Tag Archives: Eternal Life

THE ORIGINAL “NICK AT NIGHT”

1Have you ever stopped to consider the things that God cannot do? Let me suggest a few. The first thing He can’t do is lie. Number 23:19 explains: “God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” God cannot lie, for that would be a violation of His own holy character.

That’s why many of the questions posed by skeptics are often just plain silly, like this. Have you ever come across this one? They ask, “If your God is all-powerful and able to do anything, then let’s see Him create a rock that is too big for Him to lift!” But then that’s  just double talk, for what they’re trying to do is to pit God’s creative power against His power to do miracles, asking Him to violate His own Almighty character, something He said He will not and cannot ever do. God cannot lie, nor will He ever contradict His own holy character.

One more question while I’m at it! Are there are sins God can’t forgive? Only one! Am I right? And that’s rejecting Jesus as Lord, for other than that one unpardonable sin, He died for every sin and blasphemy we have committed or ever will commit, which means if you worship Jesus as Lord, your every sin has been forgiven—past, present, and future! But “unless you believe that I AM,” Jesus warned, “you will die in your sins.” For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your and my Only Savior and Hope of Salvation! But except for these few things, Jesus said, “Nothing shall be impossible for God!”

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Now let’s talk about ourselves. Is there anything we can’t do if we put our minds to it? “Absolutely not!” the New Agers, the humanists, and the followers of the cults will tell you. “You can do anything if you just learn to believe in yourself!” Fools! The list of what we can’t do is absolutely endless. But the one that tops the list is the one before us tonight—the impossibility of being born again!

Let me remind you, as we get started, where we left off last week. We were in Jerusalem following the Passover where Jesus performed a countless number of miracles for over a year, proving that He’s God with hundreds of people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus, I believe you’re the Messiah!” We saw that in John 2:23 – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many were believing (The word is pisteuo meaning to believe in someone.) in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.   But verse 24 adds, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them.” (That’s the same word pisteuo.) In other words, they were believing in Jesus, but He wasn’t believing in them! Why not? John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what He knows us isn’t good! For as the Bible says about us in many places, “In me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing.” The only good thing about you, if your faith is genuine, is that Jesus now lives in your heart and has changed your fundamental nature.

That brings us to chapter 3 where we meet a man from Jerusalem who has seen the miracles of Jesus and concluded, “This is a man sent by God!” By the way, do you think that’s a coincidence, that John immediately introduces us to someone who pictures what he’s just told us at the end of chapter 2? Of course not! John is a fisherman, and if anyone knows how to tell a story, it’s a fisherman. Except in this case, it’s true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, is the Spirit of truth, which means whatever you find in this Book, you can trust. Unfortunately for this man, he isn’t a true believer because, he doesn’t yet have the right kind of belief. That’s something John warns us again and again in this book, that there is a belief which is not a belief because it’s a belief that’s superficial, self-serving, and stubbornly refuses to give Jesus the glory He deserves as God the Son.

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Open your Bible with me, then, to John chapter 3 where we’re going to meet “The Original Nick at Night,” and therein discover both what it means and why it’s imperative to be “born from above.” My outline for our study has 3 parts: the Sinner’s Crisis, the Savior’s Counsel, and the Spirit’s Conversion.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click on Audio Message. And if it would be helpful to a friend to hear it, please pass it on!)

1. The Sinner’s Crisis

John 3:1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” By the way, did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies certainly didn’t. Instead, what did they say the reason was that He could do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to His Lordship? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil, thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can’t be forgiven – the sin of rejecting the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, it’s only twenty centuries later that skeptics and liberals are so wise in their own eyes that they set aside the testimony of eyewitnesses, comforting themselves with the thought that “those ancient people weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”

But who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many of the Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Now don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should you read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus by night. I don’t think, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. He just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were opposed to Him. Instead, what we need to understand about him are these three facts:

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1) He himself was a Pharisee. The word means “separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, not only priding themselves in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”), but they had also come up with over a thousand laws or mitzvot of their own, just to make sure they never came close to crossing over the line.

