Easter is the time we proclaim a risen Savior who was murdered on a cross, three days later rose from the dead and eventually ascended to the Father for our justification. This is the Good News, moreover it is GREAT NEWS, of the Jesus and it is the only news worthy of declaring this beautiful day! As Christians we not only put all our stock in the fact that Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins but he also rose from the dead. The death of Jesus is essential to our Christian faith. With no resurrection our salvation is not complete. Without the resurrection there is no Gospel (Good News). Without the resurrection our faith is useless and empty (I Cor. 15:14 – 18). Without the resurrection there is no hope for eternal life. (I Peter 1:3). According to Romans 1:4 Jesus was publicly declared to be the Son of God by the Holy Spirit through the resurrection. The resurrection is his declaration of who he is. We now can accept, acknowledge and draw near to God because of the resurrection of Christ. So why is it that so many people have difficulty accepting or believing the resurrection account? Well that isn’t question I can answer in this time together but we can look at one who was one of Jesus’ disciples and even he had some difficulty accepting and believing the savior was resurrected.
John 20:19 – 29)
Thomas sometimes gets a bum rap. He is often criticized for not believing and having to have tangible evidence of the resurrected Christ. I think we sometimes forget that Jesus had appeared to the other disciples and Thomas was not present (had he been there is no doubt he would not have been a doubter) so he had not had the same initial encounter with Jesus. He is told by the other disciples that they had met the risen savior. We read that Thomas was skeptical of their encounter as he demanded to actually see the risen savior with his own eyes, feel his physical body and touch the nail mark in the savior’s and put his hand in his side. In fact he refused to believe the savior was risen! Those are some very strong words spoken and Thomas would soon understand what it means to be humbled before the Lord.
Vs 26 – 28: A week later the disciples were in a room (and the Bible makes a point to tell us the door was locked) and Jesus came and stood in their midst and tells them, “Peace be with you.” He probably did this as a greeting and to alleviate their fear as he startled them.
Jesus then turns to Thomas and addresses his unbelief. He tells Thomas to touch him and to feel his wounds and to see that he is real and alive. I am not sure if he rebukes Thomas but says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” The NIV read more plainly, “Stop doubting and believe.” My personal take is that Thomas adamantly doubted Jesus’ resurrection. It wasn’t a casual I don’t believe; I think it implies that it was a point of contention between him and the other disciples. They were convinced; he remained unconvinced. Now Jesus stands before him and essentially says, “It’s time to stop doubting and start believing.” Those are very pertinent words and they can speak directly to some of us today.
Thomas’ response is both a faith affirming confession and a public declaration of Jesus’ divinity. Thomas goes from a doubter to a believer as he responds, “My Lord and My God!” We must note that this shouldn’t be read in the context that would equate to our modern response of exasperation or “Oh my gosh!” No, his response is a declaration and confession of his belief. “My Lord and my God” could be translated as “my Master and my God!” This is a public declaration who Thomas believes Jesus to be. According to theologian D.A. Carson, “Thomas’ confession is the climactic exemplification of what it means to honour the Son as the Father is Honoured. It is the crowning display of how human faith has come to recognize the truth set out in the Prologue: “The Word was God…; the Word became flesh…” He continues, “(The thoughtful reader of the Gospel immediately recognizes certain connections) the reader is expected to articulate the same confession, as the next verse implies. John’s readers, like Thomas, need to come to faith; and this is what coming to faith looks like.”[i]
Vs 29: Jesus responds with what could seem like a rebuke. He acknowledges that Thomas believes now because he sees Jesus in the flesh at that moment. He then proceeds to give a blessing or a promise of blessing to those who ultimately believe in Jesus without physically seeing or touching him. Jesus is speaking of you and me. We are truly blessed.
Do You Have Faith?
How many of you have at one time or another doubted the existence of God? How many of you have thought that maybe God didn’t really do what the Bible said He did? How many of you have felt that maybe God doesn’t really care about you or what you do? I think we have all had a doubting Thomas moment. We’ve all had our faith shaken at one time or another. Maybe you are there right now. So how do we get through these faith shaking moments in life? You may ask, “How can I live in full confidence that Jesus is who he said he is and is alive at the right hand of the Father?” One word… FAITH. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 answers this question, Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
You may be thinking, “Well, it’s so much easier to trust something that you can see. I can’t see God, so how can I know beyond a shadow of doubt that He is actually there?” Answer, you can’t. That’s why it’s called faith. Can you see air or oxygen you breathe with the naked eye? I can’t, but I know it’s there, I feel the effects of it. We all had faith that when we walked into this building that there would be oxygen to breathe, correct? This is faith! I can’t see God, but I know He is there because I feel the effects of Him in my life and I see the wonder of His creation around me and then I KNOW He is real. Faith is something that cannot be proven otherwise it couldn’t be called faith.
