matter what may happen in his life, the enemy cannot rob him of this joy.  Neither can the opinion (good or bad) of others affect it.

On the other hand, if a Christian finds joy by comparing himself to others, then his joy is always dependent on the outcome of that comparison.  He can be joyful only when others approve of him and he will certainly be miserable when they disapprove of him.  His joy/rejoicing is subject to change as often as the fickle opinions of man change.

We should never forget that each of us will ‘bear our own load’ or reap the rewards/judgments of our own actions in this life, regardless of what others do.

Galatians 6:6 – Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

It is quite likely that there were a number of false teachers circulating among the Galatian churches.  Once they found out that they had been deceived, the Galatians’ love for the word of God and ministers of the gospel had naturally grown cold.  In response, they stopped giving offerings to the church. 

While this was understandable, it had to change.  There were many true gospel preachers ministering to the flock of Christ, and they relied on the support of the church.  So Paul now exhorts the Galatians to perform this part of their Christian duty;   good and faithful pastors/ministers should be financially supported by those they minister to. 

As for those of us who benefit from their teaching, let us remind ourselves that no earthly sum can make up for what we receive in the spiritual realm from these men and women of God, who have dedicated their time to the work of the gospel.  It is only fitting that we share in their support.

Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

This particular exhortation from the apostle is very weighty and complex.  But first and foremost, it must be interpreted in the context of the chapter, which is the financial support of ministers. 

Here is the situation:

  • It was the duty of the Galatian Christians to support their local church and ministers.
  • Some of the Galatian believers apparently chose to stop or withhold their financial support. 
  • These people no doubt provided a lot of seemingly plausible excuses for this action to their fellow brothers and sisters in the church.
  • These excuses may have included things like:
  • I have bills to pay. 
  • I need to save for retirement. 
  • I am going to buy a house. 
  • Times are uncertain. 
  • I don’t want my money to support false teachers. 
  • Etc, etc, etc.

In the eyes of their fellow Christians, these excuses seemed legitimate. 

Here is the problem: 

While these excuses seemed legitimate to their fellow brothers and sisters, they were unacceptable in the eyes of God.  So, this is how the Galatians deceived themselves:  They believed that their excuses exempted them from doing their duty before God. 

What is the meaning of ‘God will not be mocked’?

To mock means to imitate or mimic in sport or contempt.  We are all familiar with this definition.  But the word also means to disappoint the hopes of; to deceive or tantalize.  So while these Christians convinced their fellow brothers and sisters that they had no resources to help support the ministry, they could not fool God in the same way.  They could not mock or deceive him.

Why were their excuses unacceptable to God?

Well, let’s examine the thoughts and motivations of the Galatians.  As we have already established, it was their duty to financially support the ministers of their local church, but for various reasons, they stopped doing their duty.  In their eyes, giving money to the church was like putting it into a black hole – it just vanished.  In their opinion, they received nothing in exchange for it.  They truly believed that whatever they gave to the church was lost to them.  Therefore, they simply weren’t going to give anymore; they were going to keep their resources for themselves.

But they overlooked the most fundamental truth of supporting the gospel:  We give to God, not to man.  The gospel is to be supported through the tithes and offerings that God has instructed us to give to him.   

Malachi 3:10 – Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

This truth has some pretty far reaching consequences and rewards.

Because we give to God and not to man, we don’t need to be devastated if a false minister misuses some of that money.  Obviously, we can and should do all we can not to be fooled, but it may just happen on occasion.  But even in those instances, our conscience is clear and our reward is sure, because we gave to God in faith.  If that other person stole or misused the money, he stole it from God; and God will deal with him.  This was probably one of the main concerns of the Galatian Christians.     

Because we give to God and not to man, we don’t need to fear that we will not have enough for our personal needs.  It is true that you are to be a wise steward over what you have.   But even if we make some bad financial decisions, we can count on our heavenly Father to help us.  God is Jehovah Jireh, our provider and he is more than capable of making sure our needs are met.  When we honor him with our obedient giving, he makes sure we have enough to meet all our needs.

I will personally testify to you right now, that this is true!  My spouse and I have always tithed and God has always provided everything that was needed, without exception.  I could give you example after example, if time and space allowed!  But let me leave you with this thought: Try it yourself.  If you do not pay tithes into your local church, speak to God about it and begin to give.  Watch and see what happens!   

