Tuesday, October 11, 2011

John 10, Part One

The true and the false (vs. 1-6)--From all appearances, the first half of this chapter is a continuation from chapter nine.  Jesus uses a very poignant and relevant illustration.  Since He's in the temple area, where sheep are being brought for sacrifice, He borrows that to make His current point.  His main idea initially is that error tries to use deception and trickery while truth needs no such dishonesty.  The sheep will know the voice of their true owner and follow him; and, indeed, "he calls his own sheep by name" (vs. 3-4).  But they won't follow a stranger (v. 5).  Those who want(ed) to follow God would know/ recognize Jesus for who He was (is).  This section is as much a slap at the Pharisees as anything, and they didn't understand it (v. 6).

The Good Shepherd (vs. 7-18)--Jesus uses two metaphors in this section, "I am the door" (vs. 7, 9), and "I am the good shepherd" (vs. 11, 14).  People enter into salvation through Him; "if anyone enters by me, he will be saved" (v. 9).  There had been counterfeits (v. 8); history tells us of some false Christs who arose.  The true sheep will only hear and follow the true Shepherd.  In verse 11, He hints at His coming crucifixion--"the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep."  A "hireling"--false teacher--won't do that (v. 12), but leaves the sheep to the wolf.  He "does not care about the sheep" (v. 13).  An interesting commentary on false teachers; they "serve their own belly" (Rom. 16:18).  To make His crucifixion allusion even clearer, He says in verse 15, "I lay down my life for the sheep," and because of His willingness to do so, the Father loved Him (v. 17).  God loves all of mankind (John 3:16), and needed some way to try to bring men back into fellowship with Him.  Jesus was willing to pay the price to do that.  How could the Father--or any other right thinking person--NOT love Him?  Jesus did this voluntarily (v. 18).  The Father didn't force Him to do it, and the Jews couldn't kill Him without His permission.  The "other sheep" of verse 16 almost surely refers to Gentiles, to whom the gospel would also be sent.  "There will be one flock and one shepherd."  All of mankind, Jew and Gentile, can unite in the Lord's church.

Opinions about Him (vs. 19-21)--Nothing Jesus had said, or could say, lessened the division He caused.  Some claimed--with absolutely no proof--the He was insane or had a demon (v. 20).  Others, more reasonably, pointed to the evidence--"Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"  Only God has that kind of power, of course.  But, some people were, and are, immune to evidence, especially if it would force them to change their lifestyles and give up their sin.  That's the commitment Jesus demands and it's too high a price to pay for too many people.  So, find an excuse, and pretty much any excuse will do as long as it convinces the one making it.  It doesn't fool God, though, or those who are knowledgeable of the truth.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

John 9

Healing the blind man (vs. 1-12)--This is a very interesting story.  We see a lot of 1st century Jewish philosophy here, and much of it is wrong.  When Jesus' disciples saw the blind man, they asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  The underlying presupposition of the question is erroneous:  God was punishing this man with blindness because somebody had sinned.  Sin can have physical consequences, but not like this.  And they should have known better.  This is the same philosophy Job's friends had--"Job, you must be a wicked person for God to do what He's doing to you."  Job knew he hadn't sinned, at least not like his friends were accusing him, so he couldn't understand what God was doing either.  In the case of the blind man, Jesus tells His followers that nobody sinned, but this case will be used "that the works of God should be revealed in him" (v. 3).  And Jesus would keep working the works of God as long as He was here because He is the light of the world (vs. 4-5).
So Jesus made clay from dirt and spittle and anointed the blind man's eyes, telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam (vs. 5-6).  The making of clay was symbolic; Jesus had, many times, healed with a word.  But Christ wanted the man to do something towards his own healing, and the fellow did.  And he "came back seeing" (v. 7).  Can you imagine what it would be like, having been blind from birth, and now able to see?  It must have been a marvelous thing.  And indeed, it attracted attention (vs. 8-12), so much so that he was taken to the religious leaders for cross-examination (v. 13).

The blind man's conversation with the Pharisees (vs. 13-34)--John informs us that the healing had taken place on the Sabbath day (v. 14).  That meant more to the Pharisees than an incredible miracle being performed.  They asked the man what had happened and he explained (v. 15).  The Pharisees were incensed; Jesus can't be from God because He broke the Sabbath, or at least their interpretation of it.  But some of them were confused.  "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" (v. 16).  It was a legitimate question, but too many of the Pharisees were simply immune to examining their own religious doctrine.  The blind man himself, understandably, claimed Jesus was a prophet (v. 17).  What the Pharisees did next is not necessarily to be condemned, except they weren't properly motivated:  they asked the blind man's parents about him.  Getting confirmation was a good thing, again if motivated correctly.  There were then, as there are today, a lot of tricksters and shysters who made (make) their living through deception.  The blind man's parents claimed their son (v. 20).  When asked how he was now able to see if he was born blind, the parents, reasonably, replied, "ask him.  He will speak for himself" (v. 21).  John does note that they were intimidated by the Pharisees (v. 22).  So, the religious leaders turn back to the blind man.  "Give God the glory!  We know that this Man is a sinner" (v. 24).  The blind man rips their argument apart.  "I don't know if He's a sinner or not.  All I know is, I was blind and now I see" (v. 25).  In other words, "you draw the conclusions from that."  The Pharisees asked the man again how he had been healed (v. 26).  "I've already told you.  Do you want to be His disciples, too?" (v. 27).  That really angered the Pharisees.  "We're Moses' disciples.  We don't where Jesus came from" (v. 29).  And once again, the blind man makes a fool of them.  "This is amazing.  A sinner couldn't do this, only somebody who truly worships God" (vs. 30-31).  Actually, his "we know that God does not hear sinners" (v. 31) is more inaccurate Jewish philosophy.  Depending upon circumstances, God will hear "sinners"; Cornelius in Acts 20 is an example.  But because the Jews would agree with the blind man's philosophy, he has them cornered.  "He's performed a miracle that is unheard of 'since the world began'"--an interesting observation on the economy of miracles in human history (v. 32).  So, the man's conclusion was logical, given his doctrine:  "if this Man were not from God, He could do nothing" (v. 33).  And there was no way the Pharisees could counter that--except by force, so they kick him out of the synagogue.  This was something of an excommunication, separation from those who would worship God at that place.  His parents had feared this would happen to them if they supported Jesus (v. 22).  The blind man's adherence to logic and truth cost him his place in the Jewish religion.  But gained him something better.

Notice also in verse 34 that the Pharisees, too, accept the idea that the man must have been a sinner to have been born blind.  God blesses the righteous and He curses sinners.  If rich people can't go to heaven, who can? (Matt. 19:25)  It was the common belief of the Jews of that day but it was wrong.