Every Easter morning is such a joy, blessing and comfort to know Jesus lived, died and rose again so that we can live; die and rise again. This truth should give us all hope and desire to live fully for him and to strengthen our faith. I have faith that He died willingly for His children so we may have life and have it abundantly. This is a promise (and I believe God keeps his promises) given to us by the Savior. Jesus is victorious over death and in his victory we too may be victorious in death. Sure, we are all appointed to die at some point in our lives. However as believers in Jesus this death is only temporary and has absolutely no control over us whatsoever. I have complete confidence and faith that this is the truth.
[i] Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel of John p. 659 Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing Company
Exodus 20:4 – 6 introduces us to the sin of idolatry. In this passage God commands humans to not make any images or statues (whether on earth, below the earth or in the heavens) nor should you bow down and worship them. We often associate idols with statues or images of something such as a Buddha or ancient carved image of a mythological god? Is this all that an idol really is? I don’t think so. I believe everything in our lives and in this world has the potential to become an idol! According to Timothy Keller, “An (idol) is anything so central and essential in your life that, should you lose it, your life would be hardly worth living. An idol has so much controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.” Professor Tom Shippey states, "(Idols are when we) take the hearts fondest desires and magnify them to idolatrous proportions.”
God does not take second seat to anyone or anything; in fact Exodus 20 says, “I am a jealous God”. We see in history humanity has an ingrained tendency to create things to worship. Romans 1:21 – 23 states, “For although they (humanity) knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Paul writes that God has revealed himself to humanity but because of our sin nature they suppress the truth of God and exchange our affections from the one true God for images created by man. We love to elevate humanity, possessions and power to the point of being gods in our lives. Often times we do it unintentionally.
The Rich Young Ruler
Read Matthew 19:16 – 30
A young rich man came to Jesus one day and asked him what “good thing” he must do to inherit eternal life? This meeting with Jesus was doomed from the beginning. Why? Because the young man was asking what work or good act does HE have to do to get eternal life? He was looking for a good moral act to be his savior and not Jesus. The Bible is very clear in saying there is NOTHING WE CAN DO to have eternal life. Salvation has nothing to do with what we do but has everything to do with what Jesus did. It has all to do with responding (by the calling of the Holy Spirit) to call of God and following Jesus. The Gospel tells us clearly that we are all sinful and in need of a savior and it is only by the grace of God that we can be saved from our sin and to be declared righteous before God.
Here is a relevant example of what the Gospel looks like. Let’s pretend you are in a building that is burning and the smoke has become unbearable. You inhale too much smoke and pass out. Your fate is pretty well set. Behold a firefighter in his gear breaks down the door and finds you passed out on the floor. He picks you up and takes you out of the burning building and eventually resuscitates you to consciousness. What part did you have in your rescue and resuscitation? None; you were completely dependant on someone else to save you (in this case the firefighter). This is what happens with people when they get saved so to speak. We are dead in our trespasses and Jesus comes along and breathes life into us and thus declaring us righteous before God because he is the worthy savior who is able to save and give life to that which was once dead.
In this particular case it doesn’t matter how much money this young man has, how well he kept the commandments, or how moral of a life he lived. Jesus tells him there is one thing he lacks in his quest for life… he tells him to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him. He went away sad because he had a lot of possessions he wasn’t willing to depart with. Jesus proceeds to talk about the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of heaven because often a person of wealth seeks significance and security in his possessions and not in Jesus. The common mistake we can make in reading this passage is that we fail to see that Jesus is not telling the man so much as to DO something so he can have life; He is telling him to essentially give up his love for his wealth and possessions and in turn TRUST Jesus and follow him. D.A. Carson writes, “Jesus’ response in v 21 was indeed something to do, but something so radical that it would undermine his whole way of life and leave everything at God’s disposal.” Ultimately Jesus is telling the man to give up everything and follow him. The young man clearly loved his riches and possessions more than Jesus and it showed because he walked away from Jesus sad because he was not willing to part with his possessions.
Idols of the Heart
We live in a society who has fully bought into materialism. We love to have stuff. We love our comfortable lives, money, security, possessions and power. I don’t think the Bible alludes to having material possessions as being bad. It does make clear that if the stuff we own begins to own us then we have a problem. Jesus says in John 6:26 – 29 to not to waste our time, energy and resources working to acquire or invest in material things of this world. Instead we are called to invest in the spiritual things or the important things in life. Use your time, energy, resources and even possessions for the Kingdom of God.
So if you were to put yourself in this story today, where would you fit? Is there something in your life that could be an idol of the heart? Are there things in your life that are hindering you from following Jesus? These things do not necessarily have to be possessions and wealth. Anything you elevate above God is an idol. Are you willing to allow God to be sufficient for you? Unfortunately in this Christ Encounter the young man loved his treasures and wealth so much he had elevated them to the point of idolatry in his life. This was an idol that he did not want to give up. He was not willing to do what Jesus commanded him to do. When we are able to identify the idols in our lives and allow God to deal with them (and not secretly hold them in our hearts) we will be freed from the sin of slavery to idolatry and thus able to walk in the freedom of Jesus Christ.
