A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/31 John 4:48

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Jesus returned to Cana where he changed water into wine. He is meet by a father whose son is near death. The man is desperate for Jesus to heal his son. You would think this is the perfect time for Jesus to jump right in and heal the boy and demonstrate that he is in fact the Lord and Messiah. By he seems to actually chastise the father by claiming that he won’t believe unless he sees sign and wonders. That certainly feels harsh. I mean after all his son is dying. What is Jesus thinking?

Is it possible that he is speaking not only or even primarily to the father but to the whole crowd that has gathered around. The water into wine trick would certainly have become common knowledge. Many of these folks were most likely at the wedding. Have the come looking for another miracle to tickle their spiritual curiosity? Jesus deals with this on several occasions. People just want a show. They want more and more proof. They want him to make more fish and bread to feast on.

I often hear people say that it would have been so much easier to believe in Jesus if they had been there in the first century and seen him perform miracles like the fish and bread or walking on water or raising the dead. But the fact is you and I would be no different from the people who actually say those things. They had a hard time believing Jesus. Some did, many were just curious, some outright rejected him.

That raises the whole question of what does it take for you to trust God? How big a miracle do you need to be able to say, yes I believe? Jesus has previously said that the greatest evidence he will give for his deity is the raising up of his body after three days. That happened on the first Easter morning. We won’t get to that until near the end of the year but fortunately for us we know that is happened and can look at so much of what Jesus said and did in the light of the resurrection.

The evidence for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is so overwhelmingly strong that we don’t need to have lived back then and seen the miracles he did. We look back on the greatest miracle of all and put our trust in him.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/30 Luke 4:33-35

33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.

There could not be a more sharp contrast than that of the unbelief on the part of the people of Nazareth, who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and the demons who possessed a man and proclaimed exactly who Jesus was. The demons recognized the Messiah, the Holy One of God, when they saw him. Yet, even though they recognized who Jesus was, they refused to submit to him. In that regard they were no different than the people of Nazareth, except maybe even more guilty since they knew who Jesus was.

This shows us that it is possible to have true knowledge about God but still not have faith. Faith requires being willing to trust God and be obedient to him. The demons had knowledge by not trust. Many people today can claim to have a knowledge of God but if they fail to trust him and submit to him, they are no better than the demons.

We also see the power in the words of Jesus. All he needs to do is speak and the demons, who refused to submit to him willingly, are forced to do so by the power of his word. It is that same word that spoke the universe into existence. It is the same word that called forth Lazarus from the grave. It is the same word that pronounced forgiveness on you if you have come to faith in Christ. It is a word of power that accomplishes what God intends it to accomplish. In this case it drove demons out of a man and healed and restored him.

The word of Christ can also heal and restore you. But you need to trust it. You need to believe it is true. When Jesus says you are forgiven you can believe it. When Jesus says you are loved, you can trust it. When Jesus says he will never leave or forsake you, you can depend on it because the word of God is powerful and reliable.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/29 Luke 4:23-27

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

If Jesus wanted to get his hometown folks furious with him he could not have chosen a better way to do so. Upon receiving some pushback and doubt from them about the appropriateness of him identifying himself as the Messiah, he doubles down by calling their faith into question.

First he does it by connecting them to people in the past who rejected messengers sent by God. He especially connects them to people who cannot accept a prophet simply because he grew up among them. In doing this he is targeting their pride. “What makes this guy think he is so much better than us?” “We saw him grow up like the rest of us”. “He is not so special”.

Then he goes a step further and points out situations when people who were not ethnic Jews had greater faith than they did. Again he calls their pride into question. It is a spiritual pride. They think they are better than other people. They are certainly no worse than Jesus.

Spiritual pride is deadly. It eventually crushes the one who has it and the one who is made to feel unworthy. It is critical for followers of Jesus to understand that we are broken sinners who are far worse than we think we are. We have no room to look down on anyone else. We especially don’t have room to do that because we are following Jesus. That is all by the grace of God and is a gift. We cannot take any credit for our spiritual position before Christ and so we cannot look down on anyone whose position is different.

Sadly, the longer one is engaged in the life of the church and following Jesus, the greater the risk of becoming spiritually proud. One tends to forget the depths of their sin and the desperate need for Jesus. Reminding ourselves of our need for the Gospel is a daily exercise. It is needed to keep spiritually humble and to have a compassionate heart for those who do not know Him yet.

