A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

Seven Sign in John: 6 – A Blind Man Healed

The sixth miracle seems similar to the previous healing miracle we saw in chapter 5 where Jesus healed a paralyzed man for 38 years.  The movements of Jesus are the same: Jesus healed, disappears, and then reappears.

John 9:1-7

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

Jesus focuses on this man who was blind from birth.    From here, the conversation ensues about the cause.  The disciples’ inquiry Jesus as to whether the man’s blindness is a direct effect of sinning.  However, Jesus doesn’t focus on the cause but rather the purpose. He will continue to describe the purpose through the next two verses.  What we see here is that God permits suffering and difficulties to arise in our life so that the work of God can be clearly seen.  We look at the events in the world and say, why does God permit such things? Why doesn’t God do something?  Yet, only through God’s work, which comes through Christ’s and His Church, can we see things made right.

 The work of God

What are works of God?  Jesus’ answer to this question was “I am the light of the world.”  Of course, we keep asking good questions, “why light?”  Light is essential to physical life as it is essential for many of the same reasons spiritually. Light dispels darkness.  Light enables life to reproduce – photosynthesis.  Light helps to warm.  Light helps us to see and therefore, it guides us as well.

 How does Christ give us light, especially since Jesus uses spittle and dirt to bring the healing?  It just seems amazing that Jesus’ supernatural power was seen through spit, mud and obedience.  Jesus used spit three times in Scripture, one for a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and two for blindness (this passage and Mark 8:23).   Still, what does is this supposed to point us toward?  That is John’s intention in writing, right? I think first this is going back to the creation of man when God formed us out of the dust of the Earth.  God created in the beginning and still has power over his creation.  Secondly, I show that Christ blesses the use of his creation to promote his work.  Namely the church.  We are the clay in God’s hands and we pray that you would use us to deliver Jesus’ light to this dark world.

 Through our witness let us show people God’s love.   Matthew 5:14 says, “ye are the light of the world, A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”  We should seek to let our life dispel the darkness of times.  To let God’s power be on display in our life.  Our cry is Ephesians 5:14, “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

Seven Signs in John: 4 – Feeding the 5,000

We like bread at our home.  In fact, we probably like bread way more than we should.  It is present at every single meal and my wife loves to make it from scratch.  Bread has been a staple part of people’s diet for almost as long as recorded history.  Jesus takes advantage of this in his fourth miracle found in the Gospel according to John.  Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish is a powerfully and wide known miracle. In fact, it is the only miracle that all four Gospel writers share outside of the resurrection.

John 1:1-13, 48-51

After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.  And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.  And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.  When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.  Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,  There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.  Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The first thing we notice about this miracle is that once again, John points out Jesus’ frustration with the misplaced faith of the people.  Real faith in Jesus is not about how He meets your desires. Real faith in Jesus is dependence on Him on changing you and meeting your needs.

Phillip fails at having faith.

Jesus tries Phillip’s faith to see where he stood. First Peter 1:6-7 says, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”  Jesus asked Phillip if they were able to feed the people with what they had in their possession.  Do you realize that Philip failed the test? He went straight to the impossibilities and limitations.  Another disciple, Andrew, spoke up, even though he didn’t understand, “Here’s a boy’s lunch, but they are so insignificant in the face of such a great challenge.”

Here’s the thing, in both the failure and the passing, God taught the same lesson. Both of these would witness the miracle.  Understand, that whether you fail or whether you pass, the proving of your faith is a means to the same end.  Every test is a tool to build your faith, to improve your patience, and strengthen your commitment to God.  There is a difference between testing and temptation.   James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”  A temptation is a drawing away from God toward sin and God will not lead us toward sin.  Testing or proving is God revealing to us where we are because He already knows.  Whether we pass or fail, we when are tried, our maturity and faith in the Lord are revealed to us.

 The miraculous feeding

Jesus took little and made much out of it.  He was able to take the little boys lunch that was made for one and feed the great number of people.  It is interesting that each of the Gospel writers uses the same actions of miraculous feeding that Jesus also used at the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus takes, blesses, brakes, and gives.  The repetition continues also in Paul’s teaching of the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27.  What does this mean?  I believe we see that anything common and mundane can become holy by God’s presence and blessing.  So, not only is little made much by God’s power, the natural experience is made a supernatural experience.

