Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

His First Sign: Water to Wine!

Do you believe that God exists and that Jesus is Lord? If so, what reason would you give to someone who asked you why you believe? Here is a list of the most common reasons Christians give for believing. See which one comes closest to your own: 1) Answers to prayer; 2) Reading the Bible; 3) Marveling at what He has created; 4) Seeing changes in the lives of believers; 5) Sensing His presence in the worship services I have attended.

Picture1I ask you that question because that’s our topic for this study. In John chapter 2, we come to a turning point in John’s Gospel. The purpose for everything John wrote, I’d remind you, was to prove that Jesus is God. He states it clearly in John 20:31—“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”

You see, according to John, it is only by believing in the Deity of Christ that you gain the eternal life He offers. For that reason, he have seen him call eyewitness after eyewitness in chapter 1, each one testifying to the Lordship of Christ. First, it was John the Baptist, then Andrew and John, then Peter, James, Philip, and Nathanael in that order. Six ordinary guys who became the greatest men who ever lived because they were willing to believe! Don’t get confused about that. The reason people go to hell is not a lack of evidence. There’s always more than enough evidence to believe if you’re willing to believe. The reason is a hardness of heart and unwillingness to believe the evidence God has given us.

Oxygen Volume 17But now in chapter 2, John moves on from the testimony of eyewitnesses to a second, even more convincing argument. He presents the first of eight great signs Jesus performed—each one something only God could do. He walks on water, creates new eyes for a blind man, creates food to feed 20,000 peoples, raises a friend from the dead whose body has been decaying for four days, and in the passage before us—John 2:1-12, if you’ll open your Bible with me—He turns water into wine.

I know it also helps sometimes to have a map of where you’re going, so let me do that briefly as we get started. Let me give you a short overview of John’s Gospel. It can be broken into four parts—chapter 1 which we’ve studied where John calls several eyewitnesses to testify to the Deity of Christ, chapters 2 to 11 where John describes the public ministry and miracles of Jesus, chapters 12 to 17 where he describes the private ministry of Jesus to His disciples on the last night before His death, and chapters 18 to 21 which describe His death for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Picture2But here we are looking at Jesus’ first great sign described in John chapter 2:1-12 – water turned to wine. To guide our study, I’ve divided it into 4 parts—the feast, the faux pas, the feat, and the faith it gave His disciples as a result.

  1. The Feast

Have you attended any weddings this summer? I attended the reception of my niece and goddaughter a week ago Saturday, and it was beautiful! Beautiful bride! Beautiful decorations! Beautiful setting! It was held at her father-in-law’s 3-acre country with beautifully manicured lawn and garden, just outside of Monroe, Washington. And the food was delicious! The affair lasted all night for those who wished to stay. That was a little too long for some of us older folks. But nothing compared to weddings at the time of Christ.

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_WCA0116-1800Read verses 1 and 2 with me. Here John recalls where the wedding took place: “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.” The third day means it was the third day since He met Philip and Nathanael in Bethsaida. So if it was a Sunday they met, it’s now Tuesday—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—which means everything we’ve read so far has happened in a week. They heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, they stayed with Him all night, they walked with Him from the Jordan to Bethsaida where He met Philip and Nathanael, and now they’re at a wedding with Him in Cana of Galilee. So if you think your schedule is crazy, don’t imagine for a moment that you’re busier than Jesus. He was always about His Father’s business.

Cana was also the hometown of Nathanael according to John 21:2 and about 9 miles from Bethsaida with a population of maybe 100 at the time. So it’s no surprise to find Nathanael there, as well as Mary. Having lived in Romania for 5 years, I can tell you that in old-world rural areas, you not only know the folks in your own village; you have friends and family in the next village too. Joseph isn’t because he’s died by this time. He died during the silent years when Jesus was working in the carpenter’s shop to support His family as the Firstborn Son. We know that because later, when Jesus is dying on the cross, He commits His mother into the care of John the Apostle, who was her nephew, something that wouldn’t have been necessary if Mary hadn’t have been a widow and Joseph was still alive. And as you’d expect of the mother of Jesus, she was busy serving at the wedding, maybe as the wedding coordinator, because you’ll notice in a moment, she feels very free to tell the servants at the reception what to do.

Picture3But the most important fact is that Jesus was there and performed His first public miracle there to emphasize the sanctity and importance of marriage in His eyes. So pay no attention to those who say that marriage is just a piece of paper! They don’t know what they’re talking about! Weddings matter and marriage matters. Marriage is a holy covenant made between one man and one woman in the presence of God and their family and friends, vowing they’ll be faithful to love one another as long as life itself. For that reason no other relationship on earth is as important or wonderful as marriage. Peter calls it “the grace of life,” meaning that of all God’s common graces—the graces He showers upon all people whether they love Him or not—of all His common graces, marriage is the greatest, which means any society that honors marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman will be blessed, whereas any society that fails to honor marriage is headed for chaos, judgment, disaster, and destruction. So watch out, America, how far you go! God is watching and will not bless what you’re doing!

For that reason, weddings have always been the most important celebrations on earth. I wish I’d understood that better as a young pastor. I would have preached it with even more conviction. The ancient world, especially the Hebrew culture, recognized that fact and considered a wedding the most important event of the year. Romania, where we served as missionaries, was also an old-world country in many ways, and they believed the same thing. Weddings would start in the late afternoon with a two to three hour ceremony at church, followed by a reception that lasted all night long, for anyone who could stay awake.

