Sunday, December 27, 2020



Eternal Life


It is actually best to start reading this passage in verse 14, where Jesus said the Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Verse 16 is connected to verse 15 by the word “for”. So, verse 16 is an explanation of verses 14-15.

In fact, may commentators believe the words of Jesus end with verse 15 and that verses 16-21 are John’s commentary, or explanation of Jesus’ words. This is for several reasons, such as the narrative stops using the first person pronoun “I” and Jesus’ title changes for “Son of Man”, the most common way he referred to himself, to “Son of God”. This change of narrative to commentary also occurs in the following passage where John the Baptist speak of Christs, then John follows in verses 31-36 with his commentary on John’s words. This does not change the importance of the words, because all scripture is inspired by God. But it helps us understand what is going on. 

John 3:16 is likely the best known verse in the Bible among Christians and the most likely to be memorized. It is easy to pass over it because it is well known, but it is worth studying.

Jesus has just alluded to the story of the bronze serpent to give Nicodemus an Old Testament reference. This is the story from the book of Numbers where God sent serpents among the people because of their grumbling. When they repented, God had Moses make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. If the Israelites looked upon the serpent, they would be healed of the snakebite. Jesus ended his words to Nicodemus by saying he must also be lifted up, or crucified, so that those who believe in him may have eternal life.

So, John goes on in verse 16 to explain why this is true. First, he tells us the reason for this is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son”. The motivation for God’s action is his love for the world. This statement would shock the Jews. They would be comfortable with the statement “because God loved the Jews, he sent a Messiah”. Jews of his time did not really see God as loving the Gentiles. The word “world” implies peoples of all nations and, certainly, Gentiles. 

But John’s Greek readers would be encouraged to be part of the group God loved. Even though a God fearing Gentile could participate in some of the activities of the Jews, they were always second class citizens, as shown by their exclusion from all but the outer court of the Temple. But now John is making sure they understand that the lifting up of Jesus may benefit them also if they believe, and benefit them on an equal basis with the Jews. 

Additionally shocking in this expression “the world” is the common meaning in John. The world is wicked and sinful, in opposition to God. In the prologue, John portrayed the world as a place of spiritual and moral darkness (1:5), the world system that does to know God or obey him. (1:10) God’s love for the world is remarkable because the world is so bad. 

In fact, the world is so bad, God warned us from loving it. John wrote:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17) 

Paul wrote:

“do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (Romans 12:2)

Is it a contradiction for God to love the world and then tell us not to? It is not, for God loves the world redemptively. He does not participate in the wickedness of the world. He provides a way for the world to be reconciled to himself. When we love the world, we tend to love it as something we want to participate in. And that we cannot do if we belong to the Lord. We are called out of the world to live for God. 

 The word “so” in verse 16 causes some misinterpretation these days, mostly to our exposure to popular music. It is common in pop music and culture to say “I love you so”, meaning “I love you so much”. You may have even heard someone read this word into the text. But that is not what it means here and the word “much” is not in the text.

Rather, the Greek word translated “so” means “in this way”. For example, an attorney tells the judge I move we postpone this trial until the witness can be found. The judge responds “so ordered”. It does not mean that the judge wants to order so much, but that he orders in this way, the way the attorney asked.

An example from church life would be at the end of a business meeting, the pastor might say “I would entertain a motion to adjourn”, in response to which a deacon says “so move”. He does not mean he will move so much. He means he makes a motion in this way, the way suggested by the pastor. 

Most translations have not wanted to update the word “so” because people know it from the King James Version. The Christian Study Bible, though, renders this clause as “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only son”. 

Why is this important? It is because it speaks to the exclusiveness of salvation through Jesus. God loved the world in this way: he provided one way of salvation by sending his only Son. Connecting verse 16 to verse 15, we understand that God sent his Son to die for us. It is more fun to think of God’s love than his demands, but the New Testament is clear that they only way to God, to eternal life, is through his son, Jesus. And Jesus accomplished our salvation by dying for us, paying the penalty for our sins. 

The door to eternal life for us if belief. God sent his Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. If we believe, we are born again into eternal life. If we do not believe, we perish in that we face the final judgment and eternity under that judgment. Those are the only two options.

Thus, the mission of the Son sent and given by the Father is to bring salvation to the world. Verse 17 tells us that the first coming of Jesus was not to condemn the world, but to bring salvation to the world. 

Verse 18 then tells us that those who believe are not condemned. They do not face the final judgment or eternity in punishment. Remember the picture shown to us in Revelation 20, that as the books are open that will reveal the deeds of the people for the judgment, the Book of Life is opened, and those whose names are written in it are not judged by sinful deeds, but by their faith in Jesus. All others are consigned to the lake of fire.