A second lesson in this passage is to remember that when you come to faith in Christ, it can be difficult for the people who know you best to accept the change. Being patient and allowing your changed life to speak for itself, and also staying humble, are necessary if you are going to reach the people closest to you. It took twenty years of me following Jesus before my father finally did. There is always hope.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/28 Luke 4:17-21

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The passage from Isaiah was looked upon as a direct reference to what the Messiah would do. Jesus shocks the crowd in the synagogue by reading it and proclaiming that after all these centuries those words have come to pass. The most shocking part was that the audience was the people of Nazareth, the town he grew up in. They thought it would be a great day. Jesus was gaining in popularity so as he comes home they invite him to read the scripture for the day and speak.

In the providence of God the scripture for the day os this passage from Isaiah and it gives Jesus the opportunity to publicly announce that the Messiah has come. It also give him the opportunity to define the Gospel message that he is bringing. It is good news for people who have been down trodden and oppressed and enslaved. In some cases it is physical oppression and enslavement but for everyone it is a spiritual enslavement that he comes to break.

That raises the question of what our message is. Do people outside the Christian faith hear a message of freedom from you or is it a message of duty and religion and a different kind of enslavement? The Gospel is meant to bring freedom from all that weights us down and bring life that is abundant. Far too often the impression Christians give us that following Jesus is a burden. Jesus wants you to be free from your manmade religion and rules and live in the light of the Gospel message of freedom in Christ and a new life that is one of joy and celebration.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/27 John 4:35-38

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.”

You have to have some sympathy for Jesus’ disciples. Just in this event with the woman at the well he rocks their world by having a conversation with her. We know from other accounts of the life of Jesus that James and John wanted to call the wrath of God down on the Samaritans and here is Jesus not only talking to a Samaritan woman but being respectful. They are so dumbfounded and confused that they don’t even ask him about it. They are not sure what to say.

Jesus speaks and seems to answer the questions they must have had but his answer is incredibly cryptic and probably caused them to ask more questions. He speaks of the fields being ready for harvest and of building on the work that others have done. What he is talking about is that the Samaritans are ripe for hearing the Gospel and the disciples need to understand that they are called to reach everyone, including the Samaritans, even if they don’t particularly like the Samaritans.

Jesus is also pointing out that the work of reaching people with the Gospel is a group effort. People have already been doing ministry among the Samaritans to make them ready for the message. We don’t know who those people were but it is obvious from the response of the woman and the rest of the village that they are ready to hear about the Messiah.

This continues to be true even today. People all around you are ready to hear about Jesus. There have been other people in their lives who have prepared the ground and tended the garden of their hearts. They are ready. The question is, how ready are you to let people know about the faith you have in Jesus and the difference he can make in their life? How willing are you to engage in conversations like Jesus did with the woman? That is how we are going to reach people and do what Jesus called us to do, by being willing to be with them, come along side them, befriend them, engage them.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/26 John 4:25-26

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.”

After debating the proper place for worship the Samaritan woman brings up the messiah. She leans into the idea that when the Messiah comes he will settle the issue of the proper place and way to worship. Jesus shocks the woman by making a bold and clear statement that he is in fact the Messiah she is waiting for.

If there is every a statement by Jesus that fits into the famous trilemma proposed by C.S. Lewis, this would be it. Lewis proposed that when it comes to Jesus there are only three options to understand who he is. He is either the Lord, a liar, or a lunatic. Jesus clearly claimed to be the Messiah. A full understanding of that when we look at the rest of the New Testament also includes that he is God come in the flesh.

Jesus makes a claim that is either true or false. If it is false there are two options. One is he knew it was false and that makes him a liar. If it was false and he believed it, then that makes him a lunatic. He thought he was the messiah but he was not. If however what he said was true then that makes him the Lord he claimed to be.

Jesus the Lord, the long promised Messiah, deserves our obedience and worship. So often we are urged to put our trust in Jesus so we can have eternal life and that is certainly true. But Jesus is worthy of our praise and devotion and obedience, not because of what he can do for us but because of who he is. Obedience of Jesus is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus, because he is Lord. As Lord he has the authority to call us to obedience.

We live in a time when people do not like being told what to do. We want the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We want to be able to do what makes us feel happy, or pleasurable, or satisfied. In essence we submit to something else as our Lord other than Jesus. Obedience to Jesus the Messiah is the best way for us to live because of who Jesus is. Sometimes that obedience is difficult. But often times the difficult thing to do is the right thing to do. Followers of Jesus can obey Him out of love and devotion for what he has done. However, followers of Jesus must also obey Jesus simply because he is the Messiah and Lord.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/25 John 4:16-24

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.”