Picture4So it was in Cana of Galilee! Weddings often began on a Tuesday or Wednesday and lasted until the weekend. Or if you were well-to-do, they could last all week. And everybody came! Everyone was aware of the couple’s engagement that took place the year before, because an engagement was a legal contract that officially bound the partners to each other and could only be broken by divorce, even though the marriage itself wasn’t consummated until after the feast. What went on during that year prior to the wedding? That takes us to point #2—

  1. The Faux Pas

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0530-1800All year long the bridegroom worked to prepare a place for his bride to live, often a room added onto his father’s home. And he was also responsible to pay the full cost of the wedding. All of this to prove to her father that he had what it takes, that he was could provide for her once she became his wife! You see where the story is headed. The feast is in full swing and everyone is enjoying himself when the wine runs out. And that presents a problem.

As John MacArthur puts it, “Maybe he can’t plan! That’s what all of us fathers who marry off our daughters fear. Maybe he’s all smoke and mirrors and doesn’t know how to earn a living? I hope my daughter isn’t going to have to bring home the bacon!” They ran out of wine in the middle of the greatest celebration this couple would ever have—a huge embarrassment and a big question mark hanging over the head of this groom and his family. So verse 3 says: “When they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”

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Now why do you suppose she would she say that to Him? Most preachers assume that she wanted Him to do a miracle. But why would she expect that? Had He ever done a miracle? No! Not that He couldn’t, but verse 11 says this was “the first of the signs” Jesus did. So there’s no reason for her to expect Him to do something He’s never done before. Again I think MacArthur gives the best explanation for this. When Mary had a problem, who did she always turn to, especially after Joseph died? Jesus, of course! Think about it. He never had a bad idea or made a bad decision in His life! He always led her in the right direction and had the perfect solution to every problem. If anything ever went wrong in their home, He always knew why it went wrong and exactly how to fix it. He was the smartest, wisest, and most resourceful person who ever lived. And He grew up in her home. By the way, He was also the compassionate person who ever lived! So who else would she turn to with this problem?

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0694-1800But wait a minute, is that the way a son ought to talk to his mother! Listen to what He says to Mary in verse 4. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” Why such harsh words to the mother He loved? First, they didn’t sound nearly as harsh to Mary as when we read them out of context. For one thing, this is something He said to her in private, not publicly so as to embarrass. Remember that the next time you have something hard to say to someone you love, especially to your husband or wife. Wait until you’re alone with them instead of saying it out loud for the whole world to hear. That’s Matthew 18:15. Go to them in private and try to resolve things between the two of you before you let anyone else know about it. Tone of voice also makes a difference, and I know Jesus said it as gently as He could. And He was polite! The word “woman” is the same word He used at the cross when He entrusted His widowed mother into John’s care. Pointing to John, He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” We have no equivalent in English, but He was saying in effect, “Dear Lady, what does your concern have to do with Me?”

8Why didn’t He call her “Mother?” Because the relationship between them had changed! For 30 years Jesus had been about His mother’s business, doing whatever she asked of Him. But now, with the cross looming before Him, He has just 3 years to be about His Father’s business. His mother, like His disciples, didn’t really get that until after His resurrection. But it’s imperative to let her know that from this point on, His only concern is the mission for which His Father sent Him into this world and nothing, not even familial relationships—can stand in His way. He gave her a warning of this early on in Luke chapter 2, when He was 12 years old and they found Him asking and answering questions of the scholars in the Temple. She scolded Him for worrying her. So He reminded her, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

BoyJesusLater He had to remind her again when she and his brothers stood outside a home where He was teaching, waiting to speak with Him. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He said. Then stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He explained, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in Heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” That’s true, isn’t it? We who love the Lord Jesus and do the will of His Father in Heaven are His brothers and sisters and mother. You see He wasn’t being unkind. But it had to be said. “I am the Son of God and I’m on a mission of infinite importance, and I can’t allow anything—not even family relationships—stand in My way. And thank God He didn’t let them get in the way. For if He had, you and I wouldn’t be saved today!

Nor is Mary offended. She may not understand the implications of what He’s said. But she knows who her Son is, and she trusts Him. So what does she immediately do? Verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” Wise counsel! Wouldn’t you say? Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it! That would save us a lifetime of grief, wouldn’t it? So what does Jesus tell them to do? That’s the third chapter in this thriller. We’ve been to the feast. We’ve witnessed the social faux pas. Now let’s watch Him as He performs His first miraculous feat.

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  1. The Feat

Do you know what the truly marvelous thing about this miracle is? Even though it wasn’t his mother’s place to give Him ministry advice…By the way, we’re going to find that Jesus never took the advice of anybody when it came to ministry. Why not? I thought a humble man always seeks the counsel of others? Not in Jesus’ case! He was humble. No question about that! More humble than you and I have ever dreamed. Try hanging on a cross for a crime you didn’t commit without defending yourself or trying to get even with your enemies! The reason He didn’t seek the counsel of sinful human beings is because He couldn’t trust us and didn’t need it. For this is no mere man we’re talking about. This is the Holy God become Man whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. So though it wasn’t Mary’s place to give Him advice (nor do I think she was asking for a miracle), women’s intuition may have told her something wonderful was afoot. And it was! By God’s grace her concern, the need of that young couple, and God’s will all came together in one miraculous moment of time, leading to one of the greatest feats He ever performed.

Picture5You see contrary to popular belief, this miracle was not an unexpected and premature event, interrupting God’s plan for His Son, due to a well-meaning but interfering Jewish mother. This was Plan A from before time began—for the first sign of Jesus’ Deity to be a miracle performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for His mother, His family, and His friends. Wasn’t that gracious of Him? And here’s how it happened. Verse 6 says: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.”

