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said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!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!
THE GIFT OF SALVATION
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 9, 2020
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
— John 3:16-21, ESV
O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful story of gift-giving love. It is about a young couple named James and Della who, like so many young married couples, are struggling financially. Christmas is coming and neither has the money to buy the other a gift. James’ most precious possession is a pocket watch he inherited from his father, which he secretly sells in order to buy an expensive set of combs for his wife’s beautiful long hair. Della’s hair is her most outstanding feature, admired and envied by other women. To buy her husband a gift, she has it cut and sold, then purchases a chain for his pocket watch. There they stand on Christmas Day, he with a chain but no watch, she with exquisite combs but no long hair. Yet they had something far greater: the gift of love — thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial love. But here is a greater gift-giving love:
The Gift of Salvation
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son …”
The greatest gift of all is the gift of salvation, given out of the greatest love of all, by the greatest person of all, namely God. It is all God's doing and it is a spectacularly trinitarian experience. It is God the Father who determines to give it, it is God the Son who pays the price for it, and it is God the Holy Spirit who brings it “from above,” as Jesus just explained to Nicodemus (ref. John 3:1-15).
The gift of salvation flows from the perfect love of God, according to John, who always chooses his words wisely. He writes agape rather than lesser Greek words for love. Like The Gift of the Magi, God’s loving gift is thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial. It reflects thoughtful planning (ref. Ephesians 1:4), generous provision (ref. Ephesians 2:8), and total sacrifice (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Unlike The Gift of the Magi, God’s gift is provided to people who, at least at first, do not love God and have no plan to give God anything, but sin and grief (ref. Romans 3:10ff).
“The world” is seldom a flattering description of people in Holy Scripture (ref. 1 John 2:15-17). It generally denotes an entire human race in rebellion against the Creator. It describes all people who in their natural condition are lost, condemned, and “dead in trespasses and sins” (ref. Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God loves them anyway because as John later writes, “God is love” (ref. 1 John 4:8,16). Here Paul’s mystery becomes John’s kerygma, as the evangelist proclaims that God’s love is not just for rebellious Israel who failed Him in the Old Covenant, but for people in every nation who stand condemned already in this New Covenant text.
The love that gives salvation is a profound paradox. It is God who gives salvation, and He is the Whosoever Who wills to give it exclusively to His chosen children, born from above. Yet, in the immediate preaching of the gospel, God freely offers His grace to anyone from any nation who believes in the life, death, burial and resurrection of the one-of-a-kind Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. True belief connects you to the gift that pardons you, changes you, and stays with you forever.
The Gift of Justification
“ … that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of justification, by faith.
Nowhere in the Gospel of John can we read the word “faith,” yet the active form of the verb “believe” is used 100 times. Faith is the gift we receive from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1) that enables us to actively and willingly believe, and keep on believing, in the Lord Jesus Christ. A better translation of believe might be the title to the famous hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Born again people, born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, believe the gospel, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and obey the word of the Lord (ref. John 3:36).
By faith, born again believers are justified (ref. Romans 5:1). Only a judge can justify, or declare righteous, not guilty, not condemned. God is the only Judge who ultimately matters. Justification is necessary because the world that God loves is guilty, totally condemned by the condition and manifestation of sin in each one of us. Faith, and faith alone, can justify and forgive us of all of our sins.
Consider the overall context of John’s Gospel and grasp the picture of the greatness of this gift. Christ did not come into a free world and put a fork in the road with a choice to believe or not believe in Him. Christ came into a condemned world, trapped in unbelief (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff), and planted a cross. It sends forth a gospel that engenders faith for salvation (ref. John 1:12). Justification by faith is not merely a choice you make, but mainly a gift God gives. And, the gift of justification is a gift that will keep on giving.
The Gift of Sanctification
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of sanctification, by word and Spirit.
The light that God graciously gives is the revelation of Himself. Light enables newborn believers to see in a spiritually dark world. We see Jesus Christ as Lord and God, while the remaining blind and condemned world does not. We see Jesus lifted up on the cross, providing a substitutionary atonement for sin, while the blind and condemned world does not. Saved people see things in light that the dark and sinful world does not see, and this light comes by the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Light is another of John’s favorite words and images. Revelation of God comes through the Holy Spirit of God and the holy word of God. The gospel and the word of God make sense to a newborn believer, although study and maturity are required to bring faith to fruition. Believers stay in the light of biblical spirituality and morality, embracing and trying to obey the commandments of God. When we err we confess it, when we sin we repent of it, for by the grace of God we love the light of God more than the darkness. This is the ongoing process called sanctification, which is happening in every true believer, and this too is a gift from God.
The opposite of the light of God is the darkness of doing your own thing. The world loves this darkness. They flee from the Bible and the church lest the light of God expose their sin. God equates unbelief with evil, wickedness, and hatred, words we normally don’t use when speaking of the lost and unchurched. But John does, and those of whom he speaks deserve not our condemnation, for they are condemned already, but our prayers and patient witness, so that by grace through faith the light of God will shine on them before Judgment Day.
The Gift of Glorification
“But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of glorification, life with God for eternity.