For example, one thing a Pharisees would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? Because she might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! On the other hand, a Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it for working on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were and seemed to be on the surface (We’re good at fooling ourselves and others, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.

By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a large group to change the world for good or for ill, does it, just a highly dedicated group? That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could get the entire nation to keep the Law for one day, the Kingdom would come. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!” No wonder they were of all Jesus’ enemies the most rabid. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. You know who that was? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if He hadn’t been struck him blind on the Damascus road! Later he said this of his life as a Pharisee. Philippians 3:6, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”

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2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, plus the high priest, and comprising what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel—which means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was also one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.

3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article indicating that of all the rabbis in Israel at the time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest of them. As such, he would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have immediately come to his mind.

But above all things, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to discover that it’s all been in vain? The only thing left to do is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He comes to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Now look with me at the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.

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2. The Savior’s Counsel

Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi” meaning “teacher.” That was something Nicodemus was called every day of his life, for of all the teachers in Israel, he was the most respected. But now his soul is in trouble and he’s desperate for help! So he turns to a Teacher who surpasses him in every way saying, “Rabbi, we know that You’re a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” How does Jesus answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? In other words, how did what you said have anything to do with what I said? Ever had a conversation like that with somebody? But that isn’t how Nicodemus takes it. He realizes that what Jesus has just done is read his mind. He knows his guilt and his fears, and He knows yours too!

Nicodemus has heard Jesus preach several times by now. So he’s aware how superficial his righteousness is. That’s something every hypocrite knows in his heart. He knows he’s a hypocrite. And the Pharisees were hypocrites—every one of them! How can I say that? Because that’s what Jesus said 5 times in Matthew 23 alone: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then He adds, “You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when you finally win him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!” Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and a son of hell! And he was well aware of it!

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So what does Jesus do? He ignores the compliment and goes straight to the heart of his problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That means He’s about to correct a false teaching Nicodemus was guilty of. What false teaching was that? The false teaching of apostate Judaism that you can earn God’s favor by your good works and self-righteousness! Jesus corrects that saying to him not once, but 5 times in 8 verses, “You must be born again!” Jimmy Carter made that a household term when he ran for president and claimed to be a born again Christian. Since then it has been misapplied to everything from born-again athletic careers to second-hand books and used cars. So here’s a suggestion when talking to someone about your faith. Use the second, not the first meaning, of the word. What do I mean? The word anothen can actually be translated two different ways—“born again” or “born from above.” And the second meaning is what Jesus is really saying – without receiving new life from above, you’ll never see the Kingdom of God.

The analogy of birth is also the best way to explain salvation to someone like Nicodemus who is self-righteous. Because just as an unborn baby is helpless to contribute anything to his own birth, in the same way you and I are helpless to contribute anything to our salvation. Religion is useless, no matter what group you belong to or how sincere you are, because everything you do is corrupted by your sinful nature. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” Consequently, what you need if we want to enter God’s Kingdom is the new life which only Jesus can give you. Remember what John said in John 1:12? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So don’t waste your time looking for any books telling you how to be born again. Sometimes you’ll hear that. Here are four steps to being born again. But that contradicts the very thing Jesus is teaching us here. His point is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself, except to throw yourself on His mercy and ask Him to give you new life, and He will.

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Nicodemus gets that better than most Bible-believing Christians. He knows he’s helpless to save himself. But still, like most of us, he’s thinking, “If I understood all of this just a little bit better, it’d be so much easier to believe.” You can see that in verse 9 where he wonders, “How can these things be?” But that’s not how it works. Understanding doesn’t come before believing. On the contrary, there are many things about Jesus you’ll never understand until you believe in Him. So Jesus corrects him again, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” You see in his case, his lack of understanding was due to his lack of belief, not a lack of information! After all, this was the teacher of Israel who had the entire Old Testament hidden in his heart! Read on and you’ll see that yourself. Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (Remember receiving is another word for believing!) If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, (Unbelief was his problem!) how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” His problem is he’s an unbeliever – his mind blinded by the devil, his will enslaved to sin, and his affections corrupted by the world. So he’s going to need help if he’s to believe.