This wasn’t water for washing their hands or taking a bath. It was for ceremonial purposes. Before a Jewish family would eat a meal, they’d pour water over their pots, their pans, their plates, and their hands, not to get them clean, but to be ritually pure. So for a feast of several days, you had to have a lot of water. But why did He have them fill the jars to the brim? So there would be no question about something being added to the water. Skeptics always try to explain away a miracle. Remember Pharaoh’s magicians and how they tried to copy Moses’ miracles? So they filled the jars to the brim. Ought to last till the weekend, don’t you think? But why so much wine? To picture the super abundance of God’s grace—“Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will be poured into your lap.”

Picture6“And,” verse 8 continues, “He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine…” Wait a minute, you say! I think I missed it. When did He do the miracle? In between the lines, there between verses 8 and 9! But then that’s how the Bible always describes the miraculous—very matter of fact. You really didn’t expect Jesus to make a big deal out of it, did you? Drum roll, please! “Tuh-dum!”

But what a miracle it was! Verse 9 says: “When the master of the feast (the headwaiter) tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew, (he) called the bridegroom 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.’” That’s true, isn’t it? When we invite guests for dinner, we get out our best china, put flowers on the table, pull out our best recipe, cook our best meal, and serve them in style. But if they stay a second or third or fourth day, it’s: “There’s the fridge. Try your luck! I think there are leftovers in the back if you look hard.” But in this case, it’s far different! The maître d says, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk too much, he serves the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Good wine! This was the best wine anyone ever tasted—like new wine freshly squeezed from the grapes of Eden!

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  1. The Faith

But we can’t leave it at that. We need to take a step back before we finish and ask the big question: Why did John tell us this story in the first place? Answer: To help us relive it with him and discover with His disciples who Jesus really is. Remember they’re only a week into following Him and this walking by faith thing is new to them. So Jesus performs a miracle, and John tells us about it, so that both they and we will believe. We have been to the feast. We have witnessed the faux pas. We have seen the miraculous feat He performed.  Now it’s time to solidify our faith in Him. That’s what this miracle did for them and should do for us. Verse 11 says: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0586-1800 Remember there are only 6 of them at this time: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael—all of them good friends, fishing partners, and strong believers in the God of the Bible—but not one has ever seen a miracle. Nathanael got a taste of His omniscience when Jesus said to him, “Before Philip found you under the fig tree, I saw you!” But not one of them (or you either, for that matter) ever saw a miracle like this. We’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer, but nothing like the magnitude of this miracle! 150 gallons of water instantly turned to wine!

The impact was so great two things happened right away. First, all six of His disciples put their faith in Jesus. I know. I know. They already believed in Him. Or they wouldn’t have followed Him all the way to Galilee. They called Him “Rabbi.” They called Him “Messiah.” Then Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” But Jesus said they would see even greater things than these. And the first and one of the greatest was this—seeing their Creator make something out of nothing just as He had in the beginning. And for what purpose! So that both they and we would never doubt.

People-surround-Jesus-1024x744But even more important is the second thing that happened. John says they saw His glory! Isn’t that the purpose of our lives and what we’ve been longing for since we first met Him? I want to see His glory. And they did, at least in part! What glory? The eternal glory He shared with the Father before time began! You know the verse. So say it with me. John 1:14, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the best thing about is you didn’t have to be there to experience it. You can experience it this moment if you have faith to believe. As He said to Thomas, who finally believed and fell at His feet in worship saying, “My Lord and my God,” “Because you’ve seen, you’ve believed. But blessed (That means happy, elated, and overcome with joy!) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed!” And so we believe without seeing, and we behold “His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus-Face-Paintings-01But someone will say, “I’d believe too if I saw a miracle like that!” Don’t be so sure. The Israelites witnessed 10 miraculous plagues in Egypt and the Red Sea splitting in half before them, and they still didn’t believe and died in the wilderness as a result! And the people of Jesus’ day saw even greater miracles than that. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does anyone ever question Jesus’ power to do miracles. What His enemies claimed was that He performed miracles by the power of Satan, earning a place in hell as a result of it. The truth is Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle, day after day, for three years until virtually all disease was eradicated from Israel. But they still didn’t believe, because faith isn’t about evidence. It’s about a willing heart.

Jesus PleaThat means, if your heart is willing, you can know Jesus this very moment through simple childlike faith. So if you’ve never believed before, open up your heart to Him now as I lead us in a closing prayer. Say these words or words like them with me in the quietness of your heart and, if you truly mean them, Jesus promises that He will come into your life this very moment and live with you forever.

(To listen to or download the audio message, click AUDIO. To download the written message, click WRITTEN. If you know someone who might benefit from this message, we encourage you and invite you to send them this link.)

 

I’ve Gazed Upon The Face of God

GoodNews_cvr-500x706I have good news for you. It turns out the bad news we’ve been hearing about marriage the past 30 years is a myth. We’ve been told, for example, that 50% of all marriages end in divorce and that the divorce rate of those inside the church is the same as those outside the church. Isn’t that right? And yet, according to a new book by social researchers, Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead, who’ve been conducting a scientific study of the subject for the last 8 years, it turns out that 72% of everyone who is married today is still married to their first spouse, and the chances of your current marriage succeeding increase by 25% to 50% if you go to church together. Hence, its title – The Good News About Marriage, for it means that getting married is one of the best decisions you can make in life!