A great and terrible day is coming, when the text we are talking about today will divide all of humanity into two groups. The born again, believing, justified, sanctified, will be glorified before the Judgment Seat of Christ (ref. Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the light will shine on our lives. Do not fear, child of God, for this light will show that your “works have been carried out in God,” in faith and in faithful service to Christ your King. Your reward will be greater than anything you could ever imagine on earth, for you will be in the new earth, and new heaven, forever, with the Lord Jesus Christ and all of your believing family and friends. You will “not perish but have eternal life,” and all of this is owed to the great grace of God.
The lost world will experience the horrific opposite before a great white throne of judgment (ref. 20:11). Remember, they are condemned already. No belief means no justification. No Spirit means no sanctification. No salvation means no glorification. There will be only condemnation, death, and darkness forever.
But while the light of the world is still in the world, let us come to the light. Come now, for God is thinking about you. Come now, for God is gracious towards you. Come now, for God has sacrificed for you. Come and give your life to the One who has given His life for you, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
THE BORN (AGAIN) IDENTITY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 2, 2020
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
— John 3:1-15, ESV
Recently I sought to discover which state in the United States has the most Christians. It is not our state of Arkansas nor my home state of Georgia. It is not the most populous state, California, nor either of the two largest states in the South, Texas and Florida. It is the state of confusion. The majority of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ in our country really have no idea what it means to be a Christian. Statistics from the leading research organizations prove this point.
Combining the data from Barna, Christianity Today, and LifeWay Research, we learn that we are living in a post-Christian country, even though over 70% of adults consider themselves to be Christians. This is because out of this number, only about 15% claim to be born again, which according to Jesus is an absolute prerequisite for being a Christian. And even among those who claim to be born again, statistics indicate fewer than 2% recall a conversion experience, worship in their churches and study their Bibles each week, and undertake efforts to evangelize non-Christian people.
Perhaps all professing Christians, and anyone interested in becoming one, should come along with a Pharisee named Nicodemus and listen to the Lord explain how to become a Christian. In Jesus’ own word, “You must be born again.”
The Born Again Identity
Nicodemus the Jewish Pharisee would fit right into today’s diluted statistics regarding Christianity. He was born a Jew, he became a Pharisee, he crafted his own version of extra-biblical piety, and he was convinced that his own innate goodness made him right with Almighty God. However, after observing Jesus over a period of time, Nicodemus had questions about his own pathway on the road to Heaven and thought the Lord may have a better plan.
The majority of professing Christians in America are like Nicodemus. They were born into a Christian family, baptized into some Christian church, but open Scripture and darken the doors of a church only once or twice a year. They live their lives by standards other than the word of God, because they are either oblivious to or offend by the teachings of Holy Scripture. They would do well to sneak out and listen to what Jesus has to say.
Jesus said Christianity begins with being “born again.” In the original language, the first word means to be generated or “born.” The second is usually translated “above” and occasionally “again.” John favors words with dual, deeper meanings. His choice here amplifies Jesus’ saying to show the identity of a true Christian begins with the passive experience of being regenerated after being generated, or being born again from above.
Christians must be born again, or given a second birth. All human beings have a birthday, thanks to the contribution of the father and the water-breaking labor of the mother. It should be a day of joy for a family, and the joy should be remembered and celebrated every year. Christians have a second birthday, much more mysterious than the first, but a day nonetheless when there is great rejoicing in Heaven and on earth. It is a day when new life is formed, new loves are attached, and a new day dawns that will never cease to be celebrated.
Christians must be born from above, or given a spiritual birth. Consider Paul’s commentary in Titus 3:5, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Being born from above is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When He comes into a life He brings the gifts of repentance and faith, so that a human being can be changed by belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit works with the word of God to create a new child of God, born again and born from above.
Lost church members, like Nicodemus, really believe they are going to Heaven because of something they have done. But one does not become a Christian by actively doing. We become Christians by passively being, by being born again by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Only then can you truly identify as a Christian, it is a born again identity.
The Born Again Supremacy
Christianity is under fire today from without and within over the doctrine of supremacy, or exclusivity. The current Catholic pope says we should not evangelize people of other faiths. Most Protestants take his advice. But is the new birth, is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is biblical Christianity the only way to Heaven?
Jesus offered only one answer to Nicodemus’ unasked question. Again, if a person could go to Heaven by obeying laws, or being religious, or the general goodness of their own hearts, Nicodemus would have had no need to meet with Jesus. But by watching Jesus, I think by this time for about the full three years of ministry, Nicodemus suspected there had to be a more valid entrance into the kingdom of God. He did not even have to ask, the omniscient Lord knew his mind and heart and instructed him, “You must be born again.”
Jesus offered only one cure for man’s depravity. Remember the last text’s take on depravity (ref. John 2:23-25)? Jesus looked inside Nicodemus, like He can look inside all people, and saw that while the Pharisee was physically moving, and intellectually and emotionally engaged, he was spiritually dead. That’s why the Lord said, “You must be born from above … of the Spirit.” They say a soldier who loses an arm or leg in the war can still feel it itch from time to time. That’s why lost people, who lost the Spirit in the fall of man, still reach out sometimes to Jesus by night. They itch, and Jesus offers the only thing that can scratch it, the gospel, the new birth, and life in Christ.
Jesus offered only one way to enter the kingdom of God now and live in Heaven forever. Nicodemus had thought that all Jews go to Heaven, with the possible exception of extreme apostates and criminals. Being baptized a Christian won’t necessarily qualify you, either. I had a good friend who owned a business with this sign inside: “Being good will keep you out of jail, but it won’t keep you out of Hell.” “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Jesus said.