Because we give to God and not to man, God’s laws of sowing and reaping apply to what we give. 

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your lap. For with the same measure that you measure it shall be measured to you again.

As you are probably aware, entire books have been written about the implications of the verses we have just mentioned.  Obviously, we can’t examine them at length in this blog post.  But I hope that I have stirred up your memory and your curiosity in regards to this subject.  I encourage you to do some further reading and research.

In the meantime, know this:  Supporting the gospel is not throwing your money into a black hole.  It is sowing seed which will result in a harvest, for both you and the kingdom of heaven.  Please remind yourself that when you support the gospel, you are giving to God, not man.  And God will always reward you.  

Now, we cannot move away from this verse without noting that while Paul used this truth in the immediate context of supporting the church, it is a spiritual principle which applies to every aspect of life.  

In other words, if you plant corn seeds, what do you get – obviously, a harvest of corn (Genesis 1:11-12, 21, 24). 

If you sow mercy and kindness, what do you get in return?  That’s right – mercy and kindness for yourself (Matthew 5:7)!   

God’s laws of sowing and reaping cannot be overturned (Genesis 8:22).  So consider carefully where you are sowing your time, attention and resources.  Carefully consider the values and principles you are sowing into your children and grandchildren.  Give heed to the seeds you sow with your mouth!

Galatians 6:8 – For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Again, the laws of sowing and reaping apply here.  A man who sows or invests all that he has in this life without any regard for the next, will indeed gather fruit corresponding to the seed he has sown.  He may reap immense personal wealth and every good thing found in this life.  But these things are corrupt and temporary.  They are tainted with sin and will soon pass away.  The man who sows to his flesh will have nothing in the next life. 

What are you planting?

But the man (or woman) who sows seed into the kingdom of heaven will reap a reward both now and in the next life.  They will harvest riches that can never rust, fade away or be stolen (Luke 12:33-34). 

Paul is probably also making an overall conclusion to his earlier teaching.  Circumcision of the flesh (any attempt to keep the law) is futile.  Those who sow into this system will reap corruption/death, because they cannot keep the law.  But those who are circumcised in the heart by the Spirit of God will certainly reap eternal life through the blood of Christ. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Back in the book of Genesis, Cain asks the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Genesis 4:9).  The real answer to his question is ‘yes’.  When one of our brothers or sisters in Christ falls into sin, it is our job to meekly come along side them to assist in their restoration to the body of Christ. 

This is an important function of the church which requires time, effort, patience and love.  If you are presented with an opportunity to restore a brother or sister, I encourage you not to turn away from it.  It is a work that will be well pleasing to God. 

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

In this post, we talked about the laws of sowing and reaping.  Maybe you haven’t sown the best seed into your life.   But that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless.  Cry out to God in prayer.  Renounce the bad seed that you have sown with your mouth, your actions and your attitudes.  Then begin the process of sowing good things into your life.  Here is a promise that you can stand on:

Joel 2:25 – And I [God] will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, and the consuming locust, and the cutting locust, my great army which I sent among you.

If you are alive and reading this blog right now then it is NOT too late to begin sowing seeds in the kingdom of heaven!  So get started today!

  

 

 

Galatians, Chapter 5, Part 2

Galatians 5:15-17 – But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

In verses 14-15, Paul was admonishing us to love our neighbors as ourselves as opposed to biting and devouring one another.  In other words, we should not be contending with one another or pitting ourselves against each other.   

It appears as though this was a problem among the Galatians.  They were full of pride, anger, slander, envy and ill will towards each other.  They were doing the exact opposite of loving their neighbors as themselves!

This approach to life has some serious consequences.  As the Galatians oppose each other, they ‘devour’ their opponent’s mental health, physical health, character, peace and resources.  Meanwhile, their opponent is doing the same thing to them; they are destroying each other. 

If Christians are busy fighting each other, how can they unite together to fight against Satan?  How can they focus on winning souls for Christ?  How can they love and disciple new believers?  The obvious answer is – they can’t!  This was a very real problem for the Galatians.  It is also something we need to guard against today.