Verse 18 also tells us that Jesus did not come to condemn because those who do not believe are condemned already. There is no neutral zone between saved and condemned. The only way out from under condemnation is to come to Jesus in belief. 

Ephesians 2:1-5 tells us that before we believed in Jesus we were children of wrath like the rest of mankind. Romans 9:22 refers to those who do not believe as vessels of wrath. That is what we all were before coming to Christ. Once we have come to Christ in faith, as John 1:12 tells us, we move from being children of wrath to become children of God. 

In verses 19-21, John returned to his themes of darkness and light that he used in chapter 1. He used this metaphor to drive home his point. The world was spiritually dark, having abandoned the knowledge of God. Romans 1:21 tells us that people rejected God, which resulted in their foolish hearts being darkened. 

Light came into the world with the birth of Jesus. (John 1:9) Jesus revealed God to the world. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says:

For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. 

In the face of the light of Jesus Christ, many chose darkness instead. (19) They did this because their works were evil and they did not want them exposed. 

You will often see this if you debate Christ with non-believers. They will argue with you, but you eventually see that the real issue is they do not want to give up their sin. They may not even want to acknowledge that their deeds are sinful. They may even start a church that allows them to claim Christ while validating their sin. 

In contrast, those who believe become those who “do what is true” (ESV) or “lives by the truth” (NIV) (21) This is a a Jewish expression meaning “acts faithfully”. The person who acts faithfully toward Jesus happily and eagerly comes to the light. He or she does not come to the light to boast or brag, but that they may show that their works have been carried out in God, in his power. (21)

The purpose of these verses is to show the unbeliever the imminence of their danger. They stand condemned and await the judgment. Once death has come, or the return of Jesus, there is no second chance. They can only be saved if they look to the Son of God who was lifted up for their sin and believe in him. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020



Jesus and Nicodemus

John 3:1-15

The chapter division here can interrupt the flow the story if you are not careful. It can cause you to miss a great transition. If you start reading the passage in 2:23, you see that Jesus did not entrust himself to people who said they believed in him, because he knew “what was in man”. Then, chapter three starts with “now there was a man”. 

Jesus knew what was in the people of Jerusalem, their spiritual darkness. And when Nicodemus came to see him, he knew the spiritual darkness that was in him also. John reinforces that idea by telling us Nicodemus came at night. (2) John often uses the term “night” to indicate spiritual or moral darkness. Here, Nicodemus was in spiritual darkness and did not know it. 

Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, most likely meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious body of Israel. He was also a Pharisee, a man devoted to keeping the law. His use of the word “we” indicates he came, not only for himself, but also as a representative of the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin, or some sub-group of one of them.

Nicodemus greeted Jesus respectfully. He addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” even though Jesus was not formally trained. He also acknowledged that God was with Jesus, as evidenced by the signs he had done that week in Jerusalem. 

This does not mean that Nicodemus believed, at this point, that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God. In fact, the implication of his acknowledgment of Jesus having God with him is, tell us who you really are.

Jesus, for his part, did to engage the point with Nicodemus or explain himself. He simply went directly to the spiritual need of Nicodemus. Jesus said “you cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again”. (3)

There is also this underlying note about authority. Nicodemus comes as one with some authority as a member of the Sanhedrin to sort out the matter of who Jesus is. Jesus opens up the dialogue by telling Nicodemus he is not qualified to sort out spiritual, or heavenly things. Nicodemus thinks he can “see” something about Jesus through the signs, but Jesus ays you cannot “see” the kingdom, or reign of God at all unless you are born again. 

To Nicodemus, as a Jew and a Pharisee, the concept of “kingdom of God” would mean that he and others like him would participate in the kingdom of God at the end of the age. He would experience eternal life and resurrection. But Jesus contradicted that idea. The qualification to participate in the kingdom was not being a Jew, but being one who has been born again. 

The word translated “again” can also be translated as “from above”. Nicodemus seems to treat it as “again” when he asked  if a person could enter a second time into his mother’s womb. (4) This is an early example of Jesus speaking of spiritual things but the Jews taking it as physical things. 

But Jesus did counter by saying one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God, which gives credence that the intended meaning was “born from above”.  This would go nicely with 1:13, which says those who receive Jesus are born of God. 

