THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 17, 2020
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
— John 6:22-35, ESV
Jesus created a monster with a miracle, a five-thousand-headed food monster. With another miracle, walking on the water, He escaped from their plan to make Him their king by force in order to force the King to give them free food and other material things.
Now, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, Jesus faces the monster again. The only thing that could make them go away was the preaching of the gospel with an emphasis on the sovereign grace of God. This Jesus did, and by the end of the chapter, the monster is gone.
People still pursue Jesus for all the wrong reasons. They use Him as a good luck charm, a genie in a bottle, or a ticket to get out of Hell free. But God governs by providence, not luck. God did not become a man to grant everyone three wishes and their best life now. And, God will not spare anyone from Hell who does not come to Him on His terms.
The Search for the Bread of Life
Let’s try to give the crowd credit where credit is due. The text tells us they were “seeking Jesus” (vs. 24) and Jesus agreed, “You are seeking Me” (vs. 26). Surely seeking Jesus is a good thing, isn’t it?
Seeker sensitive churches started sprouting up a generation ago and now have a stronghold on church culture. The basic idea is to create services that lost people love (just think about that for a minute or two). In many cases, crosses and other Christian symbols are intentionally removed to not offend (just like in communist China?!). Language is censored to get rid of words like sin, repentance, and judgment (just read anything by the late Robert Schuller). Sacred psalms and hymns are replaced by loud rock bands, staged lighting, and sometimes even smoke machines (I actually like concerts, but not for Sunday worship). And, biblical sermons are replaced by moral therapeutic deistic pep talks (thank you, Christian Smith, Mark Noll, David Wells, and Wade Clark Roof). Such churches are often found full, as is the broad road leading to destruction (ref. Matthew 7:13).
It is impossible for lost people to seek salvation from the Lord (ref. Romans 3:11). This is because man in his natural state is depraved, spiritually disabled, sinful, and selfish to the core. What lost people will seek from the Lord, however, is anything that will entertain them, stroke their ego, or enrich their pantries or pocketbooks.
Jesus encountered such seekers on the road from Capernaum to Jerusalem. They did not come to Him as God, which is where His signs were pointing, but as a genie who could grant them wishes for bread. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves'” (vs. 26).
The fact is they were seeking for something. But that something or someone was not God. They were solely focused on “food that perishes” (vs. 27), according to Jesus. Such food can mean real food and drink, of course, but bread can also represent money and material things. And most people, including many church people, are simply using the eternal God to get the earthly things they want most.
Are material things unimportant to God? No, or else Jesus would not have fed them earlier, and He will feed a four-thousand-headed monster later. But material things should not be the foundation and focus of our lives. Yet, money and material things are the bread that most people want from God.
Jesus shows us a better way, better bread, of which He is the exclusive source.
The Source of the Bread of Life
There are three ways to get bread. You can make it yourself. You can go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. Or, someone can give you bread.
There are also three ways to look at salvation. You can save yourself, by works or by being a perfect person (I witnessed our current President saying he never asks for forgiveness because he never does anything wrong). You can buy your salvation, like the Roman Catholic church was selling in Martin Luther’s day (which sparked the Great Reformation). Or, you can receive salvation as a gift of grace.
Jesus offers the latter. “My Father gives you the true bread … “ (vs. 32). He was not talking about something to eat, or money to buy things, but salvation. The Savior tended to talk about salvation, and The Savior saves. In order to freely offer salvation to those present and future, Jesus says and John records the first of His seven great “I Am” statements:
Jesus said to them, “I Am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (vs. 35).
This is the gospel in one sentence, one statement. It begins with God. It offers grace. It demands repentance and faith.
Jesus is the great “I Am,” which His original Jewish audience would have heard as, “I Am God.” Salvation cannot be earned, it cannot be bought. It must be received from God by receiving God in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The five-thousand-headed monster eagerly received the material bread which is here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus told them they needed eternal bread, they needed Him, as God and Savior. “The bread of life” received today will stay with you forever.
Who gets the bread of salvation? “Whoever comes to Me,” Jesus said. This is repentance. This is turning away from sin, selfishness, and self-control of you life and giving that life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is a gift from God (ref. Acts 11:18) that enables one to turn to God, or “Come to Me,” in Jesus’ words.
Why repent? Because you believe. “Whoever believes in Me,” Jesus said, will be saved. Faith is the gift of God that keeps on giving to God, and receiving from God spiritual gifts and the eternal blessing of salvation.
The source of salvation is the bread of life. You will die without food, and a piece of bread for a man starving to death is life, physical life. You will die in your sins and suffer an eternal death without the bread of life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. We all need him more desperately than we need air, food, water, or anything else.
As we will see in the remainder of this chapter, the people Jesus fed with miraculous bread rejected the monumental offer of the bread of life. They wanted what Jesus could do for them, but they did not want Jesus. His offer of bread remains on the table.
Please, take it. It is soul food, salvation for your soul. If you already have it, you know it, and you want more, more of Jesus. If you do not have it, and you are not hungry for the Lord, then I can do no more for you than Jesus did for this selfish and spiritually dead crowd. But if you have a spiritual hunger, for forgiveness, for assurance of life after death, for a reorientation of life that truly puts the true and living God in the center, then pay attention, hold out your hands, and heart. The bread of life can be yours, today and forever.
NOTHING TO FEAR
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 10, 2020
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
— John 6:16-21, ESV
My middle name is Franklin, named after my father, who was named by his father, in 1941. Obviously, Pop was a big fan of the President at the time, and he was not alone. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (I’m glad my middle name is not Delano) is the only US President to be elected to serve not one, not two, not three, but four terms.
While historians and political philosophers argue over his legacy, there is no debate about his strong leadership and superlative oratorical skills. Everyone knows his most famous line from his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
The context behind the quote included a great depression at home and a brewing world war abroad. People were afraid, they were very afraid, and they had a right to be afraid. People are afraid today, of a new and dreadful virus, of the ensuing economic difficulties, of whatever China may do next.
Fear is a part of every generation, every life, even every Christian’s life. But is fear really to be feared? Could fear be a something good that leads us to something better?
In this episode in John’s Gospel, the fifth of the seven great signs is shown. Jesus walks on the water. The presence of God and the word of God puts the fear of God into followers of the Son of God, until faith in God takes over. Here is what they learned from the Lord, and here is what we can learn from them:
Fear is a Gift from God
“They were frightened” (vs. 19), those twelve disciples, in a small boat on a medium-sized lake surrounded by large mountains. The cut of those rocks could whip the wind upon the sea in such a way that waves raise up large enough to sink a boat. Added to their seafaring fears was their scared faces when they thought they saw a ghost, walking on the water towards them. They were very afraid, and fear does not feel good.
Fear feels bad, but is fear a bad thing? No, fear can be a good thing, even a healthy thing, that God has given to us for our good. There are many phobias (the Greek word for fear found in this text) that help protect us and guide us through life.
Fear is a sign of good sense. I have a bit of acrophobia, which helps keep my feet on the ground and my hands on the rail when I am in high places. I have a big case of ophidiophobia, which is why I never became one of those snake handling preachers. I, like many others, suffer from glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking, which makes me prepare incessantly and pray unceasingly to deliver sermons. Fear makes us prepare and put up safeguards that are simply signs of good common sense.
Fear is a sign of godly respect. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (ref. Psalm 110:10; Proverbs 9:10). “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word” (ref. Isaiah 66:5). Healthy fear makes us listen to the right words from the right person for the right reasons, especially when that person is God and the source is God’s word, the Bible. The fear of God honors God and keeps us from committing sins that will do harm to others and ourselves.