That’s the point of verse 4. “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Nicodemus isn’t dumb. Nor is he challenging Jesus at this point. Then what’s he doing? He’s asking for a clue, which Jesus graciously proceeds to give him. We’ve seen the sinner’s crisis and the Savior’s counsel. Now notice the Spirit’s conversion.

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3.  The Spirit’s Conversion

The first clue Jesus gives him is in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Spirit, of course, refers to the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to “born of water”? Some say it refers to baptism. But how can that be true? Baptism does not save us. Baptism is a testimony that we’ve already been born from above. Others say it refers to the waters of birth. But that can’t be right either. First century Jews weren’t yet aware of the role amniotic fluid plays in the birth of a child. Nor did Nicodemus have to be told that you have to be born the first time before he could be born the second time.

So what was Jesus referring to? Remember Nicodemus was an Old Testament scholar whose mind would have immediately tracked with Jesus, taking him to passages like Ezekiel 36 where God promised His people, “I will…sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart and…put my Spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.” Jesus was talking about the New Covenant that was about to come true in His blood, a promise that Nicodemus had known since he was a boy. But like all the religious leaders of Israel, he was an apostate Jew who, because he hadn’t experienced the miracle of new life himself, had given up on God’s promise. And once you do that, what do you next? You reject what the Bible says about sin and that we aren’t all “good kids” with good hearts. The fact is there’s not one good person among us. Because if you admit that, that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, how do you cope with the fear? Answer: You ask God for the gift of faith to believe His promises of new life and forgiveness!

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The second clue is in verse 8. Jesus continues, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Ever done that? Stood outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and heard His wind roaring through the trees? I did that the other night. I was outside watering the flowers when I suddenly heard and felt a cool summer’s breeze blowing past me. And I thought, “What a perfect way to describe the power and refreshment of the Holy Spirit!” I didn’t know where it came from or where it was going. Nor could I control it! Ever tried to get the wind to blow when you want to fly a kite? But I felt the results of it! And you can see the results when the Holy Spirit touches someone’s life, for what happens? Just as the dead man heard Jesus shout, “Lazarus, come forth!” I heard a voice – not audibly, but just as real – saying, “Gary, believe!” And for the first time I believed in Jesus, and my spirit, which had been dead for so long, came to life, and I’ve been following Him ever since.

But what about Nicodemus? Was he ever born from above? John doesn’t say. He fades from the scene in verse 21, and we don’t hear from him again until chapter 7 where his colleagues on the Council decide that Jesus has to go. So he takes issue with them on a point of Law. John 7:50—“Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what He does?’” So he hasn’t taken a public stand for Him yet, but I’m feeling better about him. Aren’t you?

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And the last we hear of him is John 19:38 following the crucifixion. He and a rich friend by the name of Joseph of Arimathea summon up the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can prepare it for burial and lay it in a new tomb that belongs to Joseph. And now I’m starting to love this guy because of his love and loyalty to Jesus! But that’s all the Bible says about him.

Thankfully, church tradition fills in the rest of the details. It reports, for example, that Nicodemus was the only person who stood up for Jesus at His trial, that he was baptized after the Resurrection by Peter and John, and that his preaching of Christ was so powerful that the Sanhedrin he served removed him from his position as teacher, confiscated his property, and banished him from Israel subjecting his wife and children to abject poverty. His daughter was so poor it’s said she had to dig through the dung piles to find a few pieces of grain to eat. A rabbi saw her doing so and took pity on her. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the daughter of Nicodemus.” “Whatever happened to him?” he asked. “He became a follower of Jesus and was banished from Israel.” So the rabbi refused to help her. And as for Nicodemus himself, he became one of the first martyrs of the church, beaten to death by a mob for preaching in the name of Jesus.