Think also the words John records later in the Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me” (ref. John 14:6). The supremacy of being born again marks it as the only way to be saved, according to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Born Again Ultimatum
If Christianity requires being born again, and it does, and if Christianity is the only way to be saved and enjoy eternal life, and it is, then is this and ultimatum to everyone else and every other religion?
Jesus does not accept religion. If he did, Nicodemus would have been fine, just the way he was. No one was more religious than a Pharisee. No one kept more religious rule and regulations. No one had a higher standing in Israel than a member of the Sanhedrin. But Nicodemus, according to Jesus, had to change, be born again, follow Christ, or else.
Jesus does not accept good works. I am aware that a lot of bad things have been done in the name of religion. But racist Nazism and atheistic communism has a pretty bad track record, too. Most people do mostly good things in the name of their religion, live peaceable lives, promote health, education, and welfare, and pick up their dog’s poop on a walk. But if a good deep point system was the way into the kingdom of God, why would Jesus insist on the new birth? And, why would Jesus allow Himself to be lifted up on the cruel cross? The requirement for Christianity is not what you have done for God, but what you have done with what God has done for you.
Jesus does not accept religion or good works. Jesus accepts only those who accept Him. Remember what was written about Him in the prologue of the Gospel, “He came to phis own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
The born again ultimatum means unless you are chosen by the will of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of God the Son, reborn by the power of God the Holy Spirit, you cannot be saved, enter the kingdom of God, or go to Heaven when you die.
The Born Again Legacy
Of course, the opposite is true, too. Those chosen by the will of God willing choose to follow Jesus Christ. Those who have been born again behave like born again people and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Christians build and leave a legacy while laying up treasure in Heaven, while unbelievers will eventually be forgotten by man and God. What is your legacy going to be?
How do you see yourself? Do you see a religious person, a good person, or a sinful person in need of forgiveness and redemption? I think Nicodemus saw himself as religious and good, until after he met with Christ. He would later defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and bury Jesus after the cross. I think Nicodemus’ sins are forever forgiven, and not by Judaism or Christian nominalism.
How do you see the cross of Christ? Silly or seriously? If our works or goodness could save us, it would have been silly for Jesus to get caught in a conspiracy and crucified. The text Jesus referenced, Numbers 21, would have been very familiar to Nicodemus and the Jews. It is a story of punishment for sins and the offer of redemption, an offer that would seem silly to a sophisticated American. Look at a snake on a pole and be healed from the snakebite of sin and death. But those who looked were saved, and the same thing is true today. Do you see Jesus on the cross as the historical, biblical, true, and only remedy for sin and death?
How do you see the Holy Spirit? Well, you cannot see the Holy Spirit, and that’s the point. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effects of full sails or a hurricane’s aftermath. You cannot control the wind, or else we’d only have full sails and no hurricanes. Neither can anyone control the Spirit, or manipulate people into making some so-called saving decision for Christ. Word and sacrament are our sails, and so often the Spirit it pleased to come and fill them and send faith into a newborn Christian’s life, where the evidence of the Spirit’s new birth includes important things like repentance, faith, love, obedience, and perseverance.
I think a person knows whether or not they were ever born. And, I think a person can know whether or not they’ve been born again. If you have, Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus will give you great assurance. If not, read John 3:1-15 again, then go to the very next verse, and feel the wind start to blow.
THE GRAVITY OF DEPRAVITY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 26, 2020
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
— John 2:23-25, ESV
In a pivotal scene in Alexandre Dumaś’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the protagonist and prisoner Edmond Dantes receives spiritual advice from his cellmate, Abbe Faria. “Here is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, vengeance is mine.” Dantes replied, “I don’t believe in God.” Then, with his last breath, Faria said, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
In the decades after Dumaś, the famous author’s prose became a proverb picked up by many people, especially on the religious left. “You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.” This has been quoted with Bible-like authority by people like the late Robert Schuller, the present Pope Francis, spokespersons for radical wing of the United Methodist Church, and the writers of the television show God Friended Me. The saying is sweet, sentimental, and sensationally wrong.
Not only is God not required to believe in those who do not believe in Him, but God does not even believe in some people who do believe in Him! If you think this sounds harsh or erroneous, take a second look at this segue in the Gospel of John. The original Greek word translated “believed” (vs. 23) and the one for “entrusted” (vs. 24) is the same exact word. The festival-attending, miracle-watching congregation claimed to believe in Jesus. But, Jesus did not believe in them.
There is a true proverb given by God that says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (ref. 1 Samuel 16:7). A profession of faith is an outward show of support for God that all too often wears off in time, and in modern times it wears off most of the time. A possession of faith is a powerful, permanent change wrought by the grace of God that perseveres in faithfulness until the end. Jesus knows the difference.
The Lord looked deep into the hearts of those who made professions of faith on this particular day. He did not need anyone to tell him that the hearts of men are fickle, that hypocrisy follows most professions of faith, and that the people who claimed to honor and love Him one day would be crucifying Him the next. “He Himself knew what was in man” (vs. 25). And, it was not true faith. Rather, the Lord saw the root, tree, and branches of unbelief. What is it? It is the dreaded disease known as depravity, and the gravity of depravity is that it has fallen upon the entire human race.
