John 3 gives us a couple very famous passages in Jesus’ early ministry. First we see Nicodemus, a ruler and member of the Pharisees “came to Jesus by night” to get some answers. He has some deep questions about salvation and how to enter heaven. Jesus makes it very simple when He says “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Try as he may Nicodemus can’t find any wiggle room here. Jesus says it again “you must be born again”. There is NO other option to enter eternity – none – nada – just this one way. As Nicodemus tries to understand exactly what that means and entails, he presses Jesus to clarify. It is a difficult concept to grasp. So Jesus gives us one of the most famous verses in all of scripture when He tells Nicodemus “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. There you have it. It is about having a relationship with Jesus – a faith believing trust in the Son of God – that leads to eternal life because of God’s love. Have you thought of the reality that Jesus came to earth for only a couple reasons – God loves us that much to sacrifice His only Son on our behalf – and it is the only way for us to enter eternity and spend the rest of it with God. That is the story – His motive is pretty clear – He wants you and me to have a personal relationship with the Savior – His only Son Jesus Christ – and spend eternity with Him. What a fantastic promise He gives us. But just because God sent His Son doesn’t mean we automatically are in. We still have to take that step of belief. We have to enter into a personal relationship and receive God’s gift of grace. That is where so many stop short. But it is a critical step.
Jesus goes on to explain the difference between His appearance on earth being one that was to condemn man versus save us. Check out what He says: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him”. The reality is that the result of Jesus coming does condemn the world – those who don’t have a relationship with Him – because that is the standard by which eternity will be based. But that wasn’t God’s purpose of sending Him. It wasn’t to punish those who refuse to receive the gift and believe. God sent Jesus to save us – that was the motive. Those who fail to receive that and believe in the Savior will be condemned but it will be by their choice – not the design of God’s plan. That is how so much of what happens and goes wrong really works. We make choices all day every day and that determines the outcome of our day and our life. That is exactly what the situation is with Jesus being sent to earth. His coming is not the problem – it did not create the condemnation – but our choice certainly can if we don’t act as God intends. John the baptizer is busy doing his work and some of his followers question this new guy Jesus being on the scene. John makes it very clear again that his job is to point to Jesus. He is not the main event – Jesus is. And John says this: “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life”. The thing you have to love about John is his clarity and to the point message. You either believe and have life, or you don’t. No middle ground. No questionable position. You do or you don’t. It is interesting that John qualifies obedience as part of the equation here. And scripture is full of examples about just how important that is. God wants us to believe and obey – that is the solution to the sin problem of our world and our life. If we take those steps we experience eternity with Jesus and God the Father. It really is that simple!
John 2 tells us the story of Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding he attends with his disciples. They were there and planning missed the mark so they ran out of wine. Jesus tells the servants to take the “six stone water jars….each holding twenty or thirty gallons….fill them up to the brim“. The servants did and then as Jesus told them took a sample to the master of the feast. Of course it was the best wine he had ever tasted. This was Jesus first of many miracles – although it seems to me He had been in the miracle business quite a bit healing people at every turn. Interesting that healing is talked about differently in scripture than miracles. But the key to remember is that God and Jesus are still in the miracle business today. Sometimes we forget that. They are also still in the healing business. It hasn’t stopped – we still serve the same God with the same ability to do as He wishes. Jesus shows His hand at the wedding and scripture tells us “his disciples believed in Him“. This wasn’t done so the guests could have a good time. This miracle was targeted at a very select group – those who had chosen to come and follow and see. And they certainly were seeing some things they hadn’t seen before. That is true for us too if we will only follow Him. We will be part of His miracle life changing mission. But we have to follow – we have to come and see.
The next part of the passage takes us into the temple for Passover. Jesus went there to celebrate and finds those “who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons….and the money changers“. It was a regular trading post right there at the temple – making it easy for people to get what they needed for their sacrificial needs. Jesus is not amused – takes some cords and makes a whip and drives them out of the temple area. He “poured out the coins…..overturned their tables“. Not exactly how one would kick off ministry – at least today. Talk about another memorable experience for His new followers. Can you imagine their eyes as Jesus comes and turns upside down what has been happening as the routine for many years. The question is – what would Jesus do if He walked into your church this week? Would there be any tables turned over or any whipping going on? I fear there would in mine. And even more importantly – what if He sat me down and looked closely at my life? What would my life review turn out like? Any stuff that needs to be overturned and changed so I walk with Him the way scripture teaches? You know the answer about me. And actually I know the outcome of what that would look like for you too. We all need to make some changes in how we live, and how collectively we serve and worship. Jesus is not about the status quo – you never ever see that in scripture. He deals with things head on – sin gets tackled – life issues addressed – people changed constantly. We aren’t going to get a pass for how we live folks. We will be giving account some day soon. So the time to make the change is now while we can before we stand in front of a very holy God. As we head into this very special weekend – take a few minutes to look deep inside and see how you are doing in your walk with the Master. Remember…..contemplate……confess…….repent…..and find the fullness of life Jesus offers and promises to those who will believe, follow and obey!