Jesus' conversation with the blind man (vs. 35-41)--Jesus apparently went looking for the fellow (v. 35) and directed him to saving faith.  The miracle wouldn't have done much good if the man hadn't been taught what to do with it.  Jesus came to the world for "judgment" (v. 39).  In other words, those who will "see," will be judged righteous and be granted eternal life.  Those who will not see will be judged and condemned to eternal separation.  The Pharisees, hearing this, wanted to know if Christ considered them among the spiritual blind (v. 40).  Jesus' enigmatic statement in verse 41 probably confused them.  "If you were blind, you would have no sin"--if they didn't already have their minds made up, they would be open to His message--"but now you say, 'We see.'  Therefore your sins remain."  They thought they already had the answers, thus they were not willing to listen to Jesus.  Their rejection of him was their ultimate sin.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

John 8, Part Two

Truth produces freedom (vs. 30-36)--Verse 30 tells us that "many believed in Him" as a result of what He had just said.  It is interesting how people are converted; different messages appeal to different people, and whether they fully understood Him or not (and surely they didn't), there were those who were impressed enough by Jesus that they began to trust in Him.  He then had a message for them:  by continuing to follow His teaching, they would be His disciples and "the truth shall make you free" (vs. 31-32).  Perhaps perceiving this shift of public opinion towards Jesus, His enemies intervene once again with a humongous lie:  "We are Abraham's servants and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, 'You will be made free?'" (v. 33).  The Jews, of course, had been in political bondage many times, and Palestine was, indeed, at that very moment a province of the Roman Empire.  Jesus, in His reply, doesn't bother discussing history or politics with them.  He had been speaking of spiritual bondage--sin--not physical, and once more, the Jewish leaders had misunderstood Him.  Jesus' teaching, if adhered to, will free us from the penalty of sin and allow us to follow Him to eternal life.  That's why He came.  And being "free," we will be "sons" and abide in "the house forever" (v. 35).  But only Christ can provide this sort of freedom (v. 36).

Their true father (vs. 37-47)—The Jewish leaders had brought up Abraham, so Jesus picks up that thought.  They might be Abraham's physical descendants, but not his spiritual ones.  Jesus did the works of His Father and these Jewish leaders did the words of their father, whom Christ will identify clearly momentarily (vs. 37-38).  "Abraham is our father," they replied (v. 39), and Jesus' answer was, if Abraham were truly your father, you'd follow in his footsteps--that is, have true faith in God.  But it's obvious they did not, because they wanted to kill Jesus, who had come from God (vs. 39-40).  The Jewish confusion is further manifest by their statement in verse 41, "we have one Father--God."  Well, they had just said Abraham was their father and now they assert that God is their Father, so they are either totally discombobulated, or they began to have a slight perception of His spiritual meaning.  But Jesus immediately thwarted that claim by saying that if God were truly their Father, then they would love Him (Christ, v. 42).  They didn't understand Christ because they did not truly know God.  Their father is the devil (v. 44) because they believed lies and not the truth.  And because Jesus spoke the truth (v. 45), they didn't understand or follow Him.  Again, He concludes this little speech by saying they don't truly know God, so they don't recognize Jesus as coming from God.  It once more boils down to the fact that they did not understand their own Book.

"Before Abraham was, I AM" (vs. 48-58)--These Jewish leaders were so incensed that they could no longer think clearly.  In verse 49, they throw out a wild, ridiculous accusation, part of which Jesus doesn't even bother to respond to.   But they also claimed He had a demon, so He takes that thought and compares it with the truth.  If He had a demon, He would be seeking His own honor, not that of God.  Christ's word will lead to eternal life (v. 51), a thought the Jews again misconstrue into physical, not spiritual, terms (v. 52).  "Who are you?  Are you greater than Abraham?" (v. 53).  No doubt they are mocking Him here.  And once again Jesus points to the evidence--what has the Father allowed Me to do? (v. 54).  Jesus' works, His teaching and His miracles, clearly indicate, to the open heart, Who He is.  "Abraham rejoiced to see My day" (v. 56).  Indeed, all in the Old Testament who lived by faith understood that eternal, spiritual life was the goal, not earthly, physical existence.  Abraham obviously had a very limited comprehension of Messianic matters, but he did know that sin separated him from God, that life on earth was temporary, and that forgiveness was necessary to secure eternal life in heaven.  In that sense, he "rejoiced" to see Jesus' day, that is, what Jesus would bring to the world.  The Jews, again, were clueless as to all of this.  "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" (v. 57).  Jesus then makes one of the most remarkable statements in the New Testament:  "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (v. 58).  This can be nothing short of a claim for eternal deity.  It reminds us--and no doubt intentionally--of Jehovah's statement to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I WHO I AM."  God just is, He exists, He always has and He always will.  And this is exactly what Jesus is claiming here.  He is God!  And THAT the Jews understood (or at least that He was claiming so) because they were so outraged that, right then and there, they were going to kill Him.  But He managed to escape (v. 59).

Any religious group, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who teach that Jesus is anything short of eternal deity must completely and utterly pervert John 8:58.  Everything Jesus had said up to this point indicated His divine nature; now He flat-out claims it with a statement that only God could make.  How could any human being, any non-eternal being, make the ultimate claim "I AM."  And note, He did not say, "Before Abraham was, I was."  That could imply a time when He did not exist, even though He might have been around before Abraham.  The "I AM" is eternal in its meaning, and again, the Jews understood it to be so, held it to be blasphemous, and were going to stone Him for it in accordance with Leviticus 24:16.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

John 8, Part One

The woman taken in adultery (vs. 1-11)--We have an interesting little interlude here as the Jews try to trap Jesus.  It is quite a conundrum they put before Him.  They find a woman caught in the very act of committing adultery (there have been Catholic writers in the past who have told us that her name was Susanna, that she was married to a feeble old man named Manasseh, and that she died a saint in Spain.  This, of course, is nothing but fanciful speculation.).  The problem Jesus faces here is two-fold.  The Law of Moses requires that the woman be put to death (though not necessarily by stoning, Lev. 20:10.  Certain rabbis say there were strangled.)  Roman law, however, did not make adultery a capital crime.  So, Christ was on the horns of a dilemma here.  If He said, "Stone her," He could be in trouble with the Romans.  But if He did not support the death penalty, then He would be denying the Law of Moses, and this would certainly go far in destroying His influence with the Jewish people.  The scribes and Pharisees, who initiated this dilemma, probably didn't care how Christ answered; they thought they had Him, either way.

"Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger" (v. 6).  What did He write?  Who knows, and there's no sense in guessing.  He acted like He didn't hear what was being presented to Him, so they pressed Him on the matter (v. 7).  He responded with that well-known, and bone-chilling, answer, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (v. 7).  There was no good retort for that, so the crowd slowly dissipated and left the woman alone.  Since, under Jewish law, a capital crime needed at least two witnesses for the punishment to be applied, and since no one was left to accuse the woman, Jesus couldn't very well condemn her to death.  He certainly didn't deny her guilt, He simply told her to "Go and sin no more" (v. 11).  Which is the worse sin--adultery or hypocrisy?  Either will cost a person his/her soul.  In this marvelous example, Jesus exposes one and forgives the other.  A good example for us to follow, but great wisdom and prayer are needed to know when to do which.