The Definition of Depravity
Our English dictionaries define depravity as “moral corruption” or “wickedness.” We generally do not apply the term to anyone except the most degenerate members of society, the criminals who commit heinous crimes like murder, torture, sexual assault, or swindling old ladies out of their life savings. The rest of us, which is most of us, are by proxy not depraved, at least by looking from the outside.
But God looks inside. He x-rays the heart. The Scriptures reveal what He sees. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (ref. Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)” The New Testament Apostle Paul, also speaking of the human heart, wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” These guys were not talking about the relatively small number of killers and rapists in the world. They were talking about you, about me, and about every member of the human race.
Depravity in the Greek language of the New Testament literally means “not saved.” Depravity is unbelief. Depravity is false, nominal, hypocritical, superficial belief. Depravity is the lack of desire to truly know, love, and worship God. Depravity is the sinful self-centeredness that renders belief in God and service to God unnecessary and impossible.
Depravity can dress up as a killer, or a pervert, to be sure. But depravity is also the suit of a hard working dad who never takes his children to church, the dress of a mother who loves her kids but not enough to urge them to repent and believe in Christ, the clothes of a child who grows up to be a law abiding citizen who never calls upon the name of the Lord. Depravity comes clothed in every color, creed, and nationality in the world.
Most depraved people don’t murder and don’t steal. But they do not repent, either, for they feel no need. Neither do they sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, although many have joined churches during a vacation Bible School, a summer youth camp, a frivolous revival service, or after an emotional reaction to some act of God, like these pilgrims at Passover.
Jesus peeked into their hearts and saw no genuine faith, only depravity. They did not believe. They could not believe. Depravity is the inability to believe. So how did humans get so marred in the first place?
The Origin of Depravity
To understand what Jesus saw on this day in the hearts of men, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of man. The book of Genesis reveals that God made mankind, male and female, in His image. We were made to live forever, like God. We were made in tri-unity, body and soul and spirit, in the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were made with a moral compass like God’s, and the free will to choose between right and wrong. The Spirit connected us with God and enables us to know, worship, and serve Him. The Garden of Eden is a picture of this perfect time on earth, before depravity set in.
The perfect period lasted only as long, however, as the time it takes for man to sin. Remember it was a Heaven on earth if you will, in which God could not tolerate the presence of even a scintilla of disobedience or rebellion against Him. God warned that the wages of such sin would be the death penalty. Man sinned, so man had to die.
Only he did not die physically, like a condemned prisoner in a gas chamber. Man did not die emotionally, for their emotions ran the gamut of surprise, embarrassment, fear, and panic. But on that day, man and subsequent mankind died spiritually. Without the Spirit there can be no faith, without faith it is impossible to please the Lord, and the thing that replaced the Spirit in the heart of man is this thing we now call depravity.
Depravity is the inability to know, worship, and serve God. It is written on the hearts of all men who remain unsaved, unredeemed, unchanged by God’s grace. It is the principle spirit of the age, dominating the world outside the church and all too often creeping inside the church. These Passover pilgrims in Jesus’ day believe in Him, superficially. But Jesus could see inside of them, spiritually, and all He saw was depravity.
The Gravity of Depravity
Jesus preached a sermon on sin in which He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). The fact is all lost people are walking toward the sea with this great millstone hanging around their necks. It is depravity. It is sin. It is selfishness. It is the inability to believe.
Depravity weighs heavily upon the human heart. It is the reason so many people make superficial professions of faith but do not follow through with obedience and perseverance. It is the reason most people make no profession of faith in the first place. It is the reason people break the Ten Commandments and the other laws of God. It is the reason people break commitments and hurt one another. It is the reason the vast majority of people on this planet are living like the walking dead. They live without God in the center of their lives and will not care until the day they meet God face to face, when it will be far too late to believe.
The really bad news is that there is nothing a person can do about their own depravity. You cannot wash it off or wish it away. Unbelievers simply cannot believe. People with no Spirit of God cannot understand spiritual truth, especially the gospel of the atoning death and saving life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Depravity already owns them and eternal death awaits for them, unless they are saved. And there is one remedy for depravity, except for one.
The Remedy for Depravity
The only remedy for depravity is found in the next chapter on the new birth. One must be born again, or literally born from above. The gift of faith does not come from within, it comes from above. God the Father must give the gift of faith in God the Son, delivered by God the Spirit to the human heart.
It is the new birth that defeats depravity and raises the dead. It grants spiritual life and gives spiritual understanding. It is the greatest miracle God ever ordained, and by the grace of God it happens every day.
John 3:16 is the most familiar verse in the Bible, some say the most important. If this is so, the context of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus becomes the most important conversation recorded in the Bible. If this is so, this transitional text that builds a bridge for the Lamb of God to crossover to the hearts of men must be understood as foundational.
Human beings are depraved, sinful, and spiritually dead. Our only hope is a resurrection from above called the new birth. Such new, real, spiritual, and eternal life is a gift of God’s grace, given through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, via the agency of the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Have you been born again? Would you like to understand fully what it means to be born again? Then cross this bridge, step into the next chapter, and meet a man named Nicodemus.