John 1:15-51 gives us John’s view of the same events we have been looking at the last few days. John clealy defines the difference between the old and new – “for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ”. Jesus changed things. He did not invalidate the law – the 10 commandments are still God’s direction for how we live – they are not just old news. But Jesus added something that we struggle to understand as humans – the whole concept of grace. Grace is receiving something we don’t deserve. It is being given a gift that is far above anything we can earn. It defines salvation because that is how God has chosen to give us eternal life – through grace not because of our works. John the baptizer was sent to proclaim the message of that change. And the religious leaders didn’t like it. They had carved out a pretty nice future around the law and keeping people under their thumb trying to live up to it. John is challenged about “who are you” and his answer is simple: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness….make straight the way of the Lord”. He was the messenger of change. A new Way was coming and that was Jesus. John really understand his role and took it seriously. His style may not have been exactly what people were looking for – living in the wild wearing camel skin and eating locusts – but he knew what he was to do and he did it well. People were following him as a leader – in fact scripture tells us he had “disciples” as well. Remember that a disciple is one who learns from another and follows them. So John has to transition those who are following him to the One they needed to follow. One day as he sees Jesus he exclaims “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Jesus came to do a lot of things – but none greater than this mission. He came to set man free from sin. Sin is one of those things that has an eternal price on it. God can’t ignore it – His holiness won’t allow Him to turn a blind eye like some might wish – so it is the heaven preventer. Sin will keep us from heaven if it is not dealt with. It separates us from God, currently and for eternity. Jesus came to give us a way to deal with that problem. His willingness to take our sin upon Himself and carry it to the cross then allows grace to be offered to us. We still have to take the step of receiving that gift of grace – by confessing and repenting of our sin – but He paid the price and offers us grace to set us free. This is the essence of Jesus life and death and John is proclaiming it to all who will listen and many who didn’t want to.
John, our writer, also records another calling of a couple more of the disciples of Jesus. We have seen the other gospel writers talk about the call of the four fishermen. Here John says it “come and you will see” but the general idea is the same as “follow me”. Jesus called the guys and they came. We do learn a detail here about Peter and Andrew. John points out that Andrew actually followed Jesus first and then he went and “found his brother Simon” and told him to come along and follow. Jesus was on the way to Galilee and found Philip and “said to him….follow me” and you know it – Philip does. But we see the same thing here we saw with Andrew. “Philip found Nathanael….and said to him….come and see”. Are you seeing a pattern here? As Jesus calls these men to follow – their immediate response is to go find a brother or friend and share the opportunity to follow the Master. They haven’t experienced what it even means yet to follow Jesus – they just see the opportunity and bring another. That is what we are called to do as well. Sharing our faith isn’t all that complicated. It is following the example of Andrew and Philip and others in scripture. We just need to invite others to come and see. That experience involves seeing how Jesus has impacted our life, and getting them engaged with others where Jesus has made a difference. It hopefully will include a church body where Jesus is active and making life change, maybe a small group, but the key is to not get all bent out of shape about what to say or how to do it. These guys just invited their brother or friend to check it out. If God is alive and at work – that little opening is all He needs to take it from there. Salvation is God’s gig – not ours. We are tasked with inviting people to come and see. Sometimes we get that a bit out of balance and think we have to go save people from their sin. We can’t – Jesus already did – and God is the only way for them to experience that. It isn’t about us – it is about Him. We are just messengers to invite people to check it out and do the introduction. Who have you asked recently to come and see? It is our call. Let’s be watching for God’s divine appointment today. He has someone He wants us to touch with that very invitation!