If we fight against each other, we make Satan’s job easy – he can just sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.  But if we are willing to overlook offences and stay unified in the Spirit, we can win the world for Christ!   

Ephesians 4:2-3 – With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Maintaining Christian peace and unity takes effort.  Here’s why:  Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit.  Our flesh, the fallen, carnal part of our being, is constantly opposing all of the righteous, holy things that our Spirit longs to do.  By the same token, our Spirit, which has been made new through Christ, strives to take authority over all the ugly sinful things our flesh desires to do.   As long as we are in this world, we can expect to deal with this struggle. 

Now that we recognize the problem, what can we do about it?

Paul gives us the answer.  If we will walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify our fleshly desires. 

Holy Spirit himself dwells in the hearts of all Christians.  He is standing by to guide and assist us in subduing our flesh.  For our part, we must set our will to act under his guidance and influence.   This is not a one-time thing.  We need to practice living our lives under his direction every day. 

Here is a promise we can cling to:  While walking by the Spirit will not completely remove the pull of our own corrupt nature, it will keep us from fulfilling the lustful desires that seek to overtake/dominate us.  

So feed your Spirit, not your flesh.  Read the word.  Pray in the Spirit and with your understanding.  Ask the Spirit to help you make important decisions in your life.  Then do what he recommends!

Galatians 5:18-19 – But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.

If the Galatians will return to the true gospel message of grace in Christ and permit themselves to be influenced or governed by Holy Spirit, he will lead them into a state of freedom and holiness that they could never obtain under the law. 

Believers who live according to the leading of the Spirit find the desire, will and ability to choose righteousness over the lusts of the flesh.  What we cannot do in our own power, Holy Spirit makes possible through his power.

Again, if we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh (fallen nature).

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,

Having made the distinction between walking in the Spirit and walking according to the flesh, Paul now tells the Galatians how they can be assured which path they are on.  All they need to do is examine the fruit that is being produced in their lives, because the scripture tells us that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20) 

There is no need for us to define the specific terms Paul uses here in verse 19.  We are all familiar with sexual sins.  Sadly, they are rampant not only in our society, but in the church as well.  Those who practice these sins are walking in the flesh.  They are not being led by the Spirit. 

If you are among the Christians who practice sexual immorality in thought, word or deed, I beg you to stop and consider what you are doing. 

These types of sin do tremendous damage to you and those around you.  They kill healthy relationships, wreck marriages and destroy families.  They can bring physical illness and financial hardship.  They certainly bring emotional damage to everyone involved.   They put a wedge between you and the Lord; by entertaining these things in your life you prevent the Lord from blessing you. 

In fact, the bible declares that God chastises or corrects his children.  That’s what you are setting yourself up for when you live in sexual sin.  But don’t take my word for it; search the scriptures.  See what they reveal about the life of King David.

Even though David was a child of God, he chose to walk according to his flesh.  As you well know, he fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.  Then, instead of confessing his sin and repenting, he tried to cover it up.  When that didn’t work he actually committed murder in an effort to hide his sin.  Did God bless David for that?  No, he did not!  God had to bring correction/punishment to him.

2 Samuel 12:10-11 – Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house; because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them unto your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.

David’s sin had physical, emotional and financial consequences for his entire family and his kingdom too.  If you are a child of God and you are choosing to live in the realm of sexual sins thinking that God is okay with that, you are wrong.  God will withhold blessings from you and bring loving discipline to your situation. 

You also need to ask yourself what kind of a testimony you are presenting in front of others.  The prophet Nathan said that David’s behavior gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14).   

When you claim to be a child of God but live in rebellion to his commands, what are you telling the world about your Lord?  Aren’t you really saying that God doesn’t take sin seriously or that he judges unfairly?  Aren’t you mocking his mandates for personal holiness?  Aren’t you telling the world that they have no real need to repent? Aren’t you, like David, giving the world a reason to blaspheme the Lord? 

Consider this:  When Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery, his final words to her were very specific:

John 8:11 – … Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn you: GO AND SIN NO MORE.

Listen, I am not trying to condemn you.  Believe me, I have my own sins to consider! I just want to give you a loving warning – live by the Spirit.  Get rid of sexual sins in your life. 