Regardless, you can see that Nicodemus is dumb-founded by Jesus’ statement and responds very literally with how can I get back in my mother’s womb and be born? (4) 

Jesus “doubled down” with his response to Nicodemus’ question. He invoked the solemn formula of “truly, truly” and said “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. (4)

There is a lot of speculation about the meaning of “born of water and the Spirit”. One is that water actually refers to amniotic fluid present at physical birth. The other is that water refers to baptism. However, the term is meant to be a restatement of the words “born again” or parallel to it. So, physical birth is not contemplated. And baptism is not being discussed, but the transformation or regeneration of the person that is needed to see or enter the kingdom of God. 

It is more plausible that Jesus is referring to an Old Testament passage, Ezekiel 36:25-27. This also explains why Jesus berates Nicodemus for not understanding. Since he is a Pharisee, he should know and understand the Scripture. 

Ezekiel wrote: 

“I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This passage speaks of transformation and it speaks of a new birth in the sense of getting a new heart and new spirit after being cleansed.

In verse 6, Jesus reiterates the necessity of a new birth, saying that which is born of flesh is flesh and that with is born of the Spirit is spirit. Being born of a human body only makes you human, it does not get you to spiritual rebirth into the kingdom of God. But that which is born of the Spirit is the transformed person, with a new spirit, a transformed heart, and entrance into God’s kingdom. 

Paul’s explanation is similar in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God…” 

In verse 7-8, Jesus chides Nicodemus for his lack of understanding of being born again. He drew an analogy between the wind and the Spirit. You cannot see wind, but you can observe its effect: you hear the sound, for example. But you cannot say where it came from or where it goes. In other words, you cannot control it or completely understand it.

It is the same with the Spirit. You cannot see the Spirit, understand or control him, but you can observe the effect of his presence. One effect is the new birth, the transformation and regeneration of a person. This was portrayed to us symbolically in Ezekiel 37, when God caused the dry bones to live. The same symbols of wind (also breath) and spirit were used to show God to reviving the Israelites from dead and useless to living and filled with the Spirit. 

Nicodemus still did not understand. He said “How can these things be?”. And Jesus rebuked him for it. He said “you are a teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?” . This again shows up these concepts are built upon the Old Testament scripture, since Jesus tells this teacher he should understand it. 

Jesus went further in his rebuke, saying that Nicodemus did not lack understanding so much as he lacked belief. Jesus spoke of things he knew and had seen, but Nicodemus did not receive them. (11) The use of the plural “we” here is probably a reference back to Nicodemus’ introduction that “we” knew he was a teacher come from God. 

Verses 12 and 13 are difficult to understand. But, in the context of what Jesus is saying, I think it means that “earthly things” are Jesus’ teaching about the new birth, the need to be born again. So, Jesus was saying, if you do not understand this basic thing, how will you understand the deeper things, such as the heavenly things of God’s kingdom fully consummated. 

Verse 13 is Jesus’ assertion of authority to teach these things. The English translations may not capture the original language well. In context, we see that Jesus is challenging Nicodemus’s understanding and teaching that you come into God’s kingdom by being an observant Jew by teaching that you come into God’s kingdom by being born again. Here is he says he is the only one with the authority and ability to teach how you come into the kingdom because no one has ascended into heaven to learn the truth and descended back to earth to teach it. But Jesus was in heaven and came to earth to teach the truth. True wisdom and knowledge reside in heaven and Jesus came from heaven to teach it. 

In verse 14, Jesus moves from explaining the new birth to the well known (at least to the Jews) story of the bronze snake. He has moved from referring to Ezekiel 36:25 to Numbers 21:4-9 in his references. God told Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole so the Israelites could look upon it and be healed of their snake bites. The people had spoken against the Lord and he sent snakes to bite them. When they acknowledged their sin, God, in his grace, provided that they could look upon the snake and live.

Similarly, the Son of Man must be lifted up (on the cross) so that those who believe in him will receive eternal life. Jesus was challenging Nicodemus to look to Jesus for the new birth into eternal life, into the kingdom, as the Israelites looked to the bone snake for new life when they were dying from snake bites.  

One of the things we should focus on as we study the Gospel of John is the exclusivity of Jesus. Jesus repeatedly says that faith in him is the only way to have eternal life and forgiveness of sins. He said you must be born again, not you should be born again, or it would be nice if you were born again, or being born again is one way you obtain eternal life. He also said the Son of Man must be lifted up. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to be crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. It was the way God provided and the only way he would accept.


Jesus also asserted his exclusive authority to teach the way to the new birth into eternal life as the one who came from heaven to do so. The signs, which Nicodemus had observed, testified to Jesus’ authority and status as teacher and savior. Now, it was up to Nicodemus to believe.

The same is true for us. John recorded these things to know what Jesus taught and his authority to teach it, so that we will believe it and have eternal life. 