Luke 5 contains a couple of the stories we have recently read. The first disciples are called by Jesus. They had “toiled all night and took nothing” – their nets had come up empty and they were washing their nets after an unfruitful night of trying to catch fish. Jesus tells them to put out their nets again. So what would you have done? You just worked all night and got nothing – have been washing your nets and are probably ready to take a break. But Peter answered “at your word I will let down the nets”. He wasn’t sure why – but he chose to follow Jesus direction. And you recall the results – nets overflowing and they have to call another boat to come help them with the catch. Simon Peter starts to get it at this point – that Jesus is not some ordinary guy they have chosen to follow – and “he fell down at Jesus knees”. What is your response to Jesus work in your life? Do you take it for granted – just part of what He is supposed to do when prayers are answered or His power is at work? Do you even notice His touch in your life? He is at work, and we need to respond like Peter did – with gratitude and worship. Jesus tells them “from now on you will be catching men” and “they left everything and followed Him”. We are called to this same calling – to catch men for Jesus. Some days that means we need to put down the nets again even after we have come up empty. The key is listening to the Master and following His lead. He knows where the “fish” are. He knows how we should approach and when to drop the nets. He knows when we need to get back in the boat. But let’s be clear – the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John is our call too. We too are to be fishers of men.
Luke goes on to capture the call of another of the disciples – this one Matthew or Levi as he is called in some translations – a tax collector. The job of tax collector was a pretty lucrative gig. They had some flexibility in how much they taxed folks and were able to accumulate a pretty nice stock of wealth – not necessarily all done honestly and above board. Jesus comes upon Levi who is sitting in his tax booth doing his thing and Jesus says it again: “follow me”. And once more we see this response: “leaving everything, he rose and followed him”. It sure does seem easy. Research shows that most Christ Followers never lead one person to Jesus during their entire lifetime. Yet we see Jesus just asking people to follow and they do. Part of the reality is that Jesus was not afraid to ask – and many of us never once even offer to lead someone to the Cross. But that is another story for another day. “Levi made Him a great feast”. There is an immediate response to the call to come follow. Levi has Jesus over for some dinner and who is there – the folks that a conniving tax collector would hang out with – people like himself. So the religious leaders get all bent out of shape and accuse Jesus of hanging with the wrong crowd. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners”. Fair question – seems like a shady bunch to be hanging around with doesn’t it? But Jesus gives them the answer and it is the same response we need to live by today: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick”. We can’t help people if we are not with people. If we only hang around with Christ Followers – there is no opportunity to lead others to the Cross. That is part of why so many never do any fishing of men – they aren’t where the fish are. So Jesus sets the example for us – we have to be where the fish are if we want to fish for the souls of men. That doesn’t mean we should spend all our time there – the example is not to immerse ourselves among those who are sick to the point we become the same. But it does mean we don’t isolate ourselves so we can have no impact. It is about balance – like most of the difficult things in life – and we need to learn from Jesus example here. The key is that we have to go where the fish are if we want to fish. He showed Peter that – and He taught Levi the same thing. Fishing means we put down the nets where the fish are. Are you fishing for Jesus? He has called us to be fishers of men!
Luke captures the temptation of Christ here in chapter 4. A couple key observations – Jesus was “Himself full of the Holy Spirit”. For far too long Christ Followers have wrestled with the Holy Spirit and what that really means to us as believers. We tend to allow that interpretation to divide us at times rather than realize the absolute blessing and power that Christ has promised us when He said He would send the Comforter to live within us. Jesus had the Holy Spirit living in Him. So those who fear what that means need to take a second look. And those who insist it must be a particular way need to remember that the Spirit is not divisive, but a gift of grace that should unite us. When all of us are like Jesus: “led by the Spirit” – things will be as God intends. Jesus comes out of the 40 days in the wilderness temptation and it says “he was hungry”. So definitely man who wrestled with the same physical challenges we do. That allows Him to understand and intercede on our behalf with compassion because He truly did experience life. Also note what the enemy does after Jesus resisted the temptations thrown at Him. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The devil never truly gives up even if we overcome the temptation of the moment. He lurks and waits for another opportunity to nail us. We have to remain diligent in our walk with God to be prepared at every moment.
This chapter also captures Jesus return to Nazareth where He grew up. We see those painful words: “no prophet is acceptable in His hometown” that are so often true. I am continually amazed at how people are not considered experts in their own area but by traveling a few miles they become brilliant. It even happens right in our homes with our own family. Our kids think we are dumber than dirt but when another parent tells them the exact same thing they think it is an amazing piece of news. It is reality. But here Luke captures the reality of just how true this is. Jesus is in the synagogue teaching and sharing truth like He has many places. And as He pointed out God’s truth “all in the synagogue were filled with wrath”. People got really irritated that he would share truth they didn’t want to hear. And it got ugly as they “drove Him out of town and brought Him to the brow of the hill….so they could throw Him down the cliff”. Why is it that we lose logic sometimes? Jesus shared what God’s Word said, and He was the bad guy. It was time to shoot the messenger. “But passing through their midst, He went away”. It wasn’t time for His departure from earth so He just walks through the crowd, but what a frustrating day it had to be. He didn’t spend much time worrying about it though and moves on to heal and deal with life problems in other places. People came to Him constantly and “He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them”. Jesus was an equal opportunity healer. He just touched people and set them free. Oh that we could learn to love people as He did.