Bearing witness (vs. 12-20)--There is a lot of conversation between Jesus and the Jews that make up the rest of this chapter and it's somewhat convoluted.  The Jews didn't understand Him and were constantly trying to twist His words to their own advantage.  Jesus starts out this section by saying "I am the light of the world," a most arrogant claim--unless He were truly the Son of God.  The Jews, and rightly so, responded, in effect, "We don't have to believe you just because you say so."  Again, the idea of the necessity of more than one witness.  Jesus replied that, even if He didn't have any supporting witnesses, His words were true (single testimony isn't necessarily false), because He knew where He had come from and could tell them about it (v. 14).  But He didn't speak only from Himself, but the Father supported Him (vs. 16, 18).  He had made this point before, of course.  So, they ought to believe Him, based upon their own law (v. 17).  The Jews wanted to know where His Father was.  Jesus replied that they would know the answer to that if they truly knew the Father--that is, what had been revealed in the Old Testament.  He had gone back to the temple, so there was obviously a large crowd listening in (v. 20).

Death leads to life (vs. 21-29)--This is wholly incomprehensible to Jesus' opponents.  Jesus begins by telling them of the immediate future, which, in effect, summed up His mission.  He was going to die and go back to heaven, but this unbelieving group would "die in your sin" (v. 21) and not be able to follow Him.  Of course, they didn't understand.  "Is He going to kill Himself?"  Jesus tries to explain His divine, heavenly nature and home, and that they would "die in your sins" if they did not believe in Him as the Son of God " (v. 24).  Clueless, they ask Him "Who are you?" (v. 25).  Jesus responded, "I've been telling you that all along, speaking to you the message from above," but "they did not understand" (vs. 26-27).  His death would convince many of His true identity (v. 28), because He would be fulfilling the Father's will as revealed in the Old Testament.  That's what's important to understand here.  If Jesus wasn't the fulfillment of the Old Testament, then all of His statements regarding "the Father has sent me and taught me" etc. would be so much humbug.  These are things the Jews should know, but so foreign to them was His mission, that His words were incomprehensible.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

John 7, Part Two

"Could this be the Christ?" (vs. 25-31)--John relates a brief summation of some of the discussion people were having about Jesus.  "Is this the one they want to kill?" (v. 25).  "Don't the rulers know this is the Messiah?" (v. 26).  "Can't be, because we know where this fellow is from and nobody knows where the Messiah comes from" (v. 27).  This last statement certainly wasn't true, because Micah 5:2 very plainly states that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem of Judea.  A minimum of research would have discovered, of course, that Jesus was born in that city.  It's easier to remain ignorant, however, than it is to do a little work.  Jesus' statements in vs. 28-29 were designed to help the people understand His divine nature and source, but they almost surely didn't understand Him.  Well, some of the leaders apparently understood Him well enough to still want to kill Him (v. 30).  The debate raged (v. 31).

More obtuseness (vs. 32-36)--John gives us interesting insights into the blindness and, implicitly, the effects of the philosophy of the Jews.  The Pharisees sent men to arrest Him (v. 32), but Jesus kept teaching (vs. 33-34).  "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  He's referring to heaven, of course, but the earthly-minded Jews could only think in physical terms.  "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?"  (v. 35).  The "Dispersion" refers to Jews who lived outside of Palestine.  Many who had been taken from Palestine during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities chose to remain where they were, and indeed, move to other places.  We know from the rest of the New Testament that there were Jews living all over the Roman Empire.  Paul continually argued with them on his missionary journeys.  But the bottom line of this section is, again, the cross talk between Jesus and the Jews, i.e, His intentions versus their expectations, and thus the utter lack of effective communication between the two.  However, it should be pointed out that they did understand Him well enough to realize He claimed to be God.  That only infuriated them because He didn't provide them what they wanted--glory over the Romans.  And since that is what they thought their Messiah would bring them, Jesus must be a blasphemous imposter and thus worthy of death.  If He had fulfilled their earthly, carnal desires, they certainly would have followed Him wherever He led them.

Living water (vs. 37-39)--This is a theme He had used with the Samaritan woman in John 4.  The "living water" was supplied by the Holy Spirit, who "was not yet given" (v. 39).  Whether this refers to miraculous activity, or simply the salvation that comes through the word given by the Spirit's inspiration is not fully clear.  Probably the latter, since everyone can have salvation but only a few had miraculous gifts.  The Holy Spirit obviously did not inspire the New Testament message, given through man, until after Jesus was "glorified" (v. 39), i.e., finished His work and returned to heaven.

And this produces more division (vs. 40-44)--For whatever reason, this concept of "living water" led many to believe in Him (v. 40).  Different people are convinced by different arguments, metaphors, allusions, or parables, so Christ used many of all in order to reach as many souls as possible.  Some stumbled over the misconception that Jesus was from Galilee:  "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?" (v. 41), and those who had some knowledge of the subject knew that, as noted above, the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (v. 42).  But again, it wouldn't have taken much to clear up the false notion that Jesus was from Galilee.  That group probably didn't want to believe in the first place.

Division among the leaders (vs. 45-53)--Every rank and class of people were confused.  Verse 32 tells us that the Pharisees had sent some officers to arrest Him, but in verse 45, they returned empty-handed.  "Why?" they were asked.  "No man ever spoke like this Man!" (v. 46).  These officers were overawed by Him and obviously not prejudiced against Jesus.  This angered the Pharisees (not surprisingly) and a debate raged in their midst.  Nicodemus (of John 3) defended Jesus, or at least raised the reasonable point that the Law requires a proper hearing before judgment is reached (v. 51).  But the Pharisees through the "Galilee" argument at him (v. 52), and that's where the current matter ended.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

John 7, Part One

"My time has not yet come" (vs. 1-9)--Jesus did not initially go up to the Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, something that, as a Jewish male, He was required to do.  There were three feasts each year which men were obligated to attend--the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  This latter feast was celebrated in the Jewish month of Tisri, corresponding to our late-September or early-October.  Jesus' own brothers, who initially "did not believe in Him" (v. 5), apparently were chiding Him a bit when they encouraged Him to go to Judea (vs. 3-4).  Jesus wasn't ready to go, at least openly.  He intended to be there, but at His own time (v. 8).  It was easy for His brothers to speak; the Jews weren't trying to kill them as they were Jesus (v. 1).  In verse 7, Jesus provides us some wonderful insight as to why--to this very day--He and His religion are so opposed by so many:  "Because I testify of it [the world] that its works are evil."  Pour salt on a wound and it will hurt.  Expose wickedness, and the wicked will be outraged.  In John 3:20, Jesus said, "Everyone practicing evil hates the light."  Christ wasn't crucified because He preached loved; He was killed because He told people they needed to repent.  The hatred of Christianity is just as manifest in the world today as it was in Jesus', and the wise can perceive that such is what truly underlays the left's vehement opposition to politicians like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry.  This is no small part of it, and don't be deceived into thinking it’s not.

Division over Jesus (vs. 10-13)--Ideally, everyone in the world would unite behind the Son of God; God wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4).  But, while there is always an ideal, there also exist the reality, and that reality is that Jesus brought--and brings--division (Mt. 10:34-36).  Even though He hadn't arrived at the feast yet, He was the "talk of the town".  The Jews were looking for Him (v. 11; John apparently uses the term "the Jews" in reference to Christ's enemies, cf. v. 1).  The common folks also talked of Him, some supporting Him, some not.  But everybody was intimidated by the ruling authorities (v. 13).  The bitterness against Jesus within the elites was deep indeed; and, again, it still is.  The way Jesus and the Bible expose the true psychology of man is simply another evidence of the divine source of Christianity.