Galatians 5:20-21 – idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Again, Paul is admonishing the Galatians to examine the fruit in their lives to determine whether they are walking by the Spirit or by the flesh. 

Idols/idolatry:  Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols.  Eventually, among the Old Testament Hebrews it came to mean worship of any false god by images or any other means.

Some of the most common idols were items found in nature such as trees, rivers or animals.  Specific idols/false gods that fall into this category include Dagon, Beelzebub, Ashima, Nibhazz, Ashtaroth, and the golden calves at Bethel.

The worship of heavenly bodies was also a common form of idolatry.  Examples would include worship of the sun (Ra), the moon (Luna or Astarte), Venus (goddess of beauty), Mars (god of war and husbandry), etc. 

Worship of these idols often included such practices as giving them offerings made by fire, pouring out drink offerings to them (libations), giving them tithes or first fruits, setting tables of food before them, kissing the idols or blowing them kisses, stretching out their hands in adoration, kneeling or prostrating before the idol, dancing before or around an altar which was sometimes accompanied by cutting themselves with knives, offering their children as sacrifices, sexual orgies, etc.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking – “I haven’t bowed down before a golden calf today, so this does not apply to me.”  But don’t be too hasty in your conclusions. 

Ultimately, in the New Testament, idolatry came to mean not only giving a creature the honor and devotion which belongs to God alone, but giving any human desire precedence over God and his will (I Corinthians 10:13-14, I Peter 4:3).

Colossians 3:5 – Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry:   

There are actually many modern day idols such as sports, money, entertainment, our spouse/children, hobbies or even work!

Take a moment to examine yourself and your life.  Do you have hours and hours to spend making money, but no time to pray for 20 minutes a day?  Are you so busy and involved with your hobbies that you can’t hear Holy Spirit nudging you towards good works?  Do you ever go an entire day without praising God and reading his word?  Do you walk right by hurting people because you are completely focused on your own agenda?  If so, you may have an idol.  If you have an idol, you are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.   

Sorcery or witchcraft: The Greek word used here is the same word from which we get the word ‘pharmacy’.  It refers to medicine, poison or magic potions.  It also includes the practice of magic arts or enchantment, because the ‘potion’ was generally administered along with some kind of magical incantation which invoked assistance from evil spirits.   

The main focus of sorcery is to achieve something you want.  You might desire for a particular person to love you, to be healed of a disease, to obtain something you covet, or the death/destruction of an enemy. 

By using sorcery, you show a willingness to get what you want by acting apart from God’s principles (true religion).  You are willing to use fleshly, carnal or evil means to get what you desire; even partnering with demons.

If the Galatians are practicing sorcery, they are not walking according to the Spirit. 

Again, you might be saying to yourself, “No problem here.  I haven’t sacrificed a goat in the middle of a pentagram today.”  But don’t be too hasty to reach this conclusion! 

At its most basic level, sorcery is actually a distrust of God and adherence to a false religion.  It represents our efforts to manage our own affairs, because we don’t believe that God can (or will) take care of us.  Just like idolatry, sorcery is a form of elevating our desires over God’s will for us.

For example, let’s suppose there is a job opening at your work place.  It would be a promotion for you; this position would give you more money, more opportunities and more authority.  There is nothing wrong with your desire for that job.  There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward and praying to receive it. 

But if you start doing things like spreading rumors about the other applicants, or ‘calling in favors’, or threatening to quit, or plotting and scheming, etc, what are you doing?  In essence, you are elevating your own desires to the forefront, even if they conflict with God’s principles or his will for you.  By your machinations, you are saying that you don’t believe that God can/will grant you this promotion; you don’t trust him to give you what is best for you.  You are unwilling to accept his providence in your life. 

Elevating our own desires above God and his will for our life (idolatry) or using carnal powers to manage our own affairs outside of the principles of God (sorcery) are indications that we are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.         

Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness and orgies:  What do these things have in common?

  • They indicate that we are walking in the flesh. 
  • They are pleasing to Satan and offensive to God. 
  • They defile your body and darken your soul. 
  • They bring shame to religion and the gospel message.
  • They furnish irrefutable proof of the depravity of fallen man; they are the works of human nature when left to its own devices. 
  • They declare, with absolute and utter certainty, that the human heart must be changed or it cannot be saved.