Matthew 4 gives us another perspective on Jesus temptation in the wilderness. Jesus was led there and fasted for forty days and forty nights. Scripture tells us “he was hungry” and then “the tempter came”. Great clue as to what we should expect from the enemy – he knows our circumstances and will be right there to take advantage of them any way he can. The enemy is not living in some cave without knowledge of the things we are susceptible to. He pays close attention to the things that we may fall prey to. In Jesus’ case, it was His hunger after a very long fast. The first temptation was to turn “stones to become loaves of bread”. That actually makes sense doesn’t it – after all – been 40 days without any food. But Jesus response is critical for us to pay close attention to – as it gives us one of the key ways we must deal with temptation. Jesus responds and says “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God”. Our ability to deal with temptation cannot come only from within – will power won’t cut it. If we intend to overcome evil then we have to know God’s Word. It has to be part of us. It is our main way to deal with the temptations of the enemy. The devil makes a couple more attempts to trip Jesus up. He asks Him to “throw yourself down” and let the angels catch him. Then the devil took Jesus up on “a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms” and offered to give them all to Jesus.
Three attempts to get Jesus to fall – and each time the response was “it is written”. Jesus knew scripture and it was the main defense. After saying no to the temptations three times, Jesus shows us another way of dealing with the enemy when He says “be gone, Satan”. We have to claim the power of God to deal with the enemy and rebuke him. Jesus successfully dealt with temptation and we need to use the exact same tactics to deal with the enemy in our own lives. After the 40 days in the wilderness Jesus begins His public ministry. Matthew here recounts the calling of the first disciples and we see that word “immediately again” – although not as many times as we did earlier. But the response to His call to “follow me” was immediate. The fishermen He touched left what they were doing and took off to follow Him. We tend to get paralyzed by analysis sometimes in our lives today. When we get God’s nudge or see His truth – rather than just respond and do what He asks or leads – we want to think through it and see if it makes sense. When God moves us – it always makes sense. We have to learn not to second guess His leading – but to just obey Him. We have to become responsive to His call. We can be victorious over temptation. We have the Word to use as our sword in dealing with the devil, and the Holy Spirit living in our heart to put the enemy in his place. The real challenge is making that our goal and living that way – having God’s Word in our heart and at our fingertips so we can respond quickly when temptation comes our way. The longer we allow temptation to hang around without dismissing it, the higher the chance that we will give in and fall to it. Are you in God’s Word and getting your skills ready to handle the battle?
Luke 3 gives us a bit of a different perspective, or at least some different details, on John the baptizer. John “went into all the region…..proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He was placed on earth to let people know that they had a sin problem. As we have seen in the writings of Matthew and Mark – his message was direct and to the point. Dealing with sin was not some watered down message. John was in the face of everyone and he made it clear that a change was required. People needed to confess and repent and be baptized. He lists what was going to happen as Christ would come onto the scene – check out how he describes the coming change:
- “Every valley shall be filled
- Every mountain and hill shall be made low
- The crooked shall become straight
- Rough places shall become level ways
- All flesh shall see the salvation of God”
Not minor change – but major, life changing and complete change is on the way as Jesus comes onto the scene. That is what John preached and taught and it was different than anyone had done for some time.
The other key thing about John was that he delivered the message full force – no sugar coating – simple truth telling that was direct and to the point. “You brood of vipers….bear fruits in keeping with repentance…. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”. No dancing here – just the straight truth no matter who the audience. He didn’t tone it down for the Pharisees – in fact – he likely turned up the heat. And he addressed head on those who thought their heritage would take care of the sin issue. To those who said “we have Abraham as our Father” he responded – so what – great information but it doesn’t matter in the area of dealing with sin in your lives. You have to clean things up. So John “preached the good news” and it gets him locked up. Herod did not want to deal with him, so he throws him in prison but John had done his job. He had prepared the way for Jesus whose ministry now gets under way at age 30. Been a long time coming, but it all happened according to God’s plan. That is what is so important to keep in mind here – God had it all orchestrated as we see the gospel stories come together. He prophesied the story through many of His prophets and now it is coming to fruition just as He had proclaimed it. Luke finishes his chapter with the geneology of Jesus with a different list. Matthew had traced it back to Abraham while Luke traces it back to Adam beginning with the father of Mary. Scholars wrestle with the two lists but Christ was son of Adam as well as Son of God.