Fear is sign for help. Fear can make you ask for help, especially from the Lord, who is always in the boat with you. Fear can make you place your hand on the rail, or take someone else’s hand, or put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
Jesus’ disciples were afraid because Jesus had put them in the boat and sent them into the storm (ref. Matthew’s and Mark’s account). They had been in a similar storm before, but Jesus was in the boat with them. This time He was not, yet. They feared death, a healthy fear. They knew they needed Jesus to save them, a good spiritual observation. Then, Jesus showed up, and fear was conquered by faith.
Faith is a Gift from God
It was not a ghost, but God who came to the twelve in the boat. This fifth sign of John points once again to Jesus doing something that only God can do; therefore, Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is Lord! Believe in Him! And they did, at least eleven of the twelve, as they brought Jesus into the boat and arrived safely at shore. Christ came into their lives once again, bringing faith in Christ with Him, and kindled it in His disciples.
Faith is a present from the Lord. Faith is primarily something God gives us to before we turn it back over to Him. Jesus will later reveal to His followers in John’s Gospel that they follow Him by the faith He first gives to them (ref. John 15:16). Paul wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8). Peter wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. 2 Peter 1:1). James wrote that faith and every other good gift comes from God (ref. James 1:17). These are impeccable witnesses, so the case should be closed concerning the origin of faith.
Faith is the presence of the Lord. God is real, whether one believes in Him or not. But faith makes Jesus personal, in the boat, in your life. Faith is a humble, sometimes desperate, yielding control of your boat and your life to the Lord. The disciples obviously remembered this day when Christ came into the boat, as every Christian should remember the day Christ came into our lives, by grace through faith, took control, and conquered our fear of death.
Faith is the promise of the Lord. Faith is the gift that keeps on giving, through the inspired and enduring word of God (ref. Psalm 19, 119, Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:16; etc.) God gives the gift of faith through the gift of His word, when we receive it, hear it, believe it, obey it. It was a word from Jesus, God incarnate, that inspired the disciples’ faith, calmed their fears, and brought them safely to shore.
Only One Gift Will Endure Forever
With a final word, Jesus conquered their fears with faith. “It is I; do not be afraid” (vs. 20). God gave the disciples a reason to fear by sending them to the sea. He gave them the faith to overcome their fears with His word and His presence. Faith endured after fear was gone.
In the original language, that phrase is only four words. A literal rendering is, “I Am, no fear.” Jesus Christ is Lord (the purpose of the seven signs and the seven “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John is to demonstrate the deity and saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ). If you have faith in Him, in His person and work, then the day will come when you will have absolutely no fear, no fear of heights, no fear of snakes, no fear of speaking, no fear of death.
In every epoch of biblical history, God has come to His people in fear and given them faith. To Israel, Moses, and Joshua, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Genesis 46:3, Exodus 20:20, and Joshua 11:6). To Elijah, Nehemiah, and King David, God replaced fear with faith (ref. 2 Kings 1:15, Nehemiah 4:14, and Psalm 56:4,11). To Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Isaiah 44:8, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 3:9, and Daniel 10:12,19). To Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, and Acts 18:9; Revelation 1:17.). To the disciples on that boat on that night, God replaced fear with faith in Himself and His word (vs. 19-20).
In every case and to every person God says, “I Am, no fear.” If you repent, believe, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, the great I Am, God incarnate, the feeder of five thousand, the walker on the water, the Savior of the world; then, you have faith. And if you have faith, you really have nothing to fear, not the coronavirus, not death, not even fear itself.
FAST FOOD FOR FIVE THOUSAND
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 3, 2020
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
— John 6:1-15, ESV
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John gives us the fourth and fifth of seven signs and the first of seven “I Am” statements made by the Lord Jesus Christ. Along with the rest of the dialogue, they travel upon a mountain road that takes Jesus to the peak of His popularity then down to the bottom where He is abandoned by everyone but the twelve (and one of them is a traitor). We begin with the miracle known as the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle of Jesus reported in all four Gospels.
On the Road with Jesus
The setting for this great miracle is the second Passover season sprinkled into the Gospel of John. The next one would be Jesus’ last, so we have about a year left to go in the greatest story ever told. If Jesus came to be popular, which He most certainly did not, this day would have made His ministry complete.
Most of Jesus’ miracles were offered in Galilee, so by now a large number of Galileans were interested in Him. It was time for the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, which all God-fearing males and their families were supposed to attend, which also helps explain the unusually large crowd. The story records five-thousand men, which means the added women and children would push the count to approximately twenty-thousand souls.
Why were so many people on the road with Jesus? At the beginning it was because Christ was offering free health care, “They saw the signs that He was doing on the sick” (vs. 2). At the end, it was because Jesus was giving away free food, “They had eaten their fill” (vs. 12). People tend to want a Savior who can give them money, or save them money by giving them other things for free. A big crowd of Americans look at government that way, now. A big crowd of Galileans looked at Jesus that way, then. But of course, nothing is free, not even pardon for sin. Someone has to pay.
Most of those on the road with Jesus were using Jesus to get what they wanted, not following Jesus to see what He wanted. They would make marvelous modern Christians. However, there were a few old school souls in the crowd. These Jesus took into His classroom.
In the Classroom with Jesus
When it became clear to Jesus that the crowd was following Him for what they could get and not what they could give, the Lord actually acquiesced. He decided to feed them all by providing them with a free lunch.
The Lord knew what He was going to do and how He was going to do it, but He wanted to teach a lesson to His disciples in the process. Class was called into session. One question was asked: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (vs. 5). Three students participate in the discussion: Philip (vs. 5), Andrew (vs. 8), and an unnamed boy (vs. 9).
The question went to Philip first, since they were near the fishing village of Bethsaida, Philip’s home town. We can’t give Philip a failing grade, for Philip was a faithful disciple. I suppose we could give him is a “D” for doubting. He was a pessimist. He did not think two-thirds of a person’s annual salary could feed a crowd that size. He obviously didn’t think Jesus could do it, either.
Then Andrew raised his hand. He had found this little guy with a little lunch of two fish and five bites of bread. Andrew is always bringing people to Jesus, bless his heart. We’ll give him a “B” for bringing. But Andrew was pessimistic, too, and thought the lad’s lunch was not enough for Jesus to work with to feed all these people.
The boy is not quoted. All we know is that he gave Jesus his lunch, which is no small thing for a small boy to do. It was all he had. Jesus, a person the boy had probably not met heretofore, standing over the boy with twelve strange men, wanted the boy’s sack lunch. The boy gave Jesus all he had. That get’s an “A” in God’s classroom every time.
Christians live constantly in the classroom of Jesus Christ. The Lord is always testing us to strengthen our faith. We should not be pessimistic, like Philip and Andrew. We should not be divas and name it and claim it, either, like the word of faith heretics. Every time we are tested we should simply look to the Lord and say, “All I have is Yours, take it and do what You will.” That’s what the boy did, he gave, and I think at the end of the day he ate more than he brought.
At Lunch with Jesus
My favorite class in school was lunch. I only wish when you got those little bitty servings of food, that Jesus would have been there in person to make the portions bigger. On this day described by John, Jesus made fast food for five thousand, plus. Everyone had plenty, and there were even leftovers to spare. It tasted good, too, how could it not?
Jesus made the food, miraculously. This was not a magic trick, for there was no stage, no props. This was not a psychological trick, where everyone got a minuscule pinch and were manipulated into thinking it was enough. This was not a ministry trick; besides, I’ve never seen the televangelists even try this one. This was a bonafide miracle, organic in nature, with multiple witnesses, for “the people saw the sign He had done” (vs. 14).
Jesus made the food, transformatively. Unlike original creation, this was not done “ex nihilo,” or out of nothing. Since that big bang, God takes what He has made and transforms it into some better. He transforms things, especially people who surrender their all to Him. He turns a small lunch into great feast, water into wine, crumbs into bread, and yes, sinners into saints.