Monday, December 14, 2020


 This passage starts with the word “therefore”. “Therefore” means, based on the the facts I have presented you, you need to come to the conclusion I present to you.

So what are the facts? The writer of Hebrews says we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”. Those witnesses are listed for us in chapter 11, which precedes the word “therefore”.

In chapter 11, the writer sets out examples of Old Testament saints who endured through faith and received their commendation. (11:2) He hammers away at this theme, saying by faith Abel (11:4), by faith Enoch (11:5), by faith Noah (11:7), by faith Abraham (11:8), by faith Sarah (11:11), by faith Jacob (11:21, by faith Moses (11:23) and many more. 

All of these experienced hardship, persecution, and suffering, yet they endured in faith to the end because they believed in God’s promised salvation.

So, the writer of Hebrews drew on the image of a sporting event, a great race taking place in a stadium full of witnesses. But they are not witnesses of our struggles, like spectators, they are witnesses to us of their faith and endurance. They surround us and we look up in the stands to see them and are encouraged to endure.

In small towns in Texas, the identity of the town is often deeply connected to the high school football team. There may even be a bulletin board or sign on the lawn of the courthouse that calls the town the home of the tigers, or whatever the team mascot is. The sign will also mention past victories, such as “State Champs 1997”. And in the stands are men who played on those championship teams. If they can fit into them, they still wear their letter jackets. So, as the boys take the field, they look up into the stands and see witnesses to the struggle, men who played and won and show them they can do it if they play hard enough. 

So, encouraged by these witnesses, we are urged to run the race. The writer calls it the race that is set before us. This race is the living of a life devoted to faithful service to Christ up to the very end, to death. 

We cast aside every weight that would make it harder to run. Marathon runners take off every ounce of unnecessary weight they can, because, over 26 miles, even a few ounces can make a difference.

Let me give you an example. Back in the 80s, I went to watch the Cowtown Marathon because a local man, Ricky Cox, was a contender to win it. I went to a place a couple of miles from the finish line, hoping to see Ricky run by in the lead. 

Instead, another runner came first. I waited and waited until finally Ricky came into sight. He was in second place, but a good ways behind. 

And then an interesting thing happened, Ricky took off his hat and threw it down. He took off his gloves. He took off his sweatshirt. He took off everything that might weigh him down. And he began to bear down on the leader, finally overtaking him to win the race. 

What are those weights for the believer? They are all of the failures, mistakes, heartbreaks, and betrayals we have experienced.  I cannot begin to tell you of all the people I have talked to that tell me they quit the race because years ago someone hurt their feelings. They let that one hurtful thing take them completely out of the race. 

A weight can also be our pride that makes us feel entitled to special treatment. Remember Samson who was so proud of his strength he believed the law of God did not apply to him and was destroyed. 

A weight can be or our inability to separate from the things of the world to devote ourselves to the things of God. Remember the Rich Young Ruler who walked away from Jesus because he could not cast off the weight of his riches. 

Not only can we be hindered by the weight of past experiences, we can be hindered by sin. The writer calls it the “sin that clings so closely”. Sin can take you completely out of the race. How many Christians have we seen fall because of sexual sin? How many have damaged their testimony because of their pursuit of money? 

Sin neutralizes you so that you do not grow spiritually, you do not pray or read the Bible, and you do not anything that moves you along in faith. 

Our struggle with sin is constant even as believers. Every person has at least one major weakness they must struggle against. It may be pride, lust, greed, inability to forgive, or any number of things. But when we give in to our weakness and let sin overtake us, we are taken out of the race. 

If we want to run with endurance, as Hebrews charges us to do, we must lay aside our sin in repentance and commitment to Godliness and move forward in faith.

Even more than looking to the witnesses, we must look to Jesus to run the race. “Look” here means to ignore all distractions to concentrate on one thing. We look to Jesus. We look to him because he endured. He endured the cross and the shame of his humiliation. 

He did this for the joy that was set before him. Joy is not the thing I think of when I read the accounts of Jesus suffering beatings, spitting, mocking, whipping and crucifixion. 

What was this joy that was set before him? It was his exaltation to the right hand of the throne of God and his bringing atonement for the sins of the millions who would believe in him and join him in heaven.

When we look to Jesus and run, we also have joy set before us. It is the joy of eternal life. It is the joy of communion with God through Jesus Christ. It is the joy of knowing Jesus will return and take those who remain to be with him in glory. 

We are observing Advent now. The word Advent comes from the Latin word “Adventus”, which means “coming”. We celebrate his coming 2,000 years ago as a baby in Bethlehem. But we also look to his second coming when he will take his own to be with him. 