A single woman, divorced multiple times, living with the latest man in her life. In the culture of first century Israel she was an outcast of outcasts. Even today there are many who would reject and judge her. What a different encounter she had with Jesus. He not only did not reject her, he actually engaged her in conversation. He treated her with dignity and respect.

Typically we deal in extremes in situations like this. People would either reject the woman or accept he and her lifestyle as being perfectly fine. Jesus did nether of these things. He absolutely accepted her but he also called her life choices into question. He did it without heaping condemnation on her but he did make it clear that her life was not what it could be or ought to be. She knew that was what he was saying, that is why she deflected the conversation. She really didn’t want to talk about her life.

Interestingly, Jesus went with it. He engaged in the conversation she wanted to engage in. He didn’t do it because he didn’t want to talk about her life. He did it because it kept her engaged and allowed that opportunity for further ministry to emerge. And that is exactly what happened. This woman began to feel the love and respect Jesus gave her and as a result she opened up and her life was forever changed.

People often say, hate the sin but love the sinner. Yet rarely to people stay engaged in the relationship long enough for the other person to experience that love. They are already sensitized to being rejected and will sniff out any hint of it and bale. How willing are you to hang in there, over the long haul, with people whose lives are a mess and need Jesus? Do you know how to truly love them while not affirming their poor life choices? The more you watch how Jesus did it the better you will get at it.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/24 John 4:16-24

Imagine meeting a perfect stranger who proceeds to tell you some of your darkest secrets. It would certainly be disconcerting to say the least. You might try to deflect the conversation, change the subject, or flat out deny what they say.

The woman at the well decides to change the subject and take advantage of the knowledge Jesus has by engaging him in a theological debate about worship. It is not a bad tactic. If you want to stir up controversy and get people talking, a debate about worship preferences and theology will certainly to that. The Samaritans were not welcome in Jerusalem nor at the Temple there. As a result they established their own place of worship and the Jews despised them even more for it. The woman wants Jesus, whom she perceives to be a prophet, to settle the issue or at least talk about it.

Jesus makes a startling claim. God really doesn’t care much about where you worship. What really matters to God is that you do worship and you do so “in spirit and truth”. Okay, fine. But what does that mean? Given the setting and context of his conversation with the woman we can draw a few conclusions.

The debate over location for worship is also connected to what things you actually do in worship, what practices one follows. The Jews and Samaritans argued over form instead of function. As long as you performed the right actions, in the right place, at the right times, you were worshipping correctly. Jesus makes it clear that worship is first a matter of the Spirit. You have to be connected with God on a spiritual level to actually worship God. Performing the right rituals without the spiritual reality of a connection with God is useless and actually damaging. Because you are actually fooling yourself into thinking you are right with God.

The second aspect of truth is just as crucial. You have to know who God really is in order to worship HIm. You can have some “spiritual” experience that feels wonderful but if it is focused on a false understanding of God then you are worship a false God. This is where God’s Word becomes so important in worship. It is in his Word, his Truth, that God has most clearly made himself known. It is the God of the Bible who we worship and the more we learn of him through his word, the more amazing, beautiful, powerful, awesome, and worthy of worship he will become in our eyes.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/23 John 4:7-15

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 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.”

Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that he has living water that if she drank it, she would never thirst again. The woman could only think in very tangible, physical terms. She was not thinking in spiritual terms at all. That should not surprise us. Most of us think more in practical, physical terms than we think about things from a spiritual perspective. All the woman could think about was never have to be physically thirsty again and never having to draw water from the well again.

But Jesus knew that she had a deeper thirst. There was an emotional and spiritual thirst in her life. It manifested itself in the multiple relationships she had with men. She was trying to fill some deep emotional need with physical relationships and it wasn’t working. Jesus was offering to quench her spiritual thirst and in the process heal her emotional needs as well.

So often we try to fill the spiritual void in our lives that exists because we are estranged from God. We try to fill it in ways that promise much but deliver little. In fact they usually end up making things worse. That was certainly that case with this woman. She was an outcast on several levels because she was trying to fill he need for love and acceptance in was that only destroyed her relationships.