This was true for the Galatians and it is true for us.   

Our hope of salvation lies not in our human ability, but in the shed blood of Jesus which alone can atone for our sin and make us righteous in the sight of God.  Through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God, we can reject these fruits of sin and instead produce fruits of righteousness.       

Galatians 5:22-23 – but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Interestingly, the virtues Paul enumerates here are not the result of our own hearts, even after they have been renewed.  They are attributed to only one source – the operation of Holy Spirit in our lives. 

We are not going to simply examine the definitions of these graces.  You can look them up yourself, if you are unfamiliar with them.  Instead, let us draw some general truths which we can apply to our own lives.

Growth in grace and holiness is the best security against fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  As Paul indicated, if you want to avoid sin, the best way to do that is to walk daily in the Spirit.

If you desire to constantly walk in the Spirit, you should strive to avoid whatever grieves him.  Instead, bend your will to his; yield to godly promptings.  Lean into Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching.

Anyone who owns a fruit tree understands that fruit is the highest form of development or achievement for that plant.  All the parts of the tree (roots, leaves, branches) are engineered for a single purpose – to produce that piece of fruit.  The production of fruit indicates a state of maturity. 

So it is with the Christian.  To have the fruit of the Spirit produced in our lives is the highest form of development we can achieve here on earth.  It indicates a state of maturity in our Christian walk.  It is the final result of all the circumstances that God has engineered in our lives.  If our roots are truly in Christ, fruit will be produced in our lives.  

Fruit does not instantly spring forth from a tree.  It grows slowly over time.  Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives little by little over time.  A good indicator is to ask yourself this question:  Do I have more peace (or joy, or patience, or kindness, etc) today than I did six months ago?  Or a year ago?  If your answer is ‘yes’, then the Spirit has been working in your life.

Not all fruit grows at the same rate of speed.  Lemons may take longer than peaches, which may take longer than plums.  You may find that the Spirit quickly produces faithfulness in your life, while self control may take a bit longer.  This is not reason to despair.  Holy Spirit will continue his work in your life until the day when God calls you home. 

Galatians 5:24 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

Those who are true disciples of Christ have crucified, subdued or to some degree mortified their fleshly corruptions/carnal lusts and sinful passions.  It cannot be done once and for all, but is a daily way of life to those who are controlled by the Spirit. 

Although our fallen nature will not be completely removed until the next life, it has no right to exercise dominion over those who are found in Christ. 

Galatians 5:25-26 – If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

If the Spirit of God lives in us, and we willingly partner with him, he will manifest himself through our actions, attitudes and words. 

The world will know that we are Christians by the life they see us living.  We will be a light to the world, drawing them to freedom in Christ.  

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

We should all be on our guard against pride and envy, which drives a wedge between brothers and dishonors the name of Christ.  

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit.  We can’t completely remove the influence of our fallen nature, but we can drastically lessen its effects.  We do this by feeding our spirit, not our flesh.  I encourage you to make time for spiritual disciplines including bible reading, prayer, intercession for the lost, witnessing and even fasting. 

Let me offer you some relief:

As a Christian, you should see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  But don’t make the mistake of comparing your fruit to that of another.  God has created each one of us as individuals, and Holy Spirit works with each one of us individually in the production of his fruit.  You may have a very easy time cultivating bushels of gentleness, while it takes me a very long time to even produce a bloom!  The key is to compare yourself to yourself – make sure that over time, you see growth in your life. 

Let me offer you some strength:

Perhaps you have some things in your life that need to be pruned away, like the sexual sins we spoke about earlier.  That can be very difficult to do as they involve another person.  But let me assure you, if you begin to bring this issue before God, and you truly want to repent and change, God will give you the wisdom and strength to properly deal with your situation. 

I suggest that after a season of prayer, you seek wise council from a pastor or elder at your church.  They can give you practical direction on how to break off sinful sexual relationships with as little damage as possible to your partner and those around you.

   

  

Galatians, Chapter 5, Part 1

Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Welcome back, readers! 

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul continues to exhort the Galatians to be firm and unwavering in their resolve to reject the yoke or bondage of the law.  Since they are under grace, there is no need to continue observing the rites and ceremonies of the law.