THE FIRST AND LAST PASSOVER
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 19, 2020
12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
— John 2:12-22, ESV
We are rapidly reaching the last of the firsts in the Gospel of John. We have already read about the first Word, the first witness, the first disciples, and the first miracle. Soon enough we will arrive at the first “I Am” statement (ref. John 6:35). Today, however, we attend the first Passover with Jesus. Or, was it His last?
The Gospel of John records three Passovers during the public ministry of Jesus Christ. This is the main marker that measures His ministry at approximately three years. The other Gospel writers record only the last Passover, plus Luke’s insertion of a much earlier one when the twelve-year-old Jesus was temporarily separated from His earthly parents. All four Gospels tell about the same story, of Christ cleansing the Temple, and most scholars claim it is the same story, which John chooses to insert at the beginning of his Gospel rather than the end. This would be no error, of course, since the Gospel genre does not require chronological order.
So, is this Jesus’ first Passover or is it Jesus’ last Passover? The answer is yes!
The First Family
Present politics aside, we Americans like to refer to our President’s family as the First. The wife is the First Lady, the children are the First daughter or the First son, and altogether they are the First Family. It is our way of saying, at least in some ways, they are the most significant family in the country.
Who, then, is the most important family in the world? What about the most important family in history of the world? My vote is for any family where you find the Lord Jesus Christ in the center, especially Jesus’ own first family. John gives us a snapshot of them in verse 13. God the Father is not visible, neither is Joseph the step-father, who is believed to be diseased by this time. Mother Mary is smiling brightly, surrounded by her firstborn and (contrary to Catholic theology) His biological half-brothers and half-sisters. Jesus’ fledgling band of first followers photo-bomb the shoot.
Here is a picture of the family of Christ at the onset of His public ministry. He had been born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, flashed His first miracle in Cana, and now relocated to Capernaum. His home base for the ministry would be in or near the house of Simon Peter, a stone’s through from the beautiful synagogue in that small, idyllic town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
After a few days of setting up camp, the Lord is ready to march His campaign to the cross. His first orders are to travel the hundred miles that rises a half mile above sea level from Capernaum to the city of Jerusalem. Once He arrives at the Passover, His actions and words will sound off like a thousand trumpets. There is no triumphal entry mentioned, so it could have been Jesus’ first Passover appearance as the Messiah. But He violently clears out the Temple, just like the other Gospel writers say He did at the Last, an act of which He probably couldn’t have gotten away with twice. So, was it the first Passover or the Last?
The First Passover
For now let us say this is the first Passover that John writes about in His Gospel, and we may well leave it at that. The chronology is not the important matter. The theology is, and we will discover it as the narrative unfolds. The key to the interpretation is the celebration of the Passover, the most important religious ritual in Jewish life.
The Passover was inaugurated by God through Moses before 1400 BC. The occasion was the tenth of ten plagues the Lord reigned down on Egypt in order to force them to release God’s people from slavery. It fired the starting gun for the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. As the morning revealed the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, the Israelites were spared. On the night before, God had commanded the Jews to sacrifice a lamb, put the blood above and on both sides of their doors, prepare a meal with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine, and be prepared to be set free. It was the blood of the cross that spared them and set them free.
Jesus and his family and friends, being devout Jews, kept the commandments of the Passover. Public worship was very important to the Lord Jesus Christ, and it remains so today. His first family made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for their first, middle, and last Passover together during Jesus’ ministry. They obeyed the word of God and observed the religious rituals of their day. They made preparations for the meal. They anticipated the holy worship service at the Temple. But they were shocked, and Jesus was quite angry, at what they found upon their arrival at this first, or last, Passover.
The First Priority
If you ask me what is the first priority of a child of God, I will tell you it is worship. We are to worship God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many other things that devout Jews under the Old Covenant did and sincere Christians under the New Covenant do, but they all fall under the banner of worship.
Worship begs for rites, rituals, and a regular meeting place. Of course we can and should worship the Lord in the ongoing, everyday road of life, in quiet times and easy chairs. But Scripture and history also assign regular times and formal places for corporate worship, and those places are referred to as “the house of God.”
The Jews had synagogues and the Temple. Christians have the local meeting place, kirk, church. The Jews met weekly in the synagogues and at the three main festivals each year at the Temple. The Christians’ only pilgrimage is weekly on the Lord’s Day to the Lord’s house. It is a small price to pay in light of the amazing grace afforded to us by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The house of God, then and now, is supposed to be a reverent place with regulated principles of worship. When the place is ignored or misused, or the principles are marched over by modern inventions, Jesus gets angry.
In the case of the first, or last, Passover, Jesus witnessed the reverence of the Temple being overcome by commerce. There was nothing essentially wrong with selling and buying animals for the sacrifices, but this was to be done earlier, outside, not “in the Temple.” Worship was supposed to be conducted with praise to God, prayers to God, offerings to God, and most importantly, the word of God. Worship that is not godward displeases God, as the Son of God shows us at this Passover.
I love the late, great Fred Rogers and his neighborhood, but Mr. Rogers Jesus is not. Instead of slippers and a sweater, Jesus took out a fist and a whip to defend “My Father’s house” of worship. “Zeal” is how all believers should feel when it comes to the time, place, and manner of holy worship.