Think of what you gain when you marry. The Bible says the two become one, which means a second person is added to the equation with strengths you don’t have and completing you in a way no friend could. For example, when I married Cheryl, I gained a better half who is kinder and more sensitive than I with years of experience as a pastor’s daughter, which I didn’t know I’d need at the time.  I didn’t plan to be a pastor. But God had other plans and gave me the ideal wife not only to be my partner in ministry, but an expert money manager who’s stretched every cent of the modest salary I’ve earned as a pastor, kept us out of debt, is the best mother our girls could have, and a beautiful companion who has filled my life with joy the last 40 years. I got the whole package when I married her.

hope-of-glory-dolores-develdePerhaps you’re wondering where I’m going with this. The reason I’m emphasizing the benefits of marriage is because that’s the picture the Bible paints of our relationship with Christ. It likens it to marriage calling Jesus our Heavenly Bridegroom and the Church His Bride. And just as in marriage, the moment we are united to Him by faith, we gain what was previously lacking in us. In fact, in His case, He gives us everything we need and more! We share His glory, we receive His grace, and we meet God for the first time in our lives.  For “we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20-21) That’s our outline, then, if you’ll open your Bible to John 1:14-18 — just 5 verses, but 5 eternally important verses!

And like every verse in John’s Gospel, they’re intended to accomplish his goal as stated in John 20:31, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Read the passage.  Then we’ll see what it means.  “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”’ For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  The question we want to answer, then, is: What are the benefits of meeting Jesus?

  1. You Share His Glory.

The last two weeks our study has focused on the Word or Logos, which in Greek philosophy was the principle on which all of creation rests; to the Jew, on the other hand, it was the revelation of God contained in the Holy Scriptures, both of which are true in part. But here John reveals something new and surprising. The Word is not an impersonal force or a writing; it is a Person, the Eternal Son of God who, according to verse 14, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

2To understand what he means, notice 3 key words with me. The first is “flesh” referring to the very weakest aspect of our personality. This is the part of humanity of which Jesus warned, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Paul added, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” So how could God possibly become a man? As the Greeks said, the body is too corrupt and God is too holy for the two of them to come together.

By the way, many who call themselves Christians believe the same thing, that Jesus couldn’t possibly have had the same kind of body as ours. He must have had a perfect body like Adam before he sinned. But that isn’t true. In order to take our place as our Savior and sympathize with us as our Great High Priest, Jesus had to be like us in every way—except one. He was without sin.

I mention that because sometimes you’ll read in one of those books by someone who claims to have visited heaven that Jesus appeared to them as a bright light leading them through a tunnel to heaven. That’s nonsense! John says the Word became flesh, at which point Deity and humanity were forever fused together in One Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man. His humanity never diminishes His Deity nor does His Deity ever overpower His humanity. He is now and forever 100% God and 100% man.

celestial-christ-print-8x10-2042915That means when you see Jesus in heaven, He’ll look exactly like He did when He appeared to His disciples following His resurrection. He’ll have a real human body you can see and feel and hug—a body which is fully human and yet glorified and without sin—just like the bodies you and I will one day enjoy.

The second word to is “dwelt.” “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word is skenoo which means “to pitch a tent or set up a tabernacle.” What does that bring to mind? John is alluding to the Tabernacle in the wilderness where God first dwelt with His people. And yet, like many other objects and events in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle with all its offerings and furnishings was intended to be a type of Christ to come who dwells, not in a tabernacle made by hands, but in a resurrected and glorified body.

In fact, one of the things we learned when we studied the Feast of Tabernacles is that most Bible scholars agree that Jesus was probably not born on December 25, when most of the world celebrates His birth, because it’s unlikely that the shepherds would have been out in the fields keeping watch over their sheep with snow on the ground. Instead, given the fact that John the Baptist was born 6 months before Jesus during the Feast of Passover, it’s likely that He was born in October during the Feast of Tabernacles. Which would be fitting, wouldn’t it? For the Light of the World to be conceived at Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and pitch His tent with us during the Feast of Tabernacles!

3But the most important word is “glory.” “We beheld His glory.” Again, the first time His glory was revealed was as a blazing fire hovering over the Tabernacle called the shekinah glory. Shekinah simply means “His presence,” which is so glorious that no one could enter the Tabernacle until it subsided. That, John says, is what he saw in Jesus. “We saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The most obvious time is when he, Peter, and James were with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. Suddenly His body was transformed before them, and “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light,” so that they all fell down before Him in fear. In fact, it was so glorious that Peter was still talking about it 30 years later in his letter to the churches. “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales,” he says, “when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of His majesty…when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

the-transfigurationBut it wasn’t only on that occasion. It was something they witnessed on a daily basis. For example, on the next page Jesus will perform His first miracle by turning the water into wine, and John will say, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” Nor was it only in His miracles that they saw His glory. They also saw it every day in His words, His wisdom, His teaching, and the brilliant manner in which He answered the perplexing questions they perpetually asked Him. To quote the temple guards who returned to the priests empty-handed, having failed to arrest Him as they were sent to do, “No man ever spoke like this man!”

But it was seen most clearly in His kindness and compassion. This week I read the story of a pioneer in the treatment of catatonic schizophrenia, one of the most severe forms of mental illness. Day after day patients would lie curled up in the fetal position on their beds, neither moving, speaking, or acknowledging anyone else existed, until a new doctor moved onto their ward. There he set up his cot and lived among them. Sometimes he’d even take off his jacket, crawl into bed, and gently wrap his arms around them. That one wordless expression of love was often enough to bring one of them back to the world of the living.