Jesus made the food, personally. In the first miracle in John’s Gospel, Jesus made wine. In this miracle, the emphasis (as the ensuing context proves) is on the bread. Bread and wine. Jesus was giving the people Himself, the bread of life, the wine of forgiveness. Sadly, the hungry crowd did not seem to notice the parable in the miracle.
In Church with Jesus
We’ve walked down the road with Jesus, He’s taken us to school, and the served us lunch. Now it is time to go to church, for the Gospels and the gospel are for the church, to edify and evangelize. So what does this sign say to the church, and through the church to the whole wide world?
Jesus is good. He feeds the hungry. He cares for the poor. He gives common grace to all of mankind made in His image. People do bad things to one another. There is a personal devil and demons who perpetrate bad things upon people. Jesus did only good. But He is more than good.
Jesus is God. Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something He has made and transform it into something better. Only God can take sinners, and transform them into saints. This most notable miracle cannot be performed by big government, by big haired TV evangelist, or by some big con. This could only be done by the hands of a big God, for Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God.
Jesus is King, but not the kind of king most people want. Most people, then and now, will take a prophet like Moses, as long as he gives them water from rocks and bread from heaven that they don’t have to work for. Most people, then and now, will take a king like David who will fight all their battles for them so they do not have to risk life and limb. Most people, then and now, want a God like Santa Claus, to grant their wishes and give them their best life now. Jesus is not that kind of king.
Jesus is the kind of King that cares about our empty stomachs, but He cares more about our eternal souls. So He performs this miracle, the fourth sign, and all signs point to Heaven. They lead to a road to walk on with Jesus, a classroom to learn from Jesus, and lunchroom to be cared for by Jesus, and a place before the throne to bow the head and bend the knee before King Jesus, Lord of all. For if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
MORE ABOUT JESUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 26, 2020
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
— John 5:30-47, ESV
Why did you gather with the church today? Did you pick a place to make you feel good, or feel good about yourself? Or, do you assemble with the body of Christ to learn more about Christ? Why are you here?
Why do you read your Bible? Are you looking for secret answers to financial success, or some special knowledge to make you superior to others? Or, do you search the Scriptures to see more about the Savior?
I could ask similar questions about any number of spiritual disciplines practiced by people who call themselves Christians. These are important things done for important reasons. But they are only right in God’s sight when done for the right reasons. So, why do you do attend church services, read the Bible, pray, and other such things? The great hymn writer Eliza Hewitt said it simply and best:
More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of his saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.
We come to worship to experience “more about Jesus.” We study the Bible to learn “more about Jesus.” We should order every aspect of our lives so that they are “more about Jesus.” To help us in this pursuit comes this grand text in the Gospel of John that teaches us “more about Jesus.”
More About Jesus’ Motives
Why did Jesus do the things that Jesus did?
More important that a person’s hands is a person’s heart. The hands won’t work if the heart won’t beat. And it is a person’s heart that gives the motives for the things the hands do.
Jesus, with the heart and hands of God, did many things. He preached many sermons, healed many people, even raised a few from the dead. But why did Jesus do the things that He did? The text reveals at least two reasons.
Jesus was captivated by God’s will. His earthy life and ministry was dictated by “not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (vs. 30). Remember that Jesus is fully God and fully man, Son of God and Son of Man. As a man He was poor and not rich, castigated and not championed, executed in an early death rather than living a long, rich, prosperous life.
So much for His best life now. The humanity in Jesus surrendered to the deity of Jesus in order to accomplish the overall plan of Almighty God. Why such surrender?
Jesus was concerned about saving souls. Everything Christ did was “so that you may be saved” (vs. 34). Jesus was motivated by eternity. So, He spent His earthly life to redeem God’s people, so that we can have eternal life by grace alone through faith alone in the atoning work of Christ alone.
One always leads to another. You show me a father or mother, a pastor or a church member, or anyone who is totally dedicated to the will of God, and they will bring a harvest of souls in their wake. Jesus only left a hundred or so you could count, but there were thousands of others influenced who eventually came to Christ, and millions perhaps billions more since He first came to earth.
When Jesus comes again, the only ones to benefit will be those who did God’s will and those who are saved, which defines both the Christ and the Christian. Think about it, and make your life more about Jesus.
More About Jesus’ Witnesses
What did others say about Jesus?
You’ve heard of the false cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so let’s take a look at the true testimony of Jesus’ witnesses. This passage tells us more about Jesus from the mouth of four witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist testifies about Jesus. “You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth” (vs. 33). John the Baptist preached on the deity and eternality of Jesus Christ, the one who was born after him but came before him. John the Baptist preached on the humanity and atoning work of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. John the Baptist preached on the necessity of repentance toward and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was a good witness for Jesus Christ!
Miracles testify about Jesus. “The very works I am doing bear witness about Me” (vs. 36). Jesus did not do miracles to show off, to raise funds for an airplane, or any other of the false reasons the false prophets used today. Jesus did real miracles, things that only God can do, to testify to the fact that He was, is, and always will be God. They gained attention for the gospel message, God testifying about God.
The Father testifies about the Son. “The Father who sent Me has Himself bore witness about Me” (vs. 36). Speaking of God testifying about God, the Father spoke on several occasions concerning the Son. The Son spoke on every occasion with the authority of the Father. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit speaks constantly to draw people to the Father through the Son. God is always testifying about God.
The Scriptures testify about Jesus. “You search the Scriptures …, and it is they that bear witness about Me” (vs. 39). Get baptized and get involved in your church. Understand that your very salvation is a work of God, a miracle of grace. Dedicate yourself to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Then, get into the word of God, the Scriptures. You will know more and more about Jesus. You will be more like Jesus, in ways that will bless you and try you.
More About Jesus’ Enemies
If Jesus is so good, and He is, and if Jesus has such excellent witnesses to testify on His behalf, and He does, then why in the world would Jesus have any enemies? The world, the flesh, and the devil are always hostile to the King of kings and the kingdom of God, and never more so when all three are combined in false religion.
This is an otherwise positive text in John’s Gospel that has a negative context. Jesus’ original audience for these saying were “The Jews [who] were seeking to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (ref. 5:18). By the time of John’s writing, the late first century, Jerusalem had been sacked, the Temple burned down, and the religious ruler Pharisees had scattered to the wind. John simply refers to them as “the Jews,” meaning the religious hypocrites who set themselves up in opposition to the Son of God. It was, and is, easy to spot them.
Enemies of God “do not have the love of God within” (vs. 42). They may appear to love God and the things of God outwardly, but within they only have love for themselves and the things they can use religion to gain, like money and power. Their messages are always more about them, sometimes more about you, but never more about the sound doctrines of Jesus Christ.
Enemies of God distribute and promote false teaching, and false teachers flock together. “If another comes in his own name, you will receive him” (vs. 43) and “you receive glory from one another” (vs. 44). I’ve watched enough religious television, for research purposes of course, to notice how many times the televangelists refer to one another and one another’s false “word of faith” doctrines. The more you learn about Jesus, the more you are able to recognize these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Enemies of God do not believe in God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. “You do not believe,” (vs. 47) is their bottom line. If one does not believe in the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, if one does not believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, if one refuses to accept these truths from the inspired and authoritative word of God, then one does not believe in God.
Jesus famously said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30). He has had enemies ever since. Actually, we were all once His enemy, until God revealed to us more about Jesus. Now, more about Jesus is what our lives are all about.
More About Jesus
This text raises a lot of questions and provides some good answers. But there is more about Jesus, in John’s Gospel, in the New Testament, in the entirety of the word of God. All of the Bible bears witness about Jesus, more and more about Jesus.
More about Jesus let me learn,
More of his holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.