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That’s the story of Nick at night. He had everything and then gave up everything to gain what the world can never take away. So even though John doesn’t give us the details, we have our answer: His sins were washed away and he was given new life from above. For so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

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A Question that Will Determine Your Eternity: Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus to you? According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 84% of our fellow Americans believe in Jesus. That’s good news until you press them on what they mean by that. Then the answers get a little sketchy.

One author, for example, set out to discover what his fellow Portlanders believe about Jesus. The results were disturbing for while most of them claim to believe in Jesus, the Jesus they believe in is very different from the Jesus of the Bible which makes him, in the author’s words, an “Imaginary Jesus.” To name just a few, there is Legalist Jesus who has a rule for everything; Televangelist Jesus who says if you have enough faith, you need never get sick again; Social Services Jesus whose priority is that everybody’s creature comforts are met; Bargain Jesus who will answer your prayers if the price is right; and Hippy Jesus who wants us all to just chill out and learn to live together in peace.

3But then this is nothing new! Down through the centuries there have been countless “Jesus’s” who fall far short of what the Bible says about Him—Islamic Jesus who was just one in a long line of prophets; Buddhist Jesus who was a great enlightened master; Mormon Jesus who is the good Son of Elohim and brother of Lucifer; and New Age Jesus who is a wonderful spiritual guide and guru.

The truth is almost everyone believes in “a Jesus.” But the danger of believing in the wrong Jesus is it brings the same eternal penalty as believing in no Jesus at all! Using the same name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, Jesus said of Himself in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” What does it mean to die in your sins? It means to die without forgiveness, condemned to an eternity apart from the God who loves you.

Picture4So this is one question we don’t want to get wrong. That’s why I took time last week to introduce you to a new study that I want to continue today. It’s a study of the Gospel written by John who left no doubt about why he wrote it. His goal and the key verse are found in John 20:31, “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Open your Bible, then, to John chapter 1, the first 5 verses where John clarifies what he means by “the Son of God.” The truth is mind-boggling! What he insists is that Jesus and the Father are One God who created all that there is expecting us His creatures to love and honor Him. To see that, let me highlight 3 key facts about Him, which John MacArthur first identified in his study. They are : 1) His pre-existence; 2) His co-existence; 3) His self-existence with God the Father.

  1. His Pre-Existence

John’s Gospel opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The first question that begs to be answered is: What beginning is John talking about? Lacking any clarification on John’s part, we have to assume he’s talking about the same beginning as Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

That’s important because it means at the point creation began, Jesus the Son of God already existed. For if John had wanted to say that Jesus was part of God’s creation, he would have written, “From the beginning was the Word.” But that isn’t what he said. He said, “In the beginning was the Word.” In other words, before time and space began and the world was created, Jesus already existed.

Picture5To make that even more explicit, notice what He adds in verse 3. First, he gives the positive: “All things came into being through Him,” followed by the flipside, “And apart from Him (literally in Greek.) “not one thing came into being that has come into being.” Consequently, if He made everything there is and all things came from Him, He couldn’t possibly have been created. He must be eternal, existing with the Father forever before time began.

That’s why John repeats the word “was” 3 times in verse 1. By the way, when you see repetition like that in the Bible, it’s always for emphasis. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

3Last week I introduced you to a little Greek, the language in which the New Testament was originally written. I did that explaining that the word “was” (ἦν in the Greek) is a key word here because of its tense. It is in the imperfect tense describing ongoing action. It isn’t just that the Word existed in the beginning; it’s that He existed continuously before time and space began. Time and space are a creation of God. So if Jesus the Son of God existed before time and space began, it means He isn’t a created being; He is eternal, which means He must be God, for God is the only Eternal and Uncreated Being there is!