If He were here physically today, what do you think Jesus would do with winky, blinky prosperity gospel preachers? What would he do on a stage full of smoke, mirrors, and rock bands so loud you cannot think, especially about God? What would He do in places where the word is not preached and the sacraments are not regularly and rightly observed?
Worship matters to God. It matters where it is done, how it is done, and most importantly, that it is done. Make sure you are making the trip, doing the time, and keeping the zeal for the worship of God in the house of God. Don’t make Jesus get after you with a whip.
The Last Passover
I want to think this was the first Passover in Jesus’ public ministry, for John is my favorite and he records it here, in the beginning, plus two more later on. I am persuaded, however, by the consensus of scholarship that asserts the parallels in the synoptic Gospels prevail in chronology. It makes sense to them, and me, that when Jesus showed up the religious establishment in this way, He signed His own death sentence that had to be carried out soon.
So was it the first Passover, or the last Passover? The answer is yes.
This is the first Passover in the Gospel of John, at least. And, it is the last Passover, not because of the time, or place, but because of the person. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Temple, at the close of the Old Covenant and within a generation the Temple was no more. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Temple. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Passover, at the close of the Old Covenant, and the last Passover became the first Lord’s Supper. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Passover (ref. 1 Corinthians 5:7). “The temple of His body,” crucified and resurrected, is the first, the last, and the only Passover we will ever need.
Like the door of a Jewish home on the eve of the exodus, the cross of Christ was stained with blood, upward, on each side, and downward, too. Today it reaches people who receive it, in repentance and faith, and apply it to the framework of their own hearts and lives. Those who do will go in and out to worship the Lord, on the Lord’s terms, in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s Day.
WINE, WOMEN, AND SONG
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 12, 2020
1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
— John 2:1-11, ESV
Two years before the great Loretta Lynn scored her biggest hit with the highly theological, “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on your Mind,” she had a similar song that made it all the way to number one. It was called, “Wine, Women, and Song.” It went something like, “While I'm at home a working and slaving this a way, you're out misbehaving and spending all your pay, on wine, women, and song.”
Wine, women, and song are issues you would expect to find negatively in a country song, but they are not things you would positively associate with the Lord Jesus Christ, especially if you grew up in a strict Baptist church. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are off limits, women in the congregation are not supposed to say a word, and the only songs you are allowed to sing come from the Baptist Hymnal or some southern gospel album about mama and mansions in Heaven. But the real Jesus is not the fundamentalist Jesus.
The real Jesus is the fun Jesus. Jesus made, drank, and enjoyed wine. Jesus included women in His entourage, beginning with His blessed mother and ending with a trio of women around the borrowed tomb. Jesus attended celebrations like weddings where there was an abundance of music, singing, and yea verily, even dancing.
But like everything else the Messiah did, Jesus partied with a purpose. The wine, women, and song in this story provide the backdrop for the first of seven “signs,” or miracles, that John wraps His Gospel around (along with seven strategic sayings that all begin with “I Am ...”). Each one, beginning with this one, points to Christ’s supreme deity, His strong compassion for people, and His sovereign power to meet every important need. Let’s go with Him to the wedding!
Wine, Women, and Song
I have heard a hundred hair-splitting sermons in my day that claim the wine Jesus made was akin to modern grape juice. Such teaching displays a naiveté of biblical language and culture. The first time wine is mentioned in the Bible, Noah makes it, drinks it, gets drunk, and passes out (ref. Genesis 9:21). You can’t do that with Welch’s.
The word for the wine that Jesus made was picked by Paul to warn against drunkenness (ref. Ephesians 5:18), so we know the wine had to pack a punch stronger than a country mule. The folks at this wedding had already “drunk freely,” which literally means they were intoxicated. Drunkenness may be sinful, but wine is certainly not. So when they ran out at this wedding, Jesus made more.
To further chap the backsides of Pharisees and Fundamentalists everywhere, Jesus made this top shelf wine because a woman spoke up and virtually ordered Him to do so. This was no ordinary woman, of course, but Mary the mother of Jesus (John never uses her proper name, only “mother,” perhaps because she was like a mother to him, too.). She knew Jesus was the Messiah, just as His first disciples did. She knew what He could do, anything, because He was and is the presence and the power of God. So Mary bid her son, God’s Son, to make some wine. After a wrinkle in their conversation which we will iron out later, Jesus acquiesced.
No rabbi had ever included women in the close company of disciples. Jesus began His ministry with a woman at his right hand and let many others lend a hand along the way. Mother Mary is Jesus first witness, at the wedding, while Mary Magdalene became His last witness, at the funeral (which Jesus ruined by rising from the dead). Wine and women are important to Jesus.
So is song, in this case a wedding song, a wedding song that was about to be drowned out by an embarrassing end. Weddings can be quite festive occasions in our culture, but they pale in comparison to the Jewish weddings of Jesus’ day. They typically lasted a week or more, with the actual ceremony in the middle (Tuesdays for the newly married, Wednesdays for remarriages). The fatted calf was killed and feasting was the order of every day. Wine flowed like a river, the kind of good wine that gets people singing and dancing, and it was a social disgrace (and in some cases a legal crime) if the host ran out of wine.
Jesus, at Mary’s bequest, refused to let the singing stop. He commanded the servants to collect 120 gallons of water (and water was almost as valuable as wine, if not more so in some places). Then He ordered them to use the wine serving vessels to bring a taste to the host. Everyone is at risk now, but following Jesus is always a risky business. Lo and behold, the water had been transformed into wine, and the most excellent wine to boot.