Now, Jesus did provide for the physical need of the people.  Jesus can supply your physical needs as well, but it at this point we see a change when Jesus discusses the refers back to the bread in a later conversation.  Jesus will teach the people that followed him across the sea of Tiberias and tell them that in the same way God provided physical bread now provides them with something more important than their physical needs.  Jesus is bread for our soul.

More important than the bread that fills that constantly reappearing pit in your stomach, is that God has provided everlasting bread for the chasm in your soul.  Many try to fill that chasm in their soul with money, drugs, alcohol, possesions, experiences, or relationships.  One of the things we see in the miracle is that the people ate until they were satisfied.  In the same way, Jesus satisfies the soul and only He can satisfy you for eternity.

 

Seven Miracles in John: 2- The Nobleman’s Son

Jesus just had a wonderful ministry in Samaria and other places outside of his hometown. Nicodemus, women at the well.  Now he is returning home. Jesus knows the people’s hearts.  They will welcome him, but not with honor, not in the right way, but with improper motives.  This is the scenario that leads up to Jesus’ second miracle in John.

John 4:46-54

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

A person in need of help.

We Have no idea who this man was (vs. 46).  The Greek word used, “basilikos” just means the subject of the king.  He could have been a royal advisor, accountant, worker, or someone of importance in King Herod Antipas government.  We do not know who he was, but we are aware of the one he would seek for help.  This man found Jesus because he had heard of the other miracles Jesus had performed.  He knew that his son would die unless Jesus healed him.  It was the only way, and he came to Jesus with faith for this healing.

However, Jesus did not seem like He was going to help this man’s son.  What was going on in this situation?  Jesus was aware of the traps his hometown had fallen into concerning His fame.  They were proud of their relation to someone special.  We do this as well.  A sense of pride can be found among believers in an individual church, movement, song style, methodology, preacher, or singer.  Jesus’ followers had fallen into the trap of feeling entitled.  They felt that Jesus owed them miracles.  Falling headfirst, they only wanted Jesus because of the miracles He could perform.

Jesus, the giver of good gifts.

This man pressed on that he needed Jesus to heal his son or else he would die.  What Jesus did next was perform a miracle even though the man was not seeking Christ for salvation.  Jesus gave a good gift even when he is disappointed with the majority of people’s motive.  Grace that healed, regardless of the distance, immediately.  The man’s son was healed, and the man went home trusting that the healing had taken place while he was with Jesus.

While the man may have been seeking only a miracle, no doubt, his faith on Jesus increased.  Scripture goes on to say that after arriving home and finding his son alive and well, the man and his whole house believed in Jesus.  Romans 2:4 says, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  The everyday gifts from God that sustain life and the supernatural works of God are given to us from the Lord to strengthen our faith and draw us closer to him.

Proverbs 3:5 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Don’t be afraid to cry out to God.   Call on God first and seek Him early.  Not a last resort but as the only one.  The Lord is full of goodness and mercy.  His grace is sufficient for salvation and for every need that we have on a daily basis.

Seven Miracles in John: 1 – Water into Wine

John, the beloved disciple, shared his purpose for writing his Gospel account. He wrote, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).  His presentation of the life of Christ is focused on showing the reader the power and purpose of Jesus.  One of the methods he employs to accomplish this task is the inclusion of seven miracles.  The following series of blogs will explore the beauty and meaning behind these miracles.

John 2:1-11

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Emptiness is defined as

  • The state of containing nothing
  • Lack of sincerity and contentment
  • Meaningless
  • Futility
  • No value or purpose

We can have an empty soul, home, marriage, or life.  Perhaps one of the most detestable things for a person to have before God is an empty religion.  Scripture teachings that there are some that have a form of godliness, but deny the power” (2 Tim. 3:5-7).  The will of God is that rather we be full. But not just full of everything under the sun.  No, God would rather for us to be filled with him.

Miracle at Cana

You know the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana.  During the celebration, they run out of wine, and Jesus’s mother asks Jesus to get more wine.  This is where Jesus performs his first miracle as he takes about six water pots, almost 30 gallons each, a total of nearly 120-180 gallons of water, and turns it into wine.