Then, to leave no doubt about it, he adds at the end of verse 1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God!” That phrase has been a source of debate by some over the years who say that instead of translating it “God,” it ought to be translated “a god.” So I’ve put the phrase on the screen so you can see it for yourself. Don’t worry! I’m not going to bog you down with a lot of Greek. But you’re smart people and it’s important for you to see it with your very own eyes instead of accepting what somebody else says about it.

5The phrase contains 5 words in Greek just as it does in English which, if you translate it word-for-word, what does it say? καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος—“And God was the Word!” Notice there’s also no article “a” before the word θεὸς, which means you can translate it “a god” if you don’t believe Jesus is Lord. But that wouldn’t be the usual way of translating it. The usual way is to translate it the way 99% of the versions do—“And the Word was God.”

By the way, in case you’re wondering why John flips the word order around and puts θεὸς (“God) at the beginning of the sentence, he does it to emphasize the Deity of Christ, that He is by very nature God. That’s why the only valid way of translating it is not “a god” or “the God” (which would eliminate God the Father), but simply “God,” emphasizing the Deity of Christ which is taught everywhere in the New Testament—like Philippians 2:6 which says of Him, “Who being by very nature God did not regard equality with God a thing to grasped, but made Himself nothing taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.” Colossians 2:9 confirms that adding, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”

But it especially taught in the Gospel of John where we hear Jesus claim again and again to be co-equal with the Father, using titles that belong to God alone like: “I AM the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep;” “Before Abraham was, I AM;” and “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” Furthermore, not only has He lived forever as the Son of God; He has also enjoyed perfect love, joy, and unity with God the Father from eternity past.

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  1. His Co-Existence

Listen again to verses 1 and 2. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Twice in two verses, John says, “the Word was with God.” So now we know something else about Him—not only is He God, He was also with God. But if He was both God and with God, that means there must be Two Persons who are God. Exactly! That’s the very point John is making. Not only is Jesus the eternal God, He is also distinct from the eternal God. Who, then, is the Second Person He was with who is called God?” The Father, of course!

“Huh?” you say. “That doesn’t make sense!” Maybe not; nevertheless it’s true even if you aren’t able to understand it, for John is now leading us into a realm where human reason is of no help and introducing us to a concept which the finite human mind simply cannot understand. He’s revealing that within the Essence of the One True God is a plurality—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Picture7“But that’s heresy, isn’t it?” you worry, “and the very thing for which the people of Israel were punished again and again—worshiping other gods in addition to the One True God?” For example, it wasn’t but days after receiving the Ten Commandments that they coerced Aaron into making a golden calf, which they proceeded to worship, bringing the wrath of God down upon themselves.

But as it turns out, you don’t need to worry, for Jesus said it is neither a heresy nor disloyal to the Father for us to worship the Son. For never has there been a twinge of jealousy or rivalry between Them. On the contrary, Jesus said it is rebellion and disloyalty not to give the Son the same honor we give the Father.

For example, on the last night before His death, He actually commanded His disciples to believe in Him just as we are to believe in the Father.  “Let not your heart be troubled,” He said. “You believe in God. Believe also in Me.” Phillip felt he needed more, however, so he asked Him, “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.” To which Jesus responded, “Phillip, have I been with you so long and still you do not know Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father!”

Picture9Talk about claiming to be equal with God! But that’s what Jesus does in this Gospel again and again. In fact, at one point He comes right out and says it.  John 10:30—“I and My Father are One.” Not only is that “off the charts” in arrogance if Jesus isn’t God; the Old Testament says it was also grounds for the death penalty, which is why His enemies immediately picked up stones to kill Him.

But the truth is Jesus is equal with God. That’s John’s point in verses 1 and 2. You see the phrase “with God?”  The word in the original means face-to-face with someone. And nobody can do that but Jesus alone. Angels don’t stand face-to-face with God. Nor do human beings! Instead, what do human beings do when they come face-to-face with God? They fall on their faces in worship, lest they see the face of God and die. But not Jesus, for Jesus is equal with the Father from eternity past.