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So in Christ, God moved into our world and dwelt among us, even dying on a cross to pay for our sins.  And in that also, John says, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And that can’t help but change you!

In the case of Moses, the skin of his face glowed with the glory of God whenever he met with the Lord in His Tabernacle. So he would cover his face with a veil, so that the people wouldn’t be afraid to come near to him.

mosesfacemountain-632 But in our case the change is far greater. In fact, one day the Bible says it’s going to change us forever. 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him just as He is.” But we are not to wait until then for the change to take place. If we love Him, we’re to let His glory begin changing us even now. 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Picture1What do you get when you meet Jesus, then? You share His glory, a glory that He has shared with the Father since before time began.

  1. You Receive His Grace.

Verse 14 continues, “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And he adds in verse 16, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

Here we come to the most beautiful word in the New Testament—charis. In Modern Greek it means “charming.” Can you think of anyone like that? We have several people in our fellowship like that. Marty is a very charming woman. That’s why we like to have her welcome us to our meetings. Herman is also a very charming man. That is why so many attend his small group.

Disney-princes-make-hot-cover-models-like-Prince-Charming-GQBut the word in the New Testament is even more beautiful. It means “grace, favor, and undeserved kindness.”  Think, for example, of someone who’s earned your anger, but instead of retaliating, you’re kind to them. That’s grace.

I can think of one time when I was very gracious. Our daughter Heidi was 6 years old at the time. She and Becca were up early – about 6:30 in the morning. It was my day off, so I was sleeping in. But the girls knew it was OK to get up and watch TV, as long as it was our approved list. All of a sudden, boom! I heard a crash from the other room. Running to see what it was, I found the television set in the middle of the floor with its head smashed in. Heidi was frantic, not knowing what to do. She just kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Daddy,” sure she was going to get punished. She’d tried to turn the television set on its stand so they could see it better and accidentally knocked it onto the floor. But I couldn’t punish her for that. Instead I hugged her and said, “Don’t worry about it, Honey! You’re more important to me than a TV set. I’m just glad you’re OK.”

Heidi 4But she did worry because later in the day as we were riding together in the car, she turned to me and asked me, “How much is a new TV set, Daddy—about $4?” That’s how much she had saved in her piggy bank. “No,” I said. “Probably more like $400.” “Oh,” she gulped.” “But you don’t need to worry about that, Honey.” I said. “It isn’t your job to pay for things like that. It’s my job as your daddy.” At that she took a deep breath, sighed, and began to relax. She also snuggled up to me and said, “I love you, Daddy.” And I said to her, “I love you, Heidi.”

By the way, you know the only thing I regret looking back on that? That I wasn’t gracious in a thousand other ways was well. Because that’s the greatest gift you can give another person and the best way to show them that Christ is real. For it’s in Him, John says that grace and truth have been “realized.”

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t grace in the Old Testament. There had to be or no one would have been saved. But “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the other Old Testament saints. But the most prominent thing about the law was its strict judgment and warnings of death. Whereas Jesus is “full of grace and truth…and of His fullness,” John adds, “We have all received.” Isn’t that true? Wasn’t He gracious to you even before you began to follow Him? Oh, now you know to ask Him and trust Him for your daily bread. But He has always been good to you, every day of your life!

5Notice also how much grace is available to you! John says: “Of His fullness we have all received;” which means it’s infinite, for according to Colossians 2:9, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” so that whatever belongs to the Father, belongs to Him, for He and the Father are One. Furthermore, John says what we have received “grace upon grace” meaning that the supply is unlimited and unending. You ask for grace in time of need, He gives it to you, and more grace instantly fills the vacuum like the widow’s oil in the days of Elisha that kept flowing as long as she had vessels to hold it. It’s grace after grace after grace without end. That’s why the Lord could say to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” and why He urges us to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. “His love has no limits. His grace has no measure. His power no boundary known unto men, for out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”

Notice one more thing before we move on. Notice that He is full of grace and truth. Why does John mention that? Because you can’t have one without the other! To receive His saving grace, you have to believe the truth about Him—that He is the eternal Son of God who was in the beginning with God and shares the very essence of God with the Father. For as gracious as He is, He can’t give you His saving grace unless you’re willing to believe the truth about Him! But once you do, amazingly gracious things happen to you.

As we learned last week, whoever receives Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, which means all your sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven forever, your name is written in heaven, and an everlasting home is reserved for you in God’s kingdom. Talk about grace. That’s the summit of grace! How it works, no one fully understands. But that it works, I know for sure because I’ve received it, and that’s something no one can take away from me. So if you’ve never asked for it before, ask Jesus to give you the faith to believe in Him this very moment, and His promise is, “He who comes to Me, I will never, no never cast out.” (John 6:37)

DrawMeClose2_Soft_Edge You share His glory. You receive His grace, and—

  1. You See God the Father.

Verse 18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.” That phrase is emphatic. “No one has ever, at any time seen God.” But is that true? Moses, for example, saw the afterglow of God’s glory as He passed by, but he didn’t see His face. In fact, there’s some question as to whether or not the face of God the Father can ever be seen. For, as Jesus said to the woman at the well, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” 1 Timothy 6:16 adds, He “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

Perhaps you’re worrying and disappointed about that. Does that mean, then, that you and I will never see God? No. John clarifies it here. He says, “No one has seen God at any time,” but then he immediately adds, “The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Phillip worried about that, you’ll remember. Having heard Jesus say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me,” he begged Him, “Show us the Father, and it is enough for us!” Jesus replied, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?’” To see Jesus, then, is to gaze on the face of God and behold the most glorious sight human eyes can see.