"My doctrine is not mine" (vs. 14-24)--When Jesus finally did arrive in Jerusalem about the middle of the week, He started teaching in the temple--that's where the people were, so that’s where He went.  We don't know why Jesus waited a few days before going to Jerusalem; we do know He was aware of the desire of the religious leaders to kill Him (v. 1).  He may have surmised that they would be looking for His arrival at the beginning of the feast, thereby hindering His movements.  By not entering Jerusalem till about mid-feast, He was able to slip in unawares and thus make His way to the temple unnoticed.  He wasn't hiding from the Jews; He simply had work to do and skillfully outmaneuvered the Jews to accomplish it.

People listened to Him, of course, and many marveled at the fact that He had such a keen grasp of spiritual truth, though He had never been trained by the "intelligentsia" of His day (v. 15).  Jesus answer was simple:  "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me" (v. 16).  What He was teaching couldn't have been taught by the religious scholars of the day, at least most of it.  Indeed, much about Christ and much of His message was revealed in the Old Testament, but not all.  So He was teaching doctrine that He came from heaven to deliver.  And the honest and good heart would recognize it (v. 17).  Jesus wasn't seeking His own glory, an assertion that could be substantiated by a petition to the Law of Moses (vs. 18-19).  If the Jews had truly adhered to the Law of Moses, they would have recognized Jesus as the one to whom Moses pointed. 

Jesus put the leaders back on their heels with His question, "Why do you seek to kill Me?" (v. 19).  They had to deny that, because Jesus did have a lot of following among the masses, and that following would want to know, too, why there was a plot to kill Him.  Once again, Jesus points them to Moses and their own hypocrisy:  they circumcised on the Sabbath and that wasn't a violation of the Law of Moses.  But they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath--also not a violation of the law.  Judge righteously, He told them, not according to your own standards or the way things might seem to be (v. 24).  Notice that judgment itself is not condemned by Christ.  But we must make certain that any judging that we do is with "righteous judgment," that is, in accordance with the word of God.

Addendum:  For those interested in the particulars of the Feast of Tabernacles, Clarke has this fine note:  “This feast was celebrated in the following manner. All the people cut down branches of palm trees, willows, and myrtles, (and tied them together with gold and silver cords, or with ribbons), which they carried with them all day, took them into their synagogues, and kept them by them while at prayers. On the other days of the feast they carried them with them into the temple and walked round the altar with them in their hands, singing, Hosanna! i.e. Save, we beseech thee!—the trumpets sounding on all sides. To this feast St. John seems to refer, Revelation 7:9-10, where he represents the saints standing before the throne, with palm branches in their hands, singing, Salvation to God, etc. On the seventh day of the feast, they went seven times round the altar, and this was called Hosanna rabba, the great Hosanna….But the ceremony at which the Jews testified most joy was that of pouring out the water, which was done on the eighth day of the feast. A priest drew some water out of the pool Siloam, in a golden vessel, and brought it into the temple; and at the time of the morning sacrifice, while the members of the sacrifice were on the altar, he went up and poured this water mingled with wine upon it, the people all the while singing, with transports of joy, Isaiah 12, especially Isaiah 12:6: “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  [This is actually Is. 12:3, MKL]. To this part of the ceremony, our Lord appears to allude in v. 37 of this chapter.

During this feast many sacrifices were offered. On the first day, besides the ordinary sacrifices, they offered, as a burnt-offering, thirteen calves, two rams, and fourteen lambs with the offerings of flour and the libations of wine that were to accompany them. They offered also a goat for a sin-offering. On all the succeeding days they offered the same sacrifices, only abating one of the calves each day, so that when the seventh day came, they had but seven calves to offer. On the eighth day, which was kept with greater solemnity than the rest, they offered but one calf, one ram, and seven lambs, for a burnt-offering, and one goat for a sin-offering, with the usual offerings and libations. On this day, they also offered in the temple the first fruits of their latter crops, or of those things which come latest to maturity. During the feast, the 113th, 114th, 115th, 116th, 117th, 118th, and 119th Psalms were sung. Leo of Modena says that, though Moses appointed but eight days, yet custom and the devotion of the people have added a ninth to it, which is called the joy of the law, because that on it they complete the reading of the Pentateuch….For the law relative to this institution, see Lev. 23:39-40, etc., and the notes there; and Numbers 29:16, etc.”  A lot of this information would be gathered from Jewish history books, because many of the particulars above are not found in the Bible.

—Adam Clarke's Commentary

Sunday, August 21, 2011

John 6, Part Three

A hard saying (vs. 60-71)--"This is a hard saying; who can understand it?" (v. 60, NKJV, which helps clear up the KJV's "who can hear it?")  Yes, a lot of what Jesus said is difficult for men to comprehend, even today.  We can look back, through the entirety of the New Testament, and understand most of what Christ taught.  But for those worldly Jews to whom He was speaking, Jesus' message here was far beyond them.  Even some of His disciples complained (v. 61), and Jesus asked them, "Does this cause you to stumble?" (ASV, which is better here than the KJV and NKJV's "offend you."  Jesus' words didn't "offend" them in the sense we might think of, but because they didn't understand it, they might reject it.)   Jesus' argument in verse 62 seems to be, "if you can't understand the simple truth I've just taught, how are you going to grasp the great spiritual truths later on?"  The flesh (the physical bread) won't help you get to heaven; only spiritual bread ("the words I speak") will do so (v. 63). But Jesus knew that many would not believe, and even knew who some of them were (v. 64).  The "therefore" of verse 65 is clarified by what He had just said in verse 63--"no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."  How does the Father "grant" that one comes to Jesus? T hrough the words Christ spoke.  If we will accept those words, God graciously pardons us from our sins and allows us access to eternal life.  This wasn't what some people wanted to hear (v. 66); for whatever reasons, "many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked them if they were going to leave Him, too. Peter answered, and it's a classic: "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life" (v. 68).  We've already seen, constantly in fact, the obtuseness and lack of understanding of the apostles.  And almost surely, they did not understand what Jesus had said in this chapter any more than any others of the Jews did.  What was the difference? The heart.  There is something about the Lord Jesus Christ that, even though we do not--cannot--comprehend him completely--the "honest and good heart" (Lk, 8:15) will accept and follow Him.  This is surely the case with His apostles.  The Jews who rejected Christ had seen His miracles and heard His teachings--just like the apostles.  The apostles followed Him, most of the Jews didn't.  The only difference was inside.  Peter then concluded by saying "We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 69).  Notice that Peter makes a distinction between belief and knowledge.  "We believe it, based upon the evidence, therefore we know it."  The evidence proves it.  But Jesus has some sad words to end this section.  "Not all of you believe; one of you is a devil" (v. 70).  He was talking about Judas (v. 71).