By the way, this is also a great verse for Father’s Day, for it gives us a perfect model for the way fathers and sons ought to relate to one another.  John says that Jesus and the Father have forever lived in perfect face-to-face, eye-to-eye fellowship with Each Other, never wavering in their love and respect for One Another.

Picture11You can see a hint of this as far back as Deuteronomy 6:4 where we find the great Shema Israel, which faithful Jews still recite every morning and evening. Here the Lord emphasizes that He, Jehovah, is One God, so we’re to have no other gods besides Him. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is One!” But what you may not realize unless you’ve studied this passage is that the word “One” doesn’t mean “one in number.” It means “one in unity.”

I say that because you know where else we find this word? It’s used in Genesis 2:24 where the Lord says to Adam and Eve, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Two persons but one flesh!  That’s the same idea when it comes to the Trinity. There are Three Eternal Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who are together One God in essence and unity.

8In fact, the more you study it, the more you realize that the reason God forbade the making of images  to represent Him in the Old Testament is because He was reserving that holy spot for His Son who, according to Colossians 1:15 and other passages in the New Testament, is “the image of the Invisible God,” so that those who have seen Him have seen the Father. We’ll see that again when we study John 1:18 which says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only Begotten God  who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”

The truth is God is different from every other Being who has ever existed. Does that surprise you? For example, when it comes to people, how many persons has He allotted to each human being? Just one, right? But that isn’t true of God. In God’s case, there are Three Persons who share the One Essence which is God. This also means that God has never been alone or lonely, but has always enjoyed perfect, fulfilling fellowship together—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

9I emphasize all of this because there are all sorts of heresies today which deny and distort the doctrine of the Trinity. One of the most prominent that’s been going around for centuries and is very popular again today is called “oneness theology.”  There is nothing new under the sun!  This is one of the core beliefs of the United Pentecostal Church which numbers 25 million members worldwide. But it is very different from mainstream Pentecostalism. Many of you have a Pentecostal background, as do I.  I was led to Christ by Pentecostal believers and spent the first part of my Christian life worshiping in a Foursquare Church. But the UPC is very different from mainstream Pentecostalism.

For one thing, they deny the Trinity and teach in its place something called Modalism. It’s the belief that God has at times taken on different modes. For example, in the Old Testament, He was God the Father; in the Gospels, He was Jesus the Son; whereas today He’s at work in the world as the Holy Spirit. But He is not all Three at once. That’s a heresy which, unless a person repents of it, will lead to an eternity apart from Christ. As Augustine first warned, “He who tries to explain the Trinity will lose his mind. He who explains it away will lose his soul.”

Picture12So let me say it one more time to make sure no one is confused about what the Bible teaches. John is saying that Jesus Christ is God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, enjoying a glory from eternity past that belongs to God alone.

  1. His Self-Existence

36 times in his Gospel John uses the word “life.” But verse 3 is the first where he says of Jesus, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life.”  Let’s stop there for a moment and think about what that means. It means that everything came from Christ but that He, the Creator of all things, didn’t come from anyone or anything.  Nobody had to give Him life, because as He Himself later says, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.”

Picture14By the way, the word for life here is not bios referring to physical life, but Zoe referring to the source of life on which every living creature depends, from the simplest one-celled organism to human beings, the most complex creatures God made. Of Him, Paul says in Acts 17:24, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.”

That’s the God Jesus claimed to be—the God who has life in Himself and share it with every other living creature. John 5:25 is one example.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.”

Picture15Do you know what an amazing statement that is! It takes our finite minds to truths we cannot hope to understand. Try that as you’re trying to fall asleep tonight. Start thinking about God the Father and God the Son being eternally alive together – never a moment when they didn’t exist – and you’ll find it’s more than your feeble mind can take in—trying to grasp the eternity of God.