At Christmas, we sing “Joy to the World”, the most published hymn in America. It was written by Isaac Watts back in the 1700s. But I think the hymn is not about the first coming of Christ, but the second. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king!” 

Knowing we will be with Jesus in the future should create great joy within us. That is why the New Testament refers to it so often. 

The angels told the shepherds they had good news of great joy. (Luke 2:10)

Galatians 2:22 tells us joy is a fruit of the Spirit. 

1 Peter 1:8 says that we believe in Jesus and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.  

So, as you celebrate Christmas this year, as you look at the baby in the manger, look also to the Jesus coming in glory and living with us in eternity and with great joy.

As a last thought, know you can only have this great joy if you have Jesus as your savior and Lord. You can only look to Jesus if you have Jesus. 

And what better time than now? Don’t just sing “let earth receive her king”, receive him yourself and commit to running the race of faith to the end.

Sunday, December 13, 2020





After the wedding at Cana, Jesus, his disciples, and his family went to Capernaum for a few days. Capernaum was a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, a little west of Bethsaida. It is in the territory that was allotted to the tribe of Zebulun. 

It seems, at first glance, to be an odd insertion in the storyline, since nothing happens during these days. But, we know John had to have a reason for recording this journey. 

The reason may be that Capernaum became an important location for Jesus’ ministry. Mark 4:12-16 tells us that Jesus moved there from Nazareth after John the Baptist was arrested. Mark wrote that this move fulfilled a prophecy found in Isaiah that the people of Galilee were dwelling in darkness but have now seen a great light. Jesus also performed miracles there. So, John may have recorded this to foreshadow these future events. 

Peter lived there and Andrew lived there. (Mark 1:29) A structure believed to be his house has been excavated. A church was later built on top of the remains. 

Additionally, as we mentioned before, this verse also shows us Jesus had brothers and sisters in his family. He was not Mary’s only child. 

Jesus At The Temple


When the time for Passover came, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. When John writes “up”, he literally means up in altitude. Capernaum was situation in a low spot next to the Sea of Galilee. You went up in altitude toward Jerusalem. Plus, Jerusalem was built on a small mountain, called Mount Zion, and was elevated above the land around it.  

The Passover was one of the feasts the Jews were required to observe. The first Passover is recorded in Exodus 12. The last plague God would impose on Egypt and Pharaoh was the death of the first born. God told the Jews to take a lamb without blemish and kill it at twilight, then put the blood on the door frame of their house so that the Lord would passover their houses and not kill their first born.

From that time on, the Jews were to observe the Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish year. In Leviticus 23, Moses added details to the observance, which went on for 7 days. On the 15th day of the first month, and for the rest of the week, they observed the Feast, or Festival, of Unleavened Bread.  They ate unleavened bread for seven days. They also made a food offering to the Lord every day for seven days. They held a convocation on the first and seventh day and could not work on those days. 

Since Jesus obeyed the law, he went to Jerusalem to observe Passover. People from all over Judea came to Jerusalem, so the population of the city swelled by many thousands. 

On one of the days, Jesus went to the temple. There he found people selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons. He also found money changers. 

The reason these merchants were there was that people who traveled long distances to get to Jerusalem could not easily bring animals for sacrifices. So, they could come to Jerusalem and buy an animal there. It is likely that the merchants paid the priests a fee to conduct business at the temple.

Also, the Jews had to pay a temple tax at Passover. They had to pay the tax with a Jewish coin. Most of them used Roman money in their towns because that was the medium of commerce. So, when they went to pay the tax, they needed a money changer to allow them to properly pay the temple tax.

There was nothing wrong with merchants providing these services. They were helpful. However, there was something wrong with the place they chose to do their business. They did it at the Temple. This would be in the courtyards, not the Temple building, and likely in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place Gentiles could go. 

The courtyard were the place where people came to pray. They could not do that if merchants were taking up all the space for business transactions. Plus, it would be noisy and busy, not conducive for prayer. 

So, Jesus made a whip of cords and drove them out of the temple with all their animals. He overturned the tables of the money changes and poured out their coins. It must have been quite a spectacle.

Finally, Jesus instructed them to take their things away and “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade. The Temple was the place where God said he would dwell among the Jews. It was his house. It was for worship and prayer, not trade. 

Jesus’ words and actions reminded the disciples of Psalm 69:9 “zeal for your house will consume me”. 