 Keller, Timothy (2009). Counterfeit Gods, p.xiv. New York, NY Dutton Books
 Shippey, Tom, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, p. 36 New York. Houghton Mifflin
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Mt 19:16–26). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
It was a little over ten years ago, sometime around 1997 or 98 when I had an experience that forever changed my life and helped me understand the grace of forgiveness. My best friend Thom (who went to be with the Lord a few years ago) father had passed away. I remember when he called me; I was at the church I worked at and I was preparing for an evening service or youth group (I can’t recall which), to tell me of his father’s passing and when his father’s visitation and funeral were. I told him I was sorry to hear the sad news and after a brief discussion I hung up and went back to business as usual. I never did go to the funeral or visitation.
A few weeks passed by (maybe even a month) and I hadn’t heard from Thom so I called him. He was pretty short with me and I asked him if something was wrong. He proceeded to tell me how angry and disappointed he was with me since I didn’t have the decency to come visit him during the difficult time of his father’s passing or even go to the funeral or visitation. He had some choice words with me and he said, “You are no longer my friend. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
Those words cut to my heart. Instantly I was convicted of my selfishness and insensitivity to my best friend. I drove to his house convinced that when I showed up at his doorstep he would either punch me in the face or slam the door on me. I rang his doorbell and he answered and immediately I repented to him and told him I was deeply sorry for my insensitivity and selfishness. I was crying because I felt horrible and I valued our friendship so much that I did not want it to end like this. After I apologized he looked at me and said, “Wow, I am impressed. Of course I forgive you.”
This was a life experience in forgiveness that I will never forget. It was a great reminder of Christ’s forgiveness for us. I vowed that day that I would never withhold forgiveness from anyone who has wronged me and asked for my forgiveness. If Thom (and Jesus for that matter) can forgive me for the stupid and insensitive things I have done then I certainly must be willing to forgive when someone offends me. I tell you this story because it is a perfect example of the grace of forgiveness that Jesus displays in the account in today’s passage.
Our text for today is John 8:1 – 11.
Verse 2, 3: Jesus was in the Temple teaching and many people were coming to hear him. As he was teaching the Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman (obviously against her will) who was caught in the act of adultery before Jesus (and all who were in the Temple listening to Jesus for that matter). This was certainly an attempt humiliate the woman but as we will see in a moment their motive was not so much to punish the woman for her sin (stoning to death) as it was to trick Jesus so they could bring charges against him (probably for not enforcing the laws of Moses).
I find it interesting that the man was who is caught in this debacle is not mentioned nor brought before Jesus and the people. Obviously there was a man involved since the woman was caught in the act. The question is was she framed or was one of the men in the crowd the man she was with. You have heard the phrase, “It takes two to tango” correct? In the case of adultery this is always the case. Adultery cannot happen without two participants. In this instance we do not know what happened to the man who was caught. He may have escaped, he may have been one of the leaders or he was let go because of the leader’s chauvinistic views. We do not know. We do know that the woman is left to face her accusers by herself.
Verses 4, 5: The rulers bring the woman before Jesus because they were testing him to see his response. In some ways Jesus was a rock in a hard place because no matter how he answered he could have not have been right… at least this is what the authorities believed.
According to the Law of Moses being caught in the act of adultery was punishable by death. You can read the rules and regulations in Deut. 22:22- 24 & Lev. 20:10. You will see there are many laws pertaining to sexual purity. You will also see both individuals who were caught in adultery were to be put to death; so this woman put in front of Jesus by all rights is a condemned woman. Her fate does not look good.
I should note that at this time since Israel was under Roman rule the capital punishment of stoning had not been a common practice at this time. The question was really a question of loyalty. If he said let the woman go he could have been tagged as a friend of the Romans. If he told them to stone her he could have been turned in to the Roman authorities as a rebel against Rome.
“So,” they say, “what should be done with her?”
Verse 6, 7: The motivation of the rulers is pretty clear, they didn’t really care so much about the sinner as they were in trying to trick him. The woman is basically a fodder for the fire. They were just trying to find more reason to have Jesus put away.
Jesus’ response is interesting to say the least. He bends down and starts writing in the sand. I think the one question on everyone’s mind is what exactly did he write? There is a ton of speculation but the truth is we do not know what he was writing but the truth is we don’t know what he wrote.
Verse 8: Jesus eventually answers the question in a way that I am sure none of them were expecting. “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The scriptures are clear as to the state of humanity in relation to sin. Humanity is guilty of sin. Nobody is without sin period. The rulers understood this. Lev. 24:14 states that the witnesses of the crime are the ones who are to stone the sinner plus they must not be participants in the sin as well. Could the reason that they couldn’t cast the stones is because they were guilty of the same exact sin as this woman? Maybe one of them was the one she was caught with. We’ll never know but it certainly was possible.