This chapter begins with a great miracle, follows with great teaching, and ends with a great statement by Peter.  Jesus is the "bread of life."  But it is spiritual life, not physical.  To those who love this world, the latter is not what they want.

John 6, Part Two

The bread of life (vs. 30-35)--Jesus introduces a theme that will thread through the rest of the chapter--the bread of life.  Actually, in a form, He introduced it in verse 26. The question the Jews ask in verse 30, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You?" is indicative of their cold, stubborn hearts.  They had just witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He had done other miracles in their presence.  What else did they want?  In mentioning Moses (God) feeding the people in the wilderness for 40 years (v. 31), their argument seems to be, "What is your tiny miracle in comparison so this?"  A miracle is a miracle, and what Jesus did was no small thing.  Yet, the Jews were looking for any excuse, and when that is the case, one is as good as another.

Jesus then (once again) steers them to what is truly important--spiritual matters.  The bread Moses fed the people was physical and did not last.  The bread the Father now sends down from heaven ("the true bread," v. 32) "gives life to the world" (v. 33).  His audience, thinking only in physical, wanted that bread so that they could have it always; famines were still common in the ancient world.  But Jesus is that true bread, and those who come to Him "shall never hunger" and "shall never thirst" (v. 35).  But they didn't believe (v. 36).

The Father's will (vs. 37-40)--It is the will of God that all men be saved (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9), and the promise He has made to mankind is that those who come to Him through His Son would find eternal life.  Jesus will protect those who come to Him (v. 37).  That's what He came for, not to do His own will, but the will of the Father (v. 38), that is, to save men from their sins.  But again, that salvation comes through Jesus--"everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life" (v. 40).  The "seeing" here is obviously metaphorical; we "see" Him through the eye of faith.  We walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).

Returning to the bread of life theme (vs. 41-59)--The complaint of the Jews was Jesus' statement that He "came down from heaven" (v. 41). T hey knew His earthly father and mother, so how could He say He came down from heaven?  Jesus tells then that those who are "taught by God" (v. 45) would come to Jesus.  The statement "And they shall all be taught of God" is actually a quotation from the Old Testament (Isa. 54:13).  Thus, in effect, Jesus is saying that the Old Testament speaks of Him, and that if they knew their own book, the Jews would come to Him.  Now this is not a literal, face-to-face teaching by the Father (v. 46).  Nobody has, or can, truly see God.  But the Father teaches through the One whom He sent, and those who believe in Jesus will have everlasting life (v. 47).  In verses 48-50, Jesus again contrasts the bread He offers (which leads to eternal life) and the bread Moses fed the people with.  Those people "are dead" (v. 49).  The "living bread" which came down from heaven is Christ, and He emphasizes that those who partake of it "will live forever" (v. 51).  Keep in mind this is all metaphorical. Jesus often uses matters at hand to make a spiritual point, and since the feeding of the 5,000 was fresh on everyone's mind, it provided a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to use that event to illustrate a spiritual truth.  The Jews still didn't get it (v. 52).  Their worldly-mindedness simply forbade them to understand great spiritual concepts.  Some have seen in verses 53-55 (eating the flesh and drinking the blood) as an allusion to the Lord's Supper, but I'm not convinced.  I believe Jesus is simply indicating the necessity of partaking in His life and death, fully accepting Him; just as food is necessary to sustain physical life, spiritual food (Jesus) is necessary to procure eternal life.  And this was the bread the Father sent down from heaven (v. 58).  It's not like the bread which Moses gave to his people.  Jesus reiterates that point over and over again; how many times did He have to say it before they caught on? Well, they never did, so more repetition of it was not going to help, just like doing more miracles would not have created faith.  Jesus did enough, and taught enough, for anyone with a true heart to believe and accept Him.  If we do not believe on the evidence we have now, then we will not believe.

I will sum up the last few important verses of this chapter in my next post.

Monday, August 15, 2011

John 6, Part One

Feeding the 5,000 (vs. 1-14)—This is long chapter, so it will take at least two, and possibly three posts to cover it all.  Fortunately—at least for posting’s sake—the first two stories (vs. 1-21) are covered in earlier gospels.  Yet, there are a couple of brief points that John adds that are worth noting.  In verse 6, Jesus tested Philip, apparently to see what sort of conclusions that apostle had drawn from earlier miracles.  It was Philip who told Him that it would take an enormous amount of money—200 days worth of wages—to feed the whole multitude (v. 7).  Andrew then chimes in that “a lad here has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (v. 9).  John is the only gospel writer who tells us the source of the five loaves and two fishes.  The child apparently was willing to help and offered what he had.  Once the miracle was performed, the people were astonished, and said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world" (v. 14).  This statement is based upon Deut. 18:15, where the promise of the Messiah is made and the word “prophet” is used to describe Him.

Jesus walks on water (vs. 15-21)—Since many of the multitude had (rightly) concluded that Jesus was the Messiah, “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (v. 15).  Jesus escaped from this ill-conceived attempt to turn Him into something He never intended to be, and even found some respite from His apostles (v. 15).  They then entered a boat in order to cross the sea.  As related in earlier gospels, Jesus walked on the water to go to them.  John omits Peter’s failed attempt to walk on the sea as well. 

The work of God (vs. 22-29)—Jesus is now in Capernaum.  The feeding of the five thousand took place near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), which is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, a couple of miles up from the Jordan River.  He drew a crowd, some of them coming from a city called Tiberias, which was on the southwest corner of the lake.  When they all got together, somebody asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”  Jesus doesn’t bother answering an unimportant question.  He, in effect, turns the question back on them and explains why they came to Him--not for spiritual reasons, but because He had fed them (v. 26).  Then, as always, Jesus tries to get them to focus their priorities on proper things:  “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27).  Jesus, having mentioned the Father, elicits a further question from them:  What shall we do, that we may work the works of the God?” (v. 28).  It’s interesting that they do not use the term “Father,” perhaps because Jesus did and they didn’t want to be accused of the very thing they had wanted to kill Him for (John 5:18).  The “works of God” are those things which God tells man to do—in other words, commandments to be obeyed.  The concept of “works” has confused many, many people, and they get the willies when someone dares to suggest that men are saved by works.  Well, that’s exactly what James says in James 2:24—“you see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”  Man is not saved by works alone, of course; no one would be so ignorant as to claim that.  The point is, some works do save, and some do not (Eph. 2:8-9 and Gal. 5:19-21 speak of “works” which do not lead to salvation).  But some works do, i.e, the works which God gives us to do.  Notice very carefully John 6:29:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”  Even faith is a work!  It is something God commands us to do.  So think of the “works of God,” those which justify us (James 2:14-26), as doing His will as He commands us.  Too many denominational people have been so influenced by the Lutheran heresy of “salvation by faith only,” that they have a complete mental block regarding the word “works.”  It’s a fine word, the Bible uses it in relation to our salvation, and we should thus not fear to use it, either.  We just need to understand that no one can earn salvation (such is what Paul means in Ephesians 2 and Romans 4); no one can “work” their way to heaven, putting God into his debt as owing him eternal life.  But this does not mitigate the commandments of God, the “works of God,” or obedience to God, which is also obligatory for our salvation (Heb. 5:8-9).