Jesus-Face-Paintings-01But you say, “I don’t understand! How can Jesus reveal God to us?”  There are two reasons: 1) He is the Son of God who is forever “in the bosom of the Father.” That’s a Hebrew expression referring to a son who is especially close to and loved by his father. Think of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom he loved with all his heart. That same phrase is later used to describe the Apostle John, Jesus’ closest friend who leaned upon his bosom at the Last Supper.  But here it’s used of Jesus of whom the Father declared from heaven two times during His ministry on earth (first at His baptism and later on the Mount of Transfiguration), “This is My Son the Beloved One, in whom I am well pleased,” for everything Jesus did and said was a perfect reflection of who His Father is and was.

But even more important is the second reason John gives. He is “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” You may notice in the margin of your Bible that some of the more recent manuscripts read, “Only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.” And if they’re correct, that no poses no problem for us, for in Hebrew thought, a son shared all of his father’s attributes, meaning that just as God the Father is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and every-present, so is Jesus the Son, for He and the Father are and forever have been two Persons sharing the One Divine Essence.

If that translation bothers you, don’t let it. Because what the oldest and most reliable manuscripts say is “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” You see just as bird begets bird, lion begets lion, and man begets man, what God begets is God. So that Paul could say without hesitation, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form!” In other words, when you see the face of Jesus one day in heaven, what you’ll be gazing at will be the face of God Himself, the most glorious sight human eyes can see, and that will change you immediately and forever!

1So let me ask you as I draw this study to a close, would you like to share God’s glory, be a recipient of His grace, and gaze upon His glorious face? Then meet Jesus, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father. How? You don’t get it by trying harder to believe or do good works. It comes to you as a gift of His grace. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not works, lest anyone should boast.” So stop trying and start trusting. Call out to Him in helpless childlike faith. Little children are helpless to care for themselves, aren’t they? So are you when it comes to God’s glory and grace. So call out to Him with me right now in helpless childlike faith, and His promise is: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click Audio. To download or read the written version, click Written.)

Let Christ the Light Shine!

1It was August 11, 1999. We were living in Romania and our girls, who were in high school at the time, were in Timisoara with friends, giving us our first taste of “the empty nest.” So we made it a date. We packed a lunch, grabbed some protective eyewear, and headed for a mountainside just outside of Sibiu to witness something neither of us had ever seen—a total eclipse of the sun.

What a spooky, once-in-a-lifetime experience it was! Slowly the moon crept up on the sun until it was totally obscured and it became night in the middle of the day. So there we sat eating our picnic lunch in the moon shadow, waiting for the sun to return. Raised in the scientific age, we were never really afraid but I could imagine how people in the ancient world might take it as harbinger of evil things to come praying for the light to shine on them again.

1But then, as modern as you and I may be, the fact is that we too suffer from a fear of the darkness—perhaps not in a physical sense, but definitely in a spiritual sense. We see the ever-increasing immorality, violence, and anti-God spirit of the age, and we worry: “How long can we hold it together?” The answer: Not one second apart from the grace of Jesus Christ who, Colossians 1:15 says, “is the image of the invisible God,” which is why Jehovah also outlawed the making of graven images in the Old Testament. He was saving that sacred role for His only begotten (born not created, mind you)…His only begotten Son “by whom all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth.” Consequently, means, if He is the Creator of all things, He wasn’t created! He’s eternal!

For it wasn’t from the beginning that He was with God. It was “in the beginning” before the time-space continuum began. And if He existed before time and space were created, then He’s eternal and co-equal with the Father from eternity past. That’s the meaning of “oneness” in the Old Testament, by the say. It doesn’t mean singleness. It means unity, so that just as two can become one flesh in marriage, so the Father and Son have been One God from eternity past.

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Furthermore, Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together,” which means it isn’t you or me or the government who is holding everything together. We couldn’t do that even if we tried. It is Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is the One who is holding this world, this nation, your marriage, your health, and your finances together by His gracious power. So let’s be sure to give Him the praise that is due Him!

3That’s where we left off last week—with John 1:4, which says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it! In fact, John later encourages us in his epistle to the churches, “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” So that’s where I want to pick up this study, asking you the question I ended with last week: Have you seen the Light and put your faith in Jesus?

For remember what we learned! Jesus said we’re to give the same degree of honor to Him that we give to the Father, and that just as we’ve learned to trust in God, we’re to put that same kind of faith in Jesus. For He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me!”

To see how and why we’re to do that, I want to introduce you to 3 players in the drama—the Witness, the Light, and the First Responders. But before I do, take a moment to read the passage. It says,, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right 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.”

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  1. The Witness

John has introduced us in the first 5 verses to the Eternal and Uncreated Word of God. But now he seems to be changing subjects, introducing us to a man named John. By the way, wherever you see the name John in this Gospel, it refers to John the Baptist or on a few occasions to the father of Peter, but never to the Apostle John who wrote this book. He preferred to remain anonymous and simply called himself “the disciple Jesus loved,” so the glory would go to Jesus and not to him.

That’s what we find here. John isn’t changing subjects. He’s taking us into the courtroom, asking us to listen to the first witness Jehovah has prepared to testify to the Deity of His Son. In fact, that’s something he does throughout this book—calls witness after witness to testify to the Deity of Christ—the 11 disciples; 5,000 who were fed; a man born blind; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus who was raised from the dead; but the first and greatest witness is John who comes preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, saying: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” It says in verse 6, “There came a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.”