What Jesus was promising to do for her was heal her spiritual brokenness and give her the hope and joy of a relationship with God that would satisfy her deepest longings. Not only did he promise a changed life now, but he promised that such a life would extend on into eternity. How sad is it that we recognize that something is not right in our lives and when we try solutions of our own design we only make it worse. How glorious is it that Jesus comes to us, even in our most broken moments and offers a life beyond our wildest dreams and he offers it for free.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/22 John 4:7-15

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 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.”

The parenthetical note in verse 9 is shocking if you understand the context, “for Jews have no dealing with Samaritans”. There was such animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans that a Jew would walk miles out of his way to avoid crossing through Samaritan territory. They were considered half-breed traders to the faith, heretics and idols worshippers who were worse in some ways that the pagans around them, because they once were a part of Judaism in the past.

Not only is it shocking that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan, which the woman acknowledges, but the fact that Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman is even more disturbing and confusing to her, because men would not normally speak to a woman they did not know. But here is Jesus breaking all conventions to speak to a Samaritan woman.

So what are we to make of that? The word that comes to mind is dignity. Jesus treated this woman, and all women with dignity. He treated her as a person of value. He did not gloss over her sin as we will see later in the chapter. But he did not interact with her primarily as a sinner but as a person in need of grace and mercy as well as some shocking truth to put her on a path to God.

From the immediate context we can assume that this woman is an outcast in her own village. She is alone at the well gathering water in the heat of the day. Women at that time would do this early in the morning, gathering the water they needed for the day before the heat of the day. They would also make it a social event. Even today woman don’t go to the restroom alone. Back then they would do as much of their chores together as possible. This woman is alone. The other women do not include her in their circle. When we find out about the number of men she has had we understand why the other women don’t want her around. Nobody wants her near their man, just in case.

Jesus pushes all that aside and speaks to this woman and engages in a conversation that quickly takes a turn she did not expect. He focuses on giving her a new life by way of living water. She doesn’t understand what he is offering. She thinks he is offering her some kind of water that will make it possible for her to never have to come to the well again, to never have to be reminded of her shame by being there in the heat of the day, isolated from others and reminded of her sin. What she will find is that Jesus is in fact offering her a way to remove the guilt and shame of her sin and a way to be no longer be isolated and cast out but we welcomed into the fellowship of Christ and a relationship with God.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/21

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;  repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

The ministry of John the Baptist was intended to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. Once John was arrested for preaching that the king needed to repent, Jesus began his public ministry. His message built on that of John who proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was coming. Jesus announced that it was now here.

The reason the Kingdom was now here was because the king, Jesus, was now here. The people were looking for a messiah/king who would re-establish the glory days of Israel. But Jesus came as a king who would make known the glory of God. For that to happen people needed to turn away from their expectations of a military messiah and look for one who would instead conquer sin and death.

They also needed to turn away from every other area of sin in their lives and trust in the Good News message, the Gospel of the Kingdom. That Gospel was and is that we are broken and sinful human beings who have all run after our own personal idols. We are seeking salvation in things that only condemn us. But Jesus came to bring salvation to anyone who would turn from those idols and trust him. That is the heart of the Gospel. The God we reject each day by running after other gods, came into the world to conquer sin and death so we might live forever in his glorious kingdom.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/20

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 3:19-21

Jesus has stated that salvation comes to those who put their faith and trust in him. But there is a place for good works in God’s economy. They are not something that earns salvation but cane be something that reflects salvation. When we do what is good and true we want those things to be seen in the light of day, so to speak. We want those things to be seen as being done in the context of our already existing relationship with God, the one we have by faith.

When we do evil things, we want those to remain hidden, in the darkness. Evil and wickedness do not want to be exposed for what they are. They is why they hate the light. And they is why they hate Jesus, because he came into the world as the light of the world. His very life reveals the wickedness of the world. Next to his perfection and holiness, evil is clearly seen for what it is.

So often Christians are busy pointing out al the evil that people do in the world when lives lived like Jesus will naturally reveal the evil in the world by simple comparison.That doesn’t mean we should never call evil for what it is. But if we are not seeking to live lives of holiness and obedience in Christ then we will find it .a much more difficult task and the charge of hypocrisy wold be justified.

Followers of Jesus also need to know that they don’t need to fear the light. Even when we stumble and fall, Jesus wants to bring us to repentance and a healthier relationship with him, so that our witness to the world can be all the more compelling.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/19

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. John 3:16-18

We are all condemned. That is what Jesus is saying in verse 18. Whoever does not believe in him is condemned already. But maybe you object, “I am not condemned!! I Believe in Jesus”. You believe now. But no matter when you came to believe in and trust Jesus, there was a time when you did not. There was a time before believing that you were already condemned and on death row. You were simply awaiting your execution.