John 5, Part Two

Honoring the Father and Son (vs. 16-23)--There is so much rich material in the rest of this chapter that a book could be written on it.  The rage of the Jews is evident in that they persecuted Jesus (Greek literally, “pursue, put to flight), and some even wanted to kill Him.  What barbarity, evil, and blindness were in the hearts of these people!  It was bad enough that Jesus broke their perverted view of the Sabbath, but when He called God His “Father,” implying equality with Jehovah, they felt they had another reason to kill Him, i.e., blasphemy.  The term “Son of” is a Hebrew expression which means having the qualities and characteristics of whatever, or whoever, you are a “son of.”  Jesus called James and John “sons of thunder” because of their explosive temper.  By calling God His “Father,” Jesus being the “Son of God,” He was thus making a claim for deity.  The Jews knew it (v. 18) and “sought all the more to kill Him.”  But Jesus goes on to describe His unique relation to His Father, and in ways we do not—cannot—fully understand.  Jesus works whatever works the Father gives Him to do, marvelous works (vs. 19-20).  The Father and Son both give life—physical and eternal (v. 21).  Judgment has been committed into the hands of the Son, perhaps because He is the one who came to earth (v.23), and because of that judgment, everyone should honor the Son equally with the Father (v. 23).

The coming resurrection (vs. 24-30)—This is one of the most thought-provoking, and comforting, passages in the Bible—at least to Christians.  Eternal life comes from hearing Jesus’ words and believing “in Him who sent Me” (v. 24).  The word ultimately comes from heaven, thus any rejection of Christ’s word is a rejection of the Father (and, in effect, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  But Jesus, in this passage is discussing His unique relationship with His Father, and thus He speaks hear of damnation resulting from a rejection of that Father).  It is that word (“the voice of the Son of God,” v. 25) which gives life, because the Father has granted that authority to Christ (vs. 26-27).  The phrase (v. 27) “because He is the Son of Man” perhaps indicates that such judgmental authority has come to Jesus because of His dual nature, God and man, and He is the only one in the godhead who has occupied that position.  That “voice” (word, v. 28) will also raise “all who are in the graves” (v. 28), some to eternal life, some to eternal damnation (v. 29), depending upon how they have lived in this world.  But Jesus reiterates, in verse 30, that this authority comes not from Him, but from the Father.  Jesus’ judgment comes from what He is told by the Father—“as I hear, I judge.”

The witness of the John the Baptist and the Father (vs. 31-37)—The law of Moses required that the testimony of more than one witness was required for the death penalty (Dt. 6:17), thus establishing a principle that truth must be supported by more than one witness.  Jesus, based upon that idea, said that the Jews weren’t required to believe Him simply on the basis of His own testimony (v. 31).  John the Baptist, a second witness, also authenticated Christ’s identity (vs. 32-35), but Jesus had greater support than this—“for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent me” (v. 36).  There are two ideas here.  Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament’s predictions of Who the Messiah would be and what He would do.  But also, His miraculous deeds—power from above—were a strong testimony to His identity.  Only God could do what He did; man has never had the power to work such miracles.  Thus, these “works” gave full support to His claims, and they mean that “the Father Himself…has testified of Me” (v. 37).
“Search the Scriptures” (vs. 39-47)—And herein lay the great problem—“You do not have His word abiding in you” (v. 38).  There was something more important to the Jews—power, wealthy, national honor and splendor—than believing what God had said.  And thus their vision was warped and they did not recognize the Messiah when He came.  They simply misinterpreted the Old Testament.  They still do.  Verse 39 is a bit ambiguous.  The King James Version has “Search the Scriptures,” implying a command, the NKJV says “You search the Scriptures,” indicating simple action.  The Greek form of this word could mean either.  I prefer the KJV’s command structure.  Jesus tells them that the answer is in the Old Testament.  Study it, they testify of Me.  But they wouldn’t do it (v. 40).  They wouldn’t come to Christ because He wasn’t the kind of King they wanted.  Jesus’ honor did not come from men (v. 41); He wasn’t going to accept their accolades and become an earthly monarch.  And because of the Jews desires for Him, they did not “have the love of God” in them (v. 42).  If they truly loved God, they would love Jesus and submit to Him.  Jesus came from the Father, but they did not receive Him.  However, they would accept someone else, if he came telling them what they wanted to hear (v. 43), because they sought honor from men and not God (v. 44).  And then Jesus lays open their hypocrisy.  The Jews wanted to kill Him, initially, because He (they thought) was breaking the Law of Moses.  But they didn’t truly believe Moses, for if they did, they would believe Jesus, “for he wrote about Me” (v. 46).  That’s what the whole point of the Old Testament was—Christ is coming to redeem mankind—all men from every nation—from sin, not to exalt the Jews to a prominent national position in this world.  The Jews, like most people, had become earthly-minded, and thus could not—would not—see the true meaning of their own law.  And “if you do not believe his (Moses’) writings, how will you believe My words?” (v. 47)  What a marvelous section this is.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John 5, Part One

Healing the lame man (vs. 1-15)--We aren't sure which feast is mentioned in verse 1. Jewish men were required to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the major feasts--Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The first was in our current month of April (sometimes March), the second was 50 days after, and the third in September. There is no doubt that Jesus always attended all of them, though John is the only one who mentions His attendance during Jesus' 2nd year of ministry, which is probably the time of this feast. Bethesda (v. 1) means "house of mercy," perhaps because of this pool. How often the "angel went down...and troubled the water" we don't know, nor do we know how many years he did this. It probably started about the time of the miraculous events of Christ's life and ended sometime during the first century when all such activity ceased. It gave Jesus a chance to show His mercy and miraculous ability.

The man whom Jesus healed had had his infirmity for 38 years (v. 5). Jesus told him to take up his bed and walk (v. 8), which disturbed the Jews because it was the Sabbath day, and "it is not lawful for you to carry your bed" (v. 10). They didn't get this from the Law of Moses but from Jeremiah 17:20, where we read "bear no burden on the Sabbath Day." In Christ's interpretation of the law and prophets, this "burden" carrying obviously didn't mean a bed. It would have something to do with a man's work, which was what the Sabbath Day prohibition was about. But the Jews were petty about such matters, of course. They completed neglected the fact that a notable miracle had been performed; they were more concerned about their interpretation of the law. The only response the man could give them was "He who made me well said to me, Take up your bed and walk" (v. 11). When the Jews asked him who had said that, the man didn't know. Not everybody knew Jesus yet, and here was a man who obviously didn't. Later (v. 14), Jesus found the man again, and gave him the most important advice that He could give: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" (v. 14). Eternal damnation is far worse than being infirm for 38 years. Jesus always had His eyes on the ultimate prize and tried to direct men to that goal. The healed man now knew who had made him whole and told the Jews (v. 15).