John goes on to say in 2:11, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory.”  Two words in the Greek are translated as our English word miracle.  The first is “dynamis,” which means power or strength.  It sounds familiar to dynamite which we understand as being explosive power.  The second word, “semios” which is the word John uses here, means means a “sign.”

So, what do these seven signs say and in at this moment, this particular sign?  John says to show God’s glory.  We are going to see God’s glory and power.  We are getting a glimpse of God’s purpose in sending Jesus.  This first miracle will demonstrate all of this.

The water pots

So, what does this miracle teach us about Jesus and the purpose of His coming?  This sign shows that we can be filled with the goodness of God.  We who were filled with vile things are now filled with the joy of the Lord.  How does he demonstrate this?  Notice that John includes a key detail about the waterpots, “and there set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews.”   This is an important aspect of information John wants to include for us.  It also makes this miracle a little disgusting.

In the Jewish law that we find in the Old Testament was high on the distinction between clean and unclean.  One of the significant aspects of the law was that uncleanness was unavoidable.  One of the traditions the Jews adopted was ritual washing with water.  Full body, foot washing, hand washing, and washing the face are all references for Jewish washing from uncleanness.  So in reality, the water pots that the people were drinking the wine from were bathtubs or at least wash basins.

Thank the Lord, there is cleansing, but I don’t think that is the single purpose sign in this miracle.  Cleansing or purifying of the water pots is only implied and hopeful.  Who would want to drink from something where you wash your face and feet?  Instead, imagine being a Jew and what these water pots would mean to you. It’s like what we see when we pass by a cross or church.  They would have been reminded of their religion.  Their faith.  And this is what Jesus’ miracle of transforming the water into wine.

You look at the pots, they were full of emptiness.  They were filled with water, but the pots themselves represented to many the emptiness of what their religion had propagated.  The law made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19).  In those waterpots was about 180 gallons of law, guilt, and filth. But, Jesus turned it into 180 gallons of grace.  The water in Jewish law was a symbol of an external ritual.  The wine represented to the Jewish mind meant joy and blessing.

The law made nothing perfect. The law didn’t fix anything.  It was a temporary covering.  It was something to point us toward the salvation that only Jesus Christ could bring.   The wine represents the blood of Jesus that was shed for us.  Matthew 26:27-29 reads, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  We are forgiven of our sins by the blood of Jesus.  We have moved from an external washing by water to an eternal cleansing and filling by the blood of Jesus.

The sign shows our fellowship with Christ and the ultimate joy of heaven.  Matthew continues, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (26:29).  We have fellowship with Jesus through the shedding of His blood.  Our relationship with God is restored through the work of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus comes to fill the emptiness that is in our life.

Can you be a room full of people and still be alone? Can you have good health, a full bank account, lots of friends, a busy schedule, a beautiful home, a good job, a great family and still feel empty?  Jesus took the empty law and transformed it into something full of life.  Returning to John’s narrative telling of this miracle, the last verse says that the disciples believed on Jesus. He filled them with faith.  If you have given up, Jesus can fill you faith.

If your life is empty, your faith is empty, Jesus can fill you full.  As the wine was a symbol of joy, Christ can fill your life with joy.  Jesus’ first miracle is a showing that “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (Jn. 15:11).

God’s design of the Church

Regardless of whether you are called to pastoral ministry or itinerant (evangelistic travel), it is important that you understand the Biblical foundation and design of the church. The ministry of the church is astoundingly vital to every believer. For those that are homebound, there must be a ministry to show them the compassion of Jesus. To those that say they don’t need to go to church, they sever the head which is Christ, from the body, which is the church. The believer’s who faithfully attend and those that don’t, need to be disciplined. It is even vital to the sinner because the church brings the message of the Gospel to them and witnesses their conversion. The Church is necessary.

The original Greek word for church is “Ekklesia.” It to be “called out” or “separated.” The other Greek word, from which our English word for Church is derived, is “Kuriakon.” It means, “belonging to the Lord.” As a definition, we can define the church as a group of people that have been called out from the world and separated from sin as the Lord’s property. The Bible gives several pictorial illustrations of the Church. It is seen as: (1) the Body of Christ (1 Cor.12:12-31, shows unity and diversity), (2) the building of Christ (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:19-22), and, (3) the bride of Christ (John 14:1-3, Eph. 5:25-31, Rev. 19:7).