Verse 9: After speaking these words Jesus bends down and begins writing in the sand once again. Slowly, one by one the leaders turn and walk away one starting with the eldest. One can imagine their response… Were they like the cartoon character Dick Dastardly who would say, “Curses foiled again!” I can imagine their faces burning hot with anger and frustration as they thought they had a fool proof plan to trick Jesus and it all comes unraveled at the end.
The Christ Encounter
Verse 10: Jesus is standing alone with the woman and looks to her and asks, “Where are those who condemn you? I see they all left.” You can almost hear the authoritative compassion and mercy as he speaks to this woman. If anyone could have legitimately stoned this woman it would have been Jesus himself. He was the one who could have cast the first stone because he was the only one present without sin; but he does not.
Verses 11: Jesus responds with mercy as he tells her that neither will he condemn her. Some have tried to suggest that Jesus is apathetic towards this sin and that he was taking it easy on the woman; but these accusations are from individuals who have never truly understood true acts of forgiveness. He may have responded with compassion because this woman may have realized that she was caught red handed and deserved a stoning according to the law of Moses and saw the fear and regret the woman’s eyes. She was humiliated in front of the masses; her life was essentially ruined because from now on she would be known as the adulterer. It was a good possibility that she was going to be shunned from her family and community if she had one. Yet Jesus responds with compassion as he says to her, “I do not condemn you either.” He takes this sin seriously as he essentially gives this woman a second chance at true life. He says, “I am not going to condemn you, so go away and sin no more.”
Was Jesus calling her to live a sin free life? I don’t think so. He was telling her to quit committing the sin she was caught for. A man or woman could be considered adulterers if they were betrothed to be married but not yet. Or they were adulterers if they were sexually engaged with someone who was not their husband or wife. Or they were sexually engaged with a person who was someone else’s husband or wife. Maybe the woman was betrothed. She could have been having an extramarital affair or she may have been sleeping around. Regardless Jesus tells her to stop what she is doing.
We don’t know what ever became of the woman and we don’t know what became of the man who was never brought before Jesus. However I can’t imagine her life was not forever impacted and changed for the glory of God. So many people who had encounters with Jesus throughout the Gospels are impacted in one way or another (as we have and will see). Some are made well (healed), some are forgiven, and some walk away from him because what he asks is too difficult to do in the flesh.
What I do see here in the opening passage of John 8 are lessons in forgiveness, humility, and compassion. I find it very interesting throughout the Gospels to see Jesus’ response to sinners. He is ultra tough on the leaders of his time because of their self-centered pride, hypocrisy and condescension towards people. These men were constantly pointing out other people’s sins or enforcing laws and not keeping them themselves. However he was even compassionate to one of their own (Nicodemus) when he came and inquired of Jesus in humility and sought to learn from him. Jesus was compassionate to others who were considered sinners. He was never apathetic towards sin, he does confront it (quit doing what you are doing), responds with compassion (your sins are forgiven) and this impacts a person forever. Jesus was tough on the Jewish leaders because they knew better and they were seeking to control people with their authority. The common sinner(s) that we see in the Gospels may have known better but their response was quite similar to the act repentance that is required with sin issues in our lives.
What can we learn and take away from us today? First, be mindful how you respond to someone whose sins have been exposed. Remember Jesus did not respond with harsh judgment, and self righteousness. Secondly, don’t mistake Jesus’ compassion for sinners as tolerance for sin. Jesus is compassionate towards the sinner, yet he does confront it and demands a response towards it. Lastly, I would conclude this passage is not so much a lesson in dealing with sin issues in our lives as it is about heart motive. What is our heart of response towards known sinners? Are we quick to condemn someone just because they are at a point in rebellion in their life? Do you find a certain (maybe really small) amount of satisfaction or “they got what they deserve” attitude towards someone you are not really fond of?
Are we not better off praying for those individuals and lovingly let them know their sins are not God’s plan for their lives? Would we be better serving by showing compassion and letting God be the final judge? This does not and I repeat does not mean we as believers should overlook any open sin in a person’s life. We can’t just apathetically tolerate sin to run rampant and unchecked in another brother or sisters life because we fear offending. Apathy and tolerance towards sin is in no way showing love. As Christians we must confront one another in Christ of our sins and have a heart and attitude of restoration and love and not of judgment and condemnation.
So if you were to put yourself in this story today, where would you fit? Would you be one of the self righteous leaders, the humiliated adulteress (sinner), or the compassionate, sin confronting believer who desires restoration? It’s tough to imagine but take some time today and this week and pray about where you would be in this scenario. The truth is when we experience forgiveness (whether by an individual or from Jesus) we will forever be impacted and changed for the glory of God.
Timothy Keller writes in his book Center Church, “Christians typically identify two ways to respond to God: follow him and do his will, or reject him and do your own thing. You can reject God by rejecting his law and living the way you see fit. And you can also reject God by embracing God’s law so as to earn your salvation. The problem is that people in this last group look as if they are doing God’s will. There are not just two ways to respond to God but three: irreligion, religion, and the gospel.