The remainder of this chapter is a rather lengthy conversation between Jesus and the Jews—mostly a monologue by Christ, actually, but it is better handled as a unit, which I will do in the next part.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John 4, Part Two

The work of Jesus (vs. 27-42)—Even though the location is the same (the well at Samaria), there is a shift of emphasis in this section to the work that Jesus came to do. His disciples returned from Sychar and, being the good Jews that they were, couldn’t understand why Jesus was talking to a despised Samaritan woman. But they had enough sense not to ask Him (v. 27). The woman, stricken by the meeting she had just had with Christ, returned to the city and drew a crowd out to see Him (vs. 28-30). In the meantime, the apostles urged Jesus to eat (v. 31), which He turns into another object lesson. He was very good at that, and had already done it once in this chapter—the water at the well became a lesson for “living water.” Now the food He was offered gave Him an opportunity to discuss the work He came to do. His initial response to their urging was “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (v. 32), which, not surprisingly, the disciples misunderstood (v. 33). But Jesus then explained that His true “meat”—the true substance and importance of His life—was “to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (v. 34). There is plenty of work to be done for the Lord (v. 35), and those who labor faithfully will be rewarded, gathering “fruit for eternal life” (v. 36). The sower and reaper receive the same blessing, and, at the moment, the apostles are reapers of others’ labor, though it’s not totally clear who those others are (v. 38). Possibly the prophets of old and the writings in the Old Testament.

At this stage, many of the Samaritans followed the woman out to see and hear Jesus and a lot of them were convinced, because “we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (v. 42). The woman’s word wasn’t sufficient to convict them; a five-time loser might indeed render skepticism. But at least they were willing to listen. The word of Christ will take it from there, if an individual has the right kind of heart.

Return to Galilee (vs. 43-45)—Jesus stayed in Sychar for two days, and then went to Galilee, where He will preach for the next two years. At first, He was welcomed in Galilee (v. 45), but as Jesus Himself had testified, the vast majority would eventually reject Him. Shallow hearted Galileans! For awhile, they were willing to bask in the light and fame of their native son, but when they realized the price He demanded, it was too much to pay. ‘Tis a major reason why most people reject Him.

The nobleman’s son (vs. 46-54)—This is a completely different story from the one recorded in Matthew 8, so don’t be confused. Here a rich man—a “nobleman,” he is called—heard that Jesus had returned to Cana in Galilee, and went to Him, and “implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death” (v. 47). Jesus gives him a mild rebuke, or at least teaches him a lesson—there is more to faith that just seeing miracles (v. 48). The nobleman was persistent (v. 49), and Jesus healed the boy (v. 50). The man believed Jesus’ word (v. 50), and that was the key. As he was going home—and apparently he lived some distance away (v. 52)—his servants met him and announced that his son had become well, and at the very hour at which Jesus pronounced the healing. This created a greater faith in the nobleman and his household (v. 53). Notice that Jesus did not have to go to the boy to heal him. There was no public healing service. Jesus simply spoke the word, and from at least a day’s distance away, the child was made whole. Let’s see some of the modern “miracle workers” do that. John concludes the chapter by telling us that this was Jesus second major miracle in that region (v. 54). He had done plenty of other miracles in the time being, but now He was returned to Galilee, Cana in particular, where He had performed the miracle recorded in John 2.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

John 4, Part One

Jesus' trip plans (vs. 1-4)--Jesus was already making enemies in Jerusalem, and so when word got out that His followers now outnumbered John the Baptist's, He decided to go to Galilee, where He would spend most of the next two, and final, years of His ministry. Going from Judea to Galilee required traveling through Samaria (v. 4).

Living water (vs. 5-15)--Sychar was a small, insignificant town in Samaria. It was about a mile from Jacob's well, which was apparently on the plot of land Jacob bought from Hamor, the father of Shechem, who was the young man who raped Dinah and led to the mass murder of the men of the town of Shechem by Simeon and Levi (this interesting tale is found in Genesis 34). Jacob eventually gave this land to Joseph (John 4:5), which means part of the land inheritance of his son, Ephraim. Jesus stopped at the well due to weariness; it was noon (v. 6). His disciples had gone to Sychar to purchase some food (v. 8), and while they did, Jesus struck up a conversation with a woman of the city who came out to draw water from the well (v. 7). He asked her for a drink. This surprised her because she recognized Him as a Jew (we're not exactly sure how--perhaps His mode of dress or Galilean dialect). Jews hated Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds, and in once since they were. The Samaritans arose after the Babylonian captivity (605-536 B.C.). The Babylonians did not take the entire populace into slavery; they left some of the poorer "trash", and when others, non-Jews, moved into and began settling in Palestine, there was some intermarriage. The "Samaritans" were the product. They had also taken some non-Jewish theological positions, as we shall see. Jesus, of course, was always looking for a way to save souls--Jew, Gentile, or Samaritan, thus He directed the conversation into spiritual ways. He provides a "gift of God" (v. 10), "living water." The woman, thinking in physical terms, wondered how Jesus could produce this water, since "you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep" (v. 11). The Lord, of course, was talking metaphorically--He can provide "water"--the greatest necessity of life, and especially important in desert regions like Samaria--which has no end and will "spring up into everlasting life" (v. 14). The woman, still thinking in physical terms, requests this water, "that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." Jesus will then introduce Himself as the Messiah.

True worship (vs. 16-26)—Upon Jesus displaying some miraculous knowledge (that the woman had had five husbands and was now living with a man with whom she was not married (vs. 17-18), the woman rightly deduced, "You are a prophet" (v. 19), though He was obviously greater than that. Thus, understanding at least something of His true nature, she wanted some clarification: "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Gerizim), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship" (v. 20). In other words, who's right? The Samaritans believed that it was on this mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and that, soon after, he met Melchizedek near here. So they venerated this location, since the Jews wouldn't let them into Jerusalem anyway.

Jesus endorsed the pure Jewish position (v. 22)--"Salvation is of the Jews." The Messiah came through that line. But "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him" (v. 23). The Jewish age was passing; Jesus came to end the Mosaic dispensation and inaugurate a completely different one, where He would have all authority and salvation would come through Him (Matt. 28:18; Acts 4:12). There would be no one physical location for worship. It would be an inward thing ("in spirit") in accordance with the diktats of God ("in truth"). Both are necessary (v. 24). To worship Him with the proper attitude but not in accordance with His pattern is improper, as is to go through the correct ceremonies with no sincerity or devotion. God has always told man how He wants to be worshipped, and that is true in the Christian age as well. We are to gather on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2), where we sing (Eph. 5:19), pray (I Cor. 14:15), partake of the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:20), give of our financial means (I Cor. 16:2), and study from God's word (Acts 20:7). This is the "truth" (God's Word, John 17:17), by which we "must" abide (John 4:24). But again, that worship must also be "in spirit," with true love, devotion, and appreciation to Him. The final part of this section of John 4 has Jesus flat out telling the woman that He is the Christ (vs. 25-26). He didn't do that very often, but in this case He obviously found it propitious to do so.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