Furthermore, John adds, contained within His eternity are the power, hope, and understanding that we need as creatures. Verse 4 continues, “In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men, and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Darkness refers to Satan, his demonic army, and the kingdom of darkness he’s created in this world. That’s why John says, first of all, that the darkness did not “comprehend” the light. The devil has blinded their minds of those who do not believe, so they can’t possibly appreciate the new life we have in Christ. Like bugs scurrying for a hiding place when the light is turned on, they flee from the truth, so their sins won’t be discovered.  Jesus said, “And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.”

But that’s what we used to be like too! You and I used to live in the darkness. But no longer! Isaiah 9 says of us, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shined,” so that we now love the Light and the new insights it gives us.

Picture16Furthermore, John says the Light is powerful. Physicists still have a hard time defining light. After all, it can’t be matter since it has no mass and travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. And yet, it also occupies space and can be reflected, absorbed, and produce great heat. So what is it? The best stab science is able to make at it is to say that it’s energy—electromagnetic, radiant energy which, when it hits the retina of our eyes, stimulates our sense of sight.

That’s what Jesus does for us spiritually. 1 Corinthians 1:24 says, “To those who are called, Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God.” He gives us a new understanding of the truth as well as the power to overcome the darkness when it presses in upon us. Some of you will see in the margin of your Bible that there is an alternate reading for verse 5, and that the word “comprehend” can be translated “overcome.” “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That’s the best translation of this word katalambano, which means to “take something down” just like a wrestler might take down his opponent. However, in this case, I think it is one of those unusual verses where the author may have both concepts in mind. Jesus gives us a new understanding of the truth as well as power to keep from being overwhelmed by the darkness.

I’m sure you have felt that way at times—discouraged by all the evil around us and wondering if there’s any hope left in the world. But then the Light breaks in upon you, and suddenly you find yourself with new power and understanding.

It makes me think of my friend Bob who is hiking through Ape Caves with his kids today. Ape Caves is a 2-mile long network of caverns just below Mt. Saint Helens. I’ve been there twice, years ago now. It’s one of those dark places where if you turn off your lantern, you can’t see your hand in front of your face. So you immediately turn it back on, and the darkness quickly flees away.

Anzelina-Coodey_Pacific-Northwest-12-1200x856That’s what John is saying here. “The Light of Christ is so strong that no matter how hard the darkness tries—and believe me, the devil has been trying to put out the Light of Christ from the  moment He entered this world—without success! First, it was Herod slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Next it was his temptation in the wilderness, then his attack on Jesus in the Garden, trying to keep Him from going to the Cross, and finally the crucifixion and the devil’s premature celebration that he’d put an end to the Son of God. But guess what! The Light is still shining! In fact, it’s been shining for a long time now—almost 2,000 years, and there’s no sign of it going out.

But then that’s what Jesus promised, and His promises cannot be broken. He said in John 8:12, “I AM the Light of the World. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life.”Picture17In fact, His Light isn’t just holding its own against the darkness; it’s actually winning the battle despite our fears. In 1 John 2:8, John assures us further, “The darkness is passing away, and the True Light is already shining.”  Colossians 1:17 says something similar. Paul reminds us that Christ is not only the Creator who gives life to all things, He’s also the One who holds all things together by His power. So be not afraid, little children, it isn’t the government that will save us; or the church or angels of God that will keep the evil of this world in check; it’s Jesus Christ who is not only the Maker of all things, He is also the Sustainer of all things who is this very moment holding all things—this world, your life, your marriage, your finances—together by His gracious and almighty power.

So let me ask you as I bring this study to a close. Have you seen the Light? If not, open your heart and believe today! Accept what God says about His Son in His Word—that He is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father.  Consequently, the only way to honor the Father is by giving to His Son Jesus the same love, worship, reverence, and honor that you give to God the Father.

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