Irreligion is avoiding God as Lord and Savior by ignoring him altogether. 'Religion', or moralism is avoiding God as Lord and Savior by developing a moral righteousness and then presenting it to God in an effort to show that he ‘owes’ you. The gospel, however, has nothing to do with our developing a righteousness we give God so he owes us; it is God’s developing and giving us righteousness through Jesus Christ.”[i]
Our text for today is John 3:1 – 7 (Read).
Verse 1: Nicodemus – Very little is known about Nicodemus because there is little about him in the Gospel accounts. It is believed Nicodemus was an actual Pharisee who was a member of the Sanhedrin who comes to Jesus in the night hour to dialog with him. The Pharisees were men who prided themselves on keeping the laws of God to the “T”. They may not have been overly moral in character but they were fastidious in keeping and know thing law. This was their “righteousness”. They felt as though they were “more holy” than others because of their understanding and enforcing the laws of Moses.
Verse 2: We are unsure what his motives in talking to Jesus were since he actually never gets to ask Jesus anything. He did encounter Jesus in the undercover of the night probably because as a respected Jewish leader (an older man) he didn’t want others to know he was going to Jesus to learn from him or even associate with him. We can assume at this time that Jesus hadn’t made enough enemies with the Jewish leaders since he was still at the beginning of his public ministry… So there is a possibility that coming to Jesus at night was not because of fear of what others may think. Some have suggested he went in the evening because this was the time Rabbi’s and teachers studied, while others have suggested the night was symbolic of his spiritual state. He may have come at night because he was living in spiritual darkness and wanted to inquire of the light (Jesus).
He says, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God…” Some believe the “we” implies that he came with a group of leaders or that it probably means the general consensus among the leaders that he was a teacher who had the hand of God in his life and ministry. Nicodemus was acknowledging that Jesus was certainly a man with God’s hand on his ministry because of the miracles and wonders (plural) he saw Jesus perform. The rulers knew there was something special about Jesus but they (Nicodemus) certainly were not proclaiming that Jesus was a prophet, THE Prophet or even the Messiah. Regardless he knew there was something unique about Jesus and I am sure he wanted to talk to Him about this.
Verse 3: Before Nicodemus can even ask a question Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter (quite possibly because he knew Nicodemus’ motive, inquiry or just needed to tell him the truth right up front). Jesus says, “Unless a person is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
In Jesus’ statement there are two items we need to look at in order to get a grasp on what is being said by Jesus and what is implied by Nicodemus…“Born again” and “Kingdom of God”.
Kingdom of God
This term only exists in the NT however much of the OT points to the concept, reality and anticipation of the Kingdom of God. In the OT the implication of the Kingdom of God was a future day when God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and over all of creation. The prophets longed for the day when God would physically bring peace to the nations of Israel and Judah (They would be one again) and justice, peace and mercy would spill over to all nations and over all of creation.
“Seeing the kingdom’ is equivalent to the more familiar expression in (the Gospel of) John of eternal life.[ii] The kingdom or eternal life is the central message of Jesus Christ in NT. It is mentioned twice in John (3:3,5 & 18:36) and is defined as the rule, reign and sovereignty of God over all. Since the Kingdom is equivalent to eternal life and the future reign of God as sovereign king. At the time of this writing Jews and Christians lived under Roman rule and the Apostle Paul, Peter and Jesus all say that the world is in the grasps of the evil one (often times Rome was considered all that is evil and other times the devil). This does not mean that God is not the true ruler of the world it just means the world is in bondage to Satan and evil because of sin and the fall of humanity. We continue to live in a sinful world where it seems as though evil is running rampant and Satan seems to be the god of the world. However this is a false perception in part because God is sovereign (Supreme Rule) today and his Kingdom has already begun on earth through us (those who believe in Jesus and are obedient to His call). This Kingdom was inaugurated in the person, works and message of Jesus Christ. Eternal life starts now thus God’s Kingdom is now. This however, does not negate the reality that there will also be a future day when Jesus physically returns to set up His Kingdom here on earth and rule and reign sovereignly over all nations and creation.
On the other hand one cannot see, enter or even be a part of this Kingdom unless one is born again. This term is just as confusing to some today as it was to Nicodemus back then. Some may even respond as Nicodemus does… “Can one be born a second time? One certainly cannot enter the womb (as a grown adult) and be reborn!”
There are two interpretations to Nicodemus’ response…
Jesus was saying you must be born again in order to enter the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t about keeping, enforcing and living the law; it was about being re-born (or as the Greek states, “Born from above). Rebirth or regeneration means responding to Jesus and trusting in him for your salvation, thus being cleansed from sin, and the heart is transformed thus becoming a new creation in Christ. Regeneration does not mean that we become better versions of ourselves it means that we are new versions of ourselves in Christ. In short Jesus says, unless one is cleansed from sin (through confession and repentance) and reborn in the Spirit of God (faith in Christ and becoming a new creation) one cannot enter or see the Kingdom of God.