You might want to underline the phrase “sent from God” because I’d remind you this was the first prophet to appear in Israel in over 400 years. The last prophet was Malachi who was followed by 400 years of silence as a way of accentuating John’s ministry and preparing the people for the coming of the Lord.

3I’d also remind you of his special birth. His father Zacharias, who was a priest, and his mother Elizabeth, who was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother, were both elderly and childless. So when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him in the Temple announcing that his wife was going to bear a son, he doubted the angel’s word and was struck dumb until the day of John’s circumcision when he was asked, “What do you want to call him?” And the Bible says the moment he wrote the name “John,” meaning “Jehovah is gracious,” his tongue was loosened, and he went on prophesy that his son would be called “the prophet of the Most High” and go on before His face to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

He also enjoyed a special preparation. Luke says he was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, raised in the wilderness where he wore a garment of camel’s hair, ate locusts and wild honey, and at the age of 30 began preaching in the wilderness saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight.” The results were miraculous! John never had to do any marketing. And yet, Mark 1:5 says “all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to see him, being baptized in the Jordan River and confessing their sins—which tells us two things: 1) If we’re faithful to do God’s will in the way He wants us to do it, we don’t have to worry about the results. All we have to do is be faithful, and God will take care of the rest. And believe me, John was faithful—so faithful it cost him his life.

2) We’re to make Jesus the focal point of all we say and do. For like John, that is our mission. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “Be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” All you have to do is read the rest of chapter 1, and you’ll see how faithfully John shifted the focus away from himself to Jesus. In verse 15, he says to those being baptized by him, “He who comes after me is greater than I am, because He existed before me.” In verse 25, he denies being the Christ insisting that he isn’t worthy to untie the sandals of the One coming after him. In verse 29, he says to the crowd after Jesus’ baptism, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then in verse 35, he encourages two of his own disciples (Andrew and John) to follow Jesus, pointing to Him and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

And finally, later in chapter 3, when his ministry begins to wane because everybody is following Jesus instead of him, he’s perfectly OK with that, because he knows his work is now. So he says to his disciples who are worried about his declining popularity, “A man can receive nothing unless it’s been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’  but, I have been sent ahead of Him.’…He must increase, but I must decrease.”’ Talk about humble, faithful witnesses! What do you think? Did God pick the right man? I’ll say. In fact, we’ll see in a later study that Jesus said of him, “No greater man has arisen among men than John the Baptist.” Talk about high praise!

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And that’s what we ought to live for—not the praise of men, but God’s pleasure in seeing people believe in Christ through our witness for Him. Look one more time at verse 8, and you’ll see that’s what John was all about. It says, “He was not the Light, but came to give testimony to the Light, that all might believe through him.” Believe by taking somebody else’s word for it? Absolutely! That’s been God’s plan from the beginning—to spread the good news of Christ’s love by one hungry beggar telling another where he found food. C.S. Lewis called it “the good infection.” By the way, the plan has been wildly successful, for not only are there millions and billions in heaven today who have believed because one follower of Jesus told another, but there are still hundreds of thousands being won to Christ that way every day! That’s our job! Not to be religious counselors, spiritual gurus, or Christian life coaches. Our job is to be witnesses to the glory and Deity of Jesus Christ. John was the witness, but Jesus is the Light.

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  1. The Light

John continues, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” Who does John mean when he says, “The True Light?” He is talking about Jesus the Word of God in whom is life and whose life, he said in verse 3, “is the light of men.” John heard that from Jesus’ very own lips when He said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the Word. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the Light of Life.”

That represents either the most arrogant and blasphemous statement ever made or the most hopeful and life-giving. Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” That’s something on which all the Old Testaments prophets agree. Jehovah is the One True Light of the World. So how can John say that Jesus is the One True Light and how could Jesus dare to say it about Himself unless it’s true—that He and the Father are One God, just as two are one flesh in marriage? You see there’s really no alternative. As C.S. Lewis put it, either Jesus was a liar inspired by the devil, a lunatic who thought He was God but wasn’t, or He is who He claimed to be—my Lord, my Light, and my Great Salvation!

7Last week we saw two things the Light does for us. 1) It gives us power, for that’s what light is. Light is energy. Physicists define it as radiant, electromagnetic, and corpuscular energy traveling in waves at 186,000 miles per second, stimulating our retinas, and giving us the power to see. The fact that it’s corpuscular means it is also a quantum phenomenon and that the source of its power is unknown to modern science. But not to us! We know who it is. It isn’t a thing. It’s a Person—the Lord Jesus Christ who created all things by the Word of His power and lives to give new life to everyone who believes in Him. Lest you doubt that, John is going to prove it again and again in this Gospel.

In it, we’ll see Jesus, who the Bible calls the wisdom and power of God, turning water to wine, creating new eyes for a blind man, creating new limbs for a lame man, calming a storm, feeding 5,000 with two loaves of bread, and raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. The good news is: He hasn’t lost a watt of energy since then! So here’s what you do. Think of one thing you know God wants to do in your life, something you could never do for yourself, and start asking and trusting Him this very moment to do it for you in His goodness and grace. Let’s see how many prayers He answers for us in the next few weeks together!62) It reveals the truth to us. That’s why John calls Jesus the True Light. The word is aleithenos referring to that which is genuine and pure. John is contrasting it with all the false sources of light in the world. Did you know, for example, that the Bible says that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light in his efforts to lead you astray? Which means you can’t trust your own reasoning powers to ferret out the truth about God. The only thing you can trust is the Word of God which isn’t just a written thing. John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so we’d no longer have any confusion as to what God is like. That’s his point later in verse 18:  “No one has seen God at any time; they only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him.”