John 3, Part Two

“For God so loved the world” (vs. 11-21)—The apostle John often has Jesus speaking of heavenly matters, which can be somewhat difficult to understand. The “We” of verse 11 perhaps refers to the godhead in its totality. Jesus came down from heaven and is trying to tell men about it, but “you do not receive Our witness.” Men, by and large, don’t accept Jesus’ interpretation of earthly matters—things they can see—so they certainly aren’t going to accept what He says about heaven—things they can’t see (v. 12). Jesus is the only one qualified to speak of heaven because He has been there and, in some sense, still “is in heaven” (v. 13). And His crucifixion is what will save mankind from sin (v. 14). The faith of verses 15 and 16 is obedient faith, not faith only. Verse 16 is, indeed, a very beautiful and powerful verse, but must not be taken out of context, or alone, as the totality of what God says about how men are to be saved. We already saw, earlier in this chapter, that a “new birth” by “water and Spirit” is necessary, and thus how can verse 16 mean faith alone? God wants all men to be saved, not lost (v. 17); that’s why Jesus came, and those who have faith in Him will indeed be saved. But the unbeliever will be lost—is lost (v. 18). That can be remedied, of course, by faith in Christ. What condemns man is not Jesus’ coming to the earth or His message or anything God has or has not done. What condemns man to eternal perdition is a rejection of the light which God sent to the world (v. 19). Why do men reject the light (Jesus)? Because “men loved darkness (sin) rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (v. 19). There are people who hate the light (v. 20); they don’t want their evil deeds exposed to others. But there are those who do indeed love the truth and love the light, will come to it, and glorify God by those works (v. 21).

There is much brilliant, though simple, philosophy in Jesus’ words here. People are lost in spite of everything God has done for them. He “so loved the world”—not just “loved the world,” but so loved the world”—that He gave His perfect, sinless Son to die a death we all deserve. Yea, we deserve worse. Unfortunately, Christianity, the teachings of Jesus, the very nature of God, demand a holy, righteous lifestyle, as much as in us is. We must turn from our evil ways and submit humbly to Jehovah. Too many men do not want to do that simply because they prefer the pleasures of this world. And they live, and will die, in the hope that Christianity is not true, that Jesus is not the Son of God. It is a supreme gamble they are taking, and a vain one. But again, God has done all He can; there must be a response by man.

John the Baptist’s further testimony (vs. 22-36)—Jesus, of course, was never fully understood while He was on this earth, because His mission was so contrary to Jewish expectations. John the Baptist continued his work of baptizing and preparing men for the kingdom of God (vs. 22-24). A dispute over purification arose between some Jews and John’s disciples; this is not terribly surprising since John was preaching that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins (it always has been), and Judaism has its own cleansing rites. And some of John’s disciples complained that Jesus was beginning to steal the spotlight (v. 26). But John, being the great man that he was, tries to direct his followers towards Jesus. John recognized that Jesus’ mission came from heaven (v. 27). He’d already told everybody that he wasn’t the Christ. John is “the friend of the bridegroom” who “rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.” So John himself was very joyous to know of the coming of the Christ (v. 29). And, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). Jesus came from heaven, spoke heavenly things, not earthly, and “is above all” (v. 31). All He is doing is testifying of what He has seen and heard—of heavenly things (v. 32). Jesus is the only one qualified to do so. But “no one receives His testimony”; that’s a hyperbole, of course, because many men did receive Christ’s message, but most did not. Yet, at the time, very few understood Him. God sent Him to give the full measure of the Spirit’s message (v. 34). There is a close bond between Father and Son, and salvation and the preaching of that message is now in Christ’s hands; that is my understanding of John’s enigmatic statement that the Father “has given all things into His (Christ’s) hand” (v. 35). It could also be a statement of authority, such as Jesus said in Matthew 28:18. Belief in Jesus leads to everlasting life; disobedience leads to the wrath of God (v. 36). There is a difference, in verse 36, between the “believes” in the first part of the sentence, and the “believe” in the latter; they are different Greek words, and the latter means “obey.” The American Standard Version accurately translates this; the KJV and NKJV don’t make the distinction that they should. Obedience is necessary for salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Monday, February 28, 2011

John 3, Part One

“Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (vs. 1-10)—This is a very famous, and unfortunately, much misunderstood and abused passage. A Pharisaic ruler named Nicodemus, whom we learn elsewhere was, or became, very sympathetic towards Jesus (John 7:50; 19:39), came to speak to Him privately. Why Nicodemus approached Jesus at night is pure speculation. He admitted his belief that Jesus came from God; Nicodemus correctly interpreted the miraculous evidence: “no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (v. 2). Exactly what he wanted we don’t know, but Jesus cut right to the quick and spoke of the new birth: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3—the old KJV’s “Verily, verily, I say unto thee” is so much prettier). Nicodemus did not understand, thinking Jesus spoke in physical terms (v. 4). But Jesus expounds a little more in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” It is a sine qua non, an absolute. One cannot see or enter God’s kingdom without this birth of water and Spirit. So, verily, verily, it is a very important concept.

It would take a full article to completely elucidate Jesus’ meaning; countless sermons have been preached, explaining, and mis-explaining, the meaning. Suffice it for this survey to say that “water” refers to baptism, and “the Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit’s message as revealed in the word of God. It is important to understand that baptism is a change of state—not a change of heart, or mind, or life. Those take place in belief and repentance. But just as a baby is alive in its mother’s womb, it is not yet born; its birth changes its state, not its life. Of course, if it is never born, it will soon die. Baptism is the point at which our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16). This, of course, takes place in the mind of God, not in the heart of man. A person cannot “feel” forgiveness, only the one offended can state the conditions for that forgiveness. And God has included baptism as that point when He will view a sinner as pardoned. The Spirit acts, in effect, as the “father” in the spiritual begetting process. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:15, “I have begotten you through the gospel.” Peter is perhaps more explicit in I Peter 1:23: “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God.” Thus, we are begotten by the Spirit through His word and we come forth from the spiritual womb via water, i.e., baptism. The figure is so beautiful that Jesus even has the order correct. Just as one cannot be said to have been begotten by his father until he is first born of his mother, even so one cannot be born of the Spirit until he is first born of the water. For if one will not accept the Spirit’s word to be baptized for the remission of sins, how can one truly be said to have been begotten by that Spirit?

Jesus makes the delineation in verse 6—flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit. The new birth is, of course, a spiritual one, not physical. It is not possible for us to understand the workings in the human heart (v. 8). That verse does not refer to the “movings” of the Holy Spirit, as is often claimed. Notice, “so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Why some accept and why others reject can only be known by God and each human heart.

Nicodemus still didn’t understand. “How can these things be?” (v. 9). And Jesus rebukes him for it: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” In other words, “Nicodemus, if you knew the Old Testament the way you ought to, then a new birth of water and Spirit shouldn’t be a surprise.” Jehovah used water frequently under the Jewish dispensation to effect a change of state—Noah and the flood, the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea into freedom from bondage, Naaman being purified of leprosy by the waters of the Jordan River being the three most effective examples. All of these, however, were predicated upon belief and obedience. Unless we believe God and are willing to do as He says, then the cleansing waters of baptism, where we contact the blood of Christ (in the mind of God, Romans 6:1-4) will never reach our eternal spirit and free us from the bondage, from the dreaded disease, of sin.

Remember, reader, according to Jesus we cannot enter the kingdom of God without the water and Spirit birth. It’s His words, not mine.