Verses 7: “Do not marvel…” Jesus’ words are clear you (the you is actually plural which properly interpreted is ‘you all’) MUST be born again. This is THE central message of Jesus in this passage and it is certainly a central message for us today.
Nicodemus’ encounter continues as Jesus proceeds to explain to him the plan of salvation of God and the redemption of his people through Jesus (We are all familiar with John 3:16). God’s love for the world is so evident to us through the physical giving of his unique Son Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. The true Gospel is foundational in the love of God. Jesus’ mission and purpose was to be “lifted up” (see verse 15); his death, resurrection and ascension were in the plans since the creation of the world. They were not knee jerk reactions on God’s part because humanity got so out of control over the centuries and God needed to sort things out for humanity to be save. This was the plan, the mission, the purpose of Jesus Christ coming to the world since the beginning of time. As a gift to the world God sovereignly gave his best gift, his unique and beloved Son.
On this evening Nicodemus was forever changed because he could no longer use his “law keeping”, “Morals” or intellect as his means (or what he thought) of supposed righteousness before God. We, like Nicodemus, no longer have an excuse for rejecting Jesus in our lives. We now know in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (eternal life) you must be born again. There must be a transformation of the heart and a cleansing of sin and iniquity. You have to become a new creation in Christ, not just a better version of your old self. A Spirit-filled believer in Christ acknowledges the sovereignty of God in his life and anticipates the future day when God will establish his Kingdom of peace, justice and mercy here on earth and we will be partakers in this Kingdom.
The challenge for today is simple… Ask yourself… Are you born again? Have you been washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ? Do you have a transformed heart and are you a new creation in Christ? Does God have complete (not just some) but complete rule and reign in your life? Have you experienced the new (second) birth in Christ? I pray you are and you have to all the statements above. This is one encounter with Christ that we must respond to in our lives. It is the central message of Jesus Christ and it is available to all of us today. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand… Are you part of this Kingdom.
[i] Keller, Timothy J (2012). Center Church, p.63 Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[ii] Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Jn 3:1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
For the next week or so I would like to write about various Christ encounters individuals had in the Bible. The lives of these people I who encountered Jesus were deeply impacted, were life changing and hugely impacted all who came face to face with Jesus. It is so apparent throughout the Bible that whenever someone comes face to face with Jesus or even has a spiritual encounter with him today he/she always comes away from the encounter a changed individual.
Today I am starting with the disciples of Jesus. These men were chosen individuals who walked with Jesus for a little over three years. They experienced and witnessed things that forever changed and impacted who they were. Each disciple had an encounter with Jesus (whether He was calling them or sometime later in life) and all were deeply impacted. I realize I could do a whole series just on the twelve disciples (and that may happen some day down the road) but I just want to point out some more prominent ways that the some of the disciples were impacted and what this can mean for us today.
Matthew – The Tax Collector (Matthew 9:9)… Tax collectors were not well liked individuals, in fact they were despised by Jewish society. They were essentially scum of the earth. They extorted money for personal gain AND they worked for the Roman government. This was a double whammy. They used bullying tactics to collect money and they were basically thugs. One day Jesus passes Matthew the tax collector and calls him to follow him. Jesus was criticized for this because he associated with tax collectors and sinners. Not only did Jesus associate with Matthew but he called him to be a disciple. Matthew’s life was never the same from this day forward. Matthew rose and followed him leaving his life behind to follow the savior.
James & John – (Matthew 4:21 – 22) These two were called the Sons of Thunder. They were fishermen by trade. When Jesus calls them they immediately leave their father (and their livelihood) in the boat to follow him.
Peter & Andrew – (John 1:35 - 42) These brothers were also fishermen who left everything to follow Jesus. We know a lot about Peter as being an overzealous follower of Jesus. Little is known about Andrew. Interestingly the first thing Andrew does when he meets Jesus is go out and find his brother Simon A.K.A. Peter and informs him that he has found the Messiah. Andrew was an evangelist. Immediately Andrew gives an example of true Christian evangelism… Notice Andrew doesn’t say, “Jesus, will you come with me and talk to my brother about maybe becoming your disciple?” No, the first act Andrew does is shares his experience with his brother. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and introduces him to the Lamb of God.
Peter is brought to Jesus and He looks at him and says, “You will no longer be called Simon, you are now Cephas (Peter – Rock). This is significant because from the moment Jesus meets Peter he has a plan for his life. Later down the road, before Jesus is crucified, Jesus tells Peter that he will become the foundation of the Church and the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against this foundation (Matthew 16:18)
Philip – (John 1:43 – 45) He was a disciple of John the Baptist. John the Baptist instructed him to go to and find Jesus. Jesus finds him and tells him to follow him. Philip eventaully introduces Nathanael to Jesus (continuing the principle of Christian evangelism).