The Jews, meaning the leaders, confronted Jesus and asked him what sign he would show for doing these things. (18) By that, they meant who gave him authority to run off the merchants they had allowed to conduct business there. The fact that they asked for a sign, or miracle, indicates they had some suspicion that Jesus was some sort of prophet sent by God. 

But Jesus, the divine Son of God, did not perform miracles upon demand. As Jesus had previously indicated to his mother, his agenda was not man driven, either by his family or now by the Jewish leaders. His agenda was driven only by the will of the Sovereign God. 

Jesus answered “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. (18) This answer made no sense to the Jewish leaders. It had taken 46 years to build the temple. There was no way Jesus could rebuild the Temple in three days if they destroyed it. 

Others, however, would later twist Jesus’ words and try to use them against him. At his trial, a witness claimed Jesus said that he would destroy the temple. This was likely done because the destruction of a temple was a capital offense in Roman law and would justify the killing of Jesus. 

But John, writing years later, understood that Jesus meant the temple of his body. (21) So, after Jesus was raised on the third day, the disciples remember what Jesus said and believed the Scripture and what Jesus said. Since Jesus manifested the Father (“he has made him known - John 1:18), and the Father dwelt with him, he was the living temple. When the temple of his body was destroyed by death, it was raised again in three days. 

 John does not say which Scriptures they believed. But, we can assume that the Holy Spirit brought Old Testament Scripture to mind after Pentecost, that allowed them to understand things Jesus said and did, including this cleansing of the temple and the claim that he could raise it in three days. 

Many Believed


During this week of Passover, Jesus did many signs. Many believed in his name. But, Jesus did not assume all was well. He did not entrust himself to them, because he knew what was in them. 

That tells us that people believed when they saw the signs, but their belief was not to salvation. They believed he was a miracle worker. Because their belief was superficial, Jesus did not entrust himself to them. He knew they could and would turn on him under pressure, for they were not fully committed to him. God said he searches the heart and examines the mind. (Jeremiah 17:10) Jesus did the same.

What the Wedding at Cana and the Cleansing of the Temple have in common is the replacing the old with the new. Jesus replaced water used for Old Covenant rituals with wine which symbolized the New Covenant. Jesus said the temple of his New Covenant body would replace the Temple of the Old Covenant.

Sunday, December 06, 2020



The First Sign


This is a well known story. It is also an important story, because it tells us of the first sign Jesus performs. John used the term “sign” rather than “miracle”. John records seven signs in his gospel.

The structure of John 2:1-11 is typical of a miracle story: the setting is established (verses 1-2), a need arises (verses 3-5), a miracle addresses that need (verses 6-8), and there is a response to that miracle (verses 9-11).

There are many interpretations of this story, many of which are allegorical and speculative. We should remember that John said he recorded these signs, so that people would be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and interpret the signs in light of that purpose. (20:30-31). 

The story begins after Jesus had met Nathanael in the area of Bethsaida. After that encounter, Jesus and his disciples walked to Cana to attend a wedding. It was a two day walk, so this story happens on the third day after Jesus met Nathanael.

Jesus was invited to the wedding with his disciples. His mother was there also. She seems to have had a role in the wedding and felt responsible in some way to help with the shortage of wine. Plus, she seems to have had some command of the servants, (5) These things indicate either the bride or groom were relatives or close friends of Jesus’ family. Also, verse 12 implies his brothers and sisters were there also. The Greek word for brothers in that verse can mean brothers and sisters. 

Matthew 13:55-56 tells us Jesus had brothers and sisters:

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all is sisters with us? 

Mark 6:3 is the corresponding verse, although it mentions only the brothers. There are those who claim that Mary had no children after Jesus, but Scripture attests to the contrary. 

The event that is called a wedding here is more like what we would think of as the reception, except that it lasted for several days. The groom paid for the food and drink rather than the bride’s family. 

Unfortunately, the groom did not stock enough wine and it ran out before the party ended. This would have been a huge embarrassment to the groom and his family if the guests found out. Jesus’s mother sympathized with the groom’s plight and informed Jesus that the wine had run out. 

Although Jesus’ mother (who is unnamed in this gospel) did not ask Jesus to do anything, the implication is certainly there. This is certainly true in verse 5, where his mother tells the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. This may not mean she expected a miracle, since Jesus had not performed one yet. It may just mean she had, as a widow, habitually leaned on him as the oldest son to take care of things. 

But she also knew he was special. She had been told by an angel that her son would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. (Luke 1:32)

Jesus’ response to his mother carries a tone of rebuke. He addressed her as “woman”, not as “mother”. “Woman” was not an impolite term, but it was not an affectionate one. It seems that Jesus was creating some distance between himself and is mother. 