The law was a burden!

Just take a moment to consider the burden of the law:  There were daily and weekly sacrifices.  There were numerous (and frequent) washings and purifications.  There were dietary laws.  There were restrictions on what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’.  There were rites and ceremonies for births, marriages and burials.  There were even laws for sowing and harvesting.  There were laws that defined when you could work and when you must rest. 

William Burkitt’s Expository Notes sums it up this way: “… so numerous were these observances, that they took up half their time, and were as burdensome as they were numerous.”

In fact, the scriptures describe the law as being impossible to fully obey:

Acts 15:10 – Now therefore why test God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?   

The good news is that as Christians, we are free from bearing (or trying to bear) this heavy load. 

As Paul points out to the Galatians, Christ has made us free.  By his obedience to death, he has purchased freedom from not only the law, but from our slavery to sin, and the curse of death. 

Since Christ has sacrificed himself to buy this freedom, the Galatians should consider it their duty and privilege to firmly defend their liberty in Christ.

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

It is true that Paul had a relationship with the Galatians, and they might well listen to him because of that bond, but there was a much higher authority at work here.

Paul spent the entire first part of this letter establishing the fact that he was an apostle expressly chosen by Jesus to carry the gospel message (see our discussion of chapter 1).  Therefore, Paul has the authority of Christ backing up his teaching.  So when he makes the point in verse 2 that “I, Paul” say something, Christians need to pay attention; his comments carry the authority of Jesus.   

In regards to his comments in chapter 5, we must tread carefully.  We must take Paul’s remarks in the context of his whole letter, or we will fall into a serious misinterpretation.  Paul says “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you” 

Paul is NOT saying that anyone who is circumcised is excluded from salvation/Christianity.  All Jewish males, including the 12 apostles were circumcised according to the law.  In fact, Jesus himself, as a Jewish male, was circumcised on the eighth day of his life:

Luke 2:21 – And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, who was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The issue here is that the false teachers in Galatia claimed that circumcision was essential to salvation.  In other words, they taught that faith in the blood of Jesus was not enough to save you.  If you wanted to be justified and accepted by God, you had to add your own works to the blood of Christ.  This is tantamount to blasphemy, because as soon as you accept that doctrine, you are declaring that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient to save you.  By default, you are saying that you had a hand in saving yourself, which we know is utterly false!

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.        

To claim that circumcision was required for salvation was a denial of Christ.  If you deny Christ, then you can’t be saved by grace.  You are left to try and justify yourself by keeping the law.   

So again, the act of circumcision does not exclude people from salvation.  However, it doesn’t save them either.  Salvation is through faith, regardless of your circumcision status.    

Galatians 5:3-4 – I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.   

You can be justified by faith, or you can try to earn salvation through keeping the law, but it’s one or the other… the two will never, ever mix.

The person who chooses to try justification by the law binds himself to obey the entire Law of Moses.  He must perfectly and completely fulfill all the requirements of the law for his entire life.  If he fails in even one instance, he is guilty of breaking the whole law. 

Keep this in mind too – anyone who is bound by the law and breaks it, is subject to the penalties outlined in it.  The penalty for breaking the law is condemnation and death – for eternity.    

The Galatians must make a choice: the law or Christ.  If they choose the law, then they forfeit the favor and mercy of God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of that!  As I read and study Paul’s words, joy and thanksgiving well up within my soul for the freedom I have in Christ.  What about you?  Are you even more thankful now for his mercy and grace?  I certainly hope so!

Galatians 5:5 – For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

What is the hope of righteousness?  It refers to the state of being justified before God or to be counted as righteous in his (God’s) sight.  Those who are justified/righteous in God’s sight can expect to spend eternity in his presence and experience all of the untold blessings that await them in the next life.  This is often called the ‘hope’ of Christians. 

This hope is not founded on any works of our own, but solely on the redemption provided for us by Jesus.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. 

And how do we obtain this hope?  We receive it by faith through Holy Spirit.  It is the work of the Spirit to convict men of sin and draw them towards salvation in Christ. 

Any person living in the gospel dispensation who attempts to be justified in any other way will be disappointed.  If the Galatians misplace their hope in their own observance of the law, they can expect nothing but condemnation.  But if they will rely on the mercy of Jesus, they will have a ‘living hope’ for salvation (I Peter 1:3).     