Nathanael (Bartholomew) – (John 1:46 – 51) Nathanael was the skeptic who couldn’t believe the Savior of the universe would come from Nazareth of all places. He says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth; let alone the savior of the universe?” What kind of come back can you offer to Nathaneal’s remarks other than what Philip says, “Come and see for yourself”? Philip didn’t spend time trying to talk Jesus up or prove that he was right; his response is exactly the same as ours should be when someone responds to Jesus in a negative way… "Come and see for yourself." This is not only an invitation to meet Jesus but a challenge to put aside his prejudices and see beyond his origin of birth and to see God’s bigger plan.
The fascinating thing about the disciples is how Jesus called these ordinary and sinful men for his master plan of ushering in the Kingdom of God. I am also encouraged as I see how these ordinary people were forever impacted and changed so God could use them for his Kingdom and his glory. Their lives are truly evidence that when Jesus becomes the Lord and Savior of your life things will never ever be the same again. John MacArthur writes in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants To Do With You, “The twelve were personally selected and called by Christ… He knew all their faults long before he chose them.”[i]
As you read the accounts of each one of the disciples mentioned in this message you will see one common denominator… Jesus calls them to follow and they drop everything and follow him. The tax collector gives up his life of luxury and leaves his career behind to follow the savior. The blue collar fishermen literally drop everything to walk with the savior to be part of this grand plan to save the world. The skeptic encounters Jesus and is challenged to “come and see for himself” the savior who does not fit the conventional description of what everyone thought the Messiah should be like. We see men who are so impacted by the Savior they have to go out and introduce their friends to the Lamb of God who is going to take away the sins of the world.
We have seen in this very short account how the lives of these men were deeply impacted when they had their Christ Encounter. So what does this mean for you and me today? What can we learn from these men?
[i] MacArthur, John (2002). Twelve Ordinary Men, p.XIII. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
How are we as Christians supposed to conduct ourselves in everyday life? What does it mean to walk and please God? I don’t think I would be wrong in assuming that most if not all Christians aim to please God. I doubt your goal in being a Christian is to dishonor God or do things to stir up his wrath. The truth is we all aim to please God. How do we do this? I think Paul alludes in this passage (4:1, 2) that there was a standard of how a Christian is to conduct his everyday life. Paul spoke earlier (2:4) about how they seek to please God by declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ so as to please God and not man. Our lives and our conduct speaks volumes to others as to who we are. If you claim Jesus as your Lord and savior then your actions, conduct and life should reflect this.
In Hebrews 11 the author writes about various men of faith. In verse 5 he specifically mentions Enoch who walked with and pleased God. He was “taken up” by God and never saw death. He continues by writing, “Without faith it is impossible to please him (God).” Do you notice that? If you have no faith in God then your life cannot be pleasing to him. Thus I believe a person who walks to please God is one who walks in faith and trusts God in ALL areas of ones life. So many of us are guilty of trusting God in some areas of our lives but do we actually have faith in God exclusively to trust him in every aspect of our being? I admit, this is hard yet if you read through whole of Hebrews 11 you see the author writes about the faith of those in the Old Testament. In writing about their faith He ultimately shows that God has proven himself trustworthy and faithful throughout the ages. Since this is true then you and I should walk in faith to please him. Apparently the Thessalonians were doing such and as a result were growing in their faith and I cannot see a reason why this wouldn’t be the case for us as well.
Random thought: Pleasing God and faith go hand in hand. Walk in faith today and let your conduct reflect the Jesus you serve. Know that God is faithful and trustworthy so walk in faith and confidence and understand that God is well pleased with you.
And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith, so that no one will be shaken by these persecutions. For you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2, 3)
In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 – 3:3 the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians he has been trying to come to them for some time to give them some encouragement. Unfortunately he has been hindered in doing so. After coming to the conclusion they should stay in Athens he tells the church in Thessalonica he is sending the young pastor Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. The purpose of Timothy’s trip is so they will be strengthened and not be shaken by the persecutions and trials that are coming their way.
I thank God for the Timothy’s in my life. There are times or seasons in my life (maybe in yours as well) where I could use a little encouragement or strengthened faith because of the difficulties I am facing in life. When I need encouragement God in his sovereignty sends someone to encourage or help lift me up. It may come in the form of a note, a prayer, an encouraging word or just a word of blessing altogether. We sometimes don’t realize on the other hand when we practice encouraging and building others up we may and usually do end up helping to lift someone from a dark or trying time and bringing them into the light of Christ so they may face the difficulties that are set before them.
I find it sad how much time and effort people spend tearing others down and “shooting their wounded” instead of resolving to be the encourager that is needed most. How often we forget the words of Jesus, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” May we be reminded that we are the body of Christ and we NEED each other and we ought to be devoting our time encouraging and strengthening one another in faith.
Random Thought: Pray about who you could be a Timothy to and also make it a point to thank someone who has been a Timothy in your life this day.