So Jesus you can trust—not only what He says about God but also what He says about you. That’s why people are careful to avoid Him. Have you noticed that? You can talk to people about God or church but the moment you mention Jesus, they get nervous. Why? Because He’s so bright! Like the lights of an Operating Room, He exposes our every spiritual blemish, and that’s embarrassing.

It isn’t that they’re unaware of the Light. Verse 9 says the True Light enlightens every person who comes into the world. If you doubt that, ask a little child, “Do you believe in God?” She’ll say without hesitation, “Of course I do, silly! Don’t you?” I mean how could you not? He became a man at Bethlehem but verse 10 is clear. He’s been in this world from the beginning—making it, maintaining it, ministering to His creatures needs. Even the sparrows know that! So Paul says in Romans 1:19, “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 they are without excuse.”

You see, it isn’t that they don’t know about God. It’s that once sin gets ahold of us, we hide from Him and stop acknowledging Him as God. That’s what “know” means in verse 10. The word is ginosko meaning to acknowledge someone.

11Jesus explained it in John 3:19. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness (sin, Satan, and all he offers) rather than the Light.” Why! “Because,” He says, “their deeds are evil! For example, I used to have a problem with anger and depression, but do you think I let anybody know it? Of course not! It’s embarrassing to admit you have a problem with your temper, your tongue, your appetite, your spending, or any other sins of the flesh. And yet, as Rick Warren says, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” So don’t hide from Him a moment longer. Step into the Light and let Doctor Jesus treat you, and He’ll heal you of that thing forever! I know because He did it for me. I might add, He also has the best bedside manner of any doctor in the world. The witness was John. The Light is Jesus. Finally, notice one more thing –

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  1. The First Responders

Verse 11 continues, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Who is John talking about here? He’s talking about the people of Israel who God calls “My people” over 100 times in the Old Testament, starting with Pharaoh in Egypt to whom He says, “Let My people go!” Again He says through Solomon, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray…then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” These are the people to whom God gave the Law, the Land, the Prophets, and through them the Scriptures and the Savior of the world.  And yet, when He finally came to earth, how did they respond? They called for His crucifixion, the most horrific crime in all of history! But then it wasn’t the Jews only who rejected Him. The Romans did too! And so would you, if not for the amazing grace of God!

The good news is God has always saved a remnant out of the world—Noah and his family from the Flood, Abraham and his family in the days of idolatry after the Flood, 11 disciples who left everything to follow Him, and 120 praying in an upper room after His ascension into heaven, a number that has grown to millions and billions in heaven and on earth who love Him today. For though His own did not receive Him, verse 12 says as many as did receive Him, “to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

14Imagine that you’re 6 years old again—an orphan with no family of your own. A friend invites you home after school, and you think to yourself, “If only I had a family like this!” Then his father surprises you with a question, “Do you like it here?” “Sure!” you say. “Then why don’t you stay and be a part of our family?” What do you have to do to make it happen? Take his father at his word and stay. That’s what Jesus invites you to do—to come home and be a part of His family. All you have to do is say “yes” and stay. That’ll involve some changes in your attitude and behavior. You can’t join a family without it changing how you live. But that’s all there is to it from the human side. Believe and receive. They are one and the same thing. To receive is to believe and to believe is to receive. A simple act of the will leading to irrevocable membership in the family of God!

But we’re not merely adopted into God’s family.  John says we’re born into it. This is a mystery and miracle we cannot see with our eyes. Verse 13 gives us the divine side—“who were born” (2 Peter says we actually become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust.”)…born not of blood (It isn’t your family connections that earn God’s favor. God has no spiritual grandchildren.)…nor of the will of the flesh (Trying harder and doing all sorts of good works won’t get you into God’s kingdom.)…nor of the will of man (No human organization can stamp your passport to heaven.)…but of God.” To escape the flames of hell and be welcomed into heaven, you have to be born of God. And yet, this is one thing in life you have no control over! You have no more ability to be born again than when you were born the first time. You had no say in whose DNA you inherited or whose family you were born into.

But you say, “If this is what decides my eternity, there must be something I can do!” Only one thing! You can ask. Ask Jesus to do it for you. For John says He is the One who gives us power to become children of God! And listen! Jesus says, “Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out!” So stop trying to believe or be good enough to be saved! You can’t do it! I tried for years and it did no good. What you can do is call upon the name of Jesus in helpless childlike faith, and the Bible promises, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

13So I ask you as we finish. Have you seen the Light and received Him into your life? If you have, give God the glory for it because, like the Apostle Paul, if He hadn’t opened your eyes by His grace, you’d still be on the wrong road. On the other hand, if you’re just beginning to see the Light, don’t hide from it. That’s how everyone reacts at first. When Peter first realized who Jesus is, He said, “Depart from Me, for I am a sinful man.” But thank God He hasn’t answered that prayer! He’s still reaching out to you, inviting you to stay and be a part of His family. He won’t force you to do that. You can resist Him if you like. But why do that? My prayer is that you’ll receive Him this very moment in prayer.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click Audio. To download the written message, click Written.  P.S. Feel free to send the links to this message to a friend who needs Jesus.  For we all need Him, don’t we?)

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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