Galatians 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The era of the law put a separation between people.  You were either one of God’s people (a Jew) or you were not (a Gentile).  Because of the nature of the law, it kept a constant separation between the two groups.  And as we know, the signature sign of being Jewish was being circumcised in the flesh.    

But God never intended for that state of affairs to be permanent.  He always intended to make it possible for EVERYONE to be justified in his sight, whether Jew or Gentile:

Isaiah 49:6 – And he [God] said, It is too small a thing that you [Messiah] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.

When Jesus ushered in the gospel dispensation with his death and resurrection, God’s plan was fulfilled.  The law, along with all of its rites and ceremonies (including circumcision) passed away; it was no longer in effect.  Therefore, at the time Paul is speaking to the Galatians, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision of the flesh mattered anymore; neither state could make a person justified in the sight of God.

If circumcision did not justify a person in the sight of God, what would?       

Salvation by grace through faith!

How is our faith displayed to the world? 

Through our love of God and our fellow man. 

Our love of God will always result in obedience to his commands (John 14:23).  This same love will prompt you to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). 

Galatians 5:7-8 – You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

Paul describes the Galatians as ‘running well’.  What does he mean by that?  The Christian life is often represented as a race in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Hebrews 12:1).

Paul says they began their race or Christian life with zeal.  They had readily and joyfully embraced the doctrine of grace through faith.  They rejoiced that their sins were forgiven and their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  They were no doubt baptized and considered themselves disciples of Christ.  They had a very ardent love for God and his ways.  

But someone came along and hindered their obedience to the gospel.  The word ‘hinder’ is an Olympic expression which literally means ‘to beat or drive back’.  It has the connotation of someone cutting across the race track to push the runner off the course or throw him out of the way. 

Who is attempting to overthrow or thwart the Galatians with the doctrine that they must obligate themselves to the Law?   

Paul asserts most strongly that it is not the Lord (him who calls you).  The false doctrine could not be traced back to God, even though the false teachers claimed to be commissioned by him.  That leaves only one source for the despicable, foul lies that had ensnared the Galatians – Satan himself.    

Galatians 5:9 – A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

What do you think of when you hear this proverbial expression?  My mind immediately goes to bread!  For many people, bread is off limits.  They don’t want to eat it because of gluten or because of the carbohydrates it contains.  I am happy to announce that I am not one of those people!  I love bread of all kinds – white, wheat, cinnamon raisin, sour dough, pumpernickel, baguettes, bagels, ciabatta and even corn bread!

What do these breads have in common?  They all contain some kind of leaven.     

Leaven is any substance that is designed to produce fermentation in dough or liquids by producing a general change in the mass.  The most common application is when yeast is added to bread dough in order to make the bread rise.  The amount of leaven required to make this change is relatively small because the leaven penetrates and diffuses throughout the entire batch of dough.

In the scriptures, leaven or yeast often represents sin (I Corinthians 5:6-8, Mark 8:15).  That is why the children of Israel could only eat unleavened bread during the Passover, and why the use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire (Leviticus 2:11 and 7:12, Numbers 6:15).    

Paul’s point is that a relatively small amount of false doctrine which is introduced into a pure, healthy Christian will eventually spread and damage/destroy his entire spiritual life.  Likewise, it only takes a couple of misguided Christians to influence a whole congregation into accepting a false doctrine.   

So while the Galatians may think that their adherence to circumcision was only a minor issue, it was actually a very serious situation.  It had the capacity to destroy their faith and their church.

Galatians 5:10 – I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.

But Paul has confidence that destruction will not be the final outcome for the Galatians. 

Paul knows that when he speaks the words that Holy Spirit gives him, those words are anointed with power – power to convict, save and heal.  If the Galatians will listen to Paul’s message, the Lord will bring them to repentance and they will be restored to a right relationship with God.

Can we pause a minute and acknowledge that the same is true for us?  We too sometimes fall into sin or error in our lives.  This is one reason why it is so important for each one of us to read the scriptures every day.  The scriptures are the word of God and they are anointed with the power of Holy Spirit to convict, save and heal us.  But if we never open the book, the power will have no effect upon us. 