But then something happened. As Jesus said earlier in chapter 3, the Spirit moved in a mysterious way and somehow you came to believe in Jesus. In that moment your sentence was overturned and you were set free. It wasn’t that you had a decent life and a better than even chance at heaven and then Jesus made it even better. Before coming to faith in Christ there is no chance and no hope. But once you come to faith in Christ there is life, abundant life, eternal life, joy filled life. The bars of your prison cell are burst open and Jesus invites you to come forth as he invited the dead Lazarus to come forth from the tomb.

The Good News is what it is because without Jesus the news is tragic. We need to remind ourselves everyday that we were condemned already without Jesus. We had nothing with which to defend ourselves or gain our freedom. But Jesus through his death and resurrection made it possible. That reminder is not intended to break us and make us feel shame. Rather it is intended to remind us how deeply God loves us and to stir our hearts to gratitude beyond anything we have ever experienced before, because we have never experienced freedom and forgiveness like this before.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/18

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.

This may be the most famous passage in the Bible. Yet it seems that very few people realize that Jesus spoke these words. How amazing is it that Jesus declares the greatness of God’s love for the world through his coming into the world. There is a huge amount of comfort to be found in these words and it is deeply powerful that God loves us that much that he sent his son to die for us.

But there is another side to these words of Jesus that are not some comforting. It comes at the end of the passage, whoever does NOT believe in him is condemned. We are drawn to the first line, God so loved the world. But we ignore the last line that God also condemns. We don’t want a God who has a standard of justice. We want a God who only loves and makes our lives wonderful. We want a God who only forgives. We don’t want a God who forgives only if we put our trust in him. But the God of the Bible who is living and merciful is also the God of the Bible who is just and holy.

Years ago Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon that has become infamous. The title was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In that sermon Edwards wanted people to understand that the loving God of the Bible is also justly angered over sinfulness and rebellion and that we should not ignore that aspect of God. Many people today look on that sermon and anything like it, with disdain. God would never send people to hell. God is love. Yes but he is also holy, holy, holy and we should never forget that.

We can take comfort in a God who loved the world enough to send his son to die for us. But we should never presume upon that God or think that sin is not serious and must be dealt with. God wants us to also be holy as he is holy.

A Year of Listening to Jesus 1/17

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 3:10-15

We don’t often think of Jesus as calling out someone and being sarcastic. But that certainly seems to be the case with Nicodemus. Jesus is chiding him for being a teacher of Israel, a religious leader, a Pharisee, and not understanding what Jesus is saying about spiritual things. Nicodemus has a lot of head knowledge about things of the Bible but he does not have insight into spiritual truth.

Then Jesus proceeds to tell Nicodemus some of the most deeply spiritual things you would ever hear. First Jesus is saying that he has descended from heaven with spiritual truth. He is the Son of Man that the Old Testament speaks about as the coming messiah. By saying that he has descended from Heaven Jesus is connecting himself with God in a direct and intimate way. He is claiming to be more than a man. He is claiming to have some connection to the divine that is beyond what anyone ever anticipated. But Nicodemus and others should have anticipated it if they would only have searched the scriptures looking for the deeper spiritual truth.

If that is not hard enough to understand Jesus makes reference to Moses lifting up a staff with the form of a serpent on top and miraculously healing people in the wilderness. Just as Moses lifted that serpent Jesus says that he will be lifted up and not only bring healing to people but actually bring eternal life to anyone who puts their trust in him. Nicodemus has no idea what Jesus is talking about until the crucifixion takes place three years later. At that point it somehow sinks in that he must honor and trust in Jesus. Nicodemus and another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea take the body of Jesus and place it in a new tomb.

It is somewhat baffling that time and again Jesus says that eternal life comes by faith in him and not by our works or knowledge or effort and yet time and again people refuse to put their trust in Jesus and keep trying to earn God’s favor. Nicodemus as a Pharisee would have taught people about living according to the law to have a right relationship with God and have eternal life. It took standing at the foot of the cross for it to sink in for him that salvation would be by putting his faith and trust in Christ and not his own religious obedience to rules. That is the heart of the Gospel. Jesus preached that Gospel in countless ways from the very beginning to the very end of his ministry. It is Good News. Trust Jesus with all you have and rely on his work on the cross for your righteousness and salvation.