He then went further by saying “what does this have to do with me?”. (3) The literal wording is “what to me and to you”. It meant something along the lines of “what is common between you and me with regard to this”, or “why do you involve me”? 

Why does Jesus answer this way? He seems to be saying that he will act in his earthly ministry independent of anyone else’s agenda or manipulation. He will only act according to the Father’s will. He said this explicitly in 5:30, saying I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”. When Peter objected to Jesus saying he would go to his death, Jesus rebuked him, called him Satan, and said he cared only for the things of men not the things of God. (Matthew 16:23)

With this first sign, Jesus was entering into his public ministry. Everything else had to be a lower priority, even his family. This had to have been difficult for his mother. 

The reasoning behind Jesus’ response was that his hour had not yet come. (4) His “hour” referred to his death and resurrection to glory. So, it was not time for him to be glorified, at least to the public. 

Jesus was also keeping the focus on his glory and not on Mary’s role as his mother who got him to do something. Mary is not the mediator between believers and Jesus. She is simply a believer. 

Mary did not argue with Jesus, she simply told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. (5) She was content to leave the matter in Jesus’ hands, trusting him to do the right thing. Her appeal as a family member was rebuked, but her faith in the miracle working Messiah was rewarded. 

Jesus had the servants fill six stone jars with water. These jars normally held water for ceremonial washings, washings for spiritual purity. The Jews had many rules for purification that involved washing the person, or the feet and hands, or utensils. 

These jars were big. They held twenty or thirty gallons of water.(6) Jesus transformed all of that water to wine and had the servants take it to the master of the feast. The master did not know where the wine came from. But when he tasted it, he complimented the bridegroom for keeping the best wine to the last. (10) 

So Jesus turned the water to wine, made it good wine, and made lots of it. There would have been between 120 and 180 gallons of it. 

By performing this sign, Jesus manifested his glory and caused his disciples to believe in him. (11) No mortal man or woman can change water to wine. Only God could do that. So, Jesus proved himself to be the divine Son of God. The disciples believed. Remember, John wrote “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Jesus also showed himself to be full of grace with this sign. He did not owe the bridegroom anything, but he provided the best and he provided it abundantly. He will later say “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. (John 10:10) 

There may be an additional symbolism here. The water represented the old covenant since it was used for rituals based on the Jewish regulations. Jesus replaced that water with something greater, the good wine. It was a symbol that the new covenant replaces the old and is much better. Hebrews 8:6 says “But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant …”

God has poured out his grace on us in abundance. We are saved by grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Like the bridegroom in this story, we did nothing to deserve it. 

The old hymn says “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe”. 

As we celebrate the first coming of Christ and look forward to his second coming, we have a great opportunity to reflect upon God’s grace in sending his Son so that all who believe do not perish, but have eternal life. 

Reflect on God’s grace this week. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020




The First Disciples

This passage shows us the beginning of the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus. It begins the day after John pointed out Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus again came to the place where John was. John again pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. 

Two disciples were with John. One was Andrew and the other is not named. When John pointed out Jesus, these two disciples left John the Baptist and began to follow Jesus. 

Notice that John does not protest. That is because this is exactly what should happen. John prepared his disciples to receive Jesus. Then, when he pointed out Jesus to them, they left to follow Jesus, as they should. 

By asking Jesus where he was staying, these disciples indicated their desire to follow him. Because disciples at that time stayed with their teacher full time. They slept where he slept and went where he went. 

In addition to following, Andrew took on the ministry of evangelism. He went to his brother Simon and told him he had found the Messiah. He brought Simon to Jesus.

When Simon came to Jesus, Jesus gave him a new name: “Cephas”. (42) In Aramaic, this word appears to mean “rock”. John translates that for the Greek readers as “Peter”. 

Subsequent events show us that Peter was not a rock in the sense of being resolute in his faith. But, Jesus intended to make Peter into a rock. That process would turn out to involve some painful moments. 

People today often say “Jesus loves you just the way you are”. And that is true as far as it goes. But it is not true when the implication is that you do not need to change. Jesus loves you and saves you as you are. 

But, Jesus changes you when you believe. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Then, Jesus through the Holy Spirit begins the process of sanctification, the process of making you less like you are and more like he is. That is what he did with Peter as well.

So, who was the second disciple? Who was the one who was not named, but was with Andrew and who followed Jesus. The writer does not tell us, but traditionally it has been thought that disciple was John himself, the writer of this gospel account. That would fit with John’s claim to be an eyewitness to the things he wrote about.