The church is viewed in Scripture as both universal and local in scope. Universal doesn’t mean that every person in time is part of it, but rather every person that has come to Christ is part of the real Church (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 2:20, 5:23-32). Scripture also recognizes that the real church is divided by geographical locations into individual local congregations. This is evidenced by the various churches in Acts by location, the names of many of Paul’s letter, and the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3.

45

The biblical purposes of the church are first to glorify God (Eph. 3:21). Secondly, it is to edify or disciple believers (Eph. 4:11-12) and purify them (Eph. 5:25-27). Thirdly, to evangelize the world (Matt. 28:19- 20). Fourth and last, to prevent corruption in the world by saturating it with God’s truth and Love (Matt. 5:13-16).

Why do we lack discernment?

When Jesus was asked to speak about the end times, one of the signs He gave was the deception of God’s people (Mt. 24:24).  Other passages warn us of false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:1, 3-42 Pet. 2:2, 12-13), Satan (2 Thess. 2:9-12), and personal deception (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 6:6-8).  How does this deception take hold of believers?  My observation is that Biblical illiteracy, a culture of syncretism/pluralism, and a lack of accountability contribute to those who are easily deceived.

Biblical Illiteracy

Barna Research recently released a stat loving pastor’s dream, Barna Trends 2017.  There are 236 pages of research material.  Part of it is the recent trends in faith, which includes Biblical literacy.  Currently, 57% of the world’s population still do not have a completed translation (Barna, p. 126).  When it comes to Americans approaching the Bible, even though it is more accessible than at any other time (p. 143), almost 30% read it once a month, and another 30% read it one a year (p. 140).

There is plenty of passages that refers to our need to honor and know the Holy Scriptures.  However, we do not seem to care about reading the Bible.  It is easy to be tricked into believing false truths about the Scripture when we do not actually know what is in the Bible.  We listen to a two-minute video and post it to Facebook without thinking about the actual teachings and character of the person we just promoted.  Believers are being deceived by a fancy religious talk by so-called ministers, but yet they do not have the ability or take the time to be like the Bereans when they heard Paul preach.

Acts 17:10-12

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Culture of Syncretism/Pluralism

Pluralism means a diversity of perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices.  Syncretism is the attempt to combine a plurality of these items into a single system.  The Old Testament contains several examples of Israel’s history where they tried to absorb pagan idols into their practices, only to be absorbed by paganism.  According to the research, 57% of Americans now believe that morality is self-defined (pp. 50-53).  People can adopt whatever beliefs they want from any system available and make their reality.  In research, we call this confirmation bias.  When personal interests get in the way of reason, we become biased to the truths we accept while refusing the facts that are inconvenient.

Our society teaches us from an early age to “be ourselves” and “do what makes us happy,” but this can be against God.  The modern morality in the culture we live says that all religions are valid, choose what you like, and just be a good person.  Christian Scripture does not allow for followers of Christ to agree on with this approach.  Jesus is not another way to God, but the only way.

John 14:6

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Lack of Accountability

The mantra of our age sometimes feels like, “Don’t judge me.”  The stats are staggering that we lack a desire to be held accountable.  Barna reported that 89% of all U.S. adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “people should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (p. 53).  Also, 37% of Christians believe spiritual growth comes is only on your own (p. 135).  Proceeding from a culture of pluralism/syncretism, we have developed into a therapeutic culture.  We tend to gravitate towards those things that make us feel better about ourselves, even if there is no truth in them.

When someone offers teaching or rebuke that is contrary to our feelings, we take it as extremely negative criticism.  This is why the Word of Faith movement has such a large following (think of most televangelist).  They highlight the power of positive thinking, be positive and your situation will go away is a part of their approach.  The thought process becomes “anyone negative to you is against you.”  Again, Scripture is keen on believers holding each other accountable for what they believe and their actions.

Galatians 6:1-5

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be deceived anymore.

 

References

Barna Group (2017) Barna Trends 2017. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.