“You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:10)
When I read verse 10 I am in awe of the confidence and boldness Paul has in his conduct and faith. I came across this quote, “If the best sermon is a holy life, Paul was a great preacher.” As a Pastor (or maybe I should say, “as a Christian”) I have the great joy and burden of not only proclaiming the Gospel but also living a godly life through the power of the Holy Spirit. However it not just the “job” of a Pastor to live a holy and upright life. A holy and upright life is the call for every follower of Jesus. A few years ago I preached a sermon from the Gospel of John about the way we act speaks volumes about the God we serve. Jesus says, in John 13, “People will know you are disciples of me by the love you have for one another.” Here is an example of what Jesus is saying...A selfish, unloving, and greedy person shows that he serves self. A selfless, loving and giving person points to the Jesus she serves. (*Note, I am not stating that all selfless, loving and giving people are Christians, just if you are a follower of Christ this should be the image you bear because Jesus is all of these).
Paul lived a life that was honorable among the people he ministered to and the God he served. I pray one day I will be able to stand before the people I serve and say, “As you and God are my witnesses I have lived a holy, righteous and blameless life.” Notice I did not nor does Paul say “sinless”. To live a holy life means to live your life set apart for God. You aim to please the Father and you live with him as your God and King. To be righteous means you live a just life or aim to be in right standing with God. To live a blameless life means you have lived a life (or strived to live a life) where nobody can make accusations of you living contrary to what you believe. In other words as Christians we must live our lives to please God. We cannot live to please God in our own power. Each one of us must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live holy, righteous and blameless lives. This is why I make it a point to pray often “Lord help me to live the life that will bring honor and glory to your name. I can’t do it in my own power so I depend on your Spirit to live it through me.”
Random thought of the day: Would you join with me and pray for the Spirit of God to live in me (and you) and help me (us) live holy, righteous and blameless lives before God and before one another?
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, ESV)
There is a myth in Christianity where people believe the Christian walk is a private matter. Some people believe their faith is all about Jesus and me and nobody else. They think (and sometimes say), “I don’t need anyone as long as I have my personal relationship with Jesus I will be ok.” There are no such thing as a ’Lone Ranger’ Christian (even the Lone Ranger was not alone had a companion in Tonto).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the core of our faith. The word Gospel means “good news” and we are called to share the “good news” of Jesus to the world. The Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians in the verse above that they were ready to share it with the community around them. He also says, “We not only want to share the Gospel but we want to share ourselves with you because you are like family to us.” You see as disciples of Jesus we are called to community and not seclusion. We are called to share our lives and faith with one another. Paul tells his dearly beloved readers in Thessalonica that as Christians they need each other. The same applies to us today. We need to share one another’s burdens, joys, trials, concerns and so on with each other. We need to share ourselves with one another so we may be able to edify and build up the body of Christ. We need to share ourselves so we can pray for one another, encourage those who are down trodden and give hope to those who may feel hopeless.
We all have trials, concerns, troubles, health issues and so on. We are human and difficulties in life come with the territory. Don’t you think it is easier to endure these trials when we have loving brothers and sisters to support us? On the other hand, when something fantastic happens and you see the hand of God in action in your life, don’t you want to share it with everyone? As a Pastor I DEPEND on the prayers of God's people. I thrive on celebrating little victories with others. When I am down-trodden and beaten up I lean on the support of my fellow friends who are there to support me. This truth is simple; we need one another. The Christian faith is a journey that we walk and we cannot or should not walk alone.
Random thought for the day: I cannot walk this journey alone. I NEED people. Chances are you are on this same journey. Seek out people to walk this journey with you. Find people you can trust to encourage, pray for and endure life's joys, challenges and trials with you.
"and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:10, ESV)
Since the Thessalonians have turned from idols and worshiped the "living and true God" they now anticipated Jesus' return. They were living with the hope that Jesus would return soon and they anxiously awaited the day. I can understand how they felt. I look forward to Christ's return as well.
I know there are a lot of "theories" on how and when Christ will return. You have the Premillenial view, Postmillenial view and the Amillenial view (if you want to know what these words mean I would suggest you look them up or search them on Google). Theologians have argued for years about how and when Christ will return and I even have my beliefs and convictions. However there are people who have predicted dates and they have been wrong, others play it safe and predict an era or a generation when he will return and even others have made a nice living getting people all worried about the idea that we are living in the "end times". The truth is we don't know when Jesus will return. God's Word says, only God knows the day, the hour and the time. We can argue about when, where and how He will return and I personally think we just need to live our lives as though Jesus may return any day. I am not being irreverent but I don't really care how or when Jesus returns. I just want Him to return and I live in anticipation of that day.
Will there be a rapture? Will it be pre, mid or post trib? Will Jesus come back tomorrow? Will He be back today? I honestly don't know. I have actually stopped filling my mind with end times scenarios. All I know is Jesus will return some day (as the Bible says) and it will be a glorious day for the believer and it will be horrific for those who do not believe.
Random thought: Don't worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself. Live your life in anticipation of the Lord's return today and be ready.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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