Philip and Nathanael

The next day, Jesus went to Galilee. Galilee, at that time,  was the northern part of Israel. Somewhere in Galilee he found Philip, maybe at or near his home town of Bethsaida, which was on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. John tells us that Bethsaida was also the home of Andrew and Peter. 

Jesus found Philip and simply told Philip to follow him. (43) Philip did, and like Andrew, went to find another. Philip found Nathanael and told him he had found the Messiah, calling him the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about. That tells us that Philip and Nathanael knew their Scripture well. Philip also named Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth. The town of Nazareth was also in Galilee, south and west of Bethsaida. 

Nathanael famously responded “can anything good come out of Nazareth”. Evidently, Nazareth did not have a very good reputation. It may have been because there was a Roman garrison there and many of the townspeople did business with the Romans. Nathanael was from Cana, according to John 21:2. Cana is a little north of Nazareth, so Nathanael would have been acquainted with the reputation of the place.

Philip was undeterred by Nathanael’s  comment and invited Nathanael to come and see for himself.  So, Nathanael did.

When Nathanael got to Jesus, the two had an interesting exchange which led Nathanael to confess his belief in Jesus. Jesus greeted Nathanael as an Israelite who had no guile or deceit. (47) This is a compliment, but it also indicates Jesus knew Nathanael. That confused Nathanael, because Jesus had never met him. So, Nathanael asked Jesus how he knew him. 

Jesus, replied that he saw Nathanael even before Philip found him. He saw him sitting under a fig tree. (48) This is a display of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. We do not know when or where Nathanael was under the fig tree, or what he was doing there. It could be that Nathanael was sitting in the shade of the tree praying or meditating on the coming of the Messiah. But, whatever it was, it was significant to Nathanael, and Jesus’ knowledge of it told Nathanael that Jesus was the promised Messiah. 

Nathanael then addressed Jesus as “Rabbi”, which would be a respectful greeting, compared to his complete lack of a greeting at the beginning of the conversation. He also confessed Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. (49) 

As an aside to the story, but significant to how John structures his gospel, is that there are seven who bear witness to Jesus's deity, calling him the Son of God: 

  1. John the Baptist ( John 1:34); 
  2. Nathanael ( John 1:49); 
  3. Peter ( John 6:69); 
  4. Jesus himself ( John 10:36); 
  5. Martha ( John 11:27); 
  6. Thomas ( John 20:28); 
  7. John, the writer of this Gospel ( John 20:31).

Back to the story, Jesus then made a promise to Nathanael. He said “you” would see greater things than Jesus displaying his supernatural knowledge about Nathanael and the fig tree. (50) The “you” in this verse is plural, so it likely refers to all of the disciples, not just Nathanael. The would see the greater things of Jesus’ perfect life, his authoritative teaching, his miracles or signs, his death, resurrection and exaltation.

In fact, they would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (51) What did Jesus mean by this? 

First, we see his reference to Genesis 28:12-22. In that passage, Jacob was fleeing Canaan and going to live with his relative, Laban. He had a dream in which he saw a ladder set up on earth that reached to heaven. Angels were going up and down the ladder. God stood at the top and spoke to Jacob, making a covenant with him. He promised to be with Jacob and to continue with Jacob the covenant he made with Abraham.

Nathanael, and likely all these first disciples, were well versed in the Old Testament and would know the passage Jesus alluded to. Jacob would have seen the vision as a representation of God being with him and taking care of him, as angels took his prayers up to God and God sent angels down to take care of Jacob. 

So, Jesus was saying, as with Jacob, you will see that God the Father is with Jesus and Jesus has continual access to the Father. You will see that Jesus is the Messiah, as Nathanael confessed, the one appointed and anointed by God.

While the allusion to the ladder catches our attention, there is another thing here we should notice. Jesus, for the first time, refers to himself as the “Son of Man”. Although Nathanael confessed Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. 

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most frequently used for himself. The meaning of the title has an Old Testament context. The context is a vision given to Daniel as described in Daniel 7:9-14. Daniel described the person he saw in his vision this way:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man… . And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (vv. 13–14a).

This Jesus, whom these disciples would follow, is the one whom the Father has given dominion, or power, over all the kingdoms and peoples of earth, glory as one who is God, and a kingdom that will last forever. Paul would later write this same truth in Philippians 2:9:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

All followers of Jesus, including us, see these things. They saw them in person. We see them in the Word. And we know that Jesus is Savior and Lord. And we belong to his kingdom and look forward to the day that it will be fully and finally revealed. 

Jesus himself alluded to the Daniel passage specifically, applying the it to himself, in Mark 13:24-27, which says:

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

And we say “amen, come Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man”.