Paul then turns his attention from the Galatians to the teachers who have introduced the ‘leaven of the law’ into the church.  Punishment awaits those who have thrown the Galatians off course.  God himself will surely deal with these false teachers.  As for the Galatians, their duty is to identify the false teacher and cut off or separate him from their fellowship.

The hope is not that these men would be cut off from salvation, but in being cut off from Christian fellowship they might see the error of their ways and repent.

Galatians 5:11 – But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

It is evident that the false teachers who insisted on circumcision had somehow included Paul in their teachings.  We know that Paul himself was circumcised.  We also know that in order to reach some of the Jews he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).  But there was never a time when Paul preached or taught that circumcision was a necessary component of salvation. 

Paul defends himself by asking this question:  If I preach the necessity of circumcision to salvation, then why do the Jews continuously persecute me?  If I really taught that men must keep the law in order to make grace effective, then the Jews would love and embrace my message.  They would not take offence at the message of the cross.  But take a look at the facts – everywhere I go, the Jews fight against me.  This is proof enough that I do not preach a mix of grace and law.

Galatians 5:12 – I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Our version of the scripture has an interesting translation of this verse!  Let’s take a look at the King James Version:

Galatians 5:12 – I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

The apostle’s use of the expression ‘cut off’ is probably an allusion to the practice of circumcision where the foreskin of the flesh is literally cut off and thrown away from the rest of the body.

In the same way, Paul desires for the false teachers to be cut off and cast out of the church fellowship.  This shows the seriousness of their offence.    

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Paul wants the false teachers to be cut off from church fellowship because the church has been called into liberty through Christ (freedom from the law), but the false teachers were destroying that liberty.  This example brings up a teaching point for Paul.

It is true that all Christians have been set free from the bondage of the law and have liberty in Christ.  But the liberty we have is not an excuse to sin.  Our liberty is not a license to throw off all righteous restraint.

Let’s face it – even though we are born again and are new creatures in Christ, we still live in a fallen world.  We still reside in bodies of flesh that are subject to corruption.  We are still tempted by evil.  Therefore, we all need to be vigilant to monitor our own lives.  We must still fight against temptations.  We must still diligently work to add Christian graces to our lives.  We must still allow Holy Spirit to continuously transform us into the image of Christ; this process will never stop until we arrive in eternity.

This leads us to the next important aspect of freedom:  how we treat each other.     

Galatians 5:14-15 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

At this point, Paul has rather skillfully changed from a doctrinal argument (which he has thoroughly covered) to a series of practical teachings for all Christians.

Do the Galatians want to obey the law?  Then let them fulfill the heart and substance of the law without being in bondage to legalism.  This is accomplished when we serve others in love. 

Romans 13:8, 10 – Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.  Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

If we act according to this command, we fulfill the law (Matthew 7:12) without being enslaved by it.  The Christian who loves God with all his heart, soul and mind and who seeks to love his neighbor as himself needs no other law.

This is a good chance to remind ourselves that there are two aspects of love, inward affection and outward action. 

It is also a good chance to define the word ‘neighbor’.  It includes all people, rich/poor, friend/foe, those that are near/far.  In some ways, it describes all of humanity. 

Our love of God is demonstrated in the way we love those around us.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus said that all men would realize we are his disciples by our displays of love towards one another (John 13:35).  But quite frankly, recent world events have left many people separated from other believers.     

When was the last time you displayed love towards another believer?  What was your act of love?  If you can’t remember the last time you touched someone’s life with a display of love, I encourage you to reconnect with other believers.  Get plugged back into your local church!     

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

All Christians have a ‘hope of righteousness’; we trust and believe that we will be justified in God’s sight because of the sacrifice of Jesus and we will spend eternity with God. 

Sometimes, when we make mistakes or we fail in our Christian walk, we may feel unworthy of this hope.  But let me offer you some relief – we were never worthy of it in the first place! 

Our hope of righteousness and our expectation of the benefits of heaven are the result of the mercy and free gift of God.  While we need to strive to live holy lives before God, there will be times when we fail.  Satan would love to convince us that we should walk away from God because we are unworthy, but the truth is we are unworthy no matter what. 

So repent, pick yourself up, and keep running your Christian race!