More about Jesus in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing his voice in ev'ry line,
Making each faithful saying mine.
More about Jesus on his throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More if His kingdom's sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of peace.
THREE REVELATIONS ABOUT RESURRECTION
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 19, 2020
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
— John 5:19-29, ESV
We are living in a current climate of fear because of the coronavirus pandemic. People fear leaving their home. People fear getting sick. People fear dying. Such fear is rational and even healthy for the most part for most people. But Christians are not most people, and one thing Christians should never fear is death.
Jesus Christ was clearly not afraid of death. As a matter of fact, He courted in at least a couple of ways: He performed miracles on the Sabbath to madden the Pharisees; and, He declared openly that He is the only begotten, the unique, the one-of-a-kind, Son of God and therefore, “equal with God” (ref. 5:18).
As we move forward in the Gospel of John, Jesus defies death by doubling down on His declaration of deity. In doing so, the Lord reveals the key reason why He does not fear death. It is because He, being God, has the power to raise the dead. Only God has this power, the power of resurrection.
The first revelation in this text is that since Jesus Christ has the power of resurrection, the Son of God is God. Secondly, it reveals that resurrection, to be beneficial, must be spiritual before it is physical. Thirdly, it reveals there will be a day when all of mankind is resurrected before the God who created us, and this will be “good” for some and terribly “evil” for others. So, we need to take a good look at these three revelations about resurrection.
A Revelation About God, Who Has the Power of Resurrection
The first amen (ESV “Truly, truly;” KJV “Verily, verily;” Greek “Amen, amen”) Christ gives in this sermon is a partial take on the tri-unity of God, or the Trinity. There is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity includes the glorious unity between God the Father and God the Son.
A normal father-son relationship in the first century would have been based on love, vocation, and authority. A father who loved his son would find such love reciprocated. A father who worked as a baker, or carpenter, or fisherman, or tax collector, etc., would diligently train his son to perfect the same work. When the father had fully trained the son, the son would become a partner and given a signet ring or some other symbol of authority which matched the father’s, so that the person and work of the father and son would virtually be one.
Though the parallels are plain, God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are not a normal father and son. They are the supreme Father and Son. There is a supreme love between them, the Son was a supreme learner as He grew from virgin-born baby to Suffering Servant (ref. Luke 2:52; John 15:15; Hebrews 5:8), and in their unity they wield the same supreme authority over death.
Only God can raise the dead. The Father does it. The Son does it. Therefore, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is God. Of course, all other religions besides biblical Christianity deny this, as do the cultic versions of Christianity like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But believing this revelation, that the Son has power over resurrection because He was, is, and always will be God, is necessary for salvation. For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord (God) will be saved (ref. Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13).
If Jesus is not God, He cannot save; but, He is and He does; therefore, He demands and deserves to be heard. For hearing can lead to saving, and salvation is a resurrection.
A Revelation About Salvation, Which is a Resurrection
The second amen speaks of the resurrection of salvation. The formula is quite clear. Whenever someone effectually hears the word of God and the gospel, and truly believes in God’s revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, he or she has “passed from death into life.” In other words, they have been resurrected.
Salvation by resurrection is necessary because all of mankind is dead, spiritually, before God (ref. Genesis 2:17; Ephesians 2:1), and dead men have no desires and make no decisions. A drowned man cannot save himself from drowning. A man without a heart cannot reach out and grab a new one to implant into his chest. A lost man cannot catch the Spirit of God and breath Him into his soul. You and I are dead to God, until God resurrects us.
Salvation by resurrection begins when one “hears my word” and “believes.” Paul said it this way in Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ref. Romans 10:17). The gospel goes out over a valley of dry bones (ref. Ezekiel 37), but when God is pleased to save someone, the hearing of the gospel is carried by the Holy Spirit to the hearer who repents and believes and is born again, resurrected “from death to life.”
Salvation by resurrection is not a matter of free will, but God’s will (ref. vs. 21). Dead men don’t have free will. But men and women and boys and girls resurrected by the free grace of God have freely and willingly believe in God with all their resurrected heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Salvation is not a decision. It is not a transaction. It is not payment for services rendered. It is a resurrection. It is an absolute miracle of God. And it is given by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
And, at the end of days, every person will have to stand, alone, before God.
A Revelation About Judgment, the Final Resurrection
The last “amen” describes the last amen.
While only a chosen few receive the resurrection of salvation, all of mankind will eventually experience a final resurrection at the end of the world, or Judgment Day. Everyone who has ever lived will die, with the exceptions of Enoch, Elijah, and all who are living at the second coming of Christ. Virtually everyone who has lived will die, then everyone who has died will live. We will all be resurrected and reunited with our bodies when the final trumpet finally sounds, and we will all stand before God, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon His throne of judgment.
Then, two great resurrections will take place. There will be the Judgment Seat of Christ (ref. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the “good” according to Jesus will be ushered into a new heaven and earth. Then, there will be the Great White Throne of Judgment (ref. Revelation 20:11), which consigns the “evil” to Hell. Common thinking would make Hell almost obsolete, since the common man considers himself to commonly “good” and not “evil.” But the two terms bear a closer look.
“Good,” in the Greek text, is “Agatha” (which transliterated makes for a lovely, old-fashioned name for a girl). It literally describes one who has benefited and is a benefit to others. Those who have received the grace of God are gracious. Those who have faith in God, live and share faith. Those who genuinely follow the Lord Jesus Christ, are clearly the “good” people referenced here by Christ Himself.
“Evil,” in the Greek text, is “Phaula” (which transliterated is almost, but not the same, as another lovely, old-fashioned name for a girl). It is a word much broader than the limited, contemporary meaning of someone who is bad to the extreme, like a pedophile or a serial killer or an Adolph Hitler. “Evil” in Jesus’ day referred to anyone or anything fatally flawed, unacceptable to God, or worthless, which aptly describes depraved, unbelieving, human beings who fill their lives with temporary things which will be worth nothing in eternity. Their Bibles are unopened, their prayers are unspoken, and their hearts are unbelieving; therefore, they will be banished from God in “the resurrection of judgment.”
Amen, amen, verily, verily, truly, truly, this is the way this world is going to end. Jesus Christ has come once and lived, loved, died and rose again. Believers in Jesus Christ have been born again, risen from spiritual death, and given eternal life. All people will be raised to face the returning Christ at His second coming, and the majority of humanity will be banished from God and from Heaven forever.
I do not know if we are living in the end time or not. I do know we are living in a most unusual time. We are confronted with death, the number of dead people due to the coronavirus, every day. We should take precautions. We should search for a cure. But, we should not be afraid of death.
Consider the cure of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Repent, believe, and follow the Lord, which is the only cure for death. Jesus was not afraid of death. Trust Him, and you will never have to fear death yourself.
A TALE OF TWO CROWDS (REVISITED)
Matthew 21, 27
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 5, 2020
8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
— Matthew 21:8-9, ESV
20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
— Matthew 27:20-23, ESV
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
— Matthew 27:46, ESV
I approach Holy Week with two books in my hands, the good book and a good book. The good book, of course, is the Holy Bible, especially the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life. A good book, which is an understatement for one of the finest novels every written, is A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.
To understand how one is illustrated by the other, you’d have to look at two crowds’ reaction Jesus Christ, one on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21) and the other on Good Friday (Matthew 27). Then, turn to the opening words of Dickens’ novel:
It was the best of times, It was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
The two crowds which surrounded Jesus during the original holy week were not one and the same, as many sermons suggest. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was heralded by an influx of Galilean pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. On Maundy Thursday at twilight, they would share the seder, then pack up early Friday morning and return home. Most of them would not learn of Jesus’ arrest, trials, and crucifixion until much later.
The only crowd left standing on Good Friday was composed of religious zealots stirred up by the hypocritical leaders who had long opposed the Lord Jesus Christ. Their conspiracy was complete, the Roman governor complicit, and at their voices and hands Christ would be crucified. They would not learn until the third day that their plan did not work.
I have shared this scenario of a tale of two crowds at many Holy Week services over the years. This year I want to revisit the theme and share some thoughts, old and new. Crowds, whether cheering or cruel, are usually wrong. Jesus Christ is always right, and the only one who can give us a right standing with God.
The Crowd on Palm Sunday
It was the best of times on Palm Sunday, or so it seemed. A million or so were said to be streaming into the city of Jerusalem. Many of them were from the farming and fishing villages of Galilee. They typically camped out northeast of the city on the Mount of Olives. That’s where Jesus stayed with His disciples.
When the Son of God gave the go to enter the city, a big crowd formed around Him. They gave, the very shirts off their backs, to Jesus, and giving to Jesus is always a good thing. They praised the Lord with loud hosannas, and praising Jesus is always a good thing. They professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and professing faith in Jesus is always a good thing. All of these things are always good things, unless like most good things, they come to an end.
Now as the dark gathers into the sky,
And legions of might go thundering by;
Regions of light grow dim and then die,
And we with our wings wait for morning to fly.
— Jackson Browne
As the week wore on the excitement did not last. Arguments ensued between the Messiah and the men at the top of the religious Jewish pyramid. The scene grew tense as Roman soldiers appeared everywhere to enforce the Pax Romana. Popular opinion turned against Jesus and by Friday, this crowd was gone.
Andrea and I watched Spartacus on the night Kirk Douglas died. The ending is painful and dramatic as Spartacus’ wife and child are ushered safely out of Rome, while the man who made them free is dying on, of all things, a cross. The best of times ended for the Palm Sunday crowd when they snuck out of the city on Good Friday morning, just as three crosses were being raised outside the city gates.
The Crowd on Good Friday
It was the worst of times to be involved with the crowd that gathered on Good Friday. The rural Galileans were gone and the religious Jerusalem Jews remained, as did the Roman soldiers and Imperial governor, Pontius Pilate. They would have their way with Jesus.
They made a bad bargain, setting free Barabbas instead of Jesus. The world will always choose the sinful and scandalous over the godly and God. They displayed bad faith, obeying the religious rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees rather than the grace and mercy of God. They created bad blood, for themselves, when they ordered Christ’s crucifixion then boasted, “His blood be on us.”
There is no excuse whatsoever for the antisemitism that has existed in this world for centuries. Shame on the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews for four hundred years. Shame on General Titus and the Roman soldiers who destroyed the city and Jerusalem and massacred their citizens in AD 70. Shame on Adolf Hitler and the Nazis of Germany for the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. But shame on the Jewish people for what they did to Jesus on this day, this worst of times, that we ironically call Good Friday.
This is how I spend my days,
I came to bury, not to raise;
I'll drink my fill and sleep alone,
I play in blood, but not my own.
— Bob Dylan
No Crowd at the Cross
When the crowds were gone, save the small group at His feet and the two thieves on His right and left, Jesus uttered seven last sayings from the cross. The one that is the most lonesome is the fourth.
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani.”
A cross holds only one. On one cross, Jesus died. When Jesus died, He died alone, no crowd was with Him. He was forsaken by His disciples, though the Apostle John was near. He was forsaken by His family, though mother Mary was near. He was forsaken by the Heavenly Father, though paradoxically God is always near. But God the Father did forsake God the Son, pointedly parting the precept of omnipresence in order to make propitiation for the sin and salvation of God’s people.
Our sin is paid by Christ. Christ’s death opens the curtain to our salvation. One Savior saves one person at a time. No crowd is required.
The final words for us are to flee from the crowds for the one true Savior. Flee from the crowds of the megachurch which offers non-biblical excitement instead of biblical doctrine and worship. Flee from the crowds of self-righteous and Pelagian religions who think the cross is superfluous for good people saved by good works. Flee the crowds and go to the one, the one true person at the one true place where wrath and mercy meet, and by grace alone be saved through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died, alone, for you.
It was the worst of times for Jesus. It can be the best of times for you. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept the reward and rest that only He can give. Think of Jesus on the cross, then consider the final words of Dickens’ hero Sydney Carton, who quoted John 11:25 and then said this to close the book:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done;
it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
A MIRACLE PARABLE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 15, 2020
1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
— John 5:1-18, ESV
John’s Gospel contains no parables, but it does record seven significant miracles. Every miracle is a parable. In this one, the third of seven, sickness and disability represents sin and depravity, while the healing is a sign of salvation.
This is not to say that every case of sickness is caused by a sick person’s sin. But it is true that we are all sinners. As surely as sick people long to be healed, all people should long to be saved from the penalty, power, and ultimately the presence of sin.
Jesus performed miracles of healing to point people to the greatest miracle of all, salvation. The miracles were given by the grace of God, promoting faith in God, pointing people to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We should all long to hear Jesus say to us, spiritually and eternally, “See, you are well!”
He is simply called “the sick man” among “a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” He was at least one and perhaps all three. His condition had persisted for 38 years, most if not all of his life. He was sick and tired of being sick and tired, as noted by his pessimistic tone. He had no idea that this would be the day of his salvation, physically speaking and perhaps more, from his problems.
I’ve stood beside this very pool in Jerusalem. It is called St. Anne’s Pool today. It is normally dry, revealing a deep hole from which an underground spring occasionally pours in warm, salty water. In Jesus’ day there was a superstition that this water was brought by an angel. Verse 4 is omitted from most translations, but not verse 7.
The man sought healing through superstition, but superstition did not save him. It is not true, of course, but some thought the angel’s water would heal the first one in the pool. Superstitions can provoke powerful psychological responses. Cripples have cast away crutches at so-called healing services, due to adrenaline from the pentecostal preacher’s fevered pitch, eventually to find their condition worse than it was before. Many a soul has been allegedly saved during a so-called altar call, only to plunge even deeper into a life of sin after the singing stops. Superstitions can created a temporary balm, but they are not a sure source of genuine healing.
The man sought healing through science, but science did not save him. Take superstition out of the equation and consider the benefits of hot, spring water (as our own town of Hot Springs can attest, as well as Warm Springs in my native Georgia). Such water can ease one’s pain, but it cannot cure the cause of pain and suffering, especially in this man’s case. There was no medicine, no surgical procedure, no scientific discovery available in his day to cure his sickness, so science could not save him. Science is wonderful, but it is not needed to prove the existence of God and should never be allowed to take the place of God.
The man sought healing through religion, but religion did not save him. Religion reeks through this entire episode. He was a Jewish man, in the capital of the Jewish people, at one of the three main festivals of the Jewish year, on the most holy day of the Jewish week. In spite of his invalid condition, he found a way to keep the Jewish religion and all its pertaining rituals, yet no religious prayer or person had been able to save him for 38 years. Religion is the road many people take to try to get to Heaven, but it always ends on a dead end street.
As to this man’s physical condition, which is parabolic of his spiritual condition, this man was doomed to be a cripple for all of his life and there was nothing that superstition nor science nor religion could do about it. Then, he met Jesus.
Note that the sick man’s deliverance from sickness did not come about because he was searching for Jesus. He couldn’t even walk. He was not healed because he sowed a seed of a hundred dollars or more into Jesus’ television ministry, as there was no religious television back then (and how we wish there were none now). His miracle was not the result of anything he had said, done, or accomplished for God. He was saved, physically, only because of what God did for him.
God gave the sick man grace. Grace is undeserved favor; therefore, no one deserves the grace of God. Yet God gives grace, to some, not all. Grace is not a guarantee for all, but a gift for some. Jesus chose to come to this sick man, passing by a multitude of others in the same condition. Why God chooses to give grace to some and pass by others is a mystery known only to God. And the truth still stands, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13). But it is also the God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (ref. Romans 9:18). This sick man found grace in the eyes of Jesus, which led him to faith.
God gave the sick man His word, which inspired faith and repentance. Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Faith is taking God at His word and acting in complete trust and obedience. Repentance is turning away from sin and giving God control of your life. The sick man obeyed Jesus and got up and walked. On the same day Christ commanded him, “Sin no more,” and we are left to hope the man’s repentance was as sincere as his faith. So the sick man was saved, so to speak, by faith, and saving faith is the product, not the prompter, of saving grace.
God gave the sick man His Son, in more ways that one. It was Jesus, God incarnate, who came to the sick man, gave the sick man grace, and enabled the sick man to have faith and repentance. It was not superstition nor science nor religion that saved him. Jesus saved him.
In doing so, as the end of the miracle parable tells us, Jesus laid down His life. His power to perform miracles was a direct claim to the Father’s work, to equality with God. Doing them on the Sabbath violated the extra-biblical and extortionist rules of the Pharisees. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Jesus knew what He was doing, He knew when He was doing it, and He knew why He did it. It was to ignite and acquiesce to the very conspiracy that would cast Him upon the cross, where He willingly gave His life to all would be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is above superstition. Buying a Roman Catholic indulgence nor walking the aisle of a Baptist church cannot save someone’s soul. The gospel of Jesus Christ is greater than science, which can make a person live longer, but not forever. The gospel of Jesus Christ is infinitely more satisfying than religion. It is relationship that matters, being rightly related through the covenant of grace to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who alone can save.
Jesus saves when God’s grace is shed on thee, granting faith and repentance. When Jesus saves, a spiritually dibbled person will rise up, walk with God, and follow the Lord. This is a miracle, as understood though this parable. It is a miracle parable of salvation, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
WINE, A MAN, AND A WORD FROM GOD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 1, 2020
43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
— John 4:43-54, ESV
The first time Christ came to Cana in Galilee it was all about wine, women, and song. He turned plain water into fine wine. A woman, His mother, Mary, asked Him to do it. When He did, the headwaiter sang its praises as the wedding celebration continued. In John’s Gospel, this is the first of seven specific “signs” pointing to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Cana posts the second “sign,” too. It seems the legend of the wine provoked a request from a man this time, a father from Capernaum. He has walked over twenty miles and climbed a high mountain to reach the Lord. He has lost his song because he is losing his son to some terrible sickness. Jesus does not make more wine, nor offer him a song, but gives him something infinitely more valuable. Jesus Christ gives him His word, and His word is the word of God.
The word of God comes to those who honor the Lord Jesus Christ
The citizens of Cana welcomed Jesus but they did not honor Him. Jesus had the same problem in His hometown of Nazareth, almost adjacent to Cana, where they would also welcomed Him before trying to throw Him down a cliff. Chaucer famously wrote, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and this was true even of the Messiah, especially where He grew from childhood to manhood.
Jesus eventually set up His earthly ministry headquarters twenty-two miles away from His home town in the fishing village of Capernaum. Here we may have a clue as to why. John’s second “sign,” and one of the earliest miracles Jesus performed, was for a son of Capernaum, whose father gave Jesus the honor He is due.
The unnamed man was an “official,” a word which stands for a king or a member of the king’s court. He would have been a member of the ruling class of mostly Gentiles, who lorded themselves over the Jews in Palestine. He was a man of means and power, way above the Jewish peasants of Galilee. He was honored wherever he went, but now he bows before a Jewish carpenter’s son, and in his own way honors Jesus as God, because he asks Jesus to do something only God could do.
Until a man humbles himself before the Lord, he will never get a word from the Lord. This man from Capernaum did, and did.
The word of God comes to those who ask the Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus said, also at a point early in His ministry, “Ask, and it will be given to you …” (ref. Matthew 7:7ff). His half-brother, James, would later write, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (ref. James 4:2). This man asked, and it was a big ask. He asked God to do something only God could do, namely heal his sick and dying son.
God’s grace saves, granting eternal life to those who were dead in their sins. How can a dead man ask for favor from God? It is he first impulse of faith, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32)! God is sovereign, yet salvation is for those who ask.
God’s providence provides for us in so many ways, for as Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (ref. Matthew 6:8). But as soon as Jesus said this, He turned right around and taught us to pray, to ask God for things, with the right words and the right spirit.
This official from Capernaum asked. Had he not, God’s sovereignty notwithstanding, he would not have gotten a word from God and his son would have never been healed. Until a man asks something from God, he will never receive anything from God. So, honor God, by asking God, and then will come the hardest part. You have to trust God.
The word of God comes to those who trust the Lord Jesus Christ
The man asked Jesus to “come,” but Jesus told the man to “Go.”
My youngest daughter, Courtney Grace, was only 11 when she came home from space camp with a what seemed to be a cold, maybe the flu. We took her to our family physician, Dr. Bennett, who ordered a chest x-ray, then a helicopter flight to the nearest major medical center. At first I thought it was a bit much for a cold or flu, but I trusted the word of our doctor. By the time we arrived, one of her lungs had collapsed and the other was in danger of collapsing. She spent ten days in the hospital with a tube in her chest. I trusted the good doctor. I trusted the Great Physician. She lived.
Jesus did not go to Capernaum with the man. Jesus did not send a helicopter to fetch his son. Jesus simply gave the man His word, “Your son will live.” What did the man do? “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke.”
There is that word again in John’s Gospel, “believe.” Once again it is a verb, once again in the active tense. It means to trust and obey, constantly, as if your life, or your child’s life, depends upon it.
This was not an easy thing for this man to do. Trusting and obeying God seldom is easy. This man could not make the eight or nine hour trip back home that day. He had to wait until the next day to see if his son was alive. He had trusted Jesus to heal him. Jesus gave him His word He would. And of course, He did.
Faith is trusting God to do what only God can do, and trusting God to do it, whatever it is, according to His will (ref. 1 John 5:14). God’s ultimate will is to save His people and bring them home to Heaven. He is going to do whatever He must do to accomplish His will. This temporary healing of the Capernaum official’s son (the young man would get sick again, eventually become an old man, and die), furthered Christ’s cause of salvation.
Sometimes we have prayed and asked God to heal, and God’s will was to take our loved one’s life into the life to come. We honor God when we ask God, we ask God to do His will, not our own, and trust that God will work out all things for ultimate good (ref. Romans 8:28ff). What matters is that we honor God, we ask God, and we trust God to do the right thing. And He will, according to His word.
The word of God saves those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
Please understand that the best part of this story is the end, not the beginning or middle. John’s second sign points not healing from sickness, but salvation from sin. This man believed twice, and was saved once, and once is all it takes.
At the end of the next to last verse, “And he himself believed.” He trusted, he surrendered, he committed, not merely his son to the Great Physician, but mainly his soul to the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The healing helped, for it was a “sign” to point him to the Messiah. It is a “sign” for you and me, too, and for all who read the Gospel of John.
The question is, do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe He was, is, and always will be God? Do you believe He is the Son of God and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Do you trust Him to save you and give you eternal life? Will you give Him your life, from now to eternity, and trust and obey Him with every person, place, and thing in your life? Only when Jesus is your Lord can Jesus be your Savior.
And, the soul you save may not just be your own.
The word of God spreads through those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
“And he himself believed, and all his household.”
Remember “E Unum Pluribus,” the Samaritan woman at the well we met in the previous text? Out of one who came to faith, many came to faith in Jesus Christ. Here she is, or he is, again. Out of his faith in Jesus, his whole household came to faith in Jesus. Salvation, especially when it spreads, is a wonderful thing.
Jesus had not even physically come to their house, yet. The Lord would take up headquarters in Capernaum. Simon Peter’s house was there. The Zebedee’s, James and his brother, John, our Gospel writer, had their fishing business there. And this royal official’s house was there, the man Christ first met in Cana of Galilee, where this second “sign” occurred.
Can you imagine the joy in that house when Jesus walked in, when their faith became sight? Can you imagine the joy in your heart when you walk into Heaven, into Jesus’ home, your home, forever?
Heaven is for those who trust and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Honor the Lord, ask the Lord, and trust the Lord. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
E UNUM PLURIBUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 23, 2020
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
— John 4:1-42, ESV
On one side of a well known well, a gentleman sits, although gentleman is not nearly a good enough word to describe His character and personality. Approaching on the other side is a lady, and calling her a lady might be a stretch. He claims to have water, but she points out He has no bucket to draw some from the well. She has come to the well to draw water, and has the tools to do it.
It is high noon, the right time for a serious showdown. What ensues is a face-off between an unusual man from Galilee and an almost invisible woman from Samaria. The water waits. Which one do you think will be quicker on the draw?
The Man from Galilee
His name is mentioned in the first verse, but put yourself in the woman’s sandals. She did not know him, had never seen him, and had no idea of what had gone on before during His public appearances in Galilee and Judea. He is just a man to her, a very unusual man.
He is a man who speaks openly to women. For reasons both proprietorial and prejudicial, men did not have conversations with women in those days. But this man broke this mold many times. He is a man who sees women and men as equals, in sinning, in salvation, and in potential service of spreading the gospel throughout the world.
He is a Jew who speaks to a Samaritan. Conversations must be conducted on a level playing field, and there was nothing equal about the normal treatment of Samaritans in first century Jewish culture. The Jews considered themselves to be the superior race on the planet, and the Samaritans were a mixed race people. Today a mixed race person can become president of the United States or MVP of the Super Bowl, but such was not the case in first century Palestine. They were looked down upon and ignored, except by this particular Jew.
So here we have an unusual Jewish man, and a man He is, indeed. He was sitting because He was exhausted. He wanted water because He was thirsty. His clothes were not glorious and white, but stained khaki by the middle eastern dust. He looked like any other ordinary man; except, this man claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the God-man.
His name you know, but not the name of the invisible woman.
The Woman from Samaria
Though she is plainly at the well with Jesus, you can hardly see her. She came to the well in the heat of the day rather than morning or evening so she would not be seen. She had a plain face, poor clothes, and no name.
She is a woman in a man’s world. The men she had known heretofore only used her for sex and maid service. Other than that she was invisible to most men, but not the unusual man. He spoke to her, kindly, directly, honestly.
She is a Samaritan in a Jewish nation. As a half-breed she had no hope of rising in class, culture, or economic prosperity. Samaritans stayed in their villages and seldom traveled far so as to not encounter full-blooded Jews or hot-blooded Romans. Now she is having a dialogue with a Jewish man about water and worship, morality and spirituality.
She is a divorcee and a cohabitating woman in a male-dominated, Jewish-dominated, traditional marriage society. She is a five-time loser in love who now clings to a man who chooses to use her but not marry her. The society of that day looked so far down on her it needed a microscope to see her. But not so for this Jewish man who met her at the well. He is different, and soon she will be, too, because more than any thing else, she is a sinner in the presence of a merciful God.
You know His name. But what is her name?
The Man’s Name is Jesus
The Gospel writer, John, mentions it in the first verse. You knew it from the first, too. But remember what that name means, God saves. Notice how, in this high noon episode that spawns three days of discipleship, Jesus saves.
God always takes the initiative in salvation. It is Jesus who comes and converses with the woman at the well, not vice versa. Jesus did not have to go through Samaria, logistically, for there was a well worn path from Judea to Galilee that Jews typically took to avoid the Samaritans. Jesus had to go through Samaria to keep a divine appointment He had made before the foundation of the world, to save a soul from sin and death, and more souls through hers.
God always takes the initiative in salvation in every case because the case is, we cannot. We are depraved, spiritually disabled and dead, incapable and unconcerned with coming to Christ (ref. John 15:16; Romans 3:10ff; Ephesians 2:1ff). Sinners are not willing to come to Christ, but thank God for His grace, Christ is willing to come to sinners.
God convicts of sin before He saves. There is no salvation without repentance, and repentance is acknowledging one’s sin and turning away from it. Jesus knew this woman’s checkered sexual history. Jesus knew the mockery she had made out of marriage and morality. Jesus knew her sins and she knew He knew her sins, yet He continued to speak to her, kindly not condescendingly, about the Spirit of living water, the confession of sin, and faith in the Messiah.
God is the Messiah without prejudice to all who are saved. Jesus revealed Himself to this woman, a Samaritan, at a juncture much earlier than His revelation to the Jews. Her profession of faith was like everything else about her, stilted, unconventional, but nevertheless sincere. She proved it at the root, and she proved it by her fruit. She was touched by God’s Spirit and became committed to God’s truth, a true follower and worshiper, all in this encounter with the man from Galilee.
Of course, His name is Jesus, but what is her name?
The Woman’s Name is E Unum Pluribus
Before she met Christ, this woman at the well could never go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. She was a nobody, and not even John mentions her given name. But Jesus gave her a new name on this new day.
She is E Unum Pluribus. Sounds funny but faintly familiar, doesn’t it? "E Pluribus Unum” was the motto of the United States from the days of the Revolutionary War until after World War II, when the official motto became “In God We Trust.” E Pluribus Unum means out of many, one. Out of many colonies, we became one country.
E Unum Pluribus means out of one, many. Out of this one, heretofore nameless but priceless soul, there came many more souls, many more Samaritans and sinners, to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One soul matters to God, and it does not matter the gender, the color, the socio-economic class. He is the lover of all souls. Hear from the late, great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Though you are one of the teeming millions in this world, and though the world would have you believe that you do not count and that you are but a speck in the mass, God says, ‘I know you.’ When God approaches you, it is because He has an interest in you. And by all means, you should have an interest in Him.”
God saves one soul at a time. His methods are not cookie-cutter, drawn from a box from the Christian book store. He comes to different people differently, always offering Himself as Savior and salvation, with the consistent demands of repentance and faith.
God knows it takes a saved soul to save other souls. In redemptive history it is almost always a parent’s conversion to Christ the leads a whole family to salvation. Sometimes it is one student who leads many other students to Christ. Once in a while it is a desperate prisoner who gives his life and life sentence to the Lord, and the gospel spreads through the cellblocks. Out of one, many.
E Unum Pluribus. Out of one, many. That’s her name. Let us make it our name as well. Who can we tell in our town, our neighborhood, our family circle? What can we tell? We can tell them about this unusual man who is the Messiah. We can ask them, like E Unum Pluribus asked her people, “Can this be the Christ?” Yes, He is. He is Jesus, the God who saves.
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 16, 2020
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
— John 3:22-36, ESV
There have been a number of professors and pastors who have greatly influenced my life. As I look back on my favorite teachers and authors, I am surprised how many of them are named Dr. John. I learned theology from Dr. John Mahoney and missions from Dr. John Floyd in seminary. The writings of Dr. John MacArthur introduced me to Reformed theology, Dr. John Stott encouraged me further, and Dr. John Piper’s books helped cement my confidence in the absolute sovereignty of God.
I even enjoy music by Dr. John, although sometimes it puts me in the right place at the wrong time, saying the right thing with the wrong line. That Dr. John actually apprenticed under a musician whose legal name was Professor Longhair; and, he actually held an honorary doctorate from Tulane University.