The wine flowed, women and men enjoyed a fabulous wedding reception, and songs of God’s glory and grace wafted over the entire crowd. In the center of it all stood the Lord Jesus Christ with a great smile upon His face, surrounded by a band of believing disciples.
Miracles, Messiah, and Disciples
You and I both know this story is not really about wine, women, and song. It is about miracles, the Messiah, and making disciples. John takes this wedding at Cana to a higher, spiritual plane, a particular motif that characterizes his Gospel. Let’s take the elevator and look at this wedding from upstairs.
A miracle is something supernatural, rising above the laws of science and reasonable explanation, that can only be performed or permitted by God. God gives them sparingly, for natural law and providence provide a stage big enough for His plan of redemption to unfold. Occasionally, however, God paints a “sign” (John’s preferred word), or miracle, to point us in the direction of salvation.
Moses and Aaron performed signs in order to point God’s people in the direction of the exodus and the promised land. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles to thwart the influence of faithless priests and evil kings who had turned Israel’s hearts away from God. Jesus and the Apostles performed signs and wonders to grab the attention of an Old Covenant being fulfilled and a New Covenant being offered, a covenant of salvation by the miracle of regeneration (like grapes turned into wine) by grace through faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In John’s Gospel, all signs point to Jesus, beginning with this one in Cana, a little village not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He was just beginning His messianic campaign that would end at the cross. He knew that at least at a few stops along the way, He would have to do something to prove Himself to be God and man. He debated with His mother, Mary, as to the timing of His first miracle because He could not let His popularity peak too soon. Persuaded, however, that it was time for wine, Jesus overturned nature to turn water into wine, something only God can do.
Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is the master of weddings and funerals, of land and the sea, of every geographical, physical, and spiritual area in our lives. Jesus Christ is Lord. This story alone should serve to make you love Him, trust Him, believe in Him, and become His disciple.
And make no mistake, discipleship is the bottom line here. Jesus did what only God can do because God loves people and calls us to follow Him. Jesus did what only God can do because He is the source of all goodness, joy, and true celebration. But at the end of the day, or at the end of this wedding, Jesus did what only God can do in order to accomplish this goal, “His disciples believed in Him.”
Disciples believe in Jesus. Disciples follow Jesus, through celebrations and storms. Disciples obey Jesus’ word, like the servant who took Mary’s advice, “Do whatever He tells you” (even if it doesn’t make sense sometimes). Disciples walk with Jesus on earth. Disciples will live forever with Jesus in Heaven, only disciples.
So come to the wedding and drink the wine of regeneration, made and poured out by nail-scarred hands. Listen to the woman who said, “Do whatever He tells you.” And sing the song of salvation until you arrive at the place where you will see the Lord Jesus Christ face to face, where the wedding reception never ends.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE FIRST DISCIPLES
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 5, 2020
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
— John 1:35-51, ESV
All of us have a biological lineage and if we are Christians, we have a spiritual heritage, too. If you need help with your family tree, you can use 23andMe, Ancestry.com, or some other service to find out more about your bloodline. I am actually using one of them now to see if I have any rich old uncles who need a breath of fresh heir.
If you want to know where you came from spiritually, today’s text will help. As disciples of Jesus Christ, someone led us to the Lord, who themselves became disciples through the witness of other disciples, and so on and so forth it goes all the way back to Jesus Christ. In this second substantial narrative of John’s Gospel, we get a first look at six of the original twelve disciples, one of which is probably your spiritual great-granddaddy.
A First Look at the First Disciples
As Jesus drafts a team of twelve to accompany Him on His three-year campaign to the cross, some common themes emerge concerning discipleship. All Christians come to Christ in approximately the same way, through God’s sovereign call and responsible disciple making. True disciples like these also give evidence of their corporate and personal relationship with Christ. A first look at the first disciples reveals the pathway and signs that mark one’s arrival into the kingdom of God.
All disciples are dependent. They are chosen by God and are brought to Jesus Christ by other Christians. It is clear from Jesus’ conversation with Nathaniel that the Lord knew these first disciples before they first followed Him. The immeasurable contribution of John the Baptist is also in the background of their calling, for John pointed the way to the Lord before they came to the Lord. No one can take credit for their own salvation, for it is a gift from God, wrapped and delivered by another child of God.
We must remember lost people are, well, lost and dependent upon God and God’s people to show them the way home. God sovereignly chooses His elect (ref. Ephesians 1:4) and Christ calls people to follow Him before they call upon the name of the Lord (ref. John 15:16). Those who are not yet disciples of the Lord are spiritually dead (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff) and incapable of seeking or speaking to the Lord (ref. Romans 3:10ff), until they are born again by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5; etc.)
All disciples are enlightened. Intellect alone cannot fathom the gospel and the kingdom of God. It requires the effectual call of the gospel, ignited by the Holy Spirit, who then indwells and enables true disciples to discern spiritual doctrines. This text mentions a few rather important ones.
When John the Baptist pointed the way to the “Lamb of God,” twice, it dawned on the previously dimwitted disciples that Jesus of Nazareth was someone who was somehow the atoning sacrifice for the sins of God’s people. In Him they would find forgiveness. In Him they would find deliverance. In Him they would find salvation. So they followed, for three years, as the lessons of the Lamb of God unfolded.