My favorite biblical author is Dr. John Bar Zebedee, first follower of Christ and longest living of the Apostles. We are studying the Gospel he wrote and today we come to the text which presents us with the last narrative featuring yet another Dr. John. This is the final scene involving Dr. John Ba Harim, the revered prophet who came from the hills (ref. Psalm 121:1) of Jerusalem to the valley of Qumran near the Dead Sea. Of course it is his other nickname that stuck, John the Baptist, as he preached a gospel of repentance and prepared the way for people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
At this early juncture of the ministry of Jesus, it was John the Baptist who would have been the most notable public figure in Israel. Shortly after the ministry of Jesus began, the ministry of John ended, when he was unceremoniously thrown into prison and subsequently executed by the evil Herod Antipas. Before he leaves Gospel, however, we have a lot to learn from the lips of the Baptist and the inspired pen of the Apostle, both of whom we will call Dr. John.
John the Baptist did not get his name for nothing. He was a baptizer, and if you will, the father of New Testament baptism (ref. Acts 1:22). The word baptism is a transliteration from Greek into English, literally meaning to immerse or submerge in water. It was practiced by Jews upon Gentile proselytes into Judaism, by the Essenes as a regular ritual for purity, and it became the plunge one takes among their first steps into Christianity. Dr. John was Jewish, akin to the Essenes, and the one who introduced Christ and therefore Christianity into the world.
Baptism was important to John the Baptist. It said something, a non-verbal profession of faith in God and God’s rule in one’s life. It symbolized something, namely the washing away of sins through sincere repentance and faith. And, it sealed something, as water was also associated with the Spirit’s cleansing and indwelling work in the life of a believer.
Baptism was important to Jesus. That is why Jesus Himself was baptized by John, and this text finds both Jesus and John baptizing people in the plentiful waters of the Jordan River near the Dead Sea. Jesus and His followers baptized His followers and furthermore commanded His followers to baptize new followers of Christ in the “Great Commission” (ref. Matthew 28:18-20).
Is baptism important to you? You do not have to be baptized to be saved, but if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have to be baptized. It is a proper profession of faith, it is a prerequisite for Holy Communion, and it is a powerful witness to the church and the world.
Your first Christian responsibility to Christ and His church is to be baptized. Once inside the church family, one of your main missions is to maintain the unity and integrity of the church. Be assured, Satan is trying to tear down both, and his modus operandi is an inside job.
Dr. John the Apostle, although he was Jewish, seldom uses Jew or Jews in a flattering manner. Writing as he was after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, his reference here to a dispute with a “Jew” marks this man as a religious leader who was hostile to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Christian church. His satanic strategy is to pit John the Baptist against Jesus Christ. This is an age old attempt to divide and conquer by sparking envy and competition between two camps of a common cause. Of course, this strategy failed when tried upon John the Baptist, for reasons that will follow.
This lesson on unity, however, must be heard by every member of every church today. We are not in competition with other true churches, and we should rejoice if they are bigger or growing faster than our own. We should not destructively criticize other churches just because their doctrines are different from our own, if those doctrines are based on reasonable biblical interpretation. Pointing out false doctrine and constructively criticizing poor practices is another matter altogether, for such is necessary to protect and strengthen the true church. But competition and petty criticism with other churches can only hurt our own, and it damages our overall witness to the world.
The first church I joined and the first seminary I attended were Baptist. They taught me to be Baptist, and only Baptist, and to be suspect of anyone or anything not Baptist. Thank God I outgrew such religious prejudice. Never strive to be Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Catholic. Just be a faithful Christian, “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (ref. Ephesians 4:3).
Do you want to know how John the Baptist handled the attacks against him? Do you want to know how John the Baptist summoned the strength and confidence to carry out his challenging ministry? Do you want to know what sustained John the Baptist during the difficult seasons of life and work?
John the Baptist and John the Apostle believed strongly in the absolute sovereignty of God. As an old preacher once taught me, God’s sovereignty means God can do anything He wants, anytime He wants, and involve anyone He wants. God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Here John the Baptist's classic lesson on the subject: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (ref. vs. 27).
You cannot be saved, unless God gives you the gift of salvation from above (ref. John 3:3ff). You cannot have a ministry, unless God gives you the gifts and opportunities, and gifts and opportunities differ as determined by God. You cannot received pain and suffering, apart from God’s allowable grace, and then it will ultimately be for someone’s good and God’s glory.
God is sovereign in salvation and God is sovereign in all the lesser matters of life. Learning this lesson in the Christian life will yield amazing dividends. It builds faith. It kills pride. It makes envy almost impossible. It conquers greed and lust. And, it breeds confidence for evangelism and ministry because we are not pressured to do God’s work, rather we are blessed to have God working in and through us to accomplish His will (ref. Philippians 2:13).
John the Baptist’s whole philosophy of life is captured in his last words, recorded in verse 30. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He had been sent by God to introduce the Messiah to the world, then get out of the way and let the Messiah do His thing. Of course, Jesus’ thing and John’s thing both ended in execution, which is the strongest rebuke possible to those who preach a gospel of patronizing prosperity.
Accepting God’s Son into your life and accepting God’s mission for your life requires humility. To be saved, you have to come to grips with your sinful, selfish, depraved nature, a humiliating experience, indeed. Accepting God’s mission for your life means doing God’s thing rather than your own thing, and often getting little or no notoriety for it. Christ comes first, the needs of others are more important than your own, then grasp whatever simple pleasures the Lord reserves for you. Jesus first, others second, yourself last spells joy, but it joy imitated from humility, for which there will be a great reward.
A century ago a career missionary named Teddy was returning home on steamship after a life’s work of evangelizing and planting churches. It was good work, but no one had really noticed back in America. He was surprised to see a huge banner on the dock with the message, “Welcome Home Teddy!” Just as he was about to feel appreciated and recognized for his work, it was announced that President Theodore Roosevelt had been secretly on board the ship and was about to debark. That’s when the Holy Spirit told the humble servant, “You are not home, yet.”
Dr. John the Baptist’s practical theology (vs. 22-30) now gives way to Dr. John the Apostle’s systematic theology (vs. 31-36). As is the Gospel writer’s custom, he takes the practical and makes it theological, moving us from a fascinating story to spiritual depth. The whole foundation for the elder John’s water baptism, striving for unity, submission to sovereignty, and personal humility is the person and work of God in Christ, who came to bring God’s salvation to humankind.
To say that Jesus “comes from above and is above all” and “He who comes from heaven” means the Lord Jesus Christ is from God and He is God (ref. John 1:1). The Apostle will go on to provide a direct quotation from Jesus to this effect, “I and the Father are one” (ref. John 10:30). John’s Gospel makes the best case in the Bible for the deity of Jesus Christ.
This Dr. John also makes a case for the Trinity. He explains that God the Father has sent God the Son who sends God the Spirit, “without measure,” to accomplish the ministry of salvation. This moves the lesson from Christology to Soteriology, from “Jesus is Lord!” to “Jesus Saves!”
What was the ministry of Dr. John the Baptist all about? It was about pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ. What does Dr. John the Apostle say the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about? It is about salvation, the rescue from wrath, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life. So who can be saved?
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” As he did in 3:16, Dr. John the Apostle circles back to belief, the active, ongoing trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, His atonement for sin, and His lordship over all of life. That is what belief really is, deep and abiding, as confirmed in the next sentence.
“Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” These are key words and strong words. Note that Dr. John equates “belief” with “obey.” To believe is to obey, and to not obey is to not truly believe. This is a lesson lost on the modern church, but strongly supported by Dr. John and Dr. John MacArthur, who wrote in The Gospel According to Jesus, “Obedience is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ.”
So thank you, Dr. John, all of you, who have spoken the right things with the right lines. And if you want to be in the right place at the right time, trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Be baptized, stay unified, accept God’s sovereignty with humility, and live and preach the message of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org