When the called Jesus “Rabbi (which means Teacher),” they knew it had more to do with the cardinal doctrines of the New Covenant they were to receive and deliver. It also meant that Jesus was the supreme teacher and undisputed leader of His followers, the Lord. His command of “Follow Me,” which the Gospels record twenty times, it the quintessential invitation to salvation, but it comes with a cost to pay and commandments to obey.
When they declared they had found “the Messiah (which means Christ),” it meant they had stumbled upon what Jews had looked for all of their lives, and what Christians look back to for all of theirs. He is the divine creator of all, the divider of time, and the difference between Heaven and Hell. The disciples were born again, saved by grace, and they soon got to work.
All disciples are actively engaged. They choose to follow Christ and bring others to follow Jesus. The responsibility of man runs through the Gospel of John on a parallel track with the sovereignty of God. When they were called, Andrew and Simon and Philip and Nathaniel and John and James all willingly and actively began following Jesus, and that does not mean they merely went in the same direction. “Follow Me” is the clarion call of Christ in the New Testament that demands all of life to be surrendered to the Savior and Lord.
One sure sign that a person is a disciple is their desire to see their family and friends become Christians, too. John the Baptist told everyone about Jesus. Andrew told his brother, Simon. Philip told his friend, Nathanial Bartholomew. John the Apostle told his brother, James. There you have the first half of a dozen disciples. Throw in Thomas and Matthew, another Simon and another James, and two Judases (one good one and one very, very bad one), and you have the twelve, being and making disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Closer Look at Each Disciple
Once the team begins to be assembled, you can see how each one fits into the corporate nature of biblical Christianity. But Christianity is a personal relationship with the Lord as well. Every disciple is different. Hereditarily we are like thumbprints, molded yet unique. Biologically we have diversity of appearance, intelligence, and skill. Spiritually we have different gifts for speaking and serving in Christ’s church and out to the world.
Andrew and Simon (Peter) were brothers. Andrew was the server and Simon Peter was the speaker. Andrew, the younger, found Jesus first then brought his older brother to Christ. Andrew is found in the Gospels finding people and bringing people to Jesus, whether it be his brother, a lad with five loaves of bread, or some Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus shortly before He died at Calvary. Jesus knew Simon’s potential for powerful Pentecostal preaching before the stumpy fisherman ever opened his mouth, so Jesus made him the rock (Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, Peter in English), the leader of the first disciples. They were speakers and servants of Christ.
Philip and Nathaniel (Bartholomew) were friends. Friends lead friends to Christ. Philip is quoted a couple of times in the New Testament but Nate isn’t. Mostly they just hung around Jesus, worshiped and served Him, and influenced other people to believe in Him. That’s not a bad life. But that is what disciples do, they worship and serve the Lord in a way that rubs off on other people. They were speakers and servants of Christ.
John (the Apostle and author of the Gospel) and his brother, James, are not mentioned here by name, but they were there. John was one of the first two, along with Andrew (vs. 35). John and James were fishing partners with Simon Peter and Andrew, and all four were called to follow Jesus Christ at the same time. John, the younger brother and youngest of all of the disciples, and James were both bold speakers for the Lord, so much so they were nicknamed by Jesus the “Sons of Thunder” (ref. Mark 3:17). Ironically, James was the first to die and John was the longest to live, but they both lived and died for Christ, which is what a disciple does, speaking and serving for the Lord.
Speaking and serving for the Lord is more than preaching a sermon or bringing somebody food. Rather than merely individual acts, they portray the entire lifestyle of a disciple of Christ. The way you speak, at home, school, work, everywhere, reveals your loves and loyalties. We all serve somebody, as Dylan said, and people can tell who or what it is, be it God or money. A first look at these first disciples makes us look at our own lives for evidence of dedicated discipleship. I pray we can take a close look and find words and deeds that keep Christ on display for all to see.
A Promise Made to All Disciples
Wouldn’t it be great to have been one of these first disciples? At this beginning stage of their lives with Christ their eyes were open, their hearts were full, and the adventure of a lifetime awaited. Then Jesus made a promise to them that stands for all disciples. “Greater things than these” all disciples will see.
Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathaniel, John and James had yet to see Jesus perform His first miracle (ref. John 2:1ff), but they were all in. Miracles they would see, parables they would hear (though none are recorded in John), and the worst and best was yet to come. These disciples boarded a Messianic roller coaster and rode with Jesus as His popularity climbed and crashed. These first believers responded in disbelief when Jesus told them that He would be betrayed, arrested, executed and buried. These first Christians’ hearts burst when the women told them the tomb was empty and that they had seen the risen Lord. And these first disciples all lived relatively short lives of dedication, persecution, and vindication before they each went to be with the God and Savior who first called them to be His disciples. I do not know what they saw, or how they felt, or what it is like when they climbed the ladder to glory, but I am sure it is “greater things” that we can ever see on earth.
Take a fresh look at these first disciples and follow Jesus as a true disciple of the Lord. You are not the first, and I pray you won’t be the last, but you will have the adventure of a lifetime, and a glorious life to come. Great things you will see and do, and “greater things” will await you when the